The Mexican Mafia is a fairly small prison gang (perhaps 150-300 made members) and it has significant operational control only within prisons in Southern California yet the Mexican Mafia is extremely powerful. In fact, the MM taxes hundreds of often larger Southern California street gangs at rates of 10-30% of revenues. How can a prison gang tax street gangs? In Governance and Prison Gangs (also here), a new paper in the APSR, David Skarbek explains the structure, conduct and performance of the Mexican Mafia.
The key to the MM’s power is that most drug dealers will sooner or later, usually sooner, end up in prison. Thus, the MM can credibly threaten drug dealers outside of prison with punishment once they are inside prison. Moreover, prison is the only place where members of many different gangs congregate. Thus, by maintaining control of the prison bottleneck, the MM can tax hundreds of gangs.
One of the most interesting aspects of Skarbek’s analysis is that he shows–consistent with Mancur Olson’s stationary bandit theory–that as the MM grew in power it started to provide public goods, i.e. it became a kind of government. Thus, the MM protects taxpayers both in prison and on the street, it produces property rights by enforcing gang claims to territory and it adjudicates disputes, all to the extent that such actions increase tax revenue of course. The MM is so powerful that it often doesn’t even have to use its own enforcers; instead, the MM can issue what amounts to a letter of marque and reprisal, a signal that a non-taxpaying gang is no longer under its protection, and privateers will do the rest.
It all sounds a bit insane: people who like sweet foods are someone just generally nicer than people who don’t. It sounds like the latest example of dubious evolutionary psychology, but it’s actually about how language subtly shapes our behavior.
Debbie Nathan’s “Sybil Exposed” is about psychiatric fads, outrageous therapeutic malpractice, thwarted ambition run amok, and several other subjects, but above all, it is a book about a book. Specifically, that book is “Sybil,” purportedly the true story of a woman with 16 personalities. First published in 1973, “Sybil” remains in print after selling over 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.
A work of high Midwestern gothic trash, “Sybil” might have been purpose-built to enthrall 14-year-old girls of morbid temperament (which is probably the majority of 14-year-old girls, come to think of it). I would not be surprised to learn that it is circulated as avidly on middle-school playgrounds today as it was in my own youth. My sisters, my friends and I all devoured it, discussing its heroine’s baroque sufferings in shocked whispers before promptly forgetting all about it until the TV movie starring Sally Field came along.
7. Weird News of the Week: Brothers charged with stealing western Pa. bridge, selling 15.5 tons of scrap metal for $5,179
Two brothers have been charged with stealing a western Pennsylvania bridge and selling the 15 1/2 tons of scrap metal for more than $5,000.
Police say 24-year-old Benjamin Arthur Jones and 25-year-old Alexander Williams Jones of New Castle used a blowtorch to break up the bridge in late September or early October. They face felony charges of criminal mischief, theft, receiving stolen property and conspiracy.
9. Famous Thought Experiment of the Week: The Grandfather Paradox
11. Water Is Not H2O
It is a straightforward fact, corrections to it are endlessly ignored, but it is simply false to say that water is H2O unless we are speaking very, very loosely. I’ve mentioned this before, pointing to Michael Weisberg’s paper, Water is Not H2O (PDF) and summarizing van Brakel’s “Chemistry as the Science of the Transformation of Substances,” but I notice that Holly VandeWall puts it very nicely in her paper, “Why Water Is Not H2O, and Other Critiques of Essentialist Ontology from the Philosophy of Chemistry,” in Philosophy of Science vol. 74, no. 5 (December 2007)
12. Image of the Week: Woofs, wags and waves for surfing dogs
Harboring a mistakenly inflated belief that we can easily meet challenges or win conflicts is actually good for us, a new study suggests. Researchers have shown for the first time that overconfidence actually beats accurate assessments in a wide variety of situations, be it sport, business or even war.
15. Infographic of the Week: Is Your NFL Team Worth More than a Small Nation?
What makes a child nap? Most parents cherish toddlers’ naps as moments of respite and recharging, for parent and child alike; we are all familiar with the increased crankiness that comes when a nap is unduly delayed or evaded. But napping behavior has been somewhat taken for granted, even by sleep scientists, and napping problems have often been treated by pediatricians as parents’ “limit-setting” problems.
There’s some surprising good news to come out of the BlackBerry’s maligned worldwide outage: fewer car accidents in the United Arab Emirates. Officials in the country are reporting that traffic accidents plummeted 40 percent in Abu Dhabi and 20 percent in Dubai between last Tuesday and Thursday, when the BlackBerry blackout rolled through the Middle East, reports The National, the UAE’s state-owned English daily. “People are slowly starting to realise the dangers of using their phone while driving,” comments one Abu Dhabi police official. “The roads became much safer when BlackBerry stopped working.”
Want more respect, trust and affection from your co-workers?
Wearing makeup — but not gobs of Gaga-conspicuous makeup — apparently can help. It increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness, according to a new study, which also confirmed what is obvious: that cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness.
22. HistoricalLOL of the Week
Even by the standards of the 1500s, Simon Forman was a horrendous doctor. A known quack in an era when respected physicians barely knew what they were doing, Forman even spent time in jail for his dangerous practices.
And yet, for all that, it’s Forman and his equally disreputable protege Richard Napier who have left a great gift to the history of medicine. The pair were astrologers, who took down detailed information about a patient’s medical condition, then treated them through careful calculation of their astrological chart. While that might have not done much good for their patients, Forman and Napier’s methods had one huge benefit for posterity: they actually wrote down people’s symptoms.
A team of German, Canadian, and U.S. scientists have reconstructed the genetic sequence of one of history’s worst plagues. The Black Death swept through Europe between 1347 and 1351, killing 30 million to 50 million people — up to half of Europe’s population at the time. The plague “was literally like the four horseman of the apocalypse that rained on Europe,” says Johannes Krause of Germany’s University of Tubingen, lead author of the study published in Nature. “People literally thought it was the end of the world.” Why try to bring it back to life?
27. Better Book Titles of the Week – Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
28. How-To of the Week: Make Your Own Candy Corn for a Fresher, Tastier Halloween Treat
The revelations never cease. First, it turns out that piranhas aren’t the vicious cow-stripping killers we’d been led to believe. Now it turns out that they bark when they see things they don’t like. Discover the physics of how piranhas yip away like yappy dogs.
A generation ago, the battle to survive a heart attack was usually won or lost in the emergency room. Medical advances have now enabled more patients to win that fight and go home from the hospital — but millions of them will face another threat in the years to come.
The heart has a monstrous appetite for fuel as it goes about pumping 2,500 gallons of blood a day. During a heart attack, when an artery feeding heart muscle gets choked off, the heart’s oxygen supply is interrupted. If starved of oxygen for too long, a portion of the heart can die, never to revive. Instead, lifeless muscle will be gradually replaced by an inflexible scar tissue not designed for pumping blood. To compensate, the remaining muscle pushes itself to work harder. Eventually, the heart can grow too stiff or too weak to efficiently eject the blood flowing into it, and a person lapses into heart failure.
33. Solar bottle lights in the Philippines
(Via: The Anchoress)