Archive for the ‘News’ Category

The Most Interesting Stories of 2018

January 1st, 2019

I’m continuing my tradition of starting the new year by sharing a few of my favorite articles from the last year. Previous selections are available here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Happy 2019 all!

5) Vox: This company may have solved one of the hardest problems in clean energy:

Beyond the hyperbolic title there’s a good explainer of recent developments with hydrogen technology, a facet of clean energy that I gave up on in favor of hydro, wind, solar and batteries, batteries and more batteries (of all types!). Of course, since this splashy coverage I haven’t heard much about this company’s successes. Still interesting to see new ideas to clean up existing diesel engines and I’m all for their eventual pivot to creating hydrogen batteries (again, yay big batteries!).

HyTech Power, based in Redmond, Washington, intends to introduce three products over the next year or two.

The first will use hydrogen to clean up existing diesel engines, increasing their fuel efficiency by a third and eliminating over half their air pollution, with an average nine-month payback, the company says. That’s a potentially enormous market with plenty of existing demand, which HyTech hopes will capitalize its second product, a retrofit that will transform any internal combustion vehicle into a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) by enabling it to run on pure hydrogen. That will primarily be targeted at large fleets.

And that will tee up the third product — the one Johnson’s had his eye on from the beginning, the one that could revolutionize and decentralize the energy system — a stationary energy-storage product meant to compete with, and eventually outcompete, big batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall.

At least, that’s the plan.

4) Topic: Japan’s Vegetable-Eating Men

A long article about a Japanese man who transitioned to become a stay-at-home father in the early 2000s and the shifting norms around work, gender roles and society in Japan.

Wearing a suit while browsing produce, Shuichi was indistinguishable from any other salaryman setting about his daily business in the Tokyo streets. After two years, with his wife’s salary increasing, Shuichi made a decision. “I realized that we could increase our overall household ‘salary’ if I focused on supporting her instead of waiting to cure my disease, or forcing myself to go to work,” he says. To mark this turning point, Shuichi made his role as an outcast complete: he dyed his hair blond.

A Japanese man with bleached-blond hair wouldn’t necessarily stand out in most Western countries, or even in modern-day Tokyo, but at the time, Shuichi explains, it was a huge symbolic move. “Until then, my thought was to go back into the workforce and back to society,” Shuichi says. “But in the public eye, men with blond hair are not allowed to work or even permitted to search for jobs as a salaryman. I became defiant and that is when I basically declared myself a ‘househusband.’”

3) The New Yorker: The Prophets of Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust

A levelheaded piece looking at the insane world of crypocurrencies and blockchain technology, full of charlatans, dizzying swings of wealth and many many strongly held opinions.

Historically, records have been stored in one place—a temple, a courthouse, a server—and kept by whoever presided. If you distrust central authority, or are queasy about Google, this won’t do at all. With blockchains, the records, under a kind of cryptographic seal, are distributed to all and belong to no one. You can’t revise them, because everyone is watching, and because the software will reject it if you try. There is no Undo button. Each block is essentially a bundle of transactions, with a tracking notation, represented in a bit of cryptographic code known as a “hash,” of all the transactions in the past. Each new block in the chain contains all the information (or, really, via the hash, a secure reference to all the information) contained in the previous one, all the way back to the first one, the so-called genesis block.

There are other words that are sometimes included in the definition of blockchain, but they are slippery, and grounds for endless parsing, asterisking, and debate. One is “decentralized.” (Some blockchains are more decentralized than others.) Another is “immutable”—the idea that, in theory, the past record can’t be altered. (This is different from having your crypto stolen or hacked, when it’s stored in an online “wallet.” That happens all the time!) Then there’s “privacy.” The aspiration is for a digital coin to have the untraceability of cash. Because bitcoin was, at the outset, the dark Web’s go-to tender for the purchase of drugs, sex, weaponry, and such, many assumed that it was private. But it isn’t. Every transaction is there in the ledger for all to see. It is, fundamentally, anonymous (or pseudonymous, anyway), but there are many ways for that anonymity to be compromised.

The odds are high that someone, somewhere, has attempted to make an explanation like this one to you. The chain-splainer is a notorious date spoiler and cocktail-party pariah. Here he comes—you’re trapped. You should have known better than to ask about mining.

2) Grub StreetThe Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right

A frank and well done collection of answers to the “right” way to eat that dispels a number of commonly (and often, fanatically) held beliefs. I found it quite liberating because you don’t need to obsess over details. Move around regularly, eat mostly organic, whole plant foods and don’t freak out if you enjoy bread, wine and meat on occasion. Whew.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that carbs are evil.
This is probably the silliest of all the silly, pop-culture propaganda about diet and health. All plant foods are carbohydrate sources.

Yeah, but: Carbs are evil.
Everything from lentils to lollipops, pinto beans to jelly beans, tree nuts to doughnuts, is a carbohydrate source. Most plant foods are mostly carbohydrate. So if “all carbs” are evil, then so are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.

Sure, but, I should still avoid carbs, right?
Exactly the opposite is true. You cannot have a complete or healthful diet without carbohydrate sources.

Why have I been led to believe that carbs are evil?
Highly processed grains and added sugar are bad, not because they are carbohydrate, but because they’ve been robbed of nutrients, they raise insulin levels, and they’re often high in added fats, sodium, and weird ingredients. Carbs are not evil; junk food is evil.

1) The Daily BeastHow an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions

I don’t want to ruin this one by quoting too far into the article, but it’s worth your time and quite an American tale.

Dent’s investigation had started in 2000, when a mysterious informant called the FBI and claimed that McDonald’s games had been rigged by an insider known as “Uncle Jerry.” The person revealed that “winners” paid Uncle Jerry for stolen game pieces in various ways. The $1 million winners, for example, passed the first $50,000 installment to Uncle Jerry in cash. Sometimes Uncle Jerry would demand cash up front, requiring winners to mortgage their homes to come up with the money. According to the informant, members of one close-knit family in Jacksonville had claimed three $1 million prizes and a Dodge Viper.

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The Most Interesting Stories of 2017

January 1st, 2018

Here are a few of my favorite articles from 2017. Some were deep investigations into topics I wasn’t familiar with or had valuable advice. Others were just full of great quotes or described an absurd event. Even though my volume of blog posts has plummeted, I do hope to keep this annual tradition alive.

Feel free to check out the past selections at these links: 2016, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Thanks for reading and happy 2018!

7) The Washington Post: What’s a Wendy’s doing there? The story of Washington’s weirdest traffic circle.

A great history project full of good quotes about Dave Thomas Circle, the bizarre traffic situation around a Wendy’s where First Street NW, New York Avenue and Florida Avenue collide.

“The chaotic dance of cars around Dave Thomas circle drives one of the devil’s great engines of human misery,” computer engineer Brian Holcomb tweeted a few years ago.

Washington is one of the most exactingly planned cities in the country — from its elegant avenues and roundabouts, to its intricate height limits and sweeping Mall — and yet here is the chipped tooth that gives the town some character, and hints at a grittier, improvised past.

“I can explain to you in great detail why the White House is where it is, why Dupont Circle is where it is,” says Berg, the L’Enfant biographer. “The romance of [Dave Thomas Circle] is that it’s inexplicable.”

6) The New Yorker: Estonia: The Digital Republic

A fascinating exploration of the tiny country’s head first dive into a digital future.

Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.

“I’ll show you a digital health record,” she said, to explain. “A doctor from here”—a file from one clinic—“can see the research that this doctor”—she pointed to another—“does.” She’d locked a third record, from a female-medicine practice, so that no other doctor would be able to see it. A tenet of the Estonian system is that an individual owns all information recorded about him or her. Every time a doctor (or a border guard, a police officer, a banker, or a minister) glances at any of Piperal’s secure data online, that look is recorded and reported. Peeping at another person’s secure data for no reason is a criminal offense. “In Estonia, we don’t have Big Brother; we have Little Brother,” a local told me. “You can tell him what to do and maybe also beat him up.”

5) The Vanguard Blog: Straight from Vanguard retirees: 6 retirement-planning tips

Comment sections are notorious internet cesspools and anecdotes aren’t data, but I found some of the tips from Vanguard’s community refreshingly direct. Especially when most financial advice (beyond the famous index card and a few basics) slackens to a “do what’s best for your situation” tip.

In this post, I provide an overview of what you had to say about what you “coulda, shoulda, woulda” done differently to prepare for retirement. […]

Getting an insider’s perspective is helpful to me as a financial advisor because everyone’s picture of retirement “success” is different. But seeing how thoughtful and resilient real-life investors are—moving forward after making missteps, making the best of any circumstance, and reflecting on their own journeys for the benefit of others—is invaluable to me as a future retiree.

4) Los Angeles Times: 2 men charged in major beehive theft targeting Central Valley almond orchards

Burgled bees!

For more than a year, beekeepers throughout the Central Valley had been reporting hive thefts to local authorities. The thefts triggered concerns throughout the apiary industry, and an advisory went out to beekeepers, bee brokers and almond growers urging them to stay vigilant.

The beehives were stolen from 10 beekeepers over two years, prosecutors said. According to sheriff’s officials, most of the stolen hives belonged to out-of-state beekeepers, who rented out their colonies to California almond tree growers looking to pollinate their crops.

Sheriff’s investigators said Tveretinov stole the hives at night, when bees are dormant, and moved them on flatbed trailers around California and to other states. Tveretinov likely rented the hives out for cash, authorities said.

3) The New Yorker: Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich

I’m all for being prepared for emergencies, but this article is a disturbing look into the market of prepping built on growing mindset of ultra-wealthy individuals who believe the answer to societal collapse is to escape and isolate rather than assist and rebuild.

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Before my trip, I had wondered if I was going to be spending more time in luxury bunkers. But Peter Campbell, the managing director of Triple Star Management, a New Zealand construction firm, told me that, by and large, once his American clients arrive, they decide that underground shelters are gratuitous. “It’s not like you need to build a bunker under your front lawn, because you’re several thousand miles away from the White House,” he said. Americans have other requests. “Definitely, helipads are a big one,” he said. “You can fly a private jet into Queenstown or a private jet into Wanaka, and then you can grab a helicopter and it can take you and land you at your property.” American clients have also sought strategic advice. “They’re asking, ‘Where in New Zealand is not going to be long-term affected by rising sea levels?’ ”

2) The New York Times: The Lure of a Better Life, Amid Cold and Darkness

A chilling introduction to Norilsk, a former outpost of Stalin’s Gulag and major industrial city in northern Russia, and the hardened people who live there.

Blessed with a cornucopia of precious metals buried beneath a desert of snow, but so bereft of sunlight that nights in winter never end, Norilsk, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is a place of brutal extremes. It is Russia’s coldest and most polluted industrial city, and its richest — at least when measured by the value of its vast deposits of palladium, a rare mineral used in cellphones that sells for more than $1,000 an ounce.

Despite the horrendously harsh climate, choking pollution and absence of sunlight from late November until January, many residents are fiercely proud of Norilsk — and their own ability to survive in an environment that even the hardiest of Russians living elsewhere would find intolerable.

Last winter, temperatures plunged to minus 62 Celsius (minus 80 Fahrenheit), and early winter this year has also been unforgiving, with temperatures in November already falling to around minus 20 Celsius, about 4 below Fahrenheit.

1) National Geographic: This Tiny Country Feeds the World

An eye-opening look at how the Netherlands is an agricultural force and a window into the possible future of farming. The feature is full of great photos, interviews and explanations of complex issues.

From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20.

That copious output is made all the more remarkable by the other side of the balance sheet: inputs. Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses, and since 2009 Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut their use of antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

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The Most Interesting Stories of 2016

January 1st, 2017

Happy new year! Here is a brief collection of the favorite stories I read during 2016. I’ve tried to keep this tradition going since starting this blog and feel free to look back on the past collections from 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Thanks for reading and happy 2017!

5) The Wall Street Journal: The Biggest Money Mistakes We Make—Decade by Decade

Every new stage of life brings new financial strategies we need to follow. And at every stage we find new ways not to follow those strategies, costing ourselves money and jeopardizing our security.

What’s more, economic and demographic changes ensure that those mistakes aren’t static, so that the mistakes of the current generations aren’t the same missteps that their predecessors struggled to avoid.

4) The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists: Giant Leak of Offshore Financial Records Exposes Global Array of Crime and Corruption

World leaders who have embraced anti-corruption platforms feature in the leaked documents. The files reveal offshore companies linked to the family of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, who has vowed to fight “armies of corruption,” as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has positioned himself as a reformer in a country shaken by corruption scandals. The files also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, a leader in the push for tax-haven reform.

The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015. It allows a never-before-seen view inside the offshore world — providing a day-to-day, decade-by-decade look at how dark money flows through the global financial system, breeding crime and stripping national treasuries of tax revenues.

3) Bloomberg: World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That’s Cheaper Than Wind

This year has seen a remarkable run for solar power. Auctions, where private companies compete for massive contracts to provide electricity, established record after record for cheap solar power. It started with a contract in January to produce electricity for $64 per megawatt-hour in India; then a deal in August pegging $29.10 per megawatt hour in Chile. That’s record-cheap electricity—roughly half the price of competing coal power.

The overall shift to clean energy can be more expensive in wealthier nations, where electricity demand is flat or falling and new solar must compete with existing billion-dollar coal and gas plants. But in countries that are adding new electricity capacity as quickly as possible, “renewable energy will beat any other technology in most of the world without subsidies,” said Liebreich.

2) The New Yorker: World War Three, By Mistake

Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare.

1) The New York Times: Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone

To stay awake, the president does not turn to caffeine. He rarely drinks coffee or tea, and more often has a bottle of water next to him than a soda. His friends say his only snack at night is seven lightly salted almonds.

“Michelle and I would always joke: Not six. Not eight,” Mr. Kass said. “Always seven almonds.”

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The Most Interesting Stories of 2015

January 1st, 2016

Happy new year! I’m reviving my little list of favorite stories from the past year. I didn’t do one last year, but you can see previous versions from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Thanks for reading and I look forward to what 2016 brings!

5) The New York Times: The Agency

Russia’s information war might be thought of as the biggest trolling operation in history, and its target is nothing less than the utility of the Internet as a democratic space. In the midst of such a war, the Runet (as the Russian Internet is often called) can be an unpleasant place for anyone caught in the crossfire. Soon after I met Leonid Volkov, he wrote a post on his Facebook wall about our interview, saying that he had spoken with someone from The New York Times. A former pro-Kremlin blogger later warned me about this. Kremlin allies, he explained, monitored Volkov’s page, and now they would be on guard. “That was not smart,” he said.

4) The New York Times: A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

Industrial-scale violators of fishing bans and protected areas are a main reason more than half of the world’s major fishing grounds have been depleted and by some estimates over 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish have vanished. Interpol had issued a Purple Notice on the Thunder (the equivalent of adding it to a Most Wanted List, a status reserved for only four other ships in the world), but no government had been willing to dedicate the personnel and millions of dollars needed to go after it.

So Sea Shepherd did instead, stalking the fugitive 202-foot steel-sided ship from a desolate patch of ocean at the bottom of the Earth, deep in Antarctic waters, to any ports it neared, where its crews could alert the authorities. “The poachers thrive by staying in the shadows,” Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Barker, said while trying to level his ship through battering waves. “Our plan was to put a spotlight on them that they couldn’t escape.”

3) Harper’s Magazine: A Goose in a Dress

How does the food taste? To ask that is to miss the point of Through Itself. This food is not designed to be eaten, an incidental process. It is designed to make your business rival claw his eyes out. It could be a yacht, a house, or a valuable, rare, and miniature dog. But I can tell you that the cornet of salmon — world famous in canapé circles — is crisp and light and I enjoyed it; that there are six kinds of table salt and two exquisite lumps of butter, one shaped like a miniature beehive and another shaped like a quenelle; that a salad of fruits and nuts has such a discordant splice of flavors it is almost revolting; that the lamb is good; and that, generally, the food is so overtended and overdressed I am amazed it has not developed the ability to scream in your face, walk off by itself, and sulk in its room.

2) Wait But Why: How Tesla Will Change The World

So when it was time to start what I had labeled in my head as “the Tesla post,” I knew this was going to be one of those posts. To understand if and why Tesla Motors matters, you have to understand both the story of cars and the story of energy—two worlds I somehow am simultaneously confused by and tremendously sick of. Just hearing someone say “climate change” or “energy crisis” or “tailpipe emissions” makes me kind of gag at this point—just too much politics, too many annoying people, too much misinformation on all sides, and it’s just hard to know how much I actually care and if there can be a solution to all of it anyway. […]

After weeks of reading and asking questions and writing, I’ve emerged […] with something that toes the line between a long blog post and a short book. I could have broken this into multiple posts, but it’s all one story and I wanted to keep it all together. It’ll be a bit of a time investment, but I think you’ll come out of it with a sturdier tree trunk about all of this than you have now. And as it turns out, when it comes to this topic, we may be witnessing a very awesome moment in history without quite realizing it yet.

1) The New Yorker: Power to the People

Arguably, the era’s most disruptive technology is the solar panel. Its price has dropped ninety-nine per cent in the past four decades, and roughly seventy-five per cent in the past six years; it now produces power nearly as cheaply as coal or gas, a condition that energy experts refer to as “grid parity.” And because it’s a technology, rather than a fuel, the price should continue to fall, as it has for cell phones. Solar power is being adopted most rapidly in places where there is no grid—it’s cheaper and quicker to stick panels on the roofs of huts in villages than to build a centralized power station and run poles and wires. In Bangladesh, crews install sixty thousand solar arrays a month. Even in the U.S., where almost everyone has been connected to the grid for decades, solar prices have fallen to the point where, with the help of a federal tax credit, an enterprising company can make money installing solar panels.

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The Most Interesting Stories of 2013

January 1st, 2014

A happy belated New Year to all the loyal readers out there! Here’s my recap of some favorite stories I read in the last year. For those craving aging items to read, check out my recaps of 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Thanks for reading and I look forward to what 2014 brings.

5) New York Times: Uproar Over Netanyahu’s Ice Cream Is Welcome in One Parlor

His foreign minister had to resign after being accused of fraud. He was sharply criticized for his government’s handling of Prisoner X, who committed suicide in prison. And now this, which made front-page news in Israel over the weekend: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands accused of dipping into state coffers for an ice cream budget of $2,700 a year.

Pistachio, it was revealed by the proprietors of a gourmet ice cream parlor a couple of blocks from the premier’s official residence, is his favorite (presumably not made with an Iranian variety of the nut). Mrs. Netanyahu, they said, appears to prefer French vanilla.

4) Lapham’s Quarterly: Bombs, Burning Sheets, and Cocaine

“Bomb the shit out of them!” was reportedly a drunken President Richard Nixon’s conclusion as to what should be done about Cambodia. Henry Kissinger recalled in an interview in 1999 that “two glasses of wine were quite enough to make him boisterous, just one more to grow bellicose or sentimental with slurred speech.”

3) The New Yorker: Taken – The Use And Abuse Of Civil Forfeiture

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband.

2) The New Republic: A 31-Year-Old Is Tearing Apart the Heritage Foundation

Instead of fleshing out conservative positions, says one Republican Senate staffer, “now they’re running around trying to get Republicans voted out of office. It’s a purely ideological crusade that’s utterly divorced from the research side.” (“If Nancy Pelosi could write an anonymous check to Heritage Action,” adds the House aide bitterly, “she would.”)

As a result, the Heritage Foundation has gone from august conservative think tank revered by Washington’s Republicans to the party’s loathed ideological commissar. “It’s sad, actually,” says one Republican strategist. “Everybody forgets that Heritage was always considered the gold standard of conservative, forward-looking thought. The emergence of Heritage Action has really transformed the brand into a more political organization.”

1) New York Times: The Myth of Nuclear Necessity

The first is the myth that nuclear weapons altered the course of World War II. Leaving aside the morality of America’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, new research by the historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and other scholars shows that Japan surrendered not because of the atom bomb but because the Soviets renounced neutrality and joined the war. Sixty-six Japanese cities had already been destroyed by conventional weapons — two more did not make the difference. Attributing surrender to the bomb was also convenient for Japan’s leaders, allowing them to blame defeat on a “miracle” weapon.

Second is the myth of “decisive destruction.” Mass destruction doesn’t win wars; killing soldiers does. No war has ever been won simply by killing civilians. The 1941-44 siege of Leningrad didn’t deter Soviet leaders from pressing the fight against Hitler. Nor did the 1945 firebombing of Dresden force Germany to submit. As long as an army has a fighting chance at victory, wars continue. Building ever more destructive weapons simply increases the horror of war, not the certainty of ending it.

And for no particular reason, here was the best old photo found in 2013 and my favorite New Yorker cartoon.

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The Most Interesting Stories of 2012

January 1st, 2013

Happy New Year to all my friends, family members and loyal readers! I’m continuing the tradition of sharing a small collection of my favorite news items from the previous year. If you’re a bit lost, be sure to check out my 20082009, 2010 and 2011 recap posts if you missed them the first time. This year, I went with a larger mix of entertaining stories instead of all long-form pieces (I am quite sad there were no big Somali pirate stories this year). Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a lovely 2013!

5) CNN: Romney aide loses cool, curses at press in Poland

CNN: “Governor Romney just a few questions sir, you haven’t taken but three questions on this trip from the press!

Gorka: “Show some respect”

NYT: “We haven’t had another chance to ask a question…”

Gorka: “Kiss my ass. This is a Holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”

Moments later, Gorka told Jonathan Martin, a reporter for Politico, to “shove it.” About a half-hour later, the aide called reporters to apologize.

4) The New York Times: Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It

Ki Gulbranson owns a logo apparel shop, deals in jewelry on the side and referees youth soccer games. He makes about $39,000 a year and wants you to know that he does not need any help from the federal government.

He says that too many Americans lean on taxpayers rather than living within their means. He supports politicians who promise to cut government spending. In 2010, he printed T-shirts for the Tea Party campaign of a neighbor, Chip Cravaack, who ousted this region’s long-serving Democratic congressman.

Yet this year, as in each of the past three years, Mr. Gulbranson, 57, is counting on a payment of several thousand dollars from the federal government, a subsidy for working families called the earned-income tax credit. He has signed up his three school-age children to eat free breakfast and lunch at federal expense. And Medicare paid for his mother, 88, to have hip surgery twice.

3) The Atlantic: How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File

Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense. WorldNetDaily brought you birtherism. Forbes brought you Kenyan anti-colonialism. National Review obsessed about an imaginary rejection of American exceptionalism, misrepresenting an Obama quote in the process, and Andy McCarthy was interviewed widely about his theory that Obama, aka the Drone Warrior in Chief, allied himself with our Islamist enemies in a “Grand Jihad” against America. Seriously?

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because their information elites pandered in the most cynical, self-defeating ways, treating would-be candidates like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain as if they were plausible presidents rather than national jokes who’d lose worse than George McGovern.

How many months were wasted on them?

How many hours of Glenn Beck conspiracy theories did Fox News broadcast to its viewers? How many hours of transparently mindless Sean Hannity content is still broadcast daily? Why don’t Americans trust Republicans on foreign policy as they once did? In part because conservatism hasn’t grappled with the foreign-policy failures of George W. Bush. A conspiracy of silence surrounds the subject. Romney could neither run on the man’s record nor repudiate it. The most damaging Romney gaffe of the campaign, where he talked about how the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income taxes are a lost cause for Republicans? Either he was unaware that many of those people are Republican voters, or was pandering to GOP donors who are misinformed. Either way, bad information within the conservative movement was to blame.

2) The New York Times: Son’s Parties and Privilege Aggravate Fall of Elite Chinese Family

Last month, a few days before he lost his job as party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai was forced to respond to questions about how his modest government salary could support his son’s tuition and expensive tastes. He called the accusations “sheer rubbish,” and insisted that Mr. Bo had won full scholarships, although he did not address the allegations in detail. “A few people have been pouring filth on Chongqing and me and my family,” he told reporters. “They even say my son studies abroad and drives a red Ferrari.”

But Mr. Bo does study abroad, and American officials say he arrived in a red Ferrari last year to pick up the American ambassador to China’s daughter for a date. Classmates at Harvard say they have seen him driving around in a Porsche.

1) Gawker: Our Father’s Not in Heaven: The New Black Atheism

Blacks are now the most religious ethnic group in America, with 86 percent saying they’re “very” to “moderately” religious compared to just 65 percent of whites. Even blacks who purport to have no involvement with any church, mosque, or synagogue whatsoever are generally unwilling to reject the concept of God entirely, making African-Americans also the least likely to call themselves atheist or agnostic. For us people of color with no devotion to religion whatsoever, a tiny minority within a minority, the internal culture clash can sometimes prove awkward. It’s this culture clash that I find so irritating and ugly.

And the job of airing the “black perspective” on cable news is very often given to people like Reverend Jackson or Reverend Sharpton or Roland Martin, who has a master’s degree in “Christian Communications” from Louisiana Baptist University, an unaccredited religious institution. I don’t care that so many African-American leaders are steeped in deep religious tradition; I care that those are the people called upon to speak for all of black America, and they always have been. Most white Americans are religious, too, and yet MSNBC or CNN would never call on the pastor Joel Osteen to dissect the problems facing all white Americans. The networks would understand, rightly, that Osteen’s deep religious conviction makes him an inapt spokesperson for a group of people with diverse beliefs. That those networks don’t afford blacks the same respect is telling, and it’s a tacit acceptance of the myth that blacks and religion, particularly Christianity, are one and the same.

Bonus! – The Worst Story of 2012 is…
The Wall Street Journal: After Sandy, Wired New Yorkers Get Reconnected With Pay Phones

The last time Leslie Koch picked up a pay-phone receiver was during the 2003 blackout. Since then, she says, “I didn’t even know they were working.”

But on Tuesday, old was new again, as her BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad and two laptops were idled. After calling her mother on Long Island from a pay phone, she commemorated the occasion by tweeting a photo of herself from Instagram.

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Sketch Inspired by Eye Photograph

January 10th, 2012

A black and white close-up photograph of an eye next to the drawing that it inspired.I recently got a trackback alert notifying me of a talented young artist who used a close-up photo I took of my eye as reference for a drawing. Seeing them side by side really shows the attention to detail. I couldn’t find a good contact for the artist, but I left a comment on their post – I’ll definitely be following their work from now on.

For other instances of my photography serving as inspiration, read about the adventures of my old squirrel photo. For the intellectual property rights nerds out there, I believe these are wonderful transformative uses which are fully protected fair use claims under my copyrighted images and should be encouraged.

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