« November 2007 | Main | January 2008 »


December 31, 2007

Only Two Living Americans Are Among 30 All-Time Wealthiest


 

   Source:  screen capture of a flash animated graphic that appears in the online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.  The flash animated graphic allows you to move your cursor along the circles representing wealth, and at the top of the graphic appears the picture and a brief bio of the person who owned that amount of wealth (such as Rockefeller in the screen capture above).

 

(p. 18)  Mr. Weill’s beginnings were . . . inauspicious. A son of immigrants from Poland, raised in Brooklyn, a so-so college student, he landed on Wall Street in a low-level job in the 1950s. Harnessing entrepreneurial energy, deftness as a deal maker and an appetite for risk, with a rising stock market pulling him along, he built a financial empire that, in his view, successfully broke through the stultifying constraints that flowed from the New Deal. They were constraints not just on what business could or could not do, but on every high earner’s take-home pay.

“I once thought how lucky the Carnegies and the Rockefellers were because they made their money before there was an income tax,” Mr. Weill said, never believing in his younger days that deregulation and tax cuts, starting in the late 1970s, would bring back many of the easier conditions of the Gilded Age. “I felt that everything of any great consequence was really all made in the past,” he said. “That turned out not to be true and it is not true today.”

 

The Question of Talent

Other very wealthy men in the new Gilded Age talk of themselves as having a flair for business not unlike Derek Jeter’s “unique talent” for baseball, as Leo J. Hindery Jr. put it. “I think there are people, including myself at certain times in my career,” Mr. Hindery said, “who because of their uniqueness warrant whatever the market will bear.”

He counts himself as a talented entrepreneur, having assembled from scratch a cable television sports network, the YES Network. “Jeter makes an unbelievable amount of money,” said Mr. Hindery, who now manages a private equity fund, “but you look at him and you say, ‘Wow, I cannot find another ballplayer with that same set of skills.’ ”

. . .

 

The New Tycoons

The new Gilded Age has created only one fortune as large as those of the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and the Vanderbilts — that of Bill Gates, according to various compilations. His net worth, measured as a share of the economy’s output, ranks him fifth among the 30 all-time wealthiest American families, just ahead of Carnegie. Only one other living billionaire makes the cut: Warren E. Buffett, in 16th place.

. . .

 

“I don’t think it is unreasonable,” he said, “for the C.E.O. of a company to realize 3 to 5 percent of the wealth accumulation that shareholders realize.”

That strikes Robert C. Pozen as a reasonable standard. He made a name for himself — and a fortune — overseeing the investment department at Fidelity.

Mr. Weill makes a similar point. Escorting a visitor down his hall of tributes, he lingers at framed charts with multicolored lines tracking Citigroup’s stock price. Two of the lines compare the price in the five years of Mr. Weill’s active management with that of Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway during the same period. Citigroup went up at six times the pace of Berkshire.

“I think that the results our company had, which is where the great majority of my wealth came from, justified what I got,” Mr. Weill said.

 

New Technologies

Others among the very rich argue that their wealth helps them develop new technologies that benefit society. Steve Perlman, a Silicon Valley innovator, uses his fortune from breakthrough inventions to help finance his next attempt at a new technology so far out, he says, that even venture capitalists approach with caution. He and his partners, co-founders of WebTV Networks, which developed a way to surf the Web using a television set, sold that still profitable system to Microsoft in 1997 for $503 million.

Mr. Perlman’s share went into the next venture, he says, and the next. One of his goals with his latest enterprise, a private company called Rearden L.L.C., is to develop over several years a technology that will make film animation seem like real-life movies. “There was no one who would invest,” Mr. Perlman said. So he used his own money.

 

For the full story, see: 

LOUIS UCHITELLE.  "Age of Riches; The Richest of the Rich, Proud of a New Gilded Age."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., July 15, 2007):  1 & 18-19. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

   Entrepreneur Leo J. Hindery, Jr.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 30, 2007

Major Advance in Processor Chip Technology


 

   Source of graphic:  online verion of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. B7)  A fundamental shift in chip-manufacturing technology is bearing its first fruits: a collection of Intel Corp. microprocessors that is getting impressive early reviews.

Intel's latest chips, being formally announced today at an event in San Francisco, were built with new manufacturing materials. Intel is building key portions of transistors in the chips from a material called hafnium instead of silicon dioxide, an industry mainstay since the 1960s.

"It's one of the biggest changes in the last 40 years," said David Perlmutter, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's mobility group.

. . .

It shrinks circuitry dimensions to 45 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, from 65 nanometers. The new materials for making transistors, meanwhile, can increase their switching speeds by more than 20% while reducing their power consumption by about 30%, Intel estimates.

 

For the full story, see:

DON CLARK.  "Intel Shifts From Silicon To Lift Chip Performance."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., November 12, 2007):   B7. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 29, 2007

Ted Kennedy Sabotages Wind Farm that Would Be Visible from His Cape Cod Estate


 

KennedyTedGreenpeaceAd.jpg   Part of a Greenpeace ad lambasting Senator Edward Kennedy's opposition to windmills that would effect his view.  Source of image of part of ad:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. W8)  Behind much of the modern environmental movement lies the "do as I say, not as I do" sensibility of an aristocracy. It's not surprising when a bunch of enviro-aristos line up opposition to a new road or a shopping mall or some other development that offends them. But there is something delicious about such obstructionists raising environmental concerns -- almost all of them bogus -- to try to prevent a wind farm, one of the cleanest sources of electricity we have, from being built in sight of their summer homes.

. . .

Sen. Kennedy presented the spectacle of working hard behind the scenes to sabotage the wind farm while publicly castigating the Bush administration for its alleged failure to push environmental technology.

. . .

The real outrage here is the agonizing delay in gaining approval for Cape Wind -- all too typical, alas, of how things work, or don't, in Massachusetts. A not-in-my-backyard campaign ought to target something at least potentially unpleasant, but the "visual pollution" that so angered Mr. McCullough would be minuscule. From Sen. Kennedy's compound five miles away, a 417-foot tower appears about as tall as the thumbnail at the end of your outstretched arm. It makes you wonder how Cape Wind's opponents would react if a developer planned a pharmaceutical factory in, say, Hyannis -- civil disobedience, perhaps? Exquisitely catered, of course.

 

For the full review, see:

GUY DARST.  "You're Blocking My View."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fril, May 25, 2007):  W8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

    Source of the book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/51p+cPVSstL._SS500_.jpg

 




December 28, 2007

Earmarks Often Promote Lawmakers' Personal Fame and Fortune


 

  "A Kennedy-era tray and a Laura Bush mask at an Ohio library honoring first ladies. The library received a $130,000 earmark."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A23)  WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 — Buried deep in the largest domestic spending bill of the year is money for a library and museum honoring first ladies. The $130,000 was requested by the local congressman, Representative Ralph Regula, Republican of Ohio. The library was founded by his wife, Mary A. Regula. The director of the library is his daughter, Martha A. Regula.

Other “namesake projects” in the bill include the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York, named for the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; the Thad Cochran Research Center at the University of Mississippi, named for the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee; and the Thomas Daschle Center for Public Service at South Dakota State University, honoring the former Senate Democratic leader.

The bill also includes “Harkin grants” to build schools and promote healthy lifestyles in Iowa, where Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, is running for re-election.

Namesake projects are not new, but the appetite for such earmarks appears to be undiminished. The items illustrate the way in which lawmakers funnel federal money to projects in their home states, despite promises to rein in the practice. House and Senate negotiators last week approved a modest reduction in pet projects for health care, education and other domestic programs. But more than 2,200 hospitals and clinics, schools and colleges, museums and social service agencies get money for specific projects, including health information technology, teacher training and the promotion of sexual abstinence. Rather than making hard choices, negotiators accepted almost all the earmarks recommended by either chamber.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both Republicans, cited the first ladies library as one of the more egregious. Mr. McCain said it illustrated the “many wasteful items tucked away in this bill.”

 

For the full story, see:

ROBERT PEAR. "One Lawmaker’s Waste Is Another’s Namesake." The New York Times (Tues., November 13, 2007): A23.

 

   Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 27, 2007

When the Oldest Car Was New, Only the Rich Could Afford One


 

  When LaMarquise was made in 1884, only the very rich could afford to buy a car.  Source of photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  David Burgess-Wise, a writer and automotive historian who closely examined La Marquise for Automobile Quarterly in 1995, said that some older steam-powered conveyances existed, but either they were no longer running or had not been designed as automobiles — that is, as relatively compact four-wheel machines that were not trucks, intended to carry people.

When the count lured Georges Bouton and Charles-Armand Trépardoux to make automobiles in Paris in 1882, the latter were turning out miniature steam engines and mechanical toys. The partners experimented with tricycles, then turned out two four-wheelers with vertical boilers, front drive and rear steering. They looked like coffee pots on perambulator wheels.

Then, in 1884, La Marquise was constructed with a much shorter boiler of concentric rings (like Russian nesting dolls, Mr. Burgess-White noted) and two cylinders beneath the floor driving close-set rear wheels via locomotive cranks. Water was carried in a tank under the seat, and coke or coal was kept in a square bunker surrounding the boiler. Coke was withdrawn through drawers at the bottom and poured down a pipe in the center of the boiler onto the fire beneath.

. . .

The company produced sales brochures in 1886 with illustrations of a steam phaeton, dog cart, truck, carriage and 18-seat bus. By 1889 you could buy a tricycle for 2,800 francs ($540) or a quadricycle for 4,400 francs ($850). But that was a prince’s ransom at a time when a French laborer might make five francs a day. Only the very rich could buy a motorized vehicle.

As a result, only about 30 De Dion steamers were made, Mr. Burgess-Wise estimated, including 20 tricycles, 5 quadricycles and a few larger carts and carriages.

Mr. Moore said he thought there may have been only four quadricycles, two of which remain. Six tricycles are known to still exist, but none are operable.

 

For the full story, see: 

PAUL DUCHENE.  "COLLECTING; For Sale: ’84 Model. Runs Great."  The New York Times, SpotsSunday Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

  Soon to be former owner Tim Moore (right) takes David Gooding for a characteristically steamy ride.  Source of photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 26, 2007

"Global Warming Provides Opportunities"


 

(p. C3)  In the short term, global warming provides opportunities, . . . , especially in temperate zones. Warming trends have lengthened the golfing season in Antalya, Turkey, by over a month, said Ugur Budak, golf coordinator of Akkanat Holdings there.

Golfing used to begin in March. But tourists from Britain and Germany are now coming to Antalya in February.

“Winters are milder, so the effect on us for now is good,” Mr. Budak said. So far there had not been problems like water shortages that are experienced in other parts of the world, he said, “but we know we could be vulnerable in the future.” 

 

For the full story, see: 

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL.  "How Do You Ski if There Is No Snow?"  The New York Times  (Thurs., November 1, 2007):  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 25, 2007

"Adopt the Schumpeterian Ethos of Creative Destruction"


 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. R10)  High-technology industries are tough places to do business.

Competition is constant, fierce and characterized by only temporary advantage, fueled by the ease with which software makers and other high-tech companies can copy and distribute new products and services.

Instantaneous delivery through the Internet to hundreds of millions of consumers means a company with a slightly better online marketplace or search engine, for example, can quickly dominate the market, and just as easily be dethroned by a rival with a new approach.

If this brutal competitive cycle -- first described as "creative destruction" by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 -- makes you uncomfortable, we've got some bad news.

We've been studying competition in all U.S. industries, not just the high-tech ones, and we've observed a remarkable pattern: On average, the whole U.S. economy has become more "Schumpeterian" since the mid-1990s. What's more, these changes have been greatest in the industries that buy the most software and computer hardware.

Over the past dozen years, in other words, information-technology consumption is associated with the kinds of competitive dynamics we're accustomed to seeing in the IT-producing industries. And because every industry will become even more IT-intensive over the next decade, we expect competition to become even more Schumpeterian.

. . .

(p. R11)  For executives, the key lesson is to treat information-technology efforts as opportunities to define and deploy new ways of working, rather than just projects to install, configure or integrate systems. Our work suggests three broad areas of focus for top managers:

- First, they need to look at how the company should be doing business differently. That means deciding what new tasks should be enabled with technology, and how widely they should be deployed.

- Second, managers need to lead the deployment of new procedures to success. People don't like changes to their jobs dictated from outside and embedded in software. Overcoming this inertia and resistance requires skillful leadership.

- Third, managers need to foster innovation by encouraging experimentation, collaboration, dialogue and all of the other activities that generate good ideas. That means building a technology infrastructure and an accompanying set of practices that reduce the cost of creating and replicating process innovations.

Managers might not want competition in their industry to become more Schumpeterian, but they don't have a choice. Companies are using IT to increase the speed of process innovation and replication. These companies drive the competitive dynamics of their industries, rather than reacting to them, leaving their rivals with a stark choice: Adopt the Schumpeterian ethos of creative destruction, or watch from the sidelines as others increasingly gain market share and value.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW MCAFEE and ERIK BRYNJOLFSSON.  "Technology; Dog Eat Dog; Be warned: Industries that buy a lot of technology are becoming as cutthroat as those that produce technology."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., April 28, 2007):  R10 & R11. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 24, 2007

Earmarks Increase Wasteful Government Spending


 

   Source of table:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 — Even though members of Congress cut back their pork barrel spending this year, House lawmakers still tacked on to the military appropriations bill $1.8 billion to pay 580 private companies for projects the Pentagon did not request.

Twenty-one members were responsible for about $1 billion in earmarks, or financing for pet projects, according to data lawmakers were required to disclose for the first time this year. Each asked for more than $20 million for businesses mostly in their districts, ranging from major military contractors to little known start-ups.

The list is topped by the veteran earmark champions Representative John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the chairman of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee, and Representative C. W. Bill Young of Florida, the top Republican on the panel, who asked for $166 million and $117 million respectively. It also includes $92 million in requests from Representative Jerry Lewis, Republican of California, a committee member who is under federal investigation for his ties to a lobbying firm whose clients often benefited from his earmarks.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, requested $32 million in earmarks, while Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, asked for $26 million for projects in the $459.6 billion defense bill, the largest of the appropriations bills that go through Congress.

As promised when they took (p. A27) control of Congress in January, House Democratic leaders cut in half from last year the value of earmarks in the bill, as they did in the other 11 agency spending measures. But some lawmakers complained that the leadership failed to address what it had called a “culture of corruption” in which members seek earmarks to benefit corporate donors. Earmarks have been a recurring issue in recent Congressional scandals, most recently the 2005 conviction of Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

“Pork hasn’t gone away at all,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an earmark critic who cites the “circular fund-raising” surrounding many of them. “It would be wonderful if this was a partisan issue, with Republicans on the right side, but it is really not. Many of these companies use money appropriated through earmarks to turn around and lobby for more money. Some of them are just there to receive earmarks.”

Congressional earmarks are for programs that are not competitively bid , and the Bush administration has complained that they waste taxpayer dollars and skew priorities from military needs, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

Thomas E. Mann, a Congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, though, sees the costs of earmarks as less of a problem than their potential for abuse.

“The fiscal fallout of earmarks is trivial,” he said. But they can lead to “conflicts of interest, the irrational and unconstructive allocation of resources, or their use by Congressional leaders as carrots and sticks to buy votes for larger measures that clearly lack majority support on the merits.”

 

For the full story, see: 

MARILYN W. THOMPSON and RON NIXON.  "Even Cut 50 Percent, Earmarks Clog Military Bill."  The New York Times, First Section   (Sun., November 4, 2007):  1 & 27. 

 




December 23, 2007

Unwashed Hospital Worker Hands Often Spread Disease


 

   "A special light reveals deadly bacteria."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

If health care in the U.S. were a free market, with unregulated entry, and real consumer choice, it is hard to believe that some Wal-Mart-of-health-care wouldn't come along that would gain huge market share and profits by providing its employees incentives to wash their hands.

 

(p. A1)  PITTSBURGH — At a veterans’ hospital here, nurses swab the nasal passages of every arriving patient to test them for drug-resistant bacteria. Those found positive are housed in isolation rooms behind red painted lines that warn workers not to approach without wearing gowns and gloves.

Every room and corridor is equipped with dispensers of foamy hand sanitizer. Blood pressure cuffs are discarded after use, and each room is assigned its own stethoscope to prevent the transfer of microorganisms. Using these and other relatively inexpensive measures, the hospital has significantly reduced the number of patients who develop deadly drug-resistant infections, long an unaddressed problem in American hospitals.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected this year that one of every 22 patients would get an infection while hospitalized — 1.7 million cases a year — and that 99,000 would die, often from what began as a routine procedure. The cost of treating the infections amounts to tens of billions of dollars, experts say.

But in the past two years, a few hospitals have demonstrated that simple screening and isolation of patients, along with a relentless focus on hygiene, can reduce the number of dangerous infections. By doing so, they have fueled a national debate about whether hospitals are doing all they can to protect patients from infections, which are now linked to more deaths than diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.

. . .

(p. A16)  Dr. Richard P. Shannon, who championed a program to reduce catheter infections at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, was able to show administrators that the average infection cost the hospital $27,000. He demonstrated that reimbursement payments for weeks of extended treatment were not keeping pace with actual costs. “I think it was assumed that hospitals didn’t mind treating these infections because they were getting paid for it,” Dr. Shannon said.

A major emphasis at the Pittsburgh hospitals has been hand hygiene. Studies have consistently shown that busy hospital workers disregard basic standards more than half the time. At the veterans hospital, where nurses have taken to pushing elevator buttons with their knuckles, annual spending on hand cleaner has doubled.

 

For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK.  "Swabs in Hand, Hospital Cuts Deadly Infections."  The New York Times   (Fri., July 27, 2007):   A1 & A16.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

 InfectionsDropGraph.jpg CunninghamBillNurse.jpg  In the photo on the right, Pittsburgh nurse Bill Cunningham, "puts on a gown and gloves before approaching patients with infections."  Source of graph, caption, and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 22, 2007

X Prize Foundation "Encourages Entrepreneurship"


 

   "From left, Bob Weiss of the X Prize Foundation; Larry Page of Google; Peter Diamandis of X Prize; Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 33)  THE quests are monumental: end global warming; build a private spaceship; cure diseases; develop a car that can go 100 miles on a gallon of gas.

But the prizes are also monumental: millions and millions of dollars.

Such extreme public interest projects have been taken up by foundations, most prominently the X Prize Foundation, an 11-year-old group in Santa Monica, Calif., that rewards innovation on an entirely new scale.

“The world faces difficult problems — bigger than government, business and nonprofits can handle,” said Tom Vander Ark, president of the X Prize Foundation. The foundation encourages entrepreneurship, he said, and “competitions can create and reshape markets.”

In 1996, the foundation offered a $10 million prize, called the Ansari X, for someone to invent a private passenger rocket ship able to fly nearly 70 miles up and back again. A team led by the aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and paid for with more than $20 million from Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft, collected the $10 million in 2004.

The X Prize Foundation is not alone in its ambitious ventures: Google.org, the nearly two-year-old philanthropic arm of Google, has kicked off a $10 million competition to inspire production of plug-in hybrid vehicles so energy efficient they can sell excess electricity back to the utility.

. . .

“It’s a new kind of grant-making,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who sold his company, Ethos Water, to Starbucks and became a senior adviser to the X Prize Foundation. “It’s a mode that encourages experimentation rather than prescribing solutions. It sets the stage for innovation and dynamism that the grantor can’t anticipate.”

. . .

Cash prizes to induce innovation are not new. Peter Diamandis, the 46-year-old aeronautical engineer and physician who founded the X Prize Foundation, said he was inspired by the $25,000 aviation prize offered in 1919 by a New York hotelier, Raymond Orteig, to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. The prize went, of course, to Charles Lindbergh, whose grandson, Erik Lindbergh, is on the X Prize Foundation board.

In the same spirit, “We asked ourselves, how do we demonstrate the technology and stimulate market interest?” said Dan Reicher, director of climate and energy initiatives at Google.org. “How do we advance the technology around plug-ins? The usual way is to quietly go about looking at investment opportunities, make investments and have some impact. We decided to take a different route, a public request for investment proposals. We wanted to look beyond the usual players, bring attention to a critical area and catalyze competition and innovation.”

. . .

The X Prize Foundation announced the new competitions at the Clinton Global Initiative, a conference organized by former President Bill Clinton and held in September in New York.

“Think of this,” Mr. Clinton said at the time. “Twelve prizes in areas designed to break barriers to human health, have children live longer, solve all these education problems and do it in the most cost-effective way. This is the most amazing idea to me, trying to unleash entrepreneurship in the public interest.”

 

For the full story, see: 

KEITH SCHNEIDER.  "Win Fabulous Prizes, All in the Name of Innovation."  The New York Times, Giving Special Section  (Sun., November 12, 2007):  33.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




December 21, 2007

"People Giddy on Hope and Thrilled to Be Changing"


 

   "Emily Prager at her lane house in Shanghai."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.   

 

The centers of dynamism are not set in stone.  I once asked the philosopher Alan Donagan why the Scottish enlightenment had occurred where (Edinburgh) and when (in the mid-late 18th century) it did.  With his usual good humor he told me that I was asking a bad question--that my question assumed that enlightenments were determined.  He instead believed that they were chance occurrences resulting from the free-will choices of individuals.

I think that there was something to what he said.  But I also believe that some institutions, and some policies of government, can greatly increase the probability that fruitful dynamism will occur.  For instance, free markets tend to tolerate diversity and experimentation, and to reward initiative. 

In the past, locations of economic dynamism, also were often locations of intellectual dynamism.  I wonder if the connection is still true today, and if not, why not? 

Among past centers of dynamism were Miletus, Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and New York City.  Today, centers of economic dynamism include Las Vegas, Dubai and Shanghai.  The article quoted below paints a generally appealing picture of Shanghai.

 

(p. D1)  I decided to move myself and my 12-year-old daughter, Lulu — whom I had adopted as a baby in China — from the old capital of the world to the new: to make a home in Shanghai, a city of the future.

I knew something about Shanghai, having been here on trips several times in the last few years. The city was always so excited it could hardly contain itself. It is a microcosm of the Asian boom, stuffed with people giddy on hope and thrilled to be changing. It recalls the greatness of New York in the early ’70s, except for one thing: Like the rest of China, Shanghai was largely closed to the outside world, and real economic growth, for nearly 50 years after World War II. It is a place where every car on the road is brand new and every pet recently acquired, but the person you just met might trace his family back 70 generations. The modernity and polish that Manhattan learned between 1945 and 1995, Shanghai is cramming for as fast as it can, and it’s fascinating to watch.

. . .

(p. D6)  Pets are new to Chinese people and they don’t know very much about them. Dogs are not neutered and they are walked without leashes. Many people are terrified of dogs, particularly given the country’s serious rabies problem.

Twice when I was walking Skippy, young women caught sight of him and screamed in terror at the top of their lungs. Because having a pet is so new, there is a video showing how to pick up after a dog and wash his paws after his walk, which appears many times a day on a huge video screen on Huaihai, the city’s other main shopping street.

 

For the full story, see: 

EMILY PRAGER. "At Home Abroad; Settling Down in a City in Motion."  The New York Times  (Thurs., July 19, 2007):  D1 & D6. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

   "On the streets of Shanghai, the author's injured foot attracts less attention than her pet dog, still a rare sight in the city."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 20, 2007

Entrepreneur Bets His Wealth on a Risky, Important Project


 

  "Alfred E. Mann, at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., has put nearly $1 billion of his own money into developing an insulin that can be inhaled."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C1)  LOS ANGELES, Nov. 15 — Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, flopped miserably with a seemingly can’t-miss idea. But Alfred E. Mann is so certain he can succeed that he is betting nearly $1 billion of his own money on the effort.

Pfizer’s failure was a form of insulin that people with diabetes could inhale rather than inject. But last month, after selling only $12 million worth of inhaled insulin in the first nine months of the year, Pfizer said it would take a $2.8 billion charge and abandon the product.

Mr. Mann, the 82-year-old chief executive and controlling shareholder of the MannKind Corporation, is not deterred. He says his company’s inhalable insulin is not just a way to avoid needles but is medically superior to Pfizer’s product and to injected insulin.

If he is right, he could help change the way diabetes is treated.

“I believe this is one of the most valuable products in history in the drug industry, and I’m willing to back it up with my estate,” Mr. Mann said at his 23,000-square-foot mansion overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The interview took place on a Saturday evening, which Mr. Mann said was the only opening in his seven-day work schedule.

Despite Mr. Mann’s remarkable entrepreneurial career — he has founded more than a dozen aerospace and medical device companies — there are people who wonder whether he has so much invested in this latest effort, both financially and emotionally, that he cannot see any odds against him.

“I don’t know of an individual who has spent as much of a personal fortune on a long shot,” said Andrew Forman, an analyst with WR Hambrecht & Company. Mr. Forman said MannKind faced numerous regulatory and patent challenges, as well as possible competition from the leaders in injected insulin, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, which are also developing inhalable products.

 

For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Betting an Estate on Inhaled Insulin." The New York Times  (Fri., November 16, 2007):  C1 & C5.

 

  "The inhaled insulin device, about the size of a cellphone."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 19, 2007

Thor Halvorssen Produces Documentaries that Defend Human Rights


 

HalvorssenThor.jpg   "Thor Halvorssen at his office in the Empire State Building."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 11)  Since 2005, having already founded two nonprofit organizations focused on free speech and human-rights issues, Mr. Halvorssen has made the movie business part of his portfolio of controversy-stirring efforts. Established with a small amount of his money, his nonprofit Moving Picture Institute has raised about $1.5 million in donations to date to pay for, promote and seek distribution for documentary films.

At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center. He is met with genuine bafflement, derisive laughs or icy hostility.

To Mr. Halvorssen his new role as a fledgling movie mogul dovetails perfectly with his other activities. “Pop culture has (p. 12) the power to be transformational culture,” he said. “A film can reach a lot more people than a white paper. You could think of the film as a trailer for the white paper.”

He paused, then said, “Put it this way: What ‘Sideways’ did for pinot noir, I want to do for freedom.”

. . .

His upbringing helped make a self-described “classical liberal” rather than a conservative, big on free markets and individual liberties, and convinced that “government is not your friend most of the time,” he said. “And I abhor fascism, whether it’s socialist or National Socialist.”

. . .

“The Sugar Babies,” a documentary by Amy Serrano that Mr. Halvorssen helped produce, takes on the issue human trafficking of Haitian workers on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. A screening at Florida International University in June erupted into what local press described as “a near riot” between Dominican and Haitian audience members.

Other documentaries championed by the Motion Picture Institute include “Hammer & Tickle,” a lighthearted look at the subversive jokes Soviet citizens told about their leaders.

And Mr. Halvorssen was a co-producer of “Freedom’s Fury,” narrated by Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, which describes the role Hungary’s Olympic water polo team played in that nation’s 1956 uprising against its Soviet occupiers.

No doubt the most contentious film on the Motion Picture Institute roster so far is ''Mine Your Own Business,'' billed as ''the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary.'' Phelim McAleer, an Irish journalist who received a fellowship from the Motion Picture Institute, traveled to Romania, Madagascar and Chile, where international environmental groups oppose planned mining operations. His film -- financed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian mining company -- portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring.

. . .

Mr. Halvorssen speaks of a ''YouTube revolution'' with the Internet, along with on-demand cable and satellite television, freeing independent filmmakers from Hollywood dominance.

Ultimately, he added, he hopes that ''exploiting technology, marketing and alternative distribution will transform human rights, making it inspiring and even sexy.''

 

For the full story, see: 

JOHN STRAUSBAUGH.  "A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect."  The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section  (Sun., August 19, 2007):  11 & 12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

For more information on the documentaries of Halvorssen's Moving Picture Institute, see:

http://www.thempi.org/

 

    Poster for the movie "Mine Your Own Busines."  Source for poster:   http://billhobbs.com/myobposter.gif

 




December 18, 2007

Massaging Millions from Google


 

"Bonnie Brown joined Google when it had 40 employees."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 11 — Bonnie Brown was fresh from a nasty divorce in 1999, living with her sister and uncertain of her future. On a lark, she answered an ad for an in-house masseuse at Google, then a Silicon Valley start-up with 40 employees. She was offered the part-time job, which started out at $450 a week but included a pile of Google stock options that she figured might never be worth a penny.

After five years of kneading engineers’ backs, Ms. Brown retired, cashing in most of her stock options, which were worth millions of dollars. To her delight, the shares she held onto have continued to balloon in value.

“I’m happy I saved enough stock for a rainy day, and lately it’s been pouring,” said Ms. Brown, 52, who now lives in a 3,000-square-foot house in Nevada, gets her own massages at least once a week and has a private Pilates instructor. She has traveled the world to oversee a charitable foundation she started with her Google wealth and has written a book, still unpublished, “Giigle: How I Got Lucky Massaging Google.”

When Google’s stock topped $700 a share last week before dropping back to $664 on Friday, outside shareholders were not the only ones smiling. According to documents filed on Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Google employees and former employees are holding options they can cash in worth about $2.1 billion. In addition, current employees are sitting on stock and unvested op-(p. A16)tions, or options they cannot immediately cash in, that together have a value of about $4.1 billion.

Although no one keeps an official count of Google millionaires, it is estimated that 1,000 people each have more than $5 million worth of Google shares from stock grants and stock options.

 

For the full story, see:

KATIE HAFNER. "Google Options Make Masseuse a Multimillionaire."  The New York Times  (Mon., November 12, 2007): A1 & A16.

 

   Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. 

 




December 17, 2007

Life Lesson #1: When Facing a Hungry Bear, the Fence is Your Friend


 

 

The photo was taken by Art Diamond at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, at about 6:00 PM on Weds., July 18, 2007.  (It was 'Member's Day' and there were signs posted that 6:00 PM was a feeding time for the bears.)

 




December 16, 2007

Nanny State Skewered by Libertarian


 

   Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/Nanny-State-Teetotaling-Do-Gooders-Bureaucrats/dp/0767924320/ref=sr_1_4/104-5167922-0145505?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1194215374&sr=1-4

 

I have not read the Nanny State, but it looks promising in arguing that we would be better off if we reduced our expectation that the government can and should protect us against all undesriable outcomes. 

 

Reference to book:

Harsanyi, David.  Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2007.

 




December 15, 2007

Nozick (and Bush) Think it is Fair for You to Keep More of What You Earn


 

   Source of table:  online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.

 

(p. 4)  DO the rich pay their fair share in taxes? This is likely to become a defining question during the presidential campaign.

. . .

Fairness is not an economic concept. If you want to talk fairness, you have to leave the department of economics and head over to philosophy.

. . .  

In his 1974 book, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia,” Professor Nozick wrote: “We are not in the position of children who have been given portions of pie by someone who now makes last-minute adjustments to rectify careless cutting. There is no central distribution, no person or group entitled to control all the resources, jointly deciding how they are to be doled out. What each person gets, he gets from others who give to him in exchange for something, or as a gift. In a free society, diverse persons control different resources, and new holdings arise out of the voluntary exchanges and actions of persons.”

To libertarians like Professor Nozick, requiring the rich to pay more just because they are rich is little more than officially sanctioned theft.

There is no easy way to bridge this philosophical divide, but the political process will, inevitably, try to forge a practical compromise among those with wildly divergent views. At the 2000 Republican National Convention, the candidate George W. Bush made clear where he stood: “On principle, no one in America should have to pay more than a third of their income to the federal government.” As judged by the C.B.O. data, he has accomplished his goal.

A question for any political candidate today is whether he or she agrees with the Bush tax ceiling. If not, how high above a third is he or she willing to go?

 

For the full commentary, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW.  "ECONOMIC VIEW; Fair Taxes? Depends What You Mean by ‘Fair’."   The New York Times, Section 3   (Sun., July 15, 2007):  4.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




December 14, 2007

Professor Dowling's Defense of the University Against Big-Time Spectator Sports


 

  Professor William C. Dowling.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C15)  For more than a decade at Rutgers, Dr. Dowling has stood as an idealistic absolutist, an intellectual convinced that the thunder of big-time athletics was crumbling the ivory tower of academe.

He has been the conscience, the Cassandra, the crank, the nag, the pain, infuriating opponents and, at times, exasperating allies. Enough years of being the whistle-blower, after all, can make even a tuneful musician sound shrill.

But now, just as Rutgers’s recent triumphs in football and basketball might seem to have justified the university’s investment of tens of millions of dollars, Dr. Dowling has answered in his own subversive way. His memoir of the decade-long campaign against high-stakes athletics at Rutgers, “Confessions of a Spoilsport,” has just been published by Penn State University Press. It is his valediction, and its tone, far from mournful, is defiant.

“I wanted this book to be a monument,” Dr. Dowling, 62, said after class. “I wanted it to be a monument to the kids and the faculty who rallied around this issue. We tried to take on the monster of commercialized sports, even if it swallowed us up and passed us out the other end. Someone should know that we fought the good fight. And because I believe in literature as a form of symbolic action, I want readers to see the possibility of another way. Think about the impact of a book like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ on slavery.”

. . .  

Dartmouth . . . instilled in Dr. Dowling an appreciation for what he calls now “participatory sports” — sports without scholarships, separate dorms, team tutors, product endorsements, television contracts, reduced admissions standards, easy classes and so many other tropes of Division I-A sports.

Rutgers, in turn, provided a striking example of before and after. For more than 100 years after playing Princeton in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869, Rutgers had competed against schools like Lafayette and Colgate with which it shared academic standards. Then, in 1991, Rutgers joined the Big East Conference, making it a peer of ethically challenged football factories like Miami.

Dr. Dowling grew convinced that the shift was degrading the caliber of students, indeed the entire communal culture.  . . .   And while he enjoyed teaching many members of the track, swimming and crew teams in his courses, he vociferously resisted the notion that athletic scholarships offered opportunity to low-income, minority students.

“If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine,” he said. “But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN.  "EDUCATION; To the Victors at Rutgers Also Goes the 'Spoilsport'."  The New York Times  (Weds., September 26, 2007):  C15. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

Here is the description of Dowling's book that appears on Amazon

"Universities exist to transmit understanding and ideals and values to students . . . not to provide entertainment for spectators or employment for athletes. . . . When I entered a much smaller Rutgers sixty years ago, athletics were an important but strictly minor aspect of Rutgers education. I trust that today's much larger Rutgers will honor this tradition from which I benefited so much." --Milton Friedman, Rutgers '32, Nobel Prize in Economics, 1976

In 1998, Milton Friedman's statement drew national attention to Rutgers 1000, a campaign in which students, faculty, and alumni were resisting the takeover of their university by commercialized Division IA athletics. Subsequently, the movement received extensive coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sports Illustrated, and other publications.

Today, "big-time" college athletics remains a hotly debated issue at Rutgers. Why did an old eastern university that had long competed against such institutions as Colgate, Columbia, Lafayette, and Princeton, choose, by joining the Big East conference in 1994, to plunge into the world of such TV-revenue-driven extravaganzas as "March Madness" and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? What is the moral for universities where big-time college sports have already become the primary source of institutional identity?

Confessions of a Spoilsport is the story of an English professor who, having seen the University of New Mexico sink academically in the period of a major basketball scandal, was galvanized into action when Rutgers joined the Big East. It is also the story of the Rutgers 1000 students and alumni who set out against enormous odds to resist the decline of their university--eviscerated academic programs, cancellation of minor sports, loss of the "best and brightest" in-state students to the nearby College of New Jersey--while tens of millions of dollars were being lavished on Division IA athletics. Ultimately, however, the story of Rutgers 1000 is what the New York Times called it when Milton Friedman issued his ringing statement: a struggle for the soul of a major university.

 

The reference to Dowling's book, is: 

Dowling, William C. Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

 

  Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Spoilsport-Fighting-Corruption-University/dp/0271032936/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1196229303&sr=1-1

 




December 13, 2007

U.P.S. Spends More than $1 Billion for Technology Research to Increase Efficiency


 

   "The U.P.S. hub at Louisville International Airport covers four million square feet."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. C1)  LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Worldport, the United Parcel Service hub at the airport here, gives new meaning to the phrase “hub of activity.” On a peak night, workers have less than four hours to process more than a million packages from at least 100 planes and probably 160 trucks.

Yes, the ubiquitous brown trucks, with their brown-clad drivers, are the face that U.P.S. presents to the world. But increasingly, it is the researchers at its Atlanta headquarters, its technology center in Mahwah, N.J., and its huge four-million-square-foot Louisville hub who are asking the questions that will drive the company’s future.

What if the package contains medicine that could turn from palliative to poison if the temperature wavers? What if it is moving from Bangkok to Bangor and back to Bangkok, and if customs rules differ on each end? And what if the package is going to a big company that insists on receiving all its packages, no matter who ships them, at the same time each day?

Increasingly, it is the search for high-tech answers to such questions that is occupying the entire package delivery industry. U.P.S. and FedEx are each pumping more than $1 billion a year into research, while also looking for new ways to cut costs. “When you handle millions of packages, a minute’s delay can cost a fortune,” said John Kartsonas, an analyst with Citigroup. “Information technology has become essential.”

Customers of both FedEx and U.P.S. can now print out shipping labels that are easily scannable by computers. Meteorologists at both companies routinely outguess official Weather Service forecasts. And both are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to improve air safety and scheduling.

U.P.S. specifically is collaborating with the F.A.A. on a system — formally, Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, but usually just called A.D.S.B. — that may (p. C4) make conventional radar obsolete. “We want to make A.D.S.B. the backbone of our future air traffic system,” said Vincent Capezzuto, the manager of the program for the F.A.A.

The research at U.P.S. is paying off. Last year, it cut 28 million miles from truck routes — saving roughly three million gallons of fuel — in good part by mapping routes that minimize left turns. This year, U.P.S. began offering customers a self-service system for redirecting packages that are en route.

 And now the U.P.S. researchers are working on sensors that can track temperatures of packages, on software that can make customs checks more uniform worldwide and on scheduling processes that accommodate the needs of recipients as well as shippers. “Recipients do not pay U.P.S., but they sure influence which carriers their suppliers use,” David A. Barnes, the chief information officer, said.

 

For the full story, see: 

CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH.  "U.P.S. Embraces High-Tech Delivery Methods."  The New York Times (Thurs., July 12, 2007):  C1 & C4.

 

    U.P.S. employee Jeffrey Sarver tracks the weather.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 12, 2007

How "El Loco" Cut Argentine Inflation in Half


 

ArgentineInflationRateGraph.gif   Source of graphic:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A1)  BUENOS AIRES -- Argentina has had plenty of anti-inflation plans over the years. The current one may be the first that rests heavily on a public servant whom some executives and politicians have nicknamed "El Loco," or the Crazy Man.

The official, Guillermo Moreno, is Argentina's Secretary of Internal Commerce, the government's price policeman. His mission is limiting price markups in the red-hot economy -- at least until the leftist Cristina Kirchner, the wife of the current president, Néstor Kirchner, can win her own bid for president. Elections are scheduled for this Sunday, and she's heavily favored to win. 

With the Kirchners' blessing, Mr. Moreno has hammered out price-control agreements with industry, doled out subsidies and imposed export restrictions to keep the domestic market awash in goods. He has also threatened uncooperative businesses with prosecution under a recently resurrected 33-year law against hoarding goods. When none of that worked to restrain prices, a prosecutor has alleged, Mr. Moreno ousted the government statisticians who prepared the consumer price index and installed his own people to massage the numbers. Mr. Moreno denies that; a judge is reviewing the case.

. . .

(p. A18)  As Argentina's governing faction tries to prolong the country's roaring economic recovery -- and maintain its grip on power -- it is waging an increasingly desperate battle to contain inflation. The government's tainted figures put the annual figure at 8%, while most independent economists peg it around twice that high.

 

For the full story, see:

MATT MOFFETT.  "POWER TRANSFER; Economic Reckoning Looms In Argentina's Election; 'El Loco' Price Controls Help First Lady Lead, But Inflation Still Rises."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., October 25, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  eillipsis added.)

 




December 11, 2007

"Hit 'em Where They Ain't"


 

LinearTechnologysProfits.gif   Source of graph:  online version of the WSJ article cited below. 

 

The key to business success is usually thought to be to beat the competition.  An alternative sketched by Clayton Christensen, and in the book Blue Ocean Strategy, is to do something that the competition isn't doing.  As a once-famous, old-time baseball player once said:  "Hit 'em where they ain't." 

 

MILPITAS, Calif. -- Erik Soule had been waiting 15 months for this moment. The semiconductor engineer was about to launch a new chip, and he needed his pricing approved. In a conference room at Linear Technology Corp., Mr. Soule anxiously explained why his amplifier chip is so advanced that it should sell for $1.68, a third more than its rivals.

His bosses' reaction: Charge even more. The chip is 30 times better than the competition, they asserted, and high-end customers will crave it on any terms. Why not boost the $1.68 list price by 10 cents? Mr. Soule was nervous. "I can live with that," he guardedly replied, "but what does that accomplish?"

"It's a dime!" declared Linear's chairman and founder, Robert Swanson. "And those dimes add up."

For many U.S. companies, such exuberant pricing power vanished long ago. They now struggle to deliver more at lower prices, amid intense global competition. But Linear has built one of the world's strongest profit fortresses by staying strictly at the fringes, where competition is low and margins are still high.

Away from the semiconductor industry's frenzied center stage, this midsize company makes 7,500 arcane, unglamorous products that solve real-world problems for a long list of customers. Instead of the better-known digital chips that power the brains of the world's computers and bring in 85% of the industry's revenue, Linear makes so-called analog chips that are too cheap for customers to haggle over, but perform chores too important to ignore.

Pick apart a medical ultrasound machine, a hybrid car battery or thousands of other costly devices, and somewhere inside is a Linear chip that helps monitor power consumption or guard against voltage surges. It's a backwater of high tech well-suited to Linear's engineer-driven culture, where quirky developers shop for old part testers at flea markets to keep costs down. Many of Linear's chips cost less than 50 cents to build and sell for three to four times as much, but customers seldom complain about the markup.

Linear made a 39% profit on its $1.1 billion in sales in calendar 2006 -- more than five times the average for U.S. industrial companies. Linear easily outpaced even the tech industry's best-known profit powerhouses, Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc., which earned profits of 26% and 24% of sales for the same period.

 

For the full story, see: 

GEORGE ANDERS.  "PRICING POWER; In a Tech Backwater, A Profit Fortress Rises; Maker of Arcane Chips Earns Better Margins Than Google, Microsoft."  The Wall Street Journal   (Tues., July 10, 2007):  A1 & A19. 

 

SwansonRobertLinearTechnologyCEO.gif   CEO of Linear Technology Corp.  Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article cited above.

 




December 10, 2007

Omaha Government Displays Pretentious Concrete Donuts: Is Dog Poop Next?


 

  The city of Omaha is forcing its citizens to endure four concrete donuts that are sometimes called "Sounding Stones" and sometimes called "art."  Source of photo: online version of  Dane Stickney.  "ART MOVEMENT; Some neighbors don’t want sculpture in Elmwood Park."  Omaha World-Herald  (Sat., Nov. 17, 2007):  B1.

 

I believe that all art should be private art.  But if the government is going to force art on us, at least they should commission art that most find enjoyable to look at. 

Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word skewered the pretension of modern "artists" whose "art" is not intended to please, but is intended to make some obscure philosophical point. 

If somebody wants to privately finance such activity, fine.  But don't force the rest of us to finance it through taxation.

 

 (p. 1B)  “So is this where they’re putting Stonehenge?”
  Stan Hille was walking his dog through Elmwood Park when he stopped to ask me the question. He thought I was a city employee.

  “Yes, it is,” I said as I stood near one of the gravel pads awaiting Leslie Iwai’s gigantic five-piece sculpture “Sounding
Stones .” “But you don’t sound excited.”
  “Well, I guess I’m not,” he said, stopping to contemplate art. 
“This thing just reminds me of that old question: ‘When is art not art?’ ” Hmm. Great question. Ancient question. I suggested it might not be art until people, especially a commission of people, tells you it’s art. Or, if it’s big, it’s art. Or, if you make something and then say there’s some meaning to it, then maybe it’s art.
  As we pondered, Hille’s dog defecated.

  “Perhaps if I can find some meaning in this poop, then maybe it’s art,” I told him as I rubbed my chin.

  The retired UNO professor and Dundee resident absorbed my genius. “Perhaps,” he responded, rubbing his chin also.

  But, alas, I could find no meaning. “Perhaps its lack of meaning is its meaning,” I then argued, sounding
not unlike French philosopher Jacques Derrida. “It’s post-postmodern ironic poop.” 

. . .

 For Hille and others around Elmwood Park, the bigger question seems to be aesthetics.
  Elmwood Park is a quiet forest setting. Is this really the place for large chunks of concrete, no matter what they mean?

  “It just doesn’t seem to fit,” Hille said.

  I’m with him on that. “Sounding
Stones
” might make more sense, or at least be better received, in the midst of, say, modern architecture, not nature.
  You know, perhaps put it downtown, where it could look like it fell off the old Union Pacific building.

  But if “Sounding
Stones ” does end up in Elmwood Park, whichit most likely will, I’m guessing it still will end up being a positive move.
  Because, as with Hille and me, it’s going to get people thinking and talking about art.

  And even when you’re looking at dog droppings, taking time out of the day to contemplate art can’t be a completely bad thing.

 

Yes, Robert, it can be "a completely bad thing" if you have alternative uses for your time.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Robert Nelson.  "Rocky art may lead to heavy thoughts."  Omaha World-Herald  (Nov. 21, 2007):  1B.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 




December 9, 2007

USDA Sugar Allocations and Tariff System "Keeps the Price at a Fairly High Level"


 

SugarBeatsScottsbluff.jpg   Sugar beats unloaded in Scottsbluff, Nebraska at Western Sugar in 1999.  Source of photo:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.

 

In the article excerpted below, why does Chet Mullin of the Omaha World-Herald care only about beat growers, but not about sugar consumers? 

 

The International Sugar Organization predicts a sizable global surplus of the sweet stuff this year. If the prediction comes true, will it hurt sugar beet growers like those in Nebraska's Panhandle?

The answer is no, according to Paul Burgener, agricultural economic research analyst at the University of Nebraska's Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff.

"We have allocations (for sugar production) and we also have a tariff system for imports, and between the two, the USDA manages supply and keeps the price at a fairly high level," Burgener said.

 

For the full story, see: 

CHET MULLIN.  "Sugar surplus won't harm beet growers."  Omaha World-Herald  (Tuesday, July 17, 2007):  1D & 2D.

 




December 8, 2007

Omaha's Westroads Mall Stops Good Guys From Shooting Back


 

John Lott earned his PhD at the University of Chicago in economics.  What he says below is not popular, or politically correct, but it is probably true.  And if it is true, and if we fail to act on its truth, then more good people will continue to be killed, who could have been saved.

 

The horrible tragedy at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. received a lot of attention Wednesday and Thursday. It should have. Eight people were killed, and five were wounded.

A Google news search using the phrase "Omaha Mall Shooting" finds an incredible 2,794 news stories worldwide for the last day. From India and Taiwan to Britain and Austria, there are probably few people in the world who haven’t heard about this tragedy.

But despite the massive news coverage, none of the media coverage, at least by 10 a.m. Thursday, mentioned this central fact: Yet another attack occurred in a gun-free zone.

Surely, with all the reporters who appear at these crime scenes and seemingly interview virtually everyone there, why didn’t one simply mention the signs that ban guns from the premises?

Nebraska allows people to carry permitted concealed handguns, but it allows property owners, such as the Westroads Mall, to post signs banning permit holders from legally carrying guns on their property.

. . .

The law-abiding, not criminals, are obeying the rules. Disarming the victims simply means that the killers have less to fear. As Wednesday's attack demonstrated yet again, police are important, but they almost always arrive at the crime scene after the crime has occurred.

The longer it takes for someone to arrive on the scene with a gun, the more people who will be harmed by such an attack.

Most people understand that guns deter criminals. If a killer were stalking your family, would you feel safer putting a sign out front announcing, "This Home Is a Gun-Free Zone"? But that is what the Westroads Mall did.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

John R. Lott, Jr.  "Media Coverage of Mall Shooting Fails to Reveal Mall's Gun-Free-Zone Status."  FOXNEWS.COM  (Thurs., December 6, 2007).

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  I am grateful to Luis Locay, for forwarding me Lott's commentary.)

 




December 7, 2007

Reducing Nickel Pollution is an Entrepreneurial "Business Opportunity" in Russia


 

     Vladimir Stratyev in front of a lake containing nickel dust from the nickel factory in the background.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

 

(p. A4)  NORILSK, Russia — A former Siberian gulag with a population of about 210,000, this decrepit city has some of the worst air quality in the world. It is surrounded by dead trees, as far as the eye can see, poisoned by acid rain.

But to Vladimir M. Stratyev, the eye-stinging haze is an unalloyed blessing, for Mr. Stratyev is, in effect, a miner of air pollution. For him the smog of Norilsk is a mother lode.

The smelters here produce one-fifth of all the world’s nickel, a key alloy of stainless steel, while emitting 1.9 million tons of sulfur dioxide a year, more than the entire country of France. They also spew out 10,800 tons of heavy metal particulates.

. . .

Spotting a business opportunity, factory officials have brought in a contractor, Poligon, to extract the metals from one of these deposits, known euphemistically as “technogenic sources of ore.”

Mr. Stratyev, the supervisor of a mining crew, uses a dredge and bulldozer to scoop up the black sludge, rich in nickel that once fell from the sky. He gathers it in mighty piles from a large pond that lies directly downwind from the smelters and returns it to the factory from which it came.

“They should put a monument up to us,” Mr. Stratyev said, standing in front of the dredge he just used to mine air pollution from the bottom of a pond. “We’re solving an ecological problem.”

. . .

The pollution mining began five years ago, according to Aleksandr I. Korolev, a deputy chief engineer at the factory. “It’s a year-round operation,” Mr. Korolev said of the work, which has accelerated recently because of high metals prices. “The pond does not freeze,” he said, because of the chemicals and the inflow of warm effluent from the factory.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW E. KRAMER.  "NORILSK JOURNAL; For One Business, Polluted Clouds Have Silvery Linings."  The New York Times   (Thurs., July 12, 2007):  A4.

 

NorliskRussiaMap.jpg   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 

 




December 6, 2007

Energy Experts Question Reliability of Wind Power


 

   "A wind farm near Malmo, Sweden. The use of wind power in many European countries has stagnated in recent years."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. C1)  Yet Sweden’s gleaming wind park is entering service at a time when wind energy is coming under sharper scrutiny, not just from hostile neighbors, who complain that the towers are a blot on the landscape, but from energy experts who question its reliability as a source of power.

For starters, the wind does not blow all the time. When it does, it does not necessarily do so during periods of high demand for electricity. That makes wind a shaky replacement for more dependable, if polluting, energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas. More-(p. C5)over, to capture the best breezes, wind farms are often built far from where the demand for electricity is highest. The power they generate must then be carried over long distances on high-voltage lines, which in Germany and other countries are strained and prone to breakdowns.

In the United States, one of the areas most suited for wind turbines is the central part of the country, stretching from Texas through the northern Great Plains — far from the coastal population centers that need the most electricity.

In Denmark, which pioneered wind energy in Europe, construction of wind farms has stagnated in recent years. The Danes export much of their wind-generated electricity to Norway and Sweden because it comes in unpredictable surges that often outstrip demand.

In 2003, Ireland put a moratorium on connecting wind farms to its electricity grid because of the strains that power surges were putting on the network; it has since begun connecting them again.

In the United States, proposals to build large wind parks in the Atlantic off Long Island and off Cape Cod, Mass., have run into stiff opposition from local residents on aesthetic grounds.

As wind energy has matured as an industry, its image has changed — from a clean, even elegant, alternative to fossil fuels to a renewable energy source with advantages and drawbacks, like any other.

“The environmental benefits of wind are not as great as its champions claim,” said Euan C. Blauvelt, research director of ABS Energy Research, an independent market research firm in London. “You’ve still got to have backup sources of power, like coal-fired plants.”

 

For the full story, see: 

MARK LANDLER.  "Wind Power, and Resistance; Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws."  The New York Times   (Fri., November 23, 2007):  C1 & C5.

(Note:  online the title was simply "Sweden Turns to a Promising Power Source, With Flaws.")

 




December 5, 2007

Measuring Trends in Government Corruption


 

CorruptionWorldBankGraph.jpg   Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A6)  Africa, often stereotyped as a place of epic corruption and misrule, emerges in a World Bank report as a continent of great variety, with some countries — Tanzania, Liberia, Rwanda, Ghana and Niger — making notable progress over the past decade, and others — Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast and Eritrea — moving backward.

The report, released yesterday and based on the most comprehensive data on governance in more than 200 countries, found that not just poor countries struggled with corruption and flawed government.

. . .

The report, “Governance Matters, 2007: Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006,” was written by Mr. Kaufmann and the World Bank researchers Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi. It was posted on the Internet at www.govindicators.org. Data came from an ideologically diverse array of groups that included Freedom House, Transparency International, the Heritage Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and the State Department.

“This is the best data source on governance now,” said Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a Washington research group. “It is of huge importance in development. Ten years ago, there was no data. Fifteen years ago, we didn’t talk about this stuff.”

. . .  

The report found that the gains and losses balanced out such that the average quality of governance worldwide over the past decade was little improved.

 

For the full story, see: 

CELIA W. DUGGER.  "World Bank Report on Governing Finds Level Playing Field."  The New York Times  (Weds., July 11, 2007):  A6. 

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




December 4, 2007

Cuba's Best Doctors Not Blind to Incentives Offered by "Communist" Government


 

   "Patients at the Ramón Pando Ferrer eye hospital in Havana."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

(p. A4)  Cuban doctors abroad receive much better pay than in Cuba, along with other benefits from the state, like the right to buy a car and get a relatively luxurious house when they return. As a result, many of the finest physicians have taken posts abroad.

The doctors and nurses left in Cuba are stretched thin and overworked, resulting in a decline in the quality of care for Cubans, some doctors and patients said.

 

For the full story, see:   

JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.  "Havana Journal;  A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs."  The New York Times   (Tues., November 20, 2007):  A4. 

 




December 3, 2007

Sanctimonious Celebrities at "Live Earth" Concert "Eco-Extravaganza"


 

   Global-warming concert participants Garner, Madonna, Ludacris, and Gore.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. B1)  . . . , celebrity efforts to curb the greenhouse effect backlash into the glass-house effect: People who own Escalades, private jets and McMansions shouldn’t recycle bromides at people who fail to carpool to work. Carbon-offsetting, the newly fashionable practice of compensating for one’s own carbon emissions by paying into a fund to reduce them elsewhere, may be better than nothing, but to some it sounds too much (p. B5) like rich men paying others to take their place in the draft during the Civil War.

That credibility gap seemed to fuel much of the skepticism and sniping along the sidelines (British newspapers which gleefully counted Madonna’s many houses and cars, discouraged readers from following in her outsize carbon footprint) and drove Bob Geldof, founder of Live 8, to question this concert’s usefulness.

 

ALESSANDRA STANLEY. "The TV Watch Sounding the Global-Warming Alarm Without Upsetting the Fans."  The New York Times   (Mon., July 9, 2007):  B1 & B5. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.) 

 




December 2, 2007

Effective Foreign Aid


 

   "HOMELAND SECURITY.  Many women in Mexico, like Estela Palacio Calzada, with her granddaughter, rely on money sent back from the U.S. "  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that altruism is more effective when it is directed toward those we know best--mainly our family, and immediate neighbors.

A policy implication may be that the most effective foreign aid is to have more open immigration policies, that then permit the migrants to send back funds to those in their home country who they know best.

 

THE money flows in dribs and drabs, crossing borders $200 or $300 at a time. It buys cornmeal and rice and plaid private school skirts and keeps the landlord at bay. Globally, the tally is huge: migrants from poor countries send home about $300 billion a year. That is more than three times the global total in foreign aid, making “remittances” the main source of outside money flowing to the developing world.

Surveys show that 80 percent of the money or more is immediately spent, on food, clothing, housing, education or the occasional beer party or television set. Still, there are tens of billions available for savings or investment, in places where capital is scarce. While remittances have been shown to reduce household poverty, policymakers are looking to increase the effect on economic growth.

Some migrants, for instance, send home money to savings accounts at small bank-like microfinance institutions, which use the resulting capital pool to lend to local entrepreneurs.

 

For the full story, see:

JASON DePARLE. "Migrant Money Flow: A $300 Billion Current."  The New York Times, Week in Review Section  (Sun., November 18, 2007):  3.

 

   Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

 




December 1, 2007

Von Hippel Promotes User-Driven Innovation


 

     "Eric von Hippel of M.I.T., left, and Dr. Nathaniel Sims, with hospital devices Dr. Sims has modified. Mr. von Hippel says users can improve on products."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Some innovation is done by the devoted for free.  But in his books, and in the article excerpted below, I think von Hippel puts too little emphasis on the entrepreneur and the entrepreneur's profit motive, as drivers of innovation. 

One example is the Moveable Type free program that underlies this, and many other blogs.  It is often described as one of the best blog platforms, but it is hard to use for a non-techie, kludgey, and very limited in some obvious ways.  For example, there apparently is no way that I can make comments to the most recent 10 entries visible on the main blog page.  And there is only limited backup capabilities.  And the spell-checker does not have "blog" in its dictionary, and asks me if I really meant to type "bog."

You can bet that if Moveable Type was produced for profit, they would have provided users these obvious capabilities.  And I would rather pay for a more capable program, rather than get a less capable program for free.

 

(p. 5) DR. NATHANIEL SIMS, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has figured out a few ways to help save patients’ lives. 

In doing so, he also represents a significant untapped vein of innovation for companies.

Dr. Sims has picked up more than 10 patents for medical devices over his career. He ginned up a way to more easily shuttle around the dozen or more monitors and drug-delivery devices attached to any cardiac patient after surgery, with a device known around the hospital as the “Nat Rack.”

. . .

What Dr. Sims did is called user-driven innovation by Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Mr. von Hippel is the leading advocate of the value of letting users of products modify them or improve them, because they may come up with changes that manufacturers never considered. He thinks that this could help companies develop products more quickly and inexpensively than with their internal design teams.

“It could drive manufacturers out of the design space,” Mr. von Hippel says.

It is a difficult idea for research and development departments to accept, but one of his studies found that 82 percent of new capabilities for scientific instruments like electron microscopes were developed by users.

. . .

One problem with the user-innovation model is that it can run into intellectual property rights protections.  . . .

. . .

. . . , Mr. von Hippel’s ideas are up against more conventional forms of user-aided design, such as sending anthropologists to study how people use products in their daily lives. Companies then translate their research into new designs.

Even some of Mr. von Hippel’s acolytes remain cautious. “A lot of this is still in the category of, ‘You could imagine this working out really well,’ ” says Saul T. Griffith, who as an M.I.T. engineering student was part of a group of kite-surfers who developed products for their sport that have since become commercialized. Mr. von Hippel wrote about Mr. Griffith in his 2005 book, “Democratizing Innovation.

 

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL FITZGERALD.  "Prototype How to Improve It? Ask Those Who Use It."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., March 25, 2007):  5.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 

 

von Hippel has two main books in which he defends his user-driven innovation ideas:

von Hippel, Eric. The Sources of Innovation. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1988.

von Hippel, Eric. Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press, 2005.

 




HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Most Popular Posts









If you value this blog, and want to help support the expenses of hosting and maintaining it, please consider making a donation through PayPal:










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