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February 29, 2008

"The No. 1 Need that Poor People Have is a Way to Make More Cash"


  Moving water is easier with the 20-gallon rolling drum.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3)  . . . , the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, . . . , is honoring inventors dedicated to “the other 90 percent,” particularly the billions of people living on less than $2 a day.

Their creations, on display in the museum garden until Sept. 23, have a sort of forehead-thumping “Why didn’t someone think of that before?” quality.

. . .

Interestingly, most of the designers who spoke at the opening of the exhibition spurned the idea of charity.

“The No. 1 need that poor people have is a way to make more cash,” said Martin Fisher, an engineer who founded KickStart, an organization that says it has helped 230,000 people escape poverty.  It sells human-powered pumps costing $35 to $95.

Pumping water can help a farmer grow grain in the dry season, when it fetches triple the normal price.  Dr. Fisher described customers who had skipped meals for weeks to buy a pump and then earned $1,000 the next year selling vegetables.


For the full story, see: 

DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.  "Design That Solves Problems for the World's Poor."  The New York Times  (Tues., May 29, 2007):  D3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


FilterForDrinkingWater.jpg TechnologiesForPoor.jpg   The photo on the left shows a woman safely drinking bacteria-laden water through a filter.  The photo on the right shows a "pot-in-pot cooler" that evaporates water from wet sand between the pots, in order to cool what is in the inner pot.  Source of photos:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. Will Be Missed

BuckleyWilliam.jpg"William F. Buckley Jr. in 2004." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary cited below.

I write on Weds., Feb. 27th, at about 1:30 PM. As I ate an early lunch a couple of hours ago, I was listening to U.S. Senate speeches on C-SPAN. After a good speech on Iraq by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Joe Lieberman appeared and interupted the proceedings, asking the Senate's indulgence for him to speak for 10 minutes on a special topic.

He announced that William F. Buckley, Jr. had passed away today (2/27/08); and then he delivered a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and wholly appropriate tribute to Buckley.

I have mentioned a couple of my favorite Buckley stories in an earlier entry.

Lieberman emphasized that Buckley cared about ideas, and that is most important to emphasize. Listening to Buckley speak was entertaining, and educational.

Strange what we remember--when I think of Buckley, the following episode always comes to mind.

Sometime while I was an undergraduate at Wabash (1971-1974), my mentor Ben Rogge arranged to have his friend Bill Buckley give a speech on campus. Ths speech was paid for by another of Rogge's friends, Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund.

After the speech there was to be a special reception for members of the John Van Sickle Club, the small libertarian club on campus, of which I was a member.

The speech was well-attended, and some non-members of the Club got wind of the reception and tried to gain admittance. They were turned away, and were miffed, and complained.

The issue made it into the college newspaper, and I wrote a letter to the editor defending the John Van Sickle Club, using one of Rogge's favorite sayings: "he who pays the piper, calls the tune."

Some of the details are fuzzy, but I ended up in Rogge's office, and heard from him that he was not happy with my letter. He felt that Goodrich might be embarrassed by the campus turmoil on the issue.

I remember feeling devasted that Rogge was annoyed with me. I apologized profusely (although I still think I had a point). Rogge must have seen my cresfallen appearance, because he changed his tone and ended the conversation by saying that I shouldn't worry about it, because Goodrich probably would never see the newspaper article and letters, anyway.

The online version of the New York Times obituary for Buckley is at:

DOUGLAS MARTIN. "William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82." The New York Times (Weds., February 27, 2008): ?.

February 27, 2008

Big is Not Always Better


It is an enduring puzzle why the West has been so much more succesful than China in achieving economic growth over the past several centuries.  The puzzle arises because there is considerable evidence of early Chinese acheivements in technology.

One example would be the exploratory voyages of Zheng He.  The Chinese ships were much, much larger than those of Christopher Columbus.  But as Clayton Christensen has shown in a more modern context, size does not always matter as much as nimbleness and motivation. 

(And another part of the story involves culture and institutions.)



The most complete account of Christensen's thinking, so far, is his book with Raynor:

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor.  The Innovator's Solution:  Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.


(Note:  I am grateful to Prof. Yu-sheng Lin for first informing me of the large difference in size between the ships.  I am also grateful to Prof. Salim Rashid, and Liberty Fund's Mr. Leonidas Zelmanovitz, for my having the opportunity to encounter Prof. Lin.)


February 26, 2008

"Public Works Will Just Keep Going Round and Round and Round"

SuisawaTakuoEnvironmentalist.jpg "Environmentalists like Takuo Sugisawa say that restoring bends to the Kushiro actually might cause more damage." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A4) KUSHIRO, Japan -- In the early 1980s, engineers straightened out stretches of the Kushiro River, which had meandered some 100 miles under Hokkaido's big sky here in northern Japan, flowing through green hill country and rural towns, winding through the nation's largest wetland and this port city's downtown before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.

Later in November, work is to start again. But this time bulldozers will be moving earth to put curves back in a stretch of the river that had been straightened out, restoring its original, sinuous, shape.

. . .

. . . Trust Sarun Kushiro, a private environmental group that was a member of the committee that endorsed the project but voted against it, said that the reshaping would have little positive effect and that the construction itself would harm the environment. Stanching the flow of sediments from farmland and forests upstream, at their source, is more important, it argued.

And in a case of the left hand's not knowing what the right hand was stirring up, the Ministry of Agriculture had a project farther upriver that was sending mud and sand downstream, where Mr. Yoshimura's ministry is to curve the river, said Takuo Sugisawa, 61, the trust's secretary general. To rehabilitate farmland that had gradually become wetland, the ministry was draining existing land and moving earth there.

"The sediments flowing from upriver will quickly pile up where the river will be curved," Mr. Sugisawa said, adding that they would eventually bury the Kushiro wetland. To prevent that, workers will eventually have to remove the sediments that are bound to pile up in the recurved stretch, he said.

"So in the name of river management alone, they will be able once again to create public works in the form of removing soil," he said, walking along an asphalt road and across a bridge built to let trucks and bulldozers move earth for the curving project. "Public works will just keep going round and round and round."

For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "KUSHIRO JOURNAL; Forced to Run Straight, a River Must Now Twist." The New York Times (Weds., November 7, 2007): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

KushiroRiverJapan.jpg A part of the Kushiro River where curves will be added back. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


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

February 25, 2008

Regular Employees Migrate to Pink's "Free Agent Nation"


   "Luis H. Rodriguez, an I.B.M. executive, with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2, often works from his home or on the road."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Daniel Pink in his Free Agent Nation argued that a growing number of American workers would want the control, challenge and freedom of working for themselves as entrepreneurs, or "free agents."  To attract workers who have the option of being free agents, it is plausible that employers increasingly will have to offer jobs that provide workers with greater autonomy.  The article quoted below, suggests that this may in fact be happening, at least in information technology firms. 


(p. A1)  SOMERS, N.Y. -- It's every worker's dream: take as much vacation time as you want, on short notice, and don't worry about your boss calling you on it. Cut out early, make it a long weekend, string two weeks together -- as you like. No need to call in sick on a Friday so you can disappear for a fishing trip. Just go; nobody's keeping track. 

That is essentially what goes on at I.B.M., one of the cornerstones of corporate America, where each of the 355,000 workers is entitled to three or more weeks of vacation. The company does not keep track of who takes how much time or when, does not dole out choice vacation times by seniority and does not let people carry days off from year to year.

Instead, for the past few years, employees at all levels have made informal arrangements with their direct supervisors, guided mainly by their ability to get their work done on time. Many people post their vacation plans on electronic calendars that colleagues can view online, and they leave word about how they can be reached in a pinch.

"It's like when you went to college and you didn't have high school teachers nagging you anymore," said Mark L. Hanny, I.B.M.'s vice president of independent software vendor alliances. "Employees like that we put more accountability on them."

. . .

(p. 18)   Aided by broadband connections, cellphones and video conferencing software, 40 percent of I.B.M.'s employees have no dedicated offices, working instead at home, at a client's site, or at one of the company's hundreds of "e-mobility centers" around the world, where workers drop in to use phones, Internet connections and other resources.

. . .

Luis H. Rodriguez, the director of market management in I.B.M.'s software group, said he visits his office here in Somers about once a week, working the rest of the time on the road or at his home in Ridgefield, Conn., where he sat one recent afternoon at the kitchen table with his laptop open.

He said that in six years at I.B.M. he can recall only one time when he asked a co-worker not to take a long weekend off -- when their group was about to buy another company -- and that calling colleagues or checking e-mail while visiting relatives in Texas or Illinois is a fair trade for being able to work from home so he can spend more time with his children, Alec, 5, and Evia, 2.

. . .

"If you look at the organizations that have done more radical things, they tend to be technology companies with salaried people," where flexibility in job performance "is embedded into the culture of the place," noted Max Caldwell, a managing principal in the work force effectiveness area at Towers Perrin, a human resources consultant.

Indeed, I.B.M.'s Mr. Calo said that the flexibility has helped the company compete with the more freewheeling atmosphere at start-up rivals in the technology world that have lured away some of its talent over the years.


For the full story, see:

KEN BELSON.  "At I.B.M., a Vacation Anytime, Or Maybe No Vacation at All."   The New York Times  (Fri., August 31, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


The reference for the Pink book, is:

Pink, Daniel H.  Free Agent Nation:  How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.  New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.


February 24, 2008

Innovative New Products Often Expensive at First, But Price Soon Falls

AdoptionInnovationsGraph.gif Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) To understand why consumption is a better guideline of economic prosperity than income, it helps to consider how our lives have changed. Nearly all American families now have refrigerators, stoves, color TVs, telephones and radios. Air-conditioners, cars, VCRs or DVD players, microwave ovens, washing machines, clothes dryers and cellphones have reached more than 80 percent of households.

As the second chart, on the spread of consumption, shows, this wasn't always so. The conveniences we take for granted today usually began as niche products only a few wealthy families could afford. In time, ownership spread through the levels of income distribution as rising wages and falling prices made them affordable in the currency that matters most -- the amount of time one had to put in at work to gain the necessary purchasing power.

At the average wage, a VCR fell from 365 hours in 1972 to a mere two hours today. A cellphone dropped from 456 hours in 1984 to four hours. A personal computer, jazzed up with thousands of times the computing power of the 1984 I.B.M., declined from 435 hours to 25 hours. Even cars are taking a smaller toll on our bank accounts: in the past decade, the work-time price of a mid-size Ford sedan declined by 6 percent.

For the full commentary, see:

W. MICHAEL COX and RICHARD ALM. "You Are What You Spend." The New York Times Company, Week in Review section (Sun., February 10, 2008): 14.

February 23, 2008

Private Airlines "Are Pulling Along a Slow-Moving Government Agency"


     "Delta Air Lines uses G.P.S. technology to reduce the time its planes spend on the runway."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 


(p. C1)  WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta Air Lines said its jets take off an average of 10 minutes after pushing back from the gate — three minutes faster than in previous years.

Using new technology, planes take off following a narrow route, so that that jets right behind them taking different routes do not have to wait as long. That makes the system move a bit faster.

“The pilots say, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat,’ ” said Joseph C. Kolshak, executive vice president for operations at Delta.

Delta, and also Alaska Airlines and U.P.S., is demonstrating pieces of the possible future of the nation’s air traffic system, hinting at what aviation might be like — if the airlines and the federal government can get the details worked out.

All three airlines use refinements based on the constellation of G.P.S., or global positioning system, satellites. Many of these save at most a few minutes. But in a crowded system plagued by delays, that may be enough to help smooth out bottlenecks.

The carriers’ use of satellite navigation and other tools and techniques represents a step toward replacing a 50-year-old system of radar and radio beacons.

In the process, they are pulling along a slow-moving government agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, that is eager for better air traffic control systems but short on money and the authority to put changes in place.

It is a revolution in technology, but also in politics. Previously, the F.A.A. usually bought new systems on the ground and told airlines to equip themselves to use them; now the airlines are taking the initiative to outfit their planes, with safety regulation from the F.A.A.

Airlines are even developing their own approach patterns for airports, which has almost always been a government job.

U.P.S. Airlines, working with Aviation Communications and Surveillance Systems, based in Phoenix, is developing a landing pattern based on separating planes by time, not distance, so they land at the briefest safe interval.

“We’re going to create the future, because we think we know (p. C5) where it’s going to go,” said Karen Lee, director of operations at U.P.S. This is in contrast to the traditional way of doing business, typified by “the F.A.A. tells us what the roadmap is,” she said, then “we’ll start building the stuff to do it.”


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "For Airlines, Hands-On Air Traffic Control."  The New York Times  (Weds., September 5, 2007):  C1 & C5. 


UPSplaneGPSdevice.jpg    "A device that U.P.S. installed in the cockpit of one of its cargo planes to display traffic information."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


February 22, 2008

"Sometimes It Pays to Read the Old Literature"

(p. A1) Researchers in New York believe they have solved one of the great mysteries of the flu: Why does the infection spread primarily in the winter months?

The answer, they say, has to do with the virus itself. It is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry, the exact conditions for much of the flu season.

. . .

(p. A22) To his surprise, Dr. Palese stumbled upon a solution that appeared to be a good second best.

Reading a paper published in 1919 in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the flu epidemic at Camp Cody in New Mexico, he came upon a key passage: "It is interesting to note that very soon after the epidemic of influenza reached this camp, our laboratory guinea pigs began to die." At first, the study's authors wrote, they thought the animals had died from food poisoning. But, they continued, "a necropsy on a dead pig revealed unmistakable signs of pneumonia."

Dr. Palese bought some guinea pigs and exposed them to the flu virus. Just as the paper suggested, they got the flu and spread it among themselves. So Dr. Palese and his colleagues began their experiments.

. . .

As for Dr. Palese, he was glad he spotted the journal article that mentioned guinea pigs.

"Sometimes it pays to read the old literature," he said.


For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "Study Shows Why the Flu Likes Winter." The New York Times (Weds., December 5, 2007): A1 & A22.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


February 21, 2008

Fraternal Odd Fellows Helped Each Other Without Depending on the Government


   The officers' banquet of the annual convention of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Before the New Deal and the Great Society, voluntary mutual assistance organizations provided insurance and help in the face of life's setbacks.  One such fraternal orgainization was the Odd Fellows. 


(p. 12)  Since his installation as top Odd Fellow, Mr. Robbins has warned that this order, dedicated to caring for the widowed, the orphaned and the needy, is in a “state of crisis.” Members are dying by the thousands, local lodges are closing by the dozens, and actual participation among the 289,000 members is dropping. If the people sitting before him do not heed his call to replenish the ranks, they will be the Odd Men and Women Out — defunct, extinct, done.

“Unless we can do something to turn the membership losses into significant gains in the next couple of years,” he says later, “we may be at a point where we can’t recover.”

Once we were a nation of joiners, and so many joined the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization whose name stems from an English journalist’s observation in 1745. He found it “odd” to see “fellows,” rather than the aristocracy, helping widows, orphans and one another. The name stuck, oddly.

In many communities, you can still find an old I.O.O.F. building, a place of some mystery, where the rituals would include acting out the story of the Good Samaritan. Members were to apply that story to real life by aiding their brothers and sisters, chipping in to pay burial costs, for example. You merely had to express belief in one Creator to be eligible; atheists and pantheists need not apply.

Odd Fellows tended to frown on alcohol, loved bestowing medals on one another, and reveled in seeing their sword-carrying, uniformed brothers, the chevaliers of the Patriarchs Militant, march in Main Street parades. In their small worlds, Odd Fellows mattered.

Then came social changes to dull the appeal of fraternal organizations. Tighter government regulations forced the Odd Fellows out of their signature cause, orphanages, while baby boomers found all the pomp and secrecy to be, um, silly.

. . .

A toast then, to all national leaders of the world, as is Odd Fellows custom. Another toast, to all fraternal leaders of the world. Dinner, remarks, benediction, recessional to the strains of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Odd Fellows and Rebekahs everywhere, good night.


For the full story, see: 

DAN BARRY.  "A Grand Gathering, but One With a Solemn Note."   The New York Times, Main Section  (Sunday, August 26, 2007):  12.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


OddFellows2.jpg    "The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, dedicated to caring for the widowed, the orphaned and the needy, is in a “state of crisis.”"  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


February 20, 2008

Government Biologists Spend Big Bucks Protecting Wrong Fish


"Without DNA tests, the rare greenback cutthroat trout, left, and the Colorado River cutthroat fish are difficult to tell apart." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 26) DENVER, Oct. 13 (AP) -- State and federal biologists, who are smarting from research showing that they may have been protecting the wrong fish the past 20 years, are regrouping in their efforts to restore the rare greenback cutthroat trout to Colorado waters.

Tom Nesler, the state biologist, had hoped to see the fish removed from the endangered species list during his career. He concedes that might not happen if it turns out some of the greenback populations biologists thought they were saving are actually the similar but more common Colorado River cutthroat trout.

A three-year study led by University of Colorado researchers and published in August found that out of nine fish populations believed to be descendants of original greenbacks, five were actually Colorado River cutthroat trout.

The recovery effort was thought to be near its goal of establishing 20 self-sustaining greenback populations.

"Hey, science happens," said Mr. Nesler with a shrug as he discussed the findings.

. . .

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has spent an average of $320,000 annually for the past five years to restore the greenback. Most of the money has come from state lottery revenue; no state tax dollars have been used.

. . .

"Science is not about proof and certainty," he said, "it's about testable hypotheses."


For the full story, see:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. "After Possible 'Oops,' a Trout Rescue Project Regroups." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 14, 2007): 26.

(Note: ellipses added.)


February 19, 2008

High-Tech Meters Increase Parking Efficiency


MitscheleFredHighTechMeter.jpg    "Fred Mitschele with his high-tech meter."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Hight-tech parking meters like the ones described in the article quoted below, could be used to make real-time changes in parking prices.  Higher rates during busier periods, would assure available spaces, which would reduce wasted time searching for parking spaces, thereby reducing congestion, and pollution. 


(p. 14)  If drivers want to use cash, the meters, which connect to a wireless network, can send text messages to the drivers’ cellphones to remind them to add more money.

The meters also communicate with traffic officials who can track which meters are being used and which ones need to be ticketed and serviced. To ensure that drivers do not skip out without paying, sensors the size of hockey pucks buried in the asphalt detect when cars pull in. A camera inside the meter takes pictures of license plates to help with enforcement.

. . .

The meters are just one example of how telecommunications are increasingly being integrated into toll and fee collection. E-ZPass, for instance, relies on radio frequency tags, cameras and networks to transmit data.


For the full story, see: 

KEN BELSON.  "MOTORING; Wait a Minute. My Parking Meter Is Calling."  The New York Times, SportsSunday Section  (Sun., September 9, 2007):  14.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


February 18, 2008

Chinese Price Ceilings on Diesel Fuel Cause Shortages


"Looking for usable coal at a cinder dump in Shanxi Province in China. Inadequate coal in the north limited power production." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

The article quoted below uses the word "tariff" in the sense of "price."

(p. C4) HONG KONG -- The Chinese government issued an "urgent notice" on Wednesday to the country's power generators, coal companies and railways to address an electricity shortage that has led to rationing in more than a third of China's provinces in recent weeks.

The rationing, mostly achieved by telling factories that their power will be shut off for a day or two each week, coincides with the annual frenzy of factory production to meet orders before shutting down for the Chinese New Year holidays, which fall in early February this year.

. . .

Power executives and government statements attributed the electricity shortfall this winter to a confluence of problems. Many of the problems appear to have their roots in the government's imposition of a long list of price controls in recent months in an attempt to tamp down inflation, which reached 6.9 percent at the consumer level in November.

Trucks did not deliver adequate coal stockpiles to power plants before winter snows arrived in northern China, partly because of nationwide diesel shortages. Refiners had cut back on the production of diesel because price controls were forcing them to sell the diesel for slightly less than the cost of the crude oil needed to make it.

. . .

Low electricity tariffs, particularly for residential users, have been another problem.

The central government issued an official "suggestion" to provincial governments last fall that they not allow increases in electricity tariffs charged to customers, as part of national price controls.

Provincial governments have responded by freezing tariffs, and even reducing them in the case of Guangdong Province in southeastern China, the home of much of the country's export-oriented light industry.

The low tariffs have made it uneconomical for oil-fired plants to operate, and many have stopped doing so.

"It makes absolutely no sense for anyone to run a diesel- or oil-fired plant. They're all shut down," said a power company executive in China who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of commenting on regulatory policies.

The executive added that even when ordered by the government to resume operating at a loss, many state-owned oil-fired plants had not done so, scheduling maintenance and repairs instead.

For the full story, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Pinched by Price Controls, Power Plants in China Scale Back." The New York Times (Thurs., January 24, 2008): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

February 17, 2008

Puzzle: Entrepreneurial Silicon Valley Donates Mainly to Democrats


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

Entrepreneurship thrives when government is small, so it puzzles me when the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley embrace the Democrats, who generally advocate bigger government.

Of course, my Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to point out that there are always cross-currents that go in a different direction from the mainstream. And among the Democrats, there are what used to be called "new Democrats" who appreciate Schumpeter, and entrepreneurship, and dynamism.

Plus, some Democrats are more respectful of personal, lifestyle choices, and in Silicon Valley, that may be what is given the most weight.

Or, more cynically, maybe there's a public choice explanation---that Silicon Valley donates to Democrats as a form of 'insurance,' in the hope that if the Democrats are elected, they will refrain from over-regulating and over-taxing Silicon Valley. (Even more cynically, compare the case of Florida's sugar-subsidy-rich Fanjul brothers, one of whom donated huge bucks to the first Bush, while another donated huge bucks to Bill Clinton.)

(Another factor is that, alas, entrepreneurs often do not pay much attention to what conditions encourage entrepreneurship.)

(p. C4)  In a flip from the primary season for the 2000 presidential election, 60 percent of the contributions so far from people in the technology field here are going to Democrats. The Democratic candidates raised $1.4 million from the industry in the first half of this year, while Republican candidates raised $890,000. That total is up from $1.2 million in the first six months of each of the last two presidential primary races.


For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "In Primary, Tech's Home Is a Magnet." The New York Times  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  C1 & C4.


February 16, 2008

Persistence and Efficiency Matter More than Teamwork and Enthusiasm, for CEO Success



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


(p. B3)  What are the traits that chief executives of successful companies share? A new study suggests that hard-nosed personal virtues such as persistence and efficiency count for more than "softer" strengths like teamwork or flexibility.

The findings are sure to intensify debate about how much toughness is appropriate in a CEO. Some famously hard-charging bosses of big companies have retired or been shunted aside in recent years. Successors at companies such as General Electric Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are seen as quieter, less strident team-builders.

But the new study, by three University of Chicago business-school professors, draws on detailed personal assessments of 313 CEO candidates to present a starker view of good leadership's ingredients. Of these candidates, 225 were hired. Their subsequent performance fuels most of the study's conclusions.

"We found that 'hard' skills, which are all about getting things done, were paramount," says lead author Steven Kaplan, a professor of finance and entrepreneurship. "Soft skills centering on teamwork weren't as pivotal. That was a bit of a surprise to us."

Prof. Kaplan and colleagues Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen didn't size up the CEOs themselves. Instead, they tapped into a consultant's database long coveted by academic researchers. It contains assessments of individuals' strengths and weaknesses compiled by ghSmart Inc. The Chicago management-assessment company evaluates CEO candidates on behalf of corporate clients.

For the full story, see:

GEORGE ANDERS. "THEORY & PRACTICE; Tough CEOs Often Most Successful, A Study Finds."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., November 19, 2007):  B3.

Included with the WSJ article was an interesting summary table:


Here are five CEO traits that correlate most closely with business success at buyout companies -- and five that score lowest, according to University of Chicago researchers.

Traits that matter...

• Persistence
• Attention to detail
• Efficiency
• Analytical skills
• Setting high standards

...and not so much

• Strong oral communication
• Teamwork
• Flexibility/adaptability
• Enthusiasm
• Listening skills

February 15, 2008

Private Money Supports Quest for Dinosaur DNA


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


(p. A1)  JORDAN, Mont. -- Prospecting in Montana's badlands, rock ax in hand, paleontologist Jack Horner picks up a piece of the jawbone of a dinosaur. He examines the splinter, then puts it back and moves on. It isn't the kind of bone he is looking for.

Prof. Horner is searching for something that many scientists believe no longer exists: dinosaur bones that harbor blood cells, protein and, perhaps, even DNA.

"Most people looking for dinosaurs are looking for beautiful skeletons," he says. "We are looking for information."

. . .  

Prof. Horner, a curator at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, is among the world's most influential and offbeat paleontologists. He pioneered studies of dinosaur parent-(p. A12)ing behavior, species variation and bone cells. He is dyslexic, a former Special Forces operative of the Vietnam War era, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellow, and a chaired professor of Montana State University who never finished a formal college degree.

"The lenses that people normally use to look at stuff are broken in Jack," says Mary Schweitzer, an assistant professor of paleontology at North Carolina State University, who has worked with him for years. "That's what makes Jack such a good scientist. Every now and then, every field should get a renegade weirdo in it who challenges assumptions."

. . .  

"The chances of finding any [dinosaur] DNA are pretty low," Prof. Horner acknowledges. "I am still hopeful."

In a field mostly outside the mainstream of federal research funding, Prof. Horner has a knack for attracting private grants. Star Wars producer George Lucas, Qualcomm co-founder Klein Gilhousen and Wade Dokken, a developer of Montana real estate, have contributed toward his research, the university says. Nathan Myhrvold, formerly chief technology officer at Microsoft Corp. and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures LLC, is helping to underwrite this season's fieldwork.

This summer, in Montana's Hell Creek Formation, Prof. Horner is searching the last landscape inhabited by dinosaurs. More than 65 million years ago, this plain was a wetland where herds of horned Triceratops watered. Today, it is an arid outwash of boulders, cactus and sage. The red and gray soil is littered with white shards of petrified wood that ring like bone china when tapped together and countless crumbs of dinosaur bone.

. . .

"As long as you are not bound by preconceived ideas of what you can find," Prof. Horner says, "there are an awful lot of things you can discover."


For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Dinosaur Hunter Seeks More Than Just Bare Bones; Prof. Horner Searches For Traces of Blood, DNA; Lucky Break From T. Rex."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  A1 & A12.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


     At top, Prof. Horner; at bottom: "Sarah Keenan, 21, an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who is working this summer for Prof. Horner, covers the fossilized triceratops frill in a protective jacket of plaster."  Source of caption and photos: the online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.


February 14, 2008

Bill Gates Reads Julian Simon

(p. A15)  A core belief of Mr. Gates is that technology can erase problems that seem intractable. That belief was deepened, Mr. Gates says, by his study of Julian Simon, a now-deceased business professor who argued that increases in wealth and technology would offset shortages in energy, food and other global resources.

Pacing in his office last week, Mr. Gates retold the story of a famous $10,000 wager between Mr. Simon and Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University professor who predicted that human population growth would outstrip the earth's resources.  Mr. Simon bet that even as a growing population increased demand for metals such as tin and copper, the price of those metals would fall within the decade ending in 1990. Mr. Simon won the bet. "He cremated the guy," says Mr. Gates.  Mr. Ehrlich's administrator at Stanford University said he was out of the country and couldn't comment on the wager.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH.  "Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism; Famously Competitive, Billionaire Now Urges Business to Aid the Poor."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., January 24, 2008):  A1 & A15.

February 13, 2008

The Right Stuff: "Mr. Armstrong Calmly Went About Improvising a Solution"


     "John Young, from the Apollo 16 crew, works on the lunar surface in April, 1972."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


(p. B14)  When the Apollo 11 astronauts toured the world after their July 1969 moon landing, recalls Mike Collins, the pilot of the mission's command module, he heard the phrase "We did it" everywhere they went. The "we," he remembers in David Sington's documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," didn't refer to Americans, or to any nationality, but to the human race. Millions around the world who had watched on television as men walked on the moon for the first time felt that they had participated in a great adventure that ennobled the species.

. . .

Threaded through the film are fragments of taped interviews with eight other Apollo astronauts: Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Jim Lovell, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, Dave Scott and John Young. These snippets appear almost randomly, in no particular order, and it is impossible to keep track of who's who. Cumulatively, however, they create a group portrait of explorers with "the right stuff": men with a much higher resistance to fear than average.

Mr. Collins remembers the intense physical sensations that he experienced during the Apollo 11 mission but that he never associated with panic. What could have been more terrifying than the moment when the module's computer was found to be overloaded, just as Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin were about to touch down? But Mr. Armstrong calmly went about improvising a solution.

If there was a lack of fear, there were a thousand little worries. Through every phase Mr. Collins fretted about the details that had to mesh for the mission to be successful. But he never feared for his life. That, in a nutshell, is the right stuff. 


For the full review, see: 

STEPHEN HOLDEN.  "MOVIE REVIEW | 'IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON'; When the Moon Was a Matter of Pride."  The New York Times  (Fri., September 7, 2007):  B14. 

(Note:  ellipsis added.) 


    The earth rising over the moon.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.


February 12, 2008

3-D Printers Promise Big Benefits for Consumers


"Lower-price 3-D printers like this one from Z Corp. are spawning new businesses."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Neil Gershenfeld has argued that in the not-too-distant-future, ordinary people will have the ability fabricate objects of their own design, in their own home.  His lab at MIT has been developing prototypes to fulfil this vision.  The 3-D printers discussed in the article quoted below, are the earliest exemplars of this vision, to make it to the market.

If this vision is realized, the benefits to consumers could be immense, in terms of variety of products, speed in obtaining products, and consumer control over what is consumed.


(p. B1)  The expansion by 3-D printers into manufacturing is happening thanks to a steady drop in the price of printers, improvements in the materials they can handle and a proliferation in the amount of 3-D data that can be turned into objects.

Historically, the printers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and were made by a handful of small companies including Z Corp. and Stratasys Inc. But now those and other new companies are producing more-affordable machines priced below $20,000, a change that has radically expanded sales.

The 3-D printing industry is about 20 years old, and in the past two years alone, it has sold around 8,000 machines, or 36% of the industry's two-decade world-wide sales total of 22,000, according to consulting firm Wohlers Associates.

And sales are likely to increase further: A Pasadena, Calif., venture called Desktop Factory Inc. has already taken 350 pre-orders for a $5,000 3-D printer it plans to roll out next year, says Cathy Lewis, CEO of the company. About 40% of those orders are from universities and 35% from small businesses, she says. The company predicts printers could start finding their way into homes in five years or so.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH.  "How 3-D Printing Figures To Turn Web Worlds Real."  The Wall Street Journal  (Weds., December 12, 2007):  B1.


The reference to the Gershenfeld book is: 

Gershenfeld, Neil.  Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication.  New York:  Basic Books, 2005.


"World of Warcraft figure made with a 3-D printer."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

February 11, 2008

Cubans Salute General Eléctrico

      "Two artists, Alejandro Leyva, left, and Esteban Leyva, with their "General Eléctrico," found a new use for an old appliance."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 


(p. 3)  In their decades of isolation from the American economy and from global prosperity, Cubans have been taught to take pride in the way they have kept grandiose old mechanical marvels running -- ancient Cadillacs and Russian-built Ladas included.

"They took away my señor and replaced him with a little guy," said a 47-year-old cook who lives in the Reparto Zamora district in western Havana. Welcoming a visitor to her kitchen, she pointed to the slim, white Chinese-made Haier that had taken the place of the bulky, pink Frigidaire that had been in her family for 24 years.

She called herself Moraima Hernández, but indicated with a wink that she was concealing her real name -- the only way she felt able to speak without fear of retaliation. Well, up to a point. She declined to say why she felt Mr. Castro was casting a shadow over items as banal as household appliances.

Instead, she simply opened the Haier to reveal its meager contents: bottles of tap water, a few eggs, mustard, half an avocado and some "textured picadillo," soy protein mixed with a bit of ground beef.

Her old refrigerator was so big, she said nostalgically, that two legs of pork could fit inside.

. . .

Inspired by the ingenuity it took to keep American refrigerators working so long, a group of Cuban artists last year transformed 52 of them into art. They put on a show called "Instruction Manual" that was a big hit in Cuba and is making the rounds in Europe this year.

In the show, the artists Alejandro and Esteban Leyva pinned medals on an old G.E. refrigerator, painted it olive drab and named it "General Eléctrico." Another artist, Alexis Leyva, installed oars on his refrigerator, drawing on the politically loaded symbol of the homemade boats Cubans use to leave the island illegally. Others were made into cars, skyscrapers a Trojan horse and a jail cell.

Ernesto García Peña, a painter, turned his into an eroticized female image. "In this heat," he explained, "the refrigerator is almost worshiped for its role as an absolute necessity of modern life. We treat it with very special affection."


For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "THE WORLD; In Cuba, a Politically Incorrect Love of the Frigidaire."  The New York Times , Week in Review Section  (Sun., September 2, 2007):  3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


  "Cold War Relic.   A 1950s-era American refrigerator dominates one woman's Havana apartment."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. 


February 10, 2008

Local Food May Have Larger Carbon Footprint


"Produce at the huge Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have been challenging assumptions about the carbon footprint of local foods versus those that are transported long distances."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 

(p. 11)  The local food, or locavore, movement has so much momentum that some of the food glitterati have declared that such food is better than organic.

But now comes a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, who have started asking provocative questions about the carbon footprint of food. Those questions threaten to undermine some of the feel-good locavore story line, not to mention my weekend forays for produce. (A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact of human activities on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced.)

While the research is not yet complete, Tom Tomich, director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, said the fact that something is local doesn't necessarily mean that it is better, environmentally speaking.

The distance that food travels from farm to plate is certainly important, he says, but so is how food is packaged, how it is grown, how it is processed and how it is transported to market.

Consider strawberries. If mass producers of strawberries ship their product to Chicago by truck, the fuel cost of transporting each carton of strawberries is relatively small, since it is tucked into the back along with thousands of others.

But if a farmer sells his strawberries at local farmers' markets in California, he ferries a much smaller amount by pickup truck to each individual market. Which one is better for the environment?

Mr. Tomich said a strawberry distributor did the math on the back of an envelope and concluded that the Chicago-bound berries used less energy for transport.


For the full story, see:

ANDREW MARTIN.  "THE FEED; If It's Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener?"  The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section  (Sun., December 9, 2007):  11.


February 9, 2008

Recent Years Were Not as Hot as Thought


HotestYearsGraph.gif    Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 19)  Never underestimate the power of the blogosphere and a quarter of a degree to inflame the fight over global warming.

A quarter-degree Fahrenheit is roughly the downward adjustment NASA scientists made earlier this month in their annual estimates of the average temperature in the contiguous 48 states since 2000. They corrected the numbers after an error in meshing two sets of temperature data was discovered by Stephen McIntyre, a blogger and retired business executive in Toronto. Smaller adjustments were made to some readings for some preceding years.

All of this would most likely have passed unremarkably if Mr. McIntyre had not blogged that the adjustments changed the rankings of warmest years for the contiguous states since 1895, when record-keeping began.

Suddenly, 1934 appeared to vault ahead of 1998 as the warmest year on record (by a statistically meaningless 0.036 degrees Fahrenheit). In NASA’s most recent data set, 1934 had followed 1998 by a statistically meaningless 0.018 degrees. Conservative bloggers, columnists and radio hosts pounced. “We have proof of man-made global warming,” Rush Limbaughtold his radio audience. “The man-made global warming is inside NASA.”

Mr. McIntyre, who has spent years seeking flaws in studies pointing to human-driven climate change, traded broadsides on the Web with James E. Hansen, the NASA team’s leader. Dr. Hansen said he would not “joust with court jesters” and Mr. McIntyre posited that Dr. Hansen might have a “Jor-El complex” — a reference to Superman’s father, who foresaw the destruction of his planet and sent his son packing.


For the full story, see: 

ANDREW C. REVKIN.  "Quarter-Degree Fix Fuels Climate Fight."  The New York Times, Main Section  (Sunday,  August 26, 2007):  19.


February 8, 2008

Schumpeter in The Age of Turbulence


AgeOfTurbulenceBK.jpg    Source of book image:  http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594201318,00.html#  


Joseph Schumpeter was born on this date in 1883.

Alan Greenspan's much-discussed memoir, is full of thoughtful discussions of Schumpeter's central mesage of creative destruction.  Here are a few lines from the first of those discussions:


(p. 48)  Working with heavy industry gave me a profound appreciation of the central dynamic of capitalism.  "Creative destruction" is an idea that was articulated by the Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942.  LIke many powerful ideas, his is simple:  A market economy will incessantly revitalize itself from within by scrapping old and failing businesses and then reallocating resources to newer, more productive ones.  I read Schumpeter in my twenties and always thought he was right, and I've watched the process at work through my entire career. 


The reference to Greenspan's book is:

Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World Economic Flexibility. New York: Penguin Press, 2007. 


February 7, 2008

Early Humans Resiliently Innovated to Survive During Climate Cooling


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


(p. A6)  Previous research had indicated that human ancestors had for ages depended solely on terrestrial plants and animals. Both fossil and genetic data show that modern humans evolved 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, but archaeological evidence for the emergence of modern behavior in technology, creativity, symbolic thinking and lifestyles is sparse.

But six years ago, at Blombos Cave, near Pinnacle Point, archaeologists uncovered 77,000-year-old tools along with pigments and engraved stones suggesting symbolic behavior, a sign of early creativity. Now, at the Pinnacle Point cave site, the shellfish remains reveal another important innovation.

. . .

Forced to seek new sources of food, some of the people migrated to the shore in search of "famine food." At Pinnacle Point, the discovery team reported, they feasted on a variety of marine life, brown mussels, giant periwinkles and whelks.

So on the southern shore of Africa, Dr. Marean said in a statement issued by Arizona State, a small population of cave-dwelling modern humans struggled and survived through the prevailing cold, eating shellfish and developing somewhat advanced technologies.


For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD.  "Key Human Traits Tied to Shellfish Remains."  The New York Times  (Thurs., October 18, 2007):  A6.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


February 6, 2008

Bill Gates Misreads Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments


GatesDavos2008.jpgBill Gates speaking at the Davos meetings in Switzerland on January 24, 2008.  Source of the photo: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/dealbook/davos2008/gates600.jpg


The German scholars used to call it "Das Adam Smith Problem":  how to reconcile the Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments with his later Wealth of Nations.  One alleged inconsistency is the advocacy of altruism in the former, and the advocacy of self-interest in the latter.  

But a closer reading of The Theory of Moral Sentiments solves the problem.  Smith thought a case could be made for altruism, but only toward those we know really well, which primarily meant one's own family, and maybe also others in one's community who one knows well.  The reason is that altruism works only when we know very well the situation and values of those who we propose to help.  Otherwise, we may end up doing more harm than good.

So when Gates embarks on global altruism, he should be careful in citing Smith for support.


The passage quoted below discusses Bill Gates's interpretation of Adam Smith:

(p. A15)  Key to Mr. Gates's plan will be for businesses to dedicate their top people to poor issues -- an approach he feels is more powerful than traditional corporate donations and volunteer work. Governments should set policies and disburse funds to create financial incentives for businesses to improve the lives of the poor, he plans to say today. "If we can spend the early decades of the 21st century finding approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce poverty in the world," Mr. Gates plans to say.

In the interview, Mr. Gates was emphatic that he's not calling for a fundamental change in how capitalism works. He cited Adam Smith, whose treatise, "The Wealth of Nations," lays out the rationale for the self-interest that drives capitalism and companies like Microsoft. That shouldn't change, "one iota," Mr. Gates said.

But there's more to Adam Smith, he added. "This was written before 'Wealth of Nations,'" Mr. Gates said, flipping through a copy of Adam Smith's 1759 book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." It argues that humans gain pleasure from taking an interest in the "fortunes of others." Mr. Gates will quote from that book in his speech today.

Talk of "moral sentiments" may seem surprising from a man whose competitive drive is so fierce that it drew legal challenges from antitrust authorities. But Mr. Gates said his thinking about capitalism has been evolving for years. He outlined part of his evolution from software titan to philanthropist in a speech last June to Harvard's graduating class, recounting how when he left Harvard in 1975 he knew little of the inequities in the world. A range of experiences including trips to Africa and India have helped raise that awareness.

In the Harvard speech, Mr. Gates floated the idea of "creative capitalism." But at the time he had only a "fuzzy" sense of what he meant. To clarify his thinking, he decided to prepare the Davos speech.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH.  "Bill Gates Issues Call For Kinder Capitalism; Famously Competitive, Billionaire Now Urges Business to Aid the Poor."  The Wall Street Journal   (Thurs., January 24, 2008):  A1 & A15.


One good article that discusses some of the issues in my initial commentary is:

Coase, Ronald H.  "Adam Smith's View of Man."  In Essays on Economics and Economists.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1995.




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


February 5, 2008

The Spontaneous Order of Houston Tunnels


   "The three major sections of the tunnel system are connected under the building at 919 Milam Street in downtown Houston."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 


Houston is one of the most vibrant, free-wheeling cities in the United States.  It is the only major city that does not have zoning laws,  (See:   Bernard Siegan's Land Use Without Zoning.)

The tunnels of Houston appear to be another great example of what Hayek called "spontaneous order." 


(p. A14) HOUSTON, Aug. 20 — Where is everybody? 

Seared by triple-digit heat and drenched by tropical storms, midday downtown Houston appears eerily deserted, the nation’s fourth-largest city passing for a ghost town.

On the street, that is.

But below, there are tunnels at the end of the light — nearly seven color-coded miles of them connecting 77 buildings — aswarm with Houstonians lunching, shopping and power-walking in dry, air-chilled comfort.

. . .

It was not centrally planned; it just grew, inspired by Rockefeller Center in New York. But it is not connected to a transit network. And, befitting Texans’ distrust of government, most of it is private; each segment is controlled by the individual building owner who deigns to allow the public access during business hours — and then locks the doors on nights and weekends. Some parts, like those belonging to the former Enron buildings now leased by Chevron, are closed to outsiders altogether.

Few claim mastery of the labyrinth.

“It’s one of Houston’s best-kept secrets,” said Sandra Lord, widely known as the Tunnel Lady, a Yankee transplant who dispels the mysteries for $10 a head and roams the downtown underworld with proprietary aplomb, sometimes stopping strangers to ask, “And you are?” Corporations pay Ms. Lord to orient new employees below ground, and nearly 45,000 natives and visitors have taken her Discover Houston Tours since 1988.

. . .

Ms. Lord, a writer and Houston historian, traced the origins of the tunnels to Ross Sterling, an oilman and governor during the Depression, who, inspired by Rockefeller Center, linked two of his downtown buildings underground in the early 1930s. Soon after, an entertainment entrepreneur, Will Horwitz, connected three of his vaudeville and movie theaters to save on air-conditioning.

And the tunnels grew from there, despite the private expense of digging connections. The oil bust of the 1980s forced many building owners to compete for business with amenities like tunnels.

Many were flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, prompting installation of submarine-type doors with inflatable rubber insulation for airtight seals.


For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "It’s Lonesome in This Old Town, Until You Go Underground."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 21, 2007):  A14.

(Note:  ellipses added.)


Top photo shows "Sandra Lord, owner of Discover Houston Tours, leading a tunnel excursion . . . "  Bottom photo shows a map of the tunnels.  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 


February 4, 2008

Government Pushing Fluorescent Bulbs with Hazardous Mercury


BulbSkull.jpg    Source of image:  online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1)  As part of the government's focus on energy and the environment, Americans are urged to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use only about 25% of the energy and last up to 10 times as long as traditional incandescent bulbs. Nearly 300 million such bulbs were sold in U.S. in 2007, compared with 100 million two years earlier, according to the Department of Energy.

. . .

Yet unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, these bulbs contain mercury, a metal hazardous to human health and the environment. Consumers are urged not to toss them in the trash. In some states, such as California, it's illegal to throw them away; they must be recycled. Still, many cities and towns don't have recycling programs for the bulbs, and consumers aren't sure what to do with them.


For the full story, see: 

SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ.  "The Dark Side Of 'Green' Bulbs Disposing of Fluorescents, Electronics Releases Toxins; Companies Tout Recycling." The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs., January 24, 2008):  D1.  

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


February 3, 2008

Google and Microsoft Seek to Shift Health Care Power to Consumers


InternetHealthGraph.jpg    Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 


(p. C1)  In politics, every serious candidate for the White House has a health care plan. So too in business, where the two leading candidates for Web supremacy, Google and Microsoft, are working up their plans to improve the nation’s health care.

. . .

(p. C8)  If the efforts of the two big companies gain momentum over time, that promises to accelerate a shift in power to consumers in health care, just as Internet technology has done in other industries.

Today, about 20 percent of the nation’s patient population have computerized records — rather than paper ones — and the Bush administration has pushed the health care industry to speed up the switch to electronic formats. But these records still tend to be controlled by doctors, hospitals or insurers. A patient moves to another state, for example, but the record usually stays.

The Google and Microsoft initiatives would give much more control to individuals, a trend many health experts see as inevitable. “Patients will ultimately be the stewards of their own information,” said John D. Halamka, a doctor and the chief information officer of the Harvard Medical School.

Already the Web is allowing people to take a more activist approach to health. According to the Harris survey, 58 percent of people who look online for health information discussed what they found with their doctors in the last year.

It is common these days, Dr. Halamka said, for a patient to come in carrying a pile of Web page printouts. “The doctor is becoming a knowledge navigator,” he said. “In the future, health care will be a much more collaborative process between patients and doctors.”

Microsoft and Google are hoping this will lead people to seek more control over their own health records, using tools the companies will provide.


For the full story, see: 

STEVE LOHR.  "Dr. Google and Dr. Microsoft."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 14, 2007):  C1 & C8.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)


February 2, 2008

Unhappy Italians: "More Fear than Hope"


    "A priest passes an abandoned garage covered with graffiti in Milan. Italy's malaise, an economic, political, and social funk, was summed up in a recent poll: Italians report themselves to be the least happy people in Western Europe."  Source of caption and photo:  online verison of the NYT article quoted and cited below. 


(p. A1)  ROME — All the world loves Italy because it is old but still glamorous. Because it eats and drinks well but is rarely fat or drunk.  Because it is the place in a hyper-regulated Europe where people still debate with perfect intelligence what, really, the red in a stoplight might mean.

But these days, for all the outside adoration and all of its innate strengths, Italy seems not to love itself.   The word here is “malessere,” or “malaise”; it implies a collective funk — economic, political and social — summed up in a recent poll: Italians, despite their claim to have mastered the art of living, say they are the least happy people in Western Europe.

“It’s a country that has lost a little of its will for the future,” said Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a possible future center-left prime minister.  “There is more fear than hope.”

. . .

. . .   In 1987, Italy celebrated its economic parity with Britain.  Now Spain, which joined the European Union only a year earlier, may soon overtake it, and Italy has fallen behind Britain.

Italy’s low-tech way of life may enthrall tourists, but Internet use and commerce here are among the lowest in Europe, as are wages, foreign investment and growth. Pensions, public debt and the cost of government are among the highest.

. . .

(p. A18)  . . .  entrepreneurs complain that they are alone. Politicians offered little help making Italy competitive, and this remains a major impediment to making their gains grow. Businesses want less bureaucracy, more flexible labor laws and large investments in infrastructure to make moving goods around easier.

. . .  

. . .   Many worry . . . that Italy may share the same fate as the Republic of Venice, based in what many say is the most beautiful of cities, but whose domination of trade with the Near East died with no culminating event. Napoleon’s conquest in 1797 only made it official.

Now it is essentially an exquisite corpse, trampled over by millions of tourists.  If Italy does not shed its comforts for change, many say, a similar fate awaits it: blocked by past greatness, with aging tourists the questionable source of life, the Florida of Europe.

. . .  

. . .   “We have reached a point where hoping for some kind of white knight coming in saying, ‘We’ll sort you out,’ is over.”

“We Italians have our destiny in our hands more than ever before,” he said.


For the full story, see: 

IAN FISHER  "In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment."  The New York Times  (Thurs., December 13, 2007):  A1 & A18.

(Note:  ellipses added.) 


February 1, 2008

Health Care Costs Are High and Rising


   Source of graph:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


The article quoted below summarizes a seminar by Dr. John Abramson.  He was right to highlight the high costs of health care in the U.S., though he didn't show any special insight in suggesting solutions.


(p. 1D)  Costs are out of control, he said, and yet the United States, out of 22 developed nations, pays the most per person for health care and ranks last in having citizens lead long, healthy lives.



For the full story, see: 

STEVE JORDON.  "Employers urged to cure health system."  Omaha World-Herald  (Weds., August 22, 2007):  1D & 2D.  


  Source of cartoon:  online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.



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