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May 31, 2011

China's Speculative Real Estate Bubble





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In a front page article on October 20, 2010, the New York Times reported on how the Chinese government encouraged a real estate investment binge that has resulted in a growing number of empty, speculatively built ghost cities. Now the video media has picked up the story in the well-done story linked to above and cited below.


Williams, Ian, reporter. "The Roads Not Taken: Visiting China's Ghost Cities." Broadcast on the Today Show, Sunday morning, May 30, 2011.






May 30, 2011

The "Disneyland Dream" Lives




Liberal columnist Frank Rich writes of the home movie "Disneyland Dream"---with a measure of eloquence, but unfortunately also with a measure of condescension and sarcasm. In the end, he believes the dream is dead.

But Rich is wrong. Disneyland is still the happiest place on earth, and Walt Disney's entrepreneurial spirit is also still alive.

Here are a couple of the more eloquent bits of Rich (though not entirely devoid of sarcasm):


(p. 14) "Disneyland Dream" was made in the summer of 1956, shortly before the dawn of the Kennedy era. You can watch it on line at archive.org or on YouTube. Its narrative is simple. The young Barstow family of Wethersfield, Conn. -- Robbins; his wife, Meg; and their three children aged 4 to 11 -- enter a nationwide contest to win a free trip to Disneyland, then just a year old. The contest was sponsored by 3M, which asked contestants to submit imaginative encomiums to the wonders of its signature product. Danny, the 4-year-old, comes up with the winning testimonial, emblazoned on poster board: "I like 'Scotch' brand cellophane tape because when some things tear then I can just use it."


. . .


. . . The Barstows accept as a birthright an egalitarian American capitalism where everyone has a crack at "upper class" luxury if they strive for it (or are clever enough to win it). It's an America where great corporations like 3M can be counted upon to make innovative products, sustain an American work force, and reward their customers with a Cracker Jack prize now and then. The Barstows are delighted to discover that the restrooms in Fantasyland are marked "Prince" and "Princess." In America, anyone can be royalty, even in the john.

"Disneyland Dream" is an irony-free zone. "For our particular family at that particular time, we agreed with Walt Disney that this was the happiest place on earth," Barstow concludes at the film's end, from his vantage point of 1995. He sees himself as part of "one of the most fortunate families in the world to have this marvelous dream actually come true" and is "forever grateful to Scotch brand cellophane tape for making all this possible for us."



For the full commentary, see:

FRANK RICH. "Who Killed the Disneyland Dream?" The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., December 25, 2010): 14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 25, 2010.


Part 1 of "Disneyland Dream" via YouTube's "embed" feature:




Part 2 of "Disneyland Dream" via YouTube's "embed" feature:




Part 3 of "Disneyland Dream" via YouTube's "embed" feature:




Part 4 of "Disneyland Dream" via YouTube's "embed" feature:











May 29, 2011

Georgia Taxpayers Pay for "Go Fish" Museum in Former Governor's Home Town




BassLargemouthGoFishMuseum2011-05-19.jpg "A largemouth bass dominates the hatchery display at Go Fish Georgia Educational Center, a museum financed partly by the state and approved when the economy was more robust." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) PERRY, Ga. -- Every weekend, Michael Morris and his 2-year-old son, Jacob, visit this small town's enormous new $14 million fishing museum. They watch bream and bass swim in aquarium-size tanks. They play with an interactive model of a fishing boat and try to catch fish on a computer simulation using a rod and reel connected to a video screen.

And because the museum, the Go Fish Georgia Educational Center, is primarily financed by the state, their father-and-son outings cost only $5.


. . .


But not all Georgia taxpayers are so thrilled. Even before the museum opened in October, "Go Fish" had become shorthand in state political circles for wasteful spending. Republicans and Democrats alike groaned over $1.6 million a year in bond payments and operating costs. And even supporters concede that the museum would never have gotten financed in 2007 if the legislature knew where the economy was headed.


. . .


And then there is the controversy over the museum's location -- in the home county of its main supporter, former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who left office this month after two terms.



For the full story, see:

ROBBIE BROWN. "New Fishing Museum Becomes Symbol of Waste in Georgia." The New York Times (Tues., January 18, 2011): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 17, 2011 and has the title "Fishing Museum Is Symbol of Waste in Georgia.")





May 28, 2011

"A Lonely Ghost Uttering a Truth that Nobody Would Ever Hear"




(p. 26) He was a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody would ever hear. But so long as he uttered it, in some obscure way the continuity was not broken. It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.


Source:
.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

By Canadian law, 1984 is no longer under copyright. The text has been posted on the following Canadian web site: http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four





May 27, 2011

"He Was Cool Before Cool Became Cool"




BogartHumphrey2011-05-19.jpg















"Humphrey Bogart starred in "The Maltese Falcon" in 1941." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. C4) He was the very image of the quintessential American hero -- loyal, unsentimental, plain-spoken. An idealist wary of causes and ideology. A romantic who hid his deeper feelings beneath a tough veneer. A renegade who subscribed to an unshakeable code of honor.

He was cool before cool became cool.



For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Talent Is What Made Him Dangerous." The New York Times (Fri., February 15, 2011): A18.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 14, 2011.)





May 26, 2011

Government Finally Allows Steve Jobs to Creatively Destroy His Own House




(p. A18) WOODSIDE, Calif. -- There may not be an app for it, but Steve Jobs did have a permit. And with that, his epic battle to tear down his own house is finally over.

For the better part of the last decade, Mr. Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, has been trying to demolish a sprawling, Spanish-style mansion he owns here in Woodside, a tony and techie enclave some 30 miles south of San Francisco, in hopes of building a new, smaller home on the lot. His efforts, however, had been delayed by legal challenges and cries for preservation of the so-called Jackling House, which was built in the 1920s for another successful industrialist: Daniel Jackling, whose money was in copper, not silicon.


. . .


"Steve Jobs knew about the historic significance of the house," Mr. Turner said. "And unfortunately he disregarded it."

Mr. Turner said the mansion, which had 35 rooms in nearly 15,000 square feet of interior space, was significant in part because it was built by George Washington Smith, an architect who is known for his work in California. But Mr. Jobs had been dismissive of Mr. Smith's talents, calling the house "one of the biggest abominations" he had ever seen.



For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Demolition, Apple Chief Makes Way for House 2.0." The New York Times (Fri., February 16, 2011): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 15, 2011.)





May 25, 2011

Corruption, Inefficiency, Inflation and Bad Policies Lead to Decline in Foreign Investment in India




ForeignDirectInvestmentGraph2011-05-19.jpg Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) While inefficiency and bureaucracy are nothing new in India, analysts and executives say foreign investors have lately been spooked by a highly publicized government corruption scandal over the awarding of wireless communications licenses. Another reason for thinking twice is a corporate tax battle between Indian officials and the British company Vodafone now before India's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the inflation rate -- 8.2 percent and rising -- seems beyond the control of India's central bank and has done nothing to reassure foreign investors.

And multinationals initially lured by India's growth narrative may find that the realities of the Indian marketplace tell a more vexing story. Some companies, including the insurer MetLife and the retailing giant Wal-Mart, for example, are eager to invest and expand here but have been waiting years for policy makers to let them.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "Foreign Investment Ebbs in India." The New York Times (Fri., February 25, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 24, 2011.)





May 24, 2011

Crushed Under Eurostar in a Desparate Dash to a Better Life




(p. 280) In recent years, police have practically barricaded the marshalling yard in Calais, France,where the elegant Eurostar train must slow down before it enters the Channel Tunnel to England. Today the Calais marshalling yard for the Channel Tunnel looks like what the military might erect around a flying-saucer wreckage--barbed wire, electric fences, armed guards, and police dogs everywhere. Yet each night as darkness falls desperate men from the developing world, Africans and Pakistanis and Afghans and others, hide throughout the marshalling yard, sprint toward the Eurostar as it slows for the tunnel, and try to cling to its side as it accelerates again. They hope to survive until the train bears (p. 281) them into the United Kingdom, for French law treats illegal immigrants harshly, while England is more liberal. Numerous indigent developing-world men have been killed when they have slipped off the sides or the couplers of Eurostar, then fallen beneath its wheels; the stylish passengers aboard the train may feel a slight bump. Yet the men keep trying, though most must know there is hardly anything on this aerodynamically sleek train to grab hold of. Many are arrested as they dash toward the train and the favored life it represents. If released, they return to dash again. If deported, they try to sneak back into the country and dash again.


Source:

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





May 23, 2011

"Gambles on Original Concepts Paid Off"




InceptionMovieStill2011-05-19.jpg"One surprise hit was "Inception," with Leonardo DiCaprio." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I thought the movie "Inception" was a wonderful, intellectual and adventure thrill ride. And if memory serves, what they were trying to instill in the conflicted inheritor of a monopoly, was that he should become more entrepreneurial.


(p. B1) As Hollywood plowed into 2010, there was plenty of clinging to the tried and true: humdrum remakes like "The Wolfman" and "The A-Team"; star vehicles like "Killers" with Ashton Kutcher and "The Tourist" with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp; and shoddy sequels like "Sex and the City 2." All arrived at theaters with marketing thunder intended to fill multiplexes on opening weekend, no matter the quality of the film. "Sex and the City 2," for example, had marketed "girls' night out" premieres and bottomless stacks of merchandise like thong underwear.

But the audience pushed back. One by one, these expensive yet middle-of-the-road pictures delivered disappointing results or flat-out flopped. Meanwhile, gambles on original concepts paid off. "Inception," a complicated thriller about dream invaders, racked up more than $825 million in global ticket sales; "The Social Network" has so far delivered $192 million, a stellar result for a highbrow drama.

As a result, studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow." The New York Times (Mon., December 27, 2010): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 26, 2010 and has the title "Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow.")





May 22, 2011

College Does Not Improve Thinking or Writing for 36% of Graduates




(p. 10) In a typical semester, . . . , 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying -- about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.


. . .


Too many institutions, . . . , rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good grades. (Indeed, the 36 percent of students in our study who reported spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone still had an average G.P.A. of 3.16.) On those commendable occasions when professors and academic departments do maintain rigor, they risk declines in student enrollments. And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk.



For the full commentary, see:

RICHARD ARUM and JOSIPA ROKSA. "Your So-Called Education." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., May 15, 2011): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


Arum and Roska's book is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





May 21, 2011

Feds Finally Admit Some Children Harmed by High Fluoridated Water Mandates




FluorisisChart2011-05-19.jpg
















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



Back when I was a child, decades ago, my family opposed the fluoridation of public water supplies on the grounds that there might be health risks, and people could individually choose to apply fluoride to their teeth.

Well, now the government is suggesting that too much fluoride can harm children's teeth, and that the target level for fluoride in the water should be reduced.


(p. A3) The federal government lowered its recommended limit on the amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time in nearly 50 years, saying that spots on some children's teeth show they are getting too much of the mineral.

Fluoride has been added to U.S. water supplies since 1945 to prevent tooth decay. Since 1962, the government has recommended adding a range of 0.7 milligrams to 1.2 milligrams per liter.


. . .


A study conducted between 1999 and 2004 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 41% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 exhibited signs of dental fluorosis, a spotting or streaking on the teeth. That was up from nearly 23% found in a study from 1986 and 1987.


. . .


. . . for years, some groups have called for an end to fluoridation, arguing that it poses serious health dangers, including increased risk of bone fractures and of decreased thyroid function. Friday's announcement did little to appease such critics.

"The only rational course of action is to stop water fluoridation," said Paul Connett, executive director of the Fluoride Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy and fluoride-education group

.

For the full story, see:

TIMOTHY W. MARTIN. "Government Advises Less Fluoride in Water." The New York Times (Sat., JANUARY 8, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)






May 20, 2011

Garbage Landfill Is Home to 80,000 in Payatas




(p. 281) Perhaps you've heard of Smoky Mountain, the town-sized garbage landfill in Payatas, outside Manila in the Philippines, that is home to an estimated eighty thousand desperately poor Filipinos who eke out a miserable existence scavenging what others throw away. Eighty thousand people is more than the population of Utica, New York. Entire families have been born at the Smoky Mountain landfill and lived their lives there, amidst squalor, stench, and constant smoke of smoldering trash. In July 2000, about two hundred residents of the Payatas landfill died when a large hill of trash collapsed, burying them under a garbage avalanche.


Source:

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





May 19, 2011

Entrepreneur Ken Olsen Was First Lionized and Then Chastised




OlsenKenObit2011-05-16.jpg"Ken Olsen, the pioneering founder of DEC, in 1996." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I believe in The Road Ahead, Bill Gates describes Ken Olsen as one of his boyhood heroes for having created a computer that could compete with the IBM mainframe. His hero failed to prosper when the next big thing came along, the PC. Gates was determined that he would avoid his hero's fate, and so he threw his efforts toward the internet when the internet became the next big thing.

Christensen sometimes uses the fall of minicomputers, like Olsen's Dec, to PCs as a prime example of disruptive innovation, e.g., in his lectures on disruptive innovation available online through Harvard. A nice intro lecture is viewable (but only using Internet Explorer) at: http://gsb.hbs.edu/fss/previews/christensen/start.html



(p. A22) Ken Olsen, who helped reshape the computer industry as a founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, at one time the world's second-largest computer company, died on Sunday. He was 84.


. . .


Mr. Olsen, who was proclaimed "America's most successful entrepreneur" by Fortune magazine in 1986, built Digital on $70,000 in seed money, founding it with a partner in 1957 in the small Boston suburb of Maynard, Mass. With Mr. Olsen as its chief executive, it grew to employ more than 120,000 people at operations in more than 95 countries, surpassed in size only by I.B.M.

At its peak, in the late 1980s, Digital had $14 billion in sales and ranked among the most profitable companies in the nation.

But its fortunes soon declined after Digital began missing out on some critical market shifts, particularly toward the personal computer. Mr. Olsen was criticized as autocratic and resistant to new trends. "The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business," he said at one point. And in July 1992, the company's board forced him to resign.



For the full obituary, see:

GLENN RIFKIN. "Ken Olsen, Founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Tues., February 8, 2011): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 7, 2011 and has the title "Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84.")


Gates writes in autobiographical mode in the first few chapters of:

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.


Christensen's mature account of disruptive innovation is best elaborated in:

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





May 18, 2011

"For the First 40 Years of Indian Independence, Entrepreneurs . . . Were Looked Down Upon"




(p. 8) Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the '90s rolled around, and India's government was almost bankrupt, India's technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.

"America," said Srivastava, "was the one who said to us: 'You have to go for meritocracy. You don't have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.' This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they're beginning to learn how to hum it, you're changing the anthem. ... Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn't fashionable."

If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India's bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.



For the full commentary, see:

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. "It's Morning in India." The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., October 31, 2010): 8.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated October 30, 2010.)






May 17, 2011

Patients Face Higher Costs and Less Innovation Due to FDA




CongerMartiDiskImplant2011-05-16.jpg"Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif., a short distance from her home." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Late last year, Biosensors International, a medical device company, shut down its operation in Southern California, which had once housed 90 people, including the company's top executives and researchers.

The reason, executives say, was that it would take too long to get its new cardiac stent approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It's available all over the world, including Mexico and Canada, but not in the United States," said the chief executive, Jeffrey B. Jump, an American who runs the company from Switzerland. "We decided, let's spend our money in China, Brazil, India, Europe."


. . .


(p. B7) "Ten years from now, we'll all get on planes and fly somewhere to get treated," said Jonathan MacQuitty, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist with Abingworth Management.

Marti Conger, a business consultant in Benicia, Calif., already has. She went to England in October 2009 to get an implant of a new artificial disk for her spine developed by Spinal Kinetics of Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Sunnyvale is 40 miles south of my house," said Ms. Conger, who has become an advocate for faster device approvals in the United States. "I had to go to England to get my surgery."


. . .


Device companies have been seeking early approval in Europe for years because it is easier. In Europe, a device must be shown to be safe, while in the United States it must also be shown to be effective in treating a disease or condition. And European approvals are handled by third parties, not a powerful central agency like the F.D.A.

But numerous device executives and venture capitalists said the F.D.A. has tightened regulatory oversight in the last couple of years. Not only does it take longer to get approval but it can take months or years to even begin a clinical trial necessary to gain approval.

Disc Dynamics made seven proposals over three years but could not get clearance from the F.D.A. to conduct a trial of its gel for spine repair, said David Stassen, managing partner of Split Rock Partners, a venture firm that backed the company. "It got to the point where the company just ran out of cash," Mr. Stassen said. Disc Dynamics was shut down last year after an investment of about $65 million.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "Medical Treatment, Out of Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., February 10, 2011): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 9, 2011.)





ArtificialDisk2011-05-16.jpg







"An artificial disk like the one Marti Conger received."
Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





May 16, 2011

Risking Likely Death for a Tiny Chance to "Dwell in Freedom and Earn $5.15 an Hour"




(p. 281) For all the legitimate problems people experience in the Western nations, we cannot imagine a world which generates such hopelessness that people will hurl themselves toward moving trains, or climb into the wheel wells of jetliners bound for the sky in order to have a tiny chance of getting to a place where they can dwell in freedom and earn $5.15 an hour.


Source:

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





May 15, 2011

"A Dart-Throwing Chimpanzee" Predicts as Well as "Experts"


FutureBabble BK.jpg

















The image is of the Canadian edition, which has a different subtitle than the American edition cited below. Source of book image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_qGSiMLu6NXM/TTWIQkcllmI/AAAAAAAADEI/qD2yo1rxnL0/s1600/Future%2BBabble.jpg



(p. C6) How bad are expert predictions? Almost predictably bad. In 2005, Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, published the results of a magisterial 20-year analysis of 27,450 judgments about the future from 284 experts. He discovered that the experts, in aggregate, did little better, and sometimes considerably worse, than "a dart-throwing chimpanzee."

While Mr. Tetlock guaranteed anonymity to get his experts to reveal how useless they were, Mr. Gardner names names. In the late 1960s, he notes, the political scientist Andrew Hacker predicted that race relations in America would soon get so bad that they would lead to the "dynamiting of bridges and water mains" and the "assassinating of public officials and private luminaries." In the early 1970s, Richard Falk, at Princeton, imagined that by the 1990s we would be living in a world dominated by "the politics of catastrophe." In the mid-1970s, Daniel Bell and other analysts assumed that high levels of inflation were, as Mr. Gardner puts it, "here to stay." (In fact, inflation cooled off in the early 1980s and has stayed low for decades.) In the early 1990s, Lester Thurow, the MIT economist, was one of the experts who predicted that Japan would dominate the 21st century, though he noted that Europe had a chance, too.

The high priest of erroneous prediction is, of course, Paul Ehrlich, who, though a respected entomologist, turned into an end-of-the-worlder with "The Population Bomb" (1968) and "The End of Affluence" (1974). In the latter book he wrote: "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Now 77, Mr. Ehrlich is "a gregarious and delightful man, a natural performer," Mr. Gardner reports, thereby tapping into the sources of his success in the face of repeated failure: Never admit mistakes, never sound doubtful. As Mr. Gardner shows in his survey of expert prediction-making, the more you sound like you know what you are talking about, the more people will believe you.



For the full review, see:

TREVOR BUTTERWORTH. "Prophets of Error." Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 30, 2011): C6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated APRIL 30, 2011.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Gardner, Dan. Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better. New York: Dutton Adult, 2011.


The important Tetlock book mentioned, is:

Tetlock, Philip E. Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.





May 14, 2011

Income Inequality Makes People Happy When It Gives Them Hope




(p. A19) If the royal family were to utilize Kate's background to help encourage and spread this culture of entrepreneurship, the effects in Britain--and possibly much of the world--could be incredible. The people of the United Kingdom would be much richer, and not just in material terms. "Earned success gives people a sense of meaning about their lives," writes the social scientist Arthur Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

Indeed, studies show that in both the U.S. and U.K., many blue- and white-collar workers prefer to have the opportunity to advance, even if this means a less equal income distribution. A study of thousands of British employees by Andrew Clark, associate chair of the Paris School of Economics, found that measures of these workers' happiness actually rose as their demographic group's average income increased relative to their own.

These findings suggests that as people see members of their peer group gain wealth--even surpassing them--it gives them hope that they can improve their lot as well. As Mr. Clark put it in his study of British workers, "income inequality . . . need not be harmful for economic growth" if it "contains an aspect of opportunity."



For the full story, see:

JOHN BERLAU. "The Entrepreneurs' Princess; For centuries in Britain, commercial activities were looked down upon by the aristocracy, whose wealth lay in landownership." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., APRIL 28, 2011): A17.





May 13, 2011

Data on Race Are Muddled by Melting Pot




LopezMullinsRaceGraph2011-05-09.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) The federal Department of Education would categorize Michelle López-Mullins -- a university student who is of Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent -- as "Hispanic." But the National Center for Health Statistics, the government agency that tracks data on births and deaths, would pronounce her "Asian" and "Hispanic." And what does Ms. López-Mullins's birth certificate from the State of Maryland say? It doesn't mention her race.

Ms. López-Mullins, 20, usually marks "other" on surveys these days, but when she filled out a census form last year, she chose Asian, Hispanic, Native American and white.

The chameleon-like quality of Ms. López-Mullins's racial and ethnic identification might seem trivial except that statistics on ethnicity and race are used for many important purposes. These include assessing disparities in health, education, employment and housing, enforcing civil rights protections, and deciding who might qualify for special consideration as members of underrepresented minority groups.

But when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old "mark one (p. A17) box" limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand. Changes in how Americans are counted by race and ethnicity are meant to improve the precision with which the nation's growing diversity is gauged: the number of mixed-race Americans, for example, is rising rapidly, largely because of increases in immigration and intermarriage in the past two decades. (One in seven new marriages is now interracial or interethnic.)

In the process, however, a measurement problem has emerged. Despite the federal government's setting standards more than a decade ago, data on race and ethnicity are being collected and aggregated in an assortment of ways. The lack of uniformity is making comparison and analysis extremely difficult across fields and across time.



For the full story, see:

SUSAN SAULNY. "Race Remixed; In Multiracial Nation, Many Ways to Tally Can Throw Off Some Numbers." The New York Times, First Section (Thurs., February 10, 2011): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 9, 2011 and has the title "Race Remixed; Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers.")





May 12, 2011

"The Frozen Body of Someone Desperate to Enter the United States"




(p. 279) In August 2001, as an American Airlines 777 jetliner arriving from overseas descended toward John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and lowered its landing gear, the frozen body of a man fell into a marsh beneath the field's approach lanes. The body, believed to be that of a young Nigerian, was buried in a plain wooden casket in City Cemetery, the resting place of New York indigents popularly known as Potter's Field. No one will ever know for certain, but it appears the young man, who carried no identification, had hidden in the wheel well of the jet, hoping to steal into the United States. If, as police speculated, he was from an African village, he might not have known that the air outside a jetliner at cruise altitude may be minus-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and that wheel wells are unheated; they are also not pressurized, rendering breathing almost impossible at a jetliner's cruise altitude. Or the victim might have known these things and climbed into the wheel well anyway because he was desperate. The unknown man's death (p. 280) marked the third time since 1997 that the frozen body of someone desperate to enter the United States had fallen from the wheel wells as a jetliner from overseas lowered its landing gear on descent toward JFK. In the man's pockets were a few minor personal effects and a street-vendor's map of Manhattan.

Contemplating this tragedy I thought, first, of the horror the man must have experienced as the plane's mindless hydraulic mechanisms drew the landing struts and wheels up to crush him. Somehow he avoided being crushed--only to realize as the air craft ascended that it was getting very cold and the air was getting very thin, and he was going to die gasping and shaking. Then I contemplated what the man's final thoughts might have been. Fear, of course; regret. Perhaps, at the last, dread that his own death might consign the rest of his family in his village to a life of suffering: for the desperation of many trying to reach the West from the developing world is motivated by their desire to work extremely hard and to live on the edge here, sending part of their incomes back home to those even worse off.



Source:

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





May 11, 2011

Nearly Half of College Students Learn Nothing in First Two Years




Academically-AdriftBK.jpg














Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/academically-adrift.jpg




(p. D9) Andrew Carnegie didn't think much of college. More than a century ago, he looked around at the men commanding the industries of the day and found that few had wasted their time lollygagging on a campus quad. "The almost total absence of the graduate from high positions in the business world," he wrote in "The Empire of Business," "seems to justify the conclusion that college education, as it exists, is fatal to success in that domain."


. . .


. . . , as the reward for the collegiate credential has been going up, what goes into getting that degree has been going down. So find sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in their book "Academically Adrift" (University of Chicago Press). Institutions of higher learning are "focused more on social than academic experiences," they write. "Students spend very little time studying, and professors rarely demand much from them in terms of reading and writing." More than a third of students do less than five hours of studying a week--and these shirkers end up, on average, earning B's.

Ms. Roksa, who teaches at University of Virginia, and Mr. Arum, a professor at New York University, mined data from thousands of sophomores who retook a learning assessment test they had first been given when they arrived at college. Nearly half the students showed no sign of intellectual progress after two years of undergraduate endeavor.


. . .


What would Mr. Carnegie have thought of it? "While the college student has been learning a little about the barbarous and petty squabbles of a far-distant past," he wrote, "or trying to master languages which are dead...the future captain of industry is hotly engaged in the school of experience, obtaining the very knowledge required for his future triumphs." Mr. Carnegie may have thought the knowledge gained at college was "adapted for life upon another planet," but he did expect that the students were gathering some sort of knowledge. Shouldn't parents footing the massive tab for tuition be able to expect the same?



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC FELTEN. "POSTMODERN TIMES; Now College is the Break." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 11, 2011): D9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under discussion is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





May 10, 2011

Mexican Universal Health Care: "There Are No Doctors, No Medicine, No Hospital Beds"




(p. 6) A decade ago, half of all Mexicans had no health insurance at all. Then the country's Congress passed a bill to ensure health care for every Mexican without access to it. The goal was explicit: universal coverage.

By September, the government expects to have enrolled about 51 million people in the insurance plan it created six years ago -- effectively reaching the target, at least on paper.

The big question, critics contend, is whether all those people actually get the health care the government has promised.


. . .


The money goes from the federal government to state governments, depending on how many people each state enrolls. From there, it is up to state governments to spend the money properly so that patients get the promised care.

That, critics say, is the plan's biggest weakness. State governments have every incentive to register large numbers, but they do not face any accountability for how they spend the money.

"You have people signed up on paper, but there are no doctors, no medicine, no hospital beds," said Miguel Pulido, the executive director of Fundar, a Mexican watchdog group that has studied the poor southern states of Guerrero and Chiapas.

Mr. Chertorivski acknowledges that getting some states to do their work properly is a problem. "You can't do a hostile takeover," he said.

The result is that how Mexicans are treated is very much a function of where they live. Lucila Rivera Díaz, 36, comes from one of the poorest regions in Guerrero. She said doctors there told her to take her mother, who they suspected had liver cancer, for tests in the neighboring state of Morelos.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Mexico Struggles to Realize the Promise of Universal Health Care." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., January 30, 2011): 6.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated January 29, 2011 and has the title "Mexico's Universal Health Care Is Work in Progress.")

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 9, 2011

Bank Clerks, Cops and Nurses' Aides Do Not Need a College Degree to Do Their Jobs Well




InTheBasementOfTheIvoryTowerBK2011-04-25.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review cited, but not quoted, far below.






Reviewer P. Chrzanowski on Amazon says that Professor X uses the phrase "creeping credentialism." That sounds like a useful phrase, and an unfortunate phenomenon.


(p. C3) He is a bit wicked, this Professor X. His book-length expansion of the article, "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower," is rippled with mellow sarcasm. Reading one student's terrible paper about Sylvia Plath, he says: "I pictured her writing it in a bar, or while driving to class or skydiving. Maybe she composed it as one long text message to herself."


. . .


The tone of his essay, and of this impertinent book, however, is as plaintive as it is lemony. The author is delivering unhappy news, and he knows it. It's as if he's proposing to paste an asterisk on the American dream. "Telling someone that college is not right for him seems harsh and classist, vaguely Dickensian," Professor X writes, "as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines."

Yet why is it so important to Barack Obama (a champion of community colleges) and those doing America's hiring, he asks, that "our bank tellers be college educated, and our medical billing techs, our county tax clerks"? College -- even community college -- drives many young people into debt. Many others lack rudimentary study skills or any scholarly inclination. They want to get on with their lives, not be forced to analyze the meter in "King Lear" in night school in order to become a cop or a nurse's aide.

"No one is thinking about the larger implications, or even the morality," Professor X says, "of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; An Academic Hit Man Brings More Bad News." The New York Times (Weds., April 6, 2011): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 5, 2011.)


For a somewhat less friendly review, see:

ERIC FELTEN. "BOOKSHELF; A Little Learning; Do you have to read 'King Lear' to write a speeding ticket?." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MARCH 30, 2011): A17.


Book under review:

X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.





May 8, 2011

Hillary Clinton Blasted "Materialism" in Others and Bought a $1.7 Million House for Herself




(p. 145) . . . , it is standard to denounce materialism in others while lusting for it ourselves. At the end of the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton decried "a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine democracy" and blasted "materialism that undermines our spiritual centers." Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million home and signed an $8 million book contract. As the novelist Daniel Akst has noted, Rodham Clinton thus joined the long line of commentators "bent on saving the rest of us from the horrors of consumption" while taking care to make themselves rich and comfy.


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)





May 7, 2011

Nanotechnology Zaps Dangerous Superbug




MRSAcellBeforeNanoZap2011-04-25.jpg "A MRSA cell before treatment with nanoparticles." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A3) Researchers at International Business Machines Corp. said they developed a tiny drug, called a nanoparticle, that in test-tube experiments showed promise as a weapon against dangerous superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics.

The company's researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore, said their nanoparticle can target and destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria--such as the potentially lethal Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA--without affecting healthy cells.


. . .


IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., has been working for decades on nanotechnology, which involves engineering atomic-scale particles and electronics. Recently the company has applied those principles--used to create tiny, fast semiconductors--into new areas such as water purification and recyclable plastics. It's now applying those principles to medicine.

"It turns out that we've discovered a lot of ways to control materials at the molecular level as we went through building microelectronic devices," Dr. Hedrick said.



For the full story, see:

RON WINSLOW And SHARA TIBKEN. "Big Blue's Tiny Bug Zapper; IBM Researchers Develop Nanoparticle to Destroy Antibiotic-Resistent Bacteria." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 4, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)



MRSAcellAfterNanoZap2011-04-25.jpg"What's left of the cell after getting zapped." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.







May 6, 2011

Serendipitous Invention of Super Glue




(p. 23) Dr. Coover first happened upon the super-sticky adhesive -- more formally known as cyanoacrylates -- by accident when he was experimenting with acrylates for use in clear plastic gun-sights during World War II. He gave up because they stuck to everything they touched.

In 1951, a researcher named Fred Joyner, who was working with Dr. Coover at Eastman Kodak's laboratory in Tennessee, was testing hundreds of compounds looking for a temperature-resistant coating for jet cockpits. When Mr. Joyner spread the 910th compound on the list between two lenses on a refractometer to take a reading on the velocity of light through it, he discovered he could not separate the lenses. His initial reaction was panic at the loss of the expensive lab equipment. "He ruined the machine," Dr. Paul said of the refractometer. "Back in the '50s, they cost like $3,000, which was huge."

But Dr. Coover saw an opportunity. Seven years later, the first incarnation of Super Glue, called Eastman 910, hit the market.

In the name of science, Mr. Joyner was not punished for destroying the equipment, Dr. Paul said.


. . .


"I think he got a kick out of being Mr. Super Glue," she said. "Who doesn't love Super Glue?"

One of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Paul added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.


. . .


Super Glue did not make Dr. Coover rich. It did not become a commercial success until the patents had expired, his son-in-law, Dr. Vincent E. Paul, said. "He did very, very well in his career," Dr. Paul said, "but he did not glean the royalties from Super Glue that you might think."



For the full obituary, see:

ELIZABETH A. HARRIS. "Harry Coover, 94; Invented Super Glue." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 28, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated March 27, 2011 and had the title "Harry Coover, Super Glue's Inventor, Dies at 94.")





May 5, 2011

"When We Get 'Out of Book,' We Are at Our Most Human"




Most-Human-HumanBK2011-04-25.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.turingfilm.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/11-3-18-The-Most-Human-Human.jpg




To be an innovative entrepreneur is to "get out of book" in the language well-expressed below.


(p. A17) In chess, computers are strongest in the parts of the game in which human players rely most on memory: the opening and closing sequences. (Serious players learn strategies by rote, and the early stages of even grandmaster games contain few surprises for the cognoscenti.) Knowledge of these tried and tested moves is called "the book." By the middle section of a game, however, the number of permutations of moves is too vast for memorization to help. Here players need to get "out of book" and act unexpectedly, which is why computers--even Deep Blue--can struggle.

Mr. Christian elaborates on this distinction and applies it to human intelligence in general. For isn't it precisely when people refuse to get "out of book"--just following orders or playing their role--that we find them least human? Likewise, when we get "out of book," we are at our most human. Think of the difference between the waiter who runs through the usual routine and the one who responds to your order with a witticism. Remaining alive to what is mechanical or original in our own behavior can preserve a sense of human difference.



For the full review, see:

JULIAN BAGGINI. "BOOKSHELF; More Than Machine; No computer has yet to pass the Turing Test, fooling judges into believing its responses come from a person." Wall Street Journal (Tues., MARCH 8, 2011): A17.





May 4, 2011

Limits to "Sprawl" Add to House Prices Which Benefits the "Already Entrenched"




(p. 130) If 50 percent more Americans are on the way that means there must be 50 percent more suburban subdivisions, 50 percent more malls, 50 percent more of everything--unless anyone thinks it is fair to deny to newcomers the physical space and comfort that current Americans enjoy.

Sprawl may he managed well or poorly, and "smart growth" is better than dumb growth. But when people object to development per se, what they almost always mean is that they have achieved a nice lifestyle and now wish to pull up the ladders against others--and, not coincidentally, to make their own properties more valuable by artificially limiting supply. California real estate prices in particular have shot up in the last decade because slow-growth ordinances and no-growth judicial rulings have artificially restricted housing supply. Opposing sprawl can be a financial boon to anyone who's already entrenched.

Anything that runs up housing prices is of particular concern to educational equality, since today, in many parts of the United States, the housing market in effect regulates access to the best public schools. Buyers pay significant premiums for homes in the districts of high-quality public schools; in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, a home in the excellent Fairfax County or Montgomery County school systems may sell for $200,000 more than an identical dwelling from which children would attend the troubled schools of Prince George's County or Arlington County. In turn, SAT scores rise in tandem with family income--each $10,000 increment of increase in family income adds twenty to thirty points to a child's total SAT scores, studies show. Why does family income raise SAT scores? Partly because a high income enables parents to give children extra advantages, partly because low income parents or parents in broken families may shirk their responsibility for helping children succeed in school, but mostly (p. 131) because the higher a family's income the better a school district it can buy into, via the housing market. Since education is closely linked to success in later life, the nation has an interest in preventing exclusionary housing prices. That means there must be more sprawl and more growth to increase the housing supply and thereby reduce prices.



Source:

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





May 3, 2011

Business Students Study Fewest Hours and Improve Least in Writing and Reasoning




BusinessMajorsStudyLessAndLearnLessGraphs.jpgThe above table shows that business is a popular major, but that students who major in business tend to spend less time studying than other majors, and also tend to learn less than other majors.


(p. 16) PAUL M. MASON does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. "Not many of them would pass," he says.

Dr. Mason, who teaches economics at the University of North Florida, believes his students are just as intelligent as they've always been. But many of them don't read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying. "We used to complain that K-12 schools didn't hold students to high standards," he says with a sigh. "And here we are doing the same thing ourselves."

That might sound like a kids-these-days lament, but all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in Dr. Mason's domain: undergraduate business education.

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.


. . .


(p. 17) IN "Academically Adrift," Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa looked at the performance of students at 24 colleges and universities. At the beginning of freshman year and end of sophomore year, students in the study took the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a national essay test that assesses students' writing and reasoning skills. During those first two years of college, business students' scores improved less than any other group's. Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.

What accounts for those gaps? Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa point to sheer time on task. Gains on the C.L.A. closely parallel the amount of time students reported spending on homework. Another explanation is the heavy prevalence of group assignments in business courses: the more time students spent studying in groups, the weaker their gains in the kinds of skills the C.L.A. measures.

Group assignments are a staple of management and marketing education.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GLENN. "The Default Major: Skating The B-School Blahs; Where's the Rigor? Undergraduate Business Has an Image Problem." The New York Times, Educational Life Section (Sun., April 17, 2011): 16-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 14, 2011 and has the title "The Default Major: Skating Through B-School.")


The book mentioned above is:

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.





May 2, 2011

Omaha's Mayor Suttle Proposes Toilet Paper Tax




(p. 1A) Mayor Jim Suttle went to Washington Tuesday flush with ideas for how federal officials could help cities like Omaha pay for multibillion-dollar sewer projects.

Among the items on his brainstorming list: a proposal for a 10-cent federal tax on every roll of toilet paper you buy.

Based on the four-pack price for Charmin double rolls Tuesday at a midtown Hy-Vee, such a tax would add more than 10 percent to the per-roll price, pushing it over a buck.



For the full story, see:

MAGGIE O'BRIEN. "Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His suggestion-- a toilet paper tax -- strikes some city industries as a gentler approach." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., March 23, 2011): 1A.

(Note: the online version has the slightly different title "Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His idea-- a toilet paper tax -- strikes some city industries as a gentler approach.")





May 1, 2011

Reduce Spending for Stronger Economy




GovernmentSpendingGraph2011-04-25.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) To the extent that government spending crowds out job-creating private investment, it can actually worsen unemployment. Indeed, extensive government efforts to stimulate the economy and reduce joblessness by spending more have failed to reduce joblessness.

Above all, the federal government needs a credible and transparent budget strategy. It's time for a game-changer--a budget action that will stop the recent discretionary spending binge before it gets entrenched in government agencies.


. . .


We can see such a sensible budget strategy starting to emerge. The first step of the strategy is largely being addressed by the House budget plan for 2011, or HR1. Though voted down in its entirety by the Senate, it is now being split up into "continuing" resolutions that add up to the same spending levels.



For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER, GEORGE P. SHULTZ AND JOHN B. TAYLOR. "OPINION; Time for a Budget Game-Changer; Assurance that current tax levels will remain in place would provide an immediate stimulus. House Republican budget planners are on the right track." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 4, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





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