Friday, December 2, 2016

Kahneman: Doing Nobel-winning work does not guarantee self esteem

For social-science nerds, [Michael] Lewis provides the back story to Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Tversky’s most famous papers. But the real drama of “The Undoing Project” — the scenes on the peak-end highlight reel — revolve around Dr. Tversky and Dr. Kahneman, both as individuals and as a creative pair. ...

As often happens in collaborations, one person, fairly or unfairly wound up getting more credit for the work, and in this case, it was Dr. Tversky. For Dr. Kahneman, this imbalance generated terrible tension and envy. That we know the details of such a close relationship, and its rocky emotional topography, is astonishing. Dr. Kahneman, 82, now at Princeton, seldom speaks to writers. But Mr. Lewis, as we know, is no an ordinary author. ...

And what do we learn? That envy really is corrosive. That successful marriages involve, as the psychologist Marcel Zentner discovered, “positive illusions.” That world-famous psychologists can be blind to the needs of those around them. And that even winning a Nobel doesn’t guarantee self-esteem. Late in life, Dr. Kahneman remained a rattling kettle of self-doubt.

In a remarkable note on his sources, Mr. Lewis reveals that for years he watched Dr. Kahneman agonize over his 2011 book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” which became both a critical and a fan favorite. “Every few months he’d be consumed with despair, and announce that he was giving up writing altogether — before he destroyed his own reputation,” Mr. Lewis writes. “To forestall his book’s publication he paid a friend to find people who might convince him not to publish it.”

Dr. Tversky never fully understood these fits of doubt. Nor did he see how he made them worse. “I needed to get away,” Dr. Kahneman said. “He possessed my mind.”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Blue Man Group did the quintessential 21st century thing

Their formative event, the famous-in-retrospect “Funeral for the ’80s” in Central Park, was not especially well thought out. “It wasn’t like we were really earnest about this,” said Mr. Wink, the group’s big talker despite his years as a silent Blue Man. “It was more like, ‘Let’s put it out of its misery and make way for something new.’”

But he was savvy enough to send a news release to MTV. The V.J. Kurt Loder and a cameraman came along to witness a bunch of blue people carrying a coffin, making portentous pronouncements and setting fake fire to ’80s symbols they found objectionable, including Rambo. The audience: perhaps two dozen. ...

MTV hyped the story, Mr. Goldman said, “and through the magic of editing, made it look like you’d missed the Sex Pistols” if you missed the event.

The ’80s were still not over — this was 1988 — and the Blue Men began refining the Blue Man. ...

In 2010, Mr. Goldman sold his one-third share to GF Capital, a private equity fund.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Democracy is in trouble around the world

According to the Mounk-Foa early-warning system, signs of democratic deconsolidation in the United States and many other liberal democracies are now similar to those in Venezuela before its crisis.

Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.

That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

In the United States, Donald J. Trump won the presidential election by running as an antisystem outsider. And support for antisystem populist parties in Europe, such as the National Front in France, Syriza in Greece and the Five-Star Movement in Italy, is rising.
--Amanda Taub, NYT, on alarming signs

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The longing for transcendence defeated Clinton

...2016 exposed liberalism’s twofold vulnerability: to white voters embracing an identity politics of their own, and to women and minorities fearing Trump less than most liberals expected, and not voting monolithically for Hillary. ...

It’s true that identity politics is often illiberal, both in its emphasis on group experience over individualism and, in the web of moral absolutes — taboo words, sacred speakers, forbidden arguments — that it seeks to weave around left-liberal discourse. ...

But liberal societies have always depended on an illiberal or pre-liberal substructure to answer the varied human needs — meaning, belonging, a vertical dimension to human life, a hope against mortality...

In American history, that substructure took various forms: The bonds of family life, the power of (usually Protestant) religion, a flag-waving patriotism, and an Anglo-Saxon culture to which immigrants were expected to assimilate.

Each of these foundations often manifested illiberalism’s evils: religious intolerance, racism and chauvinism, the oppressions of private and domestic power. But they also provided the moral, cultural and metaphysical common ground that political reformers — abolitionists, Social Gospellers, New Dealers, civil rights marchers — relied upon to expand liberalism’s promise.

Much of post-1960s liberal politics, by contrast, has been an experiment in cutting Western societies loose from those foundations, set to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” No heaven or religion, no countries or borders or parochial loyalties of any kind...

Unfortunately the values of “Imagine” are simply not sufficient to the needs of human life. People have a desire for solidarity that cosmopolitanism does not satisfy, immaterial interests that redistribution cannot meet, a yearning for the sacred that secularism cannot answer.

So where religion atrophies, family weakens and patriotism ebbs, other forms of group identity inevitably assert themselves. It is not a coincidence that identity politics are particularly potent on elite college campuses, the most self-consciously post-religious and post-nationalist of institutions; nor is it a coincidence that recent outpourings of campus protest and activism and speech policing and sexual moralizing so often resemble religious revivalism. The contemporary college student lives most fully in the Lennonist utopia that post-’60s liberalism sought to build, and often finds it unconsoling: She wants a sense of belonging, a ground for personal morality, and a higher horizon of justice than either a purely procedural or a strictly material politics supplies. ... is precisely older, foundational things that today’s liberalism has lost. Until it finds them again, it will face tribalism within its coalition and Trumpism from without, and it will struggle to tame either.

Friday, November 25, 2016

When China's top chefs ate at the French Laundry

TYLER COWEN: In one of your books you tell a story of taking some number of very renowned Sichuan chefs and you bring them in the United States to a restaurant called The French Laundry, one of the best and most famous American restaurants. Cooking at a very high level. How did they react to that?

FUCHSIA DUNLOP: Oh, total culture shock. You see, I was delighted. I was so excited. I’d taken these wonderful chefs, all of them extremely accomplished practitioners of Sichuanese cuisine, and here I was. I got a table at the best restaurant, held to be the best restaurant in North America, with some of the finest the West had to offer.

There were all kinds of things that they found very difficult. The first was our reservation was at 9:30. Chinese people like to eat at 6:00 or 6:30, so they were already in a bit of a bad mood by the time we started.

COWEN: As I would be.


DUNLOP: Then it was a four-hour tasting menu. Chinese meals, even very good ones, tend to be rather fast by this standard. For them, it was a long, tedious, late-night thing to sit and have dish after dish of complicated food.

They weren’t used to eating dairy products, so anything creamy, not particularly nice. They were really disturbed. One of them actually refused to eat the most beautiful lamb, because it was a little pink and bloody in the middle. Of course, in China traditionally only barbarians eat raw meat and you just don’t eat raw meat.


DUNLOP: They thought the olives tasted like Chinese medicine.


DUNLOP: In China a meal should always leave you feeling very refreshed and relaxed, and that’s why you finish in many regions with a light, refreshing palate-cleansing soup or with fresh fruit.

At the French Laundry, we ended, like at many classic Western tasting menus, with a whole sequence of very heavy, sweet dishes, which was not very comfortable for them.

COWEN: Also known as dessert. [laughs]

DUNLOP: As dessert. The most interesting thing was Yu Bo, one of the chefs who’s now very famous — one of the best chefs I’ve ever met in China, the most accomplished — he was sitting in front of this beautiful plate of food. He said, “Fuchsia, this is all very interesting, but I really cannot say whether it’s good or bad.”
--Fuchsia Dunlop, Conversations with Tyler, on the analogue of Westerners eating sea cucumber

Monday, November 7, 2016

Over 100 pro-Trump websites are based in a small Macedonian town

“This is the news of the millennium!” said the story on Citing unnamed FBI sources, it claimed Hillary Clinton will be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.

“Your Prayers Have Been Answered,” declared the headline.

For Trump supporters, that certainly seemed to be the case. They helped the baseless story generate over 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

Meanwhile, roughly 6,000 miles away in a small town in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a young man watched as money began trickling into his Google AdSense account.

Over the past year, the Macedonian town of Veles (population 45,000) has experienced a digital gold rush as locals launched at least 140 US politics websites. These sites have American-sounding domain names such as,,,, and They almost all publish aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US.

The young Macedonians who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles. Several teens and young men who run these sites told BuzzFeed News that they learned the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters. ...

“Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that ‘if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it,’” said a university student in Veles who started a US politics site, and who agreed to speak on the condition that BuzzFeed News not use his name. ...

Earlier in the year, some in Veles experimented with left-leaning or pro–Bernie Sanders content, but nothing performed as well on Facebook as Trump content. ...

BuzzFeed News’ research also found that the most successful stories from these sites were nearly all false or misleading.
--Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed, on supply rising to meet demand. HT: Tyler Cowen

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Scientists can publish their best work at any age

Hoping that your next paper will be the big one? It just might be — the chance that your next article will be your best-cited is as good as ever, no matter where you are in your career.

That’s the finding of a team led by Albert-László Barabási at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. The researchers analysed the papers of thousands of scientists from different disciplines. Considering their publication records as a sequence of articles, the most highly-cited were equally likely to be found at the beginning, middle or end of the sequence.

“We scientists are random,” Barabási says. “Every time we publish a paper, we have the same chance of publishing our biggest hit as we do with any other paper.”

This might seem to conflict with the well-documented finding that big discoveries and high-impact work tend to happen early in a scientist’s career. But there’s no contradiction, because the new work also shows that productivity — the number of papers produced per year — tends to slowly decline over a typical career. A scientist’s chance of securing a ‘greatest hit’ accordingly decreases over time, simply because they have fewer shots at it.

But the researchers also make a more contentious calculation. They devise a simple mathematical model that describes the probability that any particular paper will be a hit. This depends on only two factors, they argue: an element of luck, and a certain quality, or Q factor, that measures an individual scientist’s ability to boost the impact of any project.

Testing their model against the publication records of 2,887 physicists, the team found that the equation implies that the ‘luck’ factor is the same for all scientists. The Q factor is obtained from a researcher’s citation record: it is proportional to the logarithm of the number of citations that a scientist has received over a certain time frame.

The researchers anticipated that Q would increase over the course of a scientific career, as an individual becomes more experienced. To their surprise, they found that it remains mostly constant.

Should you fill out your calendar in great detail? Experimental evidence

My instinct has been that you should only put things in the calendar that absolutely have to go there. Another point of view says you should fill the calendar with tasks and use your calendar as the to do list. The question is, who’s right? There’s some very interesting research done by three psychologists nearly 35 years ago. They split students into control groups and these various groups got different advice. Students who were advised to plan in detail, day by day -- the psychologists thought that would work best.

But in fact that was catastrophic. Students got very discouraged very quickly. What seemed to be happening is you block out your day, and then a friend comes for coffee. The washing machine breaks down. An unexpected phone call just gets in the way, and you’re immediately running behind. So now what do you do? These students became very discouraged and they stopped working. Their study time was way down.

On the other hand, the students who were told to just set out their goals for the month did way better. I think that speaks to the idea that you need that degree of flexibility. It’s fine to have a goal in mind, but the moment I start blocking out particular bits of time, the whole thing doesn’t survive contact with reality and people get very disheartened.
--Tim Harford, Washington Post, on the value of schedules with give

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The bittersweetness of the Cubs' World Series victory

Cubs fans awoke yesterday to one last wait, with little to do before Game 7 but think, about themselves and their families, about the people who've come and gone during these 108 years of failure. Hundreds found themselves drawn to Wrigley Field, where workers were already breaking down the concessions and cleaning out the freezers. Some people said they didn't even mean to come. They started off on a trip to the store and ended up standing in front of the stadium's long brick wall facing Waveland Avenue. Many wrote chalk notes to the dead. Some dedicated messages. This one's for you, Dad. Others wrote names. Dan Bird. Ben Bird. Eugene Hendershott. A man with a bright smile but melancholy eyes wrote the name of his late wife, Andrea Monhollen. They met four blocks from here, on Racine. She's been gone six years. ...

My wife's grandfather, a decorated World War II veteran, who survived being named Bob Weinberg in a German prisoner of war camp, died in May. He grew up in Chicago and loved the Cubs, and as the season went on, my wife and I talked about how cruel it seemed for a man to live for 94 years, survive his bomber being shot down and being held captive, only to die five months before the World Series he longed to see. With him in mind, I reached out to a half-dozen area hospitals and to the team itself, looking for fans who were hanging on, hoping to find someone who might beat Bob's odds. The Cubs connected me with a woman named Ginny Iversen. She listened to the games on the radio religiously, even at 94, and loved to tell people she shared a birthday with Andre Dawson. ...

At the Wrigley Field memorial wall, I saw a woman writing on the metal gates to the bleachers themselves, across the street from Murphy's. Mary Beth Talhami (I'd learn her name later) finished her message and stood back to admire it: "Mom, thank you for teaching us to believe in ourselves, love and the Cubs. Enjoy your view from the ultimate skybox."

I took a picture of her, close enough to overhear her conversation with another stranger to her left. Mary Beth talked about her mom and how ESPN had contacted the family. The dots connected in my head. The hair stood up on my arm.

"That was me," I said.

She told me her mother was Ginny Iversen and then, starting to shake and cry, she told me the news. Her mom died between Games 2 and 3.
--Wright Thompson, ESPN, on the weight of a 108 year wait

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why you shouldn't refrigerate tomatoes

...a tomato’s flavor — made up of sugars, acids and chemicals called volatiles — degrades as soon as it’s picked from the vine. There’s only one thing you can do now: Keep it out of the fridge.

Researchers at The University of Florida have found in a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when tomatoes are stored at the temperature kept in most refrigerators, irreversible genetic changes take place that erase some of their flavors forever.

Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences who led the study, and his colleagues took two varieties of tomatoes — an heirloom and a more common modern variety — and stored them at 41 degrees Fahrenheit before letting them recover at room temperature (68 degrees Fahrenheit). When they looked at what happened inside the tomatoes in cold temperatures, Dr. Klee said the subtropical fruit went into shock, producing especially damaging changes after a week of storage. After they were allowed to warm up, even for a day, some genes in the tomatoes that created its flavor volatiles had turned off and stayed off.
--Joanna Klein, NYT, on preserving by not refrigerating

Die-hard Clinton supporters are not that different from die-hard Trump supporters

I’ve been asking friends and family the last few days this question: “What could Clinton possibly do that would make you stay home, let alone vote for Trump?” (And for the people who say Trump is an exception, just substitute “George W. Bush” and pretend this was your choice.)

The answer so far: not much.

Imagine, for example, the power couple in Netflix’s House of Cards, who make it to the White House through years of murder and deception and scandals suppressed, but who have a sincere commitment to the issues. Imagine that were Hillary and Bill’s story, and it all came out this week: the hints of sinister murders and drug use and conniving. But still, no dent in the chances Hillary nominates a liberal supreme court judge, or pushes for climate change measures, or treats the 11 million illegals in the country in a humane way.

What I want to ask people is: Would you vote Trump, or even stay home and let Trump win in your state? For committed Democrats, I’m betting the crimes would have to be incredibly bad, and the proof incontrovertible. And the social media bubble would have to stick those unpleasant truths in your face rather than sow doubt about the truth or seriousness of any accusations.

Bizarrely, this makes me feel better about my country. You can look at your fellow Americans and not say “what a bunch of deplorables!”, but instead see a group of people who have a deep commitment to a set of principles and issues, and think their chances are better with Trump than Clinton, however much they might dislike him.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Muslim refugees: The future of Christianity in Europe?

When I first met Mattias in July at a refugee shelter just north of Berlin, he went by the name Mohammed. He had arrived in Germany from Iran the previous fall, along with thousands of other asylum-seekers—sometimes up to 10,000 arrived in a single day. After the German government assigned him to this shelter, he converted to Christianity. “I wouldn’t say I was a Muslim” before, he told me. “I didn’t go to a mosque for an entire year. Now I am going to church every week.” He expects it will take about three weeks to get off his church’s waiting list to be baptized. Perhaps once he’s more settled in Germany, he’ll be able to change his name legally to Mattias, his chosen Christian name. ...

We sat together in a sparse dormitory room at the shelter with three other Iranians who had converted from Islam to Christianity. They attend a Protestant church together...

Throughout Germany, the pews of churches like theirs are filled increasingly by asylum-seekers. ...

Muslim converts to Christianity that I spoke to in Germany cited the redemptive power of Jesus’s story, and disillusionment with Islam. It’s also worth noting the more earthly forces potentially at work: Germany does not grant refugee status to Iranians as easily as it does Syrians and Iraqis. ... Iranians seeking refugee status must prove that if they are sent home, they stand the risk of being persecuted for their beliefs. In Iran, that often means Christian converts. ...

A week after that meal, I visited Trinity Lutheran Church, which also hosts a large Iranian congregation. ...

Up the stairs and past the Iranian ushers, we poked our heads into the nave. There were few seats available, so we crowded into the choir loft along with the other stragglers. There appeared to be around 300 people in attendance, mostly Iranians, but my translator pointed out that a line of men seated behind us included Hazaras from Afghanistan—also current or former Shia Muslims—like the Iranians. Only a dozen or so in attendance appeared to be German. A woman in the front pews still wore a hijab. ...

[Pastor Gottfried] Martens said his congregation was “lucky” to have its pews filled with asylum-seekers from the Muslim world. Being around them, he said, brought meaning to his life. “It’s such a job to be together with these wonderful people who have risked so much for their Christian faith,” he said. “I can hardly imagine [working] in a normal German congregation anymore.” His church currently counts some 1,000 baptized Iranian and Afghan members with 300 on the waiting list, he said. Before someone is baptized, he must pass a kind of Christian entrance exam by taking classes on what it means to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. It’s one way of making sure people aren’t just becoming Christian for the visa, to ascertain whether “they really understand what the Christian faith means,” Martens said.
--Laura Kasinof, The Atlantic, on the spiritual fruit of the refugee crisis

Grant reviewers dislike ideas that are novel and close to their own expertise

...we designed and executed a grant proposal process at a leading research university in which we randomized the assignment of evaluators and proposals to generate 2,130 evaluator–proposal pairs. We find that evaluators systematically give lower scores to research proposals that are closer to their own areas of expertise and to those that are highly novel. The patterns are consistent with biases associated with boundedly rational evaluation of new ideas. The patterns are inconsistent with intellectual distance simply contributing “noise” or being associated with private interests of evaluators.
--Kevin Boudreau, Eva Guinan, Karim Lakhani, and Christoph Riedl, Management Science, on biases of peer review

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Asian-American experience of otherness

To the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back to China:

Maybe I should have let it go. Turned the other cheek. We had just gotten out of church, and I was with my family and some friends on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We were going to lunch, trying to see if there was room in the Korean restaurant down the street. You were in a rush. It was raining. Our stroller and a gaggle of Asians were in your way.

But I was, honestly, stunned when you yelled at us from down the block, “Go back to China!”

I hesitated for a second and then sprinted to confront you. That must have startled you. You pulled out your iPhone in front of the Equinox and threatened to call the cops. It was comical, in retrospect. You might have been charged instead, especially after I walked away and you screamed, “Go back to your fucking country.”

“I was born in this country!” I yelled back.

It felt silly. But how else to prove I belonged? ...

You had on a nice rain coat. Your iPhone was a 6 Plus. You could have been a fellow parent in one of my daughters’ schools. You seemed, well, normal. But you had these feelings in you, and, the reality is, so do a lot of people in this country right now.

Maybe you don’t know this, but the insults you hurled at my family get to the heart of the Asian-American experience. It’s this persistent sense of otherness that a lot of us struggle with every day. That no matter what we do, how successful we are, what friends we make, we don’t belong. We’re foreign. We’re not American. It’s one of the reasons that Fox News segment the other day on Chinatown by Jesse Watters, with the karate and nunchucks and broken English, generated so much outrage.

My parents fled mainland China for Taiwan ahead of the Communist takeover. They came to the United States for graduate school. They raised two children, both of whom went to Harvard. I work at The New York Times. Model minority, indeed.

Yet somehow I still often feel like an outsider.
--My college friend Mike Luo, NYT, on an illustrative encounter

Monday, October 3, 2016

Steve Young's secret psychological frailties

The life story of [former San Francisco 49ers quarterback] Steve Young—“QB: My Life Behind the Spiral” by Steve Young with Jeff Benedict (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), due out Oct. 11, but available for preorder now—is the rare sports book in which the heretofore pristine hero admits to some legitimate human scars. Young grew up so close to his parents that he could never attend sleepovers at friends’ homes, and the separation anxiety and homesickness was a real problem. He threatened to quit Brigham Young multiple times. Young had such performance anxiety that, before a 1993 game, he didn’t sleep for 36 hours, so petrified he was that he’d fail, and spent hours with a psychologist. In fact, that year, Young admits in the book that a depression specialist in San Francisco diagnosed him with separation anxiety and told him: “Never once have I seen an adult with the kind of separation anxiety that you have.”

This was months after Young was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, in 1992.
--Peter King, Sports Illustrated, on the tenuous link between success and mental health

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The progression of MBA career aspirations

Universum Global essentially asked MBAs to map out their most important career aspirations. Participants were asked to choose their top career goals immediately after finishing their MBAs, within 10 years of earning their MBA, and before they retire. They were given 12 goals to choose from and allowed to pick a maximum of three.

Some 93% of MBAs said they wanted to be “competitively or intellectually challenged” in their first job — a significant insight into how MBA recruiters should be portraying and messaging their companies. After that, 71% said they wanted to have a “secure and stable job”; more than half (58%) said they wanted to “lead or manage a team” in their first role. And 52% said they wanted to feel their work is “serving the greater good.”
Interestingly, just 13% said they wanted to “become wealthy” in their first job. ...

Within 10 years of finishing an MBA, though, a lot changes. Becoming wealthy jumps from 13% to 57% and ranks as the most important career goal. The second-most popular goal, at 51%, is being “seen as a technical or functional expert” in a field. Remarkably, being “competitively and intellectually challenged” drops from 93% to 5%. Meanwhile, having a secure and stable job drops from 71% to 18%, and starting a company zooms from 5% to 29%.

Not surprisingly, by career’s end, holding a C-suite position is the most popular important goal, with 48% of MBAs indicating they want to do so. Serving on a company or nonprofit board becomes the second-most important goal at 36%. Some intriguing, albeit obvious, trends surface across all three time frames. Achieving a healthy work-life balance drops from 48% at the beginning of a career to 41% within 10 years, then to 6% in the “before I retire” prompt. Being competitively and intellectually challenged plunges from 93% to 5% to 1% across a career; similarly, feeling that one’s work is serving a greater good drops from 52% at the beginning of a career to 26%, and then to 14%.
--Nathan Allan, Poets and Quants, on some depressing trends

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How drugs affected the course of World War II

At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug – and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers (initially, it could be bought without prescription). ...

In 1940, as plans were made to invade France through the Ardennes mountains, a “stimulant decree” was sent out to army doctors, recommending that soldiers take one tablet per day, two at night in short sequence, and another one or two tablets after two or three hours if necessary. ...

Was Blitzkrieg, then, largely the result of the Wehrmacht’s reliance on crystal meth? How far is [historian Norman] Ohler willing to go with this? He smiles. “Well, Mommsen always told me not to be mono-causal. But the invasion of France was made possible by the drugs. No drugs, no invasion. When Hitler heard about the plan to invade through Ardennes, he loved it [the allies were massed in northern Belgium]. But the high command said: it’s not possible, at night we have to rest, and they [the allies] will retreat and we will be stuck in the mountains. But then the stimulant decree was released, and that enabled them to stay awake for three days and three nights. Rommel [who then led one of the panzer divisions] and all those tank commanders were high – and without the tanks, they certainly wouldn’t have won.” ...

[Hitler's physician] began giving him a “wonder drug” called Eukodal, a designer opiate and close cousin of heroin whose chief characteristic was its potential to induce a euphoric state in the patient (today it is known as oxycodone). It wasn’t long before Hitler was receiving injections of Eukodal several times a day. Eventually he would combine it with twice daily doses of the high grade cocaine he had originally been prescribed for a problem with his ears...

The effect of the drugs could appear to onlookers to be little short of miraculous. One minute the Führer was so frail he could barely stand up. The next, he would be ranting unstoppably at Mussolini. ...

When the factories where Pervitin and Eukodal were made were bombed by the allies, supplies of his favourite drugs began to run out, and by February 1945 he was suffering withdrawal. Bowed and drooling and stabbing at his skin with a pair of golden tweezers, he cut a pitiful sight. “Everyone describes the bad health of Hitler in those final days [in the Führerbunker in Berlin],” says Ohler. “But there’s no clear explanation for it. It has been suggested that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To me, though, it’s pretty clear that it was partly withdrawal.” He grins. “Yeah, it must have been pretty awful. He’s losing a world war, and he’s coming off drugs.”
--Rachel Cooke, The Guardian, on bioenhanced warfare. HT: Chris Blattman

Monday, September 26, 2016

Life as a bride in rural India

Upon reaching adulthood, they would be transferred to the guardianship of another family, along with a huge dowry that serves as an incentive to treat them well. The transfer is final. Once married, the new bride cannot return to visit her parents without permission, which is given sparingly, so that the bonds to her old home will weaken.

She must show her submission to the new family: She is not allowed to speak the names of her in-laws, because it is seen as too familiar, and in some places she is not allowed to use words that begin with the same letters as her in-laws’ names, requiring the invention of a large parallel vocabulary. Each morning, before she is allowed to eat, the daughter-in-law must wash the feet of her husband’s parents and then drink the water she has used to wash them.
--Ellen Barry, NYT, on a life to leave behind

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dhaka has the world's worst traffic

Dhakaites will tell you that the rest of the world doesn’t understand traffic, that the worst traffic jam in Mumbai or Cairo or Los Angeles is equivalent to a good day for Dhaka’s drivers. Experts agree. In the 2016 Global Liveability Survey, the quality of life report issued annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Dhaka ranked 137th out of 140 cities, edging out only Lagos, Tripoli and war-torn Damascus; its infrastructure rating was the worst of any city in the survey. ...

Yet on my flight to Dhaka I was told that the traffic in the city would be unusually light. For weeks, Bangladesh had been gripped by a hartal, a nationwide general strike and “transportation blockade.” ...

When my plane touched down I caught a taxi, which exited the airport into a roundabout before making its way onto the infamous highway. There, unmistakably, was a traffic jam: cars and trucks, as far the eye could see, stacked up in a configuration that bore no clear relationship to the lanes painted on the blacktop. ...

The distance from airport to hotel was eight and a half miles. The trip had taken two and a half hours. We wheeled into the hotel’s driveway and the cabby spun around to offer his verdict. “Some traffic,” he said. “Not so bad.”
--Jody Rosen, NYT, on my Manila experience

Winning the lottery makes you like incumbent politicians more

Incumbent politicians tend to receive more votes when economic conditions are good. In this paper we explore the source of this correlation, exploiting the exceptional evidence provided by the Spanish Christmas Lottery. Because winning tickets are typically sold by one lottery outlet, winners tend to be geographically clustered. This allows us to study the impact of exogenous good economic conditions on voting behavior. We find that incumbents receive significantly more votes in winning provinces. The evidence is consistent with a temporary increase in happiness making voters more lenient toward the incumbent, or with a stronger preference for the status quo.
--Manuel Bagues and Berta Esteve-Volart, Journal of Political Economy, on your wallet doing the voting