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Book Review: The Marshmallow Test

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 6:35 AM EDT
the marshmallow test

The Marshmallow Test

By Walter Mischel

LITTLE, BROWN

Much ado has been made of the titular psych test, in which kids able to wait 20 minutes to earn two marshmallows instead of settling for one right away were shown, decades later, to rate better on everything from educational level to their risk of becoming a drug addict. In this book, Walter Mischel, who designed the original experiment, dispels the notion that the ability to delay gratification is a have-or-not-have trait. The patient kids, he writes, used strategies anyone can learn. ("I think, therefore I can change what I am.") And if you're just not motivated, don't fret. After all, Mischel notes, what fun is life without a little indulgence?

This review originally appeared in our September/October issue of Mother Jones. 

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10 Fascinating Articles From the CIA's Secret Employee Magazine

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

In 2007, Jeffrey Scudder, a veteran information technology specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency, came across the archives of the agency's in-house magazine, Studies in Intelligence. The catch: They were classified. So Scudder filed a Freedom of Information Act request. And then things got messy. "I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career," he told the Washington Post.

As a profile of Scudder in the Post explains:

He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family's computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

Now, in response to a lawsuit filed by Scudder, the CIA has declassified and released some of the hundreds of journal articles he's requested. Nearly 250 of them have been posted on the CIA's website. Published over four decades, they offer a fascinating peek at the history of US intelligence as well as the corporate culture of "the Company."

Here are 10 that grabbed our attention:

1. "How We Are Perceived": "It came as a shock to learn that there seem still to be large numbers of well read and presumably intelligent US citizens who perceive that we are assassins, blackmailers, exploiters of sex and illicit drugs as well as the creators of our own foreign policy separate and distinct from that of the Department of State," a clandestine service member wrote in this essay from the winter of 1986. "How can it be that perceptions differ so radically from reality?"

Answer: Leaks to the press "together with some of our acknowledged missteps" had fed a trail of Soviet propaganda, which misinformed the American public. Even the State Department and military intelligence harbored "misperceptions" about the work of the CIA, the author continued, listing a half-page of apparent myths—which has not yet been declassified. "We have the option of keeping mum and allowing the misperceptions to grow, or of tackling them head-on. We have only ourselves to blame if we do nothing to set the record straight."

 

2. "11 September 2001: With the President": President George W. Bush's CIA briefer, Michael J. Morrell, recalls the events of 9/11, which he witnessed as part of the executive entourage:

The president asked me who was responsible for the attacks. I said "Sir, I haven't seen any intelligence that would point to responsibility, so what I'm going to say is simply my personal view." The president told me he understood. I said two terrorist states were capable of conducting such a complex operation [REDACTED] I pointed out [REDACTED]; that neither had much to gain and both had plenty to lose from attacking the United States. Rather, I said the culprit was almost certainly a nonstate actor, adding that I had no doubt that the trail would lead to the doorstep of Bin Laden and al-Qa'ida.

 

3. "Leo Theremin—CIA Nemesis": Best known as the inventor of the eponymous instrument used to make UFO noises in B-movies, inventor Leo Theremin was also a Soviet spy. The "Russian Thomas Edison" survived the gulag to become a KGB researcher whose "very existence was a state secret." His biggest coup: Placing an ingenious bug inside a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that was given to the American ambassador in Moscow in 1945. The hidden microphone was not found until 1960.

studies in intelligence
Not available on newstands: The CIA's Studies in Intelligence CIA

4. "An Interview With NSA Director Lt. Gen. Michael V. Haydem": In this prescient Q&A from the pre-9/11 and pre-Snowden era, the then-NSA director and future CIA director spoke about his agency's reputation for excessive secrecy:

Everything's secret. I mean, I got an e-mail saying, "Merry Christmas." It carried a Top Secret NSA classification marking. The easy option is to classify everything. This is an Agency that for most of its existence was well served by not having a public image. When the nation felt its existence was threatened, it was willing to cut agencies like NSA quite a bit of slack. But as that threat perception decreases, there is a natural tendency to say, "Now, tell me again what those guys do?" And, therefore, the absence of a public image seems to be less useful today than it was 25 years ago. I don't think we can survive without a public image.

Asked about cooperation between intelligence agencies, Hayden's answer foreshadowed the intelligence failures behind 9/11 and the coming hunt for Osama bin Laden:

Without getting too much into some really sensitive stuff, let's think about conducting operations against a major international terrorist leader…Think about two agencies, for illustrative purposes, 35 miles apart, trying to marry the data to get the son of a gun. And each of them saying, "I'll give you my finished reporting, but not my tickets." You cannot tell me that's the correct approach in the first year of the 21st century. We're like two foreign potentates, negotiating a transfer of prisoners, and we're both wrapping ourselves around our own tradecraft.

 

5. "Interview with Erna Flegel": In 1981, future CIA chief Richard Helms spoke with a nurse who was stationed in Adolf Hitler's Berlin bunker as Nazi Germany collapsed in 1945. About her former employer, whom she was a "fanatical admirer," Flegel gushed, "When Hitler was in the room, he filled it entirely with his personality—you saw only him, aside from him nothing else existed. The fascinating thing about him was his eyes; up to the end, it was impossible to turn away from his eyes."

 

A redacted passage in an article about assassination planning in Guatemala. CIA

6. "CIA and the Guatemala Assassination Proposals, 1952-1954": As this heavily-redacted article explains, later reviews of CIA activities in Guatemala in the 1950s turned up documents that had not been disclosed during earlier investigations into CIA assassination plots. What was in those rediscovered files? For example, while it was plotting the overthrow of "Communist" Jacobo Arbenz:

Discussions of assassination reached a high level within the Agency. Among those involved were [REDACTED] was present at least one meeting where the subject of assassination came up. DCI Allen Dulles and his special assistant, Richard Bissell, probably were also aware in general terms that assassination was under discussion. Beyond planning, some actual preparations were made. Some assassins were selected, training began, and tentative "hit lists" were drawn up.

"Yet," the article asserted, "no covert action plan involving assassinations of Guatemalans was ever approved or implemented."

 

7. "Interrogation of an Alleged CIA Agent": This 1983 paper opens with the transcript of the questioning of a suspected American operative by a particularly indefatigable interrogator known as A.I.:

A.l.: Do you work for the American Central Intelligence Agency, Joe?
Hardesty: Hell, no.
A.l.: Why do you persist in lying to me?
Hardesty: I am not lying. You have no right to treat me like this.
A.l.: Of course not.
Hardesty: Since you agree with me, may I go?
A.l.: So you are not lying ... interesting.
Hardesty: May I go now?
A.l.: Who are your superiors at the CIA?
Hardesty: I don't know what you are talking about.
A.l.: You had better think about that statement before I make a record of it.
Hardesty: Go to hell.
A.l.: Why so hostile?

A.I. is short for Artificial Intelligence. The exchange actually took place between a human and a computer, indicating the agency's early interest in the kind of sophisticated computer learning that's since become increasingly commonplace.

 

8. "Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story [REDACTED]": This undated release, apparently from the late '90s, takes on the PR disaster spawned by San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Webb, who had accused the CIA of importing drugs into the United States in the '80s. Webb's claims were "alarming," and the agency was particularly stung by the allegation that it had worked to destroy the black community with illegal drugs. Fortunately, the Studies in Intelligence article explains, "a ground base of already productive relations with journalists" helped "prevent this story from becoming an unmitigated disaster." Hostile reporters attacked Webb's work and he eventually became a persona non grata in the newspaper world.

Ultimately, claims the article, part of the problem with the response to Webb's stories was a "societal shortcoming": "The CIA-drug story says a lot more about American society…that [sic] it does about either CIA or the media. We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times—when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community." In 1998, the agency partly vindicated Webb's reporting by admitting that it had had business relationships with major drug dealers. Jeremy Renner stars as the late Webb in a new movie, Kill the Messenger.

 

9. "The Evolution of US Government Restrictions on Using and Exporting Encryption Technologies": During the Clinton administration, the government was powerless to stop the development of open-source encryption tools. This Studies in Intelligence article details the many failed official attempts to control the development and proliferation of encryption tools. In the face of opposition from researchers, the business community, and its own experts, the government eventually eased restrictions on the technology. But, as the author noted, spooks yearned for the golden age of electronic eavesdropping: "The US Government, and NSA in particular, would like to return to the Cold War era of complete government control over strong cryptography and skillful manipulation of the research and corporate communities."

 

10. Par-Faits (And Other Faits): In 1984, a Mr. [REDACTED] compiled quotations from Performance Appraisal Reports (PARs) over the years along with introductory quips. The subjects and supervisors quoted are also, mercifully, anonymous.

Almost flawless—so to speak: "His English is flawless, if not close to it."
The clairvoyant case officer: " ... His operational reporting is often on time, often ahead of time."
His eyes are clear but his prose is measured and smoke-watered: "With the perspective of twenty months of overview of his long march, rather than with the smoke-watered eyes of those who peer too closely into his campfire, I conclude that his pace has been measured."
The hyperactive dog of a case officer: "…He is a man of constant motion—some of it unnecessary…he bloodhounds even the longest odds and opportunities."
Although some may wonder: "All said and done, Mr. S. is human."

Declassified Documents Reveal the CIA's Sense of Humor (and Literary Aspirations)

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
From the "Get Smart" episode "Spy, Spy Birdie."

Within a trove of recently declassified articles from Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's in-house journal, we found a number of humor pieces based on the agency's internal employee evaluations. Here is one such piece in its entirety, from the Spring 1984 issue. The author's name was, naturally, redacted.

****

PAR-Faits (AND OTHER Faits)

What follow are quotations from Performance Appraisal Reports that Mr. [redacted] compiled over the years, and for which he composed introductory comments. The quotations are rendered faithfully, with typographical and other errors intact, for they contribute to the fun. The subjects, supervisors, and reviewing officials mentioned and quoted in this compilation are to remain forever, and mercifully, anonymous.

The Golden Rule-Redux:

"I believe that the readers of this PAR, as well as the previous one written by the Rating Officer, should know that the Rating Officer and I have had and continue to have many strong personal and professional differences of opinion. He believes, for example, that I have reached my level of competency, and I believe that he has exceeded his."

Mastering the surprise ending:

"It should be recognized that by employing the proper technique, very comfortable shoes can be made from a sow's ear but making [redacted] silk purse requires an entirely different raw material."

Making no bones about it-in the vernacular:

"Subject is also responsible for all Headquarters support of a complex covert action operation aimed at maintaining the political stability of a regime headed up by a weirdo who goes around saying things like 'dat get me shame'."

When faint praise is called for:

"Operationally, Subject was not loafing."

For one who skates well on thin ice:

"Subject is quick to spot thin stuff and do something about it—particularly when it comes to good operational tradecraft."

For one who can bench press human dynamics while reciting from Rabindranath Tagore:

"His ability in oral expression and human dynamics was strongly demonstrated... "

Growth Potential:

"As the period drew to a close, Subjects apparatus had begun taking shape... "

Being hugely successful:

"He largely recruited a high level source."

What to do to protect colleagues from being hit by large and fast moving desks:

"Mr. [redacted] continued to be the Elmer's glue of the large and fast-moving [redacted] Desk.

Almost flawless—so to speak:

"His English is flawless, if not close to it."

When in doubt clutter things up; its good for cover:

"He characteristically complicates simple things."

The smiling, freely offered thumb in the eye:

"One thing not noted previously is his calm and pleasant demeanor which tends gratuitously to mask his toughness as a case officer."

The clairvoyant case officer:

"...His operational reporting is often on time, often ahead of time."

Then there's this little QP drummer:

"He marches to the beat of his own drummer."

Although not a hot-head:

"This officer has a warm mind."

His eyes are clear but his prose is measured and smoke-watered:

"With the perspective of twenty months of overview of his long march, rather than with the smoke-watered eyes of those who peer too closely into his campfire, I conclude that his pace has been measured."

Big jokes from little mischiefs grow?

"...his personal eagerness tends sometimes to lead him into small mischiefs."

Although an off-quay visionary he can trumpet, and drum, and stomp his foot all at the same time:

"He has been like a one-man band trying to cover the waterfront on a far frontier."

The Good Humor Man endures:

"He has endured rapid personnel changes with good humor."

The hyperactive dog of a case officer:

"...He is a man of constant motion—some of it unnecessary...he bloodhounds even the longest odds and opportunities."

Although some may wonder:

"All said and done, Mr. S. is human."

When tippling leads to being Freud, and the naked truth must be revealed:

"At the right psychological moment he unfrocked himself in [redacted] cafe."

The crawl-on-your-belly-and-hiss approach:

"...a target of opportunity whom he approached in his own inimical style."

Dignity in catastrophe:

"Subject handles flaps with aplomb."

Standing tall in the Lilliput of Liaison:

"Due to his height this man should probably be directed along liaison lines or staff work."

The runaway case officer:

"He is not only a self-starter but a self-goer—at times tending to go too fast."

Unless one speaks quietly and carries a big stick:

"The operational carrot is easily lost sight of and is difficult to catch."

The Case of the Abandoned Suitcase:

"He began to pursue ops leads as soon as his suitcase hit the ground."

The cape-and-dagger jock:

"He involves himself athletically in Base and local activities."

The strong tryer:

"I would rate his effort to do the job as strong."

When finishing working hard on his syntax...:

"He at least secured his own housing on which he has been working hard to fix up."

The monosyllabic hot dog:

"His performance has been-WOW"

The musty Middle East:

"This officer has been associated long enough with Arab affairs. He now needs fresh air."

After making good strides in the wrong direction...:

"He has made good strides in the right direction."

The gritty performer:

"This officers performance has been outsanding."

The forward leaning, vine swinging Case officer:

"Mr. K. moved in sure-handed fashion."

The Compleat hard target Case officer:

"He is a hard-nosed supervisor and a hard-headed officer."

Besieged, bothered and bewildered:

"He has reached a standoff with the bureaucracy around him."

The operational arsonist:

"Subject has kept the target fires burning."

When aptitude isn't apt:

"His apptitude for spelling is poor."

When he's not plodding he Lies down, humps his back and makes himself small:

"He is steady and defendable."

Because his compass came in his air freight...:

"It took the officer less than one week after his arrival here to get his bearings.

Just give him a tune-up, but don't touch the cheerful plugs:

"He tries hard in a situation that has him more stymied than most of us, and he plugs along cheerfully."

The lean and meaningness officer:

"He has brought new energy and meaningness to the program."

While shunning the unusual infinitude of every day chores...:

"He handles the usual infinitude of occasional case officer tasks."

To be some kind of mixed up butterfly...:

" ... He needs to get the operational chrysallis out of the political coccoon it is in."

He trembles at dullness, but—:

"He confidently attends all sorts of events of interest."

The wary grunter:

"He gives a negative first impression, primarily because he is inarticulate."

When the anatomy of an Advance Work Plan is necessarily obscure:

"Mr. S. has had supervisory responsibility for parts of two I.A.'s..."

Not risking over confidence:

"He can look back at this job as 'pretty well done'."

The little engine with the retarded spark:

"During the reviewing period this officer has made good use of the limited intelligence resources available to him."

Somewhere down there is gold; it just doesn't pan out:

"Subject probably has much good in him. Somehow, though, it has not come through."

The tribal wit:

" ... he is a happy headhunter."

In addition to avoiding prickly confrontations...:

"Subject is not one to sit on his laurels."

Migratory fixation:

"I am looking forward to the next reviewing period when the birds will come home to roost." (next FR) "They have, and they have settled on the highest branches."

Seen through a glass darkly:

"Insofar as I am able to comprehend it, I have no quarrel with the substance of the rating officer's comments."

Click here to view the original document—and "More PAR Bloopers," courtesy of your favorite spy agency.

"NO." Scotland Will Not Leave the United Kingdom

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 12:32 AM EDT

David Cameron has been spared his worst fear: Being the Tory who lost England's hat. The Guardian has called the independence referendum and it appears that voters have declined to strike out on their own. Scotland will not leave the United Kingdom.

"No" was the slight favorite heading into yesterday's vote, but that doesn't mean England isn't breathing a sigh of relief. A few months ago this result would have come as no surprise, but as the polls tightened over the last few weeks, storm clouds set in over Westminster, and the narrative seemed to suggest independence was in the wind. If momentum was in fact on the "Yes" side, it ran out of time.

The referendum was the result of decades of work on the part of Scottish nationalists. And though they lost, it's hard to say that traditional Unionists really won. There will be further devolution. Scotland will have more autonomy than at any time since joining the Union. Indeed, if Labour wins the next election, greater devolution could be coming to Wales and Northern England as well, according to Ed Milibrand. None of that wouldn't be happening had the SNP not made this race so close.

Most everyone outside of Scotland is happy about this because it saves them a lot of messiness, especially in Brussels and DC. As my Welsh godmother said in reference to her Edinburgh-born husband, "I'm glad I'm not suddenly married to a foreigner."

 

Hillary Clinton Threads the Needle: Obama's Done Okay But Economic Benefits Need to Be "Broadly Shared"

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 4:14 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton doesn't think much of her old employer. "Congress increasingly...is living in an evidence free zone," she said Thursday, "where what the reality is in the lives of Americans is so far from the minds of too many." Speaking on a panel about women and economics hosted by the Center for American Progress (a liberal think tank run by Clinton's ex-policy advisor Neera Tanden), Clinton gave a few hints of which domestic policy proposals could anchor her presumed 2016 presidential campaign.

Speaking in non-partisan terms, Clinton slammed Congress for its lack of action on raising the minimum wage, with the former secretary of state saying that a failure to boost the wages of the working poor is particularly damaging for women. She noted that two-thirds of minimum wage jobs are held by women. "The floor is collapsing—we talk about a glass ceiling, these women don't even have a secure floor under them," she said.

Boosting the minimum wage has become a standard Democratic talking point. But Clinton went beyond that standard fare and emphasized the plight of tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, bartenders, and hair stylists. "Women hold nearly three-quarters of the jobs that are reliant on tips," she said. "And in fact, they don't get the minimum wage with the tips on top of it."

Although the federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour since 2009, there is an exemption carved out for workers who receive tips. Employers only have to pay those people $2.13 an hour (steady since 1991); the tips are presumed to make up for the difference. But often times the tips don't suffice, and employers, who are supposed to fill the gap, don't always do so.

These workers are "at the mercy not only of customers who can decide or not to tip," Clinton said. "They're at the mercy of their employers who may collect the tips and not turn them back."

Clinton didn't dive into the policy details on how to fix this problem. But the Center for American Progress released a report right after the event that suggested raising the tipped wage up to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage (which the report proposed bumping to $10.10 per hour).

The general tone of Clinton's speech suggested how she'd thread the needle by supporting President Barack Obama's record while crafting her own agenda when she hits the campaign trail. "The president came in—he deserves an enormous amount of credit for stanching the bleeding and preventing a further deterioration and getting us out of that ditch we were in," she said. "But we know that unless we change our policies, a lot of the benefits are not going to be broadly shared, and that's what we're talking about here."

Don't Worry, the Crazy Is Coming Soon in the House Benghazi Hearing

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 4:01 PM EDT

Yesterday's Benghazi hearing, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R–SC), was shockingly calm. Aside from a bit of gotcha over a 15-year-old report, there were no conspiracy theories, no hot buttons pressed, no shrieking clown shows. The extremely sober topic was whether the State Department has been successfully implementing the recommendations made by the Accountability Review Board shortly after the attacks. Everyone was on their best behavior, and even Ed Kilgore was impressed:

Now it's possible Gowdy will be taken to the woodshed by other Republicans (not to mention the conservative media that has made Benghazi! a sort of national security counterpart to Agenda 21), and come back snarling and ranting. But for the first time since September 11, 2012, the subject is being discussed by Republicans in an atmosphere that isn't reminiscent of a Tea Party street rally.

Go ahead and call me a stone partisan blinded by my own ill will toward Republicans, but come on. Gowdy doesn't need to be taken to the woodshed by anyone. This is just well-played theater from a guy who's a mite smarter than the usual tea party crackpot. He's gulling everyone into treating this like a serious investigation so that he'll have some credibility stored up when it comes time for the hundredth repetition of the stand-down myth or the latest insane parsing of the White House talking points. That's what this is all about.

I'll apologize if Gowdy manages to keep the tone of this hearing civil and judicious all the way to the end. But I'm not too worried about having to eat any crow here.

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This Restaurant Is Trying To Be The Worst One on Yelp

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 3:34 PM EDT

Botto Bistro wants to be the worst-reviewed restaurant on Yelp. Fed up with the site's alleged manipulation of consumer reviews, owners David Cerretini and Michele Massimo have been offering a 25 percent discount at their Bay Area Italian eatery for each excoriating Yelp review, the Richmond Standard reports. Here are some recent entries from Botto Bistro's Yelp page:

Yelp has for years been accused of soliciting money from mom-and-pop restaurant owners in exchange for hiding negative customer reviews. In response to a lawsuit over the alleged practice, a court recently ruled that Yelp has the legal right to manipulate reviews and engage in "hard bargaining"—practices restaurant owners have called extortion. Yelp denies that it accepts money to alter or suppress reviews.

According to Inside Scoop SF, Yelp's only response to Botto Bistro has been a boilerplate email from its customer service division (see below), to which the restaurant sent a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder:

Inside Scoop SF

 

How to Discriminate Against Pre-Existing Conditions in Two Easy Tiers

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 2:37 PM EDT

Via ProPublica, here's an editorial published yesterday in the American Journal of Managed Care:

For many years, most insurers had formularies that consisted of only 3 tiers: Tier 1 was for generic drugs (lowest co-pay), Tier 2 was for branded drugs that were designated “preferred” (higher co- pay), and Tier 3 was for “nonpreferred” branded drugs (highest co-pay)....Now, however, a number of insurers have split their all-generics tier into a bottom tier consisting of “preferred” generics, and a second tier consisting of “non-preferred” generics.

Hmmm. What's going on here? In some cases, this new non-preferred tier is reserved for higher-priced medicines. That's pretty easy to understand: insurers are trying to motivate their patients to choose cheaper drugs when they're available. That's the same reason copays are lower for generics compared to brand name drugs.

But it turns out that sometimes all the generic drugs for a particular disease are non-preferred and therefore have high copays. What are insurance companies trying to motivate in these cases? Charles Ornstein takes a guess:

The editorial comes several months after two advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services claiming that several Florida health plans sold in the Affordable Care Act marketplace discriminated against H.I.V. patients by charging them more for drugs.

Specifically, the complaint contended that the plans placed all of their H.I.V. medications, including generics, in their highest of five cost tiers, meaning that patients had to pay 40 percent of the cost after paying a deductible. The complaint is pending.

"It seems that the plans are trying to find this wiggle room to design their benefits to prevent people who have high health needs from enrolling," said Wayne Turner, a staff lawyer at the National Health Law Program, which filed the complaint alongside the AIDS Institute of Tampa, Fla.

If all your HIV drugs are expensive, then people with HIV will look for another plan. Technically, you're not discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition, but you're sure giving them a reason to shop around someplace else, aren't you?

At the moment, this practice appears to be confined to just a few insurers and a few classes of drugs. But if it catches on, it will prompt everyone to follow suit. After all, you can hardly afford to be the insurance company of choice for chronically sick people, can you? This is worth keeping an eye on.

Here Are the 10 Best Songs for Scotland's Historic Vote for Independence

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 12:24 PM EDT

Scotland is heading to the polls right now to decide on whether or not to become an independent country. A "Yes" vote would be the biggest constitutional change for the United Kingdom in over three centuries, splintering a long-held relationship that has seen the good times and the bad, and weathered plenty of mutual disagreements up until now. And like any pending break-up, we find that music helps soothe or heighten the experience, and connects us to the universal themes of love and loss. So, Scottish chums, whatever side you're on, here's a playlist for you, on this almighty day-of-days.

1. Queen: I Want to Break Free

Obviously. One for the "Yes" camp. (Worth it in my opinion just for Freddy with a mustache in drag vacuuming the carpet.) "I want to break free from your lies/You're so self-satisfied I don't need you/I've got to break free!" Sing it Freddy. Sing it Scotland.

2. Natalie Imbruglia: Torn

If Scotland votes "Yes" and leaves the union bereft and sobbing, this Aussie songtress might be blaring from a few stereos across the Isles tomorrow: "Nothing's fine, I'm torn." Sing it England! Sing it Wales!

3. ​​Björk: Declare Independence

This is a song that famously landed the Icelandic singer in hot water with the Chinese authorities after a 2008 concert in Shanghai in which she called for Tibetan independence. Brave. She faced a ban from future performances on the mainland after that. It's easy to see why China's famously censorial authorities were not impressed: "Start your own currency!/Make your own stamp/Protect your language/Declare independence/Don't let them do that to you!"

4. Oasis: Don’t Look Back In Anger

No matter what happens, some good advice for both sides. "My soul slides away, but don't look back in anger."

5. Alicia Keys: Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart

Here's one for an emotional Prime Minister David Cameron, potentially presiding over a messy, painful divorce. "I'm going to find a way to make it without you/Tonight, I'm going to find a way to make it, without you." Ouch. Let it out.

6. ​Thelma Houston: Don't Leave Me This Way

That beat speaks for itself.

7. Beyonce: Irreplaceable

"Don't ever get to thinking you're irreplaceable," sings Queen Bey. This is the anthem for pretending everything will be fine post-breakup, that it's not a big deal, that you can find another, just as easily, and that it wasn't that good anyway, so don't go thinking you meant anything to me... Get lost.

(I love you, come back).

8. Boyz II Men: End of the Road

"Although we've come to the end of the road/Still I can't let you go/It's unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you."

9. Mariah Carey: We Belong Together

Who could miss this song in any breakup playlist? It's worth watching to the part of the video where Mariah is losing her shit in the apartment, writhing in the short tunic-shirt thing, near the end of this narratively nonsensical clip.

10. Alice Deejay: Better Off Alone

Mm. And lastly, any break-up is incomplete without some sweet late-90s Top 40.

IHOP Has Cut Back Its Menu By 30 Items

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 12:11 PM EDT

Here's an interesting factoid: in 2008 we apparently reached Peak Menu. That year, the average menu contained 99.7 items. Then the housing bubble burst, we entered the Great Recession, and menus began to shrink. Today's menus feature a paltry 92.6 items.

Why is this? Cost is one reason: it's cheaper to support a smaller menu. But Roberto Ferdman writes that there's more to it:

The biggest impetus for all the menu shrinking going on is likely tied to a change in the country's food culture: Americans are becoming a bit more refined in their tastes.

"Historically, the size of menus grew significantly because there wasn't the food culture there is today," said [Maeve Webster, a senior director at Datassential]. "People weren't nearly as focused on the food, or willing to go out of their way to eat specific foods."

For that reason, as well as the fact that there were fewer restaurants then, there used to be a greater incentive for restaurants to serve as many food options as possible. That way, a customer could would choose a particular restaurant because it was near or convenient, rather than for a specific food craving (which probably wasn't all that outlandish anyway). But now, given the increasing demand for quality over quantity, a growing appetite for exotic foods and a willingness to seek out specialized cuisines, Americans are more likely to judge a restaurant if its offerings aren't specific enough.

"The rise of food culture, where consumers are both interested and willing to go to a restaurant that has the best Banh Mi sandwich, or the best burger, or the best trendy item of the moment, means that operators can now create much more focused menus," said Webster. "It also means that the larger the menu, the more consumers might worry all those things aren't going to be all that good."

Hmmm. Let me say, based on precisely no evidence, that I find this unlikely. Have American tastes really gotten more refined since 2008? Color me skeptical. And even if American palates are more discriminating, are we seriously suggesting that this has affected the menu length at IHOP, Tony Roma's, and Olive Garden—the three examples cited in the article? I hope this isn't just my inner elitist showing, but I don't normally associate those fine establishments with a "growing appetite for exotic foods and a willingness to seek out specialized cuisines."

So, anyway, put me down firmly in the cost-cutting camp. Long menus got too expensive to support, and when the Great Recession hit, casual dining chains needed to cut costs. They did this by lopping off dishes that were either expensive to prep or not very popular or both. Occam's Razor, my friends, Occam's Razor.