Primary Sources

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

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