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Dread Pirate bin Laden; more than five for fighting; schizo in Gitmo
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Economics

Wages of Wins

Plenty of CEOs have reached the corporate summit with fists full of cash and mouths stuffed with cigars. But only a select few—like Bill Gates or Lee Iacocca—have ascended to full-blown media superstardom. These standouts tend to succumb to the lures of celebrity culture, a new study finds, leaving their companies to plod along in mediocrity. The authors examined the performance and compensation of fat cats who had been singled out for prominent awards—like BusinessWeek’s “Best Manager,” or Forbes’s “Best-Performing CEOs”—between 1975 and 2002. They found that while the winners’ compensation shot up in the years following their prize (by 44 percent on average in the first year alone), their performance declined substantially compared with their past achievements and with the work of their peers. Perhaps because they started to value the “jet-set life” more than the happiness of their shareholders, celebrated CEOs also spent much more time pursuing projects like writing books and sitting on external boards. Most damningly, the authors add, “award-winning CEOs have significantly lower golf handicaps than non-winners.”

Seriously Funny

A moment of Zen: What if every news program was The Daily Show? A report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism suggests that audiences would actually be pretty well-informed. The researchers analyzed a year’s worth of broadcasts and found that The Daily Show’s coverage roughly resembles that of cable news and talk radio, and that its popularity rivals or exceeds more-traditional news outlets. Though the show leans liberal—it attacked Republicans three times as often as Democrats and skewered the Bush administration in 22 percent of its segments—the authors suggest that its agenda could be “more anti-establishment than anti-Republican.” And contrary to Bill O’Reilly’s claim (made on The Daily Show) that its audience consists mainly of “stoned slackers,” the show’s viewers actually score in the highest percentile of current-events knowledge. The main divergence from the news cycle comes when tragedy strikes. The Virginia Tech massacre, one of last year’s biggest stories, received only a brief mention before host Jon Stewart moved on, “to keep things light and funny.” Even so, the report concludes that

Arrr-Qaeda

Pirates are increasingly marauding on the high seas, a Rand report finds, but the dreaded (and terrifying-sounding) “terrorism-piracy nexus” won’t emerge anytime soon. Pirate attacks increased drastically between 2000 and 2006, to an average of more than 350 per year. In part, pirates just have more targets because of the huge boom in global maritime shipments. But they also take advantage of the shipping industry’s growing dependence on a few dangerous “chokepoints” like the Strait of Malacca, as well as widespread government corruption and lax port security. Most conditions advantageous to piracy would seem to benefit terrorists as well, and rumors of extremists hijacking ships to train for a “9/11 at sea” have led to worries that terrorists might start subcontracting their work to buccaneers. But the author argues that such a partnership is highly improbable. For one thing, terrorism in remote stretches of the ocean is unlikely to generate spectacular news footage. And no single attack would be likely to have wide-ranging economic consequences (for all their plundering, pirates cause at most $16 billion in losses a year—in an industry that handled upward of $7 trillion worth of goods in 2005). Perhaps most important, while jihadists would presumably aim for the destruction of the maritime economy, pirates depend on it for their livelihood.

Alone

Walid is a 28-year-old Palestinian who has been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, he suffers delusions, anxiety, and depression as a result of his isolation, and he appears to have developed schizophrenia. Like Walid, most detainees at Guantánamo live in conditions that resemble those of supermax prisons in the U.S. But unlike in supermaxes, where prisoners can have TVs in their cells and occasional interaction with the outside world, in Guantánamo, detainees (none of whom have been convicted) are usually locked up alone with only a Koran and a single other book for 22 hours a day. No prisoner has ever received a visit from a friend or relative, and many have never been allowed a phone call. While detainees can sometimes communicate with each other by shouting through door slits, guards remain their primary source of interaction. The study cites evidence that such isolation can produce “the most extreme forms of psycho­pathology, such as depersonalization, hallucination, and delusions.” Lawyers report that some detainees are no longer able to assist in their own defense or make decisions about their case. Though many detainees pose major security risks, the study argues that prolonged isolation “can aggravate desperate behavior, potentially creating worse security problems over time,” and that mental illnesses will “complicate ongoing efforts to resettle or repatriate many of these men.”

Heal Thyself

Access to health care has improved significantly in the developing world over the past few decades. In Delhi, India, for example, a typical family now lives within walking distance of more than 70 private health-care providers. But a new study by a group of economists suggests that quality of care is just as important as availability—and when it comes to quality in low-income countries, doctors are still failing miserably. The authors observed practitioners on the job in four countries and quizzed them about how they would treat various conditions. In one scenario, they were given the hypothetical example of a mother who brought in an infant suffering from diarrhea. Only 25 percent of doctors in Delhi asked about blood or mucus in the baby’s stool, and only 7 percent checked for a depression in the soft spots on its skull—two key steps to determining whether the child should be hospitalized for severe dehydration. The authors also found that Indian doctors, who see patients for an average of 3.8 minutes, would have to be of above-average competence in order to be more likely to help patients than to harm them. In all the countries studied, the authors found “a large and significant gap between what doctors know they should do … and what they actually do.”

“The Quality of Medical Advice in Low-Income Countries,” Jishnu Das, Jeffrey Hammer, and Kenneth Leonard, Journal of Economic Perspectives

Society

Angry Young Women

Cable news may be obsessed with YouTube videos of “catfighting” high-school cheerleaders, but “there is no burgeoning national crisis of increasing serious violence among adolescent girls,” a study by the Justice Department says. The researchers examined official arrest statistics from the FBI as well as data from two national self-reported crime surveys and found that while teenage girls have not been acting more violently over the past two decades, they are getting arrested much more frequently. The authors believe the discrepancy is due more to shifts in enforcement than to girls’ behavior. The adoption of “zero tolerance” policies for school altercations and “mandatory arrest” for domestic disturbances may have contributed, as may have differing behavioral expectations for females, such as a lower tolerance among parents for girls’ acting out than for boys’. Another reason may be that while boys tend to fight “friends or strangers,” girls are far more likely to assault family members, which might be more likely to land them in the clink.

Mad Cash

When you think of hockey, you probably think black eyes, missing teeth, and bloody brawls. And although the NHL has tried various schemes to clean up its image—to the dismay of many fans—a study by two economists found that the sport still offers “enormous incentives for foul play and overt violence,” and even a cash enticement for goons to drop their gloves. After analyzing league statistics—including penalty minutes, goals scored, and salary figures—the authors determined that strategic fighting can improve a team’s playoff chances, and that players possessing the unique skills of an enforcer are duly rewarded for their efforts. By fighting, lower-skilled wing players can create scoring opportunities for more-talented centers by intimidating opposing teams and keeping their skilled defenders in the penalty box. While a player earns a “wage premium” of $10,925 when he assists on a goal, they calculated, he earns $18,135 for winning a fight and $11,993 even for losing a fight. To ensure that the sport values skill and finesse over “bad boy” enforcers, they suggest that the league deduct a “fight fine” of roughly $36,000 from the team’s salary-cap allotment for each donnybrook.

“Blood Money: Incentives for Violence in NHL Hockey,” John P. Haisken-DeNew and Matthias Vorell, Ruhr Economic Papers

Dressed to Impress

What makes a woman pick out a sparkling bracelet and low-cut top in the morning, rather than a button-down shirt and slacks? A new study suggests it may be hormones. Researchers have previously found that a woman’s sexual motivation ebbs and flows over the course of her menstrual cycle, peaking just before ovulation, when she’s most fertile. Now, two German psychologists find that women don more-provocative clothing during the five days before ovulation, when sex is on the brain. The psychologists asked 40 women to evaluate their own attractiveness and clothing style over the course of a month. Each day, the women noted whether they thought their clothing choice was “sexy,” “figure-hugging,” or “permissive” and took snapshots of themselves. Although they didn’t report feeling more or less attractive in a cyclic pattern, the women did rate themselves as more provocatively dressed during their “high fertile phases.” The opposite sex seemed to agree: when instructed to peruse the photographs the women had taken, men found them both more provocatively dressed and more attractive during the days before ovulation—suggesting that the partners the women hoped to attract (consciously or not) would have read their signals.

“Self-Perceived and Observed Variations in Women’s Attractiveness Throughout the Menstrual Cycle—A Diary Study,” Sascha Schwarz and Manfred Hassebrauck, Evolution and Human Behavior

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