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October 31, 2011

More on Jobs Haiku

My Jobs haiku has received some discussion in the blogosphere.

It is reproduced, along with haikus submitted by other economics bloggers, in an entry of the blog of the Economist magazine:


I especially like a comment to the Economist blog entry:


Oct 26th 2011 7:59 GMT

What a creative way to describe the economy. It is so interesting to see how everyone interprets the economy through poem. I personally like the "jobs and Jobs" one. I think it describes our economy, and gives a snapshot of a major moment in our history.


Nov 2nd 2011 1:41 GMT

It is interesting to see people's opinions about the economy being put into haikus. My favorite out of these is the haiku that refers to the fact that we have lost Steve Jobs and many jobs for US citizens. And in order to regain these jobs we are going to need more people to contribute in ways Steve Jobs has.

(Note: I added kbuch5's comment on 11/7/11.)

CNBC correspondent Jane Wells describes my haiku as "poetic" on her blog:


October 30, 2011

Innovative Entrepreneurs Finance Basic Research in Mariana Trench

OceanDepthGraphic2011-08-10.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) A new generation of daredevils is seeking to plunge through nearly seven miles of seawater to the bottom of a rocky chasm in the western Pacific that is veiled in perpetual darkness. It is the ocean's deepest spot. The forbidding place, known as the Challenger Deep, is so far removed from the warming rays of the sun that its temperature hovers near freezing.

"When I was a kid, I loved not only amazing ocean exploration but space, too," James Cameron, the director of "Avatar," "Titanic" and "The Abyss," said in an interview. "I can think of no greater fantasy than to be an explorer and see what no human eye has seen before."

The would-be explorers can afford to live their dreams because of their extraordinarily deep pockets. Significantly, their ambitions far exceed those of the world's seafaring nations, which have no plans to send people so deep.

The billionaires and millionaires include Mr. Cameron, the airline mogul Richard Branson and the Internet guru Eric E. Schmidt. Each is building, planning to build or financing the construction of minisubmarines meant to transport them, their friends and scientists into the depths. Entrepreneurs talk of taking tourists down as well.

The vehicles, meant to hold one to three people, are estimated to cost anywhere from $7 million to $40 million.

For the full story, see:

WILLIAM J. BROAD. "Ambitions as Deep as Their Pockets." The New York Times (Tues., August 2, 2011): D1 & D4.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 1, 2011.)

October 29, 2011

Statute of Caps "Required People to Wear Caps Instead of Hats"

(p. 381) Sumptuary laws were enacted partly to keep people within their class, but partly also for the good of domestic industries, since they were often designed to depress the importation of foreign materials. For the same reason for a time there was a Statute of Caps, aimed at helping national capmakers through a depression, which required people to wear caps instead of hats. For obscure reasons, Puritans resented the law and were often fined for flouting it. But on the whole sumptuary laws weren't much enforced. Various clothing restrictions were enshrined in (p. 382) statutes in 1337, 1363, 1463, 1483, 1510, 1533 and 1554, but records show they were never much enforced. They were repealed altogether in 1604.


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

October 28, 2011

"A Landmark Achievement for Regenerative Medicine"

TracheaMadeInLab2011-08-09.jpg "A lab-made windpipe was implanted June 9 into a 36-year-old patient whose own windpipe was obstructed by a tumor." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A3) Doctors have replaced the cancer-stricken windpipe of a patient with an organ made in a lab, a landmark achievement for regenerative medicine. The patient no longer has cancer and is expected to have a normal life expectancy, doctors said.

"He was condemned to die," said Paolo Macchiarini, a professor of regenerative surgery who carried out the procedure at Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital. "We now plan to discharge him [Friday]."

The transplantation of an entirely synthetic and permanent windpipe had never been successfully done before the June 9 procedure. The researchers haven't yet published the details in a scientific journal.

For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK. "Lab-Made Trachea Saves Man; Tumor-Blocked Windpipe Replaced Using Synthetic Materials, Patient's Own Cells." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 8, 2011): C8.

October 27, 2011

Schumpeter on the Difference Between "Making a Road and Walking Along It"

(p. 85) Carrying out a new plan and acting according to a customary one are things as different as making a road and walking along it.


Schumpeter, Joseph A. The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Translated by Redvers Opie. translation of 2nd German edition that appeared in 1926; translation first published by Harvard in 1934 ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1983.

October 26, 2011

Arabic Numerals Enabled Better Accounting Systems


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

(p. A13) Humans have been recording counts for at least 35,000 years, if the notches in a Paleolithic-era baboon's fibula are an indicator.

. . .

Before the 13th century, European businessmen recorded figures in Roman numerals and computed with their fingers or a counting board. But these creaky accounting systems began to buckle under the growing complexity of regional and international finance. In 1202, Leonardo of Pisa--better known by his family name, Fibonacci--published the "Liber Abbaci," or "Book of Calculation," a 600-page tome detailing the rules of Hindu-Arabic arithmetic and algebra. Fibonacci's volume was directed not to scholars but to merchants, the first work in the West to demonstrate the commercial utility of Eastern mathematics. The book was an instant success and propelled the Pisan maestro d'abbaco to fame.

The "Liber Abbaci" inspired a flood of regionally produced (and lesser) primers on the subject. Arithmetic schools sprang up throughout Italy and would eventually count among their pupils da Vinci and Machiavelli. German merchants flocked to Venice during the 1300s to learn the new accounting practices. In "The Man of Numbers," mathematician Keith Devlin makes the case that Fibonacci's book spearheaded the decline and fall of the Roman numeral and transformed scientific, technological and commercial calculation in the West.

At age 15, Fibonacci accompanied his father, a Pisan trade representative, to the North African port of Bugia (now Bejaia, in Algeria). In the preface to "Liber Abbaci," Fibonacci writes of his early introduction to the "art of the nine Indian figures" and their computational power. After more than a decade of his own studies and tutelage under Arabic mathematicians across North Africa, he returned to Pisa to write his masterwork. Such was the acclaim that Fibonacci appeared before Emperor Frederick II--a colorful intellectual who referred to himself as Stupor mundi or Wonder of the World--and vanquished the emperor's court mathematician in an arithmetic duel.

. . .

. . . as Mr. Devlin reminds us, even something as prosaic as a sequence of 10 numbers can remake an entire world.

For the full review, see:

ALAN HIRSHFELD. "BOOKSHELF; Counting On Progress; Roman numerals were fine for adding and subtracting. Fibonacci saw that complex math required a better system." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 7, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

Book under review:

Devlin, Keith. The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution. New York: Walker & Company, 2011.

October 25, 2011

The Huge Value of Exposing Ourselves to Unexpected Evidence

Bill Bryson tells how much we learned from the remains of a man from the neolithic age, who has been called Ötzi:

(p. 377) His equipment employed eighteen different types of wood - a remarkable variety. The most surprising of all his tools was the axe. It was copper-bladed and of a type known as a Remedello axe, after a site in Italy where they were first found. But Ötzi's axe was hundreds of years older than the oldest Remedello axe. 'It was,' in the words of one observer, 'as if the tomb of a medieval warrior had yielded a modern rifle.' The axe changed the timeframe for the copper age in Europe by no less than a thousand years.

But the real revelation and excitement were the clothes. Before Ötzi we had no idea - or, to be more precise, nothing but ideas - of how stone age people dressed. Such materials as survived existed only as fragments. Here was a complete outfit and it was full of surprises. His clothes were made from the skins and furs of an impressive range of animals - red deer, bear, chamois, goat and cattle. He also had with him a woven grass rectangle that was three feet long. This might have been a kind of rain cape, but it might equally have been a sleeping mat. Again, nothing like it had ever been seen or imagined.

Ötzi wore fur leggings held up with leather strips attached to a waist strap that made them look uncannily - almost comically - like the kind of nylon stockings and garter sets that Hollywood pin-ups wore in the Second World War. Nobody had remotely foreseen such a get-up. He wore a loincloth of goatskin and a hat made from the fur of a brown bear - probably a kind of hunting trophy. It would have been very warm and covetably stylish. The rest of his outfit was mostly made from the skin and fur of red deer. Hardly any came from domesticated animals, the opposite of what was expected.


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

October 24, 2011

Reasons to Hope for 150 Year Life Span


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

(p. A13) Ms. Arrison is in the hopeful camp. She recounts advances in stem-cell research, pharmaceuticals and synthetic biology. And the tinkering with genes still goes on. We learn about Dr. Cynthia Kenyon at the University of California in San Francisco, who discovered that the life span of the tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans could be doubled by partially disabling a single gene. Further improvements on the technique resulted in worms living six times longer than normal. "In human terms," Ms. Arrison says, "they be the equivalent of healthy, active five-hundred-year-olds." That may be a bit much to expect, but Ms. Arrison says she is confident that "human life expectancy will one day reach 150 years."

. . .

What is more, technology heavyweights are paying attention, including Bill Gates (if he were a teenager today, Mr. Gates once said, he'd be "hacking biology") and Jeff Bezos ("atom by atom we'll assemble small machines that will enter cell walls and make repairs"). Larry Ellison, of Oracle, started a foundation more than a decade ago to support anti-aging research; the institution donates about $42 million a year.

. . .

And if humans do begin living to 150, then what?

. . .

. . . , Ms. Arrison argues that apocalyptic prophecies are unlikely to be realized. Increasing wealth and mankind's adaptability and ingenuity mean that as new problems emerge, new solutions will be forthcoming. "In looking at the trends of history," she says, "we can see that even when there are downsides to a particular wealth- or health-enhancing technology, the problem is often fixed once the population reaches a point where it feels secure in spending the resources to do so."

For the full review, see:

NICK SCHULZ. "BOOKSHELF; Bioengineering Methuselah; Human beings living to be 150? And you thought Social Security and Medicare were in trouble now." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., August 31, 2011): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Book under review:

Arrison, Sonia. 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, from Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith. New York: Basic Books, 2011.

October 23, 2011

Obama Regulations Are "Choking Off Innovation"

From 2007 to 2010 Nina V. Fedoroff was the science and technology adviser to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in the Obama administration. Fedoroff is currently a Professor of Biology at Penn State. The passages quoted below are from her courageous commentary in The New York Times op-ed section:

(p. A21) . . . even as the Obama administration says it wants to stimulate innovation by eliminating unnecessary regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to require even more data on genetically modified crops, which have been improved using technology with great promise and a track record of safety. The process for approving these crops has become so costly and burdensome that it is choking off innovation.

Civilization depends on our expanding ability to produce food efficiently, which has markedly accelerated thanks to science and technology. The use of chemicals for fertilization and for pest and disease control, the induction of beneficial mutations in plants with chemicals or radiation to improve yields, and the mechanization of agriculture have all increased the amount of food that can be grown on each acre of land by as much as 10 times in the last 100 years.

These extraordinary increases must be doubled by 2050 if we are to continue to feed an expanding population. . . .

. . .

Myths about the dire effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment abound, but they have not held up to scientific scrutiny. And, although many concerns have been expressed about the potential for unexpected consequences, the unexpected effects that have been observed so far have been benign. Contamination by carcinogenic fungal toxins, for example, is as much as 90 percent lower in insect-resistant genetically modified corn than in nonmodified corn. This is because the fungi that make the toxins follow insects boring into the plants. No insect holes, no fungi, no toxins.

. . .

Only big companies can muster the money necessary to navigate the regulatory thicket woven by the government's three oversight agencies: the E.P.A., the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

. . .

. . . the evidence is in. These crop modification methods are not dangerous. The European Union has spent more than $425 million studying the safety of genetically modified crops over the past 25 years. Its recent, lengthy report on the matter can be summarized in one sentence: Crop modification by molecular methods is no more dangerous than crop modification by other methods. Serious scientific bodies that have analyzed the issue, including the National Academy of Sciences and the British Royal Society, have come to the same conclusion.

For the full commentary, see:

NINA V. FEDOROFF. "Engineering Food for All." The New York Times (Fri., August 19, 2011): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was dated August 18, 2011.)

October 22, 2011

Easter Island Was Ravaged by Rats, Peruvian Slaving Parties and Nonnative Diseases, Not by Ecocide


Source of book image: http://0.tqn.com/d/archaeology/1/0/g/L/1/Statues-That-Walked-sm.jpg

The natives call Easter Island "Rapa Nui."

(p. C5) With the forest gone, Rapa Nui's soil degraded; unable to feed themselves, Mr. Diamond argued in his best-selling "Collapse" (2005), Easter Islanders faced "starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism." The fall was abrupt and overwhelming; scores of giant statues were abandoned, half-finished. Roggeveen had discovered a ruin--and a powerful eco-parable.

Books and articles by the hundred have pointed to Rapa Nui as the inevitable result of uncontrolled population growth, squandered resources and human fecklessness. "The person who felled the last tree could see it was the last tree," wrote Paul G. Bahn and John Flenley in "Easter Island, Earth Island" (1992). "But he (or she) still felled it." "The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious," Mr. Diamond proclaimed. "The clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources," he said, Rapa Nui epitomizes "ecocide," presenting a stark image of "what may lie ahead of us in our own future."

No, it doesn't, write archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo in "The Statues That Walked," a fascinating entry in the pop-science genre of Everything You Know Is Wrong. Messrs. Hunt and Lipo had no intention of challenging Mr. Diamond when they began research on Rapa Nui. But in their fourth year of field work, they obtained radiocarbon dates from Anakena Beach, thought to be the island's oldest settlement. The dates strongly indicated that the first settlers appeared around A.D. 1200--eight centuries later than Heyerdahl and other researchers had thought.

Wait a minute, the authors in effect said. Rapa Nui is so remote that researchers believe it must have been settled by a small group of adventurers--a few dozen people, brave or crazy, in boats. The new evidence suggested that their arrival had precipitated catastrophic deforestation "on the scale of decades, not centuries." The island then probably had only a few hundred inhabitants. Some ecologists estimate that the island originally had 16 million palm trees. How could so few people have cut down so much so fast?

. . .

The real culprit, according to "The Statues That Walked," was the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans), which stowed away on the boats of the first Polynesian settlers. In laboratory settings, Polynesian rat populations can double in 47 days. Throw a breeding pair into an island with no predators and abundant food and arithmetic suggests the result: ratpocalypse. If the animals multiplied as they did in Hawaii, the authors calculate, Rapa Nui would quickly have housed between two and three million. Among the favorite food sources of R. exulans are tree seeds and tree sprouts. Humans surely cleared some of the forest, but the real damage would have come from the rats that prevented new growth.

"Rather than a case of abject failure," the authors argue, "Rapa Nui is an unlikely story of success." The islanders had migrated, perhaps accidentally, to a place with little water and "fundamentally unproductive" soil with "uniformly low" levels of phosphorus, an essential mineral for plant growth. To avoid the wind's dehydrating effects, the newcomers circled their gardens with stone walls known as manavai. Today, the researchers discovered, abandoned manavai occupy about 6.4 square miles, a tenth of the island's total surface.

More impressive still, about half of the island is covered by "lithic mulching," in which the islanders scattered broken stone over the fields. The uneven (p. C6) surface creates more turbulent airflow, reducing daytime surface temperatures and warming fields at night. And shattering the rocks exposes "fresh, unweathered surfaces, thus releasing mineral nutrients held within the rock." Only lithic mulching produced enough nutrients--just barely--to make Rapa Nui's terrible soil cultivable. Breaking and moving vast amounts of stone, the islanders had engineered an entirely new, more productive landscape.

Their success was short-lived. As Messrs. Hunt and Lipo point out, the 18th and 19th centuries were terrible times to reside in a small, almost defenseless Pacific nation. Rapa Nui was repeatedly ravaged by Peruvian slaving parties and nonnative diseases.

. . .

Easter Island's people did not destroy themselves, the authors say. They were destroyed.

. . .

Oral tradition said that the statues walked into their places. Oral tradition was correct, the authors say. By shaping the huge statues just right, the islanders were able to rock them from side to side, moving them forward in a style familiar to anyone who has had to move a refrigerator. Walking the statues, the authors show in experiments, needed only 15 or 20 people.

In a 2007 article in Science, Mr. Diamond estimated that hundreds of laborers were needed to move the statues, suggesting that the eastern settlements of the island alone had to have "a population of thousands"--which in turn was proof of the island's destructive overpopulation. By showing that the statues could have been moved by much fewer people, Messrs. Hunt and Lipo have removed one of the main supports of the ecocide theory and the parable about humankind it tells.

For the full review, see:

CHARLES C. MANN. "Don't Blame the Natives; It was a rat that caused the sudden collapse of Easter Island's civilization." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 30, 2011): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

Source of book under review:

Hunt, Terry, and Carl Lipo. The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. New York: Free Press, 2011.

October 21, 2011

Bathtubs Started Out "Extremely Expensive" and Then Prices Fell

(p. 372) At last the world had baths that looked good and stayed looking good for a long time. But they were still extremely expensive. A bath alone could easily cost $200 in 1910 - a price well beyond the range of most households. But as manufacturers improved the processes of mass manufacture, prices fell and by 1940 an American could buy an entire bath suite - sink, bath and toilet - for $70, a price nearly everyone could afford.

Elsewhere, however, baths remained luxuries. In Europe a big part of the problem was a lack of space in which to put bathrooms. In 1954 just one French residence in ten had a shower or bath. In Britain the journalist Katharine Whitehorn has recalled that as recently as the late 1950s she and her colleagues on the magazine Woman's Own were not allowed to do features on bathrooms as not enough British homes had them, and such articles would only promote envy.


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

October 20, 2011

Fewer Entrepreneurial Startups Leads to Fewer New Jobs


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

(p. B1) Start-ups fuel job growth disproportionately since by definition they are starting and growing, adding employees, says the Kauffman Foundation, which researches and advocates for entrepreneurship.

Though there was start-up activity during and after the recession, driven partly by unemployed individuals putting out a shingle, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the total number of "births" of new businesses declined sharply from previous years. What's more, the number of people employed by new businesses that are less than a year old--a common definition of a start-up--also declined. That trend started a decade ago.

In a recent report on entrepreneurship, the BLS said the number of new businesses less than a year old that existed in the year ending March 2010 "was lower than any other year" since its research began in 1994. The downdraft started with the recession.

"More people who were self-employed failed and left self-employment than people who entered," says Scott Shane, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University who wrote a study on entrepreneurship and the recession for the Cleveland Fed. "The net effect is negative, not positive, largely because downturns hurt those in business and those thinking of entering business."

For the full story, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; Shrinking in a Bad Economy: America's Entrepreneur Class." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., AUGUST 12, 2011): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The BLS report mentioned above can be found at: http://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship.htm

The Scott Shane commentary mentioned above can be found at:


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

October 19, 2011

Jobs Haiku

jobs and Jobs are gone
need more Jobs to get more jobs
innovate to grow

Arthur Diamond

In his Q4 survey of influential economics bloggers, Tim Kane of the Kauffman Foundation whimsically requested that we create a haiku that speaks to the state of the economy. I sent him my haiku, above, on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

(Do not worry---I have no plans to retire and devote myself to writing poetry.)

October 18, 2011

"It's Our Right to Choose What We Want to Put in Our Bodies"

FoodSovereigntySign2011-08-06.jpg "Protesters outside the Los Angeles Courthouse on Thursday denounced the police's moves against Rawesome, which offers raw milk products." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

LOS ANGELES -- Raw food enthusiasts fit right in here, in the earthy, health-conscious beach communities of Venice and Santa Monica, along with the farmers' markets, health food stores and vegan restaurants.

But this week, the police cleared the shelves of Rawesome, an establishment in Venice Beach, loading $70,000 of raw, organic produce and dairy products on the back of a flatbed truck.

And then, on Thursday, James Stewart, the proprietor, was arraigned on charges of illegally making, improperly labeling and illegally selling raw milk products, as well as other charges related to Rawesome's operations. Two farmers who work with Rawesome were also named in the district attorney's complaint.

. . .

The raid on Rawesome has riled people here who say that unpasteurized milk is safer and healthier. About 150 raw food advocates gathered at the Los Angeles County Courthouse on Thursday to oppose the crackdown.

"It's our right to choose what we want to put in our bodies," Ms. Buttery said. "When members filled out an application, they were saying they wanted natural bacteria in their systems. We don't want labeling. We don't want animals full of antibiotics."

For the full story, see:

IAN LOVETT. "Raw Food Co-op Is Raided in California." The New York Times (Fri., August 5, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated August 4, 2011.)

October 17, 2011

The Lancet Accused Snow of Being "in the Pocket of Business Interests"

(p. 365) It is hard now to appreciate just how radical and unwelcome Snow's views were. Many authorities actively detested him for them. The Lancet concluded that he was in the pocket of business interests which wished to continue to fill the air with 'pestilent vapours, miasms and loathsome abominations of every kind' and make themselves rich by poisoning their neighbours. 'After careful enquiry,' the parliamentary inquiry concluded, 'we see no reason to adopt this belief.'


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

(Note: italics in original.)

October 16, 2011

Finance and Strategy Should Be More Integrated

ChristensenClayton2011-07-19.jpg"'God never said that finance and strategy are fundamentally different functions.' --Clayton Christensen" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ interview quoted and cited below.

MR. MURRAY: We've talked about the innovator's dilemma, but what's the solution?

MR. CHRISTENSEN: The financial function stands in the way of much of this. God never said that finance and strategy are fundamentally different functions, yet the business schools decided to teach strategy and teach finance. This gets implemented in companies where strategy is the responsibility of this group, and finance this group. And a lot of the things that make sense financially make no sense strategically.

. . .

MR. MURRAY: The United States has led the world in various types of innovation for much of the past century. Is that something that will continue?

MR. CHRISTENSEN: I am very worried about America. I was thinking about this hard over the past year. It turns out that the majority of the entrepreneurs that made Silicon Valley happen weren't Americans. They were from Israel, China and India. We were a magnet to bring to our shores the best technologists in the world. Now our message to the rest of the world is, "You guys, we don't want you." The minute we say that and push those to Singapore and to Britain and elsewhere, I worry.

For the full interview, see:

Alan Murray, interviewer. "The Innovator's Solution; Clayton Christensen, Glenn Hutchins and Ellen Kullman on being cutting edge--without breaking the bank." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 27, 2011): C9.

(Note: bold and italics in original; ellipsis added.)

October 15, 2011

Nuclear Energy Much Safer than Previously Thought

(p. A14) ROCKVILLE, Md. -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is approaching completion of an ambitious study that concludes that a meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown. In past studies, researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core's cesium inventory could escape; the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent.

. . .

Big releases of radioactive material would not be immediate, and people within a 10-mile radius would have enough time to evacuate, the study found. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is therefore near zero, the study projects, although some people would receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers in decades to come.

One person in every 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop a ''latent cancer'' as a result of radiation exposure, compared with one in 167 in previous estimates.

''Accidents progress more slowly, in some cases much more slowly, than previously assumed,'' Charles G. Tinkler, a senior adviser for research on severe accidents and one of the study's authors, said in an interview at a commission office building here. ''Releases are smaller, and in some cases much smaller, of certain key radioactive materials.''

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "N.R.C. Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown." The New York Times (Sat., July 30, 2011): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 29, 2011.)

(Note: I am not sure the whole article appeared on p. A14---only saw the online version.)

October 14, 2011

Larry Page's Wonderful Crusade to Save Us Time


Source of book image: http://www.kurzweilai.net/images/intheplex.jpg

On C-SPAN's book TV I saw the last part of an interesting and entertaining interview with Steven Levy that was originally recorded at the Computer History Museum on April 6, 2011. Levy is the author of of In the Plex which I have not read, but which is now on my to-read list.

At the end of the interview, Levy read a passage from his book about how Larry Page is obsessed with reducing latency, which is a technical term for how long we have to wait for something to happen on a computer.

Isn't it wonderful that Larry Page is on a crusade to save us from wasted time?

Book discussed above:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: "latency" appears on the following pages of Steven Levy's book: 93, 184, 185, 186, 187, 207, 262, and 398.)

October 13, 2011

Only John Snow Saw Flaw in Miasma Theory

(p. 362) The miasma theory had just one serious flaw: it was entirely without foundation. Unfortunately only one man saw this, and he couldn't get others to see it with him. His name was John Snow.


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

October 12, 2011

If Truman Had Not Used the Bomb, Hundreds of Thousands More American Soldiers Would Have Died


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

(p. A15) . . . , the author reminds us of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese who had died in the conventional bombings of places like Tokyo and Kyoto while Roosevelt was president, but with relatively little opprobrium attaching to FDR. Father Miscamble cites as well the horrific massacre of innocents for which the Japanese were responsible, a savagery still being unleashed in the summer of 1945, and the awful cost of battle in the Pacific, including 6,000 American dead and 20,000 wounded at Iwo Jima and 70,000 casualties suffered while capturing Okinawa. With these precedents, Herbert Hoover warned Truman that an invasion of the Japanese home islands could result in the loss of between half a million and a million American lives. Marshall, Leahy and Gen. Douglas MacArthur each had his own projected figures, none of them wildly different from Hoover's.

Under these circumstances, it was inconceivable that Truman would not have ordered the use of a potentially war-winning weapon the moment it could be deployed. It is impossible to imagine the depth of the public's fury if after the war Americans had discovered that their president, out of concern for his own conscience, had not used the weapons but instead condemned hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to certain death on the beaches and in the cities of mainland Japan.

For the full review, see:

ANNE JOLIS. "BOOKSHELF; In Defense Of 'Little Boy'; Herbert Hoover warned President Truman that invading Japan would cost at least half a million American lives." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 13, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Book reviewed:

Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan, Cambridge Essential Histories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

October 11, 2011

Confirmation Bias (aka "Pigheadedness") in Science

(p. 12) In a classic psychology experiment, people for and against the death penalty were asked to evaluate the different research designs of two studies of its deterrent effect on crime. One study showed that the death penalty was an effective deterrent; the other showed that it was not. Which of the two research designs the participants deemed the most scientifically valid depended mostly on whether the study supported their views on the death penalty.

In the laboratory, this is labeled confirmation bias; observed in the real world, it's known as pigheadedness.

Scientists are not immune. In another experiment, psychologists were asked to review a paper submitted for journal publication in their field. They rated the paper's methodology, data presentation and scientific contribution significantly more favorably when the paper happened to offer results consistent with their own theoretical stance. Identical research methods prompted a very different response in those whose scientific opinion was challenged.

For the full commentary, see:

CORDELIA FINE. "GRAY MATTER; Biased but Brilliant." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 31, 2011): 12.

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

October 10, 2011

In Greece "Entrepreneurial Activity Was Denigrated"


John Coustas. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A15) Athens

If you've ever wondered why so many Greeks succeed in shipping, John Coustas has a plausible theory: "Greek shipping has nothing to do with the Greek state."

His firm, Danaos Corporation, is a case in point. Mr. Coustas took over the company, which owns container ships, from his father in 1987 and has since transformed it from a three-vessel outfit into the third-largest company of its kind in the world, with a fleet of 56 ships. Danaos is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, a popular and stable jurisdiction for the global industry, and handles many of its operations through its German, Ukrainian, Russian and Tanzanian offices.

Nevertheless, Mr. Coustas is deeply concerned with the fate of his country. The government is now on the brink of default after passing its latest round of spending cuts and tax hikes. Yet the biggest risk to Greece, he says, is brain drain, that "all the good people, who really have something to offer, are either leaving or seriously considering it."

. . .

On top of misguided government spending, Mr. Coustas says entrepreneurial activity was denigrated for many years and profit was regarded as "wrong." "Anyone who wanted to make an investment here was considered a kind of bloodsucker."

For the full commentary, see:

ANNE JOLIS. "Greece: Where Profit Is Taboo; A shipping magnate on the fate of his country." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 13, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 9, 2011

The Stinking Past

(p. 356) The people who cleaned cesspits were known as nightsoil men, and if there has ever been a less enviable way to make a living I believe it has yet to be described. They worked in teams of three or four. One man - the most junior, we may assume - was lowered into the pit itself to scoop waste into buckets. A second stood by the pit to raise and lower the buckets, and the third and fourth carried the buckets to a waiting cart. Nightsoil work was dangerous as well as disagreeable. Workers ran the risk of asphyxiation and even of explosions since they worked by the light of a lantern in powerfully gaseous environments. The Gentleman's Magazine in 1753 related the case of one nightsoil man who went into a privy vault in a London tavern and was overcome almost at once by the foul air. 'He call'd out for help, and immediately fell down on his face,' one witness reported. A colleague who rushed to the man's aid was similarly overcome. Two more men went to the vault, but could not get in because of the foul air, though they did manage to open the door a little, releasing the worst (p. 357) of the gases. By the time rescuers were able to haul the two men out, one was dead and the other was beyond help.


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

October 8, 2011

Entrepreneur Jobs Was an Exemplar of Creative Destruction

The clip embedded above from the CNBC web site, was broadcast on CNBC on Weds., Oct. 5, 2011.

I watched several commentaries on Steve Jobs after his death was announced today (Weds., Oct. 5). I think the one above, from CNBC, was one of the best.

It highlights many important aspects of Jobs' life. That he came back from failure, that he brought us products we didn't know we needed until he showed us what they could do, that his products disrupted the status quo of whole industries, that at his death he owned more shares of Disney than anyone else. (Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were two of the greatest "project entrepreneurs" of all time.)

October 7, 2011

Another Nod to Planck's "Cynical View of Science"

The Max Planck view expressed in the quote below, has been called "Planck's Principle" and has been empirically tested in three papers cited at the end of the entry.

(p. 12) How's this for a cynical view of science? "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

Scientific truth, according to this view, is established less by the noble use of reason than by the stubborn exertion of will. One hopes that the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck, the author of the quotation above, was writing in an unusually dark moment.

And yet a large body of psychological data supports Planck's view: we humans quickly develop an irrational loyalty to our beliefs, and work hard to find evidence that supports those opinions and to discredit, discount or avoid information that does not.

For the full commentary, see:

CORDELIA FINE. "GRAY MATTER; Biased but Brilliant." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 31, 2011): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

Three of my papers that present evidence on Planck's Principle, are:

"Age and the Acceptance of Cliometrics." The Journal of Economic History 40, no. 4 (December 1980): 838-841.

"Planck's Principle: Do Younger Scientists Accept New Scientific Ideas with Greater Alacrity than Older Scientists?" Science 202 (November 17, 1978): 717-723 (with David L. Hull and Peter D. Tessner).

"The Polywater Episode and the Appraisal of Theories." In A. Donovan, L. Laudan and R. Laudan, eds., Scrutinizing Science: Empirical Studies of Scientific Change. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988, 181-198.

October 6, 2011

"Insanely Great" Entrepreneur Steve Jobs Wanted "a Chance to Change the World"

Steve Jobs died yesterday (Weds., October 5, 2011).

Jobs was an innovator of my favorite kind, what I call a "project entrepreneur." He showed us what excitement and progress is possible if we preserve the institutions that allow entrepreneurial capitalism to exist.

When he was recruiting John Sculley to leave Pepsi and join Apple, Jobs asked him: "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" (p. 90).

Steve Jobs wanted to change the world. He got the job done.

Source of quote of Jobs' question to Sculley:

Sculley, John, and John A. Byrne. Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple. paperback ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1988.

October 5, 2011

In Middle Ages "Nearly Everyone Itched Nearly All the Time"

(p. 346) . . . in the Middle Ages the spread of plague made people consider more closely their attitude to hygiene and what they might do to modify their own susceptibility to outbreaks. Unfortunately, people everywhere came to exactly the wrong conclusion. All the best minds agreed that bathing opened the epidermal pores and encouraged deathly vapours to invade the body. The best policy was to plug the pores with dirt. For the next six hundred years most people didn't wash, or even get wet, if they could help it - and in consequence they paid an uncomfortable price. Infections became part of everyday life. Boils grew commonplace. Rashes and blotches were routine. Nearly everyone itched nearly all the time. Discomfort was constant, serious illness accepted with resignation.


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 4, 2011

Neuroscientist Sees Entrepreneurs as "Never Satisfied" Due to "Attenuated Dopamine Function"


Source of book image: http://www.kurzweilai.net/images/The-Compass-of-Pleasure-Linden-David-J-9780670022588.jpg

David J. Linden is the author of The Compass of Pleasure and a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Professor of Neuroscience.

(p. 4) . . . , the psychological profile of a compelling leader -- think of tech pioneers like Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison and Steven P. Jobs -- is also that of the compulsive risk-taker, someone with a high degree of novelty-seeking behavior. In short, what we seek in leaders is often the same kind of personality type that is found in addicts, whether they are dependent on gambling, alcohol, sex or drugs.

How can this be? We typically see addicts as weak-willed losers, and chief executives and entrepreneurs are people with discipline and fortitude. To understand this apparent contradiction we need to look under the hood of the brain, and in particular at the functions that relate to pleasure and reward.

. . .

Crucially, genetic variants that suppress dopamine signaling in the pleasure circuit substantially increase pleasure- and novelty-seeking behaviors -- their bearers must seek high levels of stimulation to reach the same level of pleasure that others can achieve with more moderate indulgence. Those blunted dopamine receptor variants are associated with substantially increased risk of addiction to a range of substances and behaviors.

. . .

The risk-taking, novelty-seeking and obsessive personality traits often found in addicts can be harnessed to make them very effective in the workplace. For many leaders, it's not the case that they succeed in spite of their addiction; rather, the same brain wiring and chemistry that make them addicts also confer on them behavioral traits that serve them well.

So, when searching for your organization's next leader, look for someone with an attenuated dopamine function: someone who is never satisfied with the status quo, someone who wants the feeling of success more than others -- but likes it less.

For the full commentary, see:

DAVID J. LINDEN. "Addictive Personality? You Might be a Leader." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 24, 2011): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated July 23, 2011.)

The book mentioned above is:

Linden, David J. The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.

October 3, 2011

"Coolidge Helped Americans Prosper by Letting Them Be Free"

(p. A15) Ronald Reagan, who grew up during the Coolidge presidency, admired "Silent Cal," even going so far as to read a biography of the 30th president as he recovered from a surgery in 1985 and to praise him in letters to his constituents. To Reagan, Coolidge wasn't silent, but was silenced by New Deal supporters, whose intellectual heirs control much of Washington today.

. . .

Unlike President Obama, President Coolidge didn't want to "spread the wealth around," but to grow it. He didn't call for "shared sacrifice"--Americans had sacrificed enough during the great war--but for good character.

There "is no surer road to destruction than prosperity without character," he said in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 1921. And from the White House lawn in 1924 he said, "I want the people of America to be able to work less for the Government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom."

. . .

As Coolidge saw things in 1924, "A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude." Coolidge helped Americans prosper by letting them be free.

For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES C. JOHNSON. "How Silent Cal Beat a Recession; The late president inherited a bad economy, and he cut taxes and slashed spending to spur growth." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 4, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

October 2, 2011

Kiewit Corporation Earned Bonus from Los Angeles for Avoiding "Carmageddon"


"Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, at left of group, and other officials celebrate the demolition of two lanes of the Mulholland Drive bridge over Interstate 405 ahead of schedule last weekend. The event that many feared would result in epic traffic jams ended early and calmly." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6A) They paid Kiewit to build the Mulholland Bridge.

Now they're paying Kiewit to tear it down.

And they'll pay Kiewit to build it again.

It's all part of the billion-dol­lar Interstate 405 improvement project in Los Angeles, which caught national attention last weekend when the busy freeway shut down for 36 hours so work­ers could remove the first chunk of the bridge that spans the Sepulveda Pass.

Omaha-based Kiewit Corp.'s Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. is the main contractor for the project.

Traffic officials in Southern California, who had predicted "Carmageddon" and warned motorists to stay away, were relieved when the closure of one of the nation's busiest freeways -- the stretch is traveled by an estimated 500,000 vehicles on a typical weekend -- ended on 11:30 a.m. Sunday instead of 5 a.m. Monday as originally planned.

Kiewit reportedly got a (p. 7A) $300,000 bonus for beating the deadline.

For the full story, see:

STEVE JORDON. "KIEWIT WORK ON 'CARMAGEDDON' BRIDGE; IT'S UP, DOWN AND UP." Omaha World-Herald (Sat., July 23, 2011): 6A-7A.

October 1, 2011

Americans Resented Being Kept as a Captive Market

(p. 300) This suppression of free trade greatly angered the Scottish economist Adam Smith (whose Wealth of Nations, not coincidentally, came out the same year that America declared its independence) but not nearly as much as it did the Americans, who naturally resented the idea of being kept eternally as a captive market. It would be overstating matters to suggest that the exasperations of commerce were the cause of the American revolution, but they were certainly a powerful component.


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


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