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July 31, 2011

Findings "Strongly Suggest" Cholera in Haiti Due to United Nations




(p. 5A) PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Scientists have presented the strongest evidence yet that U.N. peacekeepers imported the chol­era strain that has killed more than 5,500 people in Haiti.

A report published in the July issue of the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal says research findings "strongly suggest" that the U.N. contingent from Nepal contaminated a Haitian river because of poor sanitation at a base. Author Renaud Piarroux had previously blamed peace­keepers. This study is more com­plete and its methodology was reviewed by other scientists.



Source:

AP. "U.N. may have brought cholera strain to Haiti." Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, June 30, 2011): 5A.





July 30, 2011

Capitalism Was Not Inevitable




RelentlessRevolutionBK.jpg













Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/519PfT2oUtL.jpg




(p. 15) What is the nature of capitalism? For Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian-born economist whose writings have acquired a special relevance in the past year or two, this most modern of economic systems "incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one." Capitalism, Schumpeter proclaimed, cannot stand still; it is a system driven by waves of entrepreneurial innovation, or what he memorably described as a "perennial gale of creative destruction."

Schumpeter died in 1950, but his ghost looms large over Joyce Appleby's splendid new account of the "relentless revolution" unleashed by capitalism from the 16th century onward. Appleby, a distinguished historian who has dedicated her career to studying the origins of capitalism in the Anglo-American world, here broadens her scope to take in the global history of capitalism in all its creative -- and destructive -- glory.

She begins "The Relentless Revolution" by noting that the rise of the economic system we call capitalism was in many ways improbable. It was, she rightly observes, "a startling departure from the norms that had prevailed for 4,000 years," signaling the arrival of a new mentality, one that permitted private investors to pursue profits at the expense of older values and customs.

In viewing capitalism as an extension of a culture unique to a particular time and place, Appleby is understandably contemptuous of those who posit, in the spirit of Adam Smith, that capitalism was a natural outgrowth of human nature. She is equally scornful of those who believe that its emergence was in any way inevitable or inexorable.


. . .


. . . , she captures how a new generation of now forgotten economic writers active long before Adam Smith built a case "that the elements in any economy were negotiable and fluid, the exact opposite of the stasis so long desired." This was a revolution of the mind, not machines, and it ushered in profound changes in how people viewed everything from usury to joint stock companies. As she bluntly concludes, "there can be no capitalism . . . without a culture of capitalism."


. . .


The individual entrepreneur is at the center of her analysis, and her book offers thumbnail sketches of British innovators from James Watt to Josiah Wedgwood. She continues on to the United States and Germany, giving readers a whirlwind tour of the lives and achievements of a host of men whom she calls "industrial leviathans" -- Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie in the United States; Thyssen, Siemens and Zeiss in Germany. All created new industries while destroying old ones.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN MIHM. "Capitalist Chameleon." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., January 24, 2010): 15.

(Note: ellipses added except for the one in the "there can be no capitalism . . . without a culture of capitalism" quote.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated January 22, 2010.)


Book under review:

Appleby, Joyce. The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.





July 29, 2011

Resistance to New Technology





(p. 59) . . . , not everyone was happy with the loss of open hearths. Many people missed the drifting smoke and were convinced they had been healthier when kept "well kippered in wood smoke," as one observer put it. As late as 1577, a William Harrison insisted that in the days of open fires our heads did never ake." Smoke in the roof space discouraged nesting birds and was believed to strengthen timbers. Above all, people complained that they weren't nearly as warm as before, which was true. Because fireplaces were so inefficient, they were constantly enlarged. Some became so enormous that they were built with benches in them, letting people sit inside the fireplace, almost the only place in the house where they could be really warm.



Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 28, 2011

Zuckerberg Has Most Followers on Google+




ZuckerbergGooglePlusPage2011-07-16.jpg




"The profile page of Mark Zuckerberg on Google+, a service created to compete with Facebook." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B1) Any guesses as to who is the most popular person on Google+, the company's new social networking service? Ashton Kutcher, perhaps? Or Lady Gaga?

Actually, that title is currently held by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook -- the very service that Google+ was meant to challenge.

As of Tuesday evening, Mr. Zuckerberg had nearly 35,000 people following his updates on the service, more than anyone else in a broad survey of Google+ profiles by Social Statistics, an outside service. His fan base exceeds that of Larry Page, one of the founders of Google and its recently appointed chief executive, who had only 24,000 people following him.

Google+ is less than a week old and is still not yet widely available to the public. But access to the service, which lets people share photos, links, status updates and video chats with groups of friends, is already in high demand among early adopters who are eager to play with its (p. B8) features. That includes Mr. Zuckerberg, who apparently signed up to keep tabs on his new adversary.



For the full story, see:

JENNA WORTHAM. "Zuckerberg Finds Fans on Google+." The New York Times (Weds., July 5, 2011): B1 & B8.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 6, 2011.)







July 27, 2011

Cow Burps and Farts Cause 28% of Methane Release "Due to Human Activity"




(p. 6A) LOS ANGELES -- Scientists have isolated a bacterium from the gut of Australian Tam­mar wallabies that allows the animals to consume and digest grasses, leaves and other plant material without producing co­pious amounts of methane, as cattle do.

The microbe was discovered through a process described in a report published online recently by the journal Science.

Ultimately, the microbe might be put to use to reduce the car­bon footprint of cows and other ruminants, said report co-author Mark Morrison, a microbial bi­ologist in St. Lucia, Queensland.


. . .


The methane-rich burps and flatulence of cattle have been blamed for 28 percent of that greenhouse gas's global emis­sions due to human activity. Like other cud-chewing mammals, they produce methane as their systems work to break down and ferment the plant matter they eat.



For the full story, see:

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES. "Wallaby microbe may one day help cut cows' methane footprint." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, July 4, 2011): 6A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 26, 2011

Technology as an Enabler of Free Speech




InternetJalalabad2011-07-16.jpg "Volunteers have built a wireless Internet around Jalalabad, Afghanistan, from off-the-shelf electronics and ordinary materials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


The main point of the passages quoted below is to illustrate how, with the right technology, we can dance around tyrants in order to enable human freedom.

(But as a minor aside, note in the large, top-of-front-page photo above, that Apple once again is visibly the instrument of human betterment---somewhere, before turning to his next challenge, one imagines a fleeting smile on the face of entrepreneur Steve Jobs.)


(p. 1) The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy "shadow" Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype "Internet in a suitcase."

Financed with a $2 million State Department grant, the suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GLANZ and JOHN MARKOFF. "U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 12, 2011): 1 & 8.



InternetDetourGraphic2011-07-16.jpg















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







July 25, 2011

Medieval Pollution





(p. 58) One thing that did not escape notice in medieval times was that nearly all the space above head height was unusable because it was so generally filled with smoke. An open hearth had certain clear advantages--it radiated heat in all directions and allowed people to sit around it on all four sides--but it was also like having a permanent bonfire in the middle of one's living room. Smoke went wherever passing drafts directed it--and with many people coming and going, and all the windows glassless, every passing gust must have brought somebody a faceful of smoke--or otherwise rose up to the ceiling and hung thickly until it leaked out a hole in the roof.



Source:

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





July 24, 2011

Bricks-and-Mortar Restaurants Use Police (Instead of Better Food) to Beat Food Trucks




KimImaAndKennyLaoFoodTruck2011-07-16.jpg "Kim Ima and Kenny Lao parked their food trucks on Front Street in Dumbo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D4) FOOD trucks, those rolling symbols of New York City's infatuation with haute casual food, are suddenly being chased from Midtown Manhattan. In the last 10 days, the Treats Truck, which has sold cookies and brownies for four years during lunchtime at West 45th Street near Avenue of the Americas, has been told by police officers that it is no longer welcome there, nor at its late-afternoon 38th Street and Fifth Avenue location. The Rickshaw Dumpling truck, a presence for three years at West 45th Street near the Treats Truck, has been shooed away as well.

The police "have told us they no longer want food trucks in Midtown," said Kim Ima, the owner of the Treats Truck, a pioneer of the city's new-wave food-truck movement, who began cultivating customers on West 45th Street in 2007.


. . .


Mr. Lao and other food-truck operators said they suspect that the police are responding to complaints by brick-and-mortar businesses that resent competition. Such was the case last year, when store merchants on the Upper East Side complained about Patty's Taco Truck, which sold tortas, tacos de lengua and cemitas on Lexington Avenue. The truck was towed several times and the operator arrested, prompting the Street Vendor Project, an advocate for vendors based at the Urban Justice Center, to file the lawsuit that resulted in Judge Wright's ruling, which said food is merchandise that can be regulated.



For the full story, see:

GLENN COLLINS. "Food Trucks Shooed From Midtown." The New York Times (Weds., June 29, 2011): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 28, 2011.)






July 23, 2011

$130,000 Federal Stimulus Used by Omaha Public Schools for Manual Attacking American Institutions




(p. 1A) The Omaha Public Schools used more than $130,000 in federal stimulus dollars to buy each teacher, administrator and staff member a manual on how to become more culturally sensitive.

The book by Virginia education consultants could raise some eyebrows with its viewpoints.

The authors assert that American government and institutions create advantages that "channel wealth and power to white people," that color-blindness will not end racism and that educators should "take action for social justice."

The book says that teachers should acknowledge historical systemic oppression in schools, including racism, sexism, homophobia and "ableism," defined by the authors as discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.

The authors argue that public school teachers must raise their cultural awareness to better serve minority students and improve academic achievement.



For the full story, see:

Joe Dejka. "OPS Says It Won't Go totally by the Book." Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, July 10, 2011): 1A & 2A.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "OPS buys 8,000 diversity manuals.")





July 22, 2011

Entrepreneurs Stanley and Wood Apply Econometrics to Business Data Analysis




StanleyWoodEntrepreneurs2011-07-16.jpg "Grant Stanley, left, and Tadd Wood founded Contemporary Analysis, which uses data to solve sales, marketing, customer retention, employee management and planning problems." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


The entrepreneurs celebrated in the article quoted below are former students of mine. Grant Stanley was in my Economics of Entrepreneurship and Economics of Technology seminars and Tadd Wood was in my Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction. I wish them well.


(p. 1D) A half-dozen 20-something math, economics and neuroscience whizzes form Contemporary Analysis, an Omaha-based firm that is making predictive analytics available to a wider array of firms faster and for less money.

The team, which has a penchant for roaming around its Old Market office shoeless, is led by Grant Stanley, 23, the company's chief executive. He founded the firm in March 2008 with Tadd Wood, 23, who is now a senior analyst.

For nearly three years, Contemporary Analysis has built a customer base mostly of companies and businesses with lean budgets, meaning they didn't have a lot of cash to spend on analytics products. Traditionally, analytics firms lock clients into expensive, long-term contracts.

Not Contemporary Analysis.

Their products are designed to yield results in about a month, and average contracts are about $5,000, Stanley said. The company's analytics tools use data to solve sales, marketing, customer retention, employee management and planning problems.


. . .


(p. 2D) A . . . report from the IBM Institute for Business Value found that top-performing organizations use analytics five times more than lower performers.

Of the 3,000 executives, managers and analysts polled for the IBM report, those who came from high-performing companies said they used analytics to guide future strategies 45 percent of the time and day-to-day operations 53 percent of the time. By comparison, lower-performing firms used analytics 20 percent when addressing future business matters and 27 percent on a daily basis.



For the full story, see:

Ross Boettcher. "Omaha Whizzes Bring Analytics to More Companies." Omaha World-Herald (Thursday, July 14, 2011): 1D & 2D.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Making analytics affordable.")





July 21, 2011

"People Condemned to Short Lives and Chronic Hardship Are Perhaps Unlikely to Worry Overmuch about Decor"





If "necessity is the mother of invention," then why did it take so long for someone to invent the louvered slats mentioned at the end of this passage?


(p. 55) In even the best homes comfort was in short supply. It really is extraordinary how long it took people to achieve even the most elemental levels of comfort. There was one good reason for it: life was tough. Throughout the Middle Ages, a good deal of every life was devoted simply to surviving. Famine was common. The medieval world was a world without reserves; when harvests were poor, as they were about one year in four on average, hunger was immediate. When crops failed altogether, starvation inevitably followed. England suffered especially catastrophic harvests in 1272, 1277, 1283, 1292, and 1311, and then an unrelievedly murderous stretch from 1315 to 1319. And this was of course on top of plagues and other illnesses that swept away millions. People condemned to short lives and chronic hardship are perhaps unlikely to worry overmuch about decor. But even allowing for all that, there was just a great, strange slowness to strive for even modest levels of comfort. Roof holes, for instance, let smoke escape, but they also let in rain and drafts until somebody finally, belatedly invented a lantern structure with louvered slats that allowed smoke to escape but kept out rain, birds, and wind. It was a marvelous invention, but by the time it (p. 56) was thought of, in the fourteenth century, chimneys were already coming in and louvered caps were not needed.



Source:

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





July 20, 2011

Zuckerberg: ''Filmmakers Can't Get Their Head around the Idea that Someone Might Build Something because They Like Building Things''




AndreessenMarcVentureCapitalist2011-07-12.jpg







Marc Andreessen. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.






(p. 13) After hearing a story about Foursquare's co-founder, Dennis Crowley, walking into a press event in athletic wear and eating a banana, I developed a theory that bubbles might be predicted by fashion: when tech founders can't be bothered to appear businesslike, the power has shifted too much in their favor.


Believe it or not, this goes deep into the interior mentality of the engineer, which is very truth-oriented. When you're dealing with machines or anything that you build, it either works or it doesn't, no matter how good of a salesman you are. So engineers not only don't care about the surface appearance, but they view attempts to kind of be fake on the surface as fundamentally dishonest.

That reminds me of Mark Zuckerberg's criticism of ''The Social Network.'' He said that ''filmmakers can't get their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.''

Aaron Sorkin was completely unable to understand the actual psychology of Mark or of Facebook. He can't conceive of a world where social status or getting laid or, for that matter, doing drugs, is not the most important thing.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW GOLDMAN. "TALK; Bubble? What Bubble? Marc Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley's biggest venture capitalists, has no fear." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., July 10, 2011): 13.

(Note: bold in original, indicating comments/questions by interviewer Andrew Goldman.)

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated July 7, 2011 (sic).)





July 19, 2011

Feds Protect Us from "Older Tasty Tomato Varieties"




(p. C3) Historically, when a farmer has learned to grow a tasty variety, that farmer has actually been scorned and prevented from shipping it.

"Regulations actually prohibit growers in the southern part of Florida from exporting many of the older tasty tomato varieties because their coloration and shape don't conform to what the all-powerful Florida Tomato Committee says a tomato should look like," Mr. Estabrook writes.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; That Perfect Florida Tomato, Cultivated for Bland Uniformity." The New York Times (Weds., July 6, 2011): C3.

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



The web site of the Florida Tomato Committee describes its Federal mandate:

The Florida Tomato Committee is a Federal Marketing Order that was established pursuant to Federal Marketing Agreement and Order No. 966 as amended regulating the handling of tomatoes and has authority over the tomatoes grown in Florida's production area comprising the counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Brevard and all counties situated south. It affects tomatoes that are shipped outside the regulated area, which includes that portion of the state of Florida situated east of the Suwanee River and south of the Georgia border.

The Committee funds research and development projects and marketing promotions that focus on maximizing Florida tomato movement, including consumer and marketing research and customized marketing programs.

Florida Tomatoes ... quality you can trust. Each Florida field-grown tomato shipped out of Florida is regulated by a Federal Marketing Order that controls grade, size, quality and maturity. The standards are the toughest in the world and ensure that Florida tomatoes are the best you can buy.



Source:

http://www.floridatomatoes.org/AboutUs.aspx

(Note: ellipsis in original.)


The book under review is:

Estabrook, Barry. Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011.





July 18, 2011

"If We Can't Win on Quality, We Shouldn't Win at All"




ImFeelingLuckyBK.jpg












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






(p. A13) At the tail end of the 1990s dot-com boom, Douglas Edwards took a gamble: He left his marketing job at an old-media company, taking a $25,000 salary cut to start work at a small, little-known Internet concern in its second year of operation. That his new employer was losing money and burning through venture capital went without saying. But unlike the footloose 20-somethings who usually populated Silicon Valley start-ups, Mr. Edwards had little margin to bet wrong; he was 41, with a mortgage, three children and a worried wife. He hoped he could get his old job back if the company ran out of money.


. . .


Mr. Edwards came to his job as a subscriber to the conventional wisdom. In an early presentation to cofounder Larry Page and others, Mr. Edwards unwisely declared that only marketing, not technology, could set Google apart. "In a world where all search engines are equal," he asserted, "we'll need to rely on branding to differentiate us from our competitors."

The room became quiet. Then Mr. Page spoke up. "If we can't win on quality," he said, "we shouldn't win at all."



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. PRICE. "BOOKSHELF; How Google Got Going; Branding, shmanding, a marketer was told. 'If we can't win on quality,' Larry Page said, 'we shouldn't win at all.'" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 12, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


Book being reviewed:

Edwards, Douglas. I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2011.






July 17, 2011

Medieval Halls of the Rich Incubated Plague in a Nest of "Filth Unmentionable"





(p. 51) In even the best houses, floors were generally just bare earth strewn with rushes, harboring "spittle and vomit and urine of dogs and men, beer that hath been cast forth and remnants of fishes and other filth unmentionable," as the Dutch theologian and traveler Desiderius Erasmus rather crisply summarized in 1524. New layers of rushes were laid down twice a year normally, but the old accretions were seldom removed, so that, Erasmus added glumly, "the substratum may be unmolested for twenty years." The floors were in effect a very large nest, much appreciated by insects and furtive rodents, and a perfect incubator for plague. Yet a deep pile of flooring was generally a sign of prestige. It was common among the French to say of a rich man that he was "waist deep in straw."


Source:

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





July 16, 2011

Castro's Communist Goons Impound Cuba Libre




SanchezYoaniCubanBlogger.jpg "Her writing, said Yoani Sánchez, above in her Havana apartment, describes "the sentiments of one person but sums up the reality of many people."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C1) Like any other first-time author, Yoani Sánchez was looking forward to receiving copies of her book, "Cuba Libre," after it was published last year. But when the package sent from Buenos Aires by her publisher arrived in Havana, the Cuban customs service impounded the parcel and, after she complained, sent her a notice explaining its action.

"The content of the book entitled 'Free Cuba' transgresses against the general interests of the nation, in that it argues that certain political and economic changes are necessary in Cuba in order for its citizens to enjoy greater material well-being and attain personal fulfillment," stated the document, which Ms. Sánchez posted on her Web site. Such positions "are extremes totally contrary to the principles of our society."

Outside her homeland, though, Ms. Sánchez's writing is free of such censorship, and she has emerged as an important new voice, both literary and political. Published in the United States in May under the title "Havana Real" (Melville House), her book draws on the same collection of sketches of daily life in Cuba -- a dreary, enervating routine of food shortages, transportation troubles and narrowed opportunity -- that she has been posting on her Web site, Generation Y (desdecuba.com/generationy), since 2007.


. . .


(p. C6) Recently Ms. Sánchez completed a second book, a manual whose title translates as "Wordpress: A Blog for Speaking to the World." A new fiber-optic cable connecting Cuba with South America has just been laid, and when it begins fully operating later this summer, it is likely to increase opportunities not just for her, but for other dissident bloggers and writers, many of whom have attended the seminars she conducted that led to the writing of the second book.

"It's interesting that we're talking not about a bearded 80-year-old man, but a sharp, fearless, skinny 35-year-old mother," said Ted Henken, an expert on Cuba and the Internet who teaches at the City University of New York and visited Ms. Sánchez in April. "That's new, and in some ways, by spreading the virus of blogging and tweeting to others, she has displaced Che and Fidel among young, progressive people."



For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "In Cuba, the Voice of a Blog Generation." The New York Times (Weds., July 6, 2011): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated July 5, 2011.)






July 15, 2011

Today artdiamondblog.com Turns Six




I continue to welcome comments from those who enjoy entries, or find them useful. I receive enough such comments to continue to believe that there is a "remnant" out there who benefit from the examples and evidence that I try to highlight and make accessible.

That is what matters. But for those who like stats, here are some stats:

As of 7/11/11, the Palgrave publishing house's ranking of blogs ranked mine as 96th among 481 economics blogs. (I do not know what criteria they use for their ranking.)

Gongol's most recent posted ranking was on March 15, 2011 (he emailed me on 7/11/11 that he intends to resume the postings). As of March 15, my blog was ranked 48th among the 168 economics blogs in terms of average daily pageviews and 47th among 173 economics blogs in terms of average daily visits.

Technorati ranks my blog 22,426th out of 1,273,077 blogs that they rank on all subjects as of 7/11/11. (I do not know what criteria they use for their ranking.)





July 14, 2011

Katrina Was Less a Natural Disaster, and More an Artificial One Caused by Government




ShearerHarry2011-06-05.jpg

"Harry Shearer in the documentary "The Big Uneasy."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B6) . . . Mr. Shearer is serious about his reasons for adding to a Katrina genre that includes two documentaries by Spike Lee ("When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" and "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise"), another about custody battles over pets lost in the storm ("Mine"), and Werner Herzog's reinterpretation of "Bad Lieutenant" ("Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans").

"What they are missing is why it happened, why people suffered," said Mr. Shearer, who spoke last week from his home in New Orleans.

At one-day screenings in about 160 theaters around the country on Monday, "The Big Uneasy" will fill in the blanks with a feature-length description of what it sees as failings by the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Mr. Shearer said he was inspired to make the film last year, after hearing President Obama refer to the hurricane as a "natural disaster." Mr. Shearer argues there was nothing natural about the breakdown of systems that were supposed to protect the city.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Katrina Film Takes Aim at Army Corps of Engineers." The New York Times (Mon., August 30, 2010): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated August 29, 2010.)





July 13, 2011

Medieval Halls Did Not Conduce to Comfort or to Observing Modern Proprieties




Practically all living, awake or asleep, was done in this single large, mostly bare, always smoky chamber. Servants and family ate, dressed, and slept together--"a custom which conduced neither to comfort nor the observance of the proprieties," as J. Alfred Gotch noted with a certain clear absence of comfort himself in his classic book The Growth of the English House (1909). Through the whole of the medieval period, till well Into the fifteenth century the hall effectively was the house, so much so that it became the convention to give its name to the entire dwelling, as in Hardwlck Hall or Toad Hall.


Source:

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

(Note: italics in original.)





July 12, 2011

In Medicine, as Elsewhere, What Pays Is Usually What Gets Done




LevinDonaldPsychiatrist2011-06-05.jpg ""I had to train myself not to get too interested in their problems, and not to get sidetracked trying to be a semi-therapist." Dr. Donald Levin, a psychiatrist whose practice no longer includes talk therapy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) DOYLESTOWN, Pa. -- Alone with his psychiatrist, the patient confided that his newborn had serious health problems, his distraught wife was screaming at him and he had started drinking again. With his life and second marriage falling apart, the man said he needed help.

But the psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Levin, stopped him and said: "Hold it. I'm not your therapist. I could adjust your medications, but I don't think that's appropriate."

Like many of the nation's 48,000 psychiatrists, Dr. Levin, in large part because of changes in how much insurance will pay, no longer provides talk therapy, the form of psychiatry popularized by Sigmund Freud that dominated the profession for decades. Instead, he prescribes medication, usually after a brief consultation with each patient. So Dr. Levin sent the man away with a referral to a less costly therapist and a personal crisis unexplored and unresolved.



For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns Instead to Drug Therapy." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., March 6, 2011): A1 & A21.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated March 5, 2011.)





July 11, 2011

Warm Yourself Over a "Dung Fire, and You Will Know What Pollution Really Is"




(p. D4) To the Editor:

The idea that ancient man had fewer tumors because he lived in a less polluted atmosphere ("Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate," Dec. 28) can be held only by those who have limited experience living in a preindustrial way. Try cooking over an open fire burning half-rotten wood, or sitting in a cave warming yourself with a peat or dung fire, and you will know what pollution really is.

Carol Selinske

Rye Brook, N.Y.



Source of NYT letter to the Editor:

Carol Selinske. "LETTERS; Cancer, Then and Now." The New York Times (Tues., January 4, 2011): D4.

(Note: the online version of the letter is dated: January 3, 2011.)






July 10, 2011

"We Are All Dutchmen Now"




1688TheFirstModernRevolution2011-06-05.jpg
















Source of the book image: http://yalepress.yale.edu/images/full13/9780300115475.jpg



(p. A15) Samuel Pufendorf, a 17th-century German historian, described the English people as "having been ­always inclined to rebellion and intestine commotion." But England's regime change in 1688--soon called "glorious"--was a revolution with a difference. Instead of overthrowing the existing order in violent upheaval, it put "government upon its ancient and proper basis, which the measures of a mad bigot had almost ­destroyed." The "mad bigot" was, in this case, James II, the Stuart king (and a Catholic) who was deposed in ­favor of William of Orange, a Protestant from the Dutch Republic. Edmund Burke famously contrasted England's balance of change and continuity in 1688 with the ­ferocity in France a century later.

In "1688: The First Modern Revolution," Steve Pincus challenges this received account to argue that the ­Glorious Revolution marked a much greater break with history than Burke realized--and proved to be an ­emblem of the West's future. James II, Mr. Pincus notes, sought to extend state power at the expense of Parliament and the privileges of local communities. James's adversaries preferred the dynamism of commerce; they believed that wealth sprang from the limitless striving of human endeavor rather than the finite availability of land. France under Louis XIV provided James with a pattern for absolutism; the Dutch Republic provided his opponents with a commercial ideal. The Glorious ­Revolution is often seen as a clash ­between ­"popery"--the term for authoritarian ­Catholicism--and ­ancient English liberties. But Mr. Pincus persuasively describes it as the collision of two ideas about the state in society. In a sense, he implies, we are all Dutchmen now.



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM ANTHONY HAY. "Going Dutch; When a dynamic commercial ideal won out over centralized power." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., September 1, 2011): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated AUGUST 31, 2009.)


The book under review is:

Pincus, Steve. 1688: The First Modern Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale, 2009.



An alternative view is presented in a a book by Lisa Jardine (reference below). She argues that William of Orange was more interested in grabbing power than in promoting liberty. Her view is persuasively disputed in the following review by Andrew Roberts:

ANDREW ROBERTS. "A New William The Conqueror." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 28, 2008): A13.


The Jardine book is:

Jardine, Lisa. Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.





July 9, 2011

38 Theories Why Humans Became Sedentary




(p. 36) . . . if people didn't settle down to take up farming, why then did they embark on this entirely new way of living? We have no idea--or actually, we have lots of ideas, but we don't know if any of them are right. According to the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, at least thirty-eight theories have been put forward to explain why people took to living in communities: that they were driven to it by climatic change, or by a wish to stay near their dead, or by a powerful desire to brew and drink beer, which could only be indulged by staying in one place. One theory, evidently seriously suggested (Jane Jacobs cites It In her landmark work of 1969, The Economy of Cities), was that "fortuitous showers" of cosmic rays caused mutations in grasses that made them suddenly attractive as a food source. The short answer is that no one knows why agriculture developed as it did.

Making food out of plants is hard work. The conversion of wheat, rice, corn, millet, barley, and other grasses into staple foodstuffs is one of the great achievements of human history, but also one of the more unexpected ones.



Source:

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

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)





July 8, 2011

Private ADP Job Data May Better Capture Startup Job Growth than Government Data





"ADP" in the quote below, stands for Automatic Data Processing Inc. which is a large payroll processing firm that provides job growth data that are an alternative to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. Recent research by Haltiwanger and others, has indicated that startups may have an under-appreciated large role in job growth.


(p. C1) It has been dubbed "Another Dumb Payroll" report and a "random number generator." But the ADP employment report doesn't entirely deserve its bad rap.


. . .


ADP may better capture . . . new business formation than Labor Department estimates. BofA Merrill Lynch economist Michelle Meyer notes that new firms show up in ADP data after two months of existence; the government doesn't have complete records until much later. Indeed, more than half the 187,000 new jobs ADP reported last month came from businesses with fewer than 50 employees.



For the full story, see:

KELLY EVANS. "AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., FEBRUARY 4, 2011): C1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter Than Thought.")


For some of the work showing the importance of startups in job creation, see:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Jarmin. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." NBER Working Paper # 16300, August 2010.






July 7, 2011

Few Good Jobs for China's College Graduates




(p. A13) BEIJING--Young people calling themselves the "ant tribe" and living in Beijing's outskirts have prompted a national discussion about the tough job market for college graduates in China.

The term "ants"--referring to the graduates' industriousness as well as their crowded, modest living conditions--was coined in a book by Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, who in a 2007-09 survey of 600 Beijing-area college graduates found their average monthly income was the equivalent of $300.

The book touched a nerve in China, inspiring both admiration for the young people's striving and indignation at their living conditions. Earlier this year, several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, said they were moved to tears on a visit to the village of Tangjialing when they heard two young men who shared a 50-square-foot room sing a song they composed about their tough lives.


. . .


The "Song of the Ants" is a favorite. Its refrain: "Though we have nothing, we are tough in spirit; though we have nothing, we are still dreaming; though we have nothing, we still have power; though we have nothing, we are not afraid of being deserted."



For the full story, see:

Sue Feng and Ian Johnson. "Job Squeeze in China Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 4, 2010): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 3, 2010 and has the title "China Job Squeeze Sends 'Ants' to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.")






July 6, 2011

Google CEO Larry Page Admires Steve Jobs




BrinPageSchmidtGoogle2011-06-05.jpg "Former colleagues describe Larry Page, center, as strong-willed and sometimes impolite. He is said to admire Apple CEO Steve Jobs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Larry Page's PageRank algorithm was the basis for Google Inc.'s search engine. As Google's new chief executive, Mr. Page will face the challenge of leading a company that has grown far beyond that algorithm and must compete with agile Web upstarts such as Facebook Inc. and Groupon Inc.

On Friday, a day after being named to replace outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt in April, Mr. Page gave little hint of how he planned to tackle such challenges. The 38-year-old Google co-founder didn't immediately address employees in an all-hands note or meeting, said a person familiar with the matter, though the company has a weekly Friday meeting that Mr. Page was expected to attend.

But several of Mr. Page's former colleagues describe him as having similarities to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whom Mr. Page has said he admired. Both men are strong willed, sometimes impolite and push engineers hard to execute their ambitious projects.

Some former colleagues said Mr. Page is likely to try to pierce through the sometimes "paralyzing" bureaucracy that product managers and engineers have faced when trying to launch some Google products in recent years.

On Thursday, Messrs. Page and Schmidt said some top-level decision-making had gotten slower and the management change would improve that. Also, the company has said it is trying to allow more projects to operate like start-ups inside of Google in order to speed up innovation.



For the full story, see:

AMIR EFRATI and SCOTT MORRISON. "TECHNOLOGY; Chief Seeks More Agile Google; As CEO, Larry Page Must Pierce Bureaucracy, Compete With Nimble Upstarts." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 22, 2011): B1 & B4.





July 5, 2011

"The American Machines Did Things that the World Earnestly Wished Machines to Do"




(p. 22) . . . when the displays were erected it came as something of a surprise to discover that the American section was an outpost of wizardry and wonder. Nearly all the American machines did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do--stamp out nails, cut stone, mold candles--but with a neatness, dispatch, and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking. Elias Howe's sewing machine dazzled the ladies and held out the impossible promise that one of the great drudge pastimes of domestic life could actually be made exciting and fun. Cyrus McCormick displayed a reaper that could do the work of forty men--a claim so improbably bold that almost no one believed it until the reaper (p. 23) was taken out to a farm in the Home Counties and shown to do all that it promised it could. Most exciting of all was Samuel Colt's repeat-action revolver, which was not only marvelously lethal but made from inter-changeable parts, a method of manufacture so distinctive that it became known as "the American system." Only one homegrown creation could match these virtuoso qualities of novelty, utility, and machine-age precision--Paxton's great hall itself, and that was to disappear when the show was over. For many Europeans this was the first unsettling hint that those tobacco-chewing rustics across the water were quietly creating the next industrial colossus--a transformation so improbable that most wouldn't believe it even as It was happening.

The most popular feature at the Great Exhibition was not an exhibition at all, but rather the elegant "retiring rooms," where visitors could relieve themselves in comfort, an offer taken up with gratitude and enthusiasm by 827,000 people--11,000 of them on a single day. Public facilities in London were woefully lacking in 1851. At the British Museum, up to 30,000 daily visitors had to share just two outside privies. At the Crystal Palace the toilets actually flushed, enchanting visitors so much that It started a vogue for installing flushing toilets at home-- . . .



Source:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 4, 2011

Steve Jobs as Project Entrepreneur




JobsSteveIpadIntroduction2011-06-05.jpg "Steve Jobs's presence at the unveiling seemed to reassure investors." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Innovative entrepreneurs can have several different motives. I think Steve Jobs is mainly a "project entrepreneur"---his main motive is to envision a project and to accomplish it.


(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Steven P. Jobs, Apple's chief executive, interrupted his medical leave on Wednesday to introduce the company's much-anticipated new iPad, a thinner, faster and lighter version of its popular tablet computer that will sell at the same prices as the original models.

Mr. Jobs alluded to his leave but neither commented on his health nor said whether he planned to return to the company in the near future.

"We've been working on this product for a while and I just didn't want to miss today," he said.



For the full story, see:

MIGUEL HELFT. "Jobs Returns to Introduce a New iPad." The New York Times (Thurs., March 3, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated March 2, 2011 and has the title "Jobs Returns to Introduce a New iPad.")






July 3, 2011

Italian "Legal System Barely Functions"




(p. B4) The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. "Our sun is setting in installments," he writes. "It's festive and flamboyant, but it's still a sunset."


For the full review, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction." The New York Times (Weds., August 23, 2006): B1 & B4.


Book under review:

Severgnini, Beppe. La Bella Figura; a Field Guide to the Italian Mind. Translated by Giles Watson. pb ed. New York: Broadway Books, 2006.






July 2, 2011

Partage Provides Incentives to Recover Antiquities and the Means to Preserve Them




WhoOwnsAntiquityBK2011-06-05.gif
















Source of book image: http://press.princeton.edu/images/k8602.gif





(p. D1) In some cases, it makes aesthetic or archaeological sense to keep artifacts grouped together where they were found, but it can also be risky to leave everything in one place, particularly if the country is in turmoil or can't afford to excavate or guard all its treasures. After the Metropolitan Museum was pressured to hand over a collection called the Lydian Hoard, one of the most valuable (p. D2) pieces was stolen several years ago from its new home in Turkey.


. . .


(p. D2) In his book "Who Owns Antiquity?", James Cuno argues that scholars have betrayed their principles by acquiescing to politicians who have exploited antiquities to legitimize themselves and their governments. Saddam Hussein was the most blatant, turning Iraqi archeology museums into propaganda for himself as the modern Nebuchadnezzar, but other leaders have been just as cynical in using antiquities to bolster their claims of sovereignty.

Dr. Cuno advocates the revival of partage, the traditional system in which archeologists digging in foreign countries would give some of their discoveries to the host country and take others home. That way both sides benefit, and both sides have incentives to recover antiquities before looters beat them to it. . . .

As the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Cuno has his own obvious motives for acquiring foreign antiquities, and he makes no apology for wanting to display Middle Eastern statues to Midwesterners.

"It is in the nature of our species to connect and exchange," Dr. Cuno writes. "And the result is a common culture in which we all have a stake. It is not, and can never be, the property of one modern nation or another."

Some of the most culturally protectionist nations today, like Egypt, Italy and Turkey, are trying to hoard treasures that couldn't have been created without the inspiration provided by imported works of art. (Imagine the Renaissance without the influence of "looted" Greek antiquities.) And the current political rulers of those countries often have little in common culturally with the creators of the artifacts they claim to own.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "FINDINGS; A Case in Antiquities for 'Finders Keepers'." The New York Times (Tues., November 17, 2009): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated November 16, 2009.)


The Cuno book discussed above, is:

Cuno, James. Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.






July 1, 2011

500 Kinds of Hammers: Even Marx Knew that Capitalism Produces Variety




HammerDiversityBasallaPage4.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 1. Source of graphic: page 4 of the Basalla book quoted and cited aways down below.




(p. 21 of Bryson) Suddenly, for the first time In history, there was in most people's lives a lot of everything. Karl Marx, living in London, noted with a tone of wonder, and just a hint of helpless admiration, that it was possible to buy five hundred kinds of hammer In Britain. Everywhere was activity, Modern Londoners live in a great Victorian city; the Victorians lived through It, so to speak. In twelve years eight railway termini opened In London. The scale of disruption--the trenches, the tunnels, the muddy excavations, the congestion of wagons and other vehicles, the smoke, the din, the clutter--that came from filling the city with railways, bridges, sewers, pumping stations, power stations, subway lines, and all the rest meant that Victorian London was not just the biggest city in the world but the noisiest, foulest, muddiest, busiest, most choked and dug-over place the world had ever seen.

The 1851 census also showed that more people in Britain now lived in cities than in the countryside--the first time that this had happened anywhere in the world--and the most visible consequence of this was crowds on a scale never before experienced. People now worked en masse, traveled en masse, were schooled, imprisoned, and hospitalized en masse. When they went out to enjoy themselves, they did that en masse, and nowhere did they go with greater enthusiasm and rapture than to the Crystal Palace.



Source:

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



On Marx and hammers, Bryson references p. 156 of Petroski:

Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts--from Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers--Came to Be as They Are. New York: A. Knopf, 1992.


Actually, Petroski's source on Marx on hammers clearly is Basalla who he quotes on pp. 23-24:

(p. 23 of Petroski) George Basalla, in The Evolution of Technology, suggests the great "diversity of things made by human hands" over the past two hundred years by pointing out that five million patents have been issued in America alone. . . . (p. 24) He then introduces the fundamental questions of his study:

The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumb-tacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn . . . that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts. What forces led to the proliferation of so many variations of this ancient and common tool? Or more generally, why are there so many different kinds of things?

Basalla dismisses the "traditional wisdom" that attributes technological diversity to necessity and utility, and looks for other explanations, "especially ones that can incorporate the most general assumptions about the meaning and goals of life."


(Note: italics in original; first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)


Petroski then again mentions Marx on hammers on the p. 156 that is referenced by Bryson:

(p. 156 of Petroski) In spite of Marx's astonishment that five hundred different kinds of hammers were made in Birmingham in the 1860s, this was no capitalist plot. Indeed, if there were a plot, it was to not make more. The proliferation of hammer types occurred because there were then, as now, many specialized uses of hammers, and each user wished to possess a tool that was suited as ideally as possible to the tasks he performed perhaps thousands of times each day, but seldom if ever in a formal social context. I have often reflected on the value of special hammers while using the two ordinary ones from my tool chest: a familiar carpenter's hammer with a claw, and a smaller version that fits in places the larger one does not. The tasks I've applied them to have included driving and removing nails, of course, but also opening and closing paint cans, pounding on chisels, tacking down carpets, straightening dented bicycle fenders, breaking bricks, driving wooden stakes, and on and on.



The Basalla book is:

Basalla, George. The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.


On p. 2 of Basalla, he writes:

(p. 2 of Basalla) The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumbtacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn, as well he might have been, that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts . . .

(Note: ellipsis added.)


In Basalla's notes to this chapter, the only Marx he mentions is the first volume of Capital. Searching volume one of Capital in Google Books for "hammer," one discovers the relevant passage on p. 375:

(p. 374 of Marx) Manufacture is characterized by the differentiation of (p. 375) the instruments of labour--a differentiation whereby implements of a given sort acquire fixed shapes, adapted to each particular application, and by the specialisation (sic) of those instruments, giving to each special instrument its full play only in the hands of a specific detail labourer. In Birmingham alone 500 varieties of hammers are produced, and not only is each adapted to one particular process, but several varieties often serve exclusively for the different operations in one and the same process. The manufacturing period simplifies, improves, and multiplies the implements of labour, by adapting them to the exclusively special functions of each detail labourer.


The Marx book is:

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. New York: Modern Library, 1906 [first German edition in 1867].




HammerDiversityBasallaPage5.jpg



















The diversity of hammers, part 2. Source of graphic: page 5 of the Basalla book quoted and cited somewhere above.






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