« August 2010 | Main | October 2010 »

September 30, 2010

Experts Ridiculed Amateur Who Died Before His Vindication

(p. 236) The Altamira cave, near Santander, near the Biscay coast, is 961 feet (263 meters) long, a cavern of chambers and passages, ending in a narrow defile known as the Horse's Tail. A local landowner, Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, noticed some black marks at the back of the cave in 1876, but thought nothing of them until his eight-year-old daughter Maria, bored with his excavations, wandered with a candle into a side chamber. "Toros! Toros!" she cried, in one classic, and seemingly authentic, tale of archaeological discovery. Father and daughter gazed in amazement at the colorful bison on the ceiling of the low chamber.

Sautuola noticed close similarities between the art and pictures of animals he had seen on antler and bone fragments from French rock shelters at an exhibition in Paris. He claimed that the Altamira bison were the work of Stone Age artists but was ridiculed by scholars for his pains. The unfortunate landowner was vindicated after his death by paintings and engravings discovered at La Mouthe and Les Combarelles caves in 1895 and 1901.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 29, 2010

Myron Scholes on Sticking to His Ideas, Losing $4 Billion in Four Months, and Rejecting Taleb's Advice


Myron Scholes. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 22) The writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb contends that instead of giving advice on managing risk, you "should be in a retirement home doing sudoku."
If someone says to you, "Go to an old-folks' home," that's kind of ridiculous, because a lot of old people are doing terrific things for society. I never tried sudoku. Maybe he spends his time doing sudoku.

Some economists believe that mathematical models like yours lulled banks into a false sense of security, and I am wondering if you have revised your ideas as a consequence.
I haven't changed my ideas. A bank needs models to measure risk. The problem, however, is that any one bank can measure its risk, but it also has to know what the risk taken by other banks in the system happens to be at any particular moment.

. . .

After leaving academia, you helped found Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund that lost $4 billion in four months and became a symbol of '90s-style financial failure. .
Obviously, you prefer not to have lost money for investors.

For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "Questions for Myron Scholes; Crash Course." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., May 17, 2009): 22.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original versions, to indicate questions by Deborah Solomon.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 14, 2009.)

September 28, 2010

FDR's Taxes Deepened the Great Depression

Professor Ohanian is a UCLA economist well-known for his research on the Great Depression. Below I quote a few of his recent observations (with co-author Cooley):

(p. A17) In 1937, after several years of partial recovery from the Great Depression, the U.S. economy fell into a sharp recession. The episode has become a lightning rod in the ongoing debate about whether the economy needs further increases in government spending to keep employment from declining even more.

. . .

The economy did not tank in 1937 because government spending declined. Increases in tax rates, particularly capital income tax rates, and the expansion of unions, were most likely responsible. Unfortunately, these same factors pose a similar threat today.

. . .

. . . in 1936, the Roosevelt administration pushed through a tax on corporate profits that were not distributed to shareholders. The sliding scale tax began at 7% if a company retained 1% of its net income, and went to 27% if a company retained 70% of net income. This tax significantly raised the cost of investment, as most investment is financed with a corporation's own retained earnings.

The tax rate on dividends also rose to 15.98% in 1932 from 10.14% in 1929, and then doubled again by 1936. Research conducted last year by Ellen McGratten of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis suggests that these increases in capital income taxation can account for much of the 26% decline in business fixed investment that occurred in 1937-1938.

For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS F. COOLEY AND LEE E. OHANIAN. "Gates and Buffett Take the Pledge; Wealthy businessmen often feel obligated to 'give back.' Who says they've taken anything?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 20, 2010): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

That McGratten paper is:

McGrattan, Ellen R. "Capital Taxation During the U.S. Great Depression." Working Paper 670, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, April 2009.

September 27, 2010

Twitter CEO Returned to Nebraska to Found First Company


Evan Williams, Twitter CEO. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 9) I GREW up on a farm in Nebraska, where we grew mostly corn and soybeans. During the summers I was responsible for making sure the crops were irrigated.

After high school, I enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but I stayed only a year and a half. I felt college was a waste of time; I wanted to start working. I moved to Florida, where I did some freelance copywriting. After that I moved to Texas and stayed with my older sister while I figured out what to do next. In 1994, I returned to Nebraska and started my first company with my dad.

We didn't know anything about the Internet, but I thought it was going to be a big deal. We produced CD-ROMs and a video on how to use the Internet, and we did some Web hosting. I recruited some friends and we tossed around some ideas, but none of us knew how to write software and we didn't have much money. We watched what entrepreneurs in California were doing and tried to play along.

. . .

My life has been a series of well-orchestrated accidents; I've always suffered from hallucinogenic optimism. I was broke for more than 10 years. I remember staying up all night one night at my first company and looking in couch cushions the next morning for some change to buy coffee. I've been able to pay my father back, which is nice, and my mother doesn't worry about me as much since I got married a year and a half ago.

For the full story, see:

EVAN WILLIAMS. "The Boss; For Twitter C.E.O., Well-Orchestrated Accidents." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 8, 2009): 9.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 7, 2009.)

September 26, 2010

Cultures that Excel at the Practical Often Also Excel at the Sublime

According to the reasoning of the following passages, the same Cro-Magnons who created the wonderful cave paintings at Lascaux, were also the ones who created the highly effective laurel leaf projectile points.

It is often believed that the practical is in conflict with the sublime. The Solutreans may be one more example, in addition to that of entrepreneurial capitalism, that cultures that excel at the practical also excel at the sublime.

[The passages I quote are somewhat disjointed, so let me sketch how they fit together. The first sentence asserts that the Lascaux cave paintings are the prehistoric equal of the Sistine Chapel. The second passage describes the Salutreans' highly practical laurel leaf projectile points. The final sentence asserts that the same Salutrean culture that invented the practical points, also painted the sublime cave at Lascaux.]

(p. 219) Lascaux had been sealed since the late Ice Age, so what the Abbe Henri Breuil soon called "the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory" was intact.

. . .

(p. 221) . . . The seasonal killing at Solutre resumed, but now the prey was reindeer rather than horses. This time, too, the hunters used not only bone-pointed spears hut also weapons bearing what French archaeologists rather elegantly call feuilles de laurier, "laurel leaves" . . . . These beautifully made stone projectile points do indeed look like idealized laurel leaves and stand out as exotic in otherwise unchanging tool kits of bone artifacts, burins, and scrapers. Those skilled enough to fabricate them had mastered a new (p. 122) stoneworking technology, which involved using an antler billet to squeeze off shallow flakes by applying sharp pressure along the edges of a blade. This technique--pressure flaking--produced thin, beautifully shaped yet functional spear points that were both lethal and lovely to look upon. Sometimes, the stoneworkers made what one might call rudimentary versions of the points using pressure flaking on but one side of the tool. On occasion, too, they made spearheads with a shoulder that served as the mount for the shaft. But the ultimate was the classic laurel leaf, flaked on both sides, beautifully regular and thin. Feuilles de laurier were never common, and indeed, some researchers wonder if they were, in fact, ceremonial tools and never used in the field. This seems unlikely, for they would have made tough, effective weapons for killing prey like reindeer.

. . .

If the Lascaux chronology is to be believed--and remember that the radiocarbon dates come from artifacts in the cave, not actual paintings--then Solutreans were the artists who painted there, . . .


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

September 25, 2010

"A Very Clear-Thinking Heretic" Doubted Big Bang Theory

BurbidgeGeoffrey2010-09-02.jpg "Geoffrey Burbidge's work in astronomy changed the field." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. 26) Geoffrey Burbidge, an English physicist who became a towering figure in astronomy by helping to explain how people and everything else are made of stardust, died on Jan. 26 in San Diego. He was 84.

. . .

Dr. Burbidge's skepticism extended to cosmology. In 1990, he and four other astronomers, including Drs. Arp and Hoyle, published a broadside in the journal Nature listing arguments against the Big Bang.

Dr. Burbidge preferred instead a version of Dr. Hoyle's Steady State theory of an eternal universe. In the new version, small, local big bangs originating in the nuclei of galaxies every 20 billion years or so kept the universe boiling. To his annoyance, most other astronomers ignored this view.

In a memoir in 2007, Dr. Burbidge wrote that this quasi-steady state theory was probably closer to the truth than the Big Bang. But he added that "there is such a heavy bias against any minority point of view in cosmology that it may take a very long time for this to occur."

Despite his contrarian ways, Dr. Burbidge maintained his credibility in the astronomical establishment, serving as director of Kitt Peak from 1978 to 1984 and editing the prestigious Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics for more than 30 years. He was "a very clear-thinking heretic," Dr. Strittmatter said.

For the full obituary, see:

DENNIS OVERBYE. "Geoffrey Burbidge, Who Traced Life to Stardust, Is Dead at 84 " The New York Times, First Section (Sun., February 7, 2010 ): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated February 6, 2010.)

September 24, 2010

Successful Entrepreneurs Do Not Need to Give Back to Society---They Already Gave at the Office

(p. A15) Successful entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists typically say they feel a responsibility to "give back" to society. But "giving back" implies they have taken something. What, exactly, have they taken? Yes, they have amassed great sums of wealth. But that wealth is the reward they have earned for investing their time and talent in creating products and services that others value. They haven't taken from society, but rather enriched us in ways that were previously unimaginable.

. . .

Let's hope the philanthropy of those who . . . sign the Giving Pledge achieves great things. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that businessmen are likely to achieve more by giving their money away than they have by making it in the first place.

For the full commentary, see:

Kimberly O. Dennis. "Gates and Buffett Take the Pledge; Wealthy businessmen often feel obligated to 'give back.' Who says they've taken anything?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 20, 2010): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

September 23, 2010

French Utopian Planned Community Goes Up in Flames

VilleneuveGrenobleFranceUtopia2010-09-01.jpg"The planned neighborhood Villeneuve, in Grenoble, has slowly degraded into a poor district before it finally burst into flames three weeks ago, with a mob setting nearly 100 cars on fire." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) GRENOBLE, France -- A utopian dream of a new urban community, built here in the 1970s, had slowly degraded into a poor neighborhood plagued by aimless youths before it finally burst into flames three weeks ago.

After Karim Boudouda, a 27-year-old of North African descent, and some of his friends had robbed a casino, he was killed in an exchange of automatic gunfire with the police. The next night, Villeneuve, a carefully planned neighborhood of Grenoble in eastern France, exploded. A mob set nearly 100 cars on fire, wrecked a tram car and burned an annex of city hall.

. . .

Villeneuve, or "new city," emerged directly out of the social unrest of the May 1968 student uprising.

People committed to social change, from here as well as from Paris and other cities, came to create a largely self-contained neighborhood of apartment buildings, parks, schools, and health and local services in this city of 160,000 people, at the spectacular juncture of two rivers and three mountain ranges at the foot of the French Alps.

For the full story, see:

STEVEN ERLANGER. "Grenoble Journal; Utopian Dream Becomes Battleground in France." The New York Times (Mon., August 9, 2010): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated August 8, 2010.)

September 22, 2010

Neanderthal "Innovation Was Rare"

(p. 42) Judging from slowly changing styles of stone axes, innovation was rare and technological change almost imperceptible. The rhythm of daily life varied little from one generation to the next, just as the lives of animals followed predictable and familiar paths of migration and dispersal, life and death. Humans were collaborative predators among predators, both hunters and the hunted, effective at survival thanks to their expertise with wooden spears, their stalking ability, and their painfully acquired knowledge of animals and plants. And, over two hundred millennia, they gradually evolved into the Neanderthals, the primordial Europeans encountered by the Cro-Magnons.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

September 21, 2010

Government Import Quotas Increase Price of Sugar in U.S.


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

(p. A1) The gap between what Americans and the rest of the world pay for sugar has reached its widest level in at least a decade, breathing new life into the battle over import quotas that prop up the price of the sweet stuff in the U.S.

For years, U.S. prices have been artificially inflated by import restrictions designed to protect American farmers. That has kept the price well above the global market.

But in recent days, the difference between the two has ballooned, giving new impetus to U.S. sugar processors and confectioners to step up their long campaign to pressure the government to increase import limits.

Attention to sugar prices, and the dwindling supply of sugar left in U.S. warehouses, has intensified in the lead up to April 1, after which the U.S. Department of Agriculture can review and change the import quotas, which now stand at 1.3 million metric tons.

Sugar users have long been vocal critics of the quotas but have failed to convince the government to change the limits. The quota has remained unchanged since it was first imposed in 1990, except for two temporary increases after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a major refinery explosion in 2008.

For the full story, see:

CAROLYN CUI. "Price Gap Puts Spice in Sugar-Quota Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 15, 2010): A1 & A20.

September 20, 2010

Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma Is "Most Influential Business Book"

(p. W3) . . . in today's world, gale-like market forces--rapid globalization, accelerating innovation, relentless competition--have intensified what economist Joseph Schumpeter called the forces of "creative destruction."

. . .

When I asked members of The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council, a group of chief executives who meet each year to deliberate on issues of public interest, to name the most influential business book they had read, many cited Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma." That book documents how market-leading companies have missed game-changing transformations in industry after industry--computers (mainframes to PCs), telephony (landline to mobile), photography (film to digital), stock markets (floor to online)--not because of "bad" management, but because they followed the dictates of "good" management. They listened closely to their customers. They carefully studied market trends. They allocated capital to the innovations that promised the largest returns. And in the process, they missed disruptive innovations that opened up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster products.

For the full commentary, see:

ALAN MURRAY. "The End of Management; Corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete. Why managers should act like venture capitalists." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 21, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The most complete and current account of Christensen's views can be found in:

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

September 19, 2010

Harry Frankfurt's Critique of Postmodernist "Bullshit"


"Harry G. Frankfurt." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 29) Q: Your new book, "On Truth," is a sequel to "On Bull--," a slim philosophical tract published by Princeton University Press that became an accidental best seller last year.
What do you mean by accidental? People didn't know they were buying it?

. . .

In your new book, you are especially critical of academics and their theories of postmodernism, which treat all truth as an artificial construction as opposed to an independent reality.
I used to teach at Yale, which was at one time a center of postmodernist literary theory. Derrida was there. Paul de Man was there. I originally wrote the bull-- essay at Yale, and a physics professor told me that it was appropriate that this essay should have been written at Yale, because, after all, he said, Yale is the bull-- capital of the world.

But there is probably far more bull-- in politics and entertainment than in academia.
I hope so!

What about in philosophy, which you still teach?
I think there is a certain amount of bull-- in philosophy -- people pretending to have important ideas when they don't and obscuring the fact by using a lot of impenetrable language.

For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "Questions for Harry G. Frankfurt; Fighting Bull ." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., October 22, 2006): 29.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original print version, to indicate questions by Deborah Solomon.)

The reference to the first book is:

Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

The reference to the sequel is:

Frankfurt, Harry G. On Truth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.


Source of book image on left: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_T_py15A4TNY/SI9o5-lJ-3I/AAAAAAAAABc/ui9BmdO4Dns/s400/On+Bullshit.jpg

Source of book image on right: http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/bestsellers-2006/509-1.jpg

September 18, 2010

Compared to the Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnons Had "an Ongoing Culture of Innovation"

In an earlier entry Fagan discusses the eyed needle as key technological advantage of the Cro-Magnons over the Neanderthals. In the passage quoted below, he discusses some other key differences between the two human species.

(p. 14) We know from their art that they looked at their world with more than practical eyes, through a lens of the intangible that changed constantly over the generations. It was this symbolism, these beliefs, as much as their technological innovations and layered clothing, that gave them the decisive advantage over their neighbors in the seesawlike climatic world of the late Ice Age. There were more of them living in larger groups than there were Neanderthals, too, so there were more intense social interactions, much greater food gathering activity from an early age, and an ongoing culture of innovation that came (p. 15) from a growing sophistication of language, advances in technology, and a greater life expectancy. In a world where all knowledge passed orally from one generation to the next, this enhanced cultural buffer between the moderns and the harsh climate provided an extra, albeit sometimes fragile, layer of protection during the intense cold of the so-called Last Glacial Maximum, from 21,500 to 18,000 years ago.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

September 17, 2010

Charles II Took a Gamble on Toleration


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

(p. A19) Early in "A Gambling Man," a detailed and thoroughly engrossing examination of the Restoration's first decade, Jenny Uglow notes that Charles Stuart, upon his ascension, "wanted passionately to be seen as the healer of his people's woes and the glory of his nation." Cromwell's regime had featured constant war and constant taxes. The population was bitterly divided among Anglicans, Catholics and dissenting Protestants--Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers, Baptists. A huge standing army had burdened the people financially and frightened them; such an army, it was not unreasonably thought, could be used to impose a tyranny.

. . .

As a result of such divisions, Charles became a "gambler," as Ms. Uglow puts it--not at cards or gaming tables but at affairs of state. His biggest gamble was on something he fervently wanted to achieve: religious toleration for all sects and the freedom for Englishmen to follow their own "tender consciences" in individual worship. He forwarded this policy in Parliament only to receive his first major defeat with the passage of the Corporation Act, a law that took the power of corporations (governing towns and businesses) away from Nonconformists and handed it back to the Church of England. Charles had gambled on "the force of reasonable argument," Ms. Uglow says, but was ultimately defeated "by the entrenched interests of the [Anglican] Church" and "the deep-held suspicions" of Parliament, which believed that England's dissenting sects posed a persistent threat. That Charles was willing to go head-to-head with Parliament for such a cause, even in failure, was especially audacious, considering his father's fate.

. . .

In his desire to be a monarch of the people, Charles was determined to make himself accessible--in the early days of his reign he threw open the palace of Whitehall to all comers. He gambled, with some success, that (in Ms. Uglow's words) "easy access would make people of all views feel they might reach him, preventing conspiracies." During the 1666 Great Fire of London he and his brother, James, duke of York, went out into the streets and put themselves alongside soldiers and workmen. They could be seen "filthy, smoke-blackened and tired," frantically creating a firebreak as the blaze consumed London like a monstrous beast.

For the full review, see:

NED CRABB. "BOOKSHELF; Risky Business; A bitterly divided nation, a monarchy splendiferously restored.." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., NOVEMBER 27, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses added; bracketed word in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated NOVEMBER 26, 2009.)

Book being reviewed:

Uglow, Jenny. A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

September 16, 2010

Tax Hike Would Hurt Entrepreneurs

(p. A17) When Congress returns from its summer recess, members will face a pivotal decision about the expiring Bush tax cuts. President Barack Obama has called for their permanent extension for singles with incomes below $200,000 and married couples with incomes below $250,000, but has proposed that most of the tax cuts for households with higher incomes be allowed to expire.

. . .

The fact that there are millions of people in the lower tax brackets with small amounts of business income may be interesting for some purposes, but it is irrelevant for the assessment of the economic impact of the tax hikes.

The numbers are clear. According to IRS data, fully 48% of the net income of sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations reported on tax returns went to households with incomes above $200,000 in 2007.

. . .

Economic research supports a large impact. A pair of papers by economists Robert Carroll, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Harvey Rosen and Mark Rider that were published in 1998 and 2000 by the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed tax return data and uncovered high responsiveness of sole proprietors' business activity to tax rates. Their estimates imply that increasing the top rate to 40.8% from 35% (an official rate of 39.6% plus another 1.2 percentage points from the restoration of a stealth provision that phases out deductions), as in Mr. Obama's plan, would reduce gross receipts by more than 7% for sole proprietors subject to the higher rate.

These results imply a similar effect on proprietors' investment expenditures. A paper published by R. Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University and William M. Gentry of Williams College in the American Economic Review in 2000 also found that increasing progressivity of the tax code discourages entrepreneurs from starting new businesses.

For the full commentary, see:

KEVIN A. HASSETT and ALAN D. VIARD. "The Small Business Tax Hike and the 97% Fallacy; The president's plan to raise top marginal rates is holding back the very people who should be leading the economic recovery." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., SEPTEMBER 3, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

One of the papers by Carroll et al, is:

Carroll, Robert, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Mark Rider, and Harvey S. Rosen. "Income Taxes and Entrepreneurs' Use of Labor." Journal of Labor Economics 18, no. 2 (April 2000): 324-51.

The Hubbard paper is:

Gentry, William M., and R. Glenn Hubbard. "Tax Policy and Entrepreneurial Entry." The American Economic Review 90, no. 2 (May 2000): 283-87.

September 15, 2010

Brit Papers Survived Due to "the Gratifying Defeat of the Luddite Unions by Rupert Murdoch"


"Evans says: "Ultimately, Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired, because I attacked her so much." Source of caption and photo: online version of The Independent on Sunday article quoted and cited below.

(p. 12) As a condition of acquiring both The Times and The Sunday Times in early 1981, Murdoch promised that the independence of each would be protected by a board of directors, and made other solemn guarantees.

"On this basis," Evans wrote in Good Times, Bad Times, "I accepted Rupert Murdoch's invitation to edit The Times on February 17 1981. My ambition," he admitted, "got the better of my judgement." Every assurance regarding editorial independence, he added, was blithely disregarded.

On 9 March 1982, the day after he'd come back from burying his father at Bluebell Wood cemetery in Prestatyn, Harold Evans was sacked.

"Ultimately," he says, "Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired. Because I was attacking her so much. When she started to dismantle the British economy, the most cogent critic of that policy which led, OK, to... a lot of things... was The Sunday Times. I wrote 70 per cent of that criticism myself. When I became editor of The Times, I continued to criticise monetarism. But I could still see some of the good things about her."

"Just remind us?"

"I'm thinking - and you probably won't agree with this because I sense that you're a firm supporter of the NUJ [National Union of Journalists] - mainly of her dealings with the unions."

"How do you feel about her now?"

"I think she is a very brave woman."

"Hitler was brave."

"Yes, but... she was right about terrorism. She was right about the IRA."

"Do you think Britain would be a better place if she'd never existed?"

"No. I think Britain benefited from her having been there. Britain was becoming so arthritic with labour restrictions."

"Good Times, Bad Times is an unforgiving portrait of Rupert Murdoch."

. . .

(p. 13) [Evans] has called Rupert Murdoch elitist, anti-democratic, and asserted that the Australian cares nothing about the opinion of others, so long as his business expands. This is the same man who refers to "the gratifying defeat of the Luddite unions by Rupert Murdoch".

. . .

"So how do you feel about the Murdoch empire now?"

Evans pauses. "I'm not that familiar with the British... OK. Let's take an alternative scenario. Murdoch never arrives. I manage to take control of The Sunday Times with the management buyout. Then I get defeated by the unions. The Independent wouldn't be here. Rival papers survived because they got the technology. Thanks to Murdoch."

For the full interview, see:

Robert Chalmers, Interviewer. "Harold Evans: 'All I tried to do was shed a little light'." The Independent on Sunday (Sun., June 13, 2010): 8 & 10-13.

(Note: free-standing ellipsis, between paragraphs, added; internal ellipses in original; italics in original; bracketed name added in place of "he.")

September 14, 2010

The Crucial Invention that Cro-Magnon's Had and Neanderthals Lacked: the Eyed Needle

(p. 13) Both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons coped effortlessly with abrupt climatic changes from near-temperate to extremely frigid conditions. How well, however, the Neanderthals were able to deal with deep snow cover and long months of subzero temperatures is a matter of ongoing debate. They lacked what was, perhaps, one of the most revolutionary inventions in history, and an inconspicuous one at that: the eyed needle, fashioned from a sliver of antler, bone, or ivory. If their expertise with antler is any guide, the Cro-Magnons must have been adept woodworkers in the more temperate environments of southwestern Asia. When they moved north, they settled oil a continent where antler and hone were potential replacements for wood, and where mammoth and other large animal hones had to be used as fuel in more treeless environments. With brilliant opportunism, they used small stone chisels to remove fine splinters from antler and bone, which they then ground and polished into slender needles. Carefully fashioned stone awls served as drills to make the holes for the thongs that served as thread, substitutes for the vegetable fibers used with wooden needles in their ancestral homes.

Every Cro-Magnon, man, woman, and child, must have been aware that protection from clothing came in layers, that warmth escaped from the head and extremities. As we will see, an indirect source of information on the garments they wore is the traditional clothing used by Eskimo and lntuit in very cold environments--the argument being that there are only a limited number of ways in which layered, cold-weather clothing can be fashioned from hides and skins. The needle allowed women to tailor garments from the fur and skin of different animals, such as wolves, reindeer, and arctic foxes, taking full advantage of each hide or pelt's unique qualities to reduce the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia in environments of rapidly changing extremes.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

September 13, 2010

Ecosystems May Benefit from Gulf Oil Spill

ColdSeepTubewormCroppedLarge2010-09-01.jpg"In a cold-seep community a third of a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, the orange mat in the foreground is a colony of microbes that live on oil and gas seeping up from the seabed, starting a complex food chain that results in a dark ecosystem. In the background are tubeworms, which can grow eight feet long and live for centuries. Near the tubeworms are snail and clam shells, which appear to be empty."

Source of caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0030102.g001&representation=PNG_M (The photo on the NYT site was identical, but was in a more user-friendly format at the URL just-cited.)

(p. D1) . . . , in 1977, oceanographers working in the deep Pacific stumbled on bizarre ecosystems lush with clams, mussels and big tube worms -- a cornucopia of abyssal life built on microbes that thrived in hot, mineral-rich waters welling up from volcanic cracks, feeding on the chemicals that leached into the seawater and serving as the basis for whole chains of life that got along just fine without sunlight.

In 1984, scientists found that the heat was not necessary. In exploring the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, they discovered sunless habitats powered by a new form of nourishment. The microbes that founded the food chain lived not on hot minerals but on cold petrochemicals seeping up from the icy seabed.

Today, scientists have identified roughly one hundred sites in the gulf where cold-seep communities of clams, mussels and tube worms flourish in the sunless depths. And they have accumulated evidence of many more -- hundreds by some estimates, thousands by others -- most especially in the gulf's deep, unexplored waters.

"It wouldn't surprise me if there were 2,000 communities, from suburbs to cities," said Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who studies the dark ecosystems.

. . .

(p. D4) "There's lots of uncertainty," said Charles R. Fisher, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, who is leading a federal study of the dark habitats and who observed the nearby community. "Our best hope is that the impact is neutral or a minor problem."

A few scientists say the gushing oil -- despite its clear harm to pelicans, turtles and other forms of coastal life -- might ultimately represent a subtle boon to the creatures of the cold seeps and even to the wider food chain.

"The gulf is such a great fishery because it's fed organic matter from oil," said Roger Sassen, a specialist on the cold seeps who recently retired from Texas A&M University. "It's preadapted to crude oil. The image of this spill being a complete disaster is not true."

For the full story, see:

WILLIAM J. BROAD. "Cold, Dark and Teeming With Life." The New York Times, Science Times Section (Tues., June 22, 2010): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 21, 2010.)

September 12, 2010

More than a Quarter of Weathercasters Believe "Global Warming is a Scam"

(p. A1) Joe Bastardi, . . . , a senior forecaster and meteorologist with AccuWeather, maintains that it is more likely that the planet is cooling, and he distrusts the data put forward by climate scientists as evidence for rising global temperatures.

"There is a great deal of consternation among a lot of us over the readjustment of data that is going on and some of the portrayals that we are seeing," Mr. Bastardi said in a video segment posted recently on AccuWeather's Web site.

Such skepticism appears to be widespread among TV forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was "caused mostly by human activities."

More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement "Global warming is a scam," the researchers found.

For the full story, see:

LESLIE KAUFMAN. "Scientists and Weathercasters at Odds over Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., March 30, 2010): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated March 29, 2010 and had the title "Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming.")

September 11, 2010

Vatican Made Bellarmine a Saint in 1930, but Still Says Galileo Erred

GalileoBust2010-09-01.jpg "A bust of Galileo at the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy. The museum is displaying recovered parts of his body." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) As a heretic he could not be given a proper church burial. But for years after his death, his followers in the circle of the grand dukes of Tuscany pushed to give him an honorable resting place.

Nearly a century later, in 1737, members of Florence's cultural and scientific elite unearthed the scientist's remains in a peculiar Masonic rite. Freemasonry was growing as a counterweight to church power in those years and even today looms large in the Italian popular imagination as an anticlerical force.

According to a notary who recorded the strange proceedings, the historian and naturalist Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti used a knife to slice off several fingers, a tooth and a vertebra from Galileo's body as souvenirs but refrained, it appears, from taking his brain. The scientist was then reburied in a ceremony, "symmetrical to a beatification," said Mr. Galluzzi.

After taking their macabre souvenirs, the group placed Galileo's remains in an elegant marble tomb in Florence's Santa Croce church, a pointed statement from Tuscany's powers that they were outside the Vatican's control. The church has long been a shrine to humanism as much as to religion, and Galileo's permanent neighbors include Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

. . .

Even today, centuries after Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, the pope's theological watchdog, had Galileo arrested for preaching Copernicanism, the church has never quite managed to acknowledge that his heliocentric theory is correct. (For his part, Cardinal Bellarmine was made a saint in 1930.)

Pope John Paul II reopened the Galileo case in 1981, and in 1992 issued his committee's findings: that the judges who condemned Galileo had erred but that the scientist had also erred in his arrogance in thinking that his theory would be accepted with no physical evidence.

. . .

. . . as recently as last fall, at a news conference introducing an exhibition of historic telescopic instruments at the Vatican Museums, the director of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, referred without blinking to "the errors committed by both sides" -- indicating both the church and Galileo.

For the full story, see:

RACHEL DONADIO. "Florence Journal; A Museum Display of Galileo Has a Saintly Feel." The New York Times (Fri., July 23, 2010): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated July 22, 2010.)

September 10, 2010

By at Least 50,000 Years Ago Homo Sapiens "Developed the Full Battery of Cognitive Skills that We Ourselves Possess"

Before the passage quoted below, Fagan briefly discusses the two probable waves of humans spreading out from Africa, the first of which is believed to have occurred about 100,000 years ago.

(p. 10) A second, even less well-documented push seems to have taken place later, around fifty thousand years ago. This time, moderns settled throughout Near East Asia and stayed there, apparently living alongside a sparse Neanderthal population. This widely accepted theory assumes that by this rime the newcomers had all the intellectual capabilities of Homo sapiens. Just when and how they acquired them remains a major unsolved problem. All we can say is that at some point between one hundred thousand and fifty thousand years (p. 11) ago, at a seminal yet still little known moment in history Homo sapiens developed the full battery of cognitive skills that we ourselves possess.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 9, 2010

Jeff Bezos' Goal: "Earth's Biggest Selection"


Jeff Bezos. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 18) You're a longtime science buff who studied electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton. Why did you want to be a bookseller in the first place?
You have to go back in time to 1994, and there's something very unusual about the book category. There are more items in the book category than there are items in any other product category. One of the things it was obvious you could do with an online store is have a much more complete selection.

Initially, Amazon sold books exclusively, but it has since expanded into a retail omnivore that sells basketballs and vacuum cleaners and hamster food and everything under the sun. What is your goal, exactly?
We want to have earth's biggest selection. Earth's biggest river, earth's biggest selection.

For the full interview, see:

DEBORAH SOLOMON. "QUESTIONS FOR Jeffrey P. Bezos; Book Learning." The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., December 6, 2009): 18.

(Note: bold in original, to indicate questions by Deborah Solomon.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated December 2, 2009.)


September 8, 2010

Looking at Gender Gap, Claudia Goldin Sees: "Lots of Evidence of People Making Rational Choices"

(p. A2) Cornell University economists Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn found that after adjusting for factors such as education, experience, occupation and industry, the remaining, "unexplained" gender gap in 1998 was nine percentage points. Women also are likely to interrupt their careers, often to start a family, and such breaks can derail promotions and raises.

"When you first see the numbers, you would say there is a glass ceiling," says Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. "And yet when you scrutinize the data, you find lots of evidence of people making rational choices."

For the full commentary, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Not All Differences in Earnings Are Created Equal." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 10, 2010): A2.

September 7, 2010

Environmentalist Blue Planet Prize Winner Lovelock Endorsed Nuclear Power


"The scientist James E. Lovelock during an interview at the Algonquin Hotel in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D2) Few scientists have elicited such equivalent heaps of praise and criticism as James E. Lovelock, the British chemist, inventor and planetary diagnostician who has long foreseen a clash between humans and their planet.

His work underpins much of modern environmentalism. The electron capture detector he invented in the 1950's produced initial measurements of dispersed traces of pesticides and ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, providing a foundation for the work of Rachel Carson and for studies revealing risks to the atmosphere's protective ozone layer.

His conception in 1972 of the planet's chemistry, climate and veneer of life as a self-sustaining entity, soon given the name Gaia, was embraced by the Earth Day generation and was ridiculed, but eventually accepted (with big qualifications), by many biologists.

Dr. Lovelock, honored in 1997 with the Blue Planet Prize, which is widely considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, has now come under attack from some environmentalists for his support of nuclear power as a way to avoid runaway "global heating" -- his preferred alternative to "global warming."

In his latest book, "The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back -- and How We Can Still Save Humanity" (Perseus, 2006), Dr. Lovelock says that any risks posed by nuclear power are small when compared with the "fever" of heat-trapping carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

For the full interview, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "A Conversation With James E. Lovelock; Updating Prescriptions for Avoiding Worldwide Catastrophe." The New York Times, Science Times Section (Tues., September 12, 2006): D2.

September 6, 2010

"Modern" Humans Have Existed for at Least 100,000--and Maybe 200,000--Years

(p. 9) A group of geneticists headed by Rebecca Cann and Alan Wilson, using mtDNA and a sophisticated "molecular clock," traced modern-human ancestry back to isolated African populations dating to between two hundred thousand and one hundred thousand years ago. Inevitably there was talk of an "African Eve," a first modern woman, the hypothetical ancestor of all modern humankind. Most archaeologists gulped and took a deep breath. Cairn and her colleagues had taken Homo sapiens into new and uncharted historical territory.

. . .

(p. 10) The genetic case for an African origin for Homo sapiens seems overwhelming. The archaeologists have also stepped forward with new fossil discoveries, including a robust 195,000-year-old modern human from Omo Kibish, in Ethiopia, and three 160,000-year-old Homo sapiens skulls from Herto, also in Ethiopia. Few anthropologists now doubt that Africa was the cradle of Homo sapiens and home to the remotest ancestors of the first modern Europeans--the Cro-Magnons. The seemingly outrageous chronology of two decades ago is now accepted as historical reality.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

September 5, 2010

Action Hero Reagan Made Sure Message Could Be Heard

BuckleyReagan2010-09-01.jpg "William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan in 1978, following their debate over the Panama Canal Treaty." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 23) On the night that William F. Buckley met Ronald Reagan, the future president of the United States put his elbow through a plate-glass window. The year was 1961, and the two men were in Beverly Hills, where Buckley, perhaps the most famous conservative in America at the tender age of 35, was giving an address at a school auditorium. Reagan, a former Hollywood leading man dabbling in political activism -- the Tim Robbins or Alec Baldwin of his day -- had been asked to do the introductions.

But the microphone was dead, the technician was nowhere to be found and the control room was locked. As the crowd began to grumble, Reagan coolly opened one of the auditorium windows, stepped onto a ledge two stories above the street and inched his way around to the control room. He smashed his elbow through the glass and clambered in through the broken window. "In a minute there was light in the upstairs room," Buckley later wrote, "and then we could hear the crackling of the newly animated microphone."

This anecdote kicks off The Reagan I Knew (Basic Books, $25), a slight and padded reminiscence published posthumously this past autumn, nine months after Buckley's death.

For the full review essay, see:

ROSS DOUTHAT. "Essay; When Buckley Met Reagan ." The New York Times, Book Review Section (Sun., January 18, 2009): 23.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: The online version of the review essay was dated January 16, 2009.)

September 4, 2010

Post-War Freedom, Not FDR's New Deal or War, Ended Great Depression

(p. A17) Roosevelt died before the war ended and before he could implement his New Deal revival. His successor, Harry Truman, in a 16,000 word message on Sept. 6, 1945, urged Congress to enact FDR's ideas as the best way to achieve full employment after the war.

Congress--both chambers with Democratic majorities--responded by just saying "no." No to the whole New Deal revival: no federal program for health care, no full-employment act, only limited federal housing, and no increase in minimum wage or Social Security benefits.

Instead, Congress reduced taxes. Income tax rates were cut across the board. FDR's top marginal rate, 94% on all income over $200,000, was cut to 86.45%. The lowest rate was cut to 19% from 23%, and with a change in the amount of income exempt from taxation an estimated 12 million Americans were eliminated from the tax rolls entirely.

. . .

Congress substituted the tonic of freedom for FDR's New Deal revival and the American economy recovered well. Unemployment, which had been in double digits throughout the 1930s, was only 3.9% in 1946 and, except for a couple of short recessions, remained in that range for the next decade.

The Great Depression was over, no thanks to FDR. Yet the myth of his New Deal lives on. With the current effort by President Obama to emulate some of FDR's programs to get us out of the recent deep recession, this myth should be laid to rest.

For the full commentary, see:

The economy took off after the postwar Congress cut taxes." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 12, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

September 3, 2010

Our Cro-Magnon Forbears Adapted Readily to Extreme Climatic Change

In the passage that follows, Brian Fagan describes our best guess at the landscape of part of France about 18,000 years ago, and then describes how the landscape dramatically changed in a short period. (We usually do not know exactly how short---maybe as long as a few hundred years, maybe as short as a month.)

(p. xiv) There would have been black aurochs with lyre-shaped horns, perhaps arctic foxes in their brown summer fur feeding off a kill, perhaps a pride of lions resting under the trees. If you'd been patient enough, you'd have seen the occasional humans, too. But you would have known they weren't far away--informed by the smell of burning wood, trails of white smoke from rock-shelter hearths, the cries of children at play. Then I imagined this world changing rapidly, soon becoming one of forest and water meadow, devoid of reindeer and wild horses, much of the game lurking in the trees. I marveled at the ability of our forebears to adapt so readily to such dramatic environmental changes.

Few humans have ever lived in a world of such extreme climatic and environmental change.

. . .

(p. xvi) The story of the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons tells us much about how our forebears adapted to climatic crisis and sudden environmental change. Like us, they faced an uncertain future, and like us, they relied on uniquely human qualities of adaptiveness, ingenuity, and opportunism to carry them through an uncertain and challenging world.


Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

September 2, 2010

"Disrespectful to Take Money from One Man's Pocket and Put It in Another's"

WestsideCommunityCenterColoradoSprings2010-08-30.jpg"A March fair to raise private funding for community centers, held at Westside Community Center, was sparsely attended." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.--Like many American cities, this one is strapped for cash. Tax collections here have fallen so far that the city has turned off one-third of its 24,512 street lights.

But unlike many cities, this one is full of people who are eager for more government cutbacks.

The town council has been bombarded with emails telling it to close community centers. Letters to the local newspaper call for shrinking the police department and putting the city-owned utility up for sale. A commission is studying whether to sell the municipal hospital. Another, made up of local businessmen, will opine on whether to slash the salaries and benefits of city employees.

"Let's start cutting stupid programs that cost taxpayers a pot of money," says Tim Austin, a 48-year-old former home builder now looking for a new line of work. "It's so bullying and disrespectful to take money from one man's pocket and put it in another's."

For the full story, see:

LESLIE EATON. "Strapped City Cuts and Cuts and Cuts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 13, 2010): A1 & A16.

September 1, 2010

Energy Department Wastes Energy

(p. A17) WASHINGTON -- Like flossing or losing weight, saving energy is easier to promise than to actually do -- even if you are the Department of Energy.

Its Web site advises that choosing new lighting technologies can slash energy use by 50 to 75 percent. But the department is having trouble taking its own advice, according to an internal audit released on Wednesday; many of its offices are still installing obsolete fluorescent bulbs.

And very few have switched to the most promising technology, light-emitting diodes, which the department spent millions of dollars to help commercialize.

Many of the changes would generate savings that would pay back the investment in two years or so, according to the report, by the department's inspector general.

In one case, the Department of Energy made most of the investment by installing timers to shut off lights at night when it moved into a new building in 1997. But it got no benefit: as of March of this year, it had not bought the central control unit needed to run the system.

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Energy Department: Make Thyself Fuel Efficient." The New York Times (Thurs., July 8, 2010): A17.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 7, 2010, and has the title "Energy Department Lags in Saving Energy.")


Most Popular Posts

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

The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."

View My Stats