Is There a Secret Genetic Ingredient That Turns Mere Mortals Into Super Athletes?

When David Epstein, author of the newly released The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Performance, was a high school track runner, he noticed that his school’s large Jamaican population tended to congregate in the track program.

He recently told The Atlantic in an interview that throughout his athletic career, and as he began to study the physiology of athletes more closely, he wondered why it was that Jamaicans made up such a large chunk of the elite sprinting field (see: Bolt, Usain.) Most runners, I think, have marveled at the dynasties that are Jamaican sprinters, or Ethiopian marathoners. Epstein started to examine the ancestry of many of these Jamaican track stars, and found that nearly all could trace their origins to a small region of West Africa.

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The Joe’s Vs. Chink’s Cheesesteak War and Stand-Your-Ground culture

Here’s a pattern I’m weary of. This should sound familiar: Celebrity uses racial slur. Having shocked and upset the public, celebrity apologizes. That apology, in turn, is met with a tide of indignation, of cyber-voices railing over what the big deal is and decrying our soft, hypersensitive society.

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about Paula Deen’s entry into this cycle. A couple weeks later, Riley Cooper was making headlines, his own racist soundbite landing him public embarrassment and official disciplinary sanctions. Those incidents, plus the most recent national-news-making rigamarole over Joe’s Steaks (née Chink’s Steaks), have set this public shame-to-shouting-match cycle into motion three times this summer, drawing into full view the distressing number of people who either don’t understand the weight of a racial slur, or simply don’t care.

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WATCH: 10 Reasons We Love Aubrey Plaza

When we first saw her in Parks & RecreationFunny People and Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza seemed to be budding into one of the most ubiquitous young character actors on today’s screens. But with her just-released To-Do List, the typically stony-faced, bang-draped Wilmington native seems to be stretching her comedic muscles — and adding a much-needed dose of girl power to the mostly male-dominated “high school nerds rush to get laid before college” genre (i.e., Superbad, American Pie.)  But while she’s graced the cover of Cosmo Latina and the pages of GQ recently, it’s worth remembering that she was ours before she was anyone else’s. In case you needed them (though I certainly didn’t), here are ten reasons to love this homegrown comic (sourpuss and all.)
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Why I’m Disappointed In Huma Abedin

Earlier this week, the Weiner Engine That Still Thinks It Can paraded out Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner’s wife, to speak about his most recent indecencies. Here’s what she had to say about her husband of three years, the elected public official who tweeted photos of his genitalia to a 21-year-old woman, resigned from office, and two years later, apparently still not understanding how the Internet works, sent more seedy texts and pictures to more young women:

“I love him, I have forgiven him, I believe in him and, as we have said since the beginning [of his spiraling descent into cyber-smut], we are moving forward.”

Brother.

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It’s Hot. I Want My Car Back.

I say it every year, but this year I mean it: It’s too hot to live. Seriously, screw Philadelphia. I’m getting out of this insufferable furnace of a city and joining the closest nudist beach colony. Or maybe I’m going to the mall, to sleep at the Sharper Image.

Whatever the breezy destination, all that’s on my mind during the summer is escape. Of course, escape has gotten complicated. I am now two years into my carless existence, and every summer, I grapple once more with being stuck inside this hotbox metropolis. Unless I can get a ride, the Shore might as well be Florida. The Mega- and Bolt Busses are fine, but my urge to flee the city can’t be satisfied by a quick jaunt to equally godforsaken D.C. or New York.

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The Anatomy of a Celebrity Flameout

It was March 2012 when Lisa Jackson originally filed her lawsuit against Paula Deen‘s companies, naming Deen herself as a defendant and Deen’s brother Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers, and claiming Deen’s company created a hostile work environment saturated with sexual harassment and racism. It aimed mostly at Hiers, whose alleged work antics — showing pornography and spitting on Jackson, to name a couple — make Deen herself look downright grounded.

But the suit had plenty to say about Deen, too. It was here where Deen was originally accused of throwing around racial epithets and entertaining bizarre antebellum wedding fantasies, wherein black servers might “tap dance around.”

It was a damning allegation, but it took a full year before Deen — great American culture casserole that she was — flopped completely. Somehow, the lawsuit flew largely under the radar: A few major newspapers picked it up that spring, but after Deen avoided public comment through spokes-folks and attorneys, the news fizzled. Deen went back to the deep-fryers, and stayed quiet on the whole subject.

Until she didn’t. Until May 17, that fateful deposition day when she coughed up precisely the ludicrous celebrity soundbite the world needed to hear to bring the Deen empire down to just a few chicken strips. Once a trial brought Deen’s bigotry into the unforgiving public spotlight, the fallout was fast. Her agent, TV network and publisher slashed ties, and the public certainly made up its mind: She was as toxic as the trans fats she peddled.

Deen’s downfall hasn’t been unlike other celebrity downfalls we’ve witnessed recently. People we basically knew didn’t deserve our admiration, but tolerated because they hadn’t quite tipped the scales of douchery, yet. I keep thinking of Lance Armstrong, who was under federal investigation for doping for two years before his lies came into high-definition. And Michael Vick, who always seemed to be in trouble for one thing or another, but whose true character wasn’t completely condemned in the public eye until he pled guilty to dogfighting and, within moments, was stripped of his NFL jersey. Or even Chris Brown, who no one thought was a charmer, even before he admitted to beating the daylights out of his girlfriend.

In the steps celebrities take from fame, to shame, to recovery (because they always seem to recover, as Deen, I theorize, will too), the unfiltered confessional is the crucial second step. There’s a suspicion or an investigation, a “gotcha” moment that boils public outrage, and then, of course, an excruciating apology. In an era where our public figures’ lives are more transparent than ever, the celebrity apology has become a reflex. A ceremonial gesture that we culturally mandate but are never moved by. We insist they come forward with a “statement,” something to say for themselves, and then collectively fester in our disappointment or indifference when they do.

Armstrong’s Oprah interview was met with indignation; many thought it was more self-pity than apology. When Vick re-joined the NFL as a member of the Eagles a couple years ago, Philly Mag ran a piece about how his public remorse lacked enough authenticity for the public. A two-minute YouTube apology from Chris Brown would hardly cut it. Deen’s YouTube grovel was not graceful (nor sincere), but the point is that once a grave is dug, last-minute apologies don’t matter, anyway. All these public icons had left to do — and what Deen must do, now — is burrow underground for a while.

For some, this meant simply being knocked off their pedestals with lost sponsorships. For some, it meant good old-fashioned resignation (See: Spitzer, Eliot). For others, hard time. And when just enough time passed for them to tie their way back into the spotlight, even though no one had forgotten their crimes, they did so. And they weren’t run out of town. One blue-sky day, there was Martha Stewart in a K-Mart commercial. After a few days of griping and a couple of seasons, sports analysts were talking about the likelihood of Vick starting as quarterback with straight faces. Brown is still releasing pop hits like line drives. Armstrong himself is already tip-toeing his way back onto the cycling course.

Down the line, doesn’t it seem likely that Deen will land a couple of small public appearances? Maybe even forge a new book deal? Pretty soon, we may be downloading her elaborate pastry recipes and simply shaking our heads at the memory of that time she said that idiotic racist thing. Eclair, anyone?

Of course, willing consumption doesn’t equal forgiveness. Armstrong’s breach of public trust will never be forgotten, even if he does impress us with more cycling performances or charitable endeavors; there are some people who won’t even turn on an Eagles game because of Vick’s presence. Chris Brown will always be a malignancy on the roster of pop icons. But still, we’re surprisingly good at compartmentalizing our consumption apart from our character judgment. Remember that time Martha Stewart went to prison? Yeah, me neither.

Paula Deen may never overcome her newfound reputation as a Southern gentile bigot. We may never find that in our hearts. But as for her chicken pot pie? Well, there might be room for that.

Wine, Women, and Hand-Wringing

When it comes to binge drinking, there’s always been a wide gender gap. In 2012, more than twice as many men reported going on booze benders as women did — about 24 percent of men compared with 11 percent of women. But steadily, year after year, U.S. women have been raising their glasses ever higher. In fact, women now account for the majority of wine purchased (and consumed) in the U.S. Between 1992 and 2012, Gallup found, the number of white women who said they drank regularly rose from 32 percent to 70 percent. Nonwhite women went from about 20 percent to 57 percent.

In response to this, in early 2013, the CDC released a report on women and binge drinking, stating that one in eight adult women now reported indulging in the behavior; it also outlined the unique risk factors women face when it comes to drinking. Mostly, unsurprisingly, we face the same health risks men do (high blood pressure and liver disease), but do face a special set of concerns. To wit: Women can’t drink as many fluid ounces of alcohol. They can’t drink while they’re pregnant. And, I quote: “Binge drinking can lead to unintended pregnancies.”

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America’s Most Wanted Zoo Animals

When Rusty the red panda took to the streets of D.C. on Monday, it captured the imagination — an adorable, real-life Paddington Bear enjoying his first taste of freedom in our nation’s capital. Of course, Rusty is just one part of a long legacy of rogue zoo animals — critters who have seized rare escape opportunities and headed for the hills, sometimes with tragic results. (And if you go back far enough, you’ll find some fantastic tales of escape — like a 1935 incident in which around 150 rhesus monkeys escaped a Long Island zoo.)

Here are 10 of the most recent famous getaways:

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The Five Huge Mistakes in Arrested Development’s New Season

I’m now just over halfway through watching Season 4 of Arrested Development — the much-anticipated Netflix treat we’ve been begging for since 2006, when the show first “ended.” So far, I’ve seen individual episodes receive more post-action analysis than an Eagles game, but I haven’t seen a collective evaluation of fan response to Arrested‘s latest iteration. Should we have been careful what we wished for? Or is this actually filling the void Seasons 1 through 3 left behind?

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OK, Yeah, Whatever, NSA Spies

I have been trying, diligently, to develop a strong reaction to the NSA controversies that rattled the Obama administration this week.

I’ve done so, in part, because we’d hardly absorbed the unsettling revelations about the NSA’s phone record collection and PRISM program before outrage about the lack of outrage crept into the blogosphere.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniel J. Solove wrote a treatise against what he called the “nothing to hide” argument: “Privacy is often threatened not by a single egregious act but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts …  Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of actors often creates worse problems.” Read more »

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