World Cup
June 10, 2014
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Never mind that a single goal can change an entire game. Never mind that the last World Cup saw Switzerland beat Spain in the first round, as well as the implosion of traditional powerhouses Italy and France. The reason I know Nate Silver's World Cup predictions — based on his so-called Soccer Power Index (SPI) — are bunk is because Japan has been given a 70 percent chance of flaming out in the first round.

Now, being half-Japanese, I may be biased. I am not a statistician, nor even an expert in soccer. But consider this: Japan's top two forwards — Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa — play for AC Milan and Manchester United, respectively. Shinji Okazaki, meanwhile, scored 15 goals in Germany's Bundesliga last season, easily making him a top 10 scorer in a top-flight league. And we haven't even gotten to Japan's solid midfield and fullbacks. As Zonal Marking writes, "In a purely technical sense, Japan are arguably in the top ten sides at this competition."

And yet Greece, a middling team if there ever was one, which is in Group C with Japan, is sitting comfortably above Japan in the SPI. So is the United States, whose starting striker scored one goal last season for Sunderland (one!). A mere five teams (out of 32) have a smaller chance of winning the World Cup than Japan, according to Silver's model.

Call me innumerate. But this is crazy talk. See you in the second round, haters! Nippon Ichiban! Ryu Spaeth

9:34 a.m. ET

Although the technical term isn't "spikes" — it's actually a "removable anti-climb feature" — for all intents and purposes the latest security measure at the White House involves barbing an iron fence.

The measures are perhaps overdue: In September, a man carrying a knife scaled the fence, ran across the North Lawn, and entered the White House before being tackled by a Secret Service officer. Last April, in a similar incident, an individual jumped over the White House fence and was also taken into custody by the Secret Service.

As a result, over approximately the next six weeks, The New York Times reports that the U.S. Secret Service and National Park Service will be attempting to thwart potential fence-climbers with scary metal "pencil points." The spikes will be bolted to the top of the fence around the White House, facing outward. And — because apparently spikes need to be designed the job of creating the barbs went to the Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center. One can only imagine how that design meeting went: "Let's make them pointy!" Jeva Lange

war on drugs
9:07 a.m. ET

The Economist isn't new to the push for drug decriminalization, but in the short film below it takes a broad, hard-nosed, and sometimes lighthearted look at legalization in action. The narrative starts in Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs 14 years ago, breaking a taboo and setting in motion a growing domino line of falling drug laws. Portugal shifted resources from punishment to treating addiction, and drug deaths and addiction rates fell sharply.

But Portugal is a small country, and the police were unable to do anything about the supply of drugs being smuggled into the country. So The Economist moved to a prime drug-producing country, Colombia, interviewing former President César Gaviria, who converted to the legalize-and-regulate side after seeing the futility of the War on Drugs. At the 8:55 mark, The Economist turns to the United State, suggesting that "the country that began the War on Drugs might just bring it to an end."

Today, Oregon legalized the production and possession of marijuana, but the U.S. legalization movement started in Colorado. So The Economist went to Denver and noted that teenage pot use has dropped and government coffers have gotten $76 million fatter (and rising). For a bit of levity, you can watch a Colorado business that teaches newbies to roll both a joint and a sushi roll, starting at the 11:15 mark. The magazine makes a pretty persuasive case, and if you are interested in the topic (pro or con), you could do worse than watch the 15-minute video below. Peter Weber

The future is now
9:04 a.m. ET

Myon comes with no strings attached. No one controls his (for it is apparently a he) actions. Although Myon is a robot, he isn't technically pre-programmed. When he gets onstage in the avant-garde production "My Square Lady" at the Komische Oper in Berlin, he instead acts on what he "learned" in rehearsals — just like any other human actor.

"We let it be itself," Manfre Hild, who designed, built, and programmed Myon, told The Washington Post. "We just followed our research track, which was figuring out how to control the body and how to give the robot episodic memory, and we came together and figured out what could be used in the piece."

In early rehearsals, Myon would just sit on a chair and stare at the actors because he hadn't learned yet how to act. But now, two years along, "he's acquired knowledge about human behaviors and is able to do stuff by himself," performer Bernhard Hansky told Vice's Motherboard. Certain prompts will remind Myon of what he's supposed to do during the show, although sometimes things can get chaotic, such as when Myon conducts faster or slower than the musicians would like.

“It's a big challenge for everyone on the show to react to him," Hansky said. "We were all freaking out a bit because we didn't know what was coming next.”

But "it's not a freak show when he comes out and lifts things," Hild said. "We are playing with senses, memories, and learning." Jeva Lange

Coming Soon
8:51 a.m. ET

Sylvester Stallone has become something of a punching bag for his eagerness to make sequels — particularly with his Oscar-winning Rocky franchise, which sits at six movies and counting. But the latest installment of the Rocky series finds a fresh approach by pivoting away from the Italian Stallion and putting the spotlight on a young boxer who just happens to be the son of Rocky's most storied opponent, Apollo Creed:

Creed follows Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), a young fighter who aspires to the same boxing heights attained by his father. In his search for greatness, he eventually enlists the help of Rocky Balboa (Stallone), who agrees to serve as his trainer. "See this guy here? That's the toughest opponent you're ever gonna have to face," says Rocky, gesturing to Adonis' own reflection in the mirror. "I believe that's true in the ring, and I believe that's true in life."

Creed hits theaters in November. Scott Meslow

gay rights
8:35 a.m. ET
Adrien Barbier AFP / Getty Images

Mozambique revised its penal code on Wednesday to decriminalize homosexuality, making it one of a few African countries where gay and lesbian relationships are not illegal. This new revision drops a clause dating back to the colonial era that prohibited "vices against nature," the BBC reports.

While Mozambique has not had many issues with violence against gay and lesbian couples, activists hope that the country's decriminalization will set an example for other African countries where homosexuality is a divisive and controversial subject. However, even in Mozambique where people have a relatively relaxed stance on homosexuality, the promotion of gay rights is still viewed as an affront to religion. Becca Stanek

rich people
8:30 a.m. ET
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Here's someone whose heart is in the right place: The nephew of Saudi Arabia's late King Abdulluh, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has announced plans to spend the entirety of his $23 billion fortune on charitable projects in the coming years, Agence France-Presse reports. Alwaleed cited the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other U.S. philanthropic organizations as his model.

Alwaleed's billions "will help build bridges to foster cultural understanding, develop communities, empower women, enable youth, provide vital disaster relief, and create a more tolerant and accepting world," the prince said in a statement. And even if the cash outlasts him, Alwaleed says the money will continue toward humanitarian projects after his death. Jeva Lange

Marijuana legalization
8:10 a.m. ET
Miguel Schincariol AFP / Getty Images

As of Wednesday, it is now legal to possess and grow marijuana in Oregon. The state is the fourth in the country to adopt laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for people over the age of 21. However, there is one catch to the law: While Oregonians can smoke and grow marijuana, they cannot purchase it. Marijuana activists say that the law is still the first step in a path toward state-licensed pot stores. A bill allowing dispensaries to sell is making its way through the Oregon legislature and, if passed, could make the sale of marijuana legal by October 1. Becca Stanek

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