The Rock is Kicking Ass and Saving Franchises

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s 15 movies have grossed more than $2.3 billion at the global box office, and he’s brought all this money in by saving franchises:

Last year he climbed onboard the tired Fast and Furious series and turned Fast Five into the franchise’s highest-grossing film ($626 million). Then he took over Journey to the Center of the Earth from Brendan Fraser, and Journey 2 brought in $81 million more than its predecessor. Next up: the second installment of G.I. Joe.

Producers have taken note: We estimate The Rock earned $36 million in the last 12 months, and his first spot on The Forbes Celebrity 100 seems to be a floor, not a ceiling.

How the Elites Built America’s Economic Wall

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Regions with better economies tend to have higher real-estate prices, but now, Virginia Postrel warns, elites in those regions have artificially pushed prices prohibitively high with land-use regulations:

As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.

This segregation has social and political consequences, as it shapes perceptions — and misperceptions — of one’s fellow citizens and “normal” American life. It also has direct and indirect economic effects. “It’s a definite productivity loss,” Shoag says. “If there weren’t restrictions and you could build everywhere, it would be productive for people to move. You do make more as a waiter in LA than you do in Ohio. Preventing people from having that opportunity to move to these high-income places, making it so expensive to live there, is a loss.” That’s true not only for less-educated workers but for lower earners of all sorts, including the artists and writers who traditionally made places like New York, Los Angeles and Santa Fe cultural centers.

In their paper, Shoag and Ganong don’t look at why high- income states tightened their regulations, thereby increasing segregation by education level. One possible explanation is that as people get richer and cities get more crowded, the tradeoffs between cheaper housing for newcomers and a pleasant (or at least stable) environment for current residents look different. When postwar developers were turning California orange orchards into suburbs, residents focused on the new houses rather than the lost landscape. Now opposition to new construction is not only common but institutionalized. Well-organized residents fear losing the amenities that attracted them in the first place.

Another consideration is the difference between housing as consumption — a nice place to live — and housing as an investment, promising high returns over time. Making it hard to build new housing in a place people want to live drives up the price of the existing housing stock. Old-timers reap capital gains. Regulation, Shoag notes, “takes what should be the gain for the worker who wants to move in and turns it into the gain for the owner of the house.”

Finally, there’s the never-mentioned possibility: that the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like this result. They may wring their hands over inequality, but in everyday life they see segregation as a feature, not a bug. It keeps out fat people with bad taste. Paul Krugman may wax nostalgic about a childhood spent in the suburbs where plumbers and middle managers lived side by side. But I doubt that many of his fervent fans would really want to live there. If so, they might try Texas.

Jonah Lehrer Admits Making Up Bob Dylan Quotes in Imagine

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Jonah Lehrer admits making up Bob Dylan quotes in Imagine: How Creativity Works:

“Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book ‘Imagine,’ ” said Mr. Lehrer in his statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”

Human waste shuts down BART escalators

Monday, July 30th, 2012

When work crews pulled open a broken BART escalator at San Francisco’s Civic Center Station at Market & 8th streets, they found so much human excrement in its works they had to call a hazardous-materials team:

Five of the nine escalators that weren’t working at BART stations on Wednesday were in downtown San Francisco, said Jim Allison, a BART spokesman. While there are many reasons a BART escalator can break down, the beating they take at night is among the most acute.

The problem is tough to combat, especially with so few downtown public restrooms open late, BART authorities said.

Officers have to witness someone in the act to issue a citation, said Officer Era Jenkins, a BART police spokeswoman.

Clearly there’s nothing anyone could possibly do to solve this problem.

Outside the Law

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Mexico’s narcos live outside the law — in a world of realpolitik:

The brutal opportunism of the underworld economy means that most partnerships are temporary, and treachery abounds. For decades, Chapo worked closely with his childhood friend Arturo Beltrán Leyva, a fearsome trafficker who ran a profitable subsidiary of Sinaloa. But in 2008, the two men split, then went to war, and Beltrán Leyva’s assassins were later blamed for murdering one of Chapo’s sons. To reduce the likelihood of clashes like these, the cartel has revived an unlikely custom: the ancient art of dynastic marriage. Chapo’s organization is occasionally referred to as an alianza de sangre (“alliance of blood”), because so many of its prominent members are cousins by marriage or brothers-in-law. Emma Coronel, who gave birth to Chapo’s twins, is the niece of Nacho Coronel, the Steve Jobs of meth (who died in a shootout with the Mexican Army in 2010). All of this intermarriage, one U.S. official in Mexico suggested to me, functions as “a hedge against distrust.” An associate may be less likely to cheat you, or to murder you, if there’ll be hell to pay with his wife. It’s a cynical strategy, certainly, but in a vocation where one of Chapo’s rivals went by the nickname Mata Amigos, or “Friend Killer,” it may also be quite sound.

The surest way to stay out of trouble in the drug business is to dole out bribes, and promiscuously. Drug cartels don’t pay corporate taxes, but a colossus like Sinaloa makes regular payments to the federal, state and municipal authorities that may well rival the effective tax rate in Mexico. When the D.E.A. conducted an internal survey of its top 50 operatives and informants several years ago and asked them to name the most important factor for running a drug business, they replied, overwhelmingly, corruption. At a trial in 2010, a former police official from Juárez, Jesús Fierro Méndez, acknowledged that he had worked for Sinaloa. “Did the drug cartels have the police on the payroll?” an attorney asked.

“All of it,” Fierro Méndez replied.

Laser System Keeps UAV in Air for 48 Hours

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Lockheed Martin and LaserMotive have developed a laser system that can recharge an unmanned aerial vehicle in flight and kept a Stalker UAV aloft — indoors — for 48 hours:

The goal is to keep one aloft, in the field, indefinitely.

(I’ve discussed laser-powered aircraft before.)

Never Mind The Anabolics!

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

The irreverent marketers at Brew Dog bring you Never Mind The Anabolics!

It is about time the greatest sporting event on the planet was not sponsored by fast food companies, sugary fizzy drinks producers or monolithic multi-national brewers. A burger, can of fizzy pop and an industrial lager are not the most ideal preparation for the steeple chase or the dressage (for human or horse).

So we decided to give the athletes something that was going to make them happier and better. A way to relax before a big event and at the same time increase the chances of winning.

This is Never Mind the Anabolics. A 6.5% India Pale Ale infused with creatine, guarana, ginseng, gingo, maca powder, matcha tea and kola nut.

Why waste time training hard? This little beauty does the hard work for you. Guaranteed to boost your sporting ability in an almost completely legal way. Most of the performance enhancing additives we infused into this ale are banned for professional athletes. But winning by any possible means is the name of the game here.

Drug Cartel?

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Drug cartel is a whopper of a misnomer, Patrick Radden Keefe reminds us:

Neither the Mexicans nor the Colombians ever colluded to fix prices or supply. “I wish they were cartels,” Arturo Sarukhán, Mexico’s ambassador in Washington, told me. “If they were, they wouldn’t be fighting and driving up the violence.”

Dark Knight Strategy

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

I haven’t seen the latest Batman movie, but Steve Postrel’s point about the Dark Knight’s strategy against Bane — tactics, really — is exactly the kind of thing that would spring to my mind:

One minor problem: Batman is supposed to be a master strategist and tactician. He’s chosen to go underground to pursue and confront his enemy, Bane, about whom he has considerable intelligence, including Bane’s background, training, experience, and physical prowess (including his main point of weakness, a mask over his mouth that keeps Bane from suffering intense pain).

He can see Bane standing in front of him, a very large individual of obvious strength and questionable agility. Batman is wearing a utility belt filled with grenades, throwing blades, sleep darts, cable launchers, and bolas. He is standing in a large cavern and is capable of operating vertically by shooting lines up to the ceiling and using built-in powered winches. In short, he is in a perfect position to remain outside Bane’s striking distance while hitting him with a variety of entangling, injuring, and even killing weapons.

Out of this cornucopia of options, what does Batman choose? Of course, a head-on bull rush, followed by a slugfest and wrestling contest. That’s the combat equivalent of Neiman-Marcus starting a price war with Wal-Mart. Macho is one thing, unbelievably stupid is another.

Albanian Weightlifter Is Banned for Doping

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

The first athlete to be sanctioned for doping during the London Games is an Albanian weightlifter, Hysen Pulaku, who tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid:

Pulaku was selected as part of random, out-of-competition testing, according to an IOC spokeswoman. He gave urine samples on July 23, which were analyzed separately on different days. Both came back positive.


Pulaku is the third weightlifter from Albania to test positive this year, a concerning pattern, Muca said.

Stanozolol is easy to detect, but only for a few weeks:

The primary metabolites are unique to stanozolol and are detectable in the urine for up to 10 days after a single 5-10 mg oral dose.

It has a history of (mis)use:

  • Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meter sprint at the 1988 Summer Olympics when he tested positive for stanozolol after winning the final.[5]
  • Olimpiada Ivanova was stripped of her silver medal in the 10 kilometer walk at the 1997 World Championships in Athletics after she had tested positive for Stanozolol, and she was banned for two years.[6]
  • Vita Pavlysh was stripped of her gold medal in shot put at the 1999 IAAF World Indoor Championships after she had tested positive for Stanozolol. 5 years later at the 2004 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Budapest, Hungary, she won the title again only to fail the drug test for the same reason. She was again stripped of her title and banned from athletics for life.[7]
  • Liudmyla Blonska, a Ukrainian heptathlete, tested positive for traces of Stanozolol shortly after finishing thirteenth at the 2002 European Championships in Athletics and in June 2003 was handed a two year ban, whereafter she returned to the sport.[8] At the 2008 Beijing Games, she was stripped of a silver medal and given a lifetime ban after testing positive for stanozolol again.[9]
  • Rafael Palmeiro was suspended 10 days from Major League Baseball on August 1, 2005, after testing positive for steroids.[10] According to the published report in The New York Times, Stanozolol was the steroid detected in Palmeiro’s system. This came not long after he testified before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on steroid usage in baseball, and he denied ever using steroids.
  • Barry Bonds is accused of using Stanozolol in Game of Shadows, a book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The accusations were first aired on 7 March 2006 by Sports Illustrated, which published excerpts from the book.[11]
  • Salvador Carmona, footballer, tested positive for Stanozolol in 2005 and 2006. He was banned for life by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) due to repeated drug offences. Tribunal Arbitral du Sport.[12]
  • Magnus Hedman, footballer, was charged and convicted by Swedish court in June 2009 when he tested positive for Stanozolol. At the time he was a “ambassador” for Swedish anti-steroid organization Ren Idrott (“Clean Sports”) and sports commentator for Swedish TV4. He lost both assignments as a consequence.[13]
  • Phil Baroni, former UFC and PRIDE Fighting Championship fighter, tested positive for Stanozolol following his June 22, 2007 fight against Frank Shamrock at Strikeforce: Judgment Day.[14]
  • K-1′s 2007 World Grand Prix in Las Vegas finalist Zabit Samedov tested positive for Stanozolol following the August 11, 2007 event.[15]
  • Roger Clemens was reported to have been injected with stanozolol (Winstrol) by major league strength coach Brian McNamee during the 1998 baseball season.[16]
  • 2008 Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown was reported to have been injected with Winstrol, which is legal in some states in US horse racing, by trainer Richard E. Dutrow, Jr. [17]
  • Chris Leben, mixed martial artist, tested positive for the substance after UFC 89 where he was defeated by Michael Bisping and was suspended for 9 months.[18]
  • Kirill Sidelnikov, mixed martial artist, tested positive for the substance after Affliction: Day of Reckoning where he was defeated by Paul Buentello and was suspended for 1 year and fined $2,500.[19]
  • Tim Sylvia, mixed martial artist, tested positive for the drug Stanozolol after a Nevada State Athletic Commission test. As a result, Sylvia was stripped of his title, served a 6-month suspension, and was fined $10,000. Sylvia has stated that he used the drug to shed excess body fat and lose weight. [20]
  • Cristiane Santos tested positive for anabolic steroids and as a result of the banned substance, her fight against Hiroko Yamanaka result has been changed to a “No Contest” while Santos has had her license suspended and was fined $2500. Additionally, UFC president Dana White stripped Santos of her Strikeforce 145 lb. women’s championship belt. [21]
  • Hysen Pulaku, an Albanian weightlifter, was expelled from the London 2012 Olympics after testing positive for Stanozolol on July 23, 2012. [22]

This Gaudy Fraud of Propaganda and Tastelessness

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Alexander Boot shares Peter Mullen’s thoughts on the opening ceremony:

“… The latest emetic was that Olympic ‘ceremony’ in all its tawdry glamour, its misrepresentation of British history – agrarian England was not ‘a rural idyll’ and the industrial revolution brought tremendous benefits. (In any case, when Blake referred to ‘those dark satanic mills’ he was talking about the universities, the Deists and the Enlightenment intellectuals, not the Lancashire cotton towns). The whole socialist theme park of the ‘ceremony’: the sacred cow of the (failed) NHS; the glorious ‘liberation’ of the amoral 1960s followed by a tribute to punk rock.

“Naturally, this gets ecstatic reviews worldwide. It was universally described as ‘witty’. But it was the antidote to wit: that is cliché. It had the one thing modernity regards as a virtue in its technological slickness. Gimmicks. But no quotient of gimmicks can conceal a massive vulgarity – to which one must also add sentimentality and a general infantilisation. All under a relentless barrage of that ubiquitous modern Leitmotif – rock music. And drumming, drumming, drumming… I find it particularly objectionable to hear this trashy paganism described as ‘iconic.’

“It is intolerable to discover that this gaudy fraud of propaganda and tastelessness is thought by all my contemporaries to have been admirable. It is excruciating to find oneself the only one out of step. One feels as if one is the churl who has turned up to spoil the party, forever criticising, not a good word to say about anything – not even that schmaltzy desire for ‘togetherness’.”

A Sometimes Slightly Insane Portrait

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

The Olympic opening ceremony was neither a nostalgic sweep through the past nor a bold vision of a brave new future, Sarah Lyall says:

Rather, it was a sometimes slightly insane portrait of a country that has changed almost beyond measure since the last time it hosted the Games, in the grim postwar summer of 1948.

Britain was so poor then that it housed its athletes in old army barracks, made them bring their own towels and erected no buildings for the Games. The Olympics cost less than £750,000, turned a small profit and made the nation proud that it had managed to rise to the occasion in the face of such adversity.

The ceremony reflected the deeply left-leaning sensibilities of Danny Boyle:

It pointedly included trade union members among a parade of people celebrating political agitators from the past, a parade that also included suffragists, Afro-Caribbean immigrants who fought for minority rights, and the Jarrow hunger marchers, who protested against unemployment in 1936.

Marvel Pulps

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Jon Morris decided to produce these pulp novel covers for Marvel characters:

It started with an idea for an ongoing series of The Black Widow adventures, borrowing the cover layout from Mike Shayne detective novels.

I assigned each character to a dream team pulp writer whom I thought matched the essence of the character. Donald Hamilton was best-known for his Matt Helm series of spy novels, which I thought made him an appealing choice for the Natasha Romanova “series”. Leslie Charteris was, of course, creator of the suave and witty Saint series of novels, so I gave him rein over the socialite adventurer Janet van Dyne and her scientist husband (Also, I thought Dashiell Hammett would have been a little on-the-nose), and Hoke Moseley creator Charles Willeford is assigned to craft the seedy, unsentimental world of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire.

Sesame Street Leads to India

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Sesame Street is franchising pre-schools and after-school clubs — in India:

Sesame Street has had a presence in India since 2006, when Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Hindi version of the show, started airing on Cartoon Network, Pogo and national broadcaster Doordashan.

The show’s characters include Boombah, a hedonistic, vegetarian lion who believes he is a descendant of Indian royalty, and Chamki, a schoolgirl who also does Karate. Galli Galli Sim Sim claims to have reached 90% of children in India under eight-years-old who have access to a television.


The original mission of Sesame Street — giving preschoolers an educational boost before entering grade one — is now being rolled out in Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh as a for-profit business franchise based on Sesame Street’s first preschool in India, in Jaipur. Sesame Workshop aims to have 20 schools up and running by March 2013, with plans for 382 within the first five years. So far, one has opened in Jaipur and another four are planned for this year, two in Jaipur, one in Kanpur and another potentially in Delhi.

The main challenges in India include finding good teachers and ensuring the 44-year-old Sesame Street brand is protected, Ms. Banerjee says.

“It’s important that we get quality and the right pedagogy and inculcate basic hygiene and safety features, because most Indians don’t understand that or are very lackadaisical,” she says.

The organization is even considering starting its own teacher training college to provide a “bank” of fresh graduates trained in “Sesame” rather than the didactic style of teaching typical in Indian classrooms, adds Ms. Banerjee.

“The very idea of the Sesame curriculum is built around teachers and kids constructing knowledge together.”

Franchisees must provide a building with at least 2,000 square feet of covered, carpeted space and adequate outdoor space for the play equipment Sesame Workshop prefers – made from wood and other natural materials that connect children with the outdoors.

Brand protection is crucial when starting a franchise business, particularly in the unregulated preschool market, according to Franchise India.

“International brands are skeptical about investing in India because they [Indians] don’t respect intellectual property [laws],” a spokesman for Franchise India told India Real Time.

The license fee to start a Sesame preschool is 150,000 rupees ($2,700) for three years. Sesame Schoolhouse, which is based in India and oversees the enterprise as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sesame Workshop India, takes 15-20% royalties from a school’s earnings. Parents would pay between 25,000 rupees and 60,000 rupees a year on school fees, depending on the location.

Profits made by Sesame Schoolhouse will go toward making Sesame Street’s other ventures in India sustainable, says Ms. Banerjee.

How did people commit mass murder before (semi)automatic weapons?

Friday, July 27th, 2012

How did people commit mass murder before (semi)automatic weapons?

Often with fire. Revolutionary War veteran Barnett Davenport is widely considered the first mass murderer in U.S. history. On the evening of Feb. 3, 1780, Davenport burst into the bedroom of his employer, Caleb Mallory, and began to bludgeon Mallory and his wife with a club. When the club broke in two, Davenport beat the couple to death with Mallory’s gun. If Davenport had stopped there, he would be remembered as just an ordinary killer; most criminologists define mass murder as the killing of at least three people in a single incident. After beating the Mallorys to death, however, Davenport burned the house down, killing their three grandchildren.

Hundreds of other mass murderers have perpetrated their crimes without automatic firearms. Frenchman Pierre Riviere killed his mother, sister, and brother with a bill hook in 1835. In 1932, Julian Marcelino, a Filipino immigrant of relatively small stature, managed to kill six and wound 15 on a Seattle street using only a pair of blades. In 1915, Monroe Phillips shot seven dead and wounded 32 with a shotgun in Georgia.

Guns aren’t even the most lethal mass murder weapon. According to data compiled by Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, guns killed an average of 4.92 victims per mass murder in the United States during the 20th century, just edging out knives, blunt objects, and bare hands, which killed 4.52 people per incident. Fire killed 6.82 people per mass murder, while explosives far outpaced the other options at 20.82. Of the 25 deadliest mass murders in the 20th century, only 52 percent involved guns.

The U.S. mass murder rate does not seem to rise or fall with the availability of automatic weapons. It reached its highest level in 1929, when fully automatic firearms were expensive and mostly limited to soldiers and organized criminals. The rate dipped in the mid-1930s, staying relatively low before surging again in the 1970s through 1990s. Some criminologists attribute the late-century spike to the potential for instant notoriety: Beginning with Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting spree from atop a University of Texas tower, mass murderers became household names. Others point out that the mass murder rate fairly closely tracks the overall homicide rate. In the 2000s, for example, both the mass murder and the homicide rates dropped to their lowest levels since the 1960s.

A mass murderer’s weapon of choice depends somewhat on his victims. Attacks with guns, fire, knives, and bare hands are far more likely to be directed against family and acquaintances than total strangers, while mass murderers prefer to use explosives against people they don’t know. Also of note: Those who use firearms in a killing spree turn the gun on themselves 34 percent of the time, while only 9 percent of mass-murdering arsonists take their own lives.