Direction

“Then something strange happened… In the First World War, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimetres a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven’t grown taller in fifty years. By now, even the Japanese—once the shortest industrialized people on earth—have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising.” Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker

Dark side of the other white meat

“Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That’s a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson.” Jeff Tietz, Rolling Stone

Gut-wrenching

“How many cows will be killed to keep Roger Federer, the world’s best tennis player, in fresh racquets this year? Do the math: The Swiss master is said to go through an estimated 900 sets of strings a year. Since strings lose tension as they’re played — and since Federer is acutely attuned to his ever-changing equipment — he will use five to seven freshly strung Wilsons per match at this week’s Rogers Cup, which is fewer than the 10 to 12 he’ll use at a Grand Slam event… For the record, it takes three cows to make a full set of natural gut strings. That means Federer, who uses a half-set per racquet, is indebted to some 1,350 cattle per annum.” Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star

Hi-speed express

“At the end of March 2006, 42% of Americans had high-speed at home, up from 30% in March 2005, or a 40% increase. And 48 million Americans — mostly those with high-speed at home — have posted content to the internet.” Pew Internet: Home Broadband Adoption 2006

German engineering

“By 1941-42, the allies knew that US and even British tanks had been technically superior to German Panzer tanks in combat, but they were worried about the capabilities of the new marks IV and V. More troubling, they had really very little idea of how many tanks the enemy was capable of producing in a year… Both the British and the Americans… asked statistical intelligence to see whether the accuracy of the estimates could be improved. The statisticians had one key piece of information, which was the serial numbers on captured mark V tanks. The statisticians believed that the Germans, being Germans, had logically numbered their tanks in the order in which they were produced. And this deduction turned out to be right. It was enough to enable them to make an estimate of the total number of tanks that had been produced up to any given moment.” The Guardian

Bad science and bad religion

“The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion.”
Dr. Richard Sloan, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University

Waste samples

“Carpet samples contribute an estimated 1 million pounds of waste to America’s landfills every year. They are also expensive to produce—$250-500 each, a cost mills are forced to swallow as a loss leader.” BusinessWeek

Aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty

“Apparently one of the Enron CEOs was a big fan of Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. He took Dawkins’ (in my opinion) overly reductionistic view of evolution and proceeded to even further reduce it in his own mind to social Darwinism… Basically, they would evaluate the traders and most other employees based on performance metrics and then fire the lowest 10-15% of the company population… So Enron was applying selection at the individual level according to metrics like individual trading performance to a group system whose performance was, like the henhouses, an emergent property of group dynamics as well as a result of individual fitness. The result was more or less the same. Instead of increasing overall productivity, they got mean chickens and actual productivity declined. They were selecting for traits like aggressiveness, sociopathic tendencies, and dishonesty.” Adam Ierymenko, on eugenics

The American war on science

“By most objective measures, the United States is the undisputed world leader in science and innovation, whether it’s funding for research and development, the number of PhD students it graduates or its share of the world’s patents. For the world’s wealthiest nation, this is hardly a remarkable feat. What is remarkable is that the US accomplished this with a supply of domestic talent whose skills in math and science are, also according to most objective measures, merely mediocre. Luckily, in the past, many excellent foreign students have shouldered the load, preferring to come here to study and work than stay in their home countries. This import of talent has been valued at more than $13 billion per year.” Christopher Mims, The American War on Science

Two billion people

“At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a serious scare about an imminent Malthusian crisis: the world’s rapidly expanding population was coming up against the limits of agricultural productivity… Earl Butz, Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, was despised by organic farmers, but he might not have been wrong when he said, in 1971, that if America returned to organic methods ‘someone must decide which fifty million of our people will starve!’ According to a more recent estimate, if synthetic fertilizers suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth, about two billion people would perish.” Steven Shapin, on the cost of sustainably grown and locally produced organic food