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November 30, 2009

Obama Tire Tariff Hurts Poor

TiresChinese2009-10-29.jpg "A man walks past a tire store in Beijing on Sunday. A new U.S. tariff on Chinese tires could lead to shortages in the lower-cost-tire market segment as retailers scramble to find alternative sources in other countries." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A3) Consumers who buy low-price Chinese tires -- the bulk of the tires China exports to the U.S. -- will be hit hardest by the new tariff, as shortages in this market segment cause retailers to scramble to find alternative sources in other countries.

The tariffs, which apply to all Chinese tires, will cut off much of the flow of the more than 46 million Chinese tires that came to the U.S. last year, nearly 17% of all tires sold in the country.

The low end of the market will feel the impact of the tariff most, as U.S. manufacturers, who joined the Chinese in opposing the tariffs, have said it isn't profitable to produce inexpensive tires in domestic plants.

"I think within the next 60 days you'll see some pretty significant price increases," said Jim Mayfield, president of Del-Nat Tire Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., a large importer and distributor of Chinese tires. He estimates prices for "entry-level" tires could increase 20% to 30%.

For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY AEPPEL. "Tariff on Tires to Cost Consumers; Higher Prices Expected at Market's Low End, Where China Focuses Its Exports." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., SEPTEMBER 14, 2009): A3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Tues., Sept. 15.)

November 29, 2009

Walt Disney: "I Don't Care About Critics"

(p. 286) "He is shy with reporters." Edith Efron wrote for TV Guide in 1965. "His eyes are dull and preoccupied, his affability mechanical and heavy-handed. He gabs away slowly and randomly in inarticulate, Midwestern speech that would be appropriate to a rural general store. His shirt is open, his tie crooked. One almost expects to see over-all straps on his shoulders and wisps of hay in his hair. . . . If one has the patience to persist, however, tossing questions like yellow flares into the folksy fog, the fog lifts, a remote twinkle appears in the preoccupied eves, and the man emerges."

Here again, as in other interviews from the 1960s, Disney permitted himself to sound bitter and resentful when he said anything of substance: "These avant-garde artists are adolescents. It's only a little noisy element that's going that way, that's creating this sick art. . . . There is no cynicism in me and there is none allowed in our work. . . . I don't like snobs. You find some of intelligentsia, they become snobs. They think they're above everybody else. They're not. More education doesn't mean more common sense. These ideas they have about art are crazy. . . . I don't care about critics. Critics take themselves too seriously. They think the only way to be noticed and to be the smart guy is to pick and find fault with things. It's the public I'm making pictures for."


Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses and italics in original.)

November 28, 2009

Nationalizing Health Care: Communists Seized Pharmacy Owned By Ayn Rand's Father

AynRandBooksBK.jpgSource of book images: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. C6) Ayn Rand poses theatrically in her signature cape and gold dollar-sign pin on the cover of a groundbreaking new biography. Rand also poses theatrically in this same Halloween-ready costume (Rand impersonators have been known to wear it) on the cover of another groundbreaking new biography. The two books are being published a week apart. And both have gray covers that make them look even more interchangeable. Yet Rand, whose Objectivist philosophy is enjoying one of its periodic resurgences, loathed the very idea of grayness. She preferred dichotomies that were strictly black and white.

. . .

Ms. Heller's book is worth its $35 price, which is not the kind of detail that Rand herself would have been shy about trumpeting. When Russian Bolshevik soldiers commandeered and closed the St. Petersburg pharmacy run by Zinovy Rosenbaum, they made a lifelong capitalist of his 12-year-old daughter, Alissa, who would wind up fusing the subversive power of the Russian political novel with glittering Hollywood-fueled visions of the American dream.

. . .

Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand's popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the "Who is John Galt?" slogan from "Atlas Shrugged," to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns's words) "reports of Ayn Rand's death are greatly exaggerated."

For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Twin Biographies of a Singular Woman, Ayn Rand." The New York Times (Thurs., October 21, 2009): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

November 27, 2009

Incandescent Bulb Defended by Light Expert Who Relit Statue of Liberty

(p. A13) The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will effectively phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012-2014 in favor of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. Other countries around the world have passed similar legislation to ban most incandescents.

Will some energy be saved? Probably. The problem is this benefit will be more than offset by rampant dissatisfaction with lighting. We are not talking about giving up a small luxury for the greater good. We are talking about compromising light. Light is fundamental. And light is obviously for people, not buildings. The primary objective in the design of any space is to make it comfortable and habitable. This is most critical in homes, where this law will impact our lives the most. And yet while energy conservation, a worthy cause, has strong advocacy in public policy, good lighting has very little.

. . .

As a lighting designer with more than 50 years of experience, having designed more than 2,500 projects including the relighting of the Statue of Liberty, I encourage people who care about their lighting to contact their elected officials and urge them to re-evaluate our nation's energy legislation so that it serves people, not an energy-saving agenda.

For the full commentary, see:

HOWARD M. BRANDSTON. "Save the Light Bulb!; Compact fluorescents don't produce good quality light." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., AUGUST 31, 2009): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Sun., Aug. 30.)

November 26, 2009

Vicente Locay, Rest in Peace

My friend Luis called yesterday (11/24/09) to tell me that his father, Vicente Locay had passed away.

Vicente was not a tall man, but he stood tall at key moments in his life.

Over the years, Luis told many stories about what Vicente said and did in Cuba. One of my favorites was that Vicente, not being particularly religious, had no plans to have Luis christened. But when Castro outlawed public displays of Catholicism, Vicente changed his mind, and made sure that Luis had the benefits of a public christening.

When it became increasingly clear what was in store for Cuba under Castro's dictatorship, Vicente managed to get his family on a rickety plane, and escape.

In Cuba, Vicente had owned several small businesses. In the U.S., he started over, without ever mastering English. He worked hard remodeling houses to support his family.

For many years, I had hoped that Vicente would outlast Fidel, and would return in triumph to a post-Fidel Havana.

It's too late for that to happen. The best we can do is to acknowledge and salute a man of courage and strength, who chose freedom.

November 25, 2009

Disney Learned Quickly (Despite Lack of Formal Education), and Impatiently Expected Others to Learn Quickly Too

The story below is very reminiscent of a story that Michael Lewis tells in The New, New Thing about how entrepreneur Jim Clark learned to fly.

Possible lesson: impatience and quick learning may not be traits of all high level entrepreneurs, but they appear to have been traits of at least two.

(p. 213) Seventeen years later, Broggie told Richard Hubler that teaching Disney how to run a lathe and drill press and other machinery was difficult "because he was impatient. So I'd make what we call a set-up in a lathe and turn out a piece and say, 'Well, that's how you do it.' He would see part of it and he was impatient, so he would want to turn the wheels--and then something would happen. A piece might fly out of the chuck and he'd say, 'God-damn it. why didn't you tell me it was going to do this?' Well, you don't tell him, you know? It was a thing of--well--you learn it. He said one day, . . . 'You know, it does me some good sometimes to come down here to find out I don't know all about everything.' . . . How would you sharpen the drill if it was going to drill brass or steel? There's a difference. And he learned it. You only had to show him once and he got the picture."

This was a characteristic that other people in the studio noticed. "He had a terrific memory," Marc Davis said. "He learned very quickly. . . . You only had to explain a thing once to him and he knew how to do it. Other people are not the same. I think this is a problem he had in respect to everybody . . . his tremendous memory and his tremendous capacity for learning. He wasn't book learned but he was the most fantastically well educated man in his own way. . . . He understood the mechanics of everything. . . . Everything was a new toy. And this also made him a very impatient man. He was as impatient as could be with whoever he worked with."

Disney's lack of formal education manifested itself sometimes in jibes at his college-educated employees, but more often in the odd lapses--the mispronounced words, the grammatical slips--that can mark an autodidact. "For a guy who only went to the eighth grade," Ollie Johnston said, "Walt educated himself beautifully. His vocabulary was good. I only heard him get sore (p. 214) about a big word once in a story meeting. Everyone was sitting around talking and Ted Sears said, 'Well, I think that's a little too strident.' Walt said, 'What the hell are you trying to say, Ted?' He hadn't heard that word before.


Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

For a similar story about Jim Clark, see:

Lewis, Michael. The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.

November 24, 2009

Support Grows for School Vouchers in D.C.

VoucherRallyDC2009-10-29.jpg "Students from Bridges Academy in Washington, D.C., at a Capitol Hill rally last month in support of the city's Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives students from low-income families scholarships for private schools." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) The District of Columbia's embattled school-voucher program, which lawmakers appeared to have killed earlier this year, looks like it could still survive.

Congress voted in March not to fund the program, which provides certificates to pay for recipients' private-school tuition, after the current school year. But after months of pro-voucher rallies, a television-advertising campaign and statements of support by local political leaders, backers say they are more confident about its prospects. Even some Democrats, many of whom have opposed voucher efforts, have been supportive.

. . .

Many parents whose children receive vouchers say they are satisfied with the private schools they attend. During the 2008-2009 school year, about 61,700 students nationwide received vouchers, up 9% from the previous school year, according to the Alliance for School Choice, a pro-voucher advocacy group.

. . .

Created as a five-year pilot project by a Republican-controlled Congress in early 2004, the Opportunity Scholarship Program is the nation's only federally funded voucher program. It is open to students who live in the long-struggling Washington school district and whose families have incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level -- about $40,000 for a family of four. Recipients are chosen by lottery, although preference is given to those attending traditional schools deemed to be in need of improvement under federal law.

Joe Kelley entered his oldest son, Rashawn, in the first Opportunity Scholarship Program lottery in 2004, fearful about violence at the public middle school. Rashawn, now 17, received a voucher, and so have his three sisters. All attend a small, private Christian academy where they have been earning A's and B's. "It's a lot of worry off of me," said Mr. Kelley, a retired cook and youth counselor.

In an evaluation released in March, researchers found that in reading skills, voucher recipients overall were approximately 3.1 months ahead of eligible students who didn't receive scholarships. But there was no difference in math skills, and voucher recipients from the worst-performing public schools got no boost in either subject.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT TOMSHO. "D.C. School Vouchers Have a Brighter Outlook in Congress." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

November 23, 2009

Global Warming Did Not Cause Southeast Drought

(p. A13) The drought that gripped the Southeast from 2005 to 2007 was not unprecedented and resulted from random weather events, not global warming, Columbia University researchers have concluded. They say its severe water shortages resulted from population growth more than rainfall patterns.

The researchers, who report their findings in an article in Thursday's issue of The Journal of Climate, cite census figures showing that in Georgia alone the population rose to 9.54 million in 2007 from 6.48 million in 1990.

"At the root of the water supply problem in the Southeast is a growing population," they wrote.

Richard Seager, a climate expert at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who led the study, said in an interview that when the drought struck, "people were wondering" whether climate change linked to a global increase in heat-trapping gases could be a cause.

But after studying data from weather instruments, computer models and measurements of tree rings, which reflect yearly rainfall, "our conclusion was this drought was pretty normal and pretty typical by standards of what has happened in the region over the century," Mr. Seager said.

Similar droughts unfolded over the last thousand years, the researchers wrote. Regardless of climate change, they added, similar weather patterns can be expected regularly in the future, with similar results.

For the full story, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. "Study Links Water Shortages in Southeast to Population, Not Global Warming." The New York Times (Fri., October 2, 2009): A13.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Oct. 1st and has the title "Southeast Drought Study Ties Water Shortage to Population, Not Global Warming.")

The research summarized in the passages above can be read in its full and original form, at:

Seager, Richard, Alexandrina Tzanova, and Jennifer Nakamura. "Drought in the Southeastern United States: Causes, Variability over the Last Millennium, and the Potential for Future Hydroclimate Change." Journal of Climate 22, no. 19 (Oct. 1, 2009): 5021-45.

November 22, 2009

World Trade Barriers Are Increasing

ProtectionistMeasuresBarGraph2009-10-28.gifThe small dark blue squares indicate the "number of nations that have imposed protectionist measures on each country" and the light blue squares indicate the "number of measures imposed on each category of goods." Source of quotations in caption and of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) BRUSSELS -- This weekend's U.S.-China trade skirmish is just the tip of a coming protectionist iceberg, according to a report released Monday by Global Trade Alert, a team of trade analysts backed by independent think tanks, the World Bank and the U.K. government.

A report by the World Trade Organization, backed by its 153 members and also released Monday, found "slippage" in promises to abstain from protectionism, but drew less dramatic conclusions.

Governments have planned 130 protectionist measures that have yet to be implemented, according to the GTA's research. These include state aid funds, higher tariffs, immigration restrictions and export subsidies.

. . .

According to the GTA report, the number of discriminatory trade laws outnumbers liberalizing trade laws by six to one. Governments are applying protectionist measures at the rate of 60 per quarter. More than 90% of goods traded in the world have been affected by some sort of protectionist measure.

For the full story, see:

JOHN W. MILLER. "Protectionist Measures Expected to Rise, Report Warns." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 15, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

November 21, 2009

The Long Gestation of the Disneyland Entrepreneurial Idea

(p. 212) Before returning to Los Angeles, Disney and Kimball also went to Dearborn, Michigan, outside Detroit, and visited a village of another kind--Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, a collection of old and reconstructed buildings that included the Wright brothers' bicycle shop and a replica of Thomas Edison's laboratory. Greenfield Village, which Ford established in 1929, had a strong autobiographical element: many of its buildings were there because they had been significant in Ford's life, as with the school he attended and the scaled- down replica of his first auto plant. Greenfield was, besides, a make-believe village, a mixture of buildings spanning centuries. There was no pretense, as at Colonial Williamsburg, of re-creating the past.

Disney had visited Greenfield Village at least once before, in April 1940, but this time he returned to Burbank with his imagination stimulated. He was thinking now beyond a miniature train for his own home. He drafted a memorandum on August 31, 1948, in which he set out in detail what might go into a "Mickey Mouse park" on the sixteen acres the studio owned across Riverside Drive. Ford's influence can be felt in Disney's description of an idyllic small town, anchored by a city hall and a railroad station. There would have been a specifically Disney presence in the park only through a toy store that sold Disney toys and books and a shop where Disney artists could sell their own work.

Disney had been talking about a park of' some kind, on the studio lot or adjacent to it, for years, perhaps since the late 1930s, the idea being to have something to entertain visitors to a studio that was otherwise very much a workaday place. For the studio to embark on such a project in 1948 was irnpractical, though, given its financial condition, and Disney's memo had no immediate consequences.


Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

November 20, 2009

Breakthrough Innovations Require Judgment, Not Surveys


Source of book image: http://press.harvardbusiness.org/on/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/verganti_300dpi.jpg.

(p. W8) In "Design-Driven Innovation" (Harvard Business Press, 272 pages, $35), Roberto Verganti holds that product development should be grounded not in the data of survey-takers or the observations of anthropologists but in the judgment of executives. "We have experienced years of hype about user-centered design," he says. But breakthrough innovations, in Mr. Verganti's view, do not represent what customers knew they wanted. Rather, the most profitable innovations are those that create a radically new meaning for a product.

Nintendo's Wii video-game console and its motion-sensing controllers "transformed what a console meant: from an immersion in a virtual world approachable only by niche experts into an active workout, in the real world, for everyone." The Swatch in 1983 introduced a new meaning to the watch: neither an article of fine jewelry nor a utilitarian timekeeping tool but a fashion accessory. Starbucks, he says, changed the meaning of a coffee shop from a place to buy coffee to a home away from home.

For the full review, see:

DAVID A. PRICE. "The Shape of Things to Come; Design is more than aesthetics and ease of use. It's a way of doing business." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 9, 2009): W8.

Reference for book under review:

Brown, Tim. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: HarperBusiness Publishers, 2009.

November 19, 2009

Legitimacy of Capitalism Rests on Rich Earning their Wealth


Luigi Zingales, Robert C. McCormack Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance at the University of Chicago. Source of photo and information in caption: http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/luigi.zingales/research/date.html.

(p. A21) Luigi Zingales points out that the legitimacy of American capitalism has rested on the fact that many people, like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, got rich on the basis of what they did, not on the basis of government connections. But over the years, business and government have become more intertwined. The results have been bad for both capitalism and government. The banks' growing political clout led to the rule changes that helped create the financial crisis.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Bloody Crossroads." The New York Times (Tues., September 8, 2009): A21.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated Sept. 7.)

The reference for the Zingales article is:

Zingales, Luigi. "Capitalism after the Crisis." National Affairs, no. 1 (Fall 2009): 22-35.

November 18, 2009

Government to Decide Who Lives and Who Dies


"The Reaper Curve: Ezekiel Emanuel used the above chart in a Lancet article to illustrate the ages on which health spending should be focused." Source of caption and graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, health adviser to President Barack Obama, is under scrutiny. As a bioethicist, he has written extensively about who should get medical care, who should decide, and whose life is worth saving. Dr. Emanuel is part of a school of thought that redefines a physician's duty, insisting that it includes working for the greater good of society instead of focusing only on a patient's needs. Many physicians find that view dangerous, and most Americans are likely to agree.

The health bills being pushed through Congress put important decisions in the hands of presidential appointees like Dr. Emanuel. They will decide what insurance plans cover, how much leeway your doctor will have, and what seniors get under Medicare. Dr. Emanuel, brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, has already been appointed to two key positions: health-policy adviser at the Office of Management and Budget and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. He clearly will play a role guiding the White House's health initiative.

. . .

In the Lancet, Jan. 31, 2009, Dr. Emanuel and co-authors presented a "complete lives system" for the allocation of very scarce resources, such as kidneys, vaccines, dialysis machines, intensive care beds, and others. "One maximizing strategy involves saving the most individual lives, and it has motivated policies on allocation of influenza vaccines and responses to bioterrorism. . . . Other things being equal, we should always save five lives rather than one.

"However, other things are rarely equal--whether to save one 20-year-old, who might live another 60 years, if saved, or three 70-year-olds, who could only live for another 10 years each--is unclear." In fact, Dr. Emanuel makes a clear choice: "When implemented, the complete lives system produces a priority curve on which individuals aged roughly 15 and 40 years get the most substantial chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get changes that are attenuated (see Dr. Emanuel's chart nearby).

Dr. Emanuel concedes that his plan appears to discriminate against older people, but he explains: "Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination. . . . Treating 65 year olds differently because of stereotypes or falsehoods would be ageist; treating them differently because they have already had more life-years is not."

For the full commentary, see:

BETSY MCCAUGHEY. "Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief; White House health-care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for the 'overuse' of medical care." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 27, 2009): A15.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second and third ellipses in original.)

The article that was the original source for the graph above, is:

Persad, Govind, Alan Wertheimer, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel. "Principles for Allocation of Scarce Medical Interventions." The Lancet 373, no. 9661 (Jan. 31, 2009): 423-31.

November 17, 2009

Project Entrepreneurs Want to Keep Control

(p. 152) As late as January 1940, Disney still resisted selling stock--"I wanted to build this in a different way," he told sonic of his artists--but by then his need for money was such that going public had become the lesser of evils. Preferred stock in Walt Disney Productions was offered to the public on April 2, 1940. The money raised helped pay for the Burbank studio ($1.6 million) and retired other debts (more than $2 million). The common stock remained in the Disneys' hands. The company took out a $1.5 million insurance policy on Walt's life.

Disney remembered having lunch with Ford Motor Company executives a few days after the stock issue, when he passed through Detroit on his way back from New York. Henry Ford himself joined the group after lunch, and when Disney told the old autocrat about selling preferred stock, Ford said. "If you sell any of it, you should sell it all." That remark, Disney said, "kind of left me thinking and wondering for a while." Ford "wanted that control," Disney said. "That's what he meant by that." Disney shared the sentiment, even in relatively small matters. On July 1, 1940, he told the studio's publicity department: "From now on all publicity going out of this studio must have my O.K. before it is released. There shall be no exceptions to this rule."


Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

November 16, 2009

Third Generation Nuclear Reactors Are Simpler and Even Safer

WestinghouseAP1000Reactor2009-10-28.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R1) Researchers are working on reactors that they claim are simpler, cheaper in certain respects, and more efficient than the last generation of plants.

Some designs try to reduce the chance of accidents by automating safety features and minimizing the amount of hardware needed to shut down the reactor in an emergency. Others cut costs by using standardized parts that can be built in big chunks and then shipped to the site. Some squeeze more power out of uranium, reducing the amount of waste produced, while others wring even more energy out of spent fuel.

"Times are exciting for nuclear," says Ronaldo Szilard, director of nuclear science and engineering at the Idaho National Lab, a part of the U.S. Energy Department. "There are lots of options being explored."

. . .

(p. R3) As a whole, . . . , the U.S. nuclear industry has a solid safety record, and the productivity of plants has grown dramatically in the past decade. The next generation of reactors so-called Generation III units is intended to take everything that's been learned about safe operations and do it even better. Generation III units are the reactors of choice for most of the 34 nations that already have nuclear plants in operation. (China still is building a few Gen II units.)

"A common theme of future reactors is to make them simpler so there are fewer systems to monitor and fewer systems that could fail," says Revis James, director of the Energy Technology Assessment Center at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent power-industry research organization.

The current generation of nuclear plants requires a complex maze of redundant motors, pumps, valves and control systems to deal with emergency conditions. Generation III plants cut down on some of that infrastructure and rely more heavily on passive systems that don't need human intervention to keep the reactor in a safe condition reducing the chance of an accident caused by operator error or equipment failure.

For example, the Westinghouse AP1000 boasts half as many safety-related valves, one-third fewer pumps and only one-fifth as much safety-related piping as earlier plants from Westinghouse, majority owned by Toshiba Corp. In an emergency, the reactor, which has been selected for use at Southern Co.'s Vogtle site in Georgia and at six other U.S. locations, is designed to shut down automatically and stay within a safe temperature range.

For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "The New Nukes; The next generation of nuclear reactors is on its way, and supporters say they will be safer, cheaper and more efficient than current plants. Here's a look at what's coming -- and when." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 8, 2009): R1 & R3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

November 15, 2009

Massachusetts Dems Are "Gigantic Hypocrites"

(p. A3) BOSTON -- The Democrat-controlled legislature in Massachusetts is poised to pass a bill in coming days giving Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick authority to appoint an interim senator to succeed the late Edward M. Kennedy, strengthening the party's U.S. Senate majority and bolstering prospects for passage of a health-care overhaul.

The interim-appointment issue is contentious in part because five years ago, the Democrat-dominated legislature voted to take appointment power away from Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, changing rules so a seat remains vacant until a special election. The shift came as Sen. John Kerry campaigned as the Democratic nominee for president, and a Kerry victory would have given the governor the chance to name a Republican senator.

Some Democrats have expressed discomfort over the about-face, and Republicans are irate. State Republican party Chairman Jennifer Nassour called the Democrats "gigantic hypocrites."

For the full story, see:

WILLIAM M. BULKELEY and JENNIFER LEVITZ. "Vacant Senate Seat Triggers Flip-Flop." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 17, 2009): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

November 14, 2009

"The Animated Man" is a Useful Account of the Life of an Important Entrepreneur


Source of book image: http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/wp-content/e/a336.jpg

I have always believed, and recently increasingly believe, that Walt Disney was one of the most important entrepreneurs of our time.

One of the most favorably reviewed biographies of Disney is Michael Barrier's The Animated Man. (At some point in the future, I will briefly discuss an alternative biography of Disney by Gabler.)

I have not thoroughly read The Animated Man, but have thoroughly skimmed it. It appears to be a very useful account of Walt Disney's life.

I did not want to wait until I had fully read it, in order to highlight a few passages that I think may be of special interest. I will do so in the next few weeks.

Reference to the book discussed:

Barrier, Michael. The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. 1 ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

November 13, 2009

Global Warming Is Least Worry of Vanuatu Island's Poor

(p. A19) In a warning often repeated by environmental campaigners, the Vanuatuan president told the United Nations that entire island nations could be submerged. "If such a tragedy does happen," he said, "then the United Nations and its members would have failed in their first and most basic duty to a member nation and its innocent people."

Torethy Frank, a 39-year-old woman carving out a subsistence lifestyle on Vanuatu's Nguna Island, is one of those "innocent people." Yet, she has never heard of the problem that her government rates as a top priority. "What is global warming?" she asks a researcher for the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

. . .

Torethy and her family of six live in a small house made of concrete and brick with no running water. As a toilet, they use a hole dug in the ground. They have no shower and there is no fixed electricity supply. Torethy's family was given a battery-powered DVD player but cannot afford to use it.

. . .

What would change her life? Having a boat in the village to use for fishing, transporting goods to sell, and to get to hospital in emergencies. She doesn't want more aid money because, "there is too much corruption in the government and it goes in people's pockets," but she would like microfinance schemes instead. "Give the money directly to the people for businesses so we can support ourselves without having to rely on the government."

Vanuatu's politicians speak with a loud voice on the world stage. But the inhabitants of Vanuatu, like Torethy Frank, tell a very different story.

For the full commentary, see:

BJøRN LOMBORG. "The View from Vanuatu on Climate Change; Torethy Frank had never heard of global warming. She is worried about power and running water." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 23, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version is dated Thurs., Oct. 22.)

November 12, 2009

Videos of Routines Are Better than Focus Groups and Surveys


Source of book image: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451b75569e20120a5fa1e26970c-800wi.

(p. W8) Mr. Brown argues . . . emphatically for the close observation of users in their natural habitats. Traditional market-research tools--focus groups, surveys--rarely produce breakthrough findings, he claims. IDEO and others follow users around--making video recordings of them as they go about their routines, recording conversations with them--to build an understanding of what they really need. An IDEO employee in the health-care area, for instance, pretended to have a foot injury and checked himself into an emergency room with a hidden video camera to get a better view of the patient experience. This anthropological form of market research, Mr. Brown notes, has been adopted by companies such as Intel and Nokia.

For the full review, see:

DAVID A. PRICE. "The Shape of Things to Come; Design is more than aesthetics and ease of use. It's a way of doing business." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 9, 2009): W8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Reference the book being reviewed:

Brown, Tim. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: HarperBusiness Publishers, 2009.

November 11, 2009

"A Foolish Faith in Authority Is the Worst Enemy of Truth"

(p. A21) Several years ago I grew concerned about my postmenopausal mother's risk of osteoporosis. I tried to convince her to initiate hormone replacement therapy. She didn't listen to me. Instead, she spoke with her gynecologist, who--contrary to best medical evidence at the time--recommended against such treatment. I would eventually be thankful my mother listened to the gynecologist who had known her for decades instead of me and the published medical reviews I was relying on. Some years later my mother was diagnosed with early breast cancer. Had she been on estrogen replacement, it is likely that her tumor would have progressed more rapidly. The gynecologist likely saved my mother's life.

Studies published in the medical literature are mostly produced by academics who face an imperative to publish or watch their careers perish. These academics aren't basing their careers on their clinical skills and experiences. Paradoxically, if we allow the academic literature to set guidelines for accepted practices, we are allowing those who are often academics first and clinicians second to determine what clinical care is appropriate.

Consciously or not, those who provide the peer review for medical journals are influenced by whether the work they are reviewing will impact their standing in the medical community. This is a dilemma. The experts who serve as reviewers compete with the work they are reviewing. Leaders in every community, therefore, exert disproportional influence on what gets published. We expect reviewers to be objective and free of conflicts, but in truth, only rarely is that the case.

Albert Einstein once noted that "a foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth."

For the full commentary, see:

NORBERT GLEICHER. "'Expert Panels' Won't Improve Health Care; Government reliance on medical studies will make it harder to discard false prophecies and dogmas." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A21.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated Sun., Oct. 18.)

November 10, 2009

John Mackey: "I Believe in the Dynamic Creativity of Capitalism"

MackeyJohn2009-10-28.jpg Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. Source of the caricature: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) "I honestly don't know why the article became such a lightning rod," says John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market Inc., as he tries to explain the firestorm caused by his August op-ed on these pages opposing government-run health care.

. . .

. . . his now famous op-ed incited a boycott of Whole Foods by some of his left-wing customers. His piece advised that "the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us closer to a complete government takeover of our health-care system." Free-market groups retaliated with a "buy-cott," encouraging people to purchase more groceries at Whole Foods.

. . .

What Mr. Mackey is proposing is more or less what he has already implemented at his company--a plan that would allow more health savings accounts (HSAs), more low-premium, high-deductible plans, more incentives for wellness, and medical malpractice reform. None of these initiatives are in any of the Democratic bills winding their way through Congress. In fact, the Democrats want to kill HSAs and high-deductible plans and mandate coverage options that would inflate health insurance costs.

. . .

Mr. Mackey's latest crusade involves traveling to college campuses across the country, trying to persuade young people that business, profits and capitalism aren't forces of evil. He calls his concept "conscious capitalism."

What is that? "It means that business has the potential to have a deeper purpose. I mean, Whole Foods has a deeper purpose," he says, now sounding very much like a philosopher. "Most of the companies I most admire in the world I think have a deeper purpose." He continues, "I've met a lot of successful entrepreneurs. They all started their businesses not to maximize shareholder value or money but because they were pursuing a dream."

Mr. Mackey tells me he is trying to save capitalism: "I think that business has a noble purpose. It's not that there's anything wrong with making money. It's one of the important things that business contributes to society. But it's not the sole reason that businesses exist."

What does he mean by a "noble purpose"? "It means that just like every other profession, business serves society. They produce goods and services that make people's lives better. Doctors heal the sick. Teachers educate people. Architects design buildings. Lawyers promote justice. Whole Foods puts food on people's tables and we improve people's health."

Then he adds: "And we provide jobs. And we provide capital through profits that spur improvements in the world.

. . .

"I don't think anybody's too big to fail," he says. "If a business fails, what happens is, there are still assets, and those assets get reorganized. Either new management comes in or it's sold off to another business or it's bid on and the good assets are retained and the bad assets are eliminated. I believe in the dynamic creativity of capitalism, and it's self-correcting, if you just allow it to self-correct."

That's something Washington won't let happen these days, which helps explain why Mr. Mackey felt compelled to write that the Whole Foods health-insurance program is smarter and cheaper than the latest government proposals.

For the full interview, see:

STEPHEN MOORE. "The Conscience of a Capitalist; The Whole Foods founder talks about his Journal health-care op-ed that spawned a boycott, how he deals with unions, and why he thinks CEOs are overpaid." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 3, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

November 9, 2009

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

(p. 4) The border guards, bereft of instruction from the command system that had trained them to defend this barrier with their lives, plainly did not know what to do. Some stood silent, others engaged in conversation with the crowd; what they did not do was what they ordinarily would have done: Drive them away.

Eventually, the good-natured crowd -- "we just want to go and drink a beer over there; tomorrow we'll be at work!" shouted one man -- was allowed into a forecourt. West Berlin seemed tantalizingly close. But then the commander of the Eastern checkpoint sent them away, saying they would have to get visas the next morning from local police stations.

By contrast, I was spotted by the commander taking notes. Unmasked as a Western reporter working without authorization in a border area of the German Democratic Republic, I was declared persona non grata and shoved into a small corridor that led to a passport check and the door into West Berlin. And it was in that narrow passage that I met Angelika Wachs.

Whispering "Ja-a-a-a!" and smiling broadly, she had somehow squeezed in behind me, and had almost nothing of the scared reticence common to most East Germans. A pimply young man, barely in his 20s, sat at passport control. He looked at my British passport, and then at Angelika's papers, which somehow bore a rare stamp permitting her to visit West Berlin. But it was only valid Nov. 17, he objected. I urged him to consider what was happening. He shrugged. He pressed the switch to open the door. We tumbled through.

It was the only moment in my life when I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. I had just crossed Checkpoint Charlie with this stranger, a woman exactly my age, 34, a citizen of Communist East Germany.

There were only a handful of West Berliners on hand to cheer our arrival. Shouting that it was "unglaublich," or unbelievable, Angelika ran off to seek a ride to a friend who had escaped west years earlier, and I headed for a cheap bar where I glommed on to that precious commodity, a telephone.

. . .

. . . Americans, unlike Europeans, do not dwell much on the past. Tomorrow is always another day, and yesterday's lessons fade.

Not so the story of Angelika Wachs. Once I found her name in the long-lost articles, it did not take many minutes on the Internet to track her down. She e-mailed; this past Saturday, we talked. I discovered that she had that precious stamp that night because, some years earlier, her parents had fled west, and she had been granted permission to visit. When we met, she had been working in administration at the Staatsoper, the state opera; her career has continued in P.R.

Ten years ago, she met an Englishman. They married this year, she said, on the deliberately chosen date of July 4 -- "a way to mark independence, and freedom." On Nov. 16, when a conference takes me to Berlin and a gleaming hotel among the skyscrapers that now fill Potsdamer Platz, we will meet for the drink we never had 20 years ago.

For the full story, see:

ALISON SMALE. "When the Future Swung Open in Berlin." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., November 8, 2009): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Nov. 6, and has the title "Chasing the Story on a Night That Changed All .")


"20 Years; Angelika Wachs posed last week at Checkpoint Charlie, remembering the jubilation on the Wall's western side on Nov. 10, 1989." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

November 8, 2009

New Scientific Optimism on Life Extension

HandsOldAndYoung2009-10-26.jpg Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) It may be the ultimate free lunch -- how to reap all the advantages of a calorically restricted diet, including freedom from disease and an extended healthy life span, without eating one fewer calorie. Just take a drug that tricks the body into thinking it's on such a diet.

It sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. Yet such drugs are now in clinical trials. Even if they should fail, as most candidate drugs do, their development represents a new optimism among research biologists that aging is not immutable, that the body has resources that can be mobilized into resisting disease and averting the adversities of old age.

This optimism, however, is not fully shared. Evolutionary biologists, the experts on the theory of aging, have strong reasons to suppose that human life span cannot be altered in any quick and easy way. But they have been confounded by experiments with small laboratory animals, like roundworms, fruit flies and mice. In all these species, the change of single genes has brought noticeable increases in life span.

With theorists' and their gloomy predictions cast in the shade, at least for the time being, experimental biologists are pushing confidently into the tangle of linkages that evolution has woven among food intake, fertility and life span. "My rule of thumb is to ignore the evolutionary biologists -- they're constantly telling you what you can't think," Gary Ruvkun of the Massachusetts General Hospital remarked this June after making an unusual discovery about longevity.

Excitement among researchers on aging has picked up in the last few years with the apparent convergence of two lines of inquiry: single gene changes and the diet known as caloric restriction.

. . .

In the view of evolutionary biologists, the life span of each species is adapted to the nature of its environment. Mice live at most a year in the wild because owls, cats and freezing to death are such frequent hazards. Mice with genes that allow longer life can rarely be favored by natural selection. Rather, the mice that leave the most progeny are those that devote resources to breeding at as early an age as possible.

According to this theory, if mice had wings and could escape their usual predators, natural selection ought to favor longer life. And indeed the maximum life span of bats is 3.5 times greater than flightless mammals of the same size, according to research by Gerald S. Wilkinson of the University of Maryland.

In this view, cells are so robust that they do not limit life span. Instead the problem, especially for longer-lived species, is to keep them under control lest they cause cancer. Cells have not blocked the evolution of extremely long life spans, like that of the bristlecone pine, which lives 5,000 years, or certain deep sea corals, whose age has been found to exceed 4,000 years.

Some species seem to be imperishable. A tiny freshwater animal known as a hydra can regenerate itself from almost any part of its body, apparently because it makes no distinction between its germ cells and its ordinary body cells. In people the germ cells, the egg and sperm, do not age; babies are born equally young, whatever the age of their parents. The genesis of aging was the division of labor in the first multicellular animals between the germ cells and the body cells.

That division put the role of maintaining the species on the germ cells and left the body cells free to become specialized, like neurons or skin cells. But in doing so the body cells made themselves disposable. The reason we die, in the view of Thomas Kirkwood, an expert on the theory of aging, is that constant effort is required to keep the body cells going. "This, in the long run, is unwarranted -- in terms of natural selection, there are more important things to do," he writes.

All that seems clear about life span is that it is not fixed. And if it is not fixed, there may indeed be ways to extend it.

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Tests Begin on Drugs That May Slow Aging." The New York Times (Tues., August 18, 2009): D1 & D?.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: thanks to Luis Locay for calling my attention to the article quoted above.)

November 7, 2009

Vaclav Havel Criticizes Obama for Failing to Meet Dalai Lama

It is interesting that President Obama is open to meeting with authoritarian dictators of terrorist nations, such as Iran, but is reluctant to meet with the peace-loving Dalai Lama.

(p. A12) PRAGUE -- It was supposed to be an interview about the revolutions that overturned communism 20 years ago in Europe. But first, Vaclav Havel had a question.

Was it true that President Obama had refused to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington?

Mr. Havel is a fan of the Dalai Lama, who was among the first visitors to Prague's storied castle after Mr. Havel moved in there as president, the final act in the swift, smooth revolution of 1989. A picture of the Dalai Lama is displayed prominently in Mr. Havel's current office in central Prague.

Told that Mr. Obama had made clear he would receive the Dalai Lama after his first presidential visit to China in November, Mr. Havel reached out to touch a magnificent glass dish, inscribed with the preamble to the United States Constitution -- a gift from Mr. Obama, who visited in April.

"It is only a minor compromise," Mr. Havel said of the nonreception of the Tibetan leader. "But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems."

For the full story, see:

ALISON SMALE. "Former Czech Leader Assails Moral Compromises." The New York Times (Thurs., October 15, 2009): A12.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Oct. 13th, and has the title "Havel, Still a Man of Morals and Mischief.")

(Note: I have added a missing quotation mark at the end of the quote after the word "problems.")

November 6, 2009

How "Free" Government Health Care Works

OmahaFluVaccineLine2009-11-05.jpg"Michael Kellerman and daughter Jovi, 1, wait in line near 69th and Underwood for a flu shot Thursday morning." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

Thousands turned out this morning for Douglas County's first public clinic for H1N1 flu vaccinations.

The line ran out of the First United Methodist Church to the east, then down 69th Street before hooking west along Cass Street toward 72nd Street.

Police estimated that 4,000 people had gathered by 9:20 a.m.

Phil Rooney of the Douglas County Health Department said the turnout was no surprise.

"There hasn't been a clinic this size done in the county or in the surrounding counties recently, so we were prepared for a very large crowd, and that's what we've got," he said.

He said 252 people were vaccinated in the clinic's first hour. "The pace the first hour was slower than we wanted, so we're trying to pick that up," he added.

For the full story, see:

John Keenan and Rick Ruggles. "Long line for flu shots." Omaha World-Herald online edition (Thurs., Nov. 5, 2009).

(Note: as far as I can tell, having checked several online e-editions for Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, this version of the article was never published in any of the print editions of the paper.)

(Note: at some point the title of the online version of this article was changed to "Flu shot seekers turned away.")

November 5, 2009

European Central Bank (ECB) Warns that Cash-for-Clunkers "May Delay Necessary Structural Change"

(p. A9) Cash-for-clunkers programs have no lasting economic benefit and could even lead to a "substantial weakening" in euro-zone automobile sales next year, the European Central Bank said.

The findings, though far from original, amount to an official slap on the wrist to European governments including those of Germany, France and Spain that rolled out the popular programs to stoke demand in their auto sectors at the height of the financial crisis.

. . .

Such incentive measures should be applied "with caution," the ECB said, "as they may hamper the efficiency of the functioning of a free-market economy and may delay necessary structural change, thereby undermining overall income and employment prospects in the longer term."

For the full story, see:

BRIAN BLACKSTONE. "Clunker Plans Are Risky Route, Central Bank Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 16, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

November 4, 2009

Musings in Defense of the Car

Studebakers were made mainly in South Bend, Indiana, where I was born and raised. (One of our early family cars was a Studebaker Scotsman, but, alas, it did not look much like the Studebaker Commander that was once pictured above.)

By the way, in the musings quoted below, my understanding is that O'Rourke is not entirely right about Henry Ford: I believe Ford bankrupted two auto companies before founding the one that made the Model T that was once pictured below.)

(p. W2) . . . cars didn't shape our existence; cars let us escape with our lives. We're way the heck out here in Valley Bottom Heights and Trout Antler Estates because we were at war with the cities. We fought rotten public schools, idiot municipal bureaucracies, corrupt political machines, rampant criminality and the pointy-headed busybodies. Cars gave us our dragoons and hussars, lent us speed and mobility, let us scout the terrain and probe the enemy's lines. And thanks to our cars, when we lost the cities we weren't forced to surrender, we were able to retreat.

. . .

I don't believe the pointy-heads give a damn about climate change or gas mileage, much less about whether I survive a head-on with one of their tax-sucking mass-transit projects. All they want to is to make me hate my car.

. . .

American cars have been manufactured mostly by romantic fools. David Buick, Ransom E. Olds, Louis Chevrolet, Robert and Louis Hupp of the Hupmobile, the Dodge brothers, the Studebaker brothers, the Packard brothers, the Duesenberg brothers, Charles W. Nash, E. L. Cord, John North Willys, Preston Tucker and William H. Murphy, whose Cadillac cars were designed by the young Henry Ford, all went broke making cars. The man who founded General Motors in 1908, William Crapo (really) Durant, went broke twice. Henry Ford, of course, did not go broke, nor was he a romantic, but judging by his opinions he certainly was a fool.

. . .

There are those of us who have had the good fortune to meet with strength and beauty, with majestic force in which we were willing to trust our lives.

For the full commentary, see:

P.J. O'ROURKE. "The End of the Affair. The fate of Detroit isn't a matter of economics. It's a tragic romance, whose magic was killed by bureaucrats, bad taste and busybodies. P.J. O'Rourke on why Americans fell out of love with the automobile." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 30, 2009): W1-W2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: thanks to my mother for refreshing my faulty memory on which model of Studebaker we owned.)

For some interesting brief background on Ford, see:

Nye, John Vincent. "Lucky Fools and Cautious Businessmen: On Entrepreneurship and the Measurement of Entrepreneurial Failure." In The Vital One: Essays in Honour of Jonathan R. T. Hughes, edited by Joel Mokyr. Greenwich, Conn. and London: JAI Press, 1991, pp.131-52.

November 3, 2009

Biofuels Fail to Meet Fed Industrial Policy Goal

(p. B10) In 2007, Congress set a national goal of creating an advanced biofuel industry, and established a quota for gasoline marketers to blend a modest 100 million gallons of such fuel into gasoline by 2010.

. . .

The industry is likely to miss Congress's initial quota of 100 million gallons next year, acknowledging that it will make a few million gallons of the advanced fuel, at most. It could fall even further behind the 2011 quota, 250 million gallons. The quota eventually rises to 16 billion gallons by 2022.

The industry partly blames the credit crisis for its slow pace, but acknowledges that getting the conversion techniques to work is the biggest problem.

"It's certainly turned out to be more complicated technically than people thought it would be," said Brian Foody, the president and chief executive of Iogen, which hopes to build a large-scale facility.

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Industry Built From Scratch." The New York Times (Thurs., October 15, 2009): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 14th.)

November 2, 2009

Monty Python Success Arose from Freedom, Not Plans

Pythons1969.jpg"The unusual suspects, 1969: top row from left, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam; bottom row from left, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 24) "A lot of contemporary comedy seems self-conscious," Mr. Palin said. "It's almost documentary, like 'The Office.' That's a very funny show, but you're looking at the human condition under stress. The Pythons made the human condition seem like fun."

He added: "I'm proud to be a Python. It's a badge of silliness, which is quite important. I was the gay lumberjack, I was the Spanish Inquisition, I was one-half of the fish-slapping dance. I look at myself and think that may be the most important thing I've ever done."

Mr. Cleese and Mr. Jones, in rare agreement, both suggested that one reason the Pythons have never been successfully imitated is that television executives nowadays would never let anyone get away with putting together a show like theirs. When they began, they didn't have an idea what the show should be about or even a title for it. The BBC gave them some money, and then, Mr. Cleese joked, the executives hurried off to the bar.

"The great thing was that in the beginning we had such a low profile," he said. "We went on at different times, and some weeks we didn't go on at all, because there might be a show-jumping competition. But that was the key to our feeling of freedom. We didn't know what the viewing figures were, and we didn't care. What has happened now is the complete reverse. Even the BBC is obsessed with the numbers."

So obsessed, Bill Jones pointed out, that in the case of "Monty Python: Almost the Truth" some people encouraged the documentarians to see if they couldn't squeeze the six hours down to one.

For the full story, see:

CHARLES McGRATH. "Television; On Comedy's Flying Trapeze." The New York Times, Arts & Leisure Section (Sun., October 4, 2009): 1 & 24.

(Note: ellipses added.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 30, (sic) 2009.)

PythonsPremeireSpamalot2009-10-23.jpg"Above from left, Mr. Jones, Mr. Gilliam, Mr. Cleese, Mr. Idle and Mr. Palin at the premiere of "Spamalot."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

November 1, 2009

Picking Up Surface Nuggets Versus Digging a Deep Hole in One Place

(p. 423) The work was extraordinarily difficult, pushing the limits of the technically possible. Disappointment is my daily bread, he had said. I thrive on it. But he did not thrive. Often he thought of abandoning the work, abandoning all of it. Yet every day he continued to fill nearly every waking hour with thinking about it. Between 1934 and 1941 he published nothing. Nothing. For a scientist to go through such a dry period is more than depressing. It is a refutation of one's abilities, of one's life. But in the midst of that dry spell, Avery told a young researcher there were two types of investigators: most "go around picking up surface nuggets, and whenever they can spot a surface nugget of gold they pick it up and add it to their collection. . . . [The other type] is not really interested in the surface nugget. He is much more interested in digging a deep hole in one place, hoping to hit a vein. And of course if he strikes a vein of gold he makes a tremendous advance."


Barry, John M. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. Revised ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

(Note: italics, ellipsis, and brackets, all in original.)


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