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The diplomat-parking-violation corruption index

This was in the Times a few weeks ago, and after it was printed ignited a minor firestorm of angry emails from consulates around the world to a meek statistician from Columbia University, Raymond Fisman. It all started when Fisman figured out a unique way to rank the relative corruption of governments. Until recently, stats had been generated via interviews with UN officials, which naturally tended to give subjective and biased answers. Fisman's method, on the other hand, relied on cold, hard facts: the number of unpaid parking tickets that the diplomats from each country racked up while driving in New York City. (Even though it's technically illegal for diplomats to not pay parking tickets, there has historically been little enforcement.)

Digging through public records dating back 10 years and more than $18 million in unpaid fines, Fisman ranked 146 countries by order of nonpayment. The worst offenders, he reckoned, might also have the "dirtiest" governments. Whether that's the case is, of course, a matter of speculation and opinion. But the results certainly are interesting:
the worst offender was Kuwait, which averaged 246 unpaid tickets per year, per diplomat. Other baddies included Egypt, Chad, Sudan, Bulgaria, Mozambique, Albania, Angola and Senegal.

Countries with zero unpaid tickets: Japan, Canada and Israel.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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