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Matt Warren

Penn and Teller interview - 0 views

  • Illusionists Penn and Teller barely communicate outside work – but after 35 years together they still create the most beautiful shows on earth. Ahead of their first British performances for 16 years, Benjamin Secher went to Las Vegas to ask them how they do it .
  • Penn dominates the stage, pointing, spouting like an evangelist, encouraging us to see the big ideas behind the wizardry, plucking at his double bass, doing dangerous looking things with a nailgun, cracking jokes at the expense of Homeland Security or dispensing a running commentary on Teller’s sleights of hand. He also has a habit of giving away the tricks – before Teller’s red ball act, he declares “this is done with a thread!” – something he describes as “a kind of peace offering” to the audience but which some of the other magicians in Vegas see as a professional blasphemy.

    He couldn’t care less what they think. “I have always hated magic,” he says. “I have always hated the basic undercurrent of magic which Jerry Seinfeld put best when he said: 'All magic is “Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone. You’re a jerk. Now it’s back. You’re an idiot. Show’s over”.’ I never wanted to grow up to be a magician. It was never my goal.” He would rather have been a rock star, he says, but the business seemed already saturated with extraordinarily talented people. “So my thinking was, and I will say this outright, music is full of people I absolutely love. I don’t have a chance. They are all better than me. Magic has, ooh, nobody in it that I like.” He rocks back in his chair, cackling. “This is the field for me!”

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    "Illusionists Penn and Teller barely communicate outside work - but after 35 years together they still create the most beautiful shows on earth. Ahead of their first British performances for 16 years, Benjamin Secher went to Las Vegas to ask them how they do it ." By Benjamin Secher at The Telegraph on July 9, 2010.
Matt Warren

By the Numbers - 0 views

  • "The creation, selection, promotion, and proliferation of numbers are … the stuff of politics," the editors write in their introduction. No debate lasts very long without a reference to data, and as the numbers boil their way into the argument, you must challenge them or be burned blind by them. The essays presented in Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts—about human trafficking, the Bosnian death count, the Darfur genocide, armed conflict, drugs, terrorism, and more—counsel exactly that sort of skepticism.
  • Often, the editors write, even the most rigorous-seeming statistics conceal squishy measurements. Inflated numbers are designed to create the sense that something must be done now. Depressed counts are intended to convince the recipients that the problem is too small to worry about. Whether it's body counts in Iraq or kilos of Colombian drugs, the creators and disseminators of the numbers usually have greater interest in their size than their veracity.
  • the drug bureaucracy spends extra billions to produce bigger numbers because the public associates "more" with "better."
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  • Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts performs similar forensics on the assertion, oft-repeated in government reports, that al-Qaida allots 10 percent of its budget to operational costs and 90 percent to administration and infrastructure. When you trace the claim to its origin—a report on terrorism—you find no footnote or sourcing at all. The author apparently concocted it from thin air.
  • The best advice in the book comes in the editors' concluding essay, which calls on everybody in the numbers racket—NGOs, government, academics, journalists—to confess humbly and honestly that they "don't know" rather than flinging dubious numbers.
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    "A terrific new book of essays encourages us all to be skeptical about statistics." By Jack Shafer at Slate Magazine.
Matt Warren

Extinction Burst - 0 views

  • The Misconception: If you stop engaging in a bad habit, the habit will gradually diminish until it disappears from your life.

    The Truth: Any time you quit something cold turkey, your brain will make a last-ditch effort to return you to your habit.

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    The Misconception: If you stop engaging in a bad habit, the habit will gradually diminish until it disappears from your life. The Truth: Any time you quit something cold turkey, your brain will make a last-ditch effort to return you to your habit. David McRaney deflates my ego again (at You Are Not So Smart).
Matt Warren

China: The Internal Debate Over Economic Policy - 0 views

  • Recent reports in China’s state media suggest that some banks and state-owned companies are resisting the central government’s attempts to tighten control over the real estate sector. This calls attention to China’s ongoing difficulties in managing the economic recovery and points to internal debates in Beijing over how to best handle newly emergent economic challenges as the global recovery appears to be losing steam.
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    "Recent reports in China's state media, subsequently denied by government officials, reveal difficulties in implementing Beijing's measures to tighten its grip on the rapidly growing real estate sector." By StratFor on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

Gulf Oil Spill : The Effects on Wildlife - 0 views

  • More Animals Are Dying, but the Causes Have Not Yet Been Determined

    More than 3,000 birds, sea turtles and dolphins have been found dead or debilitated in the gulf since the oil spill began. A majority of the dead were not visibly oiled, and officials have yet to determine why they died. But they have confirmed that many more animals are dying than during the same time period in previous years.

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    An excellent interactive graphic of the Gulf Oil Spill's current effect on wildlife. By The New York Times on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

Why comedian Louis C.K.'s appearance and race talk matters - 0 views

  • My friend Lilah has been encouraging me to listen to Louis C.K.'s stand up for months.

    "He talks about race all the time!"

    I could not, as when urged to do something someone says I will really like, I refuse to move (I pull on the leash like Lilah's dog does suddenly and for no apparent reason).
  • When a white man does something that black people have been doing for ages, he gets a lot of praise and overshadows the others. This is not news. Black comedians have been talking about race frankly and honestly for years. The attention Louis C.K. gets may anger some.

    He's doing the same thing we've been doing forever, he's just white.

    But his whiteness is exactly what's important. He is white. Blindingly white. Red headed and baldingly white. Everyday American white. One million of McCain/Palin supporters can even relate to.

    If this man, this man, talks about race and sexuality in a passionate, and unembarrassed way while maintaining his masculinity and humor all without a hint of self righteousness, maybe others will follow his lead.

    Maybe.

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    "He makes race more easily palatable to white America." An interesting argument by Kartina Richardson at TheLoop21 on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

Mr Steam Potato Punk Head - 0 views

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    "Sarah sez, "I participated in a design/craft swap. I was given 'an old toy' as a material and 'steampunk' as a theme to start. So, I bought a 10 dollar old-school Mr. Potato Head and used objects found around the house to make Spudnik. Then, I made a capsule/telescope that would hold documents that tell the story of Spudnik and his crucial role in saving the spirit of humanity from apocalyptic doom. I had a lot of fun making this, so I thought I'd share."

    Oh, brava, Sarah!"
Matt Warren

Amiri and the Role of Intelligence in Geopolitical Struggles - 0 views

  • The saga of the missing Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared from Saudi Arabia last year while on pilgrimage to Mecca reached a critical stage Tuesday.
  • By mid-morning on the United States’ East Coast, Washington had issued its official response: Amiri came to the United States on his own accord and now wanted to leave. It’s significant that this is the first time the U.S. government acknowledged that the Iranian scientist was in the United States. These dramatic developments come in the wake of multiple YouTube videos featuring a man or men claiming to be Amiri and who made contradictory statements, including that he was happily studying in the United States.
  • The exact circumstances that brought Amiri to the United States are critical in comprehending the nature of his involvement with American officials. But those details are unlikely to be made public by either side. And without details, this story offers more questions than answers.
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  • Another alternative emerges, one much more sinister and complicated — though not beyond the pale. Amiri could be a double agent planted by the Iranians to gain information about U.S. intelligence operations.
  • This seems an incredible explanation and assumes he managed to outsmart his American intelligence handlers. But it is not unthinkable, given what happened with Iraqi Shiite leader Ahmed Chalabi, who for years worked with multiple U.S. government agencies while working for Iranian intelligence.
  • This story — like the recent case of the Russian spies caught in the United States — does however underscore the role of intelligence, especially human intelligence operations, in shaping geopolitical struggles.
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    "The saga of the missing Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared from Saudi Arabia last year while on pilgrimage to Mecca reached a critical stage Tuesday." By StratFor on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

Green Flash (xkcd) - 0 views

shared by Matt Warren on 14 Jul 10 - Cached
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    "Did you know that if you stare at the sun just as it sets, you can see a green flash?" XKCD on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

Space Messiah Number 412 - 0 views

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    Classic: "I am the space messiah for this sector of the derision zones!" Another awesome comic at Scenes From A Multiverse on July 14, 2010.
Matt Warren

The Lifecourse Blog - 0 views

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    Learn more about generational matters from Neil Howe, co-author of Generations and The Fourth Turning. The coming years will be an excellent opportunity to put these social theories to the test. My prediction: It's going to be bumpy, but we Americans will reinvent ourselves yet again.
Matt Warren

'Econophysics' points way to fair salaries in free market - 0 views

  • A Purdue University researcher has used "econophysics" to show that under ideal circumstances free markets promote fair salaries for workers and do not support CEO compensation practices common today.
  • In the new work, the researcher has determined that fairness is integral to a normally functioning free market economy.

    Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared in June in the online journal Entropy and is available at http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/12/6/1514/
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    "A Purdue University researcher has used "econophysics" to show that under ideal circumstances free markets promote fair salaries for workers and do not support CEO compensation practices common today." By LabSpaces on July 13, 2010.
Matt Warren

Rational ignorance - 0 views

  • Rational ignorance occurs when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide.
  • Much of the empirical support for the idea of rational ignorance was drawn from studies of voter apathy, which reached particularly strong conclusions in the 1950s.[2] However, apathy appeared to decline sharply in the 1960s as concern about issues such as the Vietnam War mounted , and political polarization increased [3]. This suggests that voters' interest in political information increases with the importance of political choices.

    Additionally, rational ignorance is scrutinized for its broadening effect on the decisions that individuals make in different matters. The investment of time and energy on the specified subject has ramifications on other decision areas. Individuals sometimes forget to take this into account when unconsciously assessing the investment cost versus payout. The external benefits are therefore not adequately taken into account.

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    Definition: "Rational ignorance occurs when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide." I got a great pointer by Adam Gurri about this Wikipedia page.
Matt Warren

Objectivism & Politics, Part 58 - 0 views

  • If she had a clear, rational case against Libertarianism, wouldn’t she have presented such a case and left it at that? But she does no such thing. Instead, her arguments appear drenched in malice and petty resentment.
  • Now if Libertarianism really is as bad as Rand would have us believe, why did Rand have to resort to name calling and illogical guilt-by-association arguments? I have several conjectures on this score, as listed below.
  • Conjecture 1: Logical deduction from Rand’s basic premises.
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  • From Rand’s views of history and psychology, she concluded that bad arguments do more harm than outright opposition.
  • Conjecture 2: Vanity motive.
  • In short, even those who sympathized with Rand’s political ideals found her arguments unpersuasive. Imagine how galling that must have been to Rand that even people who shared her political convictions found her arguments unconvincing!
  • Conjecture 2: Jealousy.
  • Perhaps Rand simply resented that some defenders of freedom and capitalism had more success or were taken more seriously than she was.
  • she wrote, “[The Road to Serfdom] had no base, no moral base. This is why my book is needed.” [ibid, 104-105] This final boast suggests that Rand regarded Hayek as a rival, and that jealousy may have played a role in her overwrought denunciations of his book.
  • Conjecture 4: Resentment against excommunicated Objectivists.
  • Apologists for Rand might insist that conjectures two through four must be wrong, because Rand was incapable of vanity, jealousy, and resentment. This, however, is a rather implausible assertion difficult to find creditable. Vanity, jealousy, and resentment are emotions deep within the warp and woof of human nature.
  • Rand’s claim that she didn’t have these disagreeable emotions because, after all, she was a woman of self-made soul, is no more creditable than someone denying that his or her organism produces disagreeable body odors.
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    Why was Ayn Rand such a vociferous opponent of Libertarians - one of the few groups that didn't regard her with contempt? Another great post at Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature on July 12, 2010.
Matt Warren

Ad Nauseam: Advertisements - 0 views

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    Remember the good ol' days of The Daily Show? Back when Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert were anchors? Well, here's a throwback to those glory days with a great Ad Nauseam segment, where Mr. Carrell wonders if we're getting *enough* advertisements.
Matt Warren

What Futurists Actually Do - 0 views

  • This is a shame, because during the second half of the 20th century and continuing through the past decade, professional thinking about the future has grown from a niche field dominated by military strategists and predictioneers into a diverse global practice.
  • The Institute for the Future’s work is heavily influenced by disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. By looking at the convergence of social and technological forces that shape our communities, we help individuals and organizations make better, more informed decisions about the future. 
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    "...during the second half of the 20th century and continuing through the past decade, professional thinking about the future has grown from a niche field dominated by military strategists and predictioneers into a diverse global practice." By Mathias Crawford at GOOD Blog on July 13, 2010.
Matt Warren

Russian Spies and Strategic Intelligence - 0 views

  • The way the media has reported on the issue falls into three groups:

    • That the Cold War is back,
    • That, given that the Cold War is over, the point of such outmoded intelligence operations is questionable,
    • And that the Russian spy ring was spending its time aimlessly nosing around in think tanks and open meetings in an archaic and incompetent effort.
  • First, it needs to know what other nations are capable of doing.
  • Second, the nation needs to know what other nations intend to do.
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  • The more powerful a nation is, the more important it is to understand what it is doing.
  • Knowing what the United States will do, and shifting policy based on that, can save countries from difficulties and even disaster.
  • What they excelled at, however, was placing undetectable operatives in key positions. Soviet talent scouts would range around left-wing meetings to discover potential recruits. These would be young people with impeccable backgrounds and only limited contact with the left. They would be recruited based on ideology, and less often via money, sex or blackmail. They would never again be in contact with communists or fellow travelers.
  • Recruiting people who were not yet agents, creating psychological and material bonds over long years of management and allowing them to mature into senior intelligence or ministry officials allowed ample time for testing loyalty and positioning. The Soviets not only got more reliable information this way but also the ability to influence the other country’s decision-making.
  • There were four phases:

    • Identifying likely candidates,
    • Evaluating and recruiting them,
    • Placing them and managing their rise in the organization,
    • And exploiting them.
  • It is difficult to know what the Russian team was up to in the United States from news reports, but there are two things we know about the Russians: They are not stupid, and they are extremely patient.
  • If we were to guess — and we are guessing — this was a team of talent scouts.
  • One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings.
  • We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting.
  • Each of the phases of the operatives’ tasks required a tremendous amount of time, patience and, above all, cover. The operatives had to blend in (in this case, they didn’t do so well enough).
  • Were the Americans to try the same thing, they would have to convince people to spend years learning Russian to near-native perfection and then to spend 20-30 years of their lives in Russia. Some would be willing to do so, but not nearly as many as there are Russians prepared to spend that amount of time in the United States or Western Europe.
  • The United States has substituted technical intelligence for this process. Thus, the most important U.S. intelligence-collection agency is not the CIA; it is the National Security Agency (NSA).
  • In many ways, this provides better and faster intelligence than the placement of agents, except that this does not provide influence.
  • it assumes that what senior (and other) individuals say, write or even think reveals the most important things about the country in question.
  • The fall of the Shah of Iran and the collapse of the Soviet empire were events of towering importance for the United States.
  • Either of those scenarios would not have made any difference to how events played out. This is because, in the end, the respective senior leadership didn’t know how events were going to play out. Partly this is because they were in denial, but mostly this is because they didn’t have the facts and they didn’t interpret the facts they did have properly. At these critical turning points in history, the most thorough penetration using either American or Russian techniques would have failed to provide warning of the change ahead.
  • The people being spied on and penetrated simply didn’t understand their own capabilities — i.e., the reality on the ground in their respective countries — and therefore their intentions about what to do were irrelevant and actually misleading.
  • if we regard anticipating systemic changes as one of the most important categories of intelligence, then these are cases where the targets of intelligence may well know the least and know it last.
  • We started with three classes of intelligence: capabilities, intentions and what will actually happen.
  • The first is an objective measure that can sometimes be seen directly but more frequently is obtained through data held by someone in the target country. The most important issue is not what this data says but how accurate it is.
  • For example, George W. Bush did not intend to get bogged down in a guerrilla war in Iraq. What he intended and what happened were two different things because his view of American and Iraqi capabilities were not tied to reality.
  • But in the end, the most important question to ask is whether the most highly placed source has any clue as to what is going to happen.
  • Knowledge of what is being thought is essential. But gaming out how the objective and impersonal forces will interact and play out it is the most important thing of all.
  • The events of the past few weeks show intelligence doing the necessary work of recruiting and rescuing agents. The measure of all of this activity is not whether one has penetrated the other side, but in the end, whether your intelligence organization knew what was going to happen and told you regardless of what well-placed sources believed. Sometimes sources are indispensable. Sometimes they are misleading. And sometimes they are the way an intelligence organization justifies being wrong.
    • Matt Warren
       
      This feels like that old saying, amateurs study tactics but experts study logistics. Perhaps that's the angle on this spying stuff that we haven't taken because we subconsciously imagine the crap of popular culture where knowledge should be.
    • Matt Warren
       
      It certainly makes my thoughts here (http://longgame.org/2010/07/spies-like-them/) feel pretty damned quaint.
  • There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was.
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    Some amount of spying is the cost of doing business for any power. By George Friedman at StratFor on July 13, 2010.
Matt Warren

Reports of blogging's death have been greatly exaggerated - 0 views

  • Of course, none of those media are dead, and neither is blogging. Instead, what's happened is that they've been succeeded by new forms that share some of their characteristics, and these new forms have peeled away all the stories that suit them best.
  • When all we had was the stage, every performance was a play. When we got films, a great lot of these stories moved to the screen, where they'd always belonged (they'd been squeezed onto a stage because there was no alternative). When TV came along, those stories that were better suited to the small screen were peeled away from the cinema and relocated to the telly. When YouTube came along, it liberated all those stories that wanted to be 3-8 minutes long, not a 22-minute sitcom or a 48-minute drama. And so on.
  • For me, the great attraction of all this is that preparing material for public consumption forces me to clarify it in my own mind. I don't really know it until I write it. Thus the more media I have at my disposal, the more ways there are for me to work out my own ideas.
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  • "new, further developed types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. Instead, a convergence takes place in their field, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms."

    That was coined in 1913 by Wolfgang Riepl. It's as true now as it was then.

  • Reports of blogging's death have been greatly exaggerated
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    "Blogging is not on the way out - it's just that other social media have taken over many of its functions." By Cory Doctorow at The Guardian on July 13, 2010.
Matt Warren

Moscow's Espionage Addiction - 0 views

  • Russia is generally freer now than it was under communism, but its spy-chiefs are, if anything, even more entrenched. No longer is it the government that is running the spies. The spies are running the government.
  • The effect, less commonly observed, is that post-communist Russia has emerged, not as a police state, but as a secret-police state—something of a novelty in international relations, and with its own characteristics.
  • The secret-police state, as best we can judge from the Russian prototype, is a much more evasive beast. The people who run it prefer to spend their time away from the public eye. They take minimal interest or pleasure in the traditional business of government, such as providing public services. They care little for public or private morality. Their method is to monopolize power, not so much by crushing rivals, as by preventing potential rivals from gaining any traction in the first place—which requires, naturally enough, an extensive domestic spying apparatus capable of infiltrating all social and economic structures.
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  • It follows from this that the only really useful type of diplomacy is espionage, getting at the hidden story. The rest of diplomacy is either useless protocol or useful cover.
  • This was a serious piece of espionage, however comical some of the trappings.
  • America’s way of ending the affair has been exemplary. By arresting the spies, it has demonstrated the efficacy of the FBI and humiliated Russia’s intelligence services, at little or no diplomatic cost.
  • Another criticism of the swap might be that, if America lets these Russian spies off so lightly, then Russia will only be the more emboldened to send new spies in their place. Which is true—but Russia is going to send more anyway.
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    "Russia is generally freer now than it was under communism, but its spy-chiefs are, if anything, even more entrenched. No longer is it the government that is running the spies. The spies are running the government." By Robert Cottrell at The New York Review of Books on July 12, 2010.
Matt Warren

What is Cognitive Dissonance? - 0 views

  • Cognitive dissonance is a family of theories in psychology explaining how we grapple with contradictory thoughts.
  • It has many branches, but a prominent one and perhaps the earliest, suggests that we irrationally discard information that is in conflict with our preconceived ideas.
  • The “rational” (i.e. Bayesian) reaction is to weigh your prior belief in the alternatives.
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    "You firmly believe that the sun will rise every morning. Then one day you awake and the sun does not rise. What are you to believe now?" By Jeff at Cheap Talk on July 12, 2010.
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