----- 3 stars -----

He’s a Liar, a Con Artist and a Snitch. His Testimony Could Soon Send a Man to His Death. / ProPublica
I can't say I'm surprised, but this is still very disturbing; great reporting as usual by ProPublica:

When Detective John Halliday paid a visit to the Pinellas County Jail on Dec. 4, 1986, his highest-profile murder case was in trouble. [...] Halliday’s visit was a bust. But in the Pinellas County Jail, the word was out: The Boggio case needed a snitch. In jail, it is widely understood that helping prosecutors and the police can earn extraordinary benefits, from reduced sentences to dismissed charges. By the time Dailey’s trial began the following summer in Clearwater, in June 1987, no fewer than three inmates had come forward claiming to have heard Dailey confess to the killing. [...] That witness was Paul Skalnik, a familiar figure around the Pinellas County Courthouse. He had appeared before the court numerous times as a jailhouse informant and was skilled at providing the sort of incendiary details that brought a defendant’s guilt into sudden, terrible focus. Skalnik began working with Halliday in 1983, when the detective was investigating a triple homicide, and Skalnik helped send two men to death row, cementing his status as an invaluable resource. Because he was a known snitch, he was held in protective custody, in a single cell where he was shielded from inmates who might want to do him harm. Despite this considerable impediment, Skalnik claimed — just a few weeks before jury selection in Dailey’s trial began — to have procured Dailey’s confession. [...] In a trial that had been long on conjecture but short on hard evidence, his testimony became the linchpin of the state’s case — so much so that Andrews would cite him more than a dozen times in her closing argument. She assured the jury that Skalnik was “honest” and “reliable.” It was with that imprimatur of credibility that jurors found Dailey guilty. They also recommended, by a rare unanimous vote, that he be executed. Judge Thomas Penick Jr. of the Circuit Court formally sentenced Dailey to death on Aug. 7, 1987. Five days later, Skalnik was released from jail. A Florida Parole and Probation Commission memo stated that his release was “due to his cooperation with the State Attorney’s Office in the first-degree murder trial.” It was a remarkable turn of events given that he had been identified as a flight risk just a year earlier, after violating the terms of his parole. “This man has been, is and always will be a danger to society,” his parole officer had warned. Now he was released on his own recognizance and did not have to post bond. Skalnik was a free man.

Google Loved Me, Until I Pointed Out Everything That Sucked About It / Elle

It wasn’t supposed to end like this: After twelve years at Google, I was unceremoniously escorted off the premises. My last day came in May 2019, six months after the Google Walkout, during which 20,000 Googlers left their desks in a mass protest unprecedented in the tech industry. I helped to organize it after corporate documents obtained by the New York Times showed that Google paid executive Andy Rubin nearly $90 million in severance after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Little did we know it would be like waving a lit match in front of a powder keg: when people poured out of Google offices in 50 cities around the world a week after the severance news broke, it was clear this wasn’t just about Andy Rubin anymore. Something seismic was rumbling beneath the surface of the world’s storied “best place to work.” During my last six months at Google, I would become intimately familiar with just how closed off the company’s famously “open” corporate culture had become—and how far the management would go to prevent its staff from holding the company accountable. [...] At my last TGIF in 2012, a group of engineers presented me with a plaque in which they’d etched “The Bard of Google” in the campus woodshop to commemorate the whimsical weekly TGIF reminder emails I sent around the company. “Can we give Claire Stapleton a round of applause for her incredible email-writing?” says Larry in a video clip from that day I still have saved in my Google Drive. He invites me onstage, and the camera pans to me in the wings, a bashful young thing, covering my face, shocked by the impromptu spotlight. “I guess she’s a little bit shy. She prefers to express herself through computer means,” he says through his signature goofy grin. Half a decade later, I’d still occasionally get stopped in the lunch line by a hirsute stranger. “Wait, you’re Claire Stapleton? Like, the real Claire Stapleton?” How far the bard had fallen.

My disabled son’s amazing gaming life in the World of Warcraft / BBC

Robert and Trude mourned what they thought had been a lonely and isolated life for their disabled son. But when Mats died, they discovered that people all over Europe lit candles in his memory. [...] Mats had barely left the basement flat underneath his family's home in the last years of his life, so it was strange that people unknown to the family were present at the funeral. Even stranger - Mats himself had also never met these people. [...] "When I went past Mats's basement flat during the day and the curtains were closed. That is a sorrow I remember well," says Robert, who works as Oslo's vice-mayor of finance. "'Oh, no,' I thought, 'he hasn't even started his day yet'. I was sad because his world was so limited." But non-gamers don't see the whole picture. They don't realise it's more than just shooting and point-scoring. "We thought it was all about the game. And just that. We thought it was a competition that you were supposed to win." And there was the matter of Mats's circadian rhythm - his 24-hour daily cycle. "We didn't understand why it was important for Mats to be online late in the evening and at night," says Robert. [...] Lisette Roovers, from Breda in the Netherlands, was one of Mats's close gamer friends. She was also one of those present at the funeral in 2014. She is in Norway again - visiting friend Kai Simon Fredriksen, who also played online with Mats. "I knew Mats for many years. It was a shock when he died, and it has shaped me," says Lisette, sitting on Kai Simon's sofa in Hoybraten, in north-east Oslo. Lisette, now 28, was only 15 years old when she met 16-year-old Mats. Or, to be precise, when Lisette's game character Rumour met Mats's game character Ibelin.

----- 2 stars -----

The War Vet, the Dating Site, and the Phone Call From Hell / Wired

It really wasn't much of an exchange. Jared Johns had met a young woman on a dating site, swapped messages, and sent her a photo of himself in a baseball cap. She'd responded with one of herself, lying down in a lacy bra. Jared grinned as he typed out a message on his iPhone's scuffed screen. “I'm a us army veteran I'm a father of two.. 3 if you count my dog,” Jared wrote. “I just got out of a relationship with my youngest sons mother and I'm looking for friends to hang out and chat with and maybe more later.” “Sound interesting well I'm originally from Myrtle Beach and now live in Greenville with my parents. I'll be 18 in a few weeks,” replied the girl. They swapped a few more messages; she asked Jared how old he was and he told her he was 24. Then he pocketed his phone and got on with his day. That brief conversation turned out to be the worst mistake of Jared's life. [...] Doug Fodeman could have reassured Jared. For years, Fodeman has been hearing about calls just like the ones that had been terrifying Jared. Along with a friend, the 64-year-old Massachusetts grade school educator started a website called in 2015, after Fodeman's son and mother were both hit up by con artists. His son was pressured to fork over thousands of dollars, ostensibly to help a recently widowed woman get a wheelchair for her disabled son. Fodeman's mother was suckered out of $900 by a caller who said he was her handyman, and then claimed he had been arrested and needed bail money. Fodeman, who teaches internet safety to his students, figured even if the police couldn't do much, he could at least try to warn other people. So he set about building a simple, text-heavy WordPress site where he details the seemingly infinite abundance of online rip-offs, along with advice on how to detect and avoid them. (The site is basically a labor of love. “We hoped it would become a business, but we found that no one would pay!” Fodeman says. “But I get lots of heartfelt thanks, so I figure it's the right thing to do.”)

Ready, Set, Trump: Big-Money Faith, Football, and Forgiveness at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University / The Ringer

The president helps him recruit. His coach and AD left their prior jobs amid scandal. He’s a cable news staple. But can the bulwark of the religious right build evangelical Notre Dame by marrying theology, politics, and major college football?

‘Here We Go. The Chaos Is Starting’: An Oral History of Y2K / Popular Mechanics

Twenty years ago, we were all pretty sure the world was going to end on January 1, 2000—or, if not the world, then at least civilization. It had something to do with how most computer programs used the last two digits to represent a four-digit year, and when the clock rolled over at the end of 1999, every computer would think it was 1900. When that happened, ATMs would stop working, the electrical grid would shut down, planes would fall out of the skies, and newborn babies would get hundred-year-old birth certificates. We were legitimately freaked out. And why wouldn’t we be? TIME published an ominous cover story with extra exclamation points. President Bill Clinton said not-at-all-reassuring things about Y2K like, “This is not one of the summer movies where you can close your eyes during the scary parts.” CNN suggested that readers prepare for Y2K by stockpiling powdered milk, canned juices, and “comfort food.” (Note: Tech Armageddon is easier to take with carbs.) Apple produced this TV commercial, which still makes us want to hide under the bed. But then New Year’s came and went. We all woke up with electricity. ATMs didn’t refuse to dispense cash. Planes remained in the air. The great catastrophic threat of our time turned out to be a colossal dud. So what really happened with Y2K? Was humanity ever actually in danger? Was this tech’s Cuban Missile Crisis, or Mayan Doomsday Calendar? To find out the truth, we spoke to the people who witnessed it firsthand: those brave souls who toiled in the IT trenches, surrounded by other underslept programmers, probably while crouched nervously behind a ThinkPad 701 or Bondi Blue iMac. This is their story.

The World Has Gone Mad and the System Is Broken / LinkedIn
Ray Dalio with a fairly persuasive analysis:

Money is free for those who are creditworthy because the investors who are giving it to them are willing to get back less than they give. More specifically investors lending to those who are creditworthy will accept very low or negative interest rates and won’t require having their principal paid back for the foreseeable future. [...] Those big price rises and the resulting low expected returns are not just true for bonds; they are equally true for equities, private equity, and venture capital, though these assets’ low expected returns are not as apparent as they are for bond investments because these equity-like investments don’t have stated returns the way bonds do. As a result, their expected returns are left to investors’ imaginations. [...] At the same time as money is essentially free for those who have money and creditworthiness, it is essentially unavailable to those who don’t have money and creditworthiness, which contributes to the rising wealth, opportunity, and political gaps. [...] This set of circumstances is unsustainable and certainly can no longer be pushed as it has been pushed since 2008. That is why I believe that the world is approaching a big paradigm shift.

My Semester With the Snowflakes / Medium

In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources. [...] I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love. They say things like, “How are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?” Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18–22-year-old. [...] Now before you think I’m preaching, please know that I come from a place where I was distinctly the opposite of this ideal. I looked for reasons to disregard the opinions of those I didn’t respect. I discounted the ideas of people I felt like hadn’t earned the right to share what was in their mind. Particularly when it came to national security issues, I felt that if you hadn’t taken a gun into combat, I didn’t give a damn what your opinion was. I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here.

Will Antonio Brown ever return to the pros? Inside his complicated NFL legacy / ESPN

Now his family and friends say he's working on himself, but it's hard to tell whether Brown is making real, concerted changes to turn his life around. Therapy or not, Brown has continued to pile up tweets that don't help his case for employment. However, he did work out for the New Orleans Saints on Friday morning, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. In his rare public comments, all on social media, Brown has bounced from being apologetic to antagonistic, sometimes in the same day. How did the best receiver of the past decade end up out of football, in danger of forfeiting $40 million in guaranteed money and perhaps having tainted his legacy forever? Talks with more than 20 people -- including Brown's family, coaches, friends, teammates and former associates -- tell the story of how Brown got here, what might have sparked the spiral and where he goes next. Repeated efforts to reach Brown through his agent and family members were unsuccessful. The general consensus? That Antonio Brown's future in the NFL has never been less clear.

I Worked for Alex Jones. I Regret It. / New York Times

Over time, I came to learn that keeping Jones from getting angry was a big part of the job, though it was impossible to predict his outbursts. Stories abounded among my co-workers: The blinds stuck, so he ripped them off the wall. A water cooler had mold in it, so he grabbed a large knife, stabbed the plastic base wildly and smashed it on the ground. Headlines weren’t strong enough; the news wasn’t being covered the way he wanted; reporters didn’t know how to dress properly. Once a co-worker stopped by the office with a pet fish he was taking home to his niece. It swam in circles in a small, transparent bag. When Jones saw the bag balanced upright on a desk in the conference room, he emptied it into a garbage can. On one occasion, he threatened to send out a memo banning laughter in the office. “We’re in a war,” he said, and he wanted people to act accordingly. I also saw Jones give an employee the Rolex off his own wrist, simply because he thought the employee was mad at him. “Now, would a bad guy do that?” Jones asked as he handed over the watch. Once, when I went to interview a frequent guest of Jones’s, I was sent with a check to cover a potentially lifesaving cancer treatment. A few times I came close to quitting, and like clockwork, just before I pulled the plug, I received a bonus or significant raise. I hadn’t discussed my discontent with Jones, but he seemed to sense it. Jones often told his employees that working for him would leave a black mark on our records. To him, it was the price that must be paid for boldly confronting those in power — what he called the New World Order or, later, the deep state. Once my beliefs began to shift, I saw the virulent nature of his world, the emptiness and loathing in many of those impassioned claims. But I was certain that after four years working for Jones, I would never be able to get another job — banished into poverty as penance for my transgressions, and rightly so.

A giant star is acting strange, and astronomers are buzzing / National Geographic

But if you’ve looked at Orion recently and thought something seemed off, you’re not wrong: The giant red star Betelgeuse, which marks the hunter’s right shoulder, is the dimmest it’s been in almost a century. Normally, Betelgeuse is among the 10 brightest stars in the sky. However, the red giant began dimming in October, and by mid-December, the star had faded so much it wasn’t even in the top 20, Villanova University’s Edward Guinan reported in an Astronomer’s Telegram. [...] Huge, red stars like Betelgeuse live fast and die violently, exploding in stellar events called supernovae that are visible across vast distances. So, while Betelgeuse is a relatively young star—only about 8.5 million years old—astronomers know that it is nearing the end of its life. “The biggest question now is when it will explode in a supernova,” UC Berkeley’s Sarafina Nance, who studies Betelgeuse and stellar explosions, said on Twitter. “Disclaimer: I don't think it's going to explode any time soon,” she added during an interview with National Geographic. “But I am excited [for] when it does.”

Anguish and Anger From the Navy SEALs Who Turned In Edward Gallagher / New York Times

The Navy SEALs showed up one by one, wearing hoodies and T-shirts instead of uniforms, to tell investigators what they had seen. Visibly nervous, they shifted in their chairs, rubbed their palms and pressed their fists against their foreheads. At times they stopped in midsentence and broke into tears. “Sorry about this,” Special Operator First Class Craig Miller, one of the most experienced SEALs in the group, said as he looked sideways toward a blank wall, trying to hide that he was weeping. “It’s the first time — I’m really broken up about this.” Video recordings of the interviews obtained by The New York Times, which have not been shown publicly before, were part of a trove of Navy investigative materials about the prosecution of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher on war crimes charges including murder. They offer the first opportunity outside the courtroom to hear directly from the men of Alpha platoon, SEAL Team 7, whose blistering testimony about their platoon chief was dismissed by President Trump when he upended the military code of justice to protect Chief Gallagher from the punishment. “The guy is freaking evil,” Special Operator Miller told investigators. “The guy was toxic,” Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper, said in a separate interview. “You could tell he was perfectly O.K. with killing anybody that was moving,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon, told the investigators.

A decade ago, the US was promised high-speed rail—so where is it? / Quartz

More than $10 billion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—the $787 billion stimulus package Obama signed into law that year to jolt the nation out of recession—would be dedicated to a shiny new future for US railroads. This, the president said in a 2010 statement, would be the “largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created,” creating a high-speed rail network to rival the world’s best. “There’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains, when we can build them right here in America.” [...] Ten years on, the world-class, high-speed rail network sketched out by Obama is nowhere to be seen. Three of the most significant projects—in Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin—were cancelled almost at the outset; others, like the high-speed Empire Line from Albany to Buffalo in New York state, are still a long way from completion, with a slow-moving environmental impact study causing delays. In California, the 171-mile (275 km) Central Valley segment from Bakersfield to Merced—itself a smaller segment of a hoped-for Los Angeles to San Francisco connection—is many months behind schedule. Governor Gavin Newsom put the kibosh on other non-ARRA high-speed rail projects in the state earlier this year. Much good did come out of the ARRA, argues transit consultant Eric Peterson—but virtually none of it was high-speed rail.

Charles Murray’s *Human Diversity* / Marginal Revolution
Tyler Cowen's commentary on Charles Murray:

His new book is coming out in January, and the subtitle is The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class. I will get to the details shortly, but my bottom-line review is “Not as controversial as you might think,” but do note the normalization at the end of that phrase. [...] Most of the book defends ten key propositions, laid out on pp.7-8. The first four of those propositions concern differences between men and women (“Sex differences in personality are consistent worldwide…”) and I do not find those controversial, so I will not cover them. The chapters on those propositions provide a good survey of the evidence, and a good answer to the denialists, though I doubt if Murray is the right person to win them over. Let’s now turn to the other propositions, with my commentary along the way: 5. Human populations are genetically distinctive in ways that correspond to self-identified race and ethnicity. [...] And here the contrast with the chapters on men and women becomes (unintentionally?) glaring: those biological differences are relatively easy to demonstrate, so perhaps hard-to-demonstrate biological differences are not so significant. [...] Overall this is a serious and well-written book that presents a great deal of scientific evidence very effectively. Anyone reading it will learn a lot. But it didn’t change my mind on much, least of all the most controversial questions in this area. If anything, in the Bayesian sense it probably nudged me away from geneticist-based arguments, simply because it did not push me any further towards them.

Birding Like It’s 1899: Inside a Blockbuster American West Video Game / Audubon

Available since October, "Red Dead Redemption 2" (RDR2) is a video game set in an imagined version of the American West in the year 1899. It’s a massive release, both one of the highest-selling video games of 2018 and one that sits at or near the top of many of the internet’s Best Of 2018 video game lists. It’s also unique in that the natural world—or, at least, a romanticized and heightened version of it—is one of the main characters. [...] I spent most of my time finding birds, and was impressed with the breadth and relative accuracy of the species represented. Birds change with habitat: Roseate Spoonbills and Great Egrets feed in the bayous of Saint Denis. Laughing Gulls and Red-footed Boobies roost along the coast, while eagles and condors soar over mountain peaks. Each of these are crafted with accurate field marks and habits. There are dozens of species I couldn’t even find, including Carolina Parakeets, Ferruginous Hawks, and Pileated Woodpeckers. Like real life birding, you’re never guaranteed to see anything. The sound design, too, is impressive.

----- 1 star -----

The Man Who Reads 1,000 Articles a Day / Superorganizers

Robert Cottrell reads 1,000 articles a day. But the verb ‘to read’ isn’t exactly right to describe what he does. Ingest is a little bit closer. But it doesn’t quite hit it on the nose, either. Ingestion implies that what he’s doing is a mechanical, rote activity. No, Robert Cottrell eats articles. With gusto and verve. He’s a former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist and the Financial Times. Now he spends most of his time writing The Browser, a daily newsletter where he shares five of the best articles of the day with his thousands of subscribers. We’re sitting in my office in Chinatown and he’s swiping through a recent superorganizers interview. I’ve, somewhat nervously, told this master of manuscripts to read an article and tell me completely honestly what’s going through his head — in real-time.

The 56 Best — And Weirdest — Charts We Made In 2019 / FiveThirtyEight

Over the past year, FiveThirtyEight visual journalists have created hundreds of original charts and graphics. To mark the close of the year, we are continuing our tradition of collecting together a few dozen of our most creative (and most unusual) creations.

Tuvalu is a tiny island nation of 11,000 people. It’s cashing in thanks to Twitch. / Washington Post

In 1995, Stephen Boland sat in his government office while working as the macroeconomic planner for the Pacific microstate of Tuvalu when the fax machine whirred to life. On its thermal paper, it printed a message that would later amount to a winning lottery ticket. The message was a dispatch informing Tuvalu it had been assigned a country code top-level domain — the string of characters at the end of a URL, like .com or .org — for its Internet addresses. The domain for Tuvalu happened to be “.tv,” the worldwide metonym for broadcast entertainment. At the time, the ultimate significance of the designation was not clear to Boland, nor the others in the office. They had a more pressing question. “We were all sitting around looking at this fax,” Boland said. “People were talking about ‘dot TV’ ... and we’re going, ‘what the hell is this Internet thing?’”

Dangerous heights / Reuters
Impressive and sobering data visualisations:

The rush to climb the world’s highest mountain this year resulted in a spike in fatalities in the spring climbing season. Eleven people died on Everest in less than two weeks, the most during a climbing season on the peak since a deadly earthquake in 2015. Reuters analysed newly released data to reveal the extent of daily traffic at the summit and shed light on those who lost their lives on Everest and elsewhere in the Himalayas. The information was taken from the Himalayan Database, a record of climbs of the Nepalese mountains in the range, which gathers figures retrospectively on those who attempted an ascent.

Which researchers really work long hours? / Marginal Revolution

The analyses included more than 49 000 manuscript submissions and 76 000 peer reviews. Little change over time was seen in the average probability of manuscript or peer review submissions occurring on weekends or holidays. The levels of out of hours work were high, with average probabilities of 0.14 to 0.18 for work on the weekends and 0.08 to 0.13 for work on holidays compared with days in the same week. Clear and consistent differences were seen between countries. Chinese researchers most often worked at weekends and at midnight, whereas researchers in Scandinavian countries were among the most likely to submit during the week and the middle of the day.

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