Most terrorists are incompetent

“The Terrorism Delusion,” a paper by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart in this summer’s issue of International Security, argues that terrorists basically suck at their jobs. They report that the best US intelligence puts the whole al Qaeda weapons of mass destruction R&D budget at US$4,000; that Americans who are “radicalized” and brought to terrorism training camps return disgusted and disillusioned and determined to put future recruits off (and then get arrested anyway); that Iraqis were so alienated from loony al Qaeda fighters that bin Laden proposed renaming the group; and that terrorists who are busted are basically dolts, fools, bumblers and delusional loonies.

But, as Mueller and Stewart write, the counter-terror forced continue to present terrorism as a grave risk brought about by super-criminal masterminds who threaten the safety of all of us, every day.

Wiry and blue

I like Grover because really, he’s wiry. He’s tough. He gets emotional. But also he tries very hard to help people, and do things right, to the extent that he doesn’t use contractions in his words. If there’s apostrophes in the script I get, I make the separation, because he doesn’t say ‘can’t’. He says ‘can not’… Grover came about organically. I worked on Cookie Monster, I worked on Bert. Grover just kind of happened. I guess that’s why I like him.

-Frank Oz 1992

The economics of bike theft

Low reward, but even lower risk 

Bike thievery is essentially a risk-free crime. If you were a criminal, that might just strike your fancy. If Goldman Sachs didn’t have more profitable market inefficencies to exploit, they might be out there arbitraging stolen bikes.

Sgt. Joe McKolsky, bike theft specialist for the SFPD, estimates that the overwhelming majority of bike thefts are driven by drug addicts and end up being sold on the street for 5 to 10 cents on the dollar. Any bike will do, whether it’s a $50 beater or a $2,000 road bike.  These thieves are amateurs just opportunistically stealing unsecured bikes to get some quick cash:

“Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street — cash, drugs, sex, and bikes… You can virtually exchange one for another.”

No such thing as an illegal immigrant

describing an immigrant as illegal is legally inaccurate. Being in the U.S. without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one. (Underscoring this reality, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority opinion on SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.”) [link]

Harvard B-School prof on the benefits associated with journaling

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile's research reveals the many benefits of keeping a diary about work. Speaking at the 99U Conference, Amabile describes a study that analyzed thousands of daily diary entries from more than 200 professionals. The research showed that keeping track of challenges, successes, and other experiences enhanced creativity and motivation.

Teaching writing well

Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn't write coherent sentences. In 2009, New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and diagram sentences. Within two years, the school's pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school's drop-out rate – 40 percent in 2006 – has fallen to 20 percent.

Americans will welcome the self-driving car, and that’s a good thing

These systems, quietly under development for decades, have long since passed the point of mere driving competence to arrive at something like expert status.

By the time this technology is commercialized, robotically operated cars will be safer, probably a lot safer, than manually operated cars. Autopilots will never get distracted, sleepy, lost, angry. Their reactions will be instantaneous and in an emergency always the right one. They will always signal when changing lanes, never tailgate. Your kids will never have to wrap themselves around a tree on the way home from a party.

So, you see, autopilot cars will be safer. Which means those who persist in manually operating cars will be less safe. They, we, will represent risk, exposure.

We’ll have to be stopped.

The cost of automobile accidents in the U.S. (measured in death, disability, health care and property loss) totals $300 billion annually, according to AAA estimates. The cost of traffic congestion (lost productivity, wasted petroleum, among other factors) AAA reckons at about $100 billion. Taken together, the costs of automotive death and delay equal 2.6% of GDP.


In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Every day for the next nine years the dog waited at Shibuya station, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.

[At the end of the nine years, the dog wised up and said eff this, I’m outta here. No, seriously, the dog died, loyal to the very end.]

Subconscious discrimination against women in the sciences

Researchers at Princeton published a study that showed bias against women in hiring practices within the sciences and hit on some particularly interesting aspects of subconscious discrimination.

The researchers gave the same application materials and resume to two sets of scientists and told the scientists to evaluate the candidate for a position as laboratory manager. Half the scientists got the materials with a male name attached. Half saw a female name. The scientists gave the male name a higher rating on competency, hireability, and their own willingness to mentor "him". They also offered "him" a higher starting salary — $30,238, compared to $26,507 for the female name.

The catch: These trends held regardless of whether the scientist doing the hiring was male or female, and none of the scientists used sexist language or sexist arguments as justification for their decisions