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April 30, 2011

Press Routinely Puffs Up Phony Scares

(p. 107) In the winter of 2001, . . . , a New York Times page-one lead story declared in breathless phrasing that the White House had just "canceled" regulations limiting arsenic in drinking water; taking their leads from the Times, all national newscasts that night declared that arsenic protection had been "canceled." The Times went on to editorialize that government actually wanted Americans to "drink poisoned water" because this would serve the sinister interests of corporations, though how the conspiracy would serve sinister corporate interests was not explained, since the arsenic in drinking water occurs naturally. Government poisoning your water--a report you don't want to miss tonight!

Except that nothing had been canceled. The White House had held up a pending rule to make arsenic protection more strict; while the pending rule was reviewed, prior rules remained in effect. The Environmental Protection Agency continued regulating arsenic in drinking water during the entire period when such protection was supposedly "canceled." Then, in November 2001, the White House ended its review and put the much stricter rule into force. The New York Times did not play this as (p. 108) a headline lead, where the original scare story had been; enactment of the strict rule was buried in a small box on page A18. Network newscasts that had presented a shocking scandal of "canceled arsenic protection" as their big story also said little or nothing when instead stronger rules went into effect. This sort of puffing up of a phony scare, followed by studious ignoring of subsequent events that deflate the scare, is not rare. It is standard operating procedure in many quarters of journalism, including at the top.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

April 29, 2011

"The Internet Is Really the Work of a Thousand People"


Paul Baran. Source of photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) In the early 1960s, while working at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., Mr. Baran outlined the fundamentals for packaging data into discrete bundles, which he called "message blocks." The bundles are then sent on various paths around a network and reassembled at their destination. Such a plan is known as "packet switching."

Mr. Baran's idea was to build a distributed communications network, less vulnerable to attack or disruption than conventional networks. In a series of technical papers published in the 1960s he suggested that networks be designed with redundant routes so that if a particular path failed or was destroyed, messages could still be delivered through another.

Mr. Baran's invention was so far ahead of its time that in the mid-1960s, when he approached AT&T with the idea to build his proposed network, the company insisted it would not work and refused.

. . .

Mr. Baran was also an entrepreneur. He started seven companies, five of which eventually went public.

In recent years, the origins of the Internet have been subject to claims and counterclaims of precedence, and Mr. Baran was an outspoken proponent of distributing credit widely.

"The Internet is really the work of a thousand people," he said in an interview in 2001.

"The process of technological developments is like building a cathedral," he said in an interview in 1990. "Over the course of several hundred years, new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, 'I built a cathedral.'

"Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, 'Well, who built the cathedral?' Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else."

For the full obituary, see:

KATIE HAFNER. "Paul Baran, Internet Pioneer, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 28, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated March 27, 2011.)

April 28, 2011

Does Montessori Nurture Creativity?

Ironically, the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school's alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google's founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean "P.Diddy" Combs.

Is there something going on here? Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?

. . .

The Montessori Mafia showed up in an extensive, six-year study about the way creative business executives think. Professors Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of globe-spanning business school INSEAD surveyed over 3,000 executives and interviewed 500 people who had either started innovative companies or invented new products.

"A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity," Mr. Gregersen said. "To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different)."

When Barbara Walters, who interviewed Google founders Messrs. Page and Brin in 2004, asked if having parents who were college professors was a major factor behind their success, they instead credited their early Montessori education. "We both went to Montessori school," Mr. Page said, "and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what's going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently."

Will Wright, inventor of bestselling "The Sims" videogame series, heaps similar praise. "Montessori taught me the joy of discovery," Mr. Wright said, "It's all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori..."

Meanwhile, according to Jeff Bezos's mother, young Jeff would get so engrossed in his activities as a Montessori preschooler that his teachers would literally have to pick him up out of his chair to go to the next task. "I've always felt that there's a certain kind of important pioneering that goes on from an inventor like Thomas Edison," Mr. Bezos has said, and that discovery mentality is precisely the environment that Montessori seeks to create.

Neuroscience author Jonah Lehrer cites a 2006 study published in Science that compared the educational achievement performance of low-income Milwaukee children who attended Montessori schools versus children who attended a variety of other preschools, as determined by a lottery.


Peter Sims. "The Montessori Mafia." http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/ Posted: April 5, 2011, 10:57 AM ET

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs is added; ellipsis at the end of a paragraph was in the original.)

The reference for the Science article mentioned above is:

Lillard, Angeline, and Nicole Else-Quest. "Evaluating Montessori Education." Science 313, no. 5795 (September 29, 2006): 1893-94.

April 27, 2011

45% of Mummies Had Heart Disease

"A mummy enters the CT scanner at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. It was one of 52 mummies examined for signs of heart disease." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6A) Atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries -- was surpris­ingly widespread during an­cient times, at least among the Egyptian mummies examined by an international team of sci­entists and heart specialists.

Their research, whose re­sults were presented April 3 in New Orleans at the annual meeting of the American Col­lege of Cardiology, found that 45 percent of the mummies they put through CT scans had signs of atherosclerosis.

That raises questions about whether hardening of the arter­ies is the modern disease that many think it is.

"We found it so easily and frequently that it appears to have been common in this soci­ety," said Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Hospi­tal in Kansas City.

For the full story, see:

MC CLATCHY NEWSPAPERS. "Hardened Arteries Go Back Centuries." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., April 18, 2011): 6A.

April 26, 2011

The Elite Feel More Important, and Receive More Funding, During Crises

(p. 103) Claims of disastrous decline will he praised in the elite parts of society. Since many crave recognition or rewards from elites, people oblige by producing claims of disastrous decline. More generally, when things really are bad we naturally turn to eminent or powerful people for their advice and succor; when things are fine, the elite classes are of diminished importance to society. Important people like to feel important, and thus are biased toward viewing events in bleak terms. Consider that, during the 1990s, when nearly everything in the United States was trending positive, left-wing leaders as exemplified by the Manhattan chardonnay circuit, and right-wing leaders as exemplified by the Heritage Foundation circuit, slugged it out as though the world was ending: the left claiming religious fanatics were taking over the country, the right claiming the left was destroying the family and opposed to reading of the classics, to name a few totally cooked-up charges of that period. As Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University sociologist, noted in 1998, "It's astonish-(p. 104)ing how the Washington and New York elites, who benefit so much from the improvement of the United States, are so out of sync with it, endlessly talking about how things are getting worse when the country is clearly improving."

To those who benefit from bad news, either by fund-raising or increased self-importance, problems are not just problems but crises--the health care crisis, the farm-bill crisis, the tax crisis, the welfare crisis, the litigation crisis, the postage-rate crisis.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

April 25, 2011

Are Small Bets Enough to Get Breakthrough Innovation, Or Do You Usually Need Big Bets?


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

I am dubious of the main thesis of the book discussed in the review quoted below. But it sounds like an interesting read.

"I'll be happy to give you innovative thinking," a bedraggled employee tells his boss in a classic Leo Cullum cartoon. "What are the guidelines?"

Guidelines are what Peter Sims seeks to provide in "Little Bets," an enthusiastic, example-rich argument for innovating in a particular way--by deliberately experimenting and taking small exploratory steps in novel directions. Some little bets will not pay off, of course, in which case little is lost; but others may pay off in big ways.

. . .

The point is that good (or even just delicious) ideas rarely emerge fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus; rather they evolve in a discursive and unpredictable fashion. The challenge is to enable this process rather than squelch it because it is hard to manage or because its results are hard to predict.

Light, bright and packed with tidy anecdotes, "Little Bets" feels at times like a motivational speaker's presentation. Its claims are often attractive, but the analytical apparatus can be shaky: correlation is confused with causation; counter-evidence is ignored (such as those who put down small bets but never enjoy large returns); the role of circumstance or luck is underestimated; and some facts seem cherry-picked to push the message.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; Where the Action Is; Taking small exploratory steps and 'prototyping,' as when Chris Rock tests out jokes at obscure comedy clubs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., APRIL 22, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review is:

Sims, Peter. Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. New York: Free Press, 2011.

April 24, 2011

Energy Regulations Give Us Less Choice and Worse Washing Machines

(p. A17) It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it's ruined--and Americans have politics to thank.

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were "excellent" and five were "very good." By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were "fair" or "poor." This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as "often mediocre or worse."

How's that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government's obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren't as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.

. . .

Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don't fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy. But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don't let you toss in a wayward sock after they've started.

For the full commentary, see:

SAM KAZMAN. "How Washington Ruined Your Washing Machine; The top-loading washer continues to disappear, thanks to the usual nanny state suspects." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 17, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 23, 2011

"If We Actually Want to Change Anything--Dedicate Our Lives to It--We Need to Make Money Doing It"

DavidsonNeilUndergroundFood2011-04-22.jpg "The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid the costs -- including for health permits and liability insurance -- required by legitimate farmers' markets. Neil Davidson prepared part of a Hawaiian breakfast dish for a customer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- . . .

. . .

At midnight, the smell of stir-fried pork bellies was wafting through the Mission district. There was live music, liquor, bouncers, a disco ball -- and a line waiting to sample hundreds of delicacies made mostly on location, among them bacon-wrapped mochi (a Japanese rice paste) and ice cream made from red beets, Guinness and chocolate cake.

In a sense it is civil disobedience on a paper plate.

The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid roughly $1,000 a year in fees -- including those for health permits and liability insurance -- required by legitimate farmers markets. Here, where the food rave -- call it a crave -- was born, the market organizers sidestep city health inspections by operating as a private club, requiring that participants become "members" (free) and sign a disclaimer noting that food might not be prepared in a space that has been inspected.

. . .

(p. A12) Where psychedelic drugs famously transported another self-conscious San Francisco generation, the rebel act of choice by Valerie Luu, 23, a first-generation Vietnamese chef, is deep-frying string cheese in a cast-iron pan.

"When I was their age I was doing drugs and going to rock shows," said Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer and author who recently got into a spat with the City of Oakland for selling chard and other produce at a pop-up farm stand without a permit. "That's not their culture," she continued. "Their culture is food -- incredible yummy-tasting food."

. . .

The underground market here, which also has a less chic daytime component, was started by Iso Rabins, 30, the founder of ForageSF, a company that began with foraging walks and dinners featuring dishes like wild nettle soup with crème fraiche.

He started in 2009 from a private home after observing that many friends could not afford to sell at farmers markets, which requires business and product liability insurance (around $250), space rental ($40 to $55 a day), yearly member fees (around $110), and a health and safety permit (about $500). The use of commercial kitchens would cost an additional $45 to $75 an hour, Mr. Rabins noted, and making jam can take eight hours or more. "The small-batch economics just don't work," he said.

The goal is to be an incubator for culinary start-ups, and be a profit-making venture. Vendors pay $50 to reserve a cooking space and return 10 percent of sales over $500 to ForageSF. "The feeling in the food community is that if you're making money, it's not something you're passionate about," Mr. Rabins said. "But if we actually want to change anything -- dedicate our lives to it -- we need to make money doing it," he said.

Amateur cooks around the country are pushing to have the right to sell unlicensed goods directly to consumers. So-called "cottage food" laws that allow products considered nonhazardous, like pies and cookies, exist in 18 states, with five more considering similar legislation.

For the full story, see:

PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN. "They Gather Secretly at Night, and Then They (Shhh!) Eat." The New York Times (Weds., April 15, 2011): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 14, 2011.)

April 22, 2011

Today Is Eleventh Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González

GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

Today (April 22, 2011) is the eleventh anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.

(p. 7A) MIAMI (AP) - When federal agents stormed a home in the Little Havana community, snatched Elian Gonzalez from his father's relatives and put him on a path back to his father in Cuba, thousands of Cuban-Americans took to Miami's streets. Their anger helped give George W. Bush the White House months later and simmered long after that.

. . .

Elian was just shy of his sixth birthday when a fisherman found him floating in an inner tube in the waters off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving 1999. His mother and others drowned trying to reach the U.S.

Elian's father, who was separated from his mother, remained in Cuba, where he and Fidel Castro's communist government demanded the boy's return.

Elian was placed in the home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, while the Miami relatives and other Cuban exiles went to court to fight an order by U.S. immigration officials to return him to Cuba. Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general and a Miami native, insisted the boy belonged with his father.

When talks broke down, she ordered the raid carried out April 22, 2000, the day before Easter. Her then-deputy, current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has said she wept after giving the order.

Associated Press photographer Alan Diaz captured Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman who had found the boy, backing into a bedroom closet with a terrified Elian in his arms as an immigration agent in tactical gear inches away aimed his gun toward them. The image won the Pulitzer Prize and brought criticism of the Justice Department to a frenzy.

. . .

The Cuban government, which tightly controls media access to Elian and his father, said neither is willing to give an interview. A government representative agreed to forward written questions from the AP to Elian, but there has been no response.

Pepe Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, said his group predicted in 2000 that Elian would become a prop for the Castro government if he were returned. It was one reason, he said, the group fought for him to be kept in the U.S. and would do it again today, although behind the scenes to avoid negative publicity for the Cuban-American community.

"We knew what this kid was going to be subjected to," Hernandez said. "And time has proven us right."

For the full story, see:

JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")

April 21, 2011

To "Rejuvenate" Communist Party, Castros Pick New Number Two

MachadoJoseRamonNewCubanNumberTwo2011-04-20.jpg"A Cuban Leader Not Named Castro. After talk about the need for rejuvenation, President Raúl Castro of Cuba selected José Ramón Machado, left, 80, for the party's second-highest post." Source of caption: p. A1 of the print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (The photo appeared at the top of p. A1 and referred the reader to the related article on p. A11.)

(p. A11) HAVANA -- Cuba on Tuesday made the most significant change to its leadership since the 1959 revolution, naming someone other than the Castro brothers for the first time to fill the second-highest position in the Communist Party and possibly setting the stage for their eventual successor.

The appointment, at the party's first congress in 14 years, coincided with a blizzard of changes opening the way for more private enterprise. Taken together, the actions were meant to pull the revolution, at 53, out of a midlife crisis that has led to a sinking economy and, even in the estimation of President Raúl Castro, stagnant thinking.

But Mr. Castro, for all his talk about the need to rejuvenate the system, in the end stuck with the old guard, many of them fellow military officers, for now.

"The rebel army is the soul of the revolution," he said, quoting Fidel Castro, his brother.

President Castro, 79, had hinted that he might select a young up-and-comer to guide a post-Castro era. Instead, he tapped a party stalwart, José Ramón Machado, 80, who fought at his side in the mountains during the rebellion.

For the full story, see:

RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD. "Cuba Lays Foundation for a Post-Castro Leader." The New York Times (Weds., April 19, 2011): A11.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 19, 2011 and has the title "'Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader.")

April 20, 2011

Impressions of the Movie Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the most important book of my youth. I still believe that it is an important, and mainly good, novel.

My brother Eric asked me what I thought of the Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 movie that my family went to see on Saturday afternoon (4/16/11). I sent him these first impressions:

I think some of the people making the movie probably meant well---but it turned out pretty wooden.

Rearden is the main male character in the movie, and the range of his facial expressions is between mildly annoyed and mildly amused.

There isn't anger or passion or joy or fear in the movie, although all of those were in the first part of the book. Watching the movie is like watching a set of dramatized homilies.

The hokey scenes of a shadowy John Galt, kill some of the suspense. (And dressing him in a 1940s fedora seems awkwardly atavistic, given that the movie is supposed to be taking place in 2016.)

It wasn't all bad. There are some nice scenes of a fast train traveling through Colorado and over a sleek bridge of Rearden metal. And I agree with many of the homilies.

Overall, I wasn't appalled, but I was disappointed.

April 19, 2011

To Do Business in India, Bureaucrats Still Must Be Bribed

TataRatan2011-04-18.jpg "In the twilight of his career heading Tata Group, Ratan Tata says he was thwarted in his homeland by arbitrary regulatory decisions and corruption."

(p. B1) NEW DELHI--Ratan Tata has transformed Tata Group into the world's best-known Indian company, the owner of Jaguar cars, the Pierre Hotel in New York and Tetley tea.

But in the twilight of his career as chairman of the $67.4 billion conglomerate, Mr. Tata, 73 years old, is frustrated that he hasn't been able to expand more in his native India. He says bureaucratic delays, arbitrary regulatory decisions and widespread corruption have thwarted his domestic ambitions in such sectors as steel, power, aviation and telecommunications.

. . .

. . . 20 years after . . . reforms began, New Delhi still exerts tight control over large swaths of the economy. All too often, Mr. Tata and other critics say, regulators are picking winners and losers through their decisions, either by delaying certain projects and green-lighting others or by freeing up natural resources for some companies at the expense of others.

"Economically it is a much more open environment. It's one that fosters a fair amount of free enterprise until you need approvals or some kind of sanction to get something done," Mr. Tata said during an interview at the Tata-owned Taj Mahal hotel in New Delhi. "Then you still have problems, and maybe more acute then you did before."

. . .

As chairman, one of Mr. Tata's first goals was to get Tata back into the airline business. The company's former airline had been nationalized to form Air India. He planned a venture with Singapore Airlines. But, he says, aviation ministry bureaucrats held up his application for years despite his constant prodding. An aviation ministry spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.

In 1998, after seven years of government inaction, Mr. Tata withdrew the application. "We went through three governments, three prime ministers, and each time there was a particular individual that thwarted our efforts," he said in a TV interview last fall. He recalled a conversation with a fellow industrialist several years ago. "He said, 'I don't understand. You people are very stupid.... Why don't you just pay?'"

Paying bribes isn't his style, Mr. Tata says. "Maybe I'm stupid or old fashioned, but I really want to go to bed at night saying I haven't succumbed to this."

For the full story, see:

AMOL SHARMA. "India's Tata Finds Home Hostile; Chair of Nation's Best-Known Company Says Bureaucracy Slows Domestic Growth." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 13, 2011): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one after the word "stupid" which appears in the original.)

(Note: in the online version of the article, the final paragraph quoted above reads: "Mr. Tata says paying bribes isn't his style. "Maybe I'm stupid or old fashioned, but I really want to go to bed at night saying I haven't succumbed to this," he says."

April 18, 2011

"Elites Like Bad News"

(p. 101) Many elites love writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, who viewed all human action as meaningless, or Thomas Pynchon, whose novels, such as Gravity's Rainbow purport to present hard-science arguments that ours is a pointless universe doomed to meaningless demise. Pynchon's grasp of physics is debatable; what matters is that when he claimed to have found scientific proof the universe is pointless, many of a certain ilk were eager to believe him. Eighty years ago, elites of the United Stares and Europe gushed in praise over the social historian Oswald Spen-(p. 102)gler's work The Decline of the West, which argued not only that American and European civilization "one day will lie in fragments, forgotten" but that the downfall of Western civilization was imminently at hand. Similarly, William Butler Yeats in the early twentieth century was praised by Western intellectuals for predicting pending social disintegration through his famed phrase, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Spengler even maintained that the collapse of Western civilization would be a beneficial development, because America and Europe were contemptible. Eight decades later, the West is far stronger, richer, more secure, more diverse, and more free than when Spengler declared it a decaying relic about to vanish. Nevertheless, his work and similar predictions of impending Western collapse are still spoken of reverentially among intellectual elites, a portion of whom delight to hear anything American and European called bad.

If elites like bad news, then the eagerness of intellectuals, artists, and tastemakers to embrace claims of ecological doomsday, population crash, coming global plagues, economic down fall, cultural wars, or the end of this or that become, at least, comprehensible.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)

April 17, 2011

Monster Mao


Source of book image: http://www.wellesley.edu/Polisci/wj/chinesepolitics/chang-halliday_files/changUS.jpg

(p. 11) After Mao comes to power, Chang and Halliday show him continuing his thuggery. This is more familiar ground, but still there are revelations. Mao used the Korean War as a chance to slaughter former Nationalist soldiers. And Mao says some remarkable things about the peasants he was supposed to be championing. When they were starving in the 1950's, he instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." In Moscow, he offered to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time, and in 1958 he blithely declared of the overworked population: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die."

At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."

Chang and Halliday recount how the Great Leap Forward led to the worst famine in world history in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and how in 1966 Mao clawed his way back to supreme power in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the most fascinating material involves Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, who comes across as a complete toady of Mao, even though Mao tormented him by forcing him to make self-criticisms and by seating him in third-rate seats during meetings. In the mid-1970's, Zhou was suffering from cancer and yet Mao refused to allow him to get treatment - wanting Zhou to be the one to die first. "Operations are ruled out for now" for Zhou, Mao declared on May 9, 1974. "Absolutely no room for argument." And so, sure enough, Zhou died in early 1976, and Mao in September that year.

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths.

For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF. "The Real Mao." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 23, 2005): 22.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Norte: the online version of the review has the title "'Mao': The Real Mao.")

Book reviewed:

Chang, Jung , and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Knopf, 2005.

April 16, 2011

To Paul Ryan, More Market Incentives in Health Care Would Reduce Costs and Improve Care

(p. B1) . . . Medicare's long-term funding gap -- . . . is by far the biggest source of looming federal deficits.

. . .

(p. B13) Some health economists believe that a combination of higher taxes and more Medicare cost controls can solve the problem. Mr. Ryan does not. And his skepticism is healthy.

To him, the only way to reduce Medicare's cost growth is to stop shielding people from the consequences of their decisions. If they want almost limitless medical treatments, they won't be able to foist the bill on taxpayers, as they do now. They will instead have to buy a generous insurance plan, partly with their own money. The resulting market forces, Mr. Ryan argues, will eventually bring down costs and leave most people better off.

For the full story, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "Economic Scene; A Lopsided Proposal for Medicare." The New York Times (Weds., April 6, 2011): B1 & B13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 5, 2011 and has the title "Economic Scene; Generational Divide Colors Debate Over Medicare's Future.")

April 15, 2011

Italy's Dynastic Capitalism "Is Built Around Loyalty, Not Performance"

AltomonteCarloItalianEconomist2011-03-12.jpg"Carlo Altomonte, an economist, says that "Italy's problem isn't that we have a lot of debt. It's that we don't grow."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) "I know that in the States, all Mediterranean countries get lumped together," says Carlo Altomonte, an economist with Bocconi University in Milan. "But Italy's problem isn't that we have a lot of debt. It's that we don't grow."

. . .

"There is no sense of what a market economy is in this country," says Professor Altomonte. "What you see here is an incredible fear of competition."

. . .

FIVE years ago, Francesco Giavazzi needed a taxi. Cabs are relatively scarce in Milan, especially at 5 a.m., when he wanted to head to the airport, so he called a company at 4:30 to schedule a pickup. But when he climbed into the cab half an hour later, he discovered that the meter had been running for more than 20 minutes, because the taxi driver had arrived soon after the call and started charging for (p. 7) his time. Allowed by the rules, but to Mr. Giavazzi, utterly unfair.

"So it was 20 euros before we started the trip to the airport," recalls Mr. Giavazzi, who is an economics professor at Bocconi University. "I said, 'This is impossible.' "

Professor Giavazzi later wrote an op-ed article denouncing this episode as another example of the toll exacted by Italy's innumerable guilds, known by several names here, including "associazioni di categoria." (These are different from unions, another force here, in that guilds are made up of independent players in a trade or profession who have joined to keep outsiders out and maintain standards, as opposed to representing employees in negotiations with management, as a union might.) Even baby sitters have associations in Italy.

The op-ed did not endear Professor Giavazzi to the city's cab drivers. They pinned leaflets with his name and address at taxi stands around Milan and for the next five nights, cabs drove around his home, honking their horns.

"This is a country with a lot of rents," says Professor Giavazzi, sitting in his office one recent afternoon, . . . "You need a notary public, it's like 1,000 euros before you even open your mouth. If you're a notary public in this country, you live like a king."

For Mr. Barbera, as is true with every entrepreneur here, the prevalence and power of Italy's guilds explains much of what is driving up costs. He says he must overspend for accountants, lawyers, truckers and other members of guilds on a list that goes on and on: "Everything has a tariff, and you have to pay."

. . .

Italians, notes Professor Altomonte, are among the world's heaviest consumers of bottled water. "Do you know why? Because the water in the tap comes from the government."

The suspicion of Italians when it comes to extra-familial institutions explains why many here care more about protecting what they have than enhancing their wealth. Most Italians live less than a mile or two from their parents and stay there, often for financial benefits like cash and in-kind services like day care. It's an insularity that runs all the way up to the corporate suites. The first goal of many entrepreneurs here isn't growth, so much as keeping the business in the family. For a company to really expand, it needs capital, but that means giving up at least some control. So thousands of companies here remain stubbornly small -- all of which means Italy is a haven for artisans but is in a lousy position to play the global domination game.

"The prevailing management style in this country is built around loyalty, not performance," says Tito Boeri, scientific director at Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti, who has written about Italy's dynastic capitalism.

For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "Is Italy Too Italian?" The New York Times (Sun., August 1, 2010): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 31, 2010.)

BarberaSpaForYarn2011-03-12.jpg"The clothier Luciano Barbera in his family's "spa for yarn," where crates of thread rest for months. Economists fear that such small-scale artisanship cannot sustain Italy's economy forever." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

April 14, 2011

U.S. Citizens Choose Cars for 99% of Trips

(p. 92) America is a car culture and has been for almost a century, the phrase "traffic jam" dating to 1910, meaning we're stuck with car culture for the time being. In the United States, the number of trips taken on public transportation has since 1998 been rising more rapidly than trips taken in cars. But public transportation nevertheless cannot be a cure-all for traffic congestion, since only a total of 1 percent of all U.S. trips occur on public transit. Double the share, which would require notable effort and capital expense, and it's still only 2 percent. A car culture with a rising population and rising prosperity has little choice but to keep investing in roads and parking.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

April 13, 2011

Some "Professors Are Oblivious to the Costs of Complex Procedures"


Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/ED-AK828_book01_DV_20100114190709.jpg

(p. 30) Champions of the market can turn up in the oddest places. At the same time that bankers and businessmen are acknowledging the downsides of unregulated capitalism, college and university reformers are urging the academy to more closely embrace the marketplace.

Amid the raft of new books on the failings of higher education, some challenge the longtime separation between ivy-covered idealists and real-world demands. Scholarly disdain for getting and spending, they argue, has caused serious trouble both in the classroom and in the budget office.

In his slim book "The Marketplace of Ideas," Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, offers to answer a few questions about the humanities, like why professors all seem to have similar politics and why it is so difficult to implement a core curriculum.

. . .

Mr. Garland also wants to bring some market discipline to the culture of academia. While professors tend to be progressives, they are stubbornly conservative when it comes to change. Indeed, as Mr. Menand points out, early reformers argued that the only way to elevate excellence above profits in a capitalist society was by protecting the profession from the market's insistence on cash rewards.

The result, Mr. Garland maintains, is that professors are oblivious to the costs of complex procedures, drawn-out debates and layers of committees; appeals to increase efficiency and productivity are routinely scorned.

For the full review, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Books; Reform; Embracing the Marketplace." The New York Times, Education Life Section (Sun., January 3, 2010): 30.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 29, 2009.)

First book discussed in review:

Menand, Louis. The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Issues of Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

Second book discussed in review:

Garland, James C. Saving Alma Mater: A Rescue Plan for America's Public Universities. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009.


Source of book image: https://www.stanford.edu/group/cubberley/files/images/SavingAlmaMater.preview.jpg

April 12, 2011

Socialism Is "Morally Corrupting"

On balance, Stephen Pollard believes that Claire Berlinski's book on Thatcher is poorly written. But he does believe that Berlinski got one important point right:

(p. 22) She is quite right, . . . , to stress that Thatcher's crusade against socialism was not merely about economic efficiency and prosperity but that above all, "it was that socialism itself -- in all its incarnations, wherever and however it was applied -- was morally corrupting."

For the full review, see:

STEPHEN POLLARD. "Thatcher's Legacy." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., January 18, 2009): 22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Norte: the online version of the review has the date January 16, 2009.)

Book reviewed:

Berlinski, Claire. There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

April 11, 2011

For Rand Money Was a Reward and a Noble Means, But Her Vision Was the End


Source of book image:

For Rand, adopting the dollar sign as a symbol was an ironic gesture--an elegant and graceful way of thumbing her nose at those who attacked the innovation and creativity of capitalism. They criticized a caricatured version of capitalism, and she threw the caricature back at them.

But at her most serious, money was never an end-in-itself for her, but rather a reward for achieving creative innovation, and a means for accomplishing even more ambitious creative innovation.

Remember that in Rand's pure and lyrical Anthem, the hero is willing to give his invention away, and even be killed, as long as the Council agrees to allow the light he invented to keep shining.

In that wonderful moment with Bennett Cerf, Ayn Rand lived up to the hero she had created:

(p. 8) When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt's speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls "a comment that became publishing legend": "Would you cut the Bible?" One can imagine what Cerf thought -- he had already told Rand plainly, "I find your political philosophy abhorrent" -- but the strange thing is that Rand's grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt's oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.

. . .

Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done.

For the full review, see:

ADAM KIRSCH. "Capitalist With a $." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 1, 2009): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated October 29, 2009 and has the title "Ayn Rand's Revenge.")

Book reviewed:

Heller, Anne C. Ayn Rand and the World She Made. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009.

Here is what the hero says in the key passage of Anthem:

"Our brothers! Your are right. Let the will of the Council be done upon our body. We do not care. But the light? What will you do with the light?" (p. 72)


Rand, Ayn. Anthem. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1946.

April 10, 2011

Cars Increase Our "Personal Area"

(p. 89) Cars are the primary reason for the ever increasing "personal area" of Western life. As Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University has shown, "personal area"--the volume of territory through which someone moves in a typical day--has risen tenfold in the West since 1950, mainly because "personal speed" has tripled. Before general ownership of cars, most people were limited on most days to destinations to which the could walk, or that were close to bus or streetcar lines. Now most people head to whatever destination they wish, so long as traffic jams don't intervene. Ausubel has found that the "personal speed" of typical Americans has been rising at about 2.7 percent per annum for a generation; at that rate, the "personal area" the typical individual covers per day doubles every twenty-five years. Racing around from one destination to the next--job, school, stores, gym, restaurant, church--may be stressful. But the fact that people are increasingly able to choose where they want to be, and choose when they want to be there, ¡s an addition to personal (p. 90) freedom. Cars are what make "personal speed" and "personal area" possible, and we wouldn't love them so much were they not so damn convenient in this regard.

Aspects of car culture are unsettling, however. Speed and convenience in transit, for example, don't necessarily translate into a more pleasing life. "The mobility of the private car has the paradoxical effect of lengthening how far people go rather than saving them time," Alan Durning has written.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

April 9, 2011

If Countries Have Souls "Then America's Is the Patent System"


Source of book image: http://yourbooksworld.com/images/Biographies/mr-gatlings-terrible-marvel.jpg

(p. 46) [Julia Keller] discusses Lincoln's little-known interest in personally testing new Army weapons and, in a brilliant passage, rhapsodizes about creativity and the Patent Office: "If a country can be said to possess a soul, then America's is the patent system: the simple, fair method of staking claim to a new idea and getting the chance to make money from it."

For the full review, see:

MAX BYRD. "The Bullet Machine." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 9, 2008): 46.

(Note: bracketed name added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated November 7, 2008.)

Book reviewed:

Keller, Julia. Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun That Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius Who Invented It. New York: Viking, 2008.

April 8, 2011

Huge "Green" Homes are "Monuments to Sanctimony"

(p. W9) In North Carolina, the owners of a 4,600-square-foot home that cost $1.2 million wanted it to be as "green" as possible, so they spent $120,000 on solar power.

In Colorado, using recycled materials, an architecture professor built a 4,700-square-foot home that uses geothermal heating and cooling and was on the market recently for $930,000.

And in Southern California, a husband-and-wife architect team who say that they "came of age during the '60s and '70s at U.C. Berkeley" also relied on recycled materials -- in building a second home six hours from their primary residence.

By now these environmentally conscious "green" houses are a staple of home design magazines, where they are presented as exemplars of both good taste and good intentions. The Colorado house, for instance, has won awards from the state and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society and has appeared in the Washington Post and on Home and Garden TV.

The question, of course, is what on earth are all these people thinking? How "green" can huge and, in many cases, isolated houses be? Wouldn't it be better to risk traumatizing the children by squeezing into a 3,000-square-foot home, especially one close to shopping, schools and work? How many less affluent, less guilt-ridden Americans can afford to build such environmental show houses?

These houses aren't just ridiculous; they're monuments to sanctimony.

For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL AKST. "Green House Gasbags." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 13, 2006): W9.

April 7, 2011

Mickey Mouse: "A Little Fellow Trying to Do the Best He Could"


Source of book image: http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID983/images/dancing_in_the_dark_by_morris_dickstein_250.jpg

(p. 17) After a fond, lingering look at "Shall We Dance" -- Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in the spotlight, romancing to songs by George and Ira Gershwin -- Dickstein sums up expertly: "Each number is a miniature of the movie, moving from singing alone, dancing alone, dancing with the wrong person, or dancing to the wrong music to making beautiful music together." With his next breath he roughly reminds us of the context: "It's the music, the dancing, that saves all this from familiar romantic cliché. As photography documents the Depression, dance countermands it." And then he takes one more step back to give us an even broader view: "The culture of elegance, as represented by Astaire and the Gershwins, was less about the cut of your tie and tails than the cut of your feelings, the inner radiance that was one true bastion against social suffering. They preserved in wit, rhythm and fluidity of movement what the Depression almost took away, the high spirits of Americans, young and modern, who had once felt destined to be the heirs and heiresses of all the ages." Sheer delight, pure escapism, serves its cathartic purpose -- and it means something, too.

Which makes the omission of Walt Disney (his name doesn't even appear in the index) all the more perplexing. Even if one rejects the provocative claim by the historian Warren Susman that "Mickey Mouse may in fact be more important to an understanding of the 1930s than Franklin Roosevelt," it's hard to deny Disney a place in the pantheon of the decade's movie­makers, if only for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Fantasia." Whether or not the cartoons that delighted '30s audiences are complex works of art, they would have slotted nicely into several of Dickstein's chapters. On the lookout for a cultural artifact that served to "lift sagging morale and stimulate optimism about the future"? Try any one of the dozens of animated shorts featuring that cartoon collective, Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy. Every gag is an explosion of energy, and the whirligig of slapstick invention always ends happily, thanks to the orchestrated efforts of our heroes. Mickey, described by Disney as "a little fellow trying to do the best he could," may have been born in the late '20s, but he grew up a pure creature of the '30s.

For the full review, see:

ADAM BEGLEY. "Side by Side ." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., September 27, 2009): 17.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated September 25, 2009.)

Book reviewed:

Dickstein, Morris. Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

April 6, 2011

"Would You Exchange Places with a Typical Person Living in Any Year Before Your Birth?"

(p. 80) Consider a thought experiment. If the means existed, would you exchange places with a typical person living in any year before your birth? Exchange places permanently--not, say observe the Battle of Hastings and then rematerialize in the present. You could pick the year and place in the past, but could not specify trading places with someone specific like Catherine the Great or Leonardo da Vinci, and you could not specify that you would he a lord or lady or hold some similar advantage. In this deal you'd he transported back to the year and society of your choosing to live out the rest of your life as an ordinary person.

A good guess is that hardly anyone in the United States or the European Union today would accept a one-way ticket to the everyday life of the past. The physical beauty of the world would be greater then, before the mixed blessing of development. And most moments in the past would be quieter than ours, though not necessarily less stressful--the lives of pioneer farmers for whom a crop loss meant destitution, or of seamstresses working fourteen-hour days in early industrial-era sweatshops and unable to afford more than tea and bread, were hardly (p. 81) serene. Nor was the quiet, small-town atmosphere of the past, which many today idealize, necessarily ideal. Everyone knew your name, but everyone also knew your secrets; men and especially women enjoyed much less personal freedom in small-town life of the past than is typical today.

For essentially all of human history until the last few generations, the typical person's lot has been unceasing toil, meager living circumstances, uncertainty about food, rudimentary health care, limited education, little travel or entertainment; all followed by early death. (Keep in mind these remain the conditions under which more than a billion people live in the developing world today.) Even if you could somehow carry the benefits of modern medicine with you into the past--health care alone would make almost everyone decline the one-way ticket backward--the toil, low living standards, and isolated lives of past generations would seem awful to us compared to the sorts of things we complain about today.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

April 5, 2011

Affluence Has Made America More Libertarian


Source of book image: http://images.bookbyte.com/isbn.aspx?isbn=9780060747664

(p. 16) Various scolds and worrywarts have exclaimed, with Wordsworth, that "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." To such Jeremiahs, Lindsey provides an essentially cheerful, although not altogether so, counterpoint: affluence has made America a more libertarian, and hence a nicer, place.

First came material improvement. Until very recently, he notes, when people prayed for their daily bread, they often were praying for just that. Not so long ago, many ordinary lives of quiet desperation ended especially dismally: about 10 percent of burials in New York City in 1889 were in potter's fields. In 1900, 1.75 million children between the ages of 10 and 15 -- almost one-fifth of all children in that age cohort -- were in the work force. Children provided one-fourth to one-third of the incomes for working-class families, which spent more than 90 percent of their household earnings on food, shelter and clothing. In 1900, Americans spent nearly twice as much on funerals as on medicine, and less than 2 percent of Americans took vacations.

. . .

Affluence, Lindsey writes, has provided "a mad proliferation of choices -- and what, in the end, is freedom but the ability to choose?"

For the full review, see:

GEORGE F. WILL. "Land of Plenty." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., June 10, 2007): 16-17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Book reviewed:

Lindsey, Brink. The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

April 4, 2011

Father of Cornhusker Kickback Is Named "2010 Porker of the Year"

(p. 6A) Sen. Ben Nelson can't shake the "Cornhusker Kickback."

This week, a government watchdog group named the Nebraska Democrat its "2010 Porker of the Year," based on an online poll.

Citizens Against Government Waste included Nelson in the poll, citing his role negotiating a pro­vision of the federal health care bill that would have exempted Nebraska from paying the added costs of the law's expanded Med­icaid coverage. That provi­sion was later dropped in fa­vor of relief for all states, which Nelson has said was his goal all along.

Nelson cast the decisive 60th vote for the bill in late 2009.

. . .

Mark Fahleson, chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party, said Nelson was trying to rewrite history. "The fact is he's the fa­ther of the Cornhusker Kick­back," he said.

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL O'CONNOR. "Nelson rejects group's 'Porker of Year' label." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., March 4, 2011): 6A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

April 3, 2011

U.S. Holds "Edge in Its Openness to Innovation"


Source of book image: http://www.tower.com/tycoons-how-andrew-carnegie-john-d-rockefeller-jay-charles-r-morris-paperback/wapi/100346776?download=true&type=1

(p. 24) Judging by Charles R. Morris's new book, "The Tycoons," it takes about 100 years for maligned monopolists and "robber barons" to morph into admirable innovators.

Morris skillfully assembles a great deal of academic and anecdotal research to demonstrate that Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and J. P. Morgan did not amass their fortunes by trampling on the downtrodden or ripping off consumers - . . .

. . .

Though Morris only hints at it, the truth is that the real heroes of the American industrial revolution were not his four featured tycoons, but the American people themselves. I don't mean this to sound like a corny burst of patriotism. In the 19th century, the United States was still young. Most families had either been booted out of Europe or fled it, and they didn't care about tradition or the Old Guard. With little to lose, they were willing to bet on a roll of the dice, even if it was they who occasionally got rolled. Europe was encrusted with guilds, unions and unbendable rules. Britons took half a day to make a rifle stock, because 40 different tradesmen poked their noses into the huddle. American companies polished off new rifle stocks in 22 minutes.

The United States still holds an edge in its openness to innovation. In 1982, French farmers literally chased the French agriculture minister, Edith Cresson, off their fields with pitchforks because she suggested reform. By contrast, back in the late 1850's, Abraham Lincoln was a hot after-dinner speaker. Was he discussing slavery? No. The title of his talk was "Discoveries and Inventions." The real root of economic growth is not natural resources or weather or individual genius. It's attitude, not latitude. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called innovations gales of "creative destruction." Americans, not Europeans, had the gall to stare into those gales - with optimism.

For the full review, see:

TODD G. BUCHHOLZ . "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 2, 2005): 24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the title "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth.")

Book under review:

Morris, Charles R. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. New York: Times Books, 2005.

April 2, 2011

Middle-Class Today Live Better than 99.4% of Humans Who Ever Lived

(p. 80) In his extraordinary book Mapping Human History, the science writer Steve Olson estimates that 80 billion "modern" humans--from the first beings recognizable as our forebears to the advent of Homo sapiens sapiens, our official name--have walked the earth down through the millennia. Supposing this number is correct, the men and women at middle-class standards or above in the United States and the European Union now live better than 99.4 percent of the human beings who have ever existed.


Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

The Olson book mentioned is:

Olson, Steve. Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past through Our Genes. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

(Note: italics in original.)

April 1, 2011

Autos Give Us Autonomy

OpenRoad2011-03-10.jpgThe open road. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 60) I've been converted by a renegade school of thinkers you might call the autonomists, because they extol the autonomy made possible by automobiles. Their school includes engineers and philosophers, political scientists like James Q. Wilson and number-crunching economists like Randal O'Toole, the author of the 540-page manifesto ''The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths.'' These thinkers acknowledge the social and environmental problems caused by the car but argue that these would not be solved -- in fact, would be mostly made worse -- by the proposals coming from the car's critics. They call smart growth a dumb idea, the result not of rational planning but of class snobbery and intellectual arrogance. They prefer to promote smart driving, which means more tolls, more roads and, yes, more cars.

. . .

(p. 65) . . . Macaulay . . . observed in the 19th century that ''every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually, as well as materially.''

. . .

In an essay called ''Autonomy and Automobility,'' Loren E. Lomasky, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Virginia, invokes Aristotle's concept of the ''self-mover'' to argue that the ability to move about and see the world is the crucial distinction between higher and lower forms of life and is ultimately the source of what Kant would later call humans' moral autonomy. ''The automobile is, arguably, rivaled only by the printing press (and perhaps within a few more years by the microchip) as an autonomy-enhancing contrivance of technology,'' he writes. The planners determined to tame sprawl, Lomasky argues, are the intellectual heirs of Plato and his concept of the philosopher-king who would impose order on the unenlightened masses.

For the full commentary, see:

Tierney, John. "The Autonomist Manifesto (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., September 26, 2004): 57-65.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Lomasky essay is:

Lomasky, Loren E. "Autonomy and Automobility." The Independent Review
2, no. 1 (Summer 1997): 5-28.

The Macaulay quote is from:

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. "Chap. 3, State of England in 1685." The History of England from the Accession of James II. 1848.

The O'Toole book is:

O'Toole, Randal (sic). The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities. Camp Sherman, Oregon: The Thoreau Institute, 2000.

The Wilson essay is:

Wilson, James Q. "Cars and Their Enemies." Commentary 104, no. 1 (July 1997): 17-23.


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