May 29, 2016

Scientific Knowledge Matter More than Myth Because of Its Practical Effectiveness



(p. C6) Stories matter; knowledge matters more.

"When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space," . . . [Carlo Rovelli] writes, "what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years." You might tell a great campfire story about an antelope, he comments. Knowing how to track and kill one is more relevant to survival.

"Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth," Mr. Rovelli says. "But the value of knowledge remains. If we can find the antelope, we can eat."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; A Vast Cosmos, Made Bite-Size and Delectable." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Seven Brief Lessons on Physics' Is Long on Knowledge.")


The book under review, is:

Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.






May 28, 2016

Feds Encourage Costly, Intrusive, Confusing Title IX Bureaucracies



(p. A1) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In a brightly lit classroom here at Harvard, Mia Karvonides was trying to explain to a group of bemused student leaders the difference between a romantic encounter and "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," as the university's relatively new code of sexual misconduct defines it.

She tried to leaven the legalistic atmosphere at the town-hall-style meeting with realistic-sounding examples, defying gender stereotypes. Jose and Lisa, chemistry students, are working late at night in the lab, she began, when Lisa comes up from behind and kisses Jose on the neck.

Such a surprise move, she suggested, could be the beginning of a sexual misconduct complaint.


. . .


Ms. Karvonides is Harvard's first Title IX officer, leading a new bureaucracy that oversees how the institution responds to complaints of sexual violence under Title IX, the federal law that governs gender equity in education. She is one of a rapidly growing number of Title IX employees on campuses nationwide, as colleges spend millions to hire law-(p. A3)yers, investigators, case workers, survivor advocates, peer counselors, workshop leaders and other officials to deal with increasing numbers of these complaints.


. . .


The expansion of Title IX bureaucracies -- often at great expense -- is driven in part by pressure from the federal government, which recently put out a series of policy directives on sexual misconduct on campus. More than 200 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for the way they have handled complaints of sexual misconduct, up from 55 two years ago.


. . .


. . . in a report last week, a national association of professors said that the Title IX bureaucracy had started to infringe on academic freedom, by beginning investigations into faculty members' lectures and essays.


. . .


At a minimum, federal rules require colleges to designate one Title IX coordinator, at least part time.

Many colleges have gone far beyond that, at a cost ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.


. . .


At the University of California, Berkeley, officials said, Title IX spending has risen by at least $2 million since 2013, though they declined to give the total.

"Certainly, colleges are spending more related to Title IX than ever in history, both preventatively and responsively," Mr. Sokolow said. He estimated that dealing with an inquiry could cost "six figures," and that responding to a lawsuit "can run into the high six or even seven figures, not counting a settlement or verdict."


. . .


Some campuses have adopted "affirmative consent" rules, in effect a written or unwritten contract, requiring a yes before the first kiss and at every step along the way. Harvard has opted instead for what Ms. Karvonides called a more nuanced standard of "unwelcome conduct."

This has led to criticism by some that the policy is not strong enough, and by others that it could punish behavior as mild as flirting.

"This is ubiquitously on the mind of everyone at Harvard," said Daniel Banks, the undergraduate council vice president, who helped organize the recent town-hall-style meeting on the subject. Many students have concluded that the best solution is not so much compliance as avoidance.

"You either don't date at all," said Daniel Levine, another student leader, "or you're like a married couple."



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "In Battling Sexual Misconduct, Colleges Build a Bureaucracy." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 30, 2016): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 29, 2016, and has the title "Colleges Spending Millions to Deal With Sexual Misconduct Complaints.")


The AAUP report expressing concerns about how Title IX bureaucracies violate academic freedom and due process, is:

American Association of University Professors (AAUP). "The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX." Draft Report, March 24, 2016.






May 27, 2016



(p. B1) BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is "a foolish endeavor" because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms.



For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. "Farming Startups Have Tough Row to Hoe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 14, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2016, and has the title "Farming Gets High Tech in Bid to Offer Locally Grown Produce.")






Basic Goods Unavailable in Socialist Venezuela



(p. 5) I used to laugh when I heard that reporters were headed to Caracas with their own deodorant. I thought they were just being fussy.

Then came my turn.

I brought Old Spice. For detergent, I brought a ton of Tide. That's one of my bags above, and all the other essentials that came along: two nasal spray bottles, three tubes of toothpaste, one package of floss, a bottle of body wash, shaving cream, contact lens solution, AA batteries, sponges, detergent, toilet paper and a big bottle of ibuprofen. Two bottles of Scotch.

If a selfie in the airport is a rite of passage for those leaving Venezuela, a preflight run to the supermarket to fill a suitcase with basic goods is the ritual for those arriving here.

Since the economy fell into deep collapse in 2015, some things just aren't sold here. Other items -- like toilet paper -- are on the black market but can be tricky to find.

My friend Girish has been making these trips for the last five years. I asked him before moving here what to pack, besides toilet paper.

He responded, via text: "Medicine. First Aid stuff. Spices/other food you like. Kindle (as books aren't so easy to get here), shampoos/toiletries etc if you like something specific..."

Like some people here, Girish brings enough to get him through a month or so. Then he makes a pit stop in Colombia to fill up the cabinet again.

But most people in Venezuela can't leave and have to make do with whatever they can find.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CASEY. "Settling Into Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 24, 2016): 5 & 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 5 [sic], 2016, and has the title "Moving to Venezuela, a Land in Turmoil.")






May 26, 2016

Tesla Direct Sales Thwarted by Laws that Protect Dealers Instead of Consumers



(p. B3) Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it plans to unveil this week at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.

The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker's direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.

The auto maker's legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director's license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.

For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.

"It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper," Todd Maron, the auto maker's chief counsel, said in an interview. "Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table."


. . .


"There is no legitimate competitive interest in having consumers purchase cars through an independent dealership," Greg Reed, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning law firm, said. He calls Michigan's laws "anti-competitive protectionism."



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY. "Tesla Weighs Legal Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 29, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 28, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Weighs New Challenge to State Direct-Sales Bans.")






May 25, 2016

Government: "One Vast Honey Pot with Thousands of Ants Lined Up Around the Rim"



(p. A21) Ms. Tolchin hit on the subject of patronage when Mr. Tolchin, then a reporter in the metropolitan news department of The New York Times, wrote a series of articles on the topic that several publishers urged him to turn into a book. Daunted, he turned to his wife for help.

"The political-science literature had an enormous hole on the subject," she told The Washingtonian in 2011. "It's such a critical part of the political process -- it was wonderful virgin territory."

Their combined efforts -- he provided the reporting, she provided the scholarship -- resulted in "To the Victor...: Political Patronage From the Clubhouse to the White House," published in 1971.

In lively fashion, the book surveyed the history and examined the mechanisms of a system the authors described as "one of the occupational hazards of democracy." They traced its influence, for good and ill, in city halls, statehouses, courthouses and, onward and upward, Congress and the White House.

The picture it painted was often bleak, presenting government at all levels as "one vast honey pot with thousands of ants lined up around the rim to get at the sweetener inside," according to a review in The Times.

It was a rich subject to which the authors returned in "Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism From the Clubhouse to the White House ... and Beyond," published in 2011. Patronage is "the major reason people go into politics," Ms. Tolchin told The Washingtonian."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Susan Tolchin, Scholar and Author, Is Dead at 75." The New York Times (Fri., May 20, 2016): A21.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "Susan Tolchin, Political Scientist Who Foresaw Voter Anger, Dies at 75.")


The two books on government patronage that are mentioned above, are:

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. To the Victor: Political Patronage from the Clubhouse to the White House. New York: Random House, 1971.

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism from the Clubhouse to the White House and Beyond. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011.






May 24, 2016

Trump Threatens Antitrust Action Against Innovative Amazon Entrepreneur Bezos



(p. A11) Donald Trump, an innovator in all things, is now in the process of changing the rules in America with his threat to bring legal action against Amazon on antitrust grounds and, if we hear him correctly, on tax grounds as well.

Mr. Trump couldn't have been clearer about his motivation. He complained about Washington Post reporters calling up and "asking ridiculous questions," "all false stuff," apparently related to Mr. Trump's tax returns, which in defiance of all tradition he has refused to release, as well as Mr. Trump's real-estate dealings.

Mr. Trump says the Post was purchased as "a toy" by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper with his personal funds in 2013). Mr. Trump says the paper now is being used to attack Mr. Trump in order to protect Amazon's alleged tax-dodging practices even though Amazon, after long resistance, has begun in recent years to collect state sales tax.

All this seems to arise because the Post, the dominant newspaper in the nation's capital, has assigned reporters to investigate the business career of the candidate who champions his credibility to be president by referring to his business career.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Donald Trump's Amazon Adventure; Does he really want to be president--or is his attack on entrepreneur Jeff Bezos a cry for help?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 14, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 13, 2016.)







May 23, 2016

Bacteria Can Break Down Plastic



(p. A11) Bacteria can gobble up oil spills, radioactive waste and, now, plastic. Researchers in Japan said they have discovered a species of microbe that eats PET, the polymer widely used in food containers, bottles and synthetic fibers.

Some scientists have said the bacteria could help break down otherwise non-biodegradable debris in landfills or recycling plants.

"We now have a chance to biologically degrade the widespread plastic PET," said Uwe Bornscheuer, a biochemist at Greifswald University in Germany. "That is, of course, a major achievement."


. . .


At a recycling plant, Dr. Yoshida and his team collected 250 samples of PET debris and discovered a host of different microbes living among the trash.

The researchers screened the microbes to identify those that appeared to dine on PET, and subsequent biochemical testing showed that a single, new species, Ideonella sakaiensis, was responsible for decomposing the polymer.

Adhered to a low-grade PET film, the bacteria used two enzymes to break down the plastic into two environmentally benign substances, which served as their main source of food.



For the full story, see:

KAT LONG. "Japan Researchers Discover Plastic-Eating Bacteria." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2016, and has the title "New Species of Bacteria Eats Plastic.")






May 22, 2016

More Evidence that Once-Dynamic Florence Is Now Stagnant



(p. C1) New research from a pair of Italian economists documents an extraordinary fact: The wealthiest families in Florence today are descended from the wealthiest families of Florence nearly 600 years ago.

The two economists -- Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti of the Bank of Italy -- compared data on Florentine taxpayers in 1427 against tax data in 2011. Because Italian surnames are highly regional and distinctive, they could compare the income of families with a certain surname today, to those with the same surname in 1427. They found that the occupations, income and wealth of those distant ancestors with the same surname can help predict the occupation, income and wealth of their descendants today.



For the full story, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN. "Florence's Rich Stay Rich--for 600 Years." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 20, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "The Wealthy in Florence Today Are the Same Families as 600 Years Ago." Where there are minor differences in the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)


The Barone and Mocetti working paper, is:

Barone, Guglielmo, and Sauro Mocetti "Intergenerational Mobility in the Very Long Run: Florence 1427-2011." Bank of Italy Working Paper #1060, April 2016.






May 21, 2016

"Liberated People Are Ingenious"



(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.


. . .


(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England's impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is "liberty." Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther's reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England's turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came--slowly, imperfectly--was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled "French" in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, "Scottish," in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."



For the full commentary, see:


DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. "How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)


McCloskey's commentary is based on her "bourgeois" trilogy, the final volume of which is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.









Eight Most Recent Comments:



Ed Rector said:

There are more than 2000 colleges in the USA offering tens of thousands of degrees/majors. Oh yes, there are also a few thousand JC's, trade schools and apprentice programs that train welders. Who should decide what any individual student wants to study?? Senator Rubio, the Mercatus Center or the individual student?? And you call yourselves 'freedom-loving Libertarians' !!



Aaron said:

You need a "like" button. Here's to enjoying bacon and eggs on an unusually warm fall day and doing so guilt free.



Aaron said:

I'd also suggest that work is just part of who some people are and a reason they got rich. A friend's dad comes to mind; he's a millionaire and in his 60s and a couple years ago I saw him cleaning one of his rental houses and wondered why he didn't pay someone to do it, but he's just one of those guys who'd rather work than golf or relax.



Jim Rose said:

It is often forgotten that the Minister for International trade and industry in the late 1960s up until 1971 was Tanaka – the most corrupt man in postwar Japanese politics. He had previously been Minister for Public Works, but to generate the necessary bribe income to pay an entire generation of Japanese politicians to step aside to allow him to become Prime Minister in the early 1970s at a young age, he thought the Ministry of International trade and industry was a better position to garner influence and donations. My professors in Japan worked in the Ministry of International trade and industry and the Ministry of Finance in the 1970s and 1960s. None of them seemed to carry over their picking winners skills into their private portfolios when they retired. see http://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2014/03/14/if-you-are-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich/



Aaron said:

Interested to see how not only did Hamilton gain a vote, but also how Jefferson lost one.



Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.



Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.



Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.





HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Archives















The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats