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Assorted Links (2/21)

Posted by Josh Rothman  February 21, 2012 01:19 PM

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Why do we still care about the Dow? Important article by Adam Davidson on the meaninglessness of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Everyone obsesses about the DJIA, but in reality it tells us very little. "It ignores the overall size of companies and pays attention to only their share prices.... ExxonMobil, for example, divides its value into nearly five billion lower-cost shares, while Caterpillar has around 650 million more expensive ones. Therefore ExxonMobil, one of the largest companies in history, pulls less weight on the Dow than a company less than a fifth its size." The Dow is not adjusted for inflation (breaking 12,000 today is not equivalent to breaking it in 2006) -- and, conceptually, "it doesn’t help us to make sense of an increasingly interconnected global economy — one in which what’s good for G.M. isn’t always good for the country. G.E., I.B.M and Intel, for example, all make more than half their profits in other countries. And while this may be great for their shareholders, it means little for most Americans." (The New York Times)

The trouble with emissions trading: Great report on the irrational outcomes issuing from Germany's widely praised, extremely rational cap-and-trade system. A crash in the prices for CO2 emissions certificates has revealed "the system's central design flaw: Politicians determine the total amount of CO2 that industry in the EU may emit, a limit that applies years into the future, without any way to know how the economy -- and thus the demand for trading certificates -- will develop during that period." Germany had planned to use the profits from the system to fund green energy initiatives -- now "the project could come up short by billions of euros." (Der Spiegel)

Uncle Sam, Global Gangster: Andrew Bacevich on how "American war is heading for the 'shadows' in a big way": shock and awe and counterinsurgency are giving way to top-secret, targeted assassinations by drones and special forces troops. Lots of power has accrued to someone most of us have never heard of: Michael Vickers, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. "'Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,' one admirer comments. 'He can understand trends then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.'" Vickers oversees "a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination." (TomDispatch)

A brief history of drones: John Sifton looks at automated killing throughout the history of war. "The issue is not that armed drones are more terrible or deadly than other weapons systems. On the contrary, the violence of drones today is more selective than many forms of military violence, and human rights groups recognize that drones, in comparison with less precise weapons, have the potential to minimize civilian casualties during legitimate military strikes." And yet disturbingly, drones "foreshadow the idea that brutality could become detached from humanity." (I think the foreshadowing is probably over at this point.) (The Nation)

Martin Amis's classic video game tips: An incredible find: In 1982, Martin Amis wrote a strategy guide to arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, and Mark O'Connell has found it! It features an intro from Steven Spielberg (!), a cameo appearance by Christopher Hitchens (!!), and is "abundantly illustrated with captioned photographs, screen shots, and lavish illustrations of exploding space ships and lunar landscapes.... its cup runneth over with 100-proof WTF." You must follow this link for the cover art alone. (The Millions)

New intelligent ads can change depending on your gender: The first one in the wild will be at a bus stop in London. "The advert, which will have a two-week trial, will use a high-definition camera to scan hundreds of thousands of passers-by. It will guess their gender based on the distance between their eyes, the width of their nose, length of the jawline and shape of their cheekbones. With a built-in computer, touchscreen and sound, it will be 90 per cent accurate, its designers say." (The Independent)

Bringing Sabermetrics to the NYT wedding section: Katie Baker explains NUPTIALS, her algorithm for finding the couple who "best exemplifies" the section. "A bride with a last name like Carnegie marrying a groom with a last name like Martinez who, with no further explanation given, 'will be keeping her name': +1." (Grantland)

[Image via 3hree Dee.]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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