The Experts in the Crowd and Other Fascinating News on the Web

5 minute read

1. No Experience Required

Elaine Rich is emblematic of the times. She has an opinion on everything, including things she knows nothing about. But unlike the rest of us who merely scream these opinions on social media, Rich (along with a few thousand other people) shares her opinions with the intelligence community. And they listen, even though, as she explains, “I’m just a pharmacist. Nobody cares about me, nobody knows my name, I don’t have a professional reputation at stake. And it’s this anonymity which actually gives me freedom to make true forecasts.” So how does a group of people with no access to classified information make accurate predictions about everything from the flow of Syrian refugees to Putin’s plans for the Ukraine? Welcome to the wisdom of the crowd.

2. Mo Money, Mo Problems?

Today, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court “struck down limits on the total amount of money an individual may spend on political candidates as a violation of free speech rights.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer was one of the dissenters: “If Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate.”

+ Lawrence Lessig: “So the central question raised was this: Is a law limiting aggregate contributions a law designed to limit corruption?”

+ MoJo: The Supreme Court just gutted another campaign finance law. Here’s what happened.

+ FiveThirtyEight: A few data points on the Court’s donor limit decision.

3. The Ultimate Stamp Collection

Wal-mart brings in more food stamp revenue than any other company (about $13 billion last year). They might also be the company that has the most employees using food stamps.

+ From Slate and Marketplace: The Secret Life of Food Stamp.

4. The Truck Stops Here

When my son was about three, he told me he wanted our family to buy a Toyota. When I asked him why, he answered: “Because it has both “toy” and “Yoda” in it. Apparently he’s not the only one with a surprising reason for wanting a Toyota. You’ve probably never heard of the Hilux pickup truck. Unless you’re currently in a war zone.

5. Crowded Casting Couch

Your living room is already overcrowded with entertainment options from cable and satellite providers, Apple and Google, Playstation and Xbox, and upstarts like Roku. And now Amazon has thrown its streaming box into the mix. I miss the old days of television when the only choice anyone had to make was Ginger or Mary Ann.

6. Bunker Buster

“The program you are about to see … seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.” That was a disclaimer that ran under the credits of All in the Family when it first appeared in 1971. The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum takes a look back at Norman Lear, Archie Bunker, and the rise of the bad fan. You laughed at Archie. But did you laugh for the right reasons? This piece is especially interesting in our current age when outrage (both real and faux) oozes out of every screen in our lives.

7. The Fixer

GM is under a lot of pressure as execs face increasing levels of scrutiny related to faulty ignition switches and questionable recall practices. How much pressure? Here’s how much: They hired Ken Feinberg.

+ The Verge: Driven — how Zipcar’s founders built and lost a car-sharing empire.

8. Ignorance is Briss

Should you circumcise your child? Asking that question can be more dangerous than stumbling into a room of angry Mohels. But maybe the answer is less controversial than we thought. According to a recent review published by the Mayo Clinic, “the health benefits of circumcision exceed any risks by at least 100 to 1.”

9. Totally Automattic

I’d like to take a moment and thank my sponsor and underwriter, the fine folks at Automattic (runners of WordPress dot com, hosts of the fantastic WordPressVIP, and makers of several other excellent products — including my synchronized note-taking app of choice: SimpleNote). They didn’t ask me to thank them. Amazingly, they never ask anything of me. But they support NextDraft and keep it coming to you for free. I can’t thank them enough. And if I was a little younger, I’d definitely be applying for their Summer student intern program. For those with a little more experience, there are other positions open.

10. The Bottom of the News

“Disillusioned with a life that had become increasingly materialistic, he had abruptly abandoned his career as a neurologist and moved to a studio by the beach. The locals called him Slomo, knowing little about his past life, but cheering and high-fiving him as he skated by in slow motion. He had become a Pacific Beach institution.” By way of an article and a short documentary from the NYT, meet Slomo.

+ BloombergBusinessweek: Is Cap’n Crunch Staring Straight Into Your Child’s Soul?

+ Here’s the essay that helped get one student into eight Ivy League schools.

+ Americans are floating in a pool of Ranch Dressing. And it actually comes from a ranch.

+ Where Vodka is cheaper than water … the hotel minibar (and, one assumes, heaven).

+ Samsung has officially ruined the Selfie. (Luckily, Selfies already sucked.)

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