It has been a while since I cleaned out the tab attic, so here is basically everything I should have been posting on Unlikely Words over the last… year? I started this post around Thanksgiving and couldn’t finish it because, well, there’s a lot. I tend to open a tab or send myself an email when I find something I think might be interesting, and sometimes it takes a while for those links to get posted. It’d probably be a good idea to get these out monthly or weekly, but end of the year will have to do for now. There is almost certainly something in here that will interest everyone, so check it out and add your favorites to Instapaper.
AB Inbev, the current maker of Budweiser and several other beer brands is alienating beer fans by cutting costs to such an extent the tastes are changing.
There’s one hitch. AB InBev’s CEO is a skilled financial engineer, but he has had trouble selling beer. The company’s shipments in the U.S. have declined 8 percent to 98 million barrels from 2008 to 2011, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights. Last year, Coors Light surpassed Budweiser to become America’s No.?2 beer. (Bud Light remains No.?1.) Meanwhile, Brito is alienating lovers of AB InBev’s imports by not importing them. And he’s risking the devotion of American beer lovers by fiddling with the Budweiser recipe in the name of cost-cutting.
And here’s another look of the consolidation of the beer industry, worse in the UK than it is here.
Since the repeal of Prohibition, such constraints on vertical integration in the liquor business have also been backed by federal law, which, as it’s interpreted by most states, requires that the alcohol industry be organized according to the so-called three-tier system. The idea is that brewers and distillers, the first tier, have to distribute their product through independent wholesalers, the second tier. And wholesalers, in turn, have to sell only to retailers, the third tier, and not directly to the public. By deliberately hindering economies of scale and protecting middlemen in the booze business, America’s system of regulation was designed to be willfully inefficient, thereby making the cost of producing, distributing, and retailing alcohol higher than it would otherwise be and checking the political power of the industry.
An idea in the UK to make cycling proficiency part of the driving test. I like it!
Every driver should have firsthand experience of what it’s like to ride a bike in the traffic. Any driver wanting to acquire an HGV licence has to get a normal driving licence first. And people wanting to take a car on the road should have the experience of cycling alongside cars and other vehicles. Drivers need to know how smaller vehicles and their more vulnerable users behave on the road, and the only real way to understand how cyclists act is to have a go at being one. Providing safety training to more cyclists on the streets is obviously desirable, but mandatory cycle training and licensing, often suggested by the more irate and vocal petrolhead crowd, would be a disaster and create a barrier to cycling take-up.
Alex Pareene on why Politico is so bad.
One classic method of unleashing irresistible Drudge bait on the Internet is to boil another outlet’s story down to a couple salacious-sounding excerpts, or (failing an effective condensing strategy) to simply reinterpret the material to fit a Drudge-friendly narrative. This past May, for example, Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Maraniss’s biography of Barack Obama. (The liberal media vetting blackout continued apace, in other words.) Politico’s Dylan Byers took the excerpt and turned it into a little micro-news story: Obama admitted to Maraniss that certain figures in his first memoir were “compressions”—i.e., composite characters. Byers completely missed that Obama explicitly said at the outset of his own book that some characters were composites, but Drudge didn’t care. “Obama Admits Fabricating Girlfriend in Memoir,” went his headline, with a link to Politico instead of Vanity Fair—and another false right-wing meme got its wings.
It was estimated that legalization of marijuana in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado could reduce the Mexican cartels’ take from marijuana from $2 billion to $600 million.
As a result, it estimates that Mexico’s traffickers would lose about $1.4 billion of their $2 billion revenues from marijuana. The effect on some groups would be severe: the Sinaloa “cartel” would lose up to half its total income, IMCO reckons. Exports of other drugs, from cocaine to methamphetamine, would become less competitive, as the traffickers’ fixed costs (from torturing rivals to bribing American and Mexican border officials) would remain unchanged, even as marijuana revenues fell.
The man who charged himself with murder.
Tonight, he was more clearheaded and had decided this was going to be his last trip to the precinct. If he didn’t get any answers this time, he would take that as a sign that he should move on and leave the past behind. But there was a chance, he knew, that once he started talking to the police, they might not let him leave. In fact, he might not get to walk the streets of East Harlem again for a very long time.
Philadelphia found that a doubling of cyclists has resulted in reducing cyclist deaths by half because drivers are more used to seeing cyclists on the street.
Since 2002, the number of cyclists on many Center City streets has more than doubled, according to tallies at key intersections, and the percentage of bike commuters has also doubled. In 2002, there were six bicyclists killed in accidents with motor vehicles; last year, there were two such deaths.
The making of The Chronic
SNOOP DOGG: I think The Chronic was perfect, but a lot of songs could have been on it that would have destroyed the vibe. If they didn’t come out, Dre did it for a reason. A lot of that shit was spontaneous. But I did [another] song 15 times before I got it right. Had a toothache at the time and couldn’t spit it out. He was, “Do it the next time, I don’t like how it sounds. Do it again, you had too much energy.” I’m like, this motherfucker is a precisionist.
JEFFREY JOLSON-COLBURN: The Chronic was a hit out of the box.?… Snoop had these incredible street creds and such a buzz behind him from the projects.
SNOOP DOGG: The first family member I called when I heard my shit being played was my Pops. Because he’d seen me go to jail for selling dope. I don’t think Pops believed in me.?… When The Chronic came out, I was sought out for interviews. I was very shy, and I’d hold my head down and didn’t want to look at the camera. I didn’t know what to expect. I had to learn how to conduct myself and not explode on every question I didn’t like. Just take my time and listen. If I just be me, it’ll be all right. …
The first time I performed songs from The Chronic was with Dre in a small concert in Compton. And man, these motherfuckers were singing every word of the songs. And that made me feel — damn, my life is right here.
There is now a medical insurance code for drowning death caused by jumping from burning water-skis.
In an attempt to achieve greater specificity for describing diseases and injuries, the authors came up with some curious items. There are probably some other howlers, but so far, the winner is “V9027XA Drowning and submersion due to falling or jumping from burning water-skis, initial encounter.” There are also codes for subsequent encounters and sequela of drowning and submersion due to falling or jumping from burning water-skis.
Profile of a tourbus driver in Spin.
Bus drivers hold a unique place in the pantheon of rock’n’roll. Much like baseball umpires, CIA analysts, and food safety inspectors, tour bus drivers are generally only noticed when they do something egregiously wrong like blow a tire and crash into a bridge or dump the contents of their septic tank into the Chicago River. They are an integral part of the touring life and front-row witnesses to its chaos, but rarely participants in it. As more than one driver pointed out, they are the only people on a tour who literally hold the lives of everyone else in their hands on a daily basis. Yet many artists couldn’t tell you their driver’s last name.
A look at the trend of rapid construction. Builders can prefabricate parts of the construction so bridges can be put in place in days rather than months.
Nowhere have the various techniques for speeding bridge work been more enthusiastically embraced than in Massachusetts, which replaced 14 bridges on Interstate 93 last year over 10 weekends. But similar techniques are being used around the country, from Mesquite, Nev., to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which is getting 300 feet of new roadway one 25-foot prefabricated section at a time, 78 pieces in all. “We have a bridge that we simply cannot close to traffic,” said Ewa Bauer, chief engineer for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.
The hard life of an NFL longshot
Six weeks later, his sculptured frame blurring in the gridiron-warble of a Georgia June sun, Pat was standing on the Atlanta Falcons’ practice field in Flowery Branch, learning the consequences of living his dream. Midway through the Falcons’ six weeks of spring-training sessions — each N.F.L. team’s yearly padless orientation ritual — Pat had just got what all first-year players in the N.F.L. most crave: a play, a “rep.” Reps for a rookie are but a few precious crumbs left after the daily scrums of the first and second teams — the “Ones” and “Twos.” It’s one of the crueller realities of the N.F.L.’s strictly enforced hierarchy, a classic Catch-22: what you most need in order to make a team as a rookie, especially an undrafted one, are opportunities to show what you can do. You have little chance of getting those, however, precisely because you’re a rookie. There are so few chances, in fact, that when a rep does come your way, the tendency is to get a bit greedy, to overplay.
Each presidential election is called the most technological of all time, and the CTO of the winning campaign is called the best political CTO, here’s a look at Harper Reed and Obama’s tech team.
And of course, the team’s only real goal was to elect the President. “We have to elect the President. We don’t need to sell our software to Oracle,” Reed told his team. But the secondary impact of their success or failure would be to prove that campaigns could effectively hire and deploy top-level programming talent. If they failed, it would be evidence that this stuff might be best left to outside political technology consultants, by whom the arena had long been handled. If Reed’s team succeeded, engineers might become as enshrined in the mechanics of campaigns as social-media teams already are.
Sugar is really bad for you, but the sugar lobby is good at hiding that.
On a brisk spring Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.
A Paris Review treatise on the art of bullet-pointing an essay.
The numbered essay is a formal reflection of the cultural moment that it takes as its subject. The western world is confusing, confused, random, atomized, unsourced, diverse, unequal, ironic, relative, scary, disconnected, tedious, and full of Michael Bay-style fast cuts. Our writers have an obligation to discard forms that lack the capacity to explain it.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC attracts all manner of private mementos left by visitors in remembrance of people they know on the wall.
The wall is about stories. The little ones are told in the letters and objects left behind—eccentric items that speak of matters so intimate they may be indecipherable except to two people—one living, one dead. Bullet casings soldered into a circle. Five cans of fruit salad. A teddy bear, loved threadbare. A harmonica. An ace of spades. A handful of gravel. A model carousel. A toothbrush. Graduation tassels. They’re all pieces of a larger story still under revision, about the meaning of an unpopular war conducted in a small country among three superpowers with competing geopolitical ideologies—a proxy war with inchoate objectives that killed a lot of people and sent others home in varying states of disrepair.
That story is complicated.
But it’s one the National Park Service relentlessly pursues. Bernie’s candles are gathered up by park rangers and put into big blue boxes. The boxes are hand-trucked and golf-carted to a temporary storage room near the Washington Monument, where they await transport to the Museum Resource Center, or MRCE, pronounced “mercy,” a gleaming modern facility in Maryland that houses 40 historic collections from National Park Service sites around the region. The candles get 30 days or more of isolation and are checked for organic matter—flowers, potpourri, marijuana, unsealed food, tobacco, anything that might carry mold. That stuff is “deaccessioned”—thrown out to protect the rest of the collection.
A profile of Richard Simmons.
At 64, he is a bit stooped. His kinetic hair, as familiar as Don King’s, is not as full as it once was. His face is no longer youthfully cherubic. But his arms are wiry strong, and his energy level is switched to ON. He personally greets everyone in the room and breaks into song: a rousing chorus of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a Match!” is followed by “Hello Muddah, Hello, Fadduh.”
The truce on drugs
Marijuana has remained mostly illegal, even as many Americans have come to consider it harmless and normal, and so it now occupies a uniquely ambiguous place in American law and life. There are a few places in the United States that have been known for decades for marijuana—far-northern California, Kentucky—where people are comfortable with sedition, and willing to live outside of the law. But during the last decade, as growing and selling marijuana began to edge out of the shadows, these places have become the sites of this country’s first experiments with tacit decriminalization. And so the business has shifted, too. “We have to face facts,” says a veteran California grower named Anna Hamilton. “We are in a commodity business.”
And with that truce, there is some hope the number of killings will start to fall in Mexico.
The explosion of killing in Juárez is only the most extreme example of an appalling national trend. Five years ago Mexico was one of Latin America’s gentlest countries, with a murder rate of nine per 100,000 people, not much higher than in the southern United States. But since then the numbers have more than doubled (see chart 4), in tandem with an increase in robbery, extortion and kidnapping. Sadistic killings have been beamed around the world over the internet.
Many parts of Mexico, including its gigantic capital, are relatively peaceful, so the country’s overall murder rate is still no higher than Brazil’s and much lower than much of Central America’s. Yucatán, the quietest state, is statistically as safe as Finland. But very few places are unscathed by the trend: nearly all states saw more killings last year than five years earlier. Polls show that insecurity is Mexicans’ biggest worry.
The NFL’s secret drug problem.
Still, all in all, this is a good day for Lucas, who, when he retired in 2003 after being waived by the Baltimore Ravens, hurt wherever you could hurt and still draw breath. There’s relief in the offing – once the surgeons go in and saw down the bones that pierce his discs. More, he’s still loved by his wife and three daughters, who’ve flourished since he weaned himself off narcotics in 2011, shucking the 800-pill-a-month prescription-drug habit that had turned him into a red-eyed monster. And while, yes, he’s lost his dream house, his NFL savings, and the small air-conditioning business he built after football, the great, improbable fact is he’s still here to tell his story. For that, he can thank Smith, who took his last-chance call when he was in danger of becoming the next ex-NFL player to kill himself.
Inside the US military’s tests on soldiers.
Today, Ketchum is eighty-one years old, and the facility where he worked, Edgewood Arsenal, is a crumbling assemblage of buildings attached to a military proving ground on the Chesapeake Bay. The arsenal’s records are boxed and dusting over in the National Archives. Military doctors who helped conduct the experiments have long since moved on, or passed away, and the soldiers who served as their test subjects—in all, nearly five thousand of them—are scattered throughout the country, if they are still alive. Within the Army, and in the world of medical research, the secret clinical trials are a faint memory. But for some of the surviving test subjects, and for the doctors who tested them, what happened at Edgewood remains deeply unresolved. Were the human experiments there a Dachau-like horror, or were they sound and necessary science? As veterans of the tests have come forward, their unanswered questions have slowly gathered into a kind of historical undertow, and Ketchum, more than anyone else, has been caught in its pull. In 2006, he self-published a memoir, “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,” which defended the research. Next year, a class-action lawsuit brought against the federal government by former test subjects will go to trial, and Ketchum is expected to be the star witness.
We’re living the dream, we just don’t realize it by Steven Johnson.
Over the past two decades, what have the U.S. trends been for the following important measures of social health: high school dropout rates, college enrollment, juvenile crime, drunken driving, traffic deaths, infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita gasoline consumption, workplace injuries, air pollution, divorce, male-female wage equality, charitable giving, voter turnout, per capita GDP and teen pregnancy?
The answer for all of them is the same: The trend is positive. Almost all those varied metrics of social wellness have improved by more than 20% over the past two decades. And that’s not counting the myriad small wonders of modern medicine that have improved our quality of life as well as our longevity: the anti-depressants and insulin pumps and quadruple bypasses.
The board game Monopoly has anti-monopolist roots.
The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”
On building the Sub Pop brand.
The second big way Sub Pop developed its brand was by making good on promises–even while dealing with massive cash flow problems. More than once, distributors they’d hired to would sell Sub Pop’s stock to shops, pocket the wholesale bucks then go out of business owing the label as much as $40,000. (Meanwhile, the bands would be asking for their money to make rent or just survive–usually they got it.)
That’s why the Singles Club was such an important innovation. When Sony’s chief Ienner asked how Sub Pop did it, “We said, counterintuitively, we limit the pressings of our records for the Singles Club,” Pavitt says. “And because they’re limited, people know they’re unique and that they’ll most likely not be able to get these records unless they pay us up front. But also because they trust the brand.”
I’m not a Deadhead, but I know and have known a bunch my whole life, and Nick Paumgarten’s look at the Grateful Dead’s recording culture will be interesting to Deadheads and non-Deadheads alike. This was interesting to me because it’s something I guess I know more about than the regular reader, but I never noticed it hadn’t gotten the long form magazine profile yet. Or recently. Anyway.
The Grateful Dead occupy a curious spot in the canon. Their music has turned out to be extremely resilient, considering that they were primarily a live act and effectively ceased to exist seventeen years ago, when Garcia died, and that for many of the years prior to that (how many is just about the most debated question in Deadland) they were a weak incarnation of themselves. They made a lot of studio albums, but few memorable ones, and had just one Top Forty hit in thirty years, and not for lack of trying. Yet it’s probably safe to say that the Dead have more recorded music in circulation than any performing group in history. (History, admittedly, is short. If there’d been such a thing as a Nakamichi 700 tape deck in eighteenth-century Leipzig, people might be trading bootlegs of Bach performing his own fugues: “St. Thomas’s Church, 5/8/39, Johann rips on the ‘Little’—epic!”) From their establishment, in 1965, to the death of Garcia, in 1995, they played 2,318 concerts, and more than two thousand of those are available in some form or another.
Big, long look at the Zapruder film. Exhaustive, really.
Other footage from the scene turns up here and there, becomes fodder for documentaries (like this new one disproving the “second shooter” theory). But Zapruder’s film is still the canonical ur text of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the most complete and most chilling visual record. In many ways, it prefigured all sorts of American pastimes, from widespread paranoia about government to a loss of faith in photographic truth and the news media, from the acceptance of graphic violence to newer concerns about copyright. The author Don DeLillo once said that the little film “could probably fuel college courses in a dozen subjects from history to physics.” Without the 486 frames of Kodachrome II 8mm safety film, our understanding of JFK’s assassination would likely be an even greater carnival of conspiracy theories than it already is. Well, maybe.
Vanity Fair expose of Tom Cruise and Scientology.
Both men had humble beginnings. Cruise, who is 50, came from a broken family and was on his own by the age of 18. He joined Scientology in 1986, when he was 24, and he credits its study methods with helping him overcome dyslexia. He has gone on to make more than 30 films and reign as one of Hollywood’s top stars for nearly three decades. His films over the years have grossed almost $7 billion worldwide, and his last one, Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, brought in $700 million on its own. This year he was listed by Forbes as Hollywood’s highest-paid actor, with earnings of $75 million.
The NYTimes Vows column turns 20.
Young people are so beautifully ambitious about marriage these days. I recently interviewed a couple for a Vows column who said they wanted to spend their lives finding each other’s “inner voices.” Marriage may have changed, but love has not. It still makes people say crazy things. And it’s still a glue that no one has control of.
Hidden markings on a map may shed light on the lost colony.
Theories abound about what happened to the so-called Lost Colony, ranging from sober scholarship to science fiction. Some historians believe that the colonists might have been absorbed into American Indian tribes. Other explanations point to darker fates, like disease, an attack by Spaniards or violence at the hands of Indians. The wild-eyed fringe hints at cannibalism and even alien abduction.
The shroud of mystery may finally be lifting. The British Museum’s re-examination of a 16th-century coastal map using 21st-century imaging techniques has revealed hidden markings that show an inland fort where the colonists could have resettled after abandoning the coast.
What happened to football’s next great stat?
Total QBR (or more accurately, QBR, since the ‘total’ is a marketing prefix) was fighting an uphill battle from the start. Jon Gruden, former-coach-turned-ESPN-shouter, welcomed it into the world by cautioning, “I’m worried about it because it sounds like a lot of stuff and it’s another quarterback statistical rating formula.” And this was Gruden, a quarterback-obsessive who, in our high-volume/low-wattage national football converation, qualifies as an intellectual. The rest of the football discourse—all limp n’ loud machismo and soft-focus Tebow slashfic and sentimental pomp—is backwards and anti-thought enough to make Tony Siragusa look like Slavoj Zizek. This was the environment in which QBR was expected to grow.
There’s a movie studio called The Asylum which basically makes its money making low-budget ripoffs of big Hollywood movies.
It’s surprising that The Asylum doesn’t provoke more lawsuits like the Battleship case. In 2008, Fox threatened to sue over The Day the Earth Stopped, for similarities to the studio’s release The Day the Earth Stood Still. But since then, the California-based company has mostly avoided legal trouble while aggressively carving out a risky niche: The Asylum is the foremost home of the “mockbuster.” It’s a term that the company’s founders happily throw around: When a big Hollywood blockbuster production is announced, there’s a better than good chance that The Asylum will rush their own version of the same story, more or less, into production, tweaking the plot and the title just enough to avoid a lawsuit. With awareness high for the title, consumers stumble onto their product and, for one reason or another, spend their money on The Asylum’s productions. That moviemaking formula has yet to produce a classic, but it’s given us some titles that rival the greatest porn parodies: Transmorphers. Snakes on a Train. The Da Vinci Treasure.
Most sharing of internet ephemera is not shared on Facebook or Twitter, but on what Alexis Madrigal calls Dark Social.
This means that this vast trove of social traffic is essentially invisible to most analytics programs. I call it DARK SOCIAL. It shows up variously in programs as “direct” or “typed/bookmarked” traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in http://www.theatlantic.com into your browser. But that’s not actually what’s happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you.
NY Times Magazine look at the businesses that deal in viatical settlements (for the dying) and life settlements (for the not dying). Life insurance policies can be sold as assets, and businesses will pay you for them based on how long they think you will live.
Selling your life and selling a house have more in common than you’d think. The seller puts a listing on the market. Prospective buyers do research and get inspections; there are offers and counteroffers until the seller accepts a bid. The seller doesn’t literally peddle his own life, of course, but his life-insurance policy. The distinction is in many ways moot, however, as the sales value is inextricably linked to a cold-eyed estimation of how much longer the seller has to live. In the case of Robles’s policy, a life-settlement company in Georgia, Habersham Funding, expressed interest. Escobar shipped off six boxes’ worth of Robles’s medical records, thousands of pages in all, to Habersham. The firm, in turn, analyzed the records and also had them scrutinized by an external company specializing in life-expectancy analysis. Fiedler’s recollection is that the reports confirmed the grim prognosis and that Robles had less than two years left to live.
NFL lineman are heavy and that makes it hard for them to live a long time.
The results left Tucker and Vogel with a mixed bag – showing that players had higher blood pressure then average men of the same age but were not as likely to face issues dealing with cholesterol, glucose and diabetes.
While recent research conducted by Dr. Sherry Baron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that mortality rates from cardiovascular disease is lower among former players overall, mortality rates among defensive linemen like Jenkins are still worse than those of other players, including linemen who play on the offensive side of the ball. But that research, Tucker warns, does not involve players who compete in what he calls the “Super-Sized” era, when the population of players weighing more than 300 pounds is at an all-time high.
Fascinating story of a guy using Google Maps to find his hometown in India after 24 years.
Separated from his older brother at a train station, five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan found himself lost in the slums of Calcutta. Nearly 20 years later, living in Australia, he began a painstaking search for his birth home, using ingenuity, hazy memories, and Google Earth.
(Via… Um. A lot of these probably came from the #longreads email, which is great, others were just from general browsing.)