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June 30, 2011

Laron Syndrome Villagers Free of Cancer and Diabetes, Suggesting Longevity Breakthrough


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

(p. A6) People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a mutation that some biologists say may throw light on human longevity and ways to increase it.

The villagers are very small, generally less than three and a half feet tall, and have a rare condition known as Laron syndrome or Laron-type dwarfism. They are probably the descendants of conversos, Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 1490s but were nonetheless persecuted in the Inquisition. They are also almost completely free of two age-related diseases, cancer and diabetes.

A group of 99 villagers with Laron syndrome has been studied for 24 years by Dr. Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, an Ecuadorean physician and diabetes specialist.

. . .

IGF-1 is part of an ancient signaling pathway that exists in the laboratory roundworm as well as in people. The gene that makes the receptor for IGF-1 in the roundworm is called DAF-2. And worms in which this gene is knocked out live twice as long as normal.

The Laron patients have the equivalent defect -- their cells make very little IGF-1, so very little IGF-1 signaling takes place, just as in the DAF-2-ablated worms. So the Laron patients might be expected to live much longer.

Because of their striking freedom from cancer and diabetes, they probably could live much longer if they did not have a much higher than usual death rate from causes unrelated to age, like alcoholism and accidents.

. . .

A strain of mice bred by John Kopchick of Ohio University has a defect in the growth hormone receptor gene, just as do the Laron patients, and lives 40 percent longer than usual.

. . .

The longest-lived mouse on record is one studied by Dr. Bartke. It had a defect in its growth hormone receptor gene, just as do the Laron patients. "It missed its fifth birthday by a week," he said. The mouse lived twice as long as usual and won Dr. Bartke a prize presented by the Methuselah Foundation (which rewards developments in life-extension therapies) in 2003.

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Ecuadorean Villagers May Hold Secret to Longevity." The New York Times (Thurs., February 17, 2011): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 16, 2011 and has the title "Ecuadorean Villagers May Hold Secret to Longevity.")


"A 67-year-old man who has Laron-type dwarfism with his daughter, 5, and sons, 7 and 10." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

June 29, 2011

"There Is More Uncertainty, and Everybody Is Afraid"

Robert Shiller is often a shrewd diagnostician, but less often a wise therapist. For instance he is right in thinking that uncertainty is part of our problem, but wrong in his usual view that more government spending is the solution.

A better way to reduce uncertainty is for the government to act more predictably, following some reasonable rules. I heard such a view articulately defended in a lunch speech at the American Economic Association meetings in January by Stanford economist John Taylor. His speech has been polished and published in National Affairs (see citation way below).

Here are some interesting observations by Shiller (via Bewley):

(p, 7) Factors of production like wheat or trucks or pumps don't have morale issues. Human beings do.

How these issues affect the labor market is a major focus of the research of Professor Bewley, who is a colleague of mine at Yale. He has developed an idiosyncratic approach, interviewing hundreds of corporate managers at length about the driving forces for their actions. The managers consistently told him that they are concerned about the emotional state of their core employees. They said that their companies' continued success depends on the positive feelings and loyalty of these workers -- and lamented the hard choices that would need to be made in a severe downturn.

. . .

Lower-level managers won't ask for scarce resources . . . , because those items look like luxuries to fellow employees, who worry that there won't be enough in the company budget for them to keep their jobs.

One top manager told Professor Bewley that he had to compensate for the reticence of lower-level managers, who won't ask for anything. "I tell them to put in a few dreams for equipment they would like, because if they don't try, they'll never get what they want," this manager said.

Of course, while that reticence may preserve jobs in one's own company, it works against job growth elsewhere. A result is a loss of vigor in the aggregate economy, and the sapping of the very kind of creativity that might spur a recovery.

Professor Bewley shared with me a passage from an interview in July with a manager of a large manufacturing company. "There is more uncertainty, and everybody is afraid," this manager told him. "Do your job. Keep employed. Don't come up with a new idea." In his own company, the manager said, "Everybody is doing the same thing."

For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "ECONOMIC VIEW; The Survival of the Safest." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 3, 2010): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 2, 2010.)

Here is the Taylor reference:

Taylor, John B. "The Cycle of Rules and Discretion in Economic Policy." National Affairs, no. 7 (Spring 2011): 55-65.

June 28, 2011

At NeXT Steve Jobs Learned to Delegate, Retain Talent, and Attend to the Price


"Steve Jobs, after returning to Apple in 1999. Would Apple be what it is today had he never left?" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 5) Suppose Mr. Jobs had not left in 1985. Suppose he had convinced the Apple board to oust his nemesis, John Sculley, then chief executive and president. Under Mr. Jobs's uninterrupted direction, would Apple have arrived at the pinnacle it has reached today, but 12 years earlier?

It's hard to see how anything like that would have transpired. The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple was a much more capable leader -- precisely because he had been badly banged up. He had spent 12 tumultuous, painful years failing to find a way to make the new company profitable.

"I am convinced that he would not have been as successful after his return at Apple if he hadn't gone through his wilderness experience at Next," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a technology consulting company.

. . .

Mr. Jobs's lieutenants tried to warn him away from certain disaster, but he was not receptive. In 1992-93, seven of nine Next vice presidents were shown the door or left on their own.

In this period, Mr. Jobs did not do much delegating. Almost every aspect of the machine -- including the finish on interior screws -- was his domain. The interior furnishings of Next's offices, a stunning design showplace, were Mr. Jobs's concern, too. While the company's strategy begged to be re-examined, Mr. Jobs attended to other matters. I spoke with many current and former Next employees for my 1993 book, "Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing." According to one of them, while a delegation of visiting Businessland executives waited on the sidewalk, Mr. Jobs spent 20 minutes directing the landscaping crew on the exact placement of the sprinkler heads.

Next's computer hardware and software were filled with innovations that drew a small, but devoted, following. Mr. Jobs had created the first easy-to-use Unix machine, but the mainstream marketplace shrugged. He had already helped bring to market an easy-to-use machine, the Mac, so the Next couldn't differentiate itself enough -- and certainly not at the price the company charged.

. . .

And he had always been able to attract great talent. What he hadn't learned before returning to Apple, however, was the necessity of retaining it. He has now done so. One of the unremarked aspects of Apple's recent story is the stability of the executive team -- no curb filled with dumped managers.

Kevin Compton, who was a senior executive at Businessland during the Next years, described Mr. Jobs after returning to Apple: "He's the same Steve in his passion for excellence, but a new Steve in his understanding of how to empower a large company to realize his vision." Mr. Jobs had learned from Next not to try to do everything himself, Mr. Compton said.

For the full commentary, see:

RANDALL STROSS. "DIGITAL DOMAIN; What Steve Jobs Learned in the Wilderness." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 3, 2010): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 2, 2010.)

June 27, 2011

"A Tax on Air and Light"

(p. 11) Paxton was very lucky in his timing, for just at the moment of the Great Exhibition glass suddenly became available in a way it never had before. Glass had always been a tricky material. It was not particularly easy to make, and really hard to make well, which is why for so much of its history it was a luxury Item. Happily, two recent technological breakthroughs had changed that. First, the French invented plate glass--so called because the molten glass was spread across tables known as plates. This allowed for the first time the creation of really large panes of glass, which made shop windows possible. Plate glass, however, had to be cooled for ten days after being rolled out, which meant that each table was unproductively occupied most of the time, and then each sheet required a lot of grinding and polishing. This naturally made it expensive. In 1838, a cheaper refinement was developed--sheet glass. This had most of the virtues of plate glass, but ¡t cooled faster and needed less polishing, and so could be made much more cheaply. Suddenly glass of a good size could be produced economically In limitless volumes.

Allied with this was the timely abolition of two long-standing taxes: the window tax and glass tax (which, strictly speaking, was an excise duty). The window tax dated from 1696 and was sufficiently punishing that (p. 12) people really did avoid putting windows in buildings where they could. The bricked-up window openings that are such a feature of man period
buildings in Britain today were once usually painted to look like windows. (It Is sometimes rather a shame that they aren't still.) The tax, sorely resented as "a tax on air and light," meant that many servants and others of constrained means were condemned to live In airless rooms.


Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

June 26, 2011

Diamond to Teach Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction in Fall 2011


As of 6/22/11, space is still available in the honors colloquium.

June 25, 2011

Chinese College Graduates Are Underemployed "Ant Tribe" in Big Cities

(p. A1) BEIJING -- Liu Yang, a coal miner's daughter, arrived in the capital this past summer with a freshly printed diploma from Datong University, $140 in her wallet and an air of invincibility.

Her first taste of reality came later the same day, as she lugged her bags through a ramshackle neighborhood, not far from the Olympic Village, where tens of thousands of other young strivers cram four to a room.

Unable to find a bed and unimpressed by the rabbit warren of slapdash buildings, Ms. Liu scowled as the smell of trash wafted up around her. "Beijing isn't like this in the movies," she said.

Often the first from their families to finish even high school, ambitious graduates like Ms. Liu are part of an unprecedented wave of young people all around China who were supposed to move the country's labor-dependent economy toward a white-collar future. In 1998, when Jiang Zemin, then the president, announced plans to bolster higher education, Chinese universities and colleges produced (p. A12) 830,000 graduates a year. Last May, that number was more than six million and rising.

It is a remarkable achievement, yet for a government fixated on stability such figures are also a cause for concern. The economy, despite its robust growth, does not generate enough good professional jobs to absorb the influx of highly educated young adults. And many of them bear the inflated expectations of their parents, who emptied their bank accounts to buy them the good life that a higher education is presumed to guarantee.

"College essentially provided them with nothing," said Zhang Ming, a political scientist and vocal critic of China's education system. "For many young graduates, it's all about survival. If there was ever an economic crisis, they could be a source of instability."

. . .

Chinese sociologists have come up with a new term for educated young people who move in search of work like Ms. Liu: the ant tribe. It is a reference to their immense numbers -- at least 100,000 in Beijing alone -- and to the fact that they often settle into crowded neighborhoods, toiling for wages that would give even low-paid factory workers pause.

"Like ants, they gather in colonies, sometimes underground in basements, and work long and hard," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University in Beijing.

. . .

A fellow Datong University graduate, Yuan Lei, threw the first wet blanket over the exuberance of Ms. Liu, Mr. Li and three friends not long after their July arrival in Beijing. Mr. Yuan had arrived several months earlier for an internship but was still jobless.

"If you're not the son of an official or you don't come from money, life is going to be bitter," he told them over bowls of 90-cent noodles, their first meal in the capital.

. . .

In the end, Mr. Li and his friends settled for sales jobs with an instant noodle company. The starting salary, a low $180 a month, turned out to be partly contingent on meeting ambitious sales figures. Wearing purple golf shirts with the words "Lao Yun Pickled Vegetable Beef Noodles," they worked 12-hour days, returning home after dark to a meal of instant noodles.

. . .

Mr. Li worried aloud whether he would be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had accompanied him here, if he could not earn enough money to buy a home. Such concerns are rampant among young Chinese men, who have been squeezed by skyrocketing real estate prices and a culture that demands that a groom provide an apartment for his bride. "I'm giving myself two years," he said, his voice trailing off.

By November, the pressure had taken its toll on two of the others, including the irrepressible Liu Yang. After quitting the noodle company and finding no other job, she gave up and returned home.

For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China's Army of Graduates Is Struggling." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 12, 2010): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 11, 2010 and has the title "China's Army of Graduates Struggles for Jobs.")

June 24, 2011

Diamond to Teach Economics of Entrepreneurship Seminar in Fall 2011


As of 6/22/11, space is still available in the graduate economics, MBA, and upper level undergraduate economics sections of the seminar.

June 23, 2011

"The Century's Most Daring and Iconic Building Was Entrusted to a Gardener"

(p. 10) . . . the risks were considerable and keenly felt, yet after only a few days of fretful hesitation the commissioners approved Paxton's plan. Nothing--really, absolutely nothing--says more about Victorian Britain and its capacity for brilliance than that the century's most daring and iconic building was entrusted to a gardener. Paxton's Crystal Palace required no bricks at all--indeed, no mortar, no cement, no foundations. It was just bolted together and sat on the ground like a tent. This was not merely an (p. 11) ingenious solution to a monumental challenge but also a radical departure from anything that had ever been tried before.


Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

June 22, 2011

Some New York Public School Teachers Still Well Paid to Do Busy Work

(p. A1) For her first assignment of the school year, Verona Gill, a $100,000-a-year special education teacher whom the city is trying to fire, sat around education offices in Lower Manhattan for two weeks, waiting to be told what to do.

For her second assignment, she was sent to a district office in the Bronx and told to hand out language exams to anyone who came to pick them up. Few did.

Now, Ms. Gill reports to a cubicle in Downtown Brooklyn with a broken computer and waits for it to be fixed. Periodically, her supervisor comes by to tell her she is still working on the problem. It has been this way since Oct. 8.

"I have no projects to do, so I sit there until 2:50 p.m. -- that's six hours and 50 minutes," the official length of the teacher workday, she said. "And then I swipe out."

When Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg closed the notorious reassignment centers known as rubber rooms this year, he and the city's teachers' union announced triumphantly that one of the most obvious sources of (p. A3) waste in the school system -- $30 million a year in salaries being paid to educators caught up in the glacial legal process required to fire them -- was no more.

No longer would hundreds of teachers accused of wrongdoing or incompetence, like Ms. Gill, clock in and out of trailers or windowless rooms for years, doing nothing more than snoozing or reading newspapers, griping or teaching one another tai chi. Instead, their cases would be sped up, and in the meantime they would be put to work.

While hundreds of teachers have had their cases resolved, for many of those still waiting, the definition of "work" has turned out to be a loose one. Some are now doing basic tasks, like light filing, paper-clipping, tracking down student information on a computer or using 25-foot tape measures to determine the dimensions of entire school buildings. Others sit without work in unadorned cubicles or at out-of-the-way conference tables.

For the full story, see:

SHARON OTTERMAN. "For New York, Teachers Still in Idle Limbo." The New York Times (Weds., December 8, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated December 7, 2010 and has the title "New York Teachers Still in Idle Limbo.")

June 21, 2011

Moral: In a Crisis You Need Resilience and the Ability to Improvise More than You Need Detailed Advance Plans

(p. D1) When the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station along the Susquehanna River seemed on the verge of a full meltdown in March 1979, Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania asked a trusted aide to make sure that the evacuation plans for the surrounding counties would work.

The aide came back ashen faced. Dauphin County, on the eastern shore of the river, planned to send its populace west to safety over the Harvey Taylor Bridge.

"All well and good," Mr. Thornburgh said in a recent speech, "except for the fact that Cumberland County on the west shore of the river had adopted an evacuation plan that would funnel all exiting traffic eastbound over -- you guessed it -- the same Harvey Taylor Bridge."

. . .

(p. D4) Brian Wolshon, the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, said that he was analyzing one county's emergency plans that seemed to have every detail covered.

"It was a wonderful report, with plans to move senior citizens out of care facilities and even out of hospitals, and they had signed contracts with bus and ambulance providers," said Dr. Wolshon, who is also a professor at Louisiana State University. "But that same low-cost provider had the same contract with the county next door, and they had the capacity to evacuate only one of these counties."

For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "Dangers of Leaving No Resident Behind." The New York Times (Tues., March 22, 2011): D1 & D4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 21, 2011.)

June 20, 2011

Entrepreneur Defends His Store with Gun


"Anthony Spinelli, outside his store in the Bronx on Thursday, was called brave for shooting a man suspected of trying to rob his shop." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) On Arthur Avenue, a group of men piled out of Pasquale's Rigoletto restaurant onto the sidewalk to pay their respects to a sudden local hero.

"Anthony, we love you," they shouted across the street.

They summed up the local sentiment about a man, Anthony Spinelli, celebrated for protecting his livelihood. On Wednesday, Mr. Spinelli pulled one of two licensed guns in the store, and shot one of the three people suspected of trying to rob his Arthur Avenue jewelry store at gunpoint.

The Bronx neighborhood seemed energized by the event, which people here saw as a testament to the toughness of one of the last Italian neighborhoods in New York City.

"You don't come in and try to take a man's livelihood," said Nick Lousido, who called himself a neighborhood regular. "His family's store has 50 years on this block, they're going to come in and rob him?"

On Thursday, Mr. Spinelli, 49, had returned to his shop and sized up the broken front windows and the mess inside. He said that a man and woman had entered his store, and the man had held a gun to his head while the woman had gone through jewelry drawers and stuffed jewelry into a bag. He said he had feared for his life, and that he was still shaken.

. . .

Next door to Mr. Spinelli's shop is M & M Painter Supplies, which has photographs of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa next to a paint color chart on the wall.

"He's a very brave man," said the store owner, Ernie Verino. "He had the gun, and it takes guts to use it."

For the full story, see:

COREY KILGANNON. "Merchant Shooting to Defend His Store Is Celebrated as Hero of Arthur Avenue." The New York Times (Fri., February 18, 2011): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated February 17, 2011 and has the title "After Shooting, Merchant Is Hero of Arthur Avenue.")

June 19, 2011

Study Hard to Study Well

(p. D6) In a recent study published in the journal Cognition, psychologists at Princeton and Indiana University had 28 men and women read about three species of aliens, each of which had seven characteristics, like "has blue eyes," and "eats flower petals and pollen." Half the participants studied the text in 16-point Arial font, and the other half in 12-point Comic Sans MS or 12-point Bodoni MT, both of which are relatively unfamiliar and harder for the brain to process.

After a short break, the participants took an exam, and those who had studied in the harder-to-read fonts outperformed the others on the test, 85.5 percent to 72.8 percent, on average.

To test the approach in the classroom, the researchers conducted a large experiment involving 222 students at a public school in Chesterland, Ohio. One group had all its supplementary study materials, in English, history and science courses, reset in an unusual font, like Monotype Corsiva. The others studied as before. After the lessons were completed, the researchers evaluated the classes' relevant tests and found that those students who'd been squinting at the stranger typefaces did significantly better than the others in all the classes -- particularly in physics.

"The reason that the unusual fonts are effective is that it causes us to think more deeply about the material," a co-author of the study, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton, wrote in an e-mail. "But we are capable of thinking deeply without being subjected to unusual fonts. Think of it this way, you can't skim material in a hard to read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully."

Then again, so will raw effort, he and other researchers said. Concentrating harder. Making outlines from scratch. Working through problem sets without glancing at the answers. And studying with classmates who test one another.

For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "MIND; Come On, I Thought I Knew That!" The New York Times (Tues., April 19, 2011): D5-D6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 18, 2011.)

The forthcoming article that is discussed in the quotes above, is:

Diemand-Yauman, Connor, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, and Erikka B. Vaughan. "Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes." Cognition (2010).

June 18, 2011

With Wit and Wisdom Bryson Shows How Home Life Has Improved


Source of book image: http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/101027/1127-EW-Must-List/at-home_300.jpg

Bill Bryson is best known for his witty travelogues. In recent years he has become more ambitious, venturing into the history of science, and now the history of domestic life. He is a keen observer with eyes open to the unexpected, the important and the droll. His latest book, At Home, contains much evidence and some useful analysis of how ordinary life has improved in western societies in the past couple of hundred years.

In the next several weeks, I plan to quote a few of the more illuminating passages from the book.

The Bryson book:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

June 17, 2011

"Big Money Is Dumb Money"

"Other People's Money" is a short story that appears in Cory Doctorow's short story collection With a Little Help.

(p. C7) Venture capitalists? Forget them, says "Other People's Money." Big money is dumb money. Much easier, says one old-lady manufacturer to a smart young gigafund manager, for her to make and market her own product, and keep the money (just like Mr. Doctorow), than for him to find and fund a hundred products and take a rake-off. He only deals in six-figure multiples, and that's no good: not nimble enough. And he has to get a return on all those billions, poor outdated soul.

For the full review, see:

TOM SHIPPEY. "The Author as Agent of Change; Cory Doctorow has big ideas about the future of technology--and how it can empower writers." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 21, 2011): C7.

The book of short stories is:

Doctorow, Cory. With a Little Help.

June 16, 2011

The Secret to a Long Life Is Conscientiousness


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

(p. D3) Cheerfulness, optimism, extroversion and sociability may make life more enjoyable, but they won't necessarily extend it, Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin found in a study that covered eight decades. The key traits are prudence and persistence. "The findings clearly revealed that the best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness," they write, "the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person, like a scientist-professor -- somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree."

. . .

There are three explanations for the dominant role of conscientiousness. The first and most obvious is that conscientious people are more likely to live healthy lifestyles, to not smoke or drink to excess, wear seat belts, follow doctors' orders and take medication as prescribed. Second, conscientious people tend to find themselves not only in healthier situations but also in healthier relationships: happier marriages, better friendships, healthier work situations.

The third explanation for the link between conscientiousness and longevity is the most intriguing. "We thought it must be something biological," Dr. Friedman said. "We ruled out every other factor." He and other researchers found that some people are biologically predisposed to be not only more conscientiousness but also healthier. "Not only do they tend to avoid violent deaths and illnesses linked to smoking and drinking," they write, "but conscientious individuals are less prone to a whole host of diseases, not just those caused by dangerous habits." The precise physiological explanation is unknown but seems to have to do with levels of chemicals like serotonin in the brain.

As for optimism, it has its downside. "If you're cheerful, very optimistic, especially in the face of illness and recovery, if you don't consider the possibility that you might have setbacks, then those setbacks are harder to deal with," Dr. Martin said. "If you're one of those people who think everything's fine -- 'no need to back up those computer files' -- the stress of failure, because you haven't been more careful, is harmful. You almost set yourself up for more problems."

For the full review, see:

KATHERINE BOUTO. "BOOKS ON SCIENCE; Eighty Years Along, a Longevity Study Still Has Ground to Cover." The New York Times (Tues., April 19, 2011): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 18, 2011.)

The book under review is:

Friedman, Howard S., and Leslie R. Martin. The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2011.

June 15, 2011

Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons Did Not Much Overlap: Evidence Against an Early Human Golden Age

In 2010 archeologist Brian Fagan published a book that used his read of the evidence to imagine the interactions between Cro-Magnon (us) and Neanderthal humans. He mostly portrayed the interaction as one of wary, but mainly benign mutual neglect. His broader portrayal of the lives of the hunter-gatherer Cro-Magnons did not completely place them in a Golden Age, but did much to praise many aspects of their lives.

Also in 2010, Matt Ridley published a book that discussed and dismissed the view that the hunter-gatherers were to be admired. He mainly pointed to the evidence of how common violent death was among hunter-gatherers, and hence how precarious and fearful their lives must have been.

Now there is additional relevant evidence. Apparently the period of overlap between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals was much briefer than had been previously believed. This implies (see below) that rather than benign mutual neglect, it is much more likely that the Cro-Magnons violently wiped out the Neanderthals.

Hobbes may not have been entirely wrong when he described early human life as "nasty, poor, brutish and short."

(p. D4) An improvement in the dating of fossils suggests that the Neanderthals, a heavily muscled, thick-boned human species adapted to living in ice age Europe, perished almost immediately on contact with the modern humans who started to enter Europe from the Near East about 44,000 years ago. Until now bones from several Neanderthal sites have been dated to as young as 29,000 years ago, suggesting there was extensive overlap between the two human species. This raised the question of whether there had been interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals, an issue that is still not resolved.

. . .

Reviewing . . . Neanderthal dates ascertained with the new ultrafiltration method, Dr. Higham sees an emerging pattern that no European Neanderthal site can reliably be dated to less than 39,000 years ago. "It's only with reliable techniques that we can interpret the archaeological past," he said.

He is re-dating Neanderthal sites across Europe and so far sees no evidence for any extensive overlap between Neanderthals and modern humans. "There was a degree of contemporaneity, but it may not have been very long," he said. A short period of contact would point to the extinction of the Neanderthals at the hands of modern humans.

"It's very unlikely for Neanderthals to go extinct without some agency from modern humans," Dr. Higham said.

Paul Mellars, an expert on Neanderthals at Cambridge University in England, said that the quality of the dates from Dr. Higham's laboratory was superb and that samples of bone re-dated by the lab's method were almost always found to be several thousand years older than previously measured. The picture supported by the new dates is that the interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe was brief in each region, lasting perhaps a few hundred years, Dr. Mellars said, until the modern humans overwhelmed their competitors through better technology and greater numbers.

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Neanderthals and Early Humans May Not Have Mingled Much." The New York Times (Tues., May 10, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 9, 2011.)

The Fagan book is:

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

The Ridley book is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

June 14, 2011

Salem Issues Psychic Licenses to Protect Public from the Untrained

StathopoulosLoreleiSupportsFewerLicences2011-06-02.jpg "Lorelei Stathopoulos is concerned Salem will lose its "quaint reputation."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A11) SALEM, Mass. -- Like any good psychic, Barbara Szafranski claims she foresaw the problems coming.

Her prophecy came in 2007, as the City Council was easing its restrictions on the number of psychics allowed to practice in this seaside city, where self-proclaimed witches, angels, clairvoyants and healers still flock 319 years after the notorious Salem witch trials. Some hoped for added revenues from extra licenses and tourists. Others just wanted to bring underground psychics into the light.

Just as Ms. Szafranski predicted, the number of psychic licenses has drastically increased, to 75 today, up from a mere handful in 2007. And now Ms. Szafranski, some fellow psychics and city officials worry the city is on psychic overload.

. . .

"Many of them are not trained," she said of her rivals. "They don't understand that when you do a reading you hold a person's life in your hands."

Christian Day, a warlock who calls himself the "Kathy Griffin of witchcraft," thinks the competition is good for Salem.

"I want Salem to be the Las Vegas of psychics," said Mr. Day, who used to work in advertising and helped draft the 2007 regulations. Since they went into effect, he has opened two stores, Hex and Omen.

. . .

Now, talk has started about new regulations that would include a cap on the number of psychic businesses, but the grumbling has in no way reached the level of viciousness that occurred in 2007, when someone left the mutilated body of a raccoon outside Ms. Szafranski's shop and Mr. Day and Ms. Stathopoulos got into a fight.

For the full story, see:

KATIE ZEZIMA. "Witchy Town's Worry: Do Too Many Psychics Spoil the Brew?" The New York Times (Fri., May 27, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 26, 2011.)

DayChristianSupportsCompetition2011-06-02.jpg "Christian Day, who owns two shops, thinks competition is a good thing." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

June 13, 2011

The Importance of a Picture

Pictures can be doctored, especially in the days of Photoshop. But a visual image still makes a story more memorable, and maybe sometimes more believable. This was so for Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984:

(p. 64) Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth. Just once in his life he had possessed--after the event: that was what counted--concrete, unmistakable evidence of an act of falsification. He had held it between his fingers for as long as thirty seconds.

. . .

(p. 67) . . . , in 1973, Winston was unrolling a wad of documents which had just flopped out of the pneumatic tube on to his desk when he came on a fragment of paper which had evidently been slipped in among the others and then forgotten. The instant he had flattened it out he saw its significance. It was a half-page torn out of 'The Times' of about ten years earlier--the top half of the page, so that it included the date--and it contained a photograph of the delegates at some Party function in New York. Prominent in the middle of the group were Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford. There was no mistaking them, in any case their names were in the caption at the bottom.

The point was that at both trials all three men had confessed that on that date they had been on Eurasian soil. They had flown from a secret airfield in Canada to a rendezvous somewhere in Siberia, and had conferred with members of the Eurasian General Staff, to whom they had betrayed important military secrets. The date had stuck in Winston's memory because it chanced to be midsummer day; but the whole story must be on record in countless other places as well. There was only one possible conclusion: the confessions were lies.


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

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

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

June 12, 2011

To Burst Higher Ed Bubble, Peter Thiel Pays Students to Drop Out


"Peter Thiel." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B4) Parents, do you hope that your children have the chance to become like Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and hedge fund manager? If so, Mr. Thiel suggests that you encourage them to drop out of school. In fact, he will help by paying them to do it.

On Wednesday, the Thiel Foundation, funded by Mr. Thiel, announced the first group of Thiel Fellows, 24 people under 20 who have agreed to drop out of school in exchange for a $100,000 grant and mentorship to start a tech company.

More than 400 people applied. The winners include Laura Deming, 17, who is developing antiaging therapies; Faheem Zaman, 18, who is building mobile payment systems for developing countries; and John Burnham, 18, who is working on extracting minerals from asteroids and comets.

. . .

Mr. Thiel, a contrarian investor and libertarian known for his controversial views, knows that suggesting that education is not always worth it strikes at the core of many Americans' beliefs. But that is exactly why is he doing it.

"We're not saying that everybody should drop out of college," he said. The fellows agree to stop getting a formal education for two years but can always go back to school. The problem, he said, is that "in our society the default assumption is that everybody has to go to college."

"I believe you have a bubble whenever you have something that's overvalued and intensely believed," Mr. Thiel said. "In education, you have this clear price escalation without incredible improvement in the product. At the same time you have this incredible intensity of belief that this is what people have to do. In that way it seems very similar in some ways to the housing bubble and the tech bubble."

. . .

"What I really liked about this program is it's giving a lot of people who maybe wouldn't get into Harvard an opportunity to participate in something just as selective and just as valuable and just as educational," Mr. Burnham said. "It's giving them that opportunity even though their personalities and characters don't quite fit the academic mold."

His father, Stephen Burnham, said the decision for his son to skip college, at least for now, was uncontroversial.

"There's a lot of other stuff that you get in college and I would say that would be useful for John," he said. "But I would say in four years there's a big opportunity cost there if you could be out starting your career doing something that could change the world."

For the full story, see:

CLAIRE CAIN MILLER. "Changing the World by Dropping Out." The New York Times (Mon., May 30, 2011): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25 (sic), 2011, has the title "Want Success in Silicon Valley? Drop Out of School," and is longer than the published version. Most of what is quoted above appears in both the published and online versions, but some (most notably the paragraph on the education bubble and the quotes from Stephen Burnham) appear only in the online verison.)

June 11, 2011

"Surprisingly Weak Correlation" Between Measures of Maximum Performance and Typical Performance

(p. C12) In the early 1980s, Paul Sackett, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, began measuring the speed of cashiers at supermarkets. Workers were told to scan a few dozen items as quickly as possible while a scientist timed them. Not surprisingly, some cashiers were much faster than others.

But Mr. Sackett realized that this assessment, which lasted just a few minutes, wasn't the only way to measure cashier performance. Electronic scanners, then new in supermarkets, could automatically record the pace of cashiers for long stretches of time. After analyzing this data, it once again became clear that levels of productivity varied greatly.

Mr. Sackett had assumed that these separate measurements would generate similar rankings. Those cashiers who were fastest in the short test should also be the fastest over the long term. But instead he found a surprisingly weak correlation between the rankings, leading him to distinguish between two types of personal assessment. One measures "maximum performance": People who know they're being tested are highly motivated and focused, just like those cashiers scanning a few items while being timed.

The other type measures "typical performance"--measured over long periods of time, as when Mr. Sackett recorded the speed of cashiers who didn't know they were being watched. In this sort of test, character traits that have nothing to do with maximum performance begin to influence the outcome. Cashiers with speedy hands won't have fast overall times if they take lots of breaks.

. . .

The problem, of course, is that students don't reveal their levels of grit while taking a brief test. Grit can only be assessed by tracking typical performance for an extended period. Do people persevere, even in the face of difficulty? How do they act when no one else is watching? Such traits often matter more than raw talent. We hear about them in letters of recommendation, but hard numbers take priority.

The larger lesson is that we've built our society around tests of performance that fail to predict what really matters: what happens once the test is over.

For the full commentary, see:

JONAH LEHRER. "Measurements That Mislead; From the SAT to the NFL, the problem with short-term tests." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 2, 2011): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The classic article correlating maximum and typical performance, is:

Sackett, Paul R., Sheldon Zedeck, and Larry Fogli. "Relationships between Measures of Typical and Maximum Performance." Journal of Applied Psychology 73 (1988): 482-86.

June 10, 2011

New Jersey Citizens Rebel Against "Ugly" Solar Panels

SolarPanelsFailLawnNewJersey2011-06-02.jpg "Solar panels along Fifth Street in Fair Lawn, N.J. Residents elsewhere were upset they had not been notified before installation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) ORADELL, N.J. -- Nancy and Eric Olsen could not pinpoint exactly when it happened or how. All they knew was one moment they had a pastoral view of a soccer field and the woods from their 1920s colonial-style house; the next all they could see were three solar panels.

"I hate them," Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. "It's just an eyesore."

. . .

(p. A3) New Jersey is second only to California in solar power capacity thanks to financial incentives and a public policy commitment to renewable energy industries seeded during Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration. . . .

Some residents consider the overhanging panels "ugly" and "hideous" and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Though nearly halfway finished, the company's crews have encountered some fresh resistance in Bergen County, where cities, villages and boroughs are in varying stages of mortification. Local officials have forced a temporary halt in many towns as they seek assurances that they will not be liable in case of injury, but also to buy time for suggesting alternative sites -- like dumps -- to spare their tree-lined streets.

And here in Oradell, at least one panel has gone missing.

. . .

The case of the missing panel has been referred to local law enforcement.

"PSE&G takes a very dim view of people tampering with the equipment," said Francis Sullivan, a company spokesman, "but that's secondary to the fact that it's just a dangerous idea." All the units are connected to high-voltage wires.

Richard Joel Sr., a lawyer in town, said a panel close to his house had been removed, but demurred when asked if he knew details.

"I'm not saying what happened," he said.

For the full story, see:

MIREYA NAVARRO. "Solar Panels Rise Pole by Pole, Followed by Gasps of 'Eyesore'." The New York Times (Thurs., April 28, 2011): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 27, 2011.)

June 9, 2011

"Progress Depended on the Empirical Habit of Thought"

In the passage below from 1984 Orwell presents an underground rebel's account of why the authoritarian socialist dystopia cannot advance in science and technology.

(p. 155) The world of today is a bare, hungry, dilapidated place compared with the world that existed before 1914, and still more so if compared with the imaginary future to which the people of that period looked forward. In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly, and efficient--a glittering (p. 156) antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete--was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society.


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

June 8, 2011

Home Decorators Are Stockpiling Incandescent Bulbs to Thwart Feds' Edict


"David Brooks, of Just Bulbs in Manhattan, has a customer who is secretly ordering thousands of incandescent bulbs. "She doesn't want her husband to know," he said." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) BUNNY WILLIAMS, the no-nonsense decorator known for her lush English-style rooms, is laying in light bulbs like canned goods. Incandescent bulbs, that is -- 60 and 75 watters -- because she likes a double-cluster lamp with a high- and a low-watt bulb, one for reading, one for mood.

"Every time I go to Costco, I buy more wattage," Ms. Williams said the other day. She is as green as anybody, she added, but she can't abide the sickly hue of a twisty compact fluorescent bulb, though she's tried warming it up with shade liners in creams and pinks. Nor does she care for the cool blue of an LED.

It should be noted that, like most decorators, Ms. Williams is extremely precise about light. The other day, she reported, she spent six hours fine-tuning the lighting plan of a project, tweaking the mix of ambient, directional and overhead light she had designed, and returning to the house after dusk to add wattage and switch out lamps like a chef adjusting the flavors in a complicated bouillabaisse.

She is aware that there is legislation that is going to affect the manufacture of incandescent bulbs, but she's not clear on the details, and she wants to make sure she has what she needs when she needs it.

. . .

(p. D7) Other hoarders are hiding their behavior. David Brooks, who owns Just Bulbs on East 60th Street, said he has a customer in Tennessee who is buying up 60- and 100-watt soft-pink incandescent bulbs from G.E. and Sylvania for her three houses. Initially, she ordered 432 bulbs for each house, he said. Then she ordered another 1,000.

Mr. Brooks said the customer doesn't want her husband to find out, and wouldn't agree to speak to this reporter. The last order is destined, he said, "for a friend's house that she is helping to redecorate in Alabama. She doesn't want anyone to know her source."

For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "Light Bulb Saving Time." The New York Times (Thurs., May 26, 2011): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 25, 2011.)

June 7, 2011

Government Administrators Steal Money, Food and Benefits from Poor in India

(p. A8) NEW DELHI -- India spends more on programs for the poor than most developing countries, but it has failed to eradicate poverty because of widespread corruption and faulty government administration, the World Bank said Wednesday.

. . .

One of the primary problems, the World Bank said, was "leakages" -- an often-used term in development circles that refers to government administrators and middle men stealing money, food and benefits. The bank said that 59 percent of the grain allotted for public distribution to the poor does not reach those households.

For the full story, see:

"India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled." The New York Times (Thurs., May 19, 2011): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 18, 2011, has the title "India's Anti-Poverty Programs Are Big but Troubled," is attributed to Heather Timmons, and is considerably more detailed than the published version.)

June 6, 2011

Chinese Government Created Real Estate Bubble in a Dozen Ghost Towns Like Kangbashi Area of Ordos

KangbashiRealEstateBubble2011-06-02.jpg"As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually burst." Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of caption: online version of the NYT slideshow that accompanied the online article quoted and cited below.

The October 19, 2010 New York Times front page story (quoted below) on the Ordos ghost town in China, was finally picked up by the TV media on May 30 in a nice NBC Today Show report.

It should be clear that the Chinese real estate bubble will burst, just as real estate bubbles eventually burst in places like Japan and the United States. What is not clear is what the effects will be on the Chinese and world economies.

(p. A1) Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos -- built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city -- is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.

. . .

(p. A4) As China's roaring economy fuels a wild construction boom around the country, critics cite places like Kangbashi as proof of a speculative real estate bubble they warn will eventually pop -- sending shock waves through the banking system of a country that for the last two years has been the prime engine of global growth.

. . .

Analysts estimate there could be as many as a dozen other Chinese cities just like Ordos, with sprawling ghost town annexes. In the southern city of Kunming, for example, a nearly 40-square-mile area called Chenggong has raised alarms because of similarly deserted roads, high-rises and government offices. And in Tianjin, in the northeast, the city spent lavishly on a huge district festooned with golf courses, hot springs and thousands of villas that are still empty five years after completion.

. . .

In 2004, with Ordos tax coffers bulging with coal money, city officials drew up a bold expansion plan to create Kangbashi, a 30-minute drive south of the old city center on land adjacent to one of the region's few reservoirs. . . .

In the ensuing building spree, home buyers could not get enough of Kangbashi and its residential developments with names like Exquisite Silk Village, Kanghe Elysees and Imperial Academic Gardens.

Some buyers were like Zhang Ting, a 26-year-old entrepreneur who is a rare actual resident of Kangbashi, having moved to Ordos this year on an entrepreneurial impulse.

"I bought two places in Kangbashi, one for my own use and one as an investment," said Mr. Zhang, who paid about $125,000 for his 2,000-square-foot investment apartment. "I bought it because housing prices will definitely go up in such a new town. There is no reason to doubt it. The government has already moved in."

Asked whether he worried about the lack of other residents, Mr. Zhang shrugged off the question.

"I know people say it's an empty city, but I don't find any inconveniences living by myself," said Mr. Zhang, who borrowed to finance his purchases. . . .

For the full story, see:

DAVID BARBOZA. "A City Born of China's Boom, Still Unpeopled." The New York Times (Weds., October 19, 2010): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated October 19, 2010 and has the title "Chinese City Has Many Buildings, but Few People.")


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

June 5, 2011

"If You Could Choose, Would You Prefer to Live Then or Now?"

(p. 78) 'Perhaps I have not made myself clear,' he said. 'What I'm trying to say is this. You have been alive a very long time; you lived half your life before the Revolution. In 1925, for instance, you were already grown up. Would you say from what you can remember, that life in 1925 was better than it is now, or worse? If you could choose, would you prefer to live then or now?'


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

June 4, 2011

To Teach the Truth, the Best Teachers Must Become "Canny Outlaws"


Source of book image: http://www.swarthmore.edu/Images/news/practical_wisdom.jpg

(p. 170) Walking into Mr. Drew's economics class, researchers might have interrupted a board meeting of the student-run start-up company that was at the heart of his course. Drawing on his own experience in industry, Mr. Drew taught students economic principles in a way that made sense to them because they were researching potential products they would actually sell (a mug with the school logo; a T-shirt designed by a student graphics team). They were conducting market surveys, accumulating capital, making decisions about the scale of investment, the risk, the profits.

. . .

In Houston. the magnet schools were forced to reorganize to prepare for the coming White-Perot reforms. McNeil changed her study. The new question was: How would these teachers cope with a curriculum that was test-driven?

. . .

Mr. Drew's economics class did not conform to the proficiency sequence and he had to drop the course, except as an elective.

. . .

The paperwork required by such new requirements--to assure the bureaucracy that teachers were teaching by the rules--discouraged individualized time spent with students and robbed time previously devoted to planning and assessing lessons. The requirements created the same kind of time bind Wong observed when such requirements were imposed on military trainers. (p. 171) And, as in the case of the new military training model, the new requirements discouraged flexibility, adaptability, and creativity.

McNeil found that many of the experienced teachers fought back. They became canny outlaws, or creative saboteurs, dodging the "law," finding ways to cover the "proficiencies" with great efficiency and squirreling away time to sneak real education back in at the margins of the standardized system, sometimes even conspiring with their students or teaching them how to "game" the system. Mr. Drew taught his students that economic cycles vary in length and intensity, but in the test prep period, he told them to forget this because the official answer was that each cycle lasts eighteen months. There was a danger that students who learned to look beyond the obvious, to ask "what if," to look for the exceptions to the rules, would do badly on the tests.

. . .

The ability of wise teachers to operate as canny outlaws is most seriously constrained when a highly scripted curriculum comes riding into town on the heels of high-stakes standardized tests. By prescribing, step by step, what to say and do each day to prepare students for these tests, such lockstep curricula pose a serious challenge to professional discretion. Yet even under these adverse conditions, in many schools there are canny
outlaws who find ways to avoid being channeled.


Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The McNeil book mentioned above is:

Linda, McNeil. Contradictions of School Reform: Educational Costs of Standardized Testing, Critical Social Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000.

The Wong report mentioned above is:

Wong, Leonard. "Stifled Innovation? Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today." Strategic Studies Institute Monograph, April 1, 2002.


Source of book image: http://i43.tower.com/images/mm101682007/contradictions-school-reform-educational-costs-standardized-testing-linda-m-mcneil-paperback-cover-art.jpg

June 3, 2011

Denmark (Yes, Sanctimoniously 'Green' Denmark) Seeks to Exploit the BENEFITS of Global Warming

(p. A7) Denmark plans to lay claim to parts of the North Pole and other areas in the Arctic, where melting ice is uncovering new shipping routes, fishing grounds and drilling opportunities for oil and gas, a leaked government document showed Tuesday.

For the full story, see:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. "WORLD BRIEFING | EUROPE; Denmark: Leaked Document Reveals Plans to Claim Parts of the North Pole." The New York Times (Weds., May 18, 2011): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 17, 2011.)

June 2, 2011

"When There Is a Massive Release of Methane, the Ocean Can Compensate"

KesslerJohnBiologist2011-05-19.jpg "Dr. John Kessler, lead author of the study, examining a water sample." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A3) Bacteria made quick work of the tons of methane that billowed into the Gulf of Mexico along with oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, clearing the natural gas from the waterway within months of its release, researchers reported Friday.

The federally funded field study, published online in the journal Science, offers peer-reviewed evidence that naturally occurring microbes in the Gulf devoured significant amounts of toxic chemicals in natural gas and oil spewing from the seafloor, which researchers had thought would persist in the region's water chemistry for years.

"Within a matter of months, the bacteria completely removed that methane,"said microbiologist David Valentine at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The bacteria kicked on more effectively than we expected," he said.

. . .

"We were shocked," said chemical oceanographer John Kessler at Texas A&M, who was the lead author of the Science study. "We thought the methane would be around for years."

. . .

"They showed that, even when there is a massive release of methane, the ocean can compensate," said federal microbiologist Terry Hazen at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who has long championed the use of methane-oxidizing microbes to biodegrade oil spills.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Microbes Mopped Up After Spill; Bacteria Swiftly Devoured Methane Unleashed Into the Gulf of Mexico, Study Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 7, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

The Science article mentioned above, is:

Kessler, John D., David L. Valentine, Molly C. Redmond, Mengran Du, Eric W. Chan, Stephanie D. Mendes, Erik W. Quiroz, Christie J. Villanueva, Stephani S. Shusta, Lindsay M. Werra, Shari A. Yvon-Lewis, and Thomas C. Weber. "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico." Science (Jan. 6, 2011).


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

June 1, 2011

Orwell's Indictment of Life Under Communism

(p. 52) He meditated resentfully on the physical texture of life. Had it always been like this? Had food always tasted like this? He looked round the canteen. A low-ceilinged, crowded room, its walls grimy from the contact of innumerable bodies; battered metal tables and chairs, placed so close together that you sat with elbows touching; bent spoons, dented trays, coarse white mugs; all surfaces greasy, grime in every crack; and a sourish, composite smell of bad gin and bad coffee and metallic stew and dirty clothes. Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to. It was true that he had no memories of anything greatly different. In any time that he could accurately remember, there had never been quite enough to eat, one had never had socks or underclothes that were not full of holes, furniture had always been battered and rickety, rooms underheated, tube trains crowded, houses falling to pieces, bread dark-coloured, tea a rarity, coffee filthy-tasting, cigarettes insufficient--nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin. And though, of course, it grew worse as one's body aged, was it not a sign that this was NOT the natural order of things, if one's heart sickened at the discomfort and dirt and scarcity, the interminable winters, the stickiness of one's socks, the lifts that never worked, the cold water, the gritty soap, the cigarettes that came to pieces, the food with its strange evil tastes? Why should one feel it to be intolerable unless one had some kind of ancestral memory that things had once been different?


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


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