March 23, 2017

"A Corporate Jargon of Uplift That Turns Sensitive Souls Suicidal"

(p. C1) Though Dante cataloged many forms of diabolical torture in his "Inferno," a guided tour of hell, he somehow missed out on what could well be the most excruciating eternal punishment of all. I mean (ominous organ chords, please) the staff meeting that never, ever ends.

You've surely been a part of such sessions. They're those gatherings in which people waste time by talking about how to be more productive, with algebraic visual aids and a corporate jargon of uplift that turns sensitive souls suicidal.

For the full review, see:

BEN BRANTLEY. "A Circle of Hell: The Staff Meeting." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 10, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 9, 2016, and has the title "Review: 'Miles for Mary,' a Sendup of the Interminable Meeting From Hell.")

March 22, 2017

Blockchain Is a Process Innovation That Will Make Financial Records More Reliable and Easier to Access

(p. A13) Until the mid-1990s, the internet was little more than an arcane set of technical standards used by academics. Few predicted the profound effect it would have on society. Today, blockchain--the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin--might seem like a trinket for computer geeks. But once widely adopted, it will transform the world.

Blockchain offers a way to track items or transactions using a shared digital "ledger." Blocks of new transactions are added at the end of the chain, and encryption ensures that it remains unbroken--tamper-proof and error-free. This is significantly more efficient than the current methods for logging and sharing such information.

Consider the process of buying a house, a complex transaction involving banks, attorneys, title companies, insurers, regulators, tax agencies and inspectors. They all maintain separate records, and it's costly to verify and record each step. That's why the average closing takes roughly 50 days. Blockchain offers a solution: a trusted, immutable digital ledger, visible to all participants, that shows every element of the transaction.

For the full commentary, see:

GINNI ROMETTY. "How Blockchain Will Change Your Life." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 7, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")

March 21, 2017

Robert Conquest Documented the Millions Killed by Stalin

(p. A7) Mr. Conquest's master work, "The Great Terror," was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939. He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions--a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust. Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims. When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics.

. . .

Though Mr. Conquest's body count was on the high end of estimates, he remained unwavering at the publication of "The Great Terror: A Reassessment," a 1990 revision of his masterwork. When Mr. Conquest was asked for a new title for the updated book, his friend, the writer Kingsley Amis, proposed, "I Told You So, You F--ing Fools."

. . .

He was also an enthusiastic crafter of limericks, a form in which his irreverence and flair for language flourished. One version of an often-quoted one reads:

There was a great Marxist named Lenin

Who did two or three million men in.

--That's a lot to have done in,

But where he did one in

That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

For the full obituary, see:

BRENDA CRONIN and ALAN CULLISON. "Historian Exposed Stalin's Reign of Terror." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title "Robert Conquest, Seminal Historian of Soviet Misrule, Dies at 98.")

The revised edition of Conquest's master work, is:

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. 40th Anniversary ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2007.

March 20, 2017

Spreadsheets and Committees Are Enemies of Innovation

(p. B4) "As we became more sophisticated in quantifying things we became less and less willing to take risks," says Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank. "The spreadsheet is the weapon of mass destruction against creative power."

The same could be said of university research, says Dr. Prabhakar. Research priorities are often decided by peer review, that is, a committee.

"It drives research to more incrementalism," she says. "Committees are a great way to reduce risk, but not to take risk."

For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Engine of Innovation Loses Some Spark." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 21, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 20, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")

March 19, 2017

Studying Cancer in Dogs Can Help Humans and Dogs

(p. D4) Dogs are a better natural model for some human diseases than mice or even primates because they live with people, Dr. Karlsson says. "Compared to lab mice, with dogs they're getting diseases within their natural life span, they're exposed to the same pollutants in the environment" as humans, she says.

Previous canine studies conducted by other scientists have shed light on human diseases like osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as well as the sleep disorder narcolepsy and a neurological condition, epilepsy.

With osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and one that frequently strikes certain dog breeds, researchers have discovered that tumors in dogs and children are virtually indistinguishable. The tumors share similarities in their location, development of chemotherapy-resistant growths and altered functioning of certain proteins, making dogs a good animal model of the disease. Collecting more specimens from dogs could lead to progress in identifying tumor targets and new cancer drugs in dogs as well as in children, some scientists say.

For the full story, see:

SHIRLEY S. WANG. "IN THE LAB; How Dogs' Genes Can Help Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "IN THE LAB; Why Dogs Are Some Scientists' New Best Friends.")

A paper showing how cancer research on dogs can help humans, is:

Fenger, Joelle M., Cheryl A. London, and William C. Kisseberth. "Canine Osteosarcoma: A Naturally Occurring Disease to Inform Pediatric Oncology." ILAR Journal 55, no. 1 (2014): 69-85.

March 18, 2017

Coastal Damage Caused by Storm Surges at High Tide, Not by Tiny Rise in Sea Levels

(p. A11) When Teddy Roosevelt built his Sagamore Hill on Long Island, he did so a quarter mile from shore at an elevation of 115 feet not because he disdained proximity to the beach or was precociously worried about climate change. The federal government did not stand ready with taxpayer money to defray his risk.

Estimates vary, but sea levels may have risen two millimeters a year over the past century. Meanwhile, tidal cycles along the U.S. east coast range from 11 feet every day (in Boston) to two feet (parts of Florida).

On top of this, a "notable surge event" can produce a storm surge of seven to 23 feet, according to a federal list of 10 hurricanes over the past 70 years.

We should not exaggerate the degree to which homeowners are being asked to shoulder their own risks. Washington is doling out five-figure checks to Jersey homeowners to raise houses on pilings to reduce the federal government's future rebuilding costs. But, to state the obvious, normal tidal variation plus storm surge is the danger to coastal property. Background sea-level rise is a non-factor. A FEMA study from several years ago found that fully a quarter of coastal dwellings are liable to be destroyed over a 50-year period.

Though it pleased New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pretend Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming, the storm wasn't even a hurricane by the time it hit shore--it just happened to hit at peak tide. Sure, certain people in Florida and elsewhere like to conflate the two. It's in their interests to do so.

For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Shoreline Gentry Are Fake Climate Victims." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 26, 2016): A11.

March 17, 2017

"We Shall Increasingly Have the Power to Make Life Good"

(p. B13) Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London.

. . .

The two volumes of "On What Matters," published in 2011, dealt with the theory of reasons and morality, arguing for the existence of objective truth in ethics.

. . .

"With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too," the philosopher Peter Singer wrote recently on the philosophy website Daily Nous.

. . .

In February [2017], Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of "On What Matters." It consists in part of responses to criticism of his work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Mr. Singer, titled "Does Anything Really Matter?"

. . .

On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit's new work:

"Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

"In Nietzsche's words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea."

For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Derek Parfit, 74, Philosopher Who Explored Identity." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 5, 2017): B13.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 4, 2017, and has the title "Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74.")

The book by Parfit quoted above, is:

Parfit, Derek. On What Matters: Volume Three. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.

March 16, 2017

Brexit "as a Cry for Liberty" from EU "Edicts and Regulations"

(p. C1) The Brexit campaign started as a cry for liberty, perhaps articulated most clearly by Michael Gove, the British justice secretary (and, on this issue, the most prominent dissenter in Mr. Cameron's cabinet). Mr. Gove offered practical examples of the problems of EU membership. As a minister, he said, he deals constantly with edicts and regulations framed at the European level--rules that he doesn't want and can't change. These were rules that no one in Britain asked for, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits don't know, people whom they never elected and cannot remove from office. Yet they become the law of the land. Much of what we think of as British democracy, Mr. Gove argued, is now no such thing.

Instead of grumbling about the things we can't change, Mr. Gove said, it was time to follow "the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back" and "become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve." Many of the Brexiteers think that Britain voted this week to follow a template set in 1776 on the other side of the Atlantic.

. . .

(p. C2) Mr. Gove has taken to borrowing the 18th-century politician William Pitt's dictum about how England can "save herself by her exertions and Europe by her example." After Mr. Cameron departs and new British leadership arrives, it will be keen to strike new alliances based on the principles of democracy, sovereignty and freedom. You never know: That might just catch on.

For the full commentary, see:

FRASER NELSON. "A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 24, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2016, and has the title "Brexit: A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment.")

March 15, 2017

Fewer Tech Startups Hurts Job Creation

(p. A10) Since 2002, the number of technology startups has slowed, hurting job creation. In a 2014 study, economists Javier Miranda, John Haltiwanger and Ian Hathaway said the growth of tech startups accelerated to 113,000 in 2001 from 64,000 in 1992.

That number slumped to 79,000 in 2011 and hasn't recovered, according to the economists' calculations using updated data. The causes include global competition and increased domestic regulation, says Mr. Haltiwanger, an economics professor at the University of Maryland.

For the full story, see:

Jon Hilsenrath and Bob Davis. "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 13, 2016): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2016, and has the title "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.")

The Haltiwanger paper mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John, Ian Hathaway, and Javier Miranda. "Declining Business Dynamism in the U.S. High-Technology Sector." Feb. 2014.

March 14, 2017

Internet Innovations Only Arose After Entrepreneurs Created PCs

(p. B15) Leo L. Beranek, an engineer whose company designed the acoustics for the United Nations and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, then built the direct precursor to the internet under contract to the Defense Department, died on Oct. 10 [2016] at his home in Westwood, Mass.

. . .

After the war, Dr. Beranek was recruited to teach at M.I.T., where he was named technical director of the engineering department's acoustics laboratory. The administrative director of that lab was Richard Bolt, who later founded Bolt, Beranek & Newman with Dr. Beranek and Robert Newman, a former student of Dr. Bolt's.

The company was conceived as a center for leading-edge acoustic research. But Dr. Beranek changed its direction in the 1950s to include a focus on the nascent computer age.

"As president, I decided to take B.B.N. into the field of man-machine systems because I felt acoustics was a limited field and no one seemed to be offering consulting services in that area," Dr. Beranek said in a 2012 interview for this obituary.

He hired J.C.R. Licklider, a pioneering computer scientist from M.I.T., to lead the effort, and it was Dr. Licklider who persuaded him that the company needed to get involved in computers.

Under Dr. Licklider, the company developed one of the best software research groups in the country and won many critical projects with the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. Though Dr. Licklider left in 1962, the company became a favored destination for a new generation of software developers and was often referred to as the third university in Cambridge.

"We bought our first digital computer from Digital Equipment Corporation, and with it we were able to attract some of the best minds from M.I.T. and Harvard, and this led to the ARPA contract to build the Arpanet," Dr. Beranek said.

"I never dreamed the internet would come into such widespread use, because the first users of the Arpanet were large mainframe computer owners," he said. "This all changed when the personal computer became available. With the PC, I could see that computers were fun, and that is the real reason why all innovations come into widespread use."

For the full obituary, see:

GLENN RIFKIN. "Leo Beranek, 102, Who Pivoted From Acoustics to Computers, Dies." The New York Times (Tues, OCT. 18, 2016): B15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 17, 2016, and has the title "Leo Beranek, Acoustics Designer and Internet Pioneer, Dies at 102." )

Eight Most Recent Comments:

rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..

Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.

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

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.



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