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The boldest profession; hot or not?; Iran's oil woes; a nation of multitaskers
Politics
Democracy’s Discontents

To end a civil war and establish a democracy, you need to give every faction a sense that it can attain power peacefully—or so runs the political-science conventional wisdom. But a new paper begs to differ. Using the case of Colombia’s mid-century civil war, known as “La Violencia,” in which the country’s Liberal and Conservative parties formed militias and fought one another, the authors find that the interparty warfare was most intense in municipalities where the two parties were evenly matched and had roughly equal chances of taking power through peaceful means. Thus their proposed alternative model of political conflict holds that “in a situation where all groups have a high chance of winning an election, they may also have a high chance of winning a fight,” and so be more likely to choose open war, with its chance for a winner-take-all outcome, over the ballot box.

“When Is Democracy an Equilibrium?” Mario Chacon, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, NBER

Romance
Smile Like You Mean It
photo
Women Find a man more attractive
if another woman smiles at him.

Noting that female animals—from guppies to quail—are more likely to be drawn to males paired off with other females, a group of researchers looked for a similar effect in humans. They asked female and male subjects to compare the attractiveness of eight pairs of male faces. Then they showed participants the same faces in a slideshow, with each pair separated by a photo of a woman, either smiling or looking neutral and turned toward one of the two men. When shown the original pairs again, the women increased their preference for a man who’d had a smiling female face turned in his direction during the slideshow; their preference for a man with an unsmiling woman turned his way decreased. The male subjects, meanwhile, were more likely to increase their preference for a man who was being regarded neutrally by a woman than for one who was being smiled at. Thus, the authors suggest, “within-sex competition promotes negative attitudes among men towards other men who are the target of positive social interest from women.”

“Social Transmission of Face Preferences Among Humans,” B. C. Jones et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society

Media
Watch and Listen
chart

Multitasking is increasingly second nature for young Americans, who consume a growing share of their media out of the corners of their eyes, or ears. A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed students in grades seven through twelve on their media-consumption habits, and found that 58 percent usually consume some other form of media while they read, another 63 percent typically multitask while listening to music, and 62 percent usually do so while using the computer. The students surveyed were slightly less likely to multitask while watching television, which probably reflects the sheer amount of time the teenagers spent watching TV and DVDs. Overall, the teenagers surveyed spent more time watching (or half-watching) television than they spent reading, writing e-mail, surfing the Internet, and playing video games combined.

“Media Multitasking Among American Youth,” Ulla G. Foehr, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Law Enforcement
Risky Business
From the archives:

"The Biggest Pimp of All" (June 1999)
After on-the-spot studies, the authors compare the prevailing approach to prostitution in American cities with decriminalization as practiced in several European cities and the legalization of brothels in rural Nevada. By Elizabeth and James Vorenberg

As mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani cracked down heavily on prostitution, forcing women who had previously solicited in public off the streets. The result, according to a new paper, was an environment that actually made women more likely to make prostitution a career rather than a temporary means of making ends meet. The move indoors had two major effects. On the one hand, it made women feel more secure—less vulnerable to arrest and violence from either johns or pimps—and more likely to “identify with sex work positively, particularly with the flexibility to set one’s own hours and the steady income the work often entails.” At the same time, it made them less likely to connect with the kind of institutions that could help them find better, safer, legal employment. In the end, women were more likely to take a “professional and careerist orientation” toward the oldest profession rather than leave it behind.

“Vice Careers,” Alexandra K. Murphy and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, Qualitative Sociology

Personal Finance
The Taxman Cometh
chart

If you live in Fairfield, Connecticut, or Westchester, New York, you’re probably not surprised that your county made the Tax Foundation’s list of the 10 counties with the highest average individual income-tax burden (calculated as a percentage of adjusted gross income). More surprising, perhaps, is the presence of Union County, South Dakota, where more than 17 percent of the average taxpayer’s income goes to Uncle Sam (a yearly tax bill of $14,006). South Dakota is also represented among the 10 counties with the lowest average tax burdens—by Todd and Shannon counties, both parts of Indian reservations, and both among the few places in America where taxpayers receive more in tax credits than they pay in taxes every year (an annual per-taxpayer total of $92 in Todd County and $337 in Shannon).

“IRS Data Reveal Which Congressional Districts Pay the Highest Federal Income Taxes,” Gerald Prante, Tax Foundation

Criminal Justice
Live Free and Die
From the archives:

"When They Get Out" (June 1999)
How prisons, established to fight crime, produce crime. By Sasha Abramsky

Leaving prison can be hazardous to your health, while staying behind bars can actually increase your life expectancy, according to two studies on mortality and incarceration. Of 30,237 inmates released from prison in Washington State between 1999 and 2003, 443 died within two years of their release—a death rate 3.5 times that of other state residents. In the first two weeks after release, the death rate for former prisoners was 12.7 times the state death rate, with drug overdose the most common cause of death. Meanwhile, the mortality rate inside all state prisons is 19 percent lower than in the U.S. adult population as a whole. For men under 45, in particular, prison is safer than the streets; for convicts over 55, however, prison death rates were 56 percent higher than on the outside.

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"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

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