The Name’s Bond. @JamesBond

Jul 26 2014 @ 8:43am

Have smartphones and Facebook ended the golden age of the spy novel? Charles Cumming worries that it “may be that technology strips the spy of mystique”:

Once upon a time, spies like [John le Carré's] Alec Leamas could move across borders with ease. Passports were not biometric, photographs were not sealed under laminate, and there were no retinal scanners at airports (which, incidentally, can’t be fooled by fitting a glass eye or wearing contact lenses manufactured by ‘Q’ branch). … Nowadays, travelling “under alias” has become all but impossible. If, for example, an MI6 officer goes to Moscow and tries to pass himself off as an advertising executive, he’d better make sure that his online banking and telephone records look authentic; that his Facebook page and Twitter feeds are up to date; and that colleagues from earlier periods in his phantom career can remember him when they are contacted out of the blue by an FSB analyst who has tracked them down via LinkedIn. The moment the officer falls under suspicion, his online history will be minutely scrutinised. If the contacts book on his Gmail account looks wrong, or his text messages are out of character, his entire false identity will start to fall apart.

“All of this has affected storytelling,” continues Cumming, who describes how he circumvented the issue as a novelist himself:

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The View From Your Window

Jul 26 2014 @ 8:14am


Stockton, CA, 5.35 pm

Fractions Are Hard!

Jul 26 2014 @ 7:29am

Kevin Drum is most amused by this anecdote from Elizabeth Green’s NYT essay about math education:

One of the most vivid arithmetic failings displayed by Americans occurred in the early 1980s, when the A&W restaurant chain released a new hamburger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder. With a third-pound of beef, the A&W burger had more meat than the Quarter Pounder; in taste tests, customers preferred A&W’s burger. And it was less expensive. A lavish A&W television and radio marketing campaign cited these benefits. Yet instead of leaping at the great value, customers snubbed it.

Only when the company held customer focus groups did it become clear why. The Third Pounder presented the American public with a test in fractions. And we failed. Misunderstanding the value of one-third, customers believed they were being overcharged. Why, they asked the researchers, should they pay the same amount for a third of a pound of meat as they did for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? The “4″ in “¼,” larger than the “3″ in “⅓,” led them astray.

The Holy Land From On High

Jul 25 2014 @ 8:29pm


Megan Garber captions:

The orbiting space station—itself a symbol of international cooperation and, in that, global unity—passed over Israel and Palestine as it orbited Earth’s surface yesterday. It was nighttime on that side of the planet, as one human habitat passed over another; everything was dark save for the man-made lights studding the land. And save for one other thing, too: explosions. The flashes of bright light—brighter than the other ones—that are distantly visible evidence of human bloodshed. “From we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over & ,” [Astronaut Alexander] Gerst tweeted. He then shared the image above. He noted, as he did so, that it was his “saddest photo yet.”

Bibi’s Strategy, Ctd

Jul 25 2014 @ 7:52pm

Larison is unconvinced by Rich Lowry’s cheerleading for Israel in the Gaza war, which Lowry attributes entirely to Hamas’ “depraved indifference to the safety of Gazans”. If Lowry is right about Hamas’ aims, Larison argues, that actually illustrates why Israel going to war hurts its own interests in the long term:

The summary is misleading at best, but even if we accept all of it as true it doesn’t make Israel’s current military operation defensible. Hamas may want war and civilian casualties, and it is fully responsible for everything that it does, but that doesn’t justify Israel in giving them what they want. Nothing could better sum up the irrationality of defenders of the current operation than the argument Lowry is offering here. We’re supposed to accept that Israel’s government mustn’t be faulted for what it’s doing, because Israeli forces are inflicting death and destruction that predictably redounds to Hamas’ political benefit. According to this view, Hamas is the only one to be blamed for the consequences of the military overreaction that has stupidly given Hamas an unwelcome boost. This is little better than the foreign policy equivalent of saying “the devil made me do it,” as if it that made everything all right.

And Daniel Byman argues that Israel’s strategy of heavy-handed deterrence often ends up producing the opposite outcome:

Because Israel is arguably the most casualty-sensitive country in the world, deterrence is even harder. With nuclear weapons and carpet-bombing off the table, Israel needs to go in on the ground to achieve its objectives — but ground operations can lead to Israeli casualties that actually undermine its deterrence.

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Stone-Age Skepticism

Jul 25 2014 @ 7:14pm


Elizabeth Kolbert has her doubts about the paleo diet:

There are, of course, lots of ways to resist progress. People take up knitting or quilting or calligraphy. They bake their own bread or brew their own beer or sew their own clothes using felt they have fashioned out of wet wool and dish soap. But, both in the scale of its ambition and in the scope of its anachronism, paleo eating takes things to a whole new level. Our Stone Age ancestors left behind no menus or cookbooks. To figure out what they ate, we have to dig up their bones and study the wear patterns on their teeth. Or comb through their refuse and analyze their prehistoric poop.

And paleo eating is just the tip of the spear, so to speak. There are passionate advocates for paleo fitness, which starts with tossing out your sneakers. There’s a paleo sleep contingent, which recommends blackout curtains, amber-tinted glasses, and getting rid of your mattress; and there are champions of primal parenting, which may or may not include eating your baby’s placenta. There are even signs of a paleo hygiene movement: coat yourself with bacteria and say goodbye to soap and shampoo. …

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A UN official who claimed that ISIS had ordered genital mutilation for all women and girls in Mosul appears to have been the victim of a hoax:

The story quickly began to go viral, racking up hundreds of shares on social media. Soon thereafter, however, journalists with contacts in Iraq began reporting that the story didn’t hold up. “My contacts in #Mosul have NOT heard that ‘Islamic State’ ordered FGM for all females in their city,” Jenan Moussa, a reporter with Al Anan TV tweet out. “Iraqi contacts say #Mosul story is fake,” echoed freelance writer Shaista Aziz, adding: “Iraqi contact on #FGM story: “ISIS are responsible for many horrors, this story is fake and plays to western audience emotions.’”

NPR’s Cairo bureau chief also claimed that the story was false, tweeting “#UN statement that #ISIS issued fatwa calling 4 FGM 4 girls is false residents of Mosul say including a doctor, journalist and tribal leader.” Not long after a version of a document in Arabic, bearing the black logo that ISIS has adopted, began circulating on Twitter. The document, those who shared it said, is a hoax and the basis for the United Nations’ claim.

That wasn’t the only inaccurate story to come out of the Islamic State. David Kenner highlights some others:

Last week — as the jihadist group’s very real campaign to force Christians to pay a tax levied on non-Muslims, convert to Islam, or face death reached fever pitch — multiple news outlets reported that the Islamic State had burned down the St. Ephrem’s Cathedral. There was just one problem:

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Face Of The Day

Jul 25 2014 @ 6:16pm


A massive marionette known as the “Giant Grandmother” is paraded through the streets of Liverpool in north-west England on July 25, 2014. The parade entitled “Memories of August 1914″ by French theatre company Royal de Luxe features a giant grandmother, a giant little girl and her dog named Xolo, and tells the story of the city’s involvement in World War One. By Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images.

Katy Waldman examines one subtle way people inadvertently signal their insecurities:

We know now that the linguistic expression of low confidence plays out in pronouns. Until recently, many experts believed that first-person singular referents were verbal playthings for the powerful and narcissistic, the me-me-me-me-me people who demand attention. But as James Pennebaker, a psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin, has written, the pronoun “I” often signals humility and subservience. A more confident person is more likely to be surveying her domain (and perhaps considering what “you” should be doing), rather than turning inward. …

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America’s Mixed Feelings On Gaza

Jul 25 2014 @ 5:13pm


Larison flags a new Gallup poll suggesting that US public opinion on the Gaza war is more complicated than our government’s response to it:

Gallup finds that Americans are split on the question of whether Israel’s actions in Gaza have been justified or not. Overall, 42% say that they are justified, 39% say they are not, and 20% have no opinion. These results are comparable to a Gallup poll taken during the second intifada twelve years ago, but there are slightly more on the ‘unjustified’ side than there were then. As we have seen in other polls on related matters, there is a significant gap between Republicans and everyone else[.]

It is striking how evenly divided the public is on this question when there is total uniformity among political leaders in the U.S. that Israel is justified in what it has been doing. There is always a significant gap between popular and elite views on foreign policy issues, but it is still fairly unusual for a view held by almost 40% of Americans to have virtually no representation in Congress.

Another poll from YouGov finds that more detailed questions yield more nuanced answers:

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