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June 30, 2012

Dinosaur Belches and Farts Made More Global Warming Gas than All of Today's Sources

(p. A6) Gassy dinosaurs may have spewed so much methane into the air that it could have helped warm the climate tens of millions of years ago, when temperatures were much higher than today, a team of U.K. scientists reported Monday.

The stomach gas released each year by a group of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs, which included the world's largest known land animals, may have equaled the total amount of methane produced every year today from all natural, agricultural and industrial sources, the researchers said Monday in the journal Current Biology. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 23 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The new scientific work highlights the importance of wildlife, livestock and other natural sources of greenhouse-gas emissions in shaping the global climate.

As with cows, sheep and buffalo today, these plant-eating dinosaurs, known as sauropods, likely digested their leafy greens with the help of methane-producing microbes in their stomachs that fermented the plant matter after it was chewed and swallowed. Generally, other plant eaters and creatures that eat meat, including people, don't digest their food this way and pass gas that is mostly nitrogen and carbon dioxide, with traces of methane and hydrogen.

Cattle belching and gas account for about 20% of U.S. methane emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Dinosaur Gas Emissions May Have Warmed Air." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2012): A6.

(Note: online version of the story is dated May 7, 2012.)

The academic article on sauropod methane emissions is:

Wilkinson, David M., Euan G. Nisbet, and Graeme D. Ruxton. "Could Methane Produced by Sauropod Dinosaurs Have Helped Drive Mesozoic Climate Warmth?" Current Biology 22, no. 9 (May 8, 2012): R292-R93.

June 29, 2012

A Renting Labor Force Is More Dynamically Mobil


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

(p. C2) The U.S. economy needs the dynamism that renting enables as much as--if not more than--it needs the stability that ownership engenders. In the current economy, there are vast gulfs between the employment pictures in different regions and states, from 12% unemployment in Nevada to 3% unemployment in North Dakota. But a steelworker in Buffalo, or an underemployed construction worker in Las Vegas, can't easily take his skills to where they are needed in North Dakota or Wyoming if he's underwater on his mortgage. Economists, in fact, have found that there is frequently a correlation between persistently high local unemployment rates and high levels of homeownership.

For the full essay, see:

DANIEL GROSS. "Renting Prosperity; Americans are getting used to the idea of renting the good life, from cars to couture to homes. Daniel Gross explores our shift from a nation of owners to an economy permanently on the move--and how it will lead to the next boom.." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 5, 2012): C1 & C2.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date May 4, 2012.)

June 28, 2012

Feds Subsidize First Solar's Losing Technology

(p. B2) First Solar's solar-panel business, which is focused on large solar installations that feed electricity to power companies, is dependent on government subsidies awarded to such developments.

. . .

But some worry that First Solar isn't well positioned for industry trends. The global solar-power market is moving toward rooftop solar-power systems, rather than the large-scale utility power plants where First Solar's products are most effective, said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group Inc.

"This was a market leader, but its technology is being usurped or surpassed by the Chinese," said Mr. Pichel. "Their product is not competitive in the most economic and sustainable solar market, which is rooftop."

For the full story, see:

CASSANDRA SWEET And RUSSELL GOLD. "First Solar Cuts 2,000 Jobs; Panel Maker Laying Off 30% of Workers, Slashing Production Amid Supply Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 18, 2012): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 17, 2012.)

June 27, 2012

Bill Gates Backs 4th Generation "Miracle" Nuclear Reactor


Bill Gates. Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R2) MR. GATES: . . .

The next miracle is nuclear energy. The plants that are out in the world today are basically generation-one and -two plants. There's a few generation-three plants. The thing I'm investing in is a fourth-generation design.

MR. MURRAY: Can you explain a little bit about how this technology works?

MR. GATES: The part of uranium that's fissile--when you hit it with a neutron, it splits in two--is about 0.7%. The reactors we have today are burning that 0.7%. There was a concept that you would do a different type of reactor that would make a bunch of another element called plutonium, and then you would pull that out and then you would burn that. That's called breeding in a fast reactor. But plutonium is nuclear-weapons material, it's messy, and the processing you have to get through is not only environmentally difficult, it's extremely expensive.

The concept of the TerraPower reactor is that in the same reactor, you both burn and breed. Instead of making plutonium and then extracting it, we take uranium--the 99.3% that you normally don't do anything with--we convert that and we burn it. The 99.3% is cheap as heck, and there's a pile of it sitting in Paducah, Kentucky, that's enough to power the United States for hundreds and hundreds of years.

For the full interview, see:

Alan Murray, interviewer. "In Search of One Energy Miracle; Bill Gates on the need to think big." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 26, 2012): R2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

June 26, 2012

Sam Walton Was No Overnight Success

(p. 199) Sam Walton used to joke that people thought he was an overnight success. "No," he'd say, "they just heard of me last night."


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 25, 2012

Coal Mines Help Paleontologists Learn about Environmental Change

DiMicheleWilliamSpringfieldCoal2012-06-12.jpg "SUBTERRANEAN; William A. DiMichele in the Springfield Coal. The dark mass is a coal seam; the lighter shale above is interrupted by a fossil tree stump." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D3) In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender.

. . .

"Effectively you've got a lost world," said Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who has explored the site. "It's the closest thing you'll find to time travel," he added.

. . .

The reach of the Springfield forest should allow scientists to undertake ecosystem-wide analyses in a way never before possible in landscapes so ancient, and such studies may help them predict the effects of global warming today.

"With our own CO2 rises and changes in climate," said Scott D. Elrick, a team member from the Illinois State Geological Survey, "we can look at the past here and say, 'It's happened before.' "

Today, we burn the scale trees of the Carboniferous by the billions: they have all turned to coal. Newly discovered, the Springfield forest is already crumbling to bits, as coal-mine ceilings quickly do after exposure. But with continued mining, more ceilings are being revealed every day.

"You have to dig to find fossils, going inside the anatomy of the planet," Dr. Johnson said. "Bill DiMichele realizes he has an entire industry digging for him, creating a tunnel into an ancient world."

For the full story, see:

W. BARKSDALE MAYNARD. "An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues on Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., May 1, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 30, 2012.)

AncientRiverbedMap2012-06-12.jpgSource of map graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

June 24, 2012

With Low Ratings, Planet Green Is Unsustainable

(p. B3) . . . , Discovery Communications -- which owns the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Science Channel and others -- announced in early April that it was shutting down Planet Green, a four-year-old channel that featured environmental programming. The channel floundered with low ratings and what executives said were a lack of entertaining eco-themed shows.

For the full story, see:

BRIAN STELTER. "No Place for Heated Opinions." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2012): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 20, 2012.)

June 23, 2012

Coral Transplants Saving Damaged Reefs

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The report by Kerry Sanders was broadcast on the NBC Nightly News on June 20, 2012.

The transcript below was posted by NBC. I corrected a few typos and omissions (e.g., the posted transcript omitted that much of the funding had come from private grants), but I have not checked the whole transcript.

>>> In Florida tonight the race is on to save a precious natural resource, coral reefs. we can sometimes forget they are living things. after being damaged by everything from rising ocean temperatures to storms and fishing nets, environmental experts are stepping in big time to help. our report from nbc's kerry sanders.

>> reporter: a quarter mile off the coast of fort lauderdale, down 25 feet so the seabed, scientists have taken a tiny experiment that began more than six years ago and turned it into a massive accomplishment.

>> no one thought it was possible. we proved them wrong.

>> reporter: corals, impossible to ongrow artificially in the environment are now thriving. researchers say it's a very simple idea, coral is grown in an underwater nursery, then it's harvested. i joined the team snipping two-inch long cuttings, like pruning a rose. with a nail glued into the rhinestone they are held in place. zip ties hold the ties to the nail. in two weeks the coral has anchored itself growing in the very spots where it was disappearing. from the coast off south florida as far south as the virgin islands, the first 8,000 coral can you get are taking hold saving endangered elkhorn and stag horn coral.

>> after it was listed it helped our funding.

>> reporter: Funding came from private grants and even federal stimulus money to protect this natural resource, prized for supporting an abundant fish life and attracting tourism.

>> They protect our coastlines from storms, without these reefs breaking up wave energy, our erosion on the beach would be much more substantial.

>> reporter: Coral making a comeback one clipping at a time. Kerry Sanders, NBC News off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.

As of 6/21/2012, the video clip was posted at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#47897092

June 22, 2012

Sam Walton Was "America's Greatest Entrepreneur of the Twentieth Century"

(p. 194) Sam Walton is my pick for America's greatest entrepreneur of the twentieth century.

He not only built the world's largest retailing empire and the single most valuable company in America, he created the institution with the greatest muscle to do good today.


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 21, 2012

"A123 Systems" Battery Company Is Another Example of Failed Industrial Policy

The YouTube video embedded above was from a CBS Evening News broadcast in June 2012. It illustrates the difficulty of the government successfully selecting the technologies, and companies, that will eventually prove successful. (The doctrine that government can and should do such selection is often called "industrial policy.")

The Obama administration has bet billions of tax dollars on lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles that A123 Systems won $249 million of. But as Sharyl Attkisson reports, expensive recalls and other setbacks have put substantial doubt in the company's ability to continue.

The text above, and the embedded video clip were published on YouTube on Jun 17, 2012 by CBSNewsOnline at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4Ugklc0rIo

June 20, 2012

Electric Car "Hype is Gone" and Challenges Remain

(p. 7) . . . is this what an emergent technology looks like before it crosses the valley of death?

"Face it, this is not an easy task," said Brett Smith, assistant research director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "You still have an energy storage device that's not ready for prime time. You still have the chicken and egg problem with the charging infrastructure. That's not to say it's not viable over the long run. But the hype is gone and the challenges are still there."

The market for all-electric and plug-in electric cars in the United States is tiny, amounting to fewer than 20,000 sales last year out of total light-vehicle sales of 12.8 million. Even in optimistic forecasts, plug-in vehicles will account for less than 5 percent of the global market by 2025.

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BRODER. "NEWS ANALYSIS; The Electric Car, Unplugged." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 25, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the commentary is dated March 24, 2012.)

June 19, 2012

Crop Insurance Is Worse for Taxpayers than a One-Time Bailout

GrasslandBurnedInNorthDakota2012-06-11.jpg "A grassland field in North Dakota that was burned and then seeded with soybeans. More than one million acres have become farmland in the state since 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) By guaranteeing income, farmers say, crop insurance removes almost any financial risk for planting land where crop failure is almost certain.

"When you can remove nearly all the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it's not a bad business decision," said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. "I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit."

. . .

Environmentalists, hunting groups and even some farmers say the prospect of expanding insurance will only speed the push to turn grasslands into farms.

. . .

The existing crop insurance subsidy ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation, according to another G.A.O. report released in April. The costs of the program have risen as the value of crops has increased. Over the next 10 years, a Congressional Budget Office study estimates, the premium subsidy for the existing program will cost about $90 billion.

"This is better than a government bailout," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington. "A bailout is a one-time thing when something bad happens. But crop insurance keeps giving, good or bad. And it's about to give even more."

For the full story, see:

RON NIXON. "Amid Growth, Plan to Insure Risks on Crops." The New York Times, First Section (Thurs., June 7, 2012): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 6, 2012 and has the title "Crop Insurance Proposal Could Cost U.S. Billions.")

June 18, 2012

Ben Franklin Stores as Incubators of Retail Success

(p. 192) The chain was called Michaels. I'd never heard of it but, as George related its ancestry, I became more and more intrigued. You see, once upon a time it had been a Ben Franklin store, and therein lies a story.

Back in 1877, Edward and George Butler, brothers from Boston, came up with a new concept for retailing. Instead of setting up a specialty shop to sell one line of items--like shoes or dresses or kitchen supplies--they set up a store where they could sell all sorts of stuff. This was the very beginning of department stores, except that they weren't yet called that. They were called variety stores, and they carried a large assortment of low-cost goods. Then the Butlers set up a "five-cent counter," where everything cost a nickel. It worked in Boston, so they expanded westward and called it Ben Franklin Stores.

Three-quarters of a century later, in the days when America was just starting to move westward with the automobile, there were no shopping malls or big national retail chains. What you found in every town, especially in small-town America, was a variety store, like Ben Franklin's. In Lake Providence, we had Morgan and Lindsey's, where you could buy everything from paper napkins to thimbles, birthday cards, curtain hooks, and boxes of chocolates. The Butlers' idea of a nickel counter became so popular and widespread that these places came to be nicknamed "five-and-dimes" or "five-and ten-cent" stores.

(p. 193) While some of them became the heart of Main Street America, others grew to become legendary department stores, like Macy's in New York, Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, and Lehman's in Chicago. Still others merged into chains to compete with Ben Franklin Stores. That's how JC Penney's was born.


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 17, 2012

Same Government that Allows Violence, Prioritizes Taxing Soda

BoozeCourtlandRichmondCityCouncil2012-06-11.jpg "One vocal opponent of the tax is Courtland Boozé, a City Council member who calls it a hardship on poor people." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 14) Even here at a sweaty Zumba class sponsored by a nonprofit group called Weigh of Life, the city's proposal for a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which is to appear on the November ballot, meets up against the hard realities of residents' lives.

"What don't I have?" asked Rita Cerda, a longtime soda devotee, ticking off her ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. She is also overweight.

"I have problems drinking water," she said. "I don't like water."

The proposed tax, a license fee on businesses selling sweetened drinks, would require owners of bodegas, theaters, convenience stores and other outlets to tally ounces sold and, presumably, pass the cost on to customers.

. . .

Courtland Boozé is a City Council member and a vocal opponent of the soda tax. "We are primarily an economically suppressed community," he said. "It will be a huge hardship.

"I eat sweet potato pie and candied yams," continued Mr. Boozé, who is from Louisiana. "And what about cupcakes? Are they going to tax those?"

The city's Chamber of Commerce is also opposed to the tax. A group fighting the tax that includes the beverage industry has begun dropping off "Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes" placards at La Flore de Jalisco Market, a small, cheerful grocery store where soda bottles in dozens of hues match the colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling.

. . .

Charles Finnie, known as Chuck, a vice president of BMWL, a San Francisco lobbying firm, called the tax "an administrative nightmare for local businesses" that would also put them at a competitive disadvantage, with customers opting for cheaper soda in nearby cities.

. . .

At the RYSE Youth Center, founded 12 years ago after the killing of four high school students, the soda issue seemed both close to the heart and far away.

Kayla Miller, an 18-year-old college freshman, said that if complexion problems from too much sugar would not deter her friends from drinking sodas, neither would a tax.

Shivneel Sen, 14, does not favor the tax but knows how the money should be spent if it passes.

"The police came heck of late," he said, recalling the recent death of a best friend. "We need more of them."

Kimberly Aceves, the center's executive director, says that too often, the burden for making healthy choices falls unfairly on young people. Society may say "go exercise," she said, "but if the community isn't safe, how many kids are going to go out running?"

"Soda is bad for you," Ms. Aceves said. "So is violence."

For the full story, see:

PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN. "RICHMOND JOURNAL; Plan to Tax Soda Gets a Mixed Reception." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 3, 2012): 14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 2, 2012.)

June 16, 2012

American Theater Is a Leftist Monoculture

(p. D11) . . . American theater is a monoculture, a thick-walled bubble in which you'll look long and hard to find anyone with an opinion about anything that is anywhere other than well to the left of center.

For the full review, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "THEATER; Minority Report." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 20, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the article is dated April 19, 2012.)

June 15, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys Show that Idleness Begets Violence


Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Hatfield clan on the HBO miniseries. Source of photo:

Kevin Costner plausibly suggests that when the productive activities of capitalism and entrepreneurship are not available or sought, people are more likely to let annoyances lead to violence:

(p. 15) Q. What was the root of the feud?

K.C. It's fair to say that the economics of the time were the provocateurs in this story. I think there was a moment when Hatfield and McCoy would have laid down their guns. But these young guys didn't have jobs anymore as we moved toward industrialization. They started to have children, and their families doubled in size, and suddenly they had to feed 26. Young men killing young men -- it really has a lot to do with the offspring not having enough to do. Look, you're talking about alcohol and guns, and you're talking about unemployment, so there's a reason for the bitterness.

For the full interview, see:

Kathryn Shattuck, interviewer. "Firing Bullets Across a Border And a Bloodline." The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., May 27, 2012): 15.

(Note: bold in original.)

June 14, 2012

"Under a Mountain in Omaha"

(p. 170) lnformatics had been run from the top down. Here's a story typical of the way the company worked. They had a trainer at headquarters who was told to educate the troops at the Federal Systems Division in northern California, which was run by Geno Tolari, a tough-minded football player from Pittsburgh. When the trainer arrived and announced, "I'm here to train your people," Geno shot back, "You can't train my people."

The trainer got haughty. After all, he was from headquarters. "I'm the education department. I train your people."

But Geno insisted, "You can't train my people because you don't know what they do."

So now the trainer asked, "Okay, what do they do?"

Geno answered, "I don't know."

The trainer thought Geno was joking with him, and insisted, "I'm the trainer; I need to know what they do."

That's when Geno confessed, "I can't tell you because I don't (p. 171) know. They're under a mountain in Omaha, and it's a military secret, and the Air Force won't tell us what they do."


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 13, 2012

Lincoln "Would Abhor" Roosevelt's "Progressivism"


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

(p. A13) In 1912, . . . , Robert Lincoln uncharacteristically leapt into the arena of national debate to challenge Theodore Roosevelt's appropriation of his father's name for TR's "New Nationalism" agenda. Robert, writing in the Boston Herald, labeled Roosevelt's progressivism a doctrine that the elder Lincoln "would abhor if living."

For the full review, see:

RYAN L. COLE. "BOOKSHELF; The Son Also Rises; Prominent lawyer, self-made millionaire, cabinet secretary--Robert Lincoln was more than just his father's greatest advocate." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 9, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 9, 2012.)

The book under review is:

Emerson, Jason. Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

June 12, 2012

Obama's World Bank President Opposes Growth, Profits and Globalization

President Obama's pick for World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, is scheduled to take office on July 1, 2012.

(p. A8) Dr. Kim has drawn fire recently for comments in a book he co-edited in 2000, "Dying for Growth." In a piece he co-authored for it, Dr. Kim co-wrote that "the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of women and men."

. . .

. . . an economist who has become one of Dr. Kim's leading critics, New York University's William Easterly, said the World Bank nominee offered an "amateur" approach to economics through an "antiglobalization point of view" that is critical of corporations.

"His critique was much more radical, that the system itself was responsible for creating poverty," Mr. Easterly said.

For the full review, see:

SUDEEP REDDY. "WORLD NEWS; Criticism Over U.S.'s World Bank Pick Swells." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 9, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: online version of the article is dated April 8, 2012.)

William Easterly's wonderful and courageous book is:

Easterly, William. The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002 [1st ed. 2001].

June 11, 2012

For Federal Regulators "It's Easier Not to Approve than to Approve"

LauthXavierAquacultureScientist2012-06-04.jpg "Xavier Lauth, a scientist, working with zebra fish in a lab at the Center for Aquaculture Technologies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) SAN DIEGO -- If Americans ever eat genetically engineered fast-growing salmon, it might be because of a Soviet biologist turned oligarch turned government minister turned fish farming entrepreneur.

That man, Kakha Bendukidze, holds the key to either extinction or survival for AquaBounty Technologies, the American company that is hoping for federal approval of a type of salmon that would be the first genetically engineered animal in the human food supply.

But 20 months since the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded that the fish would be safe to eat and for the environment, there has been no approval. And AquaBounty is running out of money.

Mr. Bendukidze, the former economics minister of Georgia and AquaBounty's largest shareholder, says the company can stay afloat a while longer. But he is skeptical that genetically altered salmon will be approved in the United States in an election year, given the resistance from environmental and consumer groups.

"I understand politically that it's easier not to approve than to approve," Mr. Bendukidze said during a recent visit to a newly acquired laboratory in San Diego, where jars of tiny zebra fish for use in genetic engineering experiments are stacked on shelves. While many people would be annoyed by the approval, he said, "There will be no one except some scientists who will be annoyed if it is not approved."

. . .

(p. B6) Mr. Bendukidze, 56, began his career as a molecular biologist in a research institute outside Moscow, working on genetically engineering viruses for vaccine use. He later started a company selling biology supplies. When parts of the Soviet economy were privatized, he earned a reputation as a corporate raider, building through acquisitions and leading United Heavy Machinery, a large maker of equipment for mining, oil drilling and power generation.

In 2004, Mr. Bendukidze returned to his native Georgia as economics minister under Mikheil Saakashvili, the newly elected president. With a free-market philosophy and a penchant for insulting those who disagreed with him, Mr. Bendukidze earned his share of enemies as he moved to deregulate and privatize the economy.

He still lives in Georgia and now spends his time as chairman of the Free University of Tbilisi, which he founded. He also set up Linnaeus Capital Partners to manage his money. It has increasingly focused on aquaculture, with stakes in companies in Greece, Israel and Britain, in addition to AquaBounty.

For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "An Entrepreneur Bankrolls a Genetically Engineered Salmon." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 21, 2012.)

BendukidzeKakhaEntrepreneur2012-06-04.jpg "Kakha Bendukidze acquired the lab after agreeing to give AquaBounty more cash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

June 10, 2012

If Milken's Bonds Are "Junk" then Yunis' Microloans Are "Junk" Too

(p. 167) The world owes a debt of gratitude to Mike Milken and his creative team. Did some people go too far? Yes. Did some of them take advantage of the freer flow of capital and end up doing more damage than good? Sure. But markets are messy. Major shifts in the flow of capital often lead to periods of excess before the pendulum swings back and equilibrium is restored. Mike Milken and his team made a major contribution to today's market atmosphere of high liquidity, which in turn has also helped lift the world's poor out of poverty. Today the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has created microloans for mothers living on $2 a day. And that won Grameen the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Committee didn't call microloans "junk" debt.


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 9, 2012

"Nothing Lasts Forever"


"How will we react when history presents us with uncertainty and risk? A sign on a Stalin bust in Prague in 1989 reads 'Nothing Lasts Forever.'" Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) The psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes that humans naturally "tend to exaggerate our ability to forecast the future, which fosters optimistic overconfidence," something he terms the "planning fallacy."

"In terms of its consequences for decisions, the optimistic bias may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases," he notes. "When forecasting the outcomes of risky projects, executives too easily fall victim to the planning fallacy."

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BUSSEY. "THE BUSINESS; The Euro Crisis in Ourselves." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 1, 2012): A13.

June 8, 2012

Happiness Research Undermines European-Style Labor-Market Regulation

Bryan Caplan persuasively pans the book he is revieiwng. But along the way Caplan makes an intriguing observation of his own:

(p. A11) . . . , happiness research makes a powerful case against European-style labor-market regulation. For most economists, the effect on worker well-being is unclear. On the one hand, regulation boosts wages; on the other, it increases the probability that you will have no wages at all. From the standpoint of a happiness researcher, however, this is a no-brainer. A small increase in wages has but a small and ephemeral effect on happiness. A small increase in unemployment, by contrast, has a massive and--unlike most other factors--durable effect on happiness. Supposedly "humane" regulations to boost workers' incomes have a dire cost in terms of human happiness.

For the full review, see:

BRYAN CAPLAN. "BOOKSHELF; Lessons From Cloud Nine; Happiness predicts higher job performance and even future health. But what predicts happiness?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., August 16, 2011): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

June 7, 2012

Rats, Motivated by Cheese, and Stimulated by Electricity and Chemicals, Grow Neurons and Walk Again

RatSpineInjuryExperiment2012-06-04.jpg "After several weeks of neurorehabilitation, previously paralyzed rats initiated a walking gait and soon began sprinting, climbing stairs and avoiding obstacles." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Rats with a spinal cord injury that left their hind legs completely paralyzed learned to walk again on their own after an intensive training course that included electrical stimulation of the brain and the spine, scientists reported on Thursday.

. . .

The report, published online on Thursday in the journal Science, provides a striking demonstration of what until recently few scientists thought possible: complete rehabilitation after a disabling blow to the spinal cord. After weeks of training, many of the rats could walk as well as before the injury, and some could run.

. . .

The rats then began a daily regimen. Outfitted with tiny vests, held upright on their back legs but left to bear their full weight, the rats tried to move toward a piece of cheese that beckoned nearby. They lurched forward like furry paratroopers, unsteady on their feet after a hard landing.

The scientists provided stimulation in three places: electrically, in the motor area of the brain and in the spinal cord below the injury, and chemically, infusing the wound area with drugs thought to promote growth.

And growth is what they got. After two to three weeks of 30-minute daily sessions, the rats began to take their first voluntary steps. After six weeks, all of the rats could walk on their own, and some could run and climb stairs.

. . .

In effect, . . . , the training forces the brain to recruit what is left of the neural system to get the job done. Neurons sprout like seedlings on a Chia Pet when they are seeking new connections, and the scientists found increases of 300 percent and more in projections in the brain stem and around the injury -- evidence that the nervous system was remapping its connections.

For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "In Rat Experiment, New Hope for Spine Injuries." The New York Times (Fri., June 1, 2012): A13.

(Note: online version of the story is dated May 31, 2012.)

June 6, 2012

Michael Milken Provided "Access to Capital for Growing Companies"

(p. 163) Although [high yield] . . . bonds eventually became known as a favored tool for leveraged--buyout specialists in the 1980s, Mike's original goal was different. He wanted to provide access to capital for growing companies that needed financing to expand and create jobs. Most of these companies lacked the investment grade" bond ratings required before the big financial institutions would back them. Mike knew that non-investment-grade (a k a "junk") companies create virtually all new jobs, and he believed that helping these companies grow strengthened the American economy and created good jobs for American workers.

It was by studying credit history at Berkeley in the 1960s that Mike developed his first great insight. He found that while there could be significant risk in any one high-yield bond, a carefully constructed portfolio of these assets produced a consistently better return over the long run than supposedly "safe" investment-grade debt. This was proved during the two decades of the 1970s and '80s when returns on high-yield bonds topped all other asset classes. Mike saw a great opportunity when he realized that the perception of default risk far exceeded the reality. In fact, these bonds had a surprisingly low-risk profile when adjusted for the potential returns.

After twenty years of superior gains, the high-yield bond market finally fell in 1990. Actually, it didn't fall--it was pushed by unwise government regulation that forced institutions to sell their bonds. The dip only lasted a year, however, with the market roaring back 46 percent in 1991.

Mike's competitors--Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Credit Suisse First Boston, the old oligopolies of the syndication (p. 164) business--labeled them "junk bonds" to disparage Mike's brainchild. He was not a member of their white-shoe club and they were not going to take his act lying down.


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

(Note: bracketed words and ellipsis added.)

June 5, 2012

Open Offices Create "the Urgent Desire to Throttle One's Neighbor"


John Tierney "at his cubicle with a wall of books." Source of caption quote and photo: online version of John Tierney's NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 18) The original rationale for the open-plan office, aside from saving space and money, was to foster communication among workers, the better to coax them to collaborate and innovate. But it turned out that too much communication sometimes had the opposite effect: a loss of privacy, plus the urgent desire to throttle one's neighbor.

"Many studies show that people have shorter and more superficial conversations in open offices because they're self-conscious about being overheard," said Anne-Laure Fayard, a professor of management at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University who has studied open offices. . . .

Take Mr. Udeshi's office, at the N.Y.U.-Poly business incubator, a SoHo loft with dozens of start-up companies housed in low cubicles. The entrepreneurs there say they sometimes get useful ideas from overheard conversations but also find themselves retreating to a bathroom or a broom closet for private chats. When they have to discuss a delicate matter with someone sitting next to them, they often use e-mail or instant messaging.

"You talk to more people in an open office, but I think you have fewer meaningful conversations," said Jonathan McClelland, an energy consultant working in the loft. "You end up getting interrupted a lot by people's random thoughts."

. . .

Researchers at Finland's Institute of Occupational Health have studied precisely how far those conversations carry and analyzed their effect on the unwilling listener: a decline of 5 percent to 10 percent on the performance of cognitive tasks requiring efficient use of short-term memory, like reading, writing and other forms of creative work.

"Noise is the most serious problem in the open-plan office, and speech is the most disturbing type of sound because it is directly understood in the brain's working memory," said Valtteri Hongisto, an acoustician at the institute. He found that workers were more satisfied and performed better at cognitive tasks when speech sounds were masked by a background noise of a gently burbling brook


For the full story, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 20, 2012): 1 & 18.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 19, 2012, and has the title "From Cubicles, Cry for Quiet Pierces Office Buzz.")

June 4, 2012

In Wisconsin a Choice Between the Party of the Takers and the Party of the Payers

(p. A3) Craig Dedo, a computer consultant and Walker supporter, said the race boiled down to one question: Who runs Wisconsin? "The Democrats and the unions, who are the takers?" he asked, "or the Republicans, the party of the private sector and the people who pay the bills?"

For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Recall Election Could Foretell November Vote." The New York Times (Fri., June 1, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated May 31, 2012.)

June 3, 2012

Entrepreneurs Should Seek Problems, Not Opportunities

McKelveyJimEntrepreneurBig2012-06-02.jpg "Jim McKelvey drew on experiences as a businessman and glassblower in his speech at Big Omaha 2012." Source of caption and photo: online version of Macy Koch, "Jim McKelvey: "Just go ahead and build it"." Silicon Prairie News. (Thursday May 10, 2012).

(p. 2D) The dynamics of the glass-blowing industry changed when a new, smaller version of the traditional glass-blowing furnace was developed. The economics of glass-blowing suddenly changed.

But as McKelvey's glass-blowing skills grew and as he developed more products, including a patented glass water faucet, another barrier emerged: access to the financial system.

At one point, McKelvey was about to sell one of his faucets. The customer wanted to pay with an American Express credit card, but McKelvey couldn't accept it without the requisite hardware. The sale fell through.

McKelvey then had a problem he needed to solve: Why wasn't there a way to accept payments on a smartphone?

So he teamed up with Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter who worked with McKelvey at Mira, to start Square, which allows users to accept payments through their phones.
It was an idea that tackled a problem, McKelvey said, suggesting to attendees: "Go out there and seek problems. Don't look for opportunities."

For the full story, see:

Ross Boettcher. "Traveling the Road to Innovation; A former 'Quitter' and Others Offer tips at the Big Omaha Conference." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., May 11, 2012): 1D & 2D.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Many roads to innovation at Big Omaha.")


""Go out there and seek problems. Don't look for opportunities." Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited above.

June 2, 2012

In Antitrust, as in Medicine, First Do No Harm

(p. 94) Western Union's lawyers carne up with a dusty old New York Stale law, dated 1905, that said no one could buy more than 10 percent of a telegraph company chartered in that state without the approval of Albany lawmakers. Hard to believe, but it was right there in black and white and there was no possibility of getting the New York State legislature to understand why it was vital to build digital highways.

Talk about unintended consequences!

(p. 95) Originally, the law was written to stop Western Union from monopolizing the telegram business, but the law backfired and was used by the monopolist for its own protection.


Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

June 1, 2012

Lucasfilm Will Build Somewhere "That Sees Us as a Creative Asset, Not as an Evil Empire"

LucasValleyMarinCounty2012-05-30.jpg "Lucas Valley in Marin County, Calif., where residents' objections led George Lucas to abandon a bid to expand operations at a new site near Skywalker Ranch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- In 1978, a year after "Star Wars" was released, George Lucas began building his movie production company far from Hollywood, in the quiet hills and valley of Marin County here just north of San Francisco. Starting with Skywalker Ranch, the various pieces of Lucasfilm came together over the decades behind the large trees on his 6,100-acre property, invisible from the single two-lane road that snakes through the area.

And even as his fame grew, Mr. Lucas earned his neighbors' respect through his discretion. Marin, one of America's richest counties, liked it that way.

But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place "that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire."

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring "low income housing" here.

. . .

Whatever Mr. Lucas's intentions, his announcement has unsettled a county whose famously liberal politics often sits uncomfortably with the issue of low-cost housing and where battles have been fought over such construction before. His proposal has pitted neighbor against neighbor, who, after failed peacemaking efforts over local artisanal cheese and wine, traded accusations in the local newspaper.

The staunchest opponents of Lucasfilm's expansion are now being accused of driving away the filmmaker and opening the door to a low-income housing development. That has created an atmosphere that one opponent, who asked not to be identified, saying she feared for her safety, described as "sheer terror" and likened to "Syria."

Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: "We got letters saying, 'You guys are going to get what you deserve. You're going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.' "

For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "A Pyrrhic Victory for Foes of a New Lucasfilm Project; In Lieu of digital Studio, Plan for Low-Income Homes." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): A13 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 21, 2012 and has the title "Lucas and Rich Neighbors Agree to Disagree: Part II.")

LucasGeorge2012-05-30.jpg "Mr. Lucas said Marin needs affordable housing. A resident called his plan "class warfare."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.


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