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December 31, 2011

Federal Subsidies Create Few Green Jobs

(p. F2) . . . solar power, which makes extensive use of robots in fabricating the cells, and has no moving parts to service once it is up and running, may be an odd choice for job creation.

"It's just not that labor-intensive," said Howard Axelrod, an engineer and economist. And as for the jobs it creates, there may be a price elsewhere, Dr. Axelrod said.

. . .

Build enough solar plants and some coal plants will shut down; that would amount to firing Peter to hire Paul.

. . .

And, economists point out, some of the work that renewable energy creates goes to people who already have jobs -- roofers who install the panels or truck drivers who move them around, or steel workers who make towers for new wind machines.

Some of the jobs could eventually go elsewhere. Two years ago, Evergreen Solar, which got $58 million in aid from Massachusetts for a factory in Devens, said it would shift production to China instead.

. . .

The debate is part of a larger discussion of what constitutes a "green" job. In October 2009, Congress gave the Bureau of Labor Statistics a special appropriation to count them.

. . .

"Driving a bus is driving a bus, right?" said Connie Mack, Republican of Florida. Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor, said they were "green buses." But aides later clarified that the bureau counted any bus driving job as green because it preserved natural resources.

None of this suggests that green is bad, just that it is not particularly job-heavy. In December 2010, Susan Combs, the comptroller of Texas, reported that school districts in her state were giving tax abatements to lure new jobs, but had to give $1.6 million for every wind energy job. Manufacturing jobs could be created for $166,000 each.

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Solar Power Industry Falls Short of Hopes in Job Creation." The New York Times (Weds., October 26, 2011): F2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 25, 2011.)

December 30, 2011

More Firms Adopt 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) Policies to Empower Workers and Cut Costs

CitrixSystemsWorkersPickOwnLaptops2011-11-10.jpg"At Citrix Systems, Berkley Reynolds, left, uses his Alienware laptop, and Alan Meridian, his MacBook Pro, paid for with stipends." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Throughout the information age, the corporate I.T. department has stood at the chokepoint of office technology with a firm hand on what equipment and software employees use in the workplace.

They are now in retreat. Employees are bringing in the technology they use at home and demanding the I.T. department accommodate them. The I.T. department often complies.

Some companies have even surrendered to what is being called the consumerization of I.T. At Kraft Foods, the I.T. department's involvement in choosing technology for employees is limited to handing out a stipend. Employees use the money to buy whatever laptop they want from Best Buy, Amazon.com or the local Apple store.

"We heard from people saying, 'How come I have better equipment at home?' " said Mike Cunningham, chief technology officer for Kraft Foods. "We said, hey, we can address that."

Encouraging employees to buy their own laptops, or bring their mobile phones and iPads from home, is gaining traction in the workplace. A survey published on Thursday by Forrester Research found that 48 percent of information workers buy smartphones for work without considering what their I.T. department supports. By being more flexible, companies are hoping that workers will be more comfortable with their devices and therefore more productive.

"Bring your own device" policies, as they are called, are also shifting the balance of power among electronics makers. Manufacturers good at selling to consumers are increasingly gaining the upper hand, while those focused on bulk corporate sales are slipping.

. . .

(p. B6) Letting workers bring their iPhones and iPads to work can . . . save companies money. In some cases, employees pay for equipment themselves and seek tech help from store staff rather than their company's I.T. department. "You can basically outsource your I.T. department to Apple," said Ben Reitzes, an analyst with Barclays Capital.

A similar B.Y.O.D. program at Citrix Systems, a software maker that also helps its clients implement such programs, saves the company about 20 percent on each laptop over three years. Of the 1,000 or so employees in Citrix's program, 46 percent have bought Mac computers, according to Paul Martine, Citrix's chief information officer. "That was a little bit of a surprise."

For the full story, see:

VERNE G. KOPYTOFF. "More Offices Let Workers Choose Their Own Devices." The New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2011): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 22, 2011.)

December 29, 2011

The Case Against Fluoridating Public Water Supplies

(p. A18) Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida's west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.

Eleven small cities or towns have opted out of fluoridating their water this year, including Fairbanks, Alaska, which acted after much deliberation and a comprehensive evaluation by a panel of scientists, doctors and dentists. The panel concluded that in Fairbanks, which has relatively high concentrations of naturally occurring fluoride, the extra dose no longer provided the help it once did and may, in fact, be harmful.

. . .

The movement to stop fluoridating water has gained traction, in large part, because the government has recently cautioned the public about excessive fluoride. A report released late last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked fluoride to an increase among children in dental fluorosis, which causes white or yellow spots on teeth. About 40 percent of children ages 12 to 15 had dental fluorosis, mostly very mild or mild cases, from 1999 to 2004. That percentage was 22.6 in a 1986-87 study.

Fluorosis is mostly a cosmetic problem that can sometimes be bleached away. But critics argue that spotted teeth are a warning that other bones in the body may be absorbing too much fluoride. Excessive fluoride can lead to increases in bone fractures in adults as well as pain and tenderness.

"Teeth are the window to the bones," said Paul Connett, a retired professor of environmental chemistry and the director of the Fluoride Action Network, which advocates an end to fluoridated water.

Experts say that one possible factor in this increase may be that fluoridated water is consumed in vegetables and fruit, and juice and other beverages as well as tap water. And the consumption of beverages continues to increase.

. . .

The conclusion among these communities is that with fluoride now so widely available in toothpaste and mouthwash, there is less need to add it to water, which already has naturally occurring fluoride. Putting it in tap water, they say, is an imprecise way of distributing fluoride; how much fluoride a person gets depends on body weight and water consumed.

Doctors, scientists and dentists, including Dr. Bailey of the Public Health Service, mostly agree that fluoride works best when applied topically, directly to the teeth, as happens with brushing.

"The fact that no one really knows what dosage a given person receives from fluoridated water makes the subject of benefits and harms very difficult to quantify," said Rainer Newberry, a professor of geochemistry at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who sat on the committee that studied the issue prior to the June vote in Fairbanks. "And this presumably explains the number of studies with diverging conclusions."

For the full story, see:

LIZETTE ALVAREZ. "Looking to Save Money, More Places Decide to Stop Fluoridating the Water." The New York Times (Fri., October 14, 2011): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 13, 2011.)

December 28, 2011

Collins Says Successful CEOs Are Empirical and Disciplined


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

(p. A15) 'Great by Choice" is a sequel to Jim Collins's best-selling "Good to Great" (2001), which identified seven characteristics that enabled companies to become truly great over an extended period of time. Never mind that one of the 11 featured companies is now bankrupt (Circuit City) and another is in government receivership (Fannie Mae). Mr. Collins has a knack for analysis that business readers find compelling.

Mr. Collins's new book tackles the question of how to steer a company to lasting success in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty and even chaos. Like his previous work, this book builds its conclusions on a framework of painstaking research, conducted over nine years and overseen by Mr. Collins and his co-author, Morten T. Hansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

. . .

Messrs. Collins and Hansen draw some interesting and counterintuitive conclusions from their research. First, the successful leaders were not the most "visionary" or the biggest risk-takers; instead, they tended to be more empirical and disciplined, relying on evidence over gut instinct and preferring consistent gains to blow-out winners. The successful companies were not more innovative than the control companies; indeed, they were in some cases less innovative. Rather, they managed to "scale innovation"--introducing changes gradually, then moving quickly to capitalize on those that showed promise. The successful companies weren't necessarily the most likely to adopt internal changes as a response to a changing environment. "The 10X companies changed less in reaction to their changing world than the comparison cases," the authors conclude.

. . .

If "Great by Choice" shares the qualities that made "Good to Great" so popular, it also shares some that drew criticism. The authors' conclusions sometimes feel like the claims of a well-written horoscope--so broadly stated that they are hard to disprove. Their 10X leaders are both "disciplined" and "creative," "prudent" and "bold"; they go fast when they must but slow when they can; they are consistent but open to change. This encompassing approach allows the authors to fit pretty much any leader who achieves 10X performance into their analysis. Would it ever be possible, one wonders, to find a leader whose success contradicted their thesis?

For the full review, see:

ALAN MURRAY. "BOOKSHELF; Turbulent Times, Steady Success; How certain companies achieved shareholder returns at least 10 times greater than their industry." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 11, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

December 27, 2011

Companies Can Grow to Greatness in Brutally Turbulent Environments

(p. 118) All that said, there remains a question: what about "the perennial gale of creative destruction" as described by the famous twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter, wherein technological change and visionary entrepreneurs upend and destroy the old order and create a new order, only to see their new order destroyed and replaced by an even newer order, in an endless cycle of chaos and upheaval? Perhaps all social institutions in our modern world face disruptive forces so fast, big, and unpredictable that every entity will fall within years or decades, without exception. Can we still stave off decline in the face of severe turbulence?

While working on How the Mighty Fall, my colleague Morten Hansen and I have been simultaneously working on a six-year research project to study companies that grew from vulnerability to greatness in severe environments characterized by rapid and unpredictable change in contrast to others that did not prevail in the same brutally turbulent environments.


Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

(Note: italics in original.)

December 26, 2011

Bright Prospects for Longer Life


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

(p. A13) "We are at the cusp of a revolution in medicine and biotechnology," Ms. Arrison announces, "that will radically increase not just our life spans but also, and more importantly, our health spans."

. . .

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.

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.)

The book under review is:

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.

December 25, 2011

Fantasizing about Achieving Goals Has Opportunity Cost in Terms of Energy to Actually Achieve Goals

(p. C4) Fantasizing about achieving goals can make people less likely to achieve them, by sapping the energy required to do the necessary work, a study finds.

. . .

The researchers concluded: "Positive fantasies will sap job-seekers of the energy to pound the pavement, and drain the lovelorn of the energy to approach the one they like."

For the full story, see:

Christopher Shea. "Week in Ideas; Psychology; Lost in Fantasy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 4, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The article summarized is:

Kappes, Heather Barry, and Gabriele Oettingen. "Positive Fantasies About Idealized Futures Sap Energy." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47 (2011): 719-29.

December 24, 2011

Innovation Not Highly Correlated with R&D Spending


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

(p. B9) Many companies say innovation is a top priority, but even those who spend the most on research and development can have little to show for it, a new study says.

A report expected to be released Monday by consulting firm Booz & Co., says that few of the biggest R&D spenders crack the top 10 in terms of being considered "innovative" by their peers.

Booz identified 1,000 companies with the biggest 2010 research-and-development budgets and invited 600 executives from those companies to rate which ones they deemed most innovative. The most frequent pick was Apple Inc.--the 70th biggest research-and-development spender--followed by Google Inc. and 3M Co., also not among the top-20 spenders.

For the full story, see:

MELISSA KORN. "Top 'Innovators' Rank Low in R&D Spending." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 24, 2011): B9.

December 23, 2011

When a Graph Is a Matter of Life and Death

(p. 72) In her authoritative book The Challenger Launch Decision, sociologist Diane Vaughan demolishes the myth that NASA managers ignored unassailable data and launched a mission absolutely known to be unsafe. In fact, the conversations on the evening before launch reflected the confusion and shifting views of the participants. At one point, a NASA manager blurted, "My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?" But at another point on the same evening, NASA managers expressed reservations about the launch; a lead NASA engineer pleaded with his people not to let him make a mistake and stated, "I will not agree to launch against the contractor's recommendation." The deliberations lasted for nearly three hours. If the data had been clear, would they have needed a three-hour discussion? Data analyst extraordinaire Edward Tufte shows in his book Visual Explanations that if the engineers had plotted the data points in a compelling graphic, they might have seen a clear trend line: every launch below 66 degrees showed evidence of (p. 73) O-ring damage. But no one laid out the data in a clear and convincing visual manner, and the trend toward increased danger in colder temperatures remained obscured throughout the late-night teleconference debate. Summing up, the O-Ring Task Force chair noted, "We just didn't have enough conclusive data to convince anyone."


Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

(Note: italics in original.)

December 22, 2011

Feds Increase Seizure of Property from Those Who Have Not Been Convicted of a Crime

CaswellMotelOwner2011-11-10.jpg"Mr. Caswell, here in the motel's lobby, is not accused of any wrongdoing but stands to lose his business under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to crimes." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) TEWKSBURY, Mass.--The $57-a-night Motel Caswell, magnet for hard-luck cases, police patrol cars and the occasional drug deal, is the unlikely prize in a high-stakes tug-of-war between conservative legal activists and the government.

The motel's owner, spurred by a recent Supreme Court decision, is trying to convince a federal court that the Constitution bars the U.S. Department of Justice from seizing his property, where guests have been found guilty of drug offenses. The owner, Russell Caswell, isn't accused of any wrongdoing. But he stands to lose his business nonetheless under a law that calls for the forfeiture of properties linked to

Mr. Caswell's federal court case challenges the U.S. government's ballooning asset-forfeiture system that in more than 15,000 cases last year confiscated cash, cars, boats and real estate valued at $2.5 billion. While many asset forfeitures are tied to convictions, the federal government can seize properties stained by crime even if owners face no charges.

"People shouldn't lose their property if they haven't been convicted of any crime," said Scott Bullock, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Arlington, Va., that has joined in the motel's defense. "Mr. Caswell hasn't even been accused."

(p. A14) Civil rights groups, libertarians and attorneys defending against seizures say the government is overstepping its bounds in a practice that has swelled in the past decade to encompass some 400 federal statutes, covering crimes from drug trafficking to racketeering to halibut poaching.

For the full story, see:

JOHN R. EMSHWILLER, GARY FIELDS and JENNIFER LEVITZ. "Motel Is Latest Stopover in Federal Forfeiture Battle." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 18, 2011): A1 & A14.

December 21, 2011

Lazear's Popcorn Theory of Economic Destruction

(p. A15) . . . , consider two theories of economic destruction, which can be labeled the domino theory and the popcorn theory. Everyone knows the domino theory; it is the analogy that is commonly used to denote contagion. If one domino falls, it will topple the others, and conversely, if the first domino remains upright, the others will not fall. It is this logic that underlies most bailout strategies.

The popcorn theory emphasizes a different mechanism. When popcorn is made (the old fashioned way), oil and corn kernels are placed in the bottom of a pan, heat is applied and the kernels pop. Were the first kernel to pop removed from the pan, there would be no noticeable difference. The other kernels would pop anyway because of the heat. The fundamental structural cause is the heat, not the fact that one kernel popped, triggering others to follow.

Many who believe that bailouts will solve Europe's problems cite the Sept. 15, 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers as evidence of what allowing one domino to fall can do to an economy. This is a misreading of the historical record. Our financial crisis was mostly a popcorn phenomenon.

. . .

But our financial crisis was caused by factors that affected the entire system, just as all corn kernels pop when they are warmed by the same flame. This lesson is important because interpreting our crisis as primarily a contagion event leads to the wrong strategies for dealing with potential disasters. After Lehman, Europeans seem to be so taken with worries of contagion that they are failing to emphasize remedies that actually have a chance of making things better. In their case, and in ours, the solution is primarily a reduction in the bloated size of government expenditures that come about by making promises that cannot be kept.

For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "OPINION; The Euro Crisis: Doubting the 'Domino' Effect; Preventing a Greek default will not reverse the lackluster growth that has plagued the other vulnerable countries for many years now." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 31, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

December 20, 2011

A&P Sold Consumers Better and Lower-Priced Food


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

(p. A15) Mr. Levinson's history centers on the two Hartford sons who followed their father into the business. They would spend their entire working lives at the company being known simply as "Mr. George" and "Mr. John." Thoughtful and studious, Mr. George's idea of excitement was a good jigsaw puzzle; Mr. John, somewhat more outgoing, liked the horses but also a daily lunch of milk and crackers. Together the brothers, neither of whom had finished high school, built what would be, for 40 years, the largest retail outlet in the world.

The brothers' business philosophy was simple, writes Mr. Levinson: "If the company keeps its costs down and prices low, more shoppers would come through its doors, producing more profits than if it kept prices high." The more stores they could open, the greater the take.

But the Hartfords had a public-relations problem. Since the nation's earliest days, small family stores had served as community anchors. There were thousands across the country. Mom and pop knew every customer who came through their door; they extended credit to families down on their luck. If low-priced chains drove out such stores, what would happen to small-town America?

In fact, many mom-and-pop operations were inefficiently and incompetently run. A&P might be coldly corporate by comparison, but it offered consumers far more variety and fresher, better-quality goods at less cost to the family budget.

For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; How a Grocer Bagged Profits; At its peak, the chain had nearly 16,000 stores. Critics charged it with competing unfairly by offering too-low prices." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., AUGUST 29, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.

December 19, 2011

Entrepreneur Sam Walton Sought to Learn from Others

(p. 40) So where is Ames at the time of this writing, in 2008?

Dead. Gone. Never to be heard from again. Wal-Mart is alive and well, #1 on the Fortune 500 with $379 billion in annual revenues.

What happened? What distinguished Wal-Mart from Ames?

A big part of the answer lies in Walton's deep humility and learning orientation. In the late 1980s, a group of Brazilian investors bought a discount retail chain in South America. After purchasing the company, they figured they'd better learn more about discount retailing, so they sent off letters to about ten CEOs of American retailing companies, asking for a meeting to learn about how to run the new company better. All the (p. 41) CEOs either declined or neglected to respond, except one: Sam Walton.

When the Brazilians deplaned at Bentonville, Arkansas, a kindly, white-haired gentleman approached them, inquiring, "Can I help you?"

"Yes, we're looking for Sam Walton."

"That's me," said the man. He led them to his pickup truck, and the Brazilians piled in alongside Sam's dog, Ol' Roy.

Over the next few days, Walton barraged the Brazilians with question after question about their country, retailing in Latin America, and so on, often while standing at the kitchen sink washing and drying dishes after dinner. Finally, the Brazilians realized, Walton-the founder of what may well become the world's first trillion-dollar-per-year corporation-sought first
and foremost to learn from them, not the other way around.


Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

December 18, 2011

When Christopher Hitchens Will Visit Nebraska


"Christopher Hitchens, after being released from the Texas hospital where he was treated for esophageal cancer." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

A few times I have had the pleasure of seeing Christopher Hitchens interviewed. His wit is always wonderful and he skewers much that deserves skewering. I admire his perseverance at being productive, even as he battles a difficult cancer. And I admire him for sticking to his reasoned principles, even when it might be easier to accept Pascal's Wager.

I have enjoyed the few reviews by Hitchens that I have read. I have purchased, but not yet read, two of his books---when I have read, I will write.

ADDENDUM: I wrote the above words back on November 10th, scheduled to run today. Yesterday I saw in the paper that Hitchens died on Thursday, December 15, 2011.

(p. C1) HOUSTON -- Christopher Hitchens, probably the country's most famous unbeliever, received the Freethinker of the Year Award at the annual convention of the Atheist Alliance of America here on Saturday. Mr. Hitchens was flattered by the honor, he said a few days beforehand, but also a little abashed. "I think being an atheist is something you are, not something you do," he explained, adding: "I'm not sure we need to be honored. We don't need positive reinforcement. On the other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don't believe in Jesus Christ you can't run for sheriff."

Mr. Hitchens, a prolific essayist and the author of "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," discovered in June 2010 that he had Stage 4 esophageal cancer.

. . .

(p. C5) On balance, he reflected, the past year has been a pretty good one. He won a National Magazine Award, published "Arguably," debated Tony Blair in front of a huge audience and added two states to the list of those he has visited. "I lack only the Dakotas and Nebraska," he said, "though I may not get there unless someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha."

For the full story, see:

CHARLES McGRATH. "A Voice, Still Vibrant, Reflects on Mortality." The New York Times (Mon., October 10, 2011): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

December 17, 2011

Haltiwanger Paper Says New Firms Create More Jobs than Old Firms

(p. A2) A recent study called into question whether size should matter at all when comparing businesses and their contribution to job creation.

The paper--co-authored by University of Maryland economist John Haltiwanger and two Census Bureau economists--confirmed that small businesses create more net new jobs, per employee, than do bigger businesses.

But the effect vanishes once each company's age is taken into account. It is young businesses that outperform old ones, according to the paper. Size isn't the important factor.

If you control for age, "you wipe out that effect" of small businesses creating a disproportionate share of net new jobs, says Prof. Haltiwanger. "There's no systematic relationship. If anything it goes the opposite way of conventional wisdom."

For the full commentary, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Sizing Up the Small-Business Jobs Machine." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 15, 2011): A2.

The Haltiwanger paper referred to in the passage above is:

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

December 16, 2011

Evidence "of Complex Human Cognition" 100,000 Years Ago

ShellPaintHundredThousandYearOld2011-12-10.jpg "Deposits of 100,000-year-old ocher were found in a shell alongside tools for pounding and grinding paint materials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A12) Digging deeper in a South African cave that had already yielded surprises from the Middle Stone Age, archaeologists have uncovered a 100,000-year-old workshop holding the tools and ingredients with which early modern humans apparently mixed some of the first known paint.

These cave artisans had stones for pounding and grinding colorful dirt enriched with a kind of iron oxide to a powder, known as ocher. This was blended with the binding fat of mammal-bone marrow and a dash of charcoal. Traces of ocher were left on the tools, and samples of the reddish compound were collected in large abalone shells, where the paint was liquefied, stirred and scooped out with a bone spatula.

Archaeologists said that in the workshop remains they were seeing the earliest example yet of how emergent Homo sapiens processed ocher, one of the species' first pigments in wide use, its red color apparently rich in symbolic significance. The early humans may have applied the concoction to their skin for protection or simply decoration, experts suggested. Perhaps it was their way of making social and artistic statements on their bodies or their artifacts.

Of special importance to the scientists who made the discovery, the ocher workshop showed that early humans, whose anatomy was modern, had also begun thinking like us. In a report published online on Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers called this evidence of early conceptual abilities "a benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition."

The discovery dials back the date when the modern Homo sapiens population was known to have started using paint. Previously, no workshop older than 60,000 years had come to light, and the earliest cave and rock art began appearing about 40,000 years ago. The exuberant flowering among the Cro-Magnon artists in the caves of Europe would come even later; the parade of animals on the walls of Lascaux in France, for example, was executed 17,000 years ago.

. . .

Alison S. Brooks, an archaeologist at George Washington University who studies the Middle Stone Age in Africa but was not involved in this research, said, "This is another spectacular discovery from Blombos."

For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. "In African Cave, Ancient Paint Factory Pushes Human Symbolic Thought 'Far Back'." The New York Times (Fri., October 14, 2011): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 13, 2011 and the title "In African Cave, Signs of an Ancient Paint Factory.")

December 15, 2011

How Entrepreneurship Rebuilt San Francisco After the Fire

(p. 5) At 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, Amadeo Peter Giannini felt an odd sensation, then a violent one, a slight, almost imperceptible shift in his surroundings coupled with a distant rumble like faraway thunder or a train! Pause. One second. Two seconds. Then-bang!-his house in San Mateo, California, began to pitch and shake, to, fro, up, and down. Seventeen miles north in (p. 6) San Francisco, the ground liquefied underneath hundreds of buildings, while heaving spasms under more solid ground catapulted stones and facades into the streets. Walls collapsed. Gas mains exploded. Fires erupted.

Determined to find out what had happened to his fledgling company, the Bank of Italy, Giannini endured a six-hour odyssey, navigating his way into the city by train and then by foot while people streamed in the opposite direction, fleeing the conflagration. Fires swept toward his offices, and Giannini had to rescue all the imperiled cash sitting in the bank. But criminals roamed through the rubble, prompting the mayor to issue a terse proclamation: "Officers have been authorized by me to KILL any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime." With the help of two employees, Giannini hid the cash under crates of oranges on two commandeered produce wagons and made a nighttime journey back to San Mateo, where he hid the money in his fireplace. Giannini returned to San Francisco the next morning and found himself at odds with other bankers who wanted to impose up to a six-month moratorium on lending. His response: putting a plank across two barrels right in the middle of a busy pier and opening for business the very next day. "We are going to rebuild San Francisco," he proclaimed.

Giannini lent to the little guy when the little guy needed it most. In return, the little guy made deposits at Giannini's bank. As San Francisco moved from chaos to order, from order to growth, from growth to prosperity, Giannini lent more to the little guy, and the little guy banked even more with Giannini. The bank gained momentum, little guy by little guy, loan by loan, deposit by deposit, branch by branch, across California, (p. 7) renaming itself Bank of America along the way. In October 1945, it became the largest commercial bank in the world, overtaking the venerable Chase National Bank. (Note of clarification: in 1998, NationsBank acquired Bank of America and took the name; the Bank of America described here is a different company than NationsBank.)


Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

December 14, 2011

Entrepreneur Julius Blank's Greatest Pleasure Came from "Building Something from Nothing"

FairchildSemiconductorFoundersIn1988.jpg"Fairchild Semiconductor's founders in 1988. Victor Grinich (left), Jay Last, Jean Hoerni, Julius Blank, Eugene Kleiner, Sheldon Roberts, Robert N. Noyce (seated, left,) and Gordon E. Moore." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. B14) Julius Blank, a mechanical engineer who helped start a computer chip company in the 1950s that became a prototype for high-tech start-ups and a training ground for a generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, died on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.. He was 86.

. . .

Mr. Blank and his partners -- who included Robert N. Noyce and Gordon E. Moore, the future founders of the Intel Corporation -- began their venture as scientist-entrepreneurs in the wake of a mutiny of sorts against their common previous employer, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist William B. Shockley.

Dr. Shockley, . . . , had recruited the eight scientists from around the country in 1956 to work in his own semiconductor lab in nearby Mountain View, Calif.

The group left en masse the next year because of what its members described as Dr. Shockley's authoritarian management style and their differences with him over his scientific approach. Dr. Shockley called it a betrayal.

Fairchild's founders came to be branded in the lore of Silicon Valley as the "Traitorous Eight." How that happened remains something of a mystery.

. . .

When he left Fairchild in 1969 -- he was the last of the eight founding partners to depart -- Mr. Blank became an investor and consultant to start-up companies and helped found the technology firm Xicor, which was sold in 2004 for $529 million to Intersil.

His former partners, in addition to founding Intel, had started Advanced Micro Devices and National Semiconductor. Mr. Kleiner had founded a venture capital firm that became an early investor in hundreds of technology companies, including Amazon.com, Google and AOL. Still, the greatest pleasure of his working life, Mr. Blank said in a 2008 interview for the archives of the Computer History Museum, a project in Silicon Valley, came with the uncertainty and camaraderie of "the early years, building something from nothing."

Mr. Blank described a moment in the first days of Fairchild, just before production began in its factory built from nothing, when the ducts and plumbing and air-conditioning were set, and the new crystal growers and one-of-a-kind chip making machines were ready to be installed.

"I remember the day we finally got the floor tile laid," he said. "And that night, Noyce and the rest of the guys came out and got barefoot and rolled their pants up and were swabbing the floors. I wish I had a picture of that."

For the full obituary, see:

PAUL VITELLO. "Julius Blank, 86, Dies; Built First Chip Maker." The New York Times (Fri., September 23, 2011): B14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated September 22, 2011 and had the title "Julius Blank, Who Built First Chip Maker, Dies at 86.")


May 2011 photo of Julius Blank. Source of photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited above.

December 13, 2011

Steve Jobs on Public School System Monopoly

(p. A15) These days everyone is for education reform. The question is which approach is best. I favor the Steve Jobs model.

In 1984 Steve introduced the Mac with a Super Bowl ad. It ran only once. It ran for only one minute. And it shows a female athlete being chased by the helmeted police of some totalitarian regime.

At the climax, the woman rushes up to a large screen where Big Brother is giving a speech. Just as he announces, "We shall prevail," she hurls her hammer through the screen.

If you ask me what we need to do in education, I would point you to that ad.

. . .

Steve Jobs knew all about competitive markets. He once likened our school system to the old phone monopoly. "I remember," he said in a 1995 interview, "seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell Logo on it and it said 'We don't care. We don't have to.' And that's what a monopoly is. That's what IBM was in their day. And that's certainly what the public school system is. They don't have to care."

We have to care. In this new century, good is not good enough. Put simply, we must approach education the way Steve Jobs approached every industry he touched. To be willing to blow up what doesn't work or gets in the way. And to make our bet that if we can engage a child's imagination, there's no limit to what he or she can learn.

For the full commentary, see:

RUPERT MURDOCH. "OPINION; The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform; If we can engage a child's imagination, there's no limit to what he or she can learn.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 15, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

December 12, 2011

Creativity Continues at Disney

GirolamiCrumpNikolailittleMermaidRide2011-11-10.jpg"'We're kind of like an old married couple,' said Imagineer Chris Crump, center, of his longtime colleague Larry Nikolai, right. Lisa Girolami, the ride's producer, is left. It took nearly four years to conceive and build 'Ariel's Undersea Adventure,' which opened at Disney California Adventure Park last week. The trio spearheaded a group of over 100 designers, architects, lighting experts and other specialists." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C11) It took nearly four years to conceive and build a theme-park ride that put visitors inside the world of "The Little Mermaid," including several musical numbers, a few key narrative moments and 184 figures from Disney's animated hit.

And that followed the 18 years it took to settle on an approach to the ride, which was on the entertainment giant's to-do list almost from the day the film was released in 1989. The ride finally opened last week at Disney California Adventure, Disneyland's younger neighbor, and takes visitors through a condensed version of the movie's narrative, cramming nine scenes and four songs into 5½ minutes.

. . .

They start by thinking big: Ms. Girolami described their brainstorming sessions as "an iterative process"--first deciding what parts of the movie to retell, then returning to the drawing table as the decision-making focuses to smaller and smaller details.

Then, helped by "rapid prototyping," a technology that allows them to generate physical models directly from computer-design files, the group tests and retests their models.

. . .

The Imagineers pride themselves on their never-say-die spirit. "We commit to things creatively that haven't been done," Ms. Girolami said. "Someone will say, 'That's never been done before,' and it's our job to say, 'Great--let's do it.' "

For the full story, see:

Ethan Smith. "CREATING; Taking the Little Mermaid for a Spin." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JUNE 4, 2011): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

December 11, 2011

Jobs, Hope and Cash

(p. A15) 'Ten years ago, Steve Jobs was alive, Bob Hope was alive, Johnny Cash was alive. Now we're outta jobs, outta hope and outta cash." I heard that from a TSA agent in New York the other day, as he eyed me for explosives. We laughed, but there was a poignant edge.

Part of the outpouring over Steve Jobs last week was that he was a huge symbol of what seems a lost world of American dynamism. The inventor in his garage changes the world. We'll not only make the new machine powerful and fast, we'll make it so beautiful it will make you cry. Like you're looking at the future, like you're looking at a baby in its crib.

For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "DECLARATIONS; This Is No Time for Moderation; America can't trim and tweak its way back to economic dynamism." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., OCTOBER 15, 2011): A15.

December 10, 2011

Collins' "How the Mighty Fall" Is Useful Business Book


Source of book image: http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/9/9780977326419.jpg

Jim Collins' business books are usually sensible, and are full of arresting examples and memorable hypotheses. His latest full-scale research effort (Great by Choice) is just out, but I have not yet read it. In the next few weeks, I will quote a few of the more thought-provoking or useful passages in his 2009 small book How the Mighty Fall.

Book discussed:

Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2009.

December 9, 2011

Science Not Accurate at Predicting Storm Intensity

(p. D1) For scientists who specialize in hurricanes, Irene, which roared up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend, has shone an uncomfortable light on their profession. They acknowledge that while they have become adept at gauging the track a hurricane will take, their predictions of a storm's intensity leave much to be desired.

Officials with NOAA's National Hurricane Center had accurately forecast that Irene would hit North Carolina, and then churn up the mid-Atlantic coast into New York. But they thought the storm would be more powerful, its winds increasing in intensity after it passed through the Bahamas on Thursday.

Instead, the storm lost strength. By the time it made landfall in North Carolina two days later, its winds were about 10 percent lighter than predicted.

It's not a new problem. "With intensity, we just haven't moved off square zero," Dr. Marks said. Forecasting a storm's strength requires knowing the fine details of its structure -- the internal organization and movement that can affect whether it gains energy or loses it -- and then plugging those details into an accurate computer model.

Scientists have struggled to do that. They often overestimate strength, which can lead to griping about overpreparedness, as it has with Irene. But they have sometimes underestimated a storm's power, too, as with (p. D3) Hurricane Charley in 2004. And it is far worse to be underprepared for a major storm.

For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Intensity of Hurricanes Still Bedevils Scientists." The New York Times (Tues., August 30, 2011): D1 & D3.

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

December 8, 2011

Berkeley Environmentalist Sticks to Her Knitting

StofleShelbyGathersWool2011-11-10.jpg "Avid knitter Shelby Stofle, gathering wool from sheep in Vacaville Calif., hopes to set up a business making scarves and selling them at craft fairs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) Shelby Stofle graduated in December from the University of California at Berkeley with $10,250 in student-loan debt--and no job offers from a dozen applications.

The 24-year-old had hoped to work in environmental conservation or sustainable agriculture but struck out even at a grocery store near her rural hometown of Suisun City, Calif.

. . .

With many employment options exhausted, she said she feels her best shot is to set up her own business, selling her hand-made scarves at craft fairs and farmers' markets.

For the full story, see:

VAUHINI VARA. "As Jobs Vanish, Sticking to Knitting." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 31, 2011): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

December 7, 2011

Some Traits (Including Some Diseases) Depend on Many Genes Rather than a Single Gene

(p. D3) A new exploration of how evolution works at the genomic level may have a significant impact on drug development and other areas of medicine.

The report, published in Nature last week, offers new evidence in a longstanding debate about how organisms evolve. One well-known path to change is a heavily favorable mutation in a single gene. But it may be well known only because it is easy to study. Another path is exploitation of mildly favorable differences that already exist in many genes.

. . .

Three biologists at the University of California, Irvine, Molly K. Burke, Michael R. Rose and Anthony D. Long, followed populations of fruit flies through 600 generations and studied the whole genome of some 250 flies in order to see what kinds of genetic change they had undergone.

. . .

The conventional view is that evolutionary change is generally mediated by a favorable mutation in a gene that then washes through the whole population, a process called a hard sweep because all other versions of the gene are brushed away. The alternative, called a soft sweep, is that many genes influence a trait, in this case the rate of maturation, and that the growth-accelerating versions of each of these genes become just a little more common. Each fly has a greater chance of inheriting these growth-promoting versions and so will mature faster.

In sequencing their subjects' genomes, the researchers found that a soft sweep was indeed responsible for the earlier hatching. No single gene had swept through the population to effect the change; rather, the alternative versions of a large number of genes had become slightly more common.

. . .

Haldane favored the single mutation mechanism, but Fisher and Wright backed multiple gene change.

. . .

The demise of the Haldane view "is very bad news for the pharmaceutical industry in general," Dr. Rose said. If disease and other traits are controlled by many genes, it will be hard to find effective drugs; a single target would have been much simpler.

For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Natural Selection Cuts Broad Swath Through Fruit Fly Genome." The New York Times (Tues., September 21, 2010): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 20, 2010.)

December 6, 2011

Power to the People

HouseLit2011-11-10.jpg Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

In the Thursday, November 10, 2011 "Home" section of The New York Times, the lead article was about a surge in demand for personal electricity generators among the middle-class of the northeastern United States (places like Connecticut).

Perhaps the lesson is that "green" is a passing fad, but electric power is a necessity in preserving bedrock values such as light, warmth and communication?

(p. D1) WHEN the snowstorm hit a week ago Saturday, Evan Sidel was driving home from the supermarket, having stocked up on soup ingredients, thinking she and her two daughters would have a cozy evening in. But while she was unpacking the groceries, the power went out with an audible bang, said Ms. Sidel, who lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Wilton, Conn.

"You could literally hear the transformer exploding," she said.

Then things went south fast, escalating perilously like the plot of an action movie, or "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" in previews. As Ms. Sidel pulled an old land-line telephone out of the closet, one birch tree crashed into the side of her house and another into her front door.

"I called a friend who said, 'My generator has just kicked in, come on over.' I got out through the garage, drove over the lawn to the street, and I stayed at my friend's house until Wednesday," she recounted.

. . .

(p. D7) The back story to the recent biblical weather was the Great Generator Divide. With hundreds of thousands of households without power last week -- nearly 800,000 in Connecticut alone -- who had a generator (and how big it was) was the second most urgent topic in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Generator envy ran wide and deep as the staccato growl and smoky breath of portable generators defined the haves and the have-nots in many neighborhoods.

. . .

A few months ago, Mr. Petersheim offered to retrofit the houses he had built in Barryville, N.Y., with standby generators.

"We were seeing more and more power outages in that area," he said. "And it's not a super-high-priority area, so the power can stay out for days. Pipes can freeze, food spoils, you can't get water. It's become a stress point for our customers. I sent out an e-mail to 20 of them saying, 'If you're getting too annoyed with this, it's pretty affordable, under $7,000 for a 14-kilowatt Generac fueled by propane.' Seven took us up on it."

Courtney and Bronson Bigelow (she's in public relations, he's a lawyer) were among them. "The first time we had a power outage, it was kind of romantic," Ms. Bigelow said. "But then it kept happening. When you're trying to squeeze every second of your weekend, it's a huge bummer. You can't wash dishes, you can't wash yourself, and it's 20 degrees. This summer we had this freakish weather, torrential rains over Fourth of July, then these weird microburst thunderstorms, and then Irene."

. . .

Over in Lakeville, Conn., Allen Cockerline, who raises grass-fed cattle with his wife, Robin, at their Whippoorwill Farm, has two large portable generators, 10 and 15 kilowatts each. One runs off his tractor; the other is powered by gasoline. (The tractor-powered one he bought with the farm; the other one cost about $1,500, he said.)

They are a necessary insurance policy for a perishable product, he said: "There's $30,000 worth of beef in my freezer. I'm not going to let that go."

But armed as he is against calamity, Mr. Cockerline will admit to some generator envy.

"Everyone that surrounds me is on a much more turnkey situation," he said. "Theirs just go on automatically. They don't have to go out and move tractors and generators around."

"My system is down-and-dirty," he added, and "in that respect I have a certain amount of envy. But I'm sure my generators are bigger than theirs. Much bigger."

For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "Dark with Envy." The New York Times (Thurs., November 10, 2011): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 9, 2011 and had the title "Power Envy.")


"Courtney and Bronson Bigelow and their Generac generator in Sullivan County, N.Y." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. CockerlinesWithGenerator2011-11-10.jpg

"Allen and Robin Cockerline with one of their two portable generators, in Lakeville, Conn." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

December 5, 2011

"Private Life Was Completely Transformed in the Nineteenth Century"

(p. 448) Private life was completely transformed in the nineteenth century - socially, intellectually, technologically, hygienically, sartorially, sexually and in almost any other respect that could be made into an adverb. Mr Marsham was born (in 1822) into a world that was still essentially medieval - a place of candlelight, medicinal leeches, travel at walking pace, news from afar that was always weeks or months old - and lived to see the introduction of one marvel after another: steamships and speeding trains, telegraphy, photography, anaesthesia, indoor plumbing, gas lighting, antisepsis in medicine, refrigeration, telephones, electric lights, recorded music, cars and planes, skyscrapers, motion pictures, radio, and literally tens of thousands of tiny things more, from mass-produced bars of soap to push-along lawnmowers.

It is almost impossible to conceive just how much radical day-to-day change people were exposed to in the nineteenth century, particularly in the second half. Even something as elemental as the weekend was brand new.


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

December 4, 2011

In Greece's Bloated Bureaucracy "It's All about Who You Know"

GreekGovernmentWorkerProtest2011-11-10.jpg "Police officers, firefighters and coast guard officers protested austerity measures in Athens on Monday." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) ATHENS -- Stories of eye-popping waste and abuse of power among Greece's bureaucrats are legion, including officials who hire their wives, and managers who submit $38,000 bills for office curtains.

The work force in Greece's Parliament is so bloated, according to a local press investigation, that some employees do not even bother to come to work because there are not enough places for all of them to sit.

. . .

Some experts believe that Greece could reap significant savings by reducing its bureaucracy, which employs one out of five workers in the country and by some estimates could be trimmed by as much as a third without materially affecting services. But though salaries have been cut, the government has yet to lay off anyone.

The main reason is also one of the very reasons that Greece got into trouble in the first place: The government is in many ways an army of patronage appointments built up over decades. When election time rolls around, state workers become campaign workers, and their reach is enormous. There are so many of them that almost every family has one.

. . .

Whether the right workers will be laid off remains an open question. "A lot of people in the government are terrified," Mr. Hlepas said. "They don't think any of those people over in Parliament are going to go. They think the ones that do the work will get cut."

Thomas Tsamatsoulis, 41, who works for the Greek equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration, said he found himself on an early list headed for the reserve pool, though he had been sent to the United States for electronics training and now has a skill that is rare in his agency. At the same time, Mr. Tsamatsoulis said, the agency, which has just two airplanes, has more than 15 pilots.

"You want to believe the government will do this right," he said. "But it is very difficult. It's not how it has worked in the past. It's all about who you know."

Greece's bureaucracy has been growing steadily since democracy was reinstated in 1974, with each new administration adding its supporters to the payroll -- and wages rising steeply in the past decade, experts say.

"There was really a party going on," said Yannis Stournaras, an economist and the director of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research in Athens. "The government kept adding bonuses and benefits and pensions. At election time there was a boom cycle as they handed out jobs."

"Now they need to cut," he added. "But they have already lost precious time."

Stories of excesses abound. Mr. Papandreou told Parliament that one of his ministers found a predecessor's $38,000 bill for curtains when the Socialists returned to power in 2009. Mr. Mossialos said he found that his own ministry, for media and communication, was spending $750,000 a year for office space for just 11 people.

But some experts question whether the culture of bloat and favoritism will ever be conquered.

For the full story, see:

SUZANNE DALEY. "Bureaucracy in Greece Defies Efforts to Cut It." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., October 18, 2011): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 17, 2011.)

December 3, 2011

Plant Protein Levels Adapt to Allow "Flourishing" Near Chernobyl

(p. D3) In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil.

This ability to adapt has to do with slight alterations in the plants' protein levels, researchers report in a study that appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"If you visit the area, you'd never think anything bad had happened there," said Martin Hajduch, one of the study's authors and a plant geneticist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Slovakia.

For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; Plants Near Chernobyl Appear to Grow a Shield." The New York Times (Tues., September 21, 2010): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 20, 2010.)

December 2, 2011

Global Temperatures May Have Flattened, Justifying Global Warming Scepticism

TucumcariWeatherStation2011-11-10.jpgTucsonParkingLotWeatherStation2011-11-10.jpg"Well-sited weather stations, like the one at top in Tucumcari, N.M., are more reliable than others, such as one in a Tuscon, Ariz., parking lot." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photos: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) "Before us, there was a huge barrier to entry" in the field of analyzing temperature numbers, says Richard Muller, scientific director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team and a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Many scientists are giving the Berkeley Earth team kudos for creating the unified database.

. . .

"I'm inclined to give [satellite] data more weight than reconstructions from surface-station data," says Stephen McIntyre, a Canadian mathematician who writes about climate, often critically of studies that find warming, at his website Climate Audit. Satellites show about half the amount of warming as that of land-based readings in the past three decades, when the relevant data were collected from space, he says.

Such disputes demonstrate the statistical and uncertain nature of tracking global temperature. Even with tens of thousands of weather stations, most of the Earth's surface isn't monitored. Some stations are more reliable than others. Calculating a global average temperature requires extrapolating from these readings to the whole globe, adjusting for data lapses and suspect stations. And no two groups do this identically.

. . .

Calculating a global temperature is necessary to track climate trends because, as your TV meteorologist might warn, local conditions can differ. Much of the U.S. and Northern Europe has cooled in the last 70 years, Berkeley Earth found. So did one-third of all weather stations world-wide, while two-thirds warmed. The project cites this as evidence of overall warming; skeptics aren't convinced because it depends how concentrated those warming sites are. If they happen to be bunched up while the cooling sites are in sparsely measured areas, then more places could be cooling.

. . .

Any statistical model produces results with some level of uncertainty. The Berkeley Earth project is no different. That uncertainty is large enough to dwarf some trends in temperature. For instance, fluctuations in the land temperature for the past 13 years make it extremely difficult to say whether the Earth has been continuing to warm during that time.

This possible halting of the temperature rise led to a dispute between members of the Berkeley Earth team. Judith Curry, Mr. Muller's co-author and a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told a reporter for the Daily Mail she questioned Mr. Muller's claim, which he published in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal, that "you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer." She said that if the global temperature has flattened out, that would raise new questions, and scientific skepticism would remain warranted.

For the full story, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Global Temperatures: All Over the Map." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 5, 2011): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

December 1, 2011

Justice for He Who Taxed Unjustly

(p. 444) At the height of the agricultural crisis, the British government under the Liberals did an odd thing. It invented a tax designed to punish a class of people who were already suffering severely and had done nothing in particular to cause the current troubles. The class was large landowners. The tax was death duties. Life was about to change utterly for thousands of people, including our own Mr Marsham.

The designer of the new tax was Sir William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt, the chancellor of the exchequer, a man who seems not to have been liked much by anyone at any point in his life, including his own family. Known familiarly, if not altogether affectionately, as 'Jumbo' because of his magnificent rotundity, Harcourt was an unlikely persecutor of the landed classes since he was one of them himself. The Harcourt family home was Nuneham Park in Oxfordshire, which we have visited in this book already. Nuneham, you may remember, was where an earlier Harcourt reconfigured the estate but failed to recollect where the old village well had been, fell into it and drowned. For as long as there had been (p. 445) Tories, the Harcourts had numbered themselves among them, so William's joining of the Liberals was seen within his family as the darkest treachery. Even Liberals were startled by his tax. Lord Rosebery, the prime minister (who was himself a big landowner), wondered if some relief should at least be granted in those cases where two inheritors died in quick succession. It would be harsh, Rosebery thought, to tax an estate a second time before the legatee had had a chance to rebuild the family finances. Harcourt, however, refused all appeals for concessions.

That Harcourt stood almost no chance of inheriting his own family property no doubt coloured his principles. In fact, to his presumed surprise, he did inherit it when his elder brother's son died suddenly, but heirlessly, in the spring of 1904. Harcourt didn't get to enjoy his good fortune long, however. He expired six months later himself, which meant that his heirs were among the first to be taxed twice over in exactly the way that Rosebery had feared and he had dismissed. Life doesn't often get much neater than that.


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


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