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10 Dec 14:39

Why Ted Cruz Is Happy Hiding in Donald Trump’s Shadow

by Steven Cohen

On Monday, a few hours before Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Ted Cruz was asked whether he expects Trump to come after him, now that one leading poll has the Texas senator ahead in the coveted early voting state of Iowa. “Listen, I like and respect Donald Trump,” said Cruz. “I continue to like and respect Donald Trump. While other candidates in this race have gone out of their way to throw rocks at him, to insult him, I have consistently declined to do so, and I have no intention of changing that now.”

True to his word, Cruz refused to join the pack of Republican hopefuls who piled onto the front-runner’s latest obscenity. At a press conference the following morning to announce a Senate bill barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees, Cruz appeared alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott and continued to dance around the question of Trump’s naked racism, at one point commending the Donald for “focusing the American people’s attention” on the urgency of fending off foreign invaders. Pressed for a direct response to Trump’s ban on Muslims, Cruz finally conceded, “I do not agree with [Trump’s] proposal. I do not think it is the right solution.”

The right solution, you may be surprised to learn, is Cruz’s solution, which he just happened to introduce in the Senate the morning after Trump belched out his own. The modestly titled “Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act” would substitute Trump’s blanket, possibly unconstitutional ban with a more targeted—and, in certain senses, crueler—three-year moratorium on the resettlement of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and any other country determined to contain “terrorist-controlled territory.” Where Trump’s answer is typically lacking in nuance, Cruz’s bill is designed to “focus very directly on the threat.” He’s casting it as the principled, measured alternative to a vaguely defined problem that both candidates insist exists.

“This is not about the Islamic faith,” Cruz explained to NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday. “It is about Islamism, which is a very different thing.” The conservatives Cruz is courting don’t appear to recognize the distinction, and it would be naive to think that Cruz isn’t perfectly aware of that. According to a new Bloomberg poll, two-thirds of likely Republican voters support Trump’s indiscriminate prohibition; one-third say it makes them more inclined to vote for him. 

If Cruz truly wanted to set his intentions apart from Trump’s, he could start by refuting the white-supremacist propaganda Trump has pointed to as evidence that “Muslim” is indeed synonymous with “terrorist sympathizer.” But Cruz, the champion debater and seasoned appellate attorney, is careful to present his disagreement with Trump as rooted in policy, not premise. “That is not my view of how we should approach it,” Cruz told NPR. He’s happy to let voters decide what the “it” is.  

Trump’s precipitous descent into outright fascism is widely considered to be a problem for the GOP—and in some ways it is. But for Cruz, never a party loyalist to begin with, it’s also created a unique opportunity to channel the energies of racial anxiety into a comparatively palatable, mainstream campaign for the presidency. A number of commentators have noted that Cruz is positioning himself to consolidate Trump’s support in the eventual event of his collapse—which, we keep being told, will be arriving any day now. 

But the net, and more dangerous, effect of Cruz’s strategy is to legitimize the racism that informs Trump’s. Two weeks ago, Cruz was on the extreme end of a national debate over admitting people fleeing the ravages of countries the United States has made war on. By allowing Trump to “effectively outbid” him in the wake of the San Bernadino massacre, as NPR’s Inskeep put it, Cruz has come out looking relatively moderate and responsible in an entirely new discussion about whether the basis of U.S. policy should be overt xenophobia or implied xenophobia.

Each of the remaining Republican contenders is cognizant of the need to create rhetorical distance from Trump without disavowing the sentiments he’s churned up from below. Carly Fiorina called closing the borders to Muslims an “overreaction”—a euphemism that became a false equivalence when she compared it to President Obama’s “dangerous” underreaction to the supposed threat. Marco Rubio criticized the form of Trump’s comments but not their substance, saying only that Trump’s “habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.” Jeb Bush, who supports imposing a religious test on the admission of refugees, called Trump “unhinged.” Ben Carson, who disagrees with Trump’s proposed ban because he does “not advocate being selective on one’s religion,” has previously stated that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be president.

The other candidates may recognize the dilemma posed by the stubborn popularity of Trump’s ravings, but no one has been as deliberate, or effective, in incorporating the strains of white nationalism into their own overarching strategy as Cruz has. He’s hewed closely—but, critically, not too closely—to Trump’s noxious line on immigration and refugees, which Cruz frequently ties together with warnings of an impending invasion from the south. “Border security is national security,” he said in a statement on Sunday prior to President Obama’s address about terrorism and the San Bernadino shootings. “I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country,” he reiterated later. 

So far, Trump’s flamboyant nativism has drawn all the scrutiny, leaving Cruz to concentrate on raising money and building out his ground game. He knows better than to openly embrace the most jarring of Trump’s flourishes, but he won’t attack them, either—and when others do, Cruz is right there holding the flank. President Obama sounds like a “condescending school marm lecturing the American people against Islamophobia,” Cruz told NPR’s Inskeep. At the last Republican debate, he invoked his Cuban-American heritage as a cover for the field’s more general shift in the direction of mass deportation and wall-building: “For those of us who believe people ought to come to this country legally, and we should enforce the law, we’re tired of being told it’s anti-immigrant. It’s offensive.” Two weeks later, campaigning on the road in Iowa alongside Representative Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King of Iowa, perhaps the most aggressively ignorant anti-immigration crusader in Congress, Cruz assured reporters that “tone matters” when it comes to these issues.

In an effort to explain his latest step down the road to the internment camp, some have speculated that Trump is attempting to fend off Cruz’s surging poll numbers. If so, he misunderstands the nature of Cruz’s maneuvering, as well as the depth of Cruz’s patience. With each reflexive lurch toward a darker, more explicitly ugly politics, Trump draws more attention to himself but also clears more ideological space for Cruz. Lindsey Graham, who’s polling somewhere ahead of Louis Farrakhan in the race for the Republican nomination, told the Guardian, “It’s time for Ted Cruz to quit hiding in the weeds and speak out against Donald Trump’s xenophobia and racial bigotry.” 

But Ted Cruz likes it in the weeds just fine. He’s made it this far trudging through the muck, and there’s no reason for him to change course anytime soon.

19 Aug 17:11

Police are operating with total impunity in Ferguson

by Matthew Yglesias

Above you'll see a picture of Scott Olson, the Getty photographer who's brought us many of the most striking images of protests and police crackdown that followed the shooting of Michael Brown.

The other two men in the photograph, despite presumably being police officers, are not identifiable at this time. Unlike normal police officers, they are not wearing name tags or badges with visible numbers on them. When police arrested the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly, they weren't wearing badges or nametags either. Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it's appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there's really no room for disagreement about when it's reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.

many cops operating in Ferguson are betting on impunity, and it seems to be a winning bet

There's only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions.

Olson was released shortly after his arrest, as were Reilly and Lowery before him. Ryan Devereaux from The Intercept and Lukas Hermsmeier from the German tabloid Bild were likewise arrested last night and released without charges after an overnight stay in jail. In other words, they never should have been arrested in the first place. But nothing's being done to punish the mystery officers who did the arresting.

And what's particularly shocking about this form of evasion is how shallow it is. I can't identify the officers in that photograph. But the faces are clearly visible. The brass at the Ferguson Police Department, Saint Louis County Police Department, and Missouri Highway Patrol should be able to easily identify the two officers who are out improperly arrested photographers. By the same token, video taken at the Lowery and Reilly arrests should allow for the same to be done in that case.

Policing without a nametag can help you avoid accountability from the press or from citizens, but it can't possibly help you avoid accountability from the bosses.

on another level, it would almost be nicer to hear that nobody in charge thinks there's been any misconduct

For that you have to count on an atmosphere of utter impunity. It's a bet many cops operating in Ferguson are making, and it seems to be a winning bet.

In his statement today, President Obama observed that "there's no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully," seeking to tap into the widespread view that some instances of excessive force and denial of first amendment rights have taken place. But Obama did not even vaguely hint that any officer of the law would or should face even the slightest sanction for this inexcusable behavior.

Statements from Governor Jay Nixon and Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson have suffered from the same problem. It is nice, of course, to hear that one's concerns are in some sense shared by the people in power.

But on another level, it would almost be nicer to hear that nobody in charge thinks there's been any misconduct. After all, a lack of police misconduct would be an excellent reason for a lack of any disciplinary action. What we have is something much scarier. Impunity. The sense that misconduct will occur and even be acknowledged without punishment. Of course there are some limits to impunity. Shoot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and there'll be an investigation. But rough up a reporter in a McDonalds for no reason? Tear-gas an 8 year-old? Parade in front of the cameras with no badges on? No problem.

(Pew Center)

According to a Pew poll released earlier today, most white people have a good amount of confidence in the investigation into Michael Brown's death. They have the good sense, however, to at least admit to some misgivings about the handling of the protests.

What they ought to see is that the two are hardly so separable. The protests would not be handled so poorly if the officers doing the handling felt that they were accountable for their actions. And a policing culture that doesn't believe cops should be accountable for their actions is not a culture that lends itself to a credible investigation.

04 Aug 15:39

Revenge of the conservative nerds

by Ezra Klein
Crowtrobot

"Theirs is the nerd-dom of Star Wars, not Star Trek; of Mario Kart and not World of Warcraft; of the latest X-Men movie rather than the comics themselves." -- these guys know that star trek is/was written by a bunch of soggy lefties right?

The National Review recently published an odd, but interesting, essay by Charles W. Cooke about "America's nerd problem."

The article begins by accusing a number of writers, broadcasters, politicians and scientists (including myself, Matt Yglesias and Dylan Matthews; as well as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore) of being faux-nerds: "Theirs is the nerd-dom of Star Wars, not Star Trek; of Mario Kart and not World of Warcraft; of the latest X-Men movie rather than the comics themselves."

Yglesias defends himself against the scurrilous accusation that he's not a a true trekkie here. And anyone who doubts Matthews' nerd credentials has never met him. Still, I'll cop to some of the charges: I prefer Mario Kart to World of Warcraft and have little patience for either Star Trek or Star Wars. My knowledge of old X-Men comics, however, is embarrassingly complete (and let's not get started on X-Force).

2356258-dangerous

It’s like a magazine, but it’s for nerds.

Nerd-offs aside, Cooke's essay, though putatively about progressivism, is an interesting window into the state of contemporary conservatism. The old conservative critique of nerds — or, to be more precise about it, technocrats and intellectuals — was that their approach to knowledge was fundamentally flawed.

"I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University," William F. Buckley, the founder of The National Review, famously said. (I admit the data here is poor, but I would guess that the Boston telephone directory tilts towards Star Wars while the Harvard faculty favors Star Trek.)

Yuval Levin, one of conservatism's foremost thinkers, has argued that America's two political traditions are rooted in this debate.

He's written a book about the arguments between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, which he frames as a disagreement about what we can know in society, with Burke prizing "social knowledge" and Paine prizing "technical knowledge." Conservatism, he's argued, emerges from the Burkean tradition: it is skeptical of what the nerds can know and reverent of what the common man has learned — that's where you get Buckley's quote, for instance. Liberalism, he says, is just the reverse.

Cooke's essay is convoluted and expresses, at times, both pro- and anti-nerd sentiments. But the framing is clear, and it reflects an emergent trend in conservatism. Its argument isn't the classically conservative argument that the left is full of nerds and their ambitious, arrogant designs should be mistrusted; it's that the left is full of faux-nerds who lack scientific training but nevertheless wear glasses — and their ambitious, arrogant designs should be mistrusted. Or, to put it more simply, the problem isn't nerds so much as poseurs.

"Sorry, America," he concludes. "Science is important. But these are not the nerds you're looking for."

A version of this transition can be seen in the Republican Party's lurch from George W. Bush to Paul Ryan. The left's knock on Bush (and, before him, Reagan) was that he was dumb and inarticulate; the right's riposte was that the left prized the wrong kind of knowledge, and that Republicans were smart enough to know that ordinary Americans were a helluva lot wiser than Ivy League elitists. And the right was comfortable in that response: it was an argument they kept winning at the polls.


But after Bush's disastrous presidency and Obama's political successes, today's Republicans don't want to towel snap the Democratic Party's nerds. They want to out-nerd them. The party's standard-bearer, insofar as there is one, is Paul Ryan. He became the GOP's champion after video of him blasting President Obama with charts and graphs during the Blair House debate over health-care reform went viral. The National Review called it "a devastating critique" that proved "that the Democrats just don't have an answer to Ryan's arguments." (The answer to Ryan's arguments was that they were mostly wrong.) A few weeks later Real Clear Politics wrote that you could easily imagine Ryan at a Star Trek convention.

Ryan then became the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee on the strength of his unusually detailed budgets, which, again, were contrasted with Obama's faux-wonkery: "In an era that seemingly rewards shallow oratorical excellence over substance (see Obama, Barack Hussein), his political brilliance is the capacity to educate on a vision, run on a record of accomplishment, and — yes — stand on his feet and talk persuasively about both," enthused conservative economist Doug Holtz-Eakin at the Daily Caller.

Even the case for Ted Cruz gets made in terms of a nerd-off with Obama.

"Cruz went to Princeton University, where he was a national champion debater, and got a law degree from Harvard. Cruz's legal career was objectively more impressive than Obama's," wrote Jonah Goldberg at the National Review. "He clerked on the appellate court and for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. He held numerous prestigious jobs in and out of government. Like Obama, he taught law, but Cruz was also the solicitor general of Texas and argued before the Supreme Court nine times." His World of Warcraft guild could probably crush Obama's.

01 Aug 20:02

The Times of Israel published an article on "when genocide is permissible." Here's their funder

by Matthew Yglesias

A writer named Yochanan Gordan briefly had an article up on the website of The Times of Israel calling for genocide of the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip.

Screen_shot_2014-08-01_at_12.05.09_pm The site's editors seem to have come around to the view that this kind of content is wildly inappropriate and took it down.

The incident naturally raises curiosity about the nature of the Times, which turns out to be a fairly small audience English-language digital-only project. What's interesting, however, is that though it's formally organized as a for-profit, it's pretty clearly a money-losing endeavor undertaken by somewhat idiosyncratic Boston-area hedge funder and philanthropist Seth Klarman. Klarman is mostly a Republican, but he backs marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. He's also one of the major sources of funding for the Ending Spending Action Fund.

More relevantly, according to Forward he's very active in a number of US-based pro-Israel groups of various stripes:

But the foundation also has a focus on Israel advocacy. Klarman has been a board member of, and a major donor to, The Israel Project, a fast-growing pro-Israel advocacy group that seeks to provide information useful to working journalists. He gave the group nearly $4 million between 2008 and 2010.

The foundation has also given smaller amounts to the Middle East Media Research Group, an anti-Islamist research group whose board members include Elliott Abrams, a senior aide in several Republican administrations, and Steve Emerson, a researcher devoted to exposing ties, as he perceives them, between American Muslims and extremist Muslim movements. Klarman has also contributed to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, a group devoted to combating what it sees as anti-Israel bias in the media.

Klarman has also been the longtime chairman of The David Project, a Boston-based group mostly concerned with pro-Israel advocacy on campus. The group is also known for its long-running, and ultimately failed, effort to oppose the construction of a Boston mosque. Klarman said in an interview with the Forward that his interest in The David Project was in its campus work. The group has recently adopted a more moderate approach to campus activism.

Obviously the folks running the show at the Times of Israel have the good sense to recognize after the fact that open calls for genocide are not in keeping with an institutional mission to try to make Israel look good in the world.

31 Jul 17:12

America's marijuana policy isn't funny. It's racist.

by German Lopez
Crowtrobot

"Hahahahaha! We're completely insulated from the consequences of the war on drugs."

When NBC's Meet the Press over the weekend held a roundtable about the New York Times Editorial Board's decision to endorse marijuana legalization, participants seemed to take the issue very lightly — regularly making jokes between a few serious policy points.

It was obvious where the conversation would go from the start, when host David Gregory mentioned marijuana and giggles went around the table. From that point, the jokes flowed. "I don't know what they've been smoking up there," said columnist David Brooks about the New York Times Editorial Board. Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour said, "When I think of grass, I think of something to walk on. When I think of pot, I think of something to put a plant in."

there's a very serious disconnect about what marijuana legalization would mean for America

The chuckles are typical in conversations about marijuana policy. At one of his first town halls, President Barack Obama joked, "There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high: that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience." In June, former President Bill Clinton asked, "Rocky Mountain high?" to chuckles before going into an answer that seemed to support state-based reform. Hillary Clinton got in some jokes about marijuana before answering a similar question at a CNN-hosted town hall in the spring.

In some cases, these quips help lighten a conversation about drugs that many Americans, especially parents, are simply uncomfortable with. But the jokes also reflect a problem in discussions about US drug policy: there's a very serious disconnect about what marijuana legalization means for Americans.

It's easy to joke about marijuana policy when the idea of legalization feels more like a new freedom, which might be the case for whiter and wealthier populations. As someone from a privileged background who socializes with people from similarly privileged backgrounds, my social circle's conversations about pot legalization largely revolve around how cool and liberating it might be to buy pot legally. What we rarely mention in these conversations: race, the criminal justice system, and the fear of getting arrested if someone were to buy pot illegally.

black people are 3.7 times more likely to get arrested for pot possession

But for minority, poorer populations, marijuana policy is much closer to a civil rights issue. Marijuana isn't just a drug that they would like to be able to use and carry out in the open. Marijuana criminalization has historically been used to harass and arrest people in minority and poor communities at hugely disproportionate rates.

A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that, even though white and black people use pot at similar rates, black people are 3.7 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession. In the District of Columbia, black people were 8.3 times more likely to get arrested for the drug.

Black_v_white_marijuana_possession_arrest

Black and white people use pot at similar rates, but black people are much more likely to be arrested for it. (ACLU)

These racially disproportionate marijuana-related arrest rates remained in some states even after decriminalization, when criminal penalties are removed but the drug remains technically illegal.

New York, for instance, decriminalized marijuana in 1977, but as of 2012 had one of the highest arrest rates for pot possession. The problem: New York law allows arrests for marijuana that's within public view. Police officers in New York City regularly used this exception to arrest people, particularly minorities, by getting them to empty their pockets during stop-and-frisk searches and expose marijuana that would otherwise have remained hidden. (According to a report from the New York City Public Advocate's office, the vast majority of stop-and-frisk searches in 2012 — roughly 84 percent — involved black or Hispanic people.)

There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether these arrests focus on drug traffickers instead of users, highlight broader problems in the war on drugs and the criminal justice system, or signify higher crime rates among minority communities.

marijuana policy is simply no joking matter

But Meet the Press didn't even give that debate a chance. The roundtable instead focused on the health effects and whether legalization increases pot use. These are very important issues that need to be discussed, but they're also the kinds of issues more privileged Americans can focus on because they just don't see the skewed effects of criminalization in their everyday lives.

Just imagine, for example, if the couple of minutes the roundtable spent on jokes were instead spent discussing racially uneven drug policy enforcement. As Ryan Cooper of the Week points out, this would be much more valuable to Meet the Press' audience. Because for a large chunk of the US population, marijuana policy is simply no joking matter.

To learn more about marijuana legalization, read our full explainer and watch the video below:


29 Jul 16:32

Habanero Carrot Cake From 'Sweet and Vicious'

by Emma Kobolakis
Crowtrobot

oooooh

Habanero Carrot Cake From 'Sweet and Vicious'
If the fire-breathing dragon wasn't hint enough, one bite will prove this cake is packing heat. In her recently released cookbook, Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude, Libbie Summers stirs hot pepper extract into a lightly spicy batter, and spikes the cream cheese frosting with spiced pecans. The fruitiness of the pepper works well with the carrot-heavy batter, further enhanced by traditional cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves. Get Recipe!
25 Jul 18:54

Corporations used to pay almost one-third of federal taxes. Now it's one-tenth.

by Danielle Kurtzleben

Everyone agrees the corporate income tax is broken, but meaningful changes to it never seem to happen. And despite a flurry of recent attention, action on inversions — reincorporating a business in a foreign country in order to take advantage of lower rates — seems to keep being punted into the future.

Obama railed against inversions this week, calling for "economic patriotism." But Senate Democrats say they don't think Congress can address the issue before August recess, as Bloomberg reported this week. And even then, agreement looks tough: Republicans want broader tax-code reform, and not all Democrats are behind Obama.

Corporations are shouldering far less of a tax burden than they used to. Corporate tax revenues have declined as a share of GDP over the years, but individual tax revenues have held steady, according to a 2013 GAO report.

Screen_shot_2014-07-25_at_11.57.01_am

Corporations account for a much smaller share of the tax revenue pie than they used to. In 1952, corporations accounted for 32.1 percent of federal revenue. As of 2013, it was less than 10 percent.

It's understandable why US corporations seek out inversions — the US has the highest nominal corporate tax rate among developed countries, with a 35 percent top federal rate and a 39.1 percent average combined rate. While other countries' rates have fallen, the U.S.'s has stayed high.

But corporations are also very good at finding ways to pay less. The GAO found that all corporations who filed M-3s (a tax form for large and international corporations) paid an effective tax rate of 22.7 percent in 2013. Among profitable companies only, the rate was even lower, at 17 percent.

So even while the US corporate tax rate is high, its corporate tax revenue collections are low. That's one reason why, as of 2011, the US was on the low end of corporate tax revenue among OECD nations.

Screen_shot_2014-07-25_at_12.22.42_pm

21 Jul 15:14

Cajun Pork and Beef Pie with Savory Cream Cheese Topping

by Jennifer Olvera
Crowtrobot

this sounds delightful and also that it will kill me

Cajun Pork and Beef Pie with Savory Cream Cheese Topping
This Paul Prudhomme-inspired pie is essentially a sweet pastry crust filled with a savory mixture of Cajun-spiced ground pork and beef. It's topped with rich seasoned cream cheese, which turns bubbly and browned in the oven—in short, it's bliss on a plate. Get Recipe!
18 Jul 01:59

Chocolate Mousse and Marshmallow Icing S'mores Cake

by Ideas in Food
Chocolate Mousse and Marshmallow Icing S'mores Cake
Borrowing all the classic flavors of a campfire s'more, the Ideas in Food team creates a graham cracker cake that's flavored with browned butter, layered with a dulce de leche-spiked chocolate mousse, and topped with a toasted bourbon-marshmallow icing. Get Recipe!
17 Jul 15:14

Tipping perpetuates racism, classism, and poverty — let's get rid of it!

by Brandon Ambrosino

"Welcome to my restaurant; now please pay my employees."

That's tipping in a nutshell, according to Mark Ventura, a former waiter and an economics major at Miami University. Ventura was quoted last week in an article profiling the restaurant Packhouse Meats, which opened in January in Newport, KY. The restaurant has a no-tipping policy. Signs proudly announcing the embargo are on full display in the restaurant, and the credit card slip only has a place for your signature — no extra line for gratuity.

Plenty of people have written about the indignities of the American tipping system. English author Lynne Truss once compared visiting New York to visiting the Third World: "In this great financial capital ... tips are not niceties: give a 'thank you' that isn't green and foldable and you are actively starving someone's children." The Village Voice's Foster Kamer called tipping "an assault on fairness" for everyone involved in the transaction: "It reinforces an economically and socially dangerous status quo, while buttressing a functional aristocracy," he wrote in "The Death of Tipping". Meanwhile Michael Lewis, in one of the most well-known essays on the subject, argued against it from the consumer's perspective, comparing obligatory tipping — and what sort of tipping isn't in some sense obligatory? — to a government tax: "I feel we are creeping slowly toward a kind of baksheesh economy in which everyone expects to be showered with coins simply for doing what they've already been paid to do."

And yet for some reason, the customary practice of tipping endures, and all of us who read these essays and hope they catch on continue to actively participate in the system we seem to so publicly hate. As William Scott pointed out almost a century ago in The Itching Palm, one of the first published anti-tipping screeds, "There are abundant indications of a widespread distaste for the custom but the sentiment is unorganized and inarticulate."

Here, then, is the complete case against tipping.

1) Tipping lets employers off the hook

The first and most compelling rebuttal to any case against tipping is always BUT THAT'S HOW SERVERS MAKE MOST OF THEIR INCOME.

Yes, that's right — and that's the problem. Restaurant servers' hourly wages are ridiculously low — $2.13 an hour, in fact, in most states — and they do depend on tips to account for the bulk of their income. Taking away a server's tips would put her in a bad place financially —  unless her employer ups her hourly wage. As it now stands, the tipping model lets business owners make more money at the expense of their employees' hard work. But rather than let their employees grovel for tips, restaurateurs ought to be required to pay their employees a living wage.

Consumers should not be responsible for paying the incomes of a restaurant owner's employees. For one thing, it isn't fair to the consumers. But more troublingly, it isn't fair to the employees: a server's ability to pay his bills shouldn't be subject to the weather, the frequency with which he touches his guests, or the noise level of the restaurant, all of which are factors that contribute to the tip amount left by a consumer.

As the Economy Policy Institute (EPI) notes,

Tipped workers — whose wages typically fall in the bottom quartile of all U.S. wage earners, even after accounting for tips — are a growing portion of the U.S. workforce. Employment in the full-service restaurant industry has grown over 85 percent since 1990, while overall private-sector employment grew by only 24 percent. In fact, today more than one in 10 U.S. workers is employed in the leisure and hospitality sector, making labor policies for these industries all the more central to defining typical American work life.

EPI also cites research that the poverty rate of tipped workers is nearly double that of other workers (as the chart below indicates), and that tipped employees are 3 times more likely to be on food stamps.

Poverty_national

EPI also argues it is false to suggest that "these workers' tips provide adequate levels of income and reasonable economic security," as 2014 reports from the White House and the Congressional Budget Office argued. Further, they say, research clearly shows that poverty rates are reduced in those states where the minimum wage rate for tipped workers has been raised.

2) Tipping is undemocratic

"The itching palm is a moral disease," wrote Scott in his 1916. To him, tipping was a threat to the founding principle of democracy: that all men are created equal. Allowing an American citizen (i.e. the person being tipped) to adopt the posture of a sycophant is deeply undemocratic, argued Scott, because it limits self-respect to the "governing classes" (i.e. the tippers).

According to Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, the practice of tipping originated in Europe and only later migrated to America just after the Civil War. (As for why the practice started in Europe in the first place, Kamer discusses different theories.) Wealthy Americans returning home from European vacations wanted to show off what they'd learned abroad, and so they started tipping their service workers.

Tipping, in other words, is rooted in an aristocratic tradition. It should come as no surprise that tipping took off in Europe, a continent that promoted a clear distinction between the servant class and higher forms of society. But as Scott notes, America prides itself on not distinguishing social groups bases solely on their financial means. In fact, he notes, "Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies, is what we left Europe to escape."

Scott isn't the only one with this view. According to Yoram Margalioth of Tel Aviv University Law School, tipping in America was at first "met with fierce opposition as fostering a master-servant relationship [was] ill suited to a nation whose people were meant to be social equals." The Anti-Tipping Society was founded in 1904 in Georgia, and convinced its 100,000 members to foreswear tipping for an entire year. Labor unions, too, came out against tipping, as did the president of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers. Opposition to tipping finally got codified into law, when Washington State passed a no-tipping law in 1909. Five other states followed suit, though, according to Wachter, none of the laws were enforced, and as a result, all of them were repealed by 1926.

Today, tipping continues to be de rigueur in America, while, ironically, the European custom has been replaced in its home country by a service charge.

Scott_3

3) Tipping doesn't do what it's supposed to do

As Margialoth notes, many people view tipping "as an informal service contract between the customer and the waiter, acting as a consumer-monitoring mechanism." This informal contract reinforces the belief that customers are able to monitor the service they receive and reward it accordingly. In other words, the argument goes, tipping motivates the server to do her best work. This makes some sense at least in theory, but in reality, it's really, really wrong.

After a qualitative study of more than 2,600 dining parties at 21 different restaurants, Lynn concluded that "tips are only weakly related to service." As Margialoth notes, the most important factor to patrons deciding upon tip amounts is the amount of the check, not the efficiency, or inefficiency, of the server; the quantity of the food they order, not the quality with which it's served to them. This finding, Lynn argues, "raises serious questions about the use of tips as a measure of server performance or customer satisfaction as well as the use of tips as incentives to deliver good service." It also emphasizes the fact that tipping is really, painfully unfair: how in the world is bringing a customer a $1,000 bottle of wine any more work than bringing her a $60 bottle? If Lynn is right, and customers generally tip on amount alone, the difference between the hypothetical 20 percent gratuities would be $188 — a $200 tip versus a $12 tip.

Steve Dublanica, author of two books on the service industry, said that any server would agree with Lynn's findings:

If you've waited tables, you know this is true. I learned this on the job years ago. You can give people amazing service and they'll stiff you. You can give them horrible service, and they can give you a great tip. There's no rhyme or reason to it. If only 2 percent of the tip is based on the service, what are the other 98 percent doing? If they're not tipping on service, they're tipping on psychological processes that are happening.

Jay Porter, owner of the Linkery restaurant in San Diego, said it's "silly" to think that servers are motivated merely by prospective tips. "Servers are motivated to do a good job in the same ways that everyone else is," he wrote in Slate, noting that they're motivated by wanting to keep their jobs and earn raises, and because they take pride in their work. He added: "In any workplace, everyone is required to perform well, and tips have nothing to do with it."

Not that tipping isn't a powerful motivator. It is — just not for the employee. The thought of being able to hire labor at around two bucks an hour is probably great news to employers looking to turn profits. Again, that's problematic. (See #1.)

4) Tipping is discriminatory … and it might be illegal

The way we tip reflects our prejudices, argues Freakonomics' Stephen Dubner. Here's what he told Brian Lehrer: "The data show very clearly that African Americans receive less in tips than whites, and so there is a legal argument to be made that as a protected class, African American servers are getting less for doing the same work. And therefore, the institution of tipping is inherently unfair."

But not only are black servers making less money than white servers — black diners are perceived to be leaving less money than white diners. Data collected in 2009 from over 1,000 servers all across the US "found that over sixty-five percent [of servers] rated African Americans as below average tippers." As a result, restaurant workers of all colors dislike waiting on black customers, studies found. The economy of tipping is so racially charged that both servers and diners are affected by prejudice.

Racism isn't the only kind of discrimination baked into the American tipping system. Female servers, too, face routine discrimination. As Lynn told Dubner: blonde, slender, larger-breasted women in their 30s earn some of the highest tips. Granted, the decision of how large a tip to leave is up to the subjective whims of the tipper, and different people have their own aesthetic preferences. But when a server's main source of income is her tips, and if those tips are regulated by the prejudices of the tippers, then a case could potentially be made that certain wage practices of restaurants are discriminatory.

This is the very case Kamer made (emphasis mine): "In 1971's Griggs v. Duke Power, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was ruled to prohibit businesses with discriminatory practices against those protected under it, even if that effect is unintended. Tipping, which has been proven to be discriminatory, could be downright unconstitutional."

Right_tipping_meme

5) Tipping might be psychologically harmful

In response to the question, "Do you feel pressured to tip at a restaurant even if you feel you received bad service?" 70 percent of those polled answered "yes." Margalioth wrote, "This seems to prove the social norm of tipping is so strong that many people feel extorted to tip."

But why do we feel such an intense pressure to tip? According to Lynn, we tip in order to prevent feeling guilty or ashamed for violating the social norm of tipping: "Perhaps [the tipper] dislikes having someone disapprove of her," he says. Or maybe she's "internalized some standard of fairness that leads her to feel guilty if she does not reward the server for his efforts." Ofer H. Azar, economist and professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, agrees with Lynn: "people tip because this is the social norm and, when they disobey the norm, they suffer a psychological disutility because of social disapproval, embarrassment, and feeling guilty and unfair."

There's another way tipping could take a toll on our psyches. Margalioth argues that tipping is a form of "negative externality imposed by wealthy people on the rest of society." According to Margalioth's theory, when top earners spend more money, those who earn less feel pressured to keep up, as research has shown. In other words, she suggests, middle-class and poor Americans feel like they have to be as "visibly impressive" as wealthier Americans. This pressure might be a motivating factor in tipping, she says.

The upshot of this research is summed up by Lynn: "I think it's quite possible that tipping norms undermine overall satisfaction or happiness."

6) Tipping is not really charitable

Arguing that we do away with tipping seems like a mean thing to do: the world needs more charity, thank you, so you should keep tipping your server. But the problem with this argument is that leaving a gratuity is not actually charitable.

The word "gratuity" comes from a word meaning "gift." But that word doesn't really make sense in the context of tipping, which is, of course, a quid pro quo arrangement. You don't gift the waiter money, you release funds to him that he, by virtue of simply being your server, has earned. He is rightfully entitled to that money, and you are ethically obligated to give him by social norms that seem to be as binding as any government law.

Scott sees tipping as "misguided generosity." While we are right to feel gratitude for those serving us, he argues we go awry when we feel obligated to express our "appreciation in terms of money." After all, notes Scott, "Self respect is satisfied with verbal appreciation."

Of course, verbal appreciation won't pay the bills of tipped workers, almost 13 percent of whom live in poverty. But rather than satisfy our consciences with trivial thoughts about how tips are really charitable, we should start holding restaurant owners accountable for their employees' wages. If they argue that servers actually like the tipping system because they come out on top, we should ask these owners to put their money where their mouths are and cut their own pay down to two bucks an hour.

Plus tips.

16 Jul 17:48

Mildly Sweet Sweet-Potato Biscuits

by Marissa Sertich Velie
Mildly Sweet Sweet-Potato Biscuits Sweet potatoes started out as a way of stretching expensive refined flour in biscuit doughs for those who couldn't afford otherwise, but they're not just an economical step: They create moist, flavorful biscuits that are even more likely to be tender, because some of that sweet potato replaces what would otherwise be wheat gluten. Here are the steps to make them. Get Recipe!
16 Jul 16:10

Is organic food any healthier? Most scientists are still skeptical.

by Brad Plumer

You've no doubt noticed that organic foods are a fair bit more expensive at the grocery store. An organic head of lettuce can cost twice as much as a regular one. But is it any healthier for you?

In recent years, most scientists have answered this question with a flat "no." There simply doesn't seem to be much evidence that organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods.

In 2009, the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency reviewed 67 studies on this topic and couldn't find much difference in nutrient quality between the two food types. In 2012, a larger review of 237 studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also found that organic foods didn't appear to be any healthier or safer to eat than their conventionally grown counterparts.

But there have long been dissenters who argue that there must be some health benefits to organic. And a July 2014 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, led by Carlo Leifert of Newcastle University, reopened this debate by adding a small twist. The researchers' reviewed 347 previous studies and found that certain organic fruits and vegetables had higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown crops.

Unfortunately, this doesn't prove very much by itself. No one knows if those moderately higher levels of antioxidants actually boost your health. For that to happen, they'd have to be absorbed into your bloodstream and distributed to the right organs — and there just hasn't been much good research showing that. For now, there's little evidence to suggest concrete health benefits from eating organic.

In the meantime, some commentators have suggested that this endless health debate has become a distraction. Marion Nestle of New York University argues that the best reasons to buy organic produce involve environmental impacts and production values. Any nutritional benefit is a "bonus," if there even is one.

Other experts point out that most Americans don't eat enough fruits or vegetables of any type — a far more pressing health concern than whatever minor differences may exist between organic and conventional food. "What's missing in this debate is the important fact that the best thing consumers can do is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, period, regardless of whether they are produced organically or conventionally," says Carl Winter of the University of California Davis. (He's also skeptical, by the way, that organic food is any healthier for you.)

Here's an overview of this often-contentious topic:

It's not easy to compare organic and conventional foods

Organic farm in Yakima, Washington. (sagebrush photography/Flickr)

One major hurdle for anyone trying to compare "conventional" and "organic" foods is that these are incredibly broad terms.

In the United States, there's technically a dividing line between the two: farms certified as "organic" by the USDA are prohibited from using synthetic pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge. Organic animals can't be fed antibiotics or growth hormones.

But that still leaves a lot of room for variation. Some conventional farms go heavy on the synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. But others spray more selectively or use alternative pest management techniques.

Likewise, some organic farms use natural pesticides that are considered "organic" but can nonetheless be quite toxic. And some organic farms use compost that can contain more contaminants like lead or cadmium than conventional fertilizer. It all depends on the situation — there's no single "conventional" farming system or single "organic" system.

What's more, there are endless variables that can affect the nutritional value of crops, from soil type to climate conditions to the crop cultivars being planted. Controlling for all these factors to make a grand statement about "organic" versus "conventional" farming is incredibly difficult.

And, not surprisingly, scientists have struggled to find clear nutritional differences so far. One 2013 study found that organic tomatoes have more vitamin C, but they're also smaller than conventional tomatoes, so the differences are fairly minimal. Another 2013 study found that organic milk in the US contained more omega-3s — though this may be more about the types of feed used than a unique property of "organic" farming.

More recently, researchers have been conducting large meta-analyses — studies of studies — to try to pinpoint some big-picture lessons here. To date, those reviews have usually found little nutritional difference between organic and conventional produce (see here and here). But now comes a new study with a slight dissent.

A big 2014 study claimed possible health benefits for organic produce…

John Williamson holds a handful of flax seed December 13, 2012, on his 200-acre organic farm in North Bennington, Vermont. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

In a big meta-analysis done in 2014, Leifert and his colleagues reviewed 347 studies comparing organic and conventional produce around the world. They concluded that organic fruits and vegetables had, on average, higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of synthetic pesticide residue.

What's not clear, however, is whether these differences have any actual health impact on human beings. And there were a few sharp criticisms of the study. Let's take a closer look at the paper's findings:

1) Organic produce, on average, had higher levels of antioxidants. This is the part of the study that got the most attention from the media. On average, the authors found, organic produce had higher levels of flavonoids, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids — in some cases, 20 to 40 percent higher.

These compounds — referred to as "antioxidants" — are essentially plant defenses, produced when the plants are stressed by their environment. So one possibility is that organic crops create more of them since they're not protected by chemical pesticides and have to deal with more pests.

But there's a catch: we don't really know whether these compounds improve people's health. We don't know how many of these extra antioxidants are actually absorbed by humans. We don't know what the optimal level of antioxidant intake actually is. It's true that some studies have shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can protect against disease. But those studies looked at people mostly eating conventionally grown vegetables — and the precise role of antioxidants is still being debated.

The University of Washington's Charles Benbrook, a co-author of that 2014 pro-organic study, noted this point in a blog post: "Our team, and indeed all four reviews, acknowledges that many questions remain about the bioavailability of plant-based antioxidants, how necessary they are at different life stages, and how inadequate intakes shift the burden of disease." He added that there were some reasons to think those antioxidants are beneficial, but it's hard to say for sure.

2) Organic grains, on average, had 48 percent lower cadmium levels. Cadmium is a heavy metal that is taken up by plants in the soil and is harmful to humans in very high doses. So at first glance this seems like a point in favor of organic.

Yet it's hard to see why organic farming per se would lead to lower cadmium levels — this may just reflect differences in various soils. (Crops from some organic farms can be quite heavy in cadmium.)

It's also not clear this is a pressing health concern. The EPA says the average American gets 0.0004 micrograms of cadmium per kilogram of body weight per day from food — 10 times lower than levels that would cause kidney damage. If you want to reduce your cadmium intake, focus first on quitting smoking and eating less shellfish. Those are bigger sources.

3) Organic fruits and vegetables had less synthetic pesticide residue. This shouldn't be too surprising — synthetic pesticides aren't used on organic farms, and the study didn't test for organic pesticides (which can themselves be quite toxic). Still, some experts are unconvinced that pesticide residue is a big problem either way.

"From my 27 years of research on pesticides and food safety, I remain skeptical that the extremely low levels of pesticide residues we encounter from foods have any impact on public health, and slightly lowering such levels even more would not have any additional impact," Carl Winter, a pesticide and risk assessment specialist at the University of California Davis, wrote to me in an email. "Our typical exposure to pesticide residues is at levels 10,000 to 10,000,000 times lower than doses that cause no observable effect in laboratory animals that are fed pesticides daily throughout their entire lifetimes." (Here's some of his research on that.)

That said, anyone who's worried should wash their fruits and vegetables in tap water to significantly reduce pesticide residue.

4) Organic produce had lower levels of protein, fiber, and nitrates. This was another finding that didn't get as much attention and might actually be a point in favor of conventional produce, as Tom Sanders, a nutritional scientist at King's College London, points out. Note, however, that there's still some debate over whether higher or lower levels of nitrates in vegetables are preferable.

Yet the pro-organic study also attracted some criticism

As with all big studies on a contentious topic, Leifert's pro-organic study also received a fair bit of criticism — you can see a roundup here. A few points made:

1) The health benefits of those antioxidants are still uncertain. "There is no evidence provided that the relatively modest differences in the levels of some of these compounds would have any consequences (good or bad) on public health," said Richard Mithen of the Institute for Food Research. He added this twist: "The additional cost of organic vegetables to the consumer and the likely reduced consumption would easily offset any marginal increase in nutritional properties, even if they did occur, which I doubt."

2) The analysis may have included too many low-quality studies. Alan Dangour — the scientist who led the 2009 review that found no significant differences between conventional and organic food — argued that Leifert likely included too many low-quality studies in his review. Leifert shot back that Dangour's own study excluded too many studies. This is often a point of contention when dealing with meta-analyses.

3) Comparisons between "organic" and "conventional" may be inherently flawed. And still other experts reiterated the point made above that it's difficult to compare "organic" to "conventional" farming because practices vary so widely. For instance: on average, cadmium levels may be lower in organically grown cereal crops. But some organic farms use compost that's extremely high in cadmium.

To make this even trickier, the Leifert review surveyed studies across the entire world — 70 percent of the studies were in Europe, with the rest in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Japan. There may well be regional variations within that average.

Is it time to put this debate aside?

The Greenfresh market, located in Renton Washington. (I-5 Design and Manufacture/Flickr)

Some commentators have suggested that the debate over whether organic or conventional food is healthier is becoming increasingly useless.

Back in 2009, food writer James McWilliams pointed out that only about 2.5 percent of food eaten in the United States is organic — and the typical consumers tend to be college-educated and fairly well-off. That means we're quibbling over marginal nutritional differences (if any) for a population that's already fairly healthy.

By contrast, about 73 percent of the US population doesn't eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. For many nutritionists, that's a much more pressing concern — fixing that shortfall would swamp any health benefits organic food might have.

Indeed, a few experts wonder if the endless debate over organic versus conventional might even be counterproductive: "I worry that some consumers might actually reduce their consumption of fruits and vegetables because of pesticide residue concerns," notes Winter, "which would do them more harm than good."

Even some proponents of organic food have suggested that the nutrition question is a bit of a sideshow. On her blog, Marion Nestle argues that the case for buying organic produce hinges more on how our food is produced and concern for the environment: "As I said, if they are more nutritious, it's a bonus, but there are plenty of other good reasons to prefer them."

Nestle doesn't list those reasons, but proponents often cite things like less fertilizer runoff and pollution or fewer antibiotics being used in farms or less pesticide exposure for farmworkers.

Still, the Guardian recently cited one survey suggesting that at least 55 percent of organic buyers list "healthy eating" as a reason for purchasing. So it's unlikely this debate will go away anytime soon — and it'll remain of keen interest to a lot of people.

Further reading:

  • Here's the July 2014 study that kicked off this debate. Here's co-author Charles Benbrook's blog post explaining it. And here is a list of responses from the Science Media Centre, some positive, most negative.
  • Here's an in-depth review of the British Journal of Nutrition study by Cornell doctoral candidate Kevin Klatt.
  • For those who want to pick over different studies with a fine-tooth comb, Tamar Haspel had an excellent piece looking at the evidence on a variety of fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat.
  • Melinda Wenner Moyer recently wrote a long reported essay for Slate on why she felt fine feeding her kids conventional fruits and vegetables.

WATCH: What's wrong with food in America

16 Jul 14:52

In mayoral fund-raising, Emanuel sets the rules and brings in the money

by Mick Dumke
Crowtrobot

rahm... a hypocrite?????? what no

Wealthy donors with business ties to the city keep giving to the mayor. by Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky July 10 was another productive day for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's fund-raising machine. Chicago Forward, the political action committee put together by some of the mayor's friends and run by his former aides, reported collecting $325,000 in contributions that day from just six people.…

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16 Jul 14:30

Former Dictator Manuel Noriega Is Suing Over Call of Duty

by Brian Ashcraft

Former Dictator Manuel Noriega Is Suing Over Call of Duty

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is taking Activision to court over his depiction in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Read more...








15 Jul 15:36

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless

by Joseph Stromberg
Crowtrobot

a lot of people put this in their dating profiles and it was always baffling to me.

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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world.

About 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that produces and markets the test makes around $20 million off it each year.

The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.

"There's just no evidence behind it," says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who's written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. "The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you'll be in a situation, how you'll perform at your job, or how happy you'll be in your marriage."

The test claims that based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete "types" — and in doing so, serve as "a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence." Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.

But the test was developed in the 1940s based on the totally untested theories of Carl Jung and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality "types" were just rough tendencies he'd observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people's success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.

Yet you've probably heard people telling you that they're an ENFJ (extroverted intuitive feeling judging), an INTP (introverted intuitive thinking perceiving), or another one of the 16 types drawn from Jung's work, and you may have even been given this test in a professional setting. Here's an explanation of why these labels are so meaningless — and why no organization in the 21st century should rely on the test for anything.

The Myers-Briggs rests on wholly unproven theories

Carl Jung in 1960. (Douglas Glass/Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

In 1921, Jung published the book Psychological Types. In it, he put forth a few different interesting, unsupported theories on how the human brain operates.

Among other things, he explained that humans roughly fall into two main types: perceivers and judgers. The former group could be further split into people who prefer sensing and others who prefer intuiting, while the latter could be split into thinkers and feelers, for a total of four types of people. All four types, additionally, could be divided based on attitudes into introverts and extroverts. These categories, though, were approximate: "Every individual is an exception to the rule," Jung wrote.

Even these rough categories, though, didn't come out of controlled experiments or data. "This was before psychology was an empirical science," says Grant, the Penn psychologist. "Jung literally made these up based on his own experiences." But Jung's influence on the early field was enormous, and this idea of "types" in particular caught on.

Jung's principles were later adapted into a test by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of Americans who had no formal training in psychology. To learn the techniques of test-making and statistical analysis, Briggs worked with Edward Hay, an HR manager for a Philadelphia bank.

They began testing their "Type Indicator" in 1942. It copied Jung's types but slightly altered the terminology, and modified it so that people were assigned one possibility or the other in all four categories, based on their answers to a series of two-choice questions.

Raise two (the number of possibilities in each category) to the fourth power (the number of categories) and you get 16: the different types of people there apparently are in the world. Myers and Briggs gave titles to each of these types, like the Executive, the Caregiver, the Scientist, and the Idealist.

The test has grown enormously in popularity over the years — especially since it was taken over by the company CPP in 1975 — but has changed little. It still assigns you a four-letter type to represent which result you got in each of the four categories:

(Wikimedia Commons/Jake Beech)

The Myers-Briggs uses false, limited binaries

With most traits, humans fall on different points along a spectrum. If you ask people whether they prefer to think or feel, or whether they prefer to judge or perceive, the majority will tell you a little of both. Jung himself admitted as much, noting that the binaries were useful ways of thinking about people, but writing that "there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum."

But the test is built entirely around the basis that people are all one or the other. It arrives at the conclusion by giving people questions such as "You tend to sympathize with other people" and offering them only two blunt answers: "yes" or "no."

It'd be one thing if there were good empirical reasons for these strange binary choices that don't seem to describe the reality we know. But they come from the disregarded theories of an early-20th-century thinker who believed in things like ESP and the collective unconscious.

Actual data tells psychologists that these traits do not have a bimodal distribution. Tracking a group of people's interactions with others, for instance, shows that as Jung noted, there aren't really pure extroverts and introverts, but mostly people who fall somewhere in between.

All four of the categories in the Myers-Briggs suffer from these kinds of problems, and psychologists say they aren't an effective way of distinguishing between different personality types. "Contemporary social scientists are rarely studying things like whether you make decisions based on feelings or rational calculus — because all of us use both of these," Grant says. "These categories all create dichotomies, but the characteristics on either end are either independent from each other, or sometimes even go hand in hand." Even data from the Myers-Briggs test itself shows that most people are somewhere in the middle for any one category, and just end up being pigeonholed into one or the other.

This is why some psychologists have shifted from talking about personality traits to personality states — and why it's extremely hard to find a real psychologist anywhere who uses the Myers-Briggs with patients.

There's also another related problem with these limited choices: look at the chart above, and you'll notice that words like "selfish," "lazy," or "mean" don't appear anywhere. No matter what type you're assigned, you get a flattering description of yourself as a "thinker," "performer," or "nurturer."

This isn't a test designed to accurately categorize people, but rather a test designed to make them feel happy after taking it. This is one of the reasons it's persisted for so many years in the corporate world after being disregarded by psychologists.

The Myers-Briggs provides inconsistent, inaccurate results

(Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Theoretically, people might still get value out of the Myers-Briggs if it accurately indicated which end of a spectrum they were closest to for any given category.

But the problem with that idea is the fact that the test is notoriously inconsistent. Research has found that as many as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it's just five weeks later.

That's because the traits it aims to measure aren't the ones that are consistently different among people. Most of us vary in these traits over time — depending on our mood when we take the test, for instance, we may or may not think that we sympathize with people. But the test simply tells us whether we're "thinking" or "feeling" based on how we answered a handful of binary questions, with no room in between.

Another indicator that the Myers-Briggs is inaccurate is that several different analyses have shown it's not particularly effective at predicting people's success at different jobs.

If the test gives people such inaccurate results, why do so many still put stock in it? One reason is that the flattering, vague descriptions for many of the types have huge amounts of overlap — so many people could fit into several of them.

This is called the Forer effect, and is a technique long used by purveyors of astrology, fortune telling, and other sorts of pseudoscience to persuade people they have accurate information about them.

The Myers-Briggs is largely disregarded by psychologists

All this is why psychologists — the people who focus on understanding and analyzing human behavior — almost completely disregard the Myers-Briggs in contemporary research.

Search for any prominent psychology journal for analysis of personality tests, and you'll find mentions of several different systems that have been developed in the decades since the test was introduced, but not the Myers-Briggs itself. Apart from a few analyses finding it to be flawed, virtually no major psychology journals have published research on the test — almost all of it comes in dubious outlets like The Journal of Psychological Type, which were specifically created for this type of research.

CPP, the company that publishes the test, has three leading psychologists on their board, but none of them have used it whatsoever in their research. "It would be questioned by my academic colleagues," Carl Thoresen, a Stanford psychologist and CPP board member, admitted to the Washington Post in 2012.

Apart from the introversion/extroversion aspect of the Myers-Briggs, the newer, empirically driven tests focus on entirely different categories. The five-factor model measures people's openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — factors that do differ widely among people, according to actual data collected. And there's some evidence that this scheme may have some predictive power in determining people's ability to be successful at various jobs and in other situations.

One thing it doesn't have: the marketing machine that surrounds the Myers-Briggs.

So what is the Myers-Briggs useful for?

(The Shifted Librarian)

The Myers-Briggs is useful for one thing: entertainment. There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking the test as a fun, interesting activity, like a BuzzFeed quiz.

But there is something wrong with CPP peddling the test as "reliable and valid, backed by ongoing global research and development investment." The company makes an estimated $20 million annually, with the Myers-Briggs as its flagship product. Among other things, it charges between $15 and $40 to each person who wants to take the test, and $1,700 to each person who wants to become a certified test administrator.

Why would someone pay this much to administer a flawed test? Because once you have that title, you can sell your services as a career coach to both people looking for work and the thousands of major companies — such as McKinsey & Co., General Motors, and a reported 89 of the Fortune 100 — that use the test to separate employees and potential hires into "types" and assign them appropriate training programs and responsibilities. Once certified, test administrators become cheerleaders of the Myers-Briggs, ensuring that use of the outdated instrument is continued.

If private companies want to throw their money away on the Myers-Briggs, that's their prerogative. But about 200 federal agencies reportedly waste money on the test too, including the State Department and the CIA. The military in particular relies heavily on the Myers-Briggs, and the EPA has given it to about a quarter of its 17,000 employees.

It's 2015. Thousands of professional psychologists have evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personality. Let's stop using this outdated test — which has about as much scientific validity as your astrological sign — and move on to something else.


Correction: This piece previously stated that the military uses the Myers-Briggs for promotions in particular, rather than using it as a general tool.

14 Jul 20:32

Pan-Roasted Salmon With Arugula and Avocado Salad

by Yasmin Fahr
Pan-Roasted Salmon With Arugula and Avocado Salad Creamy, buttery avocado, nutty shavings of Parmesan, and a bright, tangy dressing set the stage for a delicious piece of salmon. Did we mention it only takes 10 minutes to cook? Get Recipe!
14 Jul 15:50

Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken (Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts)

by J. Kenji López-Alt
Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken (Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts) As much as I now love real-deal Sichuan kung-pao chicken, my absolute favorite Chinese dish as a kid was this mildly spiced Americanized version—and to be honest, I still love it today. Just because it's a Chinese-American standard, complete with slightly-gloppy-sauce and mild heat doesn't make diced chicken with peppers and peanuts any less delicious. Here's how to make it at home. Get Recipe!
11 Jul 13:05

2008 was a terrible year to graduate college

by Libby Nelson
Crowtrobot

I am the winner

College graduates in the class of 2008 had it rough. They started college when the economy was thriving and took on more student loan debt than anyone before them.

Then, they graduated just as the Great Recession rushed in. The Class of 2008 was blindsided by an economic reality that they hadn't planned on and weren't prepared to handle.

Back in 2009, a representative survey of American four-year college graduates found they had a 9 percent unemployment rate.

Now that same survey, conducted by the Department of Education, has caught up with the Class of 2008 again. The results are a little more hopeful this time around — but they show that the class of 2008 is still lagging when compared with college graduates as a whole. The economic scars from graduating into a recession are deep, even five years later.

1) Unemployment rates are better, but they're still higher than for college graduates overall

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Over all, 6.7 percent of the Class of 2008 was unemployed in 2012, the survey of 17,000 graduates found. That's a big improvement over 2009's 9 percent unemployment rate, and it was below the national average that year.

But that doesn't mean it's good news. The unemployment rate is supposed to be lower than average for college graduates. The reason a college degree remains a valuable investment, even as student debt rises, is that it's supposed to help you in the labor market.

Four years after graduating, relatively recent graduates hadn't caught up with other adults — even the group closest to their age. Adults aged 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor's degree had an unemployment rate of 4 percent in 2012.

2) In real terms, salaries were lower in 2012 than they were for young adult college graduates a decade earlier

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Just over two-thirds — 71 percent — of the Class of 2008 were working full-time, at least 35 hours per week, in 2012. But those full-time workers were making an average annual salary of $52,500.

The median salary was lower: $46,000. This indicates that the recession's first graduating class took a salary hit as well — that's 8 percent less, adjusted for inflation, than college graduates aged 25 to 34 earned in 2002.

3) For health care majors, the economy is great. For social science majors, the recession never ended.

Screen_shot_2014-07-08_at_2.58.44_pm

Just how much the recession hurt depends on what graduates majored in. The economic picture looks rosy for 2008 graduates with a degree in a health care field: they had an unemployment rate of 2.2 percent in 2012. In other STEM fields, the unemployment rate was 5 percent.

But even in 2012, social science majors were near double-digit unemployment; their rate was 9.6 percent. Humanities majors weren't far behind, at 9 percent. That's slightly better than the 13 percent unemployment rate they had in 2009. But it's not a healthy job market by any means.

4) Older students and for-profit college graduates might not have gotten the labor market boost they hoped for

Students in their 30s who earn bachelor's degrees, or students who go to for-profit colleges, are often the ones who see education as economically transformative. They're not enrolled in college to live in the dorms and have a coming-of-age experience; they're there because they want an education or need a degree.

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Unfortunately, they're also the graduates who fared the worst. It's hard to say why — they might have attended less prestigious colleges overall, or have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have other strikes against them that the survey doesn't measure. But the unemployment rate for people who graduated after age 30 (who were at least 34 in 2012, when the survey was administered) was 9.6 percent.

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For-profit colleges had a higher rate than public or nonprofit colleges, at 11.9 percent. But graduates from for-profit colleges who did find full-time work were earning a higher salary — $51,000 per year — than graduates from other sectors of higher education.

11 Jul 12:47

What if everything we know about poor countries' economies is totally wrong?

by Dylan Matthews

As China and India continue their fairly rapid paces of economic growth, a greater and greater share of extreme poverty is going to be concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. But if we're going to make progress there, we need to have good numbers about how various economies are faring, how income is distributed within them, and so forth.

The trouble, Simon Fraser University economist Morten Jerven argues, is that those numbers are often incomplete at best and downright false at worst. It's a problem that came into sharp relief recently when Nigeria "rebased" its GDP numbers, doubling its GDP in the process.

Jerven and I spoke on the phone about his book on the topic, Poor Numbers, the extent of the problem, and how to fix it. If you're interested in learning more, the Center for Global Development's Amanda Glassman and Alex Ezeh have a great new report on improving data quality. Columbia's Chris Blattman had a smart post on why it might make sense for African governments to prioritize things other than improved data collection, and Slate's Josh Keating had a helpful round-up of the debate here.

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Dylan Matthews: What are the basic problems with numbers in the countries you study?

Morten Jerven: We often take GDP as a given, objective fact, much as we think about, if you're listening to the weather report, the meteorologist can measure air pressure, temperature, and the speed of the wind, and use these physical observations. And we tend to move along thinking of inflation, unemployment, and economic growth as objective metrics. But they aren't.

To arrive at GDP per capita, for example, you have to add up all the goods and services used in one country in any given year and then compare it with last year's and control for price changes and so forth. That's complicated enough in a country like the US, but you still have some helpful things. The US government collects taxes, so that means you know income for persons. It also collects corporate taxes, so you know the income of corporations. It collects labor statistics, so it has a lot of information and it's the task of the statistical bureau to aggregate it.

In the countries I study, the ones in sub-saharan Africa, getting that kind of information is much more expensive and much more cumbersome because a lot of economic activity goes by unrecorded. Yet we still need this data to rank countries. We'd still like to analyze whether Ghana is richer than Nigeria or whether Tanzania has done better over the past decade than Kenya has. We can use that to make policy recommendations, that the World Bank should fund this project rather than that one, or that Burkina Faso should get support for poverty reduction whereas Uganda no longer has such a problem, for example.

The major takeaway I have in my book is that the numbers that we use to make these decisions are poor. That's why I call the book Poor Numbers. We know much less about income and growth in African countries and in poor countries generally than we would like to think.

DM: What sorts of things are causing the numbers to be so poor? Is it mostly an issue of corruption, that you can't trust the government agencies putting them out, or is it an infrastructure problem, that they're difficult to collect?

MJ: You can think of the problems of official statistics as being partly a simple knowledge problem, a lack of recording, and partly a problem of politicization and political tampering and so forth. And we know that the political tampering problem is not particular to poor countries. The scandal in Greece showed that debt data was understated as a share of GDP, there has been lots of disagreement over inflation statistics coming out of Argentina. So the political problem applies universally. What I stress is my book is there's a particular knowledge problem relating to poor countries which is more fundamental than we tend to think.

It's a combination of two factors. One is that the economic transactions are small and go on in areas that aren't that accurately supervised, where a lot of individuals aren't taxed and a lot of the property is not registered, and a lot of the businesses aren't registered, and you don't have formal contracts. There's simply a lack of recording. The second is that a country like Tanzania for instance, the state institutions are less resourced and less equipped to undertake surveys to get that kind of information. If you want information about food production in rural areas or expenditure patterns for poor people in big cities, you have to go to peoples' houses and ask what they earn and what they spend money on. So you need to do a survey or census, and to do so is expensive. African countries have had scarce resources over the past two decades, and so statistical systems have become relatively underfunded.

One of the headline things that shows this very clearly, about lacking resources to update statistical systems, occurred recently in Nigeria. In April, on a Sunday, the director of statistics in Nigeria announced new GDP numbers for Nigeria, and it was quite surprising because it turned out that the new numbers showed that GDP had doubled compared to the old numbers in use just the day before. What happened is that, in Nigeria, they have not updated what is called the benchmark for GDP estimations since 1990. Almost a quarter of a century had passed since Nigeria changed the sources and methods of how they estimate the size of the economy. This change alone meant that Nigeria suddenly became bigger than the South African economy, and the total GDP of Africa increased by 15 to 20 percent. The previously unrecorded economic activity in Nigeria was 58 times size of the Malawian economy. The scale of uncertainty regarding short and medium trends in economic growth is quite big in magnitude.

We know much less about income and growth in African countries and in poor countries generally than we would like to think

DM: How much do you think collecting this kind of data should be a job for individual countries as opposed to the World Bank or IMF or other development institutions, which might be more trustworthy in some peoples' eyes?

MJ: That's a common misunderstanding, that somehow IMF or World Bank data is better than national data, and it's striking that even scholars go around thinking, "I won't use government data from Ethiopia or Sudan, that data must be manipulated, or it's not based on good sources. I'd rather use IMF/World Bank data instead." The fact is that the IMF and Would Bank don't have resources to produce their own data. They collect, through formal and informal channels, official data, which they harmonize and then disseminate. The World Bank and IMF are simply data retailers.

So there's an important question, which I don't think has been dealt with adequately, of what the responsibility of the international community is in disseminating this data. Do they have the right to adjust country data? Should they warn data users more clearly about the inherent deficiencies of this data? It can make a quite big difference. The comparison between Nigeria and Sudan might be quite misleading. That goes back to what I was saying, this illusion about these being objective facts. if you get them in one Excel sheet, they seem to be equivalent facts, but in reality they are observations which vary quite radically in terms of precision.

the IMF and Would Bank don't have resources to produce their own data. They are simply data retailers

DM: How seriously should we take trends that emerge from this data about the overall performance of poor countries? I think the consensus is that we're making steady progress against extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. How sure are we about that?

MJ: We lend too much credence to these aggregated trends. We don't really have a good estimate of how large our  knowledge bubble is. One of the problems we have is there are big blind spots. When you get aggregated data on economic growth, it's driven by changes in the very big countries, it's driven by economic change in urban centers, in exports, in foreign direct investment. Our knowledge problem is doubly biased: we know less about poor economies, and we know less about the poor people in those poor economies.

There's a lot of invisible items in official statistics. We know less about food, we know less about rural populations. We know much more about the kind of goods that are traded between capital cities in the South and capital cities in the North, but we know very little about the extent of trade that goes between Uganda and Sudan, across their borders. There are some things we observe and some things we don't.

Because everyone wants an Africa-wide number, that means that this problem is accentuated. For 2010-2013, a lot of small countries haven't even prepared their estimates yet. and so you use the data from reporting countries and extrapolate to cover the rest. We talk about trends in poverty and inequality based on surveys, but in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a very big country, there is no poverty survey, there is no survey of health or income. Sudan is lacking. Angola, we don't have data on. And we tend to use data from Ghana, Senegal, and Tanzania and extrapolate those trends to be valid across the continent. That's worrying, in the sense that we might be mislead by these development statistics if we lend too much credibility to them.

DM: What would advice to policymakers in these countries be? Should they invest in better statistical systems? Should they use a larger number of indicators to get a fuller picture?

MJ: First off, it's not always true that policymakers benefit from better data. Sometimes having a big fluffy unknown size of the economy can be useful to them; ignorance can be bliss. If you update certain statistics, poverty might actually be more widespread than it used to be. With better statistics, you sometimes get more bad news. We have to think about the political economy of statistics. It is in the interest of people who are choosing what government to elect to know if the government has been successful in reducing poverty and creating employment and so forth. Clearly central banks would be interested in having data on the real sectors of the economy when deciding whether to lower or increase the interest rate.

What is important is that politicians and international organizations give independence to statistical institutions to freely collect and disseminate what they believe are justifiable facts based on statistical techniques of sampling and surveying. But understandably, that's not always what happens. We're in such a hurry, in the international donor and development community, to get facts that we don't invest in credibly produced facts. A big trend is to have "evidence-based" policies, or "paying for results" where you'd say, "We'll only fund primary school education if it can show improvements." But people forget to set up a system to actually measure that. So often what we get is policy-driven evidence rather than evidence-driven policy.

We're in such a hurry, in the international donor and development community, to get facts that we don't invest in credibly produced facts

DM: What should international organizations be doing to fix this? Should they be more straightforward about the numbers they put out there? Should they be actively trying to coordinate to make sure everyone's using similar numbers? What do you think their proper role in this is?

MJ: i think it might be unhealthy to keep publishing projections as if they were data. It might be unwise to just fill out gaps in data sets with extrapolations, because it creates this air of accuracy when there are in fact lots of holes in our information. If this is forthrightly stated, it will be easier for scholars, journalist, and politicians to navigate and to see the holes in the information, as opposed to giving this "we know everything about everything" impression.

10 Jul 19:10

Industrial Venice: Euro Truck Simulator 2′s Public Beta Patch

by Alice O'Connor
Crowtrobot

Stanislav is very excited about this.

You adjust that seat.

I imagined Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal when I heard Euro Truck Simulator 2 would add Venice in the next patch. Perhaps you’d drop film cannisters off at the Venice Film Festival, or communion wafers at St Mark’s Basilica. ETS 2 and I romanticise different things. Its Venice is a city built around docks and industrial estates. It’s a city for people to work in, not for tourists to visit. Roads, not canals. As someone not into Simulating, I’m charmed by this practical view.

If you’d like to drive past Venetian warehouses and breathe in Venetian fumes, you can have a peek as SCS Software have released an open beta build of patch 1.11.

… [visit site to read more]

10 Jul 15:19

brownie ice cream sandwiches

by deb
Crowtrobot

uh oh

brownie ice cream sandwiches

Within reason, I think if you’re craving something, you should go for it, although this theory is mostly born of my own poor logic. I’ve all too many times craved, say, a brownie but thought I shouldn’t eat a brownie and so instead snacked on (just for a completely random example) 12 almonds, 1 slice of cheese, half an apple, 1 banana and then, oops, a handful of chocolate chips, amounting roughly 3x the calories of a brownie, a brownie that I craved exactly as much as I did 500 calories ago. And so, when I really want a brownie, I make my favorite brownies and we each eat one and then I stash the rest in the freezer, so they are not out on the counter, calling to me that we haven’t been cut in a straight line and you should really even us out or we’re going to go bad soon and you don’t want us to go to waste or any of those things that brownies tell me when we’re alone together.

salt, chocolate, vanilla, eggs, butter, flour and sugar

[Hm, here I should probably interject some sort of "sure, okay, brownies talk to me but I'm not like crazy or anything; it's not weird. Brownies talk to everyone, right? Haha?" reassurance but I'm not going to. I'm going to make this as awkward as possible.]

melt the chocolate and butter

... Read the rest of brownie ice cream sandwiches on smittenkitchen.com


© smitten kitchen 2006-2012. | permalink to brownie ice cream sandwiches | 166 comments to date | see more: Chocolate, Ice Cream/Sorbet, Photo, Summer

10 Jul 14:39

Homestar Runner was the greatest web cartoon ever, and it's back

by Todd VanDerWerff
Crowtrobot

I like the idea of more homestar being made, but I'm probably not going to watch them. I just feel better knowing that there's more.

As announced by co-writer Matt Chapman himself on The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show podcast, popular character Homestar Runner and all his pals are returning to star in more internet video things, most likely starting in the fall. The last Homestar Runner update was on April Fool's Day of this year and turns out to have been a trial balloon by Chapman and his brother Mike (who created the characters with Craig Zobel). The success of the video, the first on the site since 2010, convinced the Brothers Chaps (as they call themselves in directing gigs) that there was still an audience for Homestar content. And, yes, the new stuff will probably include at least one new Strong Bad email.

To fans of the influential program (which should include all right-thinking individuals), this is a pretty big deal. But the crazy thing about it is that Homestar Runner first began to attract serious attention way back in 2001 and hit its peak between roughly 2003 and 2006. This means that a) it's one of the few web series that people can actually feel nostalgic for and b) many of the people who watched this program as high school or college students now might have children of their own.

Fortunately, the childlike whimsy of the program is perfect to share with kids. They just might have some questions, which we have enumerated below. Please pretend the subheads are being read to you by a small child, if you don't have one handy. (Though, actually, if you are going to explain Homestar Runner to a small child, maybe leave out the parts about "unrestrained id" and "surrealism." Your 4-year-old is unlikely to be familiar with these concepts, as you surely know.)

First, however, some techno music, courtesy of Strong Bad.


What is Homestar Runner?

It was a website that collected a series of weird internet cartoons, animated in Flash, in the days when pretty much nobody was doing online animation or video (much less finding success at it). The cartoons were short and silly, and they were terrific at generating memes before people used the word "meme" all of the time. Just mention the word "Trogdor" around anyone who had access to an internet connection in the mid-2000s to understand what we mean.

Also, specifically, Homestar Runner was the site's main character, a basically good-hearted doofus who wandered around a vaguely suburban neighborhood with his friends and enemies.

But I haven't seen Homestar Runner in the clips you've posted, not really

That's because Homestar's popularity was quickly outstripped by his ostensible antagonist, Strong Bad, a guy who wore boxing gloves and a Mexican wrestling mask. Viewers could email him, and he would sometimes respond, in pithy, hilarious fashion. It was a whole thing.


Strong Bad was the unrestrained id the internet had always needed but didn't know it required. What made him palatable was that he lived in a world where he couldn't really accomplish much of anything. He might have been a "bad guy," but he lived in the middle of nowhere, making it that much harder to be truly villainous. He was the very definition of raising heck. Also, he had two hilarious brothers, named Strong Mad and Strong Sad, the latter of whom may be the Brothers Chaps' most vital contribution to the culture at large.

And all of this was before YouTube?

Yeah, basically. You can find all of Homestar and Strong Bad's adventures on YouTube now, but when the shorts were truly lighting up the web and appearing in more traditional media sources like Entertainment Weekly, the Chapmans were limited by hosting Flash cartoons on their own website. That they accomplished so much without a readymade platform (to say nothing of the fact that social media basically didn't exist yet) was an early testament to the ability of the internet to create entertainment of its own.

So the series was important and influential?

You betcha. In fact, it was so influential in the world of web video that the only concern worth having about the return of Homestar is whether the brothers (who've mostly been working in children's television in the past few years) will be able to stand out amid the huge number of shows that they've influenced. In particular, the show's voice — best described as influenced by pop culture, but not beholden to it, while embracing weird and whimsical surrealism — pops up all over YouTube. And that's to say nothing of television itself, where so many kids' shows feel like slightly longer versions of Strong Bad emails.

But the Brothers Chaps are smart, innovative dudes. It would be dumb to bet against them.

What's the best Homestar cartoon?

Unquestionably the Strong Bad email "Crazy Cartoon," which is the series at its most inventive and most hilarious. There are so many great jokes packed into a video less than three minutes long.


Wait. "Eh, Steve." Is this why my name is Steve?

You're very observant, son, and thank you for remembering this article was supposedly meant to be a dialogue between parent and child, a gimmick we didn't really keep up, come to think of it.

Let's watch one more video.


09 Jul 14:50

Watch this woman imitate 17 different British accents flawlessly

by Brandon Ambrosino

You know how you have that one friend who does impressions?

"Tohp o' the mohnin' tewya," he says, his voice slightly higher and his mouth slightly rounder than usual. When you finally ask which person he's impersonating, he answers that he's being a British person.

Well, in spite of what your comedian friend seems to believe, to say nothing of countless amateur Shakespeare troupes, there isn't one particular British accent. (That's kind of like saying that there's just one way of sounding American.)

When most of us think about "the way Brits talk," we think about a British dialect that linguists call Received Pronunciation (RP) — also known as BBC English. But as comedian Siobhan Thompson shows in this amazing video, there are more than a few ways of sounding like a British person. In fact, Thompson has 17 of them.

09 Jul 14:12

This video shows what Africans think of westerners trying to ‘save’ them

by Zack Beauchamp

Normally, articles with videos about Africa lead in to how horrible life in the continent is (undifferentiated by country, let alone city or region) — and what Westerners can do to "fix" it. The video you're about to watch is the exact opposite of that. Instead of Westerners telling you how to fix Africa, Africans tell Westerners to stop trying to fix things.

Cassandra Herman, an independent documentarian, was bothered by the fact that Africans were so often portrayed as passive victims by the Western media. "In American media and pop culture," she writes, "Africans remain objects of our pity or moral outrage or fascination."

So she turned flipped the script, following several Africans attempting to express their concerns about Western depictions to American audiences. Here's what happened:


This is only a trailer for a broader film, titled Framed. Herman and her team have just made their Kickstarter goal for distributing the whole film; if you want to throw them a few more dollars to give it a wider audience, you can donate here.

08 Jul 12:36

Can't Stand Meetings? Try Taking Away The Chairs

Crowtrobot

admiral cain got it right

Those who stood at meetings said the felt their colleagues were more open to their ideas, less territorial, and overall, did better collaborative work, researchers found.

» E-Mail This

07 Jul 17:56

The Supreme Court sided against birth control again, and Sotomayor is not happy about it

by Adrianna McIntyre

The Hobby Lobby decision wasn't the Supreme Court's last word on birth control.

Late Thursday, six justices signed onto an injunction that allows a Wheaton College, a religious university, more flexibility to not comply with Obamacare's contraceptive mandate. It led to a scathing dissent from the court's three female members.

"Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, in a dissent joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan. "Not today."

Sotomayor went on to argue that the injunction would risk stripping "hundreds of Wheaton's employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage."

The Wheaton College case centers on a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois. It is part of another wave of lawsuits against Obamacare's contraceptives mandate that the recent Hobby Lobby decision did not resolve.

These lawsuits challenge the flexibilities that the Obama administration has already offered religious non-profits, arguing that the existing accommodations don't do enough to protect religious liberty.

What is the Wheaton College case about?

Back in February 2012, some religiously-affiliated non-profits (particularly universities and hospitals) successfully pushed the Obama administration to offer an "accommodation" that would allow them to opt-out of the contraceptives mandate.

The idea behind the compromise: non-profits wouldn't pay for contraceptives themselves but instead have their health insurance plan foot the bill for birth control.

In order to apply for this compromise, non-profits are supposed to use a very specific form to certify their opposition to the providing their employees with contraception. The form, for the especially curious, is Employee Benefits Security Administration form 700 (EBSA 700).

After that form is filed, insurers are supposed to pay for the contraception themselves without passing the cost on to the religious organizations. Insurers recoup their losses through reduced fees paid to the government.

some organizations claim the form makes them complicit in the use of birth control, even though they're not paying for it.

Wheaton College, and dozens of other non-profits, object to having to file this form on grounds of religious freedom.

The organizations claim that the accommodation violates their religious beliefs, because submitting the EBSA 700 to insurers/third-party administrators (TPAs) makes them complicit in the use of the birth control, even though they're not paying for it. There are 51 active court cases challenging the accommodation on these grounds.

What did the Supreme Court decide about Wheaton College?

The Court issued an injunction, ruling that Wheaton College does not need to file the EBSA 700 against its objections while their court case is being resolved.

The injunction itself does not necessarily foreshadow that Wheaton College will be successful in their lawsuit; the six justices who signed on in favor are clear in their opinion that this is not a decision in favor of Wheaton's arguments.

But it does halt Wheaton College's obligation to submit the accommodation form until the courts resolve whether the accommodation does, in fact, infringe upon religious freedom. Similar injunctions have been granted to other religious nonprofits by lower courts.

The Supreme Court indicated that Wheaton's employees should still have access to contraceptives without co-pays in the interim. According to the opinion, Wheaton can submit a letter to the federal government documenting its objection to completing the EBSA 700, and the government can then coordinate with the institution's third-party administrator to assure coverage.

sotomayor is troubled by the authority the court used to justify the injunction.

Why was Sotomayor's dissent so scathing?

Justice Sotomayor raises at least four objections to the injunction in her dissent.

  1. Sotomayor contends that the Wheaton injunction contradicts the decision issued in the Hobby Lobby case. The opinions written by Justices Alito and Kennedy — who both ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby — used the existence of the accommodation to justify their conclusion. In her dissent, Sotomayor worries that this apparent flip-flop will undermine public confidence in the Supreme Court.

    There is disagreement about whether the Wheaton injunction actually counters the Hobby Lobby ruling. The Hobby Lobby decision notes that the present accommodation imposes less on religious organizations than the actual contraceptive mandate, but it's possible that the government could arrange something that imposes even less still.
  2. The dissent argues that the injunction unravels months the months of government work required to craft the accommodation through usual regulatory processes, which will generate unnecessary costs and layers of bureaucracy.

    The Supreme Court, Sotomayor writes, has "no reason to think that the administrative scheme [Wheaton] foists on the government today is workable or effective on a national scale."
  3. Sotomayor is troubled by the authority the Court used to justify the injunction. In her dissent, she writes that these types of injunctions are only appropriate when "it is necessary...in aid of our jurisdiction and the legal rights at the issue are indisputably clear."

    Sotomayor argues that the Wheaton injunction easily fails both of those requirements. The case is being decided by the District Court, not the Supreme Court, so this is not "in aid of their jurisdiction." Furthermore, lower courts have come to different conclusions about the legality of the accommodation, so the legal rights in question cannot be called "indisputably clear."
  4. Last, Sotomayor also makes the case that this decision could be a risk for those who use Wheaton's health plan, as their insurer only has a legal obligation to provide contraception when they receive the particular form that the injunction allows them not to file.

Why didn't the Hobby Lobby decision settle this issue?

In Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that certain for-profit companies may refuse to cover forms of birth control that it finds morally objectionable.

That decision didn't have any immediate legal implications for nonprofits, who had the accommodation that the Obama administration offered in February 2012. The non-profits are challenging the accommodation itself as unworkable.

What problems could this introduce?

Here's the trouble with the recommendation in the injunction: the government may not have all of the information about the insurer or third-party administrator that it needs to coordinate birth control coverage.

This information may not be readily available without that form — and it's not clear whether the government could compel disclosure from the objecting organization.

the government may not have all the information it needs to coordinate birth control coverage.

This isn't a problem for Wheaton College itself, because the government can glean the necessary information from the lawsuit itself. Wheaton has already submitted a letter to the government certifying its objection. But if this new opt-out to the accommodation gets scaled up, it could create problems.

"Presumably once the government receives a certification from a nonprofit objecting to contraceptive coverage, it will need to contact the organization to ask who the organization uses for its insurer or TPA is, and then separately contact the insurer or TPA," writes Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University. "Whether the nonprofit is legally required to respond to the government inquiry is not clear."

And as long as the legal workability of the accommodation is uncertain, it's hard to see it as a firm solution for extending contraceptive coverage to employees at for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby; extending the accommodation could trigger more lawsuits, resulting in more injunctions.

Moreover, the accommodation was the result of months of cooperative governmental effort, a process that considered more public comments than any regulation on record.

What's next?

The Supreme Court's injunction is specific to the Wheaton case, which is currently pending appeal. However, the injunction does establish a precedent that lower courts may observe when other religious nonprofits lodge similar objections to the contraceptive mandate accommodation.

Wheaton College vs. Burwell is currently pending in front of a federal court of appeals. While the court cannot — and would not — presume to define the college's beliefs, it does have the authority to determine whether those beliefs are "substantially" burdened by the accommodation.

If Wheaton does win its case, the federal government may need to devise a new accommodation requiring less action from the religious organization, while accounting for the problems outlined above.

07 Jul 17:37

Star Wars seemed more like Alien in its initial trailer

by Todd VanDerWerff
Crowtrobot

that original trailer is weird

The first two teaser trailers for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens have proved one thing conclusively: music matters when it comes to blockbusters.

In The Dissolve's excellent list of the top 50 blockbusters of all time, the film site's editorial director, Keith Phipps, in a longer blurb on Star Wars points out how so much of what made the film great stemmed from director George Lucas surrounding himself with excellent collaborators.

To bring the film to life, Lucas selected favorite elements from a lifetime of omnivorous reading and movie-watching-from Joseph Campbell to Akira Kurosawa to World War II dramas-then filtered those elements into a space opera that paid homage to the thrill-a-minute movie serials of the 1930s and '40s. Along the way, he chose brilliant collaborators like conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie, sound designer Ben Burtt, and composer John Williams, without whom Star Wars might have become a drastically different movie. (The Williams-free first trailer, for instance, suggests a far eerier experience.)

Phipps is dead-on about that first trailer. Watch above to see how strange the film seems without the famous blast of Williams's triumphant score.

Williams is one of only four or five musicians who could lay claim to being the greatest film composer of all time, and even if he doesn't come out on top in your own personal estimation, he's responsible for some of the most instantly iconic bits of film music ever. The theme from Jurassic Park. The flying theme from E.T. The theme from Superman. He's even responsible for the ominous theme from Jaws, which is now convenient shorthand for cinematic terror. How many other composers can create such a primal, gut-churning emotion with just two notes?

And without him, Star Wars seems more like Alien than it does the movie we know and love. It's weird and ominous and filled with strange creatures. The camera slowly zooms in on the title of the film. The soundscape is empty, haunted. And the announcer's tone suggests we're about to settle in for a very spooky tale of outer-space strangeness. It's not a very enticing pitch for one of the most successful films ever made.

It's interesting to contemplate Star Wars without Williams, because it reminds us of how all films are one bad choice away from being unwatchable. How many great movies would have been terrible with a different actor, or a different editor, or even a different hair and makeup team? And how many bad movies were just one dumb choice away from being masterpieces?

Ah, you've waited long enough after watching that trailer. Here's the fanfare you know and love.

04 Jul 12:27

Oklahoma's earthquake epidemic linked to fracking wastewater disposal

by Brad Plumer
Crowtrobot

this is some alpha centauri shit. Planet is gonna start sending mind worms.

Oklahoma has become the earthquake capital of the United States — with some 240 small earthquakes magnitude 3.0 or more already this year. That's about twice as many as California has gotten.

A new study links the earthquakes to the wastewater disposal wells

And in a new study in Science, researchers say they've pinpointed the culprit: the wastewater disposal wells used by the fracking industry.

Back in 2009, energy companies in Oklahoma started ramping up the use of fracking for oil and gas. The fracking process itself typically involvesinjecting water, chemicals, and sand underground at high pressure to crack open shale rock and unlock the oil and gas inside.

Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells.

Wastewater injection comes with a catch, however: The process both pushes the crust in the region downward and increases pressure in cracks along the faults. That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes.

And as it happens, Oklahoma has seen a sharp rise in the number of earthquakes since 2009, far more than you'd expect from natural variation:

Earthquakes_oklahoma

Earthquakes in Oklahoma between 1976-2014. Earthquakes are magnitude > 1 from the NEIC catalog. Keranen et al 2014

The latest Science study, led by Katie Keranen of Cornell, says this is no accident. By analyzing seismic data in Oklahoma along with the location of some 10,000 disposal wells along the state, the researchers concluded that there's a likely link between the two.

Just four wells were likely responsible for one-fifth of seismic activity

More specifically, the researchers concluded that 89 wells were likely responsible for most of the seismic activity. And just four wells located southeast of Oklahoma City were likely responsible for about one-fifth of seismic activity in the state between 2008 and 2013.

It's worth noting that so far these earthquakes have been too small to do serious damage or endanger lives. Still, they seem to have stirred up concern among some Oklahoma residents, and regulators are now considering whether additional rules may be necessary. This new research could help more accurately pinpoint the links here.

Previous studies on earthquakes and wastewater wells

The Science study is hardly the first to suggest a link between wastewater injection and earthquakes. Kansas, Texas, and Ohio are also all exploring possible connections. Over the past year, the US Geological Service had also suggested a link between wastewater wells and earthquakes.

Meanwhile, a separate study is currently ongoing in Colorado as to whether an injection well was causing seismic activity near Greeley. One June 25, state regulators ordered a halt to wastewater injection in the area after a 2.6 magnitude quake (which had followed a 3.4 magnitude quake in May).

04 Jul 12:21

Thailand's Toilet Signs Really Need to Pee

by Brian Ashcraft

Thailand's Toilet Signs Really Need to Pee

There are universal markers for the restrooms. There is also a universal sign for when you really, really need to take a leak. Sometimes, Thailand gets both in toilet signs.

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03 Jul 19:32

Cocktail Challenge: Duck fat

by Julia Thiel
Challenged to create a cocktail with duck fat, Brian Bolles of Maude's Liquor Bar tries to overcome its "thick, heavy flavor." by Julia Thiel OO.ready(function() { window.player = OO.Player.create('ooyala-player','M4MWhnbjozu6VDxt3vR99HJ9KRRctVBr'); }); "It's delicious," Brian Bolles of Maude's Liquor Bar says of duck fat, the ingredient with which Aaron Dexter of the Owl challenged him to create a cocktail.…

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