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June 30, 2009

"Entrepreneurs Must Be Allowed to Retain the Wealth They Create"




(p. 305) Entrepreneurs seek money chiefly for positive reasons: to perform their central role in economic growth. Just as a sociologist needs free time and access to libraries and research aides, and a scientist needs a laboratory and assistants, and a doctor needs power to prescribe medicine and perform surgery--just as intellectuals need freedom to write and publish--capitalists need economic freedom and access to capital to perform their role in launching and financing enterprise. Entrepreneurs must be allowed to retain the wealth they create because only they, collec- (p. 306) tively, can possibly know who to give it to--how to invest it productively among the millions of existing businesses and the innumerable visions of new enterprise in the world economy.


Source:

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.






June 29, 2009

To Cure Fatal Diseases We Need More Financial Incentives and Fewer F.D.A. Restrictions




ThompsonJoshuaAndSons.jpg








"JOSHUA THOMPSON with his sons, Wyatt and Jordan, after his diagnosis, top, and before, with his wife, Joy, and Wyatt." Source of the photos and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.












(p. 1) VIRGINIA BEACH -- As Lou Gehrig's disease sapped Joshua Thompson of his ability to move and speak last fall, he consistently summoned one question from within the prison of his own body. "Iplex," he asked, in a whisper that pierced his mother's heart. "When?"

Iplex had never been tested in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the formal name for the fatal disease that had struck Joshua, 34, in late 2006. Developed for a different condition and banished from the market by a patent dispute, it was not for sale to the public anywhere in the world.

But Kathy Thompson had vowed to get it for her son. On the Internet, she had found enthusiastic reviews from A.L.S. patients who had finagled a prescription for Iplex when it was available, along with speculation by leading researchers as to why it might slow the progressive paralysis that marks the disease. And for months, as she begged and bullied biotechnology companies, members of Congress, Italian doctors and federal drug regulators, she answered Joshua the same way:

"Soon," she said. "Soon."

At a time when terminally ill patients have more access to medical research than ever before, and perhaps a deeper conviction in its ability to cure them, many are campaigning for the chance to be treated with drugs whose safety and effectiveness is not yet known.


. . .


(p. 19) "Josh's sadness is unbearable," his mother wrote one night in her journal, nearly a year after her son's diagnosis.

Unexpected encouragement came in a Mother's Day note from her ex-husband. "You have given me some peace of mind that all potential options for Josh are being researched and acted upon," Bruce wrote. "Thank you."

Kathy's boyfriend accompanied her to Insmed's headquarters in Richmond, Va., offering to raise several million dollars to underwrite a compassionate use program for Iplex in the United States with A.L.S. patients. But the couple came away with a new understanding: F.D.A. regulations, they were told, prohibit any company from profiting on compassionate use. Even if Insmed could wriggle free of restrictions in the patent agreement, there was little financial incentive for it to invest in making the drug solely for compassionate use by A.L.S. patients.


. . .


On Jan. 16, when Dr. Werwath called to tell her the application had been rejected, she stood up in disbelief.

"How could that be?" she asked, dazed.

Kathy's friend Mrs. Reimers had received a call with the same news.

"He said they had safety concerns," Mrs. Reimers said. "This for a drug that was approved for children!"

"Safety," Kathy repeated. "And what, exactly, is safe about A.L.S.?"

Appealing an F.D.A. Denial

Before the F.D.A.'s decision, Kathy had spared little thought for any broader meaning of her quest for Joshua. But when she met with Richard A. Samp, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Foundation a week later, her outrage went beyond her son, and beyond Iplex.

"The F.D.A. is supposed to protect American citizens," Kathy fumed over an iced tea in Williamsburg, Va. "How does denying dying patients access to this drug serve the common good?"

Mr. Samp had handled a lawsuit by a patient advocacy group, the Abigail Alliance, that had sought to establish a constitutional right for terminally ill patients to use experimental drugs. In the case, which the group had lost on appeal in 2007, the F.D.A. claimed that it granted "nearly all" requests for compassionate use.

They would first make an administrative appeal, Mr. Samp told Kathy, asserting that the F.D.A. had violated its own guidelines. If that failed, they could pursue litigation that might allow them to raise the constitutional question again in a federal court in Virginia.


. . .


Kathy was pouring milk for her cereal on the morning of March 10 when Dr. Werwath's number flashed on her phone. The F.D.A. had just reversed itself, he said.

Before she could take a breath, Senator Mark Warner's office called. E-mail bleeped in as the news seeped out.

In the weeks after the appeal, Kathy learned, the F.D.A. had reached out to Insmed. The agency had persuaded the company to run a clinical trial for Iplex with several dozen A.L.S. patients, and permitted it to recoup the hefty costs directly from participants. In the trial, some of the participants would get a placebo. That way, the F.D.A. wrote on its Web site, the next wave of A.L.S. patients would learn whether the drug was in fact beneficial or harmful.

But for now, the agency had ruled, Joshua and 12 other patients would be given Iplex outside of the trial, on a compassionate use basis, if they agreed to read all the data about the risks.



For the full version of a very long story, see:

AMY HARMON. "Months to Live; Fighting for a Last Chance at Life; One Family's Tenacious Campaign for Access to an Unproven Drug." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 17, 2009): 1, 18-19.

(Note: ellipses added.)




ThompsonJoshuaIplexInjection2009-06-10.jpg"IN MARCH, Joshua Thompson received his first Iplex injection, from Dr. David L. Werwath. Thereafter Joshua's wife, Joy, left, and mother, Kathy, took over the daily duties." Source of the photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 28, 2009

"Don't Kill the Goose"




(p. A11) I think there are two major but not fully formed or fully articulated fears among thinking Americans right now, and the deliberate obscurity of official language only intensifies those fears.

The first is that Mr. Obama's government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliché as they come, but too bad, it's what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they--we--wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, "By the way, don't kill the goose."

The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don't mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed--by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, "Don't kill the goose."



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "What's Elevated, Health-Care Provider? Economy of language would be good for the economy." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 15, 2009): A11.






June 27, 2009

"Flock of Intellectuals" Called Eiffel Tower "Dizzily Ridiculous"




(p. W12) The tower is so beloved that few today remember the storm of vitriol, mockery and lawsuits provoked by its selection as the startling centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. (One of the losing entries was a gigantic working guillotine!) Even as Eiffel was breaking ground by the Seine River in February 1887, 47 of France's greatest names decried in a letter to Le Temps the "odious column of bolted metal." What person of good taste, this flock of intellectuals asked, could endure the thought of this "dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing [all] beneath its barbarous mass"? The revered painters Ernest Meissonier and William-Adolphe Bouguereau, writers Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas fils, composer Charles Gounod and architect Charles Garnier all signed this epistolary call to arms, stating that "the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris."

Gustave Eiffel, a self-made millionaire whose firm constructed much-admired bridges all over the world, happily twitted his critics: "They begin by declaring that my tower is not French. It is big enough and clumsy enough for the English or Americans, but it is not our style, they say. We are more occupied by little artistic bibelots. . . . Why should we not show the world what we can do in the way of great engineering projects?"



For the full commentary, see:

JILL JONNES. "MASTERPIECE; 'Odious Column' of Metal; The Eiffel Tower wasn't always a beloved icon." Wall Street Journal (Tues., MAY 9, 2009): W12.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)





June 26, 2009

There's Still Space in Diamond's Fall Seminar on the Economics of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska at Omaha




EntrepreneurshipPosterRevised.jpg




June 25, 2009

Environmentalists Lay Guilt on Rafael for His New Set of Legos




BatkerRafaelLegos2009-06-10.jpg"David Batker with his son Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, who worried it might hurt the environment if he bought a new set of Legos." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason "The Story of Stuff," a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.


. . .


. . . many children who watch it take it to heart: riding in the car one day with his parents in Tacoma, Wash., Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, was worried about whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos.

"When driving by a big-box store, you could see he was struggling with it," his father, David Batker, said. But then Rafael said, "It's O.K. if I have Legos because I'm going to keep them for a very long time," Mr. Batker recalled.


. . .


(p. A12) "There was not one positive thing about capitalism in the whole thing," Mr. Zuber said.

Corporations, for example, are portrayed as a bloated person sporting a top hat and with a dollar sign etched on its front.



For the full story, see:

LESLIE KAUFMAN. " In Schools, a Cautionary Video About America and Its 'Stuff'." The New York Times (Mon., May 11, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title is: "A Cautionary Video About America's 'Stuff'.")



EnvironmentalistVideoCapture.jpg"A section of the video on toxic chemicals and production." Source of image and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 24, 2009

"Clear Relationship in Rice Farming Between Effort and Reward"




(p. 236) What redeemed the life of a rice farmer, however, was the nature of that work. It was a lot like the garment work done by the Jewish immigrants to New York. It was meaningful. First of all, there is a clear relationship in rice farming between effort and reward. The harder you work a rice field, the more it yields. Second, it's complex work. The rice farmer isn't simply planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. He or she effectively runs a small business, juggling a family workforce, hedging uncertainty through seed selection, building and managing a sophisticated irrigation system, and coordinating the complicated process of harvesting the first crop while simultaneously preparing the second crop.

And, most of all, it's autonomous. The peasants of Europe worked essentially as low-paid slaves of an aristocratic landlord, with little control over their own destinies. But China and Japan never developed that kind of oppressive feudal system, because feudalism simply can't work in a rice economy. Growing rice is too complicated and intricate for a system that requires farmers to be coerced and bullied into going out into the fields each morning. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, landlords in central and Southern China had an almost completely hands-off relationship with their tenants: they would collect a fixed rent and let farmers go about their business.

"The thing about wet-rice farming is, not only do you (p. 237) need phenomenal amounts of labor, but it's very exacting," says the historian Kenneth Pomerantz. "You have to care. It really matters that the field is perfectly leveled before you flood it. Getting it close to level but not quite right makes a big difference in terms of your yield. It really matters that the water is in the fields for just the right amount of time. There's a big difference between lining up the seedlings at exactly the right distance and doing it sloppily. It's not like you put the corn in the ground in mid-March and as long as rain comes by the end of the month, you're okay. You're controlling all the inputs in a very direct way. And when you have something that requires that much care, the overlord has to have a system that gives the actual laborer some set of incentives, where if the harvest comes out well, the farmer gets a bigger share. That's why you get fixed rents, where the landlord says, I get twenty bushels, regardless of the harvest, and if it's really good, you get the extra. It's a crop that doesn't do very well with something like slavery or wage labor. It would just be too easy to leave the gate that controls the irrigation water open a few seconds too long and there goes your field."




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 23, 2009

"Evidence Suggests" that Bangladesh Can "Cheaply and Safely" Protect Itself Against Global Warming




BeelBhainaBangladeshNewLand2009-06-10.JPG"In Beel Bhaina, a low-lying 600-acre soup bowl of land on the banks of the Hari River, in Bangladesh, land that was once under water is now full of greenery." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) BEEL BHAINA, Bangladesh -- The rivers that course down from the Himalayas and into this crowded delta bring an annual tide of gift and curse. They flood low-lying paddies for several months, sometimes years, at a time. And they ferry mountains of silt and sand from far away upstream.

Most of that sediment washes out into the roiling Bay of Bengal. But an accidental discovery by desperate delta folk here may hold clues to how Bangladesh, one of the world's most vulnerable countries to climate change, could harness some of that dark, rich Himalayan muck to protect itself against sea level rise.

Instead of allowing the silt to settle where it wants, Bangladesh has begun to channel it to where it is needed -- to fill in shallow soup bowls of land prone to flooding, or to create new land off its long, exposed coast.

The efforts have been limited to small experimental patches, not uniformly promising, and there is still ample concern that a swelling sea could one day soon swallow parts of Bangladesh. But the emerging evidence suggests that a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change could literally raise itself up and save its people -- and do so cheaply and simply, using what the mountains and tides bring.



For the full story, see:

SOMINI SENGUPTA. "In Silt, Bangladesh Sees Potential Shield Against Sea Level Rise." The New York Times (Fri., March 20, 2009): A6.



BeelBhainaBangladeshMap.jpg











"An influx of silt after a flood made Beel Bhaina higher." Source of map and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 22, 2009

French People Sleep More Than Those in Other Industrialized Countries




My hypothesis is not that the French are lazier than others, but that their labor policies give them less incentive to work.


(p. A8) PARIS -- When he won the presidential election two years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy urged the French to get up early and work more to earn more.

A study released Monday suggests they missed the wake-up call.

France is the industrialized country where people spend the longest periods sleeping, according to a series of surveys on social habits conducted by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development.

The French sleep a daily average of 530 minutes, compared with 518 for Americans and 469 for Koreans -- the OECD's "most awake" nation, according to the study.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS. "France Wrests Title of Sleeping Giant." Wall Street Journal (Tues., MAY 5, 2009): A8.





June 21, 2009

"Save a Red, Eat a Gray!"




(p. D1) With literally millions of squirrels rampaging throughout England, Scotland and Wales at any given time, squirrels need to be controlled by culls. This means that hunters, gamekeepers, trappers and the Forestry Commission (the British equivalent of forest rangers) provide a regular supply of the meat to British butchers, restaurants, pâté and pasty makers and so forth.

The situation is more than simply a matter of having too many squirrels. In fact, there is a war raging in Squirreltown: invading interlopers (gray squirrels introduced from North America over the past century or more) are crowding out a British icon, the indigenous red squirrel immortalized by Beatrix Potter and cherished by (p. D5) generations since. The grays take over the reds' habitat, eat voraciously and harbor a virus named squirrel parapox (harmless to humans) that does not harm grays but can devastate reds. (Reports indicate, though, that the reds are developing resistance.)

"When the grays show up, it puts the reds out of business," said Rufus Carter, managing director of the Patchwork Traditional Food Company, a company based in Wales that plans to offer squirrel and hazelnut pâté on its British Web site, patchwork-pate.co.uk.

Enter the "Save Our Squirrels" campaign begun in 2006 to rescue Britain's red squirrels by piquing the nation's appetite for their marauding North American cousins. With a rallying motto of "Save a red, eat a gray!" the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat.

British bon vivants suddenly couldn't get enough squirrel. Television chefs were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers' markets were selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on the menu.



For the full story, see:

MARLENA SPIELER. "Saving a Squirrel by Eating One." The New York Times (Weds., January 7, 2009): D1 & D5.



SquirrelPlate2009-06-10.jpg"Squirrel is appearing on more menus, as at Fergus Henderson's restaurant St. John, in London." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 20, 2009

"Hard Work is a Prison Sentence Only if it Does Not Have Meaning"




(p. 149) When Borgenicht came home at night to his children, he may have been tired and poor and overwhelmed, but he was alive. He was his own boss. He was responsible for his own decisions and direction. His work was complex: it engaged his mind and imagination. And in his work, there was a relationship between effort and reward: the longer he and Regina stayed up at night sewing aprons, the more money they made the next day on the streets.

Those three things -- autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward--are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make (p. 150) that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us. If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and working in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I'm guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money.

Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful. Being a physician is meaningful. So is being an entrepreneur, and the miracle of the garment industry--as cutthroat and grim as it was--was that it allowed people like the Borgenichts, just off the boat, to find something meaningful to do as well."" When Louis Borgenicht came home after first seeing that child's apron, he danced a jig. He hadn't sold anything yet. He was still penniless and desperate, and he knew that to make something of his idea was going to require years of backbreaking
labor. But he was ecstatic, because the prospect of those endless years of hard labor did not seem like a burden to him. Bill Gates had that same feeling when he first sat down at the keyboard at Lakeside. And the Beatles didn't recoil in horror when they were told they had to play eight hours a night, seven days a week. They jumped at the chance. Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 19, 2009

Ukrainian Memorial to the Millions Starved by Stalin's Communism




FamineMemorialKievUkraine.jpg "A memorial to the famine, right, opposite a revered cathedral, was dedicated last November in Kiev. A museum is planned there." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) KIEV, Ukraine -- A quarter century ago, a Ukrainian historian named Stanislav Kulchytsky was told by his Soviet overlords to concoct an insidious cover-up. His orders: to depict the famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s as unavoidable, like a natural disaster. Absolve the Communist Party of blame. Uphold the legacy of Stalin.

Professor Kulchytsky, though, would not go along.

The other day, as he stood before a new memorial to the victims of the famine, he recalled his decision as one turning point in a movement lasting decades to unearth the truth about that period. And the memorial itself, shaped like a towering candle with a golden eternal flame, seemed to him in some sense a culmination of this effort.

"It is a sign of our respect for the past," Professor Kulchytsky said. "Because everyone was silent about the famine for many years. And when it became possible to talk about it, nothing was said. Three generations on."


. . .


The pro-Western government in Kiev, which came to power after the Orange Revolution of 2004, calls the famine a genocide that Stalin ordered because he wanted to decimate the Ukrainian citizenry and snuff out aspirations for independence from Moscow.

The archives make plain that no other conclusion is possible, said Professor Kulchytsky, who is deputy director of the Institute of Ukrainian History in Kiev.

Professor Kulchytsky is 72, though he looks younger, as if he has somehow withstood the draining effect of so much research into the horrors of that time.

"It is difficult to bear," he acknowledged. "The documents about cannibalism are especially difficult to read."

Professor Kulchytsky said it was undeniable that people all over the Soviet Union died from hunger in 1932 and 1933 as the Communists waged war on the peasantry to create farming collectives. But he contended that in Ukraine the authorities went much further, essentially quarantining and starving many villages.

"If in other regions, people were hungry and died from famine, then here people were killed by hunger," Professor Kulchytsky said. "That is the absolute difference."



For the full story, see:

CLIFFORD J. LEVY. "Kiev Journal - A New View of a Famine That Killed Millions." The New York Times (Mon., March 16, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





June 18, 2009

To Get Things Done "Doesn't Leave Any Time for Golf or Cocktails"




I am grateful to Matthew Pianetta for calling my attention to this wonderful quotation from the entrepreneurial Admiral Hyman G. Rickover:


(p. 239) "Efficiency isn't the objective, Dunford, effectiveness is. Don't confuse effectiveness with efficiency. I'm convinced that the only way to be effective, to make a difference in the real world, is to put ten times as much effort into everything as anyone else thinks is reasonable. It doesn't leave any time for golf or cocktails, but it gets things done."


Source:

Rickover as quoted in Rockwell, Theodore. The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2002.

(Note: paging of quote seems same in both 1992 and 2002 editions.)





June 17, 2009

Cooking with Cow Shit Adds to Global Warming (and Would Be Ended by Economic Growth)




SootFromCookingIndia.jpg"Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet's warming, studies say." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Economic growth is sometimes seen as increasing pollution. But the article quoted below shows that primitive cooking methods, which occur in the absence of economic growth, cause one of the most damaging forms of pollution: black carbon.


(p. A1) KOHLUA, India -- "It's hard to believe that this is what's melting the glaciers," said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world's leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.

As women in ragged saris of a thousand hues bake bread and stew lentils in the early evening over fires fueled by twigs and dung, children cough from the dense smoke that fills their homes. Black grime coats the undersides of thatched roofs. At dawn, a brown cloud stretches over the landscape like a diaphanous dirty blanket.

In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot -- also known as black carbon -- from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.

While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the (p. A12) planet's warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming -- especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.


. . .


Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.


. . .


Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, said that the fact that black carbon was not included in international climate efforts was "bizarre," but "partly reflects how new the idea is."



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "By Degrees; Black Carbon; Soot From Third-World Stoves Is New Target in Climate Fight." The New York Times (Thurs., April 16, 2009): A1, A12.

(Note: ellipses added; the title of the online version is "By Degrees - Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight." )


BlackCarbonMap.jpg





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





June 16, 2009

Entrepreneur's Dresses "Would Save Mothers Endless Work"




Schumpeter would have loved the passage quoted below---it is a wonderful example for his argument that capitalism mainly benefits ordinary people of modest means.


(p. 147) Listen to how Borgenicht describes his decision to expand beyond aprons:


From my study of the market I knew that only three men were making children's dresses in 1890. One was an East Side tailor near me, who made only to order, while the other two turned out an expensive product with which I had no desire at all to compete. I wanted to make "popular price" stuff--wash dresses, silks, and woolens. It was my goal to produce dresses that the great mass of the people could afford, dresses that would--from the business angle--sell equally well to both large and small, city and country stores. With Regina's help--she always had excellent taste, and judgment--I made up a line of samples. Displaying them to all my "old" customers and friends, I hammered home every point--my dresses would save mothers endless work, the materials and sewing were as good and probably better than anything that could be done at home, the price was right for quick disposal.



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





June 15, 2009

Becker and Farmer on the Economics of Discrimination




FarmerDonnaAndChildren2009-06-09.jpg "ROYAL SUBJECTS; Donna Farmer, with her children, applauds Disney's efforts." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


In Gary Becker's initially controversial doctoral dissertation, he argued that those who discriminate in the labor market pay a price for their prejudice: they end up paying higher wages, than do those employers are not prejudiced.

The bottom line is that the free market provides incentives for the encouragement of diversity and tolerance.

Similarly, Donna Farmer argues, in the passages below, that the marketplace provides the Disney company with incentives to have "The Princess and the Frog" appeal to black audiences.


(p. 1) "THE Princess and the Frog" does not open nationwide until December, but the buzz is already breathless: For the first time in Walt Disney animation history, the fairest of them all is black.


. . .


After viewing some photographs of merchandise tied to the movie, which is still unfinished, Black Voices, a Web site on AOL dedicated to African-American culture, faulted the prince's relatively light skin color. Prince Naveen hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.

"Disney obviously doesn't think a black man is worthy of the title of prince," Angela Bronner Helm wrote March 19 on the site. "His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking (p. 8) their head in befuddlement and even rage."

Others see insensitivity in the locale.

"Disney should be ashamed," William Blackburn, a former columnist at The Charlotte Observer, told London's Daily Telegraph. "This princess story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community."

ALSO under scrutiny is Ray the firefly, performed by Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Yosemite Sam). Some people think Ray sounds too much like the stereotype of an uneducated Southerner in an early trailer.

Of course, armchair critics have also been complaining about the princess. Disney originally called her Maddy (short for Madeleine). Too much like Mammy and thus racist. A rumor surfaced on the Internet that an early script called for her to be a chambermaid to a white woman, a historically correct profession. Too much like slavery.

And wait: We finally get a black princess and she spends the majority of her time on screen as a frog?


. . .


Donna Farmer, a Los Angeles Web designer who is African-American and has two children, applauded Disney's efforts to add diversity.

"I don't know how important having a black princess is to little girls -- my daughter loves Ariel and I see nothing wrong with that -- but I think it's important to moms," she said.

"Who knows if Disney will get it right," she added. "They haven't always in the past, but the idea that Disney is not bending over backward to be sensitive is laughable. It wants to sell a whole lot of Tiana dolls and some Tiana paper plates and make people line up to see Tiana at Disney World."



For the full article, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., May 31, 2009): 1, 8-9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The published version of Becker's doctoral dissertation is:

Becker, Gary S. The Economics of Discrimination. 2nd Rev ed, Economic Research Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.


DisneyPrincessAndFrog2009-06-09.jpg Movie still of Princess Tiana from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" to be released in December 2009. Source of movie still: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 14, 2009

"Whoever Was Prudent, Is Always the One Who Has to Pick Up the Pieces"




(p. A3) "We like a nice, gentle, upward slope," said Donald E. Goetz, the president of DeMotte State Bank, an 11-branch operation in the northwest part of Indiana.

"This kind of growth, like you see in the stock market" -- Mr. Goetz ran his hand through the air, tracing the shape of a mountain range -- "that doesn't interest us."


. . .


Mr. Goetz, who was wearing a tie and a short-sleeve shirt, started as a teller at DeMotte right after he graduated from college in 1976, and he's been president since 1988. He is a stolid guy who, when asked what he does for fun, offered two words: "Yard work."

He sounds somewhat aggrieved. His bank, which opened in 1917, didn't make any subprime loans, nor did it take any bailout money. Even when bank stocks were soaring, not one of his 246 shareholders needled him to earn more than the 3 to 4 percent dividend that DeMotte has generated for years.


. . .


"We had three or four people panic," he said. "A couple of them said, 'It's not the bank. We just don't trust the government.' And I told them, 'If the government fails, the money you're taking out of this bank won't be worth anything.' "

Mr. Goetz, like a lot of his competitors, is livid about the mortgage shenanigans born of the securitization craze. But he thinks his public relations problem had many authors.

"The media, Congress, the president, everyone just keeps saying 'the banks, the banks, the banks,' like we're all the same thing," he said. "Well, we're not all the same thing."


. . .


At DeMotte, Mr. Goetz is bracing for a steep increase in a crucial overhead cost: the bill from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is basically an insurance fund underwritten by banks.

Last year, DeMotte paid $42,000 into the fund. This year, because of failures in other parts of the country and particularly among national banks, that sum will rise to $500,000 or more.

"Isn't that the American way?" he says, folding his arms. "Whoever is left standing, whoever was prudent, is always the one who has to pick up the pieces."



For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "We're Dull, Small Banks Say, and Have Profit to Show for It." The New York Times (Tues., May 12, 2009): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)





June 13, 2009

Past Successful Entrepreneurship is a Predictor of Future Successful Entrepreneurship




DavidowWilliamVentureCapitalist2009-05-31.jpg"William H. Davidow, a venture capitalist, says he would want to know why an entrepreneur's last deal failed "and what the person learned from it." " Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The research reported below, goes against the conclusions of some (such as Christensen and Raynor) that entrepreneurs often learn useful lessons from their failures. However, if true, the research has interesting policy implications.

For instance, if it is true that entrepreneurs who have succeeded in the past, are also more likely to succeed in the future, then it makes sense to allow them to keep the wealth from their entrepreneurship. In that case, the wealth is not only an incentive and reward for hard work, and taking risks. It also provides them the seed-funds for ever-more ambitious future entrepreneurial efforts that have a better-than-average chance of success. E.g., the profits from Disney's cartoon movies, were crucial for funding Disneyland.

(The Gompers et al research is consistent with one of Edwin Mansfield's papers, that I think I mention in my review of Mansfield's contributions to the economics of technology.)


(p. 3) Professor Gompers and his co-authors Anna Kovner, Josh Lerner and David S. Scharfstein found that first-time entrepreneurs who received venture capital funding had a 22 percent chance of success. Success was defined as going public or filing to go public; Professor Gompers says the results were similar when using other measures, like acquisition or merger.

Already-successful entrepreneurs were far more likely to succeed again: their success rate for later venture-backed companies was 34 percent. But entrepreneurs whose companies had been liquidated or gone bankrupt had almost the same follow-on success rate as the first-timers: 23 percent.

In other words, trying and failing bought the entrepreneurs nothing -- it was as if they never tried. Or, as Professor Gompers puts it, "for the average entrepreneur who failed, no learning happened."

This finding flies in the face of conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, where failure is regarded as an important opportunity for learning. No less an authority than Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, says that in the Valley, "You're more valuable because of the experiences you've been through under failures."



For the full article, see:

LESLIE BERLIN. "Prototype; Try, Try Again, or Maybe Not." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 22, 2009): 3.



The research by Gompers et al, can be downloaded from:

Gompers, Paul A., Anna Kovner, Josh Lerner, and David S. Scharfstein. "Performance Persistence in Entrepreneurship." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09-028, 2008.


PincusMarkEntrepreneur.jpg










"Mark Pincus, who founded Tribe.net and then Zynga, says: "As an entrepreneur, you have to get used to failure. It is just part of the path to success." " Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 12, 2009

Costs of Entry Were Low in Entrepreneurial Garment Industry in 1900




(p. 146) This was the second great advantage of the garment
industry. It wasn't just that it was growing by leaps and bounds. It was also explicitly entrepreneurial. Clothes weren't made in a single big factory. Instead, a number of established firms designed patterns and prepared the fabric, and then the complicated stitching and pressing and button attaching were all sent out to small contractors. And if a contractor got big enough, or ambitious enough, he started designing his own patterns and preparing his own fabric. By 1913, there were approximately (p. 147) sixteen thousand separate companies in New York City's garment business, many just like the Borgenichts' shop on Sheriff Street.

"The threshold for getting involved in the business was very low. It's basically a business built on the sewing machine, and sewing machines don't cost that much," says Daniel Soyer, a historian who has written widely on the garment industry. "So you didn't need a lot of capital. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was probably fifty dollars to buy a machine or two. All you had to do to be a contractor was to have a couple sewing machines, some irons, and a couple of workers. The profit margins were very low but you could make some money."



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.





June 11, 2009

Powerful Rail Unions Defend Specious Disability Claims




RailroadDisabilityReport.jpg"LAX REGULATIONS; One examination in 1997 found that 97 percent of workers who applied for disability benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board were approved. Despite decades of efforts to re-evaluate the standards, the rate is as high or higher today." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) After learning that most of her career employees were retiring early and getting disability payments, the Long Island Rail Road's president, Helena E. Williams, set out in October to learn more about the obscure federal agency in Chicago that was dispensing the money, a quarter of a billion dollars since 2000.

But when Ms. Williams asked to attend the next meeting of the agency -- the federal Railroad Retirement Board, rail workers' version of Social Security -- she got a surprise.

The board, with about $34 billion in assets, had not met formally in nearly two years, and no new meeting was scheduled. The three board members, all full-time presidential appointees, rarely met even in private, employees of the agency say.

Operating out of public view, with little scrutiny from Congress and even from its former inspector general, the retirement board has become the agency that cannot say no, last year approving virtually every single disability application it received -- almost 98 percent. It did not matter where rail employees lived or where they worked.

An examination of the board by The New York Times, including dozens of interviews and a review of government records, found a disability program plagued by labor-management infighting, weak standards and a failure to use tests that could better weed out specious disability claims.


. . .


(p. A25) More than a half-dozen state and federal agencies are now investigating the retirement board's disability payments to former L.I.R.R. employees. In September, two days after The Times published the results of an eight-month investigation that documented those disability payments, federal agents raided the board's Long Island office.

The L.I.R.R.'s disability rate, which since 2000 has ranged between 93 percent and 97 percent for retired career employees, is three to four times that of the average railroad. Workers at other railroads get disabilities just as easily, but they file for them less often because, unlike L.I.R.R. employees, they cannot retire early with a private pension plan to supplement their disability pay.


. . .


The rail unions, which have remained powerful even as the nation's labor movement has ebbed, have aggressively defended their interests at the retirement board. Management has largely avoided a showdown, choosing to spend its political capital in other areas, including contract issues, according to current and former board officials.

"The unions have been successful not only in getting a separate system, but keeping it," said Robert S. Kaufman, a former director of retirement claims for the board.



For the full story, see:

WALT BOGDANICH and NICHOLAS PHILLIPS. "The Railroad Disability Board That Couldn't Say No." The New York Times (Mon., December 15, 2008): A1 & A25.

(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title leaves out the word "Railroad.")


RailroadDisabilityHistoryInaction.gif






































































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






June 10, 2009

Major Advances Seldom Come from Big Incumbent Firms




(p. 109) Most of today's Fortune 500 were not there fifty years ago. All of the private sector's net new jobs in the United States during the past twenty years were added by companies not on the Fortune 1000 twenty years ago: two thirds of the net new jobs came from companies with fewer than twenty employees twenty years ago. Ten years ago our automobile giants seemed invincible. Today we wonder whether more than one will survive.

In 1960, Theodore Levitt of Harvard wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review, "Marketing Myopia," in which he pointed out that every industry was once a growth industry. Perversely, a vicious cycle sets in. After experiencing continued growth for a while, managers in the industry come to believe that continuing growth is assured. They persuade themselves that there is no competitive substitute for their product, and develop too much faith in (p. 110) the benefits of mass production and the inevitable steady cost reduction that results as output rises. Managements become preoccupied with products that lend themselves to carefully controlled improvement and the benefits of manufacturing cost reduction. All of these forces combine to produce an inevitable stagnation or decline.

In Dynamic Economics, the economist Burton Klein puts forward a carefully researched and very similar view: "Assuming that an industry has already reached the stage of slow history, the advances will seldom come from the major firms in the industry. In fact, of some fifty inventions [fifty key twentieth-century breakthrough innovations that he studied] that resulted in new S-shaped curves [major new growth patterns] in relatively static industries, I could find no case in which the advance in question came from a major firm in the industry." George Gilder elaborates on Klein's work "The very process by which a firm becomes most productive in an industry tends to render it less flexible and inventive."

It appears that evolution is continuously at work in the marketplace; that adaptation is crucial; and that few big businesses, if any, pull it off. Many of our excellent companies most probably will not stay buoyant forever. We would merely argue that they've had a long run--a much longer and more successful run than most--and are coming much closer than the rest to maintaining adaptability and size at the same time.



Source:

Peters, Thomas J., and Robert H. Waterman. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

(Note: italics and brackets in original.)





June 9, 2009

Taiwan Government's Industrial Policy Ruins Economy




ExportsPlungeEastAsia2009-05-31.jpg Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A8) Taiwan, where for years the government encouraged information technology companies with tax breaks, cheap land, loans and more, is probably the most endangered of the small Asian economies. The result of that government largess is an economy extremely dependent on a single industrial sector that has been devastated by plunging worldwide sales of electronics. "Half of the industries just got a bad cold, they probably can recover quickly -- the other 50 percent, they've got, not cancer, but close," said Preston W. Chen, a chemicals tycoon who is also the chairman of Taiwan's Chinese National Federation of Industries.


For the full article, see:

KEITH BRADSHER. "Memo From Singapore - East Asia's Small Edens of Trade Wilt as Need for Exports Dries Up." The New York Times (Thurs., March 5, 2009): A8.





June 8, 2009

Jewish Immigrant Garment Entrepreneurs "Worked Hard"




(p. 145) "There is no doubt that those Jewish immigrants
arrived at the perfect time, with the perfect skills," says
the sociologist Stephen Steinberg. "To exploit that opportunity,
you had to have certain virtues, and those immigrants
worked hard. They sacrificed. They scrimped and
saved and invested wisely. But still, you have to remember
that the garment industry in those years was growing
by leaps and bounds. The economy was desperate for the
skills that they possessed."



Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 7, 2009

Global Warming Lowers Sea Levels Near Juneau




GlaciersRecedingJuneau2009-05-31.jpg"Glaciers around Juneau are receding 30 feet or more each year." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) JUNEAU, Alaska -- Global warming conjures images of rising seas that threaten coastal areas. But in Juneau, as almost nowhere else in the world, climate change is having the opposite effect: As the glaciers here melt, the land is rising, causing the sea to retreat.

Morgan DeBoer, a property owner, opened a nine-hole golf course at the mouth of Glacier Bay in 1998, on land that was underwater when his family first settled here 50 years ago.

"The highest tides of the year would come into what is now my driving range area," Mr. DeBoer said.

Now, with the high-tide line receding even farther, he is contemplating adding another nine holes.

"It just keeps rising," he said.

The geology is complex, but it boils down to this: Relieved of billions of tons of glacial weight, the land has risen much as a cushion regains its shape after someone gets up from a couch. The land is ascending so fast that the rising seas -- a ubiquitous byproduct of global warming -- cannot keep pace. As a result, the relative sea level is falling, at a rate "among the highest ever recorded," according to a 2007 report by a panel of experts convened by Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau.



For the full article, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. "Higher Seas? As Alaska Glaciers Melt, Land Rises." The New York Times (Mon., May 18, 2009): A1 & A11.

(Note: the title of the online version of the article is: "As Alaska Glaciers Melt, It's Land That's Rising.")


JuneuauGolfCourse2009-05-31.jpg"Morgan DeBoer opened a nine-hole golf course, above, at the mouth of Glacier Bay in 1998 on land that did not exist when his family settled in the area 50 years ago." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 6, 2009

The Ascent of Science Led to Belief that the World Could Improve




I believe the following paragraph expresses the central message of Steven Johnson's book The Invention of Air:

(p. 211) In the popular folklore of American History, there is a sense in which the founders' various achievements in natural philosophy---Franklin's electrical experiments, Jefferson's botany---serve as a (p. 212) kind of sanctified extracurricular activity. They were statesmen and political visionaries who just happened to be hobbyists in science, albeit amazingly successful ones. Their great passions were liberty and freedom and democracy; the experiments were a side project. But the Priestley view suggests that the story has it backward. Yes, they were hobbyists and amateurs at natural philosophy, but so were all the great minds of Enlightenment-era science. What they shared was a fundamental belief that the world could change---that it could improve--- if the light of reason was allowed to shine upon it. And that believe emanated from the great ascent of science over the past century, the upward trajectory that Priestley had s powerfully conveyed in his History and Present State of Electricity. The political possibilities for change were modeled after the change they had all experience through the advancements in natural philosophy. With Priestley, they grasped the political power of the air pump and the electrical machine.


Source:

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 5, 2009

China's Grass-Mud Horse Has "Made Government Censors Look Ridiculous"




GrassMudHorseA2009-05-31.jpg"Songs about a mythical alpaca-like creature have taken hold online in China." Source of screen capture and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) BEIJING -- Since its first unheralded appearance in January on a Chinese Web page, the grass-mud horse has become nothing less than a phenomenon.

A YouTube children's song about the beast has drawn nearly 1.4 million viewers. A grass-mud horse cartoon has logged a quarter million more views. A nature documentary on its habits attracted 180,000 more. Stores are selling grass-mud horse dolls. Chinese intellectuals are writing treatises on the grass-mud horse's social importance. The story of the grass-mud horse's struggle against the evil river crab has spread far and wide across the Chinese online community.

Not bad for a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point.

The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China's authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that.

It has also raised real ques-(p. A12)tions about China's ability to stanch the flow of information over the Internet -- a project on which the Chinese government already has expended untold riches, and written countless software algorithms to weed deviant thought from the world's largest cyber-community.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES. "Mythical Beast (a Dirty Pun) Tweaks China's Web Censors." The New York Times (Thurs., March 12, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: the online title of the article is: "A Dirty Pun Tweaks China's Online Censors.")


GrassMudHorseB2009-05-31.jpg"The popularity of the grass-mud horse has raised questions about China's ability to stanch the flow of information." Source of screen capture and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 4, 2009

The Meaningful Work of Immigrant Sweatshop Entrepreneurs




(p. 141) "To me the greatest wonder in this was not the mere
quantity of garments--although that was a miracle in
itself--" Borgenicht would write years later, after he
became a prosperous manufacturer of women's and children's
clothing, "but the fact that in America even poor
people could save all the dreary, time-consuming labor of
making their own clothes simply by going into a store and
walking out with what they needed. There was a field to
go into, a field to thrill to."

Borgenicht took out a small notebook. Everywhere he
went, he wrote down what people were wearing and what
was for sale--mens wear, women's wear, children's wear. He
wanted to find a "novel" item, something that people would
wear that was not being sold in the stores. For four more
days he walked the streets. On the evening of the final day
as he walked toward home, he saw a half dozen girls playing
hopscotch. One of the girls was wearing a tiny embroidered
apron over her dress, cut low in the front with a tie in the
back, and it struck him, suddenly, that in his previous days
of relentlessly inventorying the clothing shops of the Lower
East Side, he had never seen one of those aprons for sale.

He came home and told Regina. She had an ancient
sewing machine that they had bought upon their arrival in
America. The next morning, he went to a dry-goods store
on Hester Street and bought a hundred yards of gingham
and fifty yards of white crossbar. He came back to their
tiny apartment and laid the goods out on the dining room
table. Regina began to cut the gingham--small sizes for
toddlers, larger for small children--until she had forty (p. 142)
aprons. She began to sew. At midnight, she went to bed
and Louis took up where she had left off. At dawn, she rose
and began cutting buttonholes and adding buttons. By ten
in the morning, the aprons were finished. Louis gathered
them up over his arm and ventured out onto Hester Street.

"Children's aprons! Little girls' aprons! Colored ones,
ten cents. White ones, fifteen cents! Little girls' aprons!"

By one o'clock, all forty were gone.

"Ma, we've got our business," he shouted out to Regina,
after running all the way home from Hester Street.

He grabbed her by the waist and began swinging her
around and around.

"You've got to help me," he cried out. "We'll work
together! Ma, this is our business."




Source:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

(Note: italics in original.)





June 3, 2009

Medical Care is Much Advanced Since Victorian Era of Mid-1800s




In the final sentences quoted below, note the under-appreciated role of air conditioning, and electric light, in advancing medical education.


(p. W6) "Gray's Anatomy" is one of the most famous medical books of all time, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the man most responsible for the success of the book was its long-forgotten illustrator, Henry Vandyke Carter. In "The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy," Ruth Richardson shows how Carter and Henry Gray came together to produce a classic that originally bore neither of their names -- it was published as "Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical" -- but she also affords us a remarkable glimpse of science in the 19th century.


. . .


Not much of a paper record exists regarding Henry Gray's life. Ms. Richardson speculates that his possessions were burned in the "Victorian terror" stirred by smallpox, the disease that would kill him at age 34. Henry Carter kept a diary, but its contents are not exactly a trove of detail about his life and times. . . .


. . .


Describing their methods, Ms. Richardson reminds us of what we now take for granted in medicine by relating what wasn't feasible back then. The "dissecting season" was the colder months, January-March, to make the most of the cadavers' preservation. And the work day had to begin soon after dawn because sunlight was so much better for close observation than any other light source.



For the full review, see:

MARK F. TEAFORD. "Dissecting an Unheralded Alliance; A classic medical text bears one man's name, but it was the product of a true collaboration." Wall Street Journal (Fri., MARCH 27, 2009): W6.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The reference to the reviewed book is:

Richardson, Ruth. The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

MakingOfMrGraysAnatomyBK.jpg















Source of book cover image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited above.





June 2, 2009

Adams, as a Point of Honor, Defended the Innovations of Science




(p. 211) It is no accident that, despite the long litany of injuries Adams felt had been dealt him in Jefferson's letters to Priestley, he chose to begin his counterassault by denying, as a point of honor, that he had ever publicly taken a position as president that was resistant to the innovations of science. Remember that Jefferson had also insinuated that Adams had betrayed the Constitution with his "libel on legislation." But Adams lashed out first at the accusation that he was anti-science. That alone tells us something about the gap that separates the current political climate from that of the founders.


Source:

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.





June 1, 2009

"Infinitely Smart" Physicist and Futurist Expresses Global Warming Doubts




DysonFreeman2009-05-30a.jpg Dyson says that the "climate-studies people" have ". . . come to believe models are real and forget they are only models." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (The caption used here is adapted from the body of the article, and is not the caption used under the photo in the article.)



The cover story of the March 29, 2009 Sunday New York Times Magazine section was a breath of fresh air on an old hot topic. Here is a small sample of a large article:


(p. 32) FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country's most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming "out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned," as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors' letter boxes and Dyson's own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as "a pompous twit," "a blowhard," "a cesspool of misinformation," "an old coot riding into the sunset" and, perhaps inevitably, "a mad scientist." Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a (p. 34 sic) good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred "carbon-eating trees," whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded -- there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford -- and suggested that "perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers." Dyson's son, George, a technology historian, says his father's views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone -- out of his beautiful mind.

But in the considered opinion of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, Dyson's friend and fellow English expatriate, this is far from the case. "His mind is still so open and flexible," Sacks says. Which makes Dyson something far more formidable than just the latest peevish right-wing climate-change denier. Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists -- William Press, former deputy director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a professor of computer science at the University of Texas, calls him "infinitely smart." Dyson -- a mathematics prodigy who came to this country at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory -- not only did path-breaking science of his own; he also witnessed the development of modern physics, thinking alongside most of the luminous figures of the age, including Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Witten, the "high priest of string theory" whose office at the institute is just across the hall from Dyson's. Yet instead of hewing to that fundamental field, Dyson chose to pursue broader and more unusual pursuits than most physicists -- and has lived a more original life.

. . .

(p. 36) Not long ago Dyson sat in his institute office, a chamber so neat it reminds Dyson's friend, the writer John McPhee, of a Japanese living room. On shelves beside Dyson were books about stellar evolution, viruses, thermodynamics and terrorism. "The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models," Dyson was saying. "They come to believe models are real and forget they are only models." Dyson speaks in calm, clear tones that carry simultaneous evidence of his English childhood, the move to the United States after completing his university studies at Cambridge and more than 50 years of marriage to the German-born Imme, but his opinions can be barbed, especially when a conversation turns to climate change. Climate models, he says, take into account atmospheric motion and water levels but have no feeling for the chemistry and biology of sky, soil and trees. "The biologists have essentially been pushed aside," he continues. "Al Gore's just an opportunist. The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers."

Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still "a relatively cool period in the earth's history." The warming, he says, is not global but local, "making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter." Far from expecting any drastic harmful consequences from these increased temperatures, he says the carbon may well be salubrious -- a sign that "the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse," because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields. "Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now," he contends, "and substantially richer in carbon dioxide." Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend "cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes."



For the full article, see:

NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF. "The Civil Heretic." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., March 29, 2009): 32-39, 54, 57-59.

(Note: ellipses in top photo caption, and in article quotes, are added.)


DysonFreeman2009-0530b.jpg
















"Freeman Dyson." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






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