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April 30, 2013

Increased CO2 "Kept a New Ice Age at Bay"




(p. 38) . . . the repeated inventions and spread of agriculture around the planet affected not only the surface of the Earth, but its 100-kilometer-wide (60-mile-wide) atmosphere as well. Farming disturbed the soil and increased CO2. Some climatologists believe that this early anthropogenic warming, starting 8,000 years ago, kept a new ice age at bay. Widespread adoption of farming disrupted a natural climate cycle that ordinarily would have refrozen the northernmost portions of the planet by now.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 29, 2013

David Kay Johnston Defends Entrepreneurial Capitalism Against Crony Capitalism




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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/fineprint_custom-c26eb6a3f6c4d9bc09220769911f3cbeaa900b7f-s6-c10.jpg



I saw an informative C-SPAN interview with David Cay Johnston a while back. I had known from Johnston's previous books and reporting, that he was devoted to exposing the outrages of crony capitalism. What the interview revealed to me was that Johnston was not opposed to capitalism in general, and in fact viewed himself as friendly to entrepreneurial capitalism.

I believe that big companies are not bad when they got and stay big by honestly earning big profits from willing and delighted consumers. But big companies are bad when, as often happens, they use their size to get the government to suppress start-up competitors or to take money from taxpayers to subsidize their activities.

I have not yet read Johnston's latest book on the big and bad, but I expect it to present sad, but useful, examples.




Book discussed:

Johnston, David Cay. The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind. New York: Portfolio, 2012.






April 28, 2013

Reinhart Rogoff Result Robust: High Debt Lowers Growth Rate from 3.5 to 2.3 Percent




(p. A29) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. In May 2010, we published an academic paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Its main finding, drawing on data from 44 countries over 200 years, was that in both rich and developing countries, high levels of government debt -- specifically, gross public debt equaling 90 percent or more of the nation's annual economic output -- was associated with notably lower rates of growth.


. . .


Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of "serious errors" stemming from "selective exclusion" of relevant data and "unconventional weighting" of statistics -- charges that we vehemently dispute.


. . .


Our 2010 paper found that, over the long term, growth is about 1 percentage point lower when debt is 90 percent or more of gross domestic product. The University of Massachusetts researchers do not overturn this fundamental finding, which several researchers have elaborated upon.


. . .


There were just 26 cases where the ratio of debt to G.D.P. exceeded 90 percent for five years or more; the average high-debt spell was 23 years. In 23 of the 26 cases, average growth was slower during the high-debt period than in periods of lower debt levels. Indeed, economies grew at an average annual rate of roughly 3.5 percent, when the ratio was under 90 percent, but at only a 2.3 percent rate, on average, at higher relative debt levels.


. . .


The fact that high-debt episodes last so long suggests that they are not, as some liberal economists contend, simply a matter of downturns in the business cycle.

In "This Time Is Different," our 2009 history of financial crises over eight centuries, we found that when sovereign debt reached unsustainable levels, so did the cost of borrowing, if it was even possible at all. The current situation confronting Italy and Greece, whose debts date from the early 1990s, long before the 2007-8 global financial crisis, support this view.



For the full commentary, see:

CARMEN M. REINHART and KENNETH S. ROGOFF. "Debt, Growth and the Austerity Debate." The New York Times (Fri., April 26, 2013): A29.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2013.)


The full reference to the authors' book is:

Reinhart, Carmen M., and Kenneth Rogoff. This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.






April 27, 2013

Missouri Teachers Trained to Defend School with Guns




SydowAaronPrincipalFaiviewSchool2013-04-26.jpg "Aaron Sydow, the principal of Fairview School in West Plains, Mo., monitoring the halls. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the Fairview school board authorized paid training for staff members so that they could be armed." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A10) WEST PLAINS, Mo. -- At 8:30 on a cloudy, frigid morning late last month in this folksy Ozark town, the superintendent of an area school strolled through the glass doors of the local newspaper office to deliver a news release.

Hours later, the content of that release produced a front-page headline in The West Plains Daily Quill that caught residents off guard: "At Fairview School Some Employees Now Carry Concealed Weapons."

That was how most parents of Fairview students learned that the school had trained some of its staff members to carry weapons, and the reaction was loud -- and mostly gleeful.

"Sooo very glad to hear this," a woman whose grandchildren attend Fairview posted on the Facebook page of The Quill, adding, "All schools in America should do this."




For the full story, see:

JOHN ELIGON. "Rat Kidneys Made in Lab Point to Aid for Humans." The New York Times (Mon., April 15, 2013): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 14, 2013.)






April 26, 2013

Longer Life Spans "Allowed More Time to Invent New Tools"




(p. 33) The primary long-term consequence of . . . slightly better nutrition was a steady increase in longevity. Anthropologist Rachel Caspari studied the dental fossils of 768 hominin individuals in Europe, Asia, and Africa, dated from 5 million years ago until the great leap. She determined that a "dramatic increase in longevity in the modern humans" began about 50,000 years ago. Increasing longevity allowed grandparenting, creating what is called the grandmother effect: In a virtuous circle, via the communication of grandparents, ever more powerful innovations carried forward were able to lengthen life spans further, which allowed more time to invent new tools, which increased population. Not only that: Increased longevity "provide[d] a selective advantage promoting further population increase," because a higher density of humans increased the rate and influence of innovations, which contributed to increased populations. Caspari claims that the most fundamental biological factor that underlies the behavioral innovations of modernity maybe the increase in adult survivorship. It is no coincidence that increased longevity is the most measurable consequence of the acquisition of technology. It is also the most consequential.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added; bracketed "d" in Kelly's original.)






April 25, 2013

The Costs of Green Jobs Policies




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Source of book image: http://javelindc.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/regulating_to_disaster.jpg



I caught part of a C-SPAN presentation on the Regulating to Disaster book. It sounded plausible and intriguing---consistent with other evidence I have seen that "green" jobs have been over-hyped and under-delivered.

Perhaps more important, there are the high opportunity costs of the tax dollars devoted to the "green" jobs, in terms of the non-green jobs that would have been created by entrepreneurs if less of their income had been taxed away.

I hope to look at the book in the near future.


Book discussed:

Furchtgott-Roth, Diana. Regulating to Disaster: How Green Jobs Policies Are Damaging America's Economy. New York: Encounter Books, 2012.






April 24, 2013

Working Rat Kidney Is Created in Lab




(p. A10) Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have made functioning rat kidneys in the laboratory, a bioengineering achievement that may one day lead to the ability to create replacement organs for people with kidney disease.

The scientists said the rat kidneys produced urine in the laboratory as well as when transplanted into rats. The kidneys were made by stripping donor kidneys of their cells and putting new cells that regenerate tissue into them. Stripping an organ leaves a natural scaffold of collagen and other compounds, called the extracellular matrix, which provides a framework for new cells and preserves the intricate internal architecture of the kidney as well as its basic shape.

Dr. Harald C. Ott, senior author of a paper describing the research that was published online Sunday by the journal Nature Medicine, said that the work was still in its early stages and that there were many hurdles to creating fully functional kidneys for people. But he noted that replacement organs made in this way would have advantages over those made with artificial scaffolds or other techniques.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Rat Kidneys Made in Lab Point to Aid for Humans." The New York Times (Mon., April 15, 2013): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 14, 2013.)









April 23, 2013

Novelist Anna Quindlen Loves Her Electric Generator




QuindlenAnnaNovelist2013-04-23.jpg "Feel the Power: Author Quindlen at her home, which is kept up and running with occasional use of her beloved generator." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. M14) I love my generator. It's not much to look at, a beige box half the size of my desk, hidden by a scrim of native grasses. If my power goes out for more than two minutes, it clears its throat and rumbles into life.

The fridge hums, the TV flares, the water flows from the faucet. Every once in a while I give the generator a pat in passing to show my appreciation.


. . .


. . . , in 2009, the tornado came. One of the things that was freaky was how exactly it conformed to every news report I'd ever seen. Dark air like demonic possession, a sharp path cut across the land by meteorological shears. We were lucky; the sharp path fell directly between the house and the garage. You could follow it from there by looking at the empty spaces in a solid line of trees, the rootballs waving their witchy root toes in the air. We lost a lot of trees. And the power, for five days. Five long days. It's funny the little things you miss. Our coffee maker is electric. Each morning my friend, Emily, would bring a thermos of coffee and take my phone away to charge it.

But there was a big thing missing, too, and it wasn't light. Where we live, if you lose power, you lose water. And after five days of keeping a bucket by the back door so I could get water from the pond for the toilets, five days of trying to convince myself that going in the pool was almost like an actual shower, I called the contractor and said, "Generator. Please. Soon."



For the full commentary, see:

ANNA QUINDLEN. "HOUSE CALL; A Message Delivered by Tornado; After five days without power, a desperate writer calls her contractor to say: 'Generator. Please. Soon.'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 12, 2013): M14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 11, 2013.)

(Note: ellipses added.)



QuidlenBelovedGenerator2013-04-23.jpg


















"Ms. Quindlen's beloved generator is shown." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.







April 22, 2013

Today Is 13th Anniversary of Democrats' Infamous Betrayal of Elián González




GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2013) is the 13th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history---when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.










April 21, 2013

Analytical Solutions Require Unrealistic Assumptions that Make Models Useless for Policy




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Source of book image: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/edward.leamer/images/COVER%209120_jkt_Rev1.jpg



(p. 190) When I was a younger man, I and all of my cohort were apprehensive if we saw Ed Leamer in the audience when we were presenting a paper. His comments were blunt, incisive, and often negative. But what truly terrified us was that he was almost always right. . . .

Leamer has produced a highly original little book, with big insights and lessons for us all. He explores the tension between economics that is mathematically sophisticated and complex but often vacuous, versus economics that may be vague but which is useful and carries a message. It is frankly a remarkable work, full of insights and persuasive arguments that need to be read, debated, and taken seriously.


. . .


(p. 191) But this is no rant of an old guy. Leamer gets very specific about his notions of usefulness versus rigor. A good drum to bang on is Samuelson, an important "mathematizer." I would strongly encourage all young trade economists and perhaps all graduate students who have been subjected to a traditional international trade course at any level, to read the section on factor-price equalization. This is beautifully done and even exciting and funny at times. As told by Leamer, the young Samuelson excoriates Ohlin for largely dismissing the possibility of factor-price equalization and then presents his (Samuelson's) "proof" of factor-price equalization. The latter, of course, is a theorem that is mathematically correct given the assumptions, but Ohlin is talking about its usefulness in understanding the world and constructing policy. The factor-price-equalization theorem is indeed a prime example of something that is valid but not useful.


. . .


Yet at the same time, I have thought long and hard about exactly what message should be given to graduate students and assistant professors without much success. The journal publishing business puts a huge premium on rigor over usefulness and few referees or editors are inclined to take the chance inherent in accepting papers that are a bit loose in their analytical or econometric structures, no matter how exciting they might be. If you accept that, then the profession as a whole has to rethink our view of what is an important scientific contribution: I cannot simply tell graduate students to think more broadly and worry less about elegance. Some will of course deny that there is any tension, but I side with Leamer. Over and over again, I hear, read, and/or referee papers (p. 192) where, in order to get an analytical solution to a model, the author has to assume away almost every interesting feature of the problem to the point that the remaining model is uninteresting and uninformative. But that at least qualifies the paper for possible publication in Econometrica, RESTud, or JET.



For the full review, see:

Markusen, James R. "Book Review of Ed Leamer's the Craft of Economics." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 1 (2013): 190-92.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)


The book under review is:

Leamer, Edward E. The Craft of Economics, Ohlin Lectures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.






April 20, 2013

"The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours"




(p. B1) PARIS -- "How stupid do you think we are?"

With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.

"I have visited the factory a couple of times," Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country's industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.

"The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three."

"I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, 'That's the French way!' "



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French." The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)



For a similar account, see:

GABRIELE PARUSSINI. "U.S. CEO to France: "How Stupid Do You Think We Are?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title "U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.")






April 19, 2013

New Technology Allows Maple Syrup Farms to Adapt and Thrive with Global Warming




MapleSyrupTubingVermont2013-04-06.jpg "Tom Morse, left, and his father, Burr, at work on their maple farm in Vermont." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 11) Scientists say the tapping season -- the narrow window of freezing nights and daytime temperatures over 40 degrees needed to convert starch to sugar and get sap flowing -- is on average five days shorter than it was 50 years ago. But technology developed over the past decade and improved in recent years offers maple farmers like Mr. Morse a way to offset the effects of climate change with high-tech tactics that are far from natural.

Today, five miles of pressurized blue tubing spider webs down the hillside at Morse Farm, pulling sap from thousands of trees and spitting it into tubs like an immense, inverse IV machine. Modern vacuum pumps are powerful enough to suck the air out of a stainless steel dairy tank and implode it, and they help producers pull in twice as much sap as before.

"You can make it run when nature wouldn't have it run," Mr. Morse said.

His greatest secret weapon is a reverse-osmosis machine that concentrates the sap by pulling it through sensitive membranes, greatly increasing the sugar content before it even hits the boiler. The $8,000 instrument with buttons and dials looks like it belongs in a Jetsons-era laboratory more than in a Vermont sugarhouse. But it saves more fuel and money than every other innovation combined. With it Mr. Morse can process sap into syrup in 30 minutes, something that used to take two hours.


. . .


The biggest United States maple farmers have expanded their production acreage and are tapping more trees than ever before: the total was 5.5 million taps last year, compared with slightly over 4 million taps 10 years earlier.

As a result, United States maple syrup production hit a new high in 2011. In Vermont, the top-producing state, sap yield per tap has risen over the past decade.



For the full story, see:

JULIA SCOTT. "Maple Syrup: Old-Fashioned Product, Newfangled Means of Production." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., March 31, 2013): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 30, 2013, and has the title "High-Tech Means of Production Belies Nostalgic Image of Maple Syrup.")






April 18, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Complained of Hunger and Food Monotony




(p. 30) Based on numerous historical encounters with aboriginal tribes, we know [hunter-gatherers] often, if not regularly, complained about being hungry. Famed anthropologist Colin Turnbull noted that although the Mbuti frequently sang to the goodness of the forest, they often complained of hunger. Often the com-(p. 31)plaints of hunter-gathers were about the monotony of a carbohydrate staple, such as mongongo nuts, for every meal; when they spoke of shortages, or even hunger, they meant a shortage of meat, and a hunger for fat, and a distaste for periods of hunger. Their small amount of technology gave them sufficiency for most of the time, but not abundance.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: "hunter-gathers" substituted for "they" by AMD.)






April 17, 2013

Chagnon Enraged Cultural Anthropologists By Showing Tribal Violence




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Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/n/noble-savages/9780684855103_custom-4deac679a847f1d6e7d64424b01d0be54b54e3a7-s6-c10.jpg



(p. C) In the 1960s, cultural anthropologists led by Marvin Harris argued that conflict among prestate people was mostly over access to scarce protein. Dr. Chagnon disputed this, arguing that Yanomamo Indians' chief motive for raiding and fighting--which they did a great deal--seemed to be to abduct, recover or avenge the abduction of women. He even claimed that Indian men who had killed people ("unokais") had more wives and more children than men who had not killed, thus gaining a Darwinian advantage.

Such claims could not have been more calculated to enrage the presiding high priests of cultural anthropology, slaughtering as it did at least three sacred cows of the discipline: that uncontacted tribal people were peaceful, that Darwinism had nothing to say about human behavior and culture, and that material resources were the cause of conflict.


. . .


Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon's way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes's "war of each against all" looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "noble savage," though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 26, 2013): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 25, 2013.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Chagnon book that Ridley is discussing:

Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






April 16, 2013

Tax Rates Have Big Effect on Labor Supply and Rate of Entrepreneurial Start-Ups




(p. A23) Higher taxes will produce long-term changes in social norms, behavior and growth. Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

The rich tend to be more sensitive to tax-rate changes because they've got advisers who are paid to be. Martin Feldstein, an economics professor at Harvard, looked into tax changes in the 1980s and concluded that raising rates causes people to shift compensations to untaxed fringe benefits and otherwise suppresses their economic activity. A study last year by the economists Michael Keane and Richard Rogerson found that tax rates can have a surprisingly large influence on how much people invest in education, how likely they are to create businesses and which professions they go into.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Progressive Shift." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 18, 2013.)


The Keane and Rogerson paper summarized by Brooks is:

Keane, Michael, and Richard Rogerson. "Micro and Macro Labor Supply Elasticities: A Reassessment of Conventional Wisdom." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 2 (June 2012): 464-76.






April 15, 2013

Scientists May Bring Back Extinct Woolly Mammoths to Help Fight Global Warming




SouthernGastricBroodingExtinctFrog2013-04-05.jpg

"The Southern gastric brooding frog, extinct for a quarter-century. Scientists made early embryos of the frog but they died." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Last week at a conference in Washington, scientists from Australia reported on their attempt to bring back a weird frog, the Southern gastric brooding frog, that went extinct about a quarter century ago. So far they have only made early embryos, which have died.

It is the early days for this new endeavor -- it could be years before scientists succeed in bringing species back from extinction. But many species are now gleams in scientists' eyes as they think of ways to bring them back. Woolly mammoths. A 70,000-year-old horse that used to live in the Yukon. Passenger pigeons, a species that obsessed Dr. Church's former student.


. . .


(p. A16) Before humans killed them, the nation had three billion to five billion passenger pigeons. They would take days to cross a city, noted Hank Greely, the director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University. "They left cities covered in an inch of guano," he said.


. . .


But there could be some unexpected advantages to bringing back certain species, or even to adding their DNA to that of today's species, Dr. Church said. For example, suppose elephants could live again in the Arctic. When woolly mammoths lived in the Arctic they would knock down trees and enable Artic grasses to flourish. Without trees, more sunlight was reflected and the ground was cooler. In winter, they would tramp down snow into the permafrost, enhancing it.

"Permafrost has two to three times more carbon than all the rain forests put together," Dr. Church said. "All you have to do to release carbon dioxide and methane is to melt it. With rain forests you have to burn it."


. . .


Mr. Greely cited another argument in favor of bringing back extinct species. He did not quite buy it, he said, but for him it had "a visceral appeal."

It is an argument about justice. Take the passenger pigeon. "We are the murderers," Mr. Greely said. "We killed them off. Shouldn't we bring them back?"



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "So You're Extinct? Scientists Have Gleam in Eye." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A1 & A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2013.)

(Note: ellipses added.)






April 14, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Lived "in the Ultimate Disposable Culture"




(p. 30) In a very curious way, foragers live in the ultimate disposable culture. The best tools, artifacts, and technology are all disposable. Even elaborate handcrafted shelters are considered temporary. When a clan or family travels, they might erect a home (a bamboo hut or snow igloo, for example) for only a night and then abandon it the next morning. Larger multifamily lodges might be abandoned after a few years rather than maintained. The same goes for food patches, which are abandoned after harvesting.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






April 13, 2013

Academia Rejected Maslow's Humanistic Psychology




EncounteringAmericaBK2013-04-05.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.harpercollins.com/harperimages/isbn/large/9/9780061834769.jpg


(p. 23) Abraham Maslow, humanistic psychology's founding father, rejected the atomistic approaches of psychoanalysis and behaviorism that dominated the first half of the 20th century. He strove to develop a psychology that provided "a fuller, though still scientific, treatment of the individual" and understood the potential for growth as innate. His ideas got their most welcome reception from industrial management, to which Maslow retreated when academia failed to roll out the red carpet. But Grogan eloquently insists that humanistic psychology subtly revolutionized Americans' conception of the self and the role of therapy, and asserts that current trends in the field, like positive psychology, owe the theory a debt they have been reluctant to pay.


For the full review, see:

MEGAN BUSKEY. "Nonfiction Chronicle." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Grogan, Jessica. Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.






April 12, 2013

Non-Paying Nations Send Heavy-Drinking Delegates to United Nations




(p. A20) UNITED NATIONS -- When the United Nations began renovating its Manhattan headquarters in 2009, one of the first casualties of the construction was the storied Delegate's Lounge, where for decades the delicate work of diplomacy was aided by a good stiff drink.

The loss of the bar led to protest from diplomats and their staffs, and a temporary outpost was soon established.

That bar is also now gone, but the thirst for liquor at the United Nations is apparently still strong.

This week, an American diplomat offered what he called a "modest proposal" that he hoped would speed along the United Nations' notoriously protracted budgetary proceedings. He asked delegates to put a cork in it.

"The negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone," the diplomat, Joseph M. Torsella, said.


. . .


The United States' plea for sobriety was reported on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine. The article cited anonymous diplomats saying that the most recent budget negotiations, which concluded in December, featured at least one delegate who became sick from too much alcohol.


. . .


The United States, Japan and western European countries provide the majority of the United Nations' budget. And many of the dozens of countries that make up the committee that sets the budget have little financial stake in the negotiations, so partaking of alcohol may seem a good way to endure marathon sessions that can last well into the night.



For the full story, see:

MARC SANTORA. "Diplomat Calls for End to Drunkenness During Negotiations at United Nations." The New York Times (Fri., March 8, 2013): A20.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 7, 2013 and has the title "Diplomat Calls for End to Drunkenness During U.N. Negotiations.")

(Note: ellipses added.)






April 11, 2013

Global Warming Causes Trees to Grow Faster and Absorb More CO2




CentralParkTrees2013-03-08.jpg "CITY TREE, COUNTRY TREE; Scientists have been looking more closely at urban plant growth in places like Central Park." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) . . . , some . . . scientists have moved beyond political questions to explore how rising levels of heat and emissions might provide at least some benefits for the planet.


. . .


Lewis H. Ziska, a plant physiologist for the Department of Agriculture, . . . [said] . . . , "we need to think about the tools we have at hand, and how we can use them to make climate change work for us."

Among the tools are cities, which have conditions that can mimic what life may be like in the temperate zone of a heated planet.

"The city is our baseline for what might happen in future decades, and with all the negative effects global warming may have, there may be a bit of a silver lining," said Stephanie Searle, a plant physiologist who led a Columbia University research project on tree growth, and now works as a biofuels researcher at the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation. "Higher nighttime temperatures, at least, may boost plant growth." Robust growth takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.


. . .


The effects of higher, mostly urban emissions are what prompted Dr. Ziska to reappraise global warming as a potential benefit to humanity. In an essay last summer in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Dr. Ziska and a group of colleagues from across the world argued that an expected increase in world population to 9 billion people from 7 billion by 2050 necessitated a "green revolution" to enhance yields of basic grains. Carbon dioxide, the group suggested, could be the answer.

Since 1960, world atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 24 percent to 392 parts per million and could reach 1,000 parts per million by the end of this century.


. . .


In New York, the Columbia researchers studied for eight years the growth of red oak seedlings at four locations, including an "urban" site near the northeastern edge of Central Park at 105th Street and a "remote" site in the Catskills 100 miles north of Manhattan near the Ashokan Reservoir.


. . .


The Columbia team's first red oak experiments ended in 2006, and average minimum temperatures in August were 71.6 degrees at the city site, but 63.5 degrees in the Catskills. Researchers also noticed that the city oaks had elevated levels of leaf nitrogen, a plant nutrient.

The team did two more rounds of experiments, then in 2008 made a final outdoor test using fertilized rural soil everywhere so all the seedlings got plenty of nitrogen. The urban oaks, harvested in August 2008, weighed eight times as much as their rural cousins, mostly because of increased foliage.

"On warm nights, the tree respires more," Dr. Griffin said. "It invests its carbon sugars to build tissue." By morning, the tree's sugars are depleted, and it has to photosynthesize more during the day, he continued. The tree grows more leaves and gets bigger.



For the full story, see:

GUY GUGLIOTTA. "Looking to Cities, in Search of Global Warming's Silver Lining." The New York Times (Tues., November 27, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "said" added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2012.)



The Ziska article mentioned above, is:

Ziska, Lewis H., James A. Bunce, Hiroyuki Shimono, David R. Gealy, Jeffrey T. Baker, Paul C. D. Newton, Matthew P. Reynolds, Krishna S. V. Jagadish, Chunwu Zhu, Mark Howden, and Lloyd T. Wilson. "Food Security and Climate Change: On the Potential to Adapt Global Crop Production by Active Selection to Rising Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, no. 1745 (Oct. 22, 2012): 4097-105.


The article co-authored by Searle and Griffin, and mentioned above, is:

Searle, Stephanie Y., Danielle S. Bitterman, Samuel Thomas, Kevin L. Griffin, Owen K. Atkin, and Matthew H. Turnbull. "Respiratory Alternative Oxidase Responds to Both Low- and High-Temperature Stress in Quercus Rubra Leaves Along an Urban-Rural Gradient in New York." Functional Ecology 25, no. 5 (Oct. 2011): 1007-17.






April 10, 2013

At Least By 100,000 Years Ago, Humans Looked Just Like Us




(p. 22) The exact time . . . protohumans became fully modern humans is of course debated. Some say 200,000 years ago, but the undisputed latest date is 100,000 years ago. By 100,000 years ago, humans had crossed the threshold where they were outwardly indistinguishable from us. We would not notice anything amiss if one of them were to stroll alongside us on the beach. However, their tools and most of their behavior were indistinguishable from those of their relatives the Neanderthals in Europe and Erectus in Asia.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 9, 2013

Marx's Contradictions Due to His Being a Reactive Journalist Instead of a Philosopher




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Source of book image: http://s-usih.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/marx.jpg



(p. 14) Plenty of scholars sweated through the 20th century trying to reconcile inconsistencies across the great sweep of Marx's writing, seeking to shape a coherent Marxism out of Marx. Sperber's approach is more pragmatic. He accepts that Marx was not a body of ideas, but a human being responding to events. In this context, it's telling that Marx's prime vocation was not as an academic but as a campaigning journalist: Sperber suggests Marx's two stints at the helm of a radical paper in Cologne represented his greatest periods of professional fulfillment. Accordingly, much of what the scholars have tried to brand as Marxist philosophy was instead contemporary commentary, reactive and therefore full of contradiction.


For the full review, see:

JONATHAN FREEDLAND. "A Man of His Time." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 31, 2013): 14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 29, 2013.)


The book under review:

Sperber, Jonathan. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2013.






April 8, 2013

Darwin's Worry About Gradual Evolution of Eye




Darwin and others have worried about whether an eye could have evolved gradually. The issue is whether the earlier gradations leading up to the eye would have given any survival advantage. Matt Ridley's column, quoted below, argues that Darwin need not have worried.


(p. C4) Davide Pisani and colleagues from the National University of Ireland have traced the ancestry of the three kinds of "opsin" protein that animals use, in combination with a pigment, to detect light.


. . .


. . . , the anatomy of eyes shows every gradation between simple light-sensitive spots and full cameras. The detailed genetic evidence of descent with modification from a single common ancestor further vindicates Darwin and has largely silenced the Intelligent Design movement's use of the eye as a favored redoubt.

After the duplications that led to working opsin molecules, there seems to have been a long pause before complex eyes appeared.

The first lensed eyes that fossilized belonged to the trilobites which dominated the Cambrian oceans after 525 million years ago.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; A Relief to Darwin: The Eyes Have It." The New York Times (Tues., November 3, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the November 2, 2012.)






April 7, 2013

Confident Winner Studied Economics at Cambridge and Directed Bronson in "Death Wish"




WinnerMichaelWithCharlesBronsonDeathWishSet2013-03-10.jpg

"Michael Winner, left, and Charles Bronson on the set of the 1974 film "Death Wish." The two collaborated on several films." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.


(p. B8) Michael Winner, the brash British director known for violent action movies starring Charles Bronson including "The Mechanic" and the first three "Death Wish" films, died on Monday [January 21, 2013] at his home in London. He was 77.


. . .


Mr. Winner's films viscerally pleased crowds, largely ignored artistic pretensions and often underwhelmed critics. He directed many major stars in more than 30 films over more than four decades.


. . .


Mr. Bronson played Paul Kersey, a New York City architect who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers.


. . .


Michael Robert Winner was born in London on Oct. 30, 1935. The son of a well-to-do business owner, Mr. Winner graduated from Cambridge, having studied law and economics.


. . .


He was confident on set, sometimes bordering on the dictatorial. "You have to be an egomaniac about it. You have to impose your own taste," he said. "The team effort is a lot of people doing what I say."



For the full obituary, see:

DANIEL E. SLOTNIK. "Michael Winner, 77, 'Death Wish' Director." The New York Times (Tues., January 22, 2013): B8.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the slightly different title "Michael Winner, 'Death Wish' Director, Dies at 77.")

(Note: ellipses and bracketed date were added.)






April 6, 2013

In Later Middle Ages Machines Replaced Slaves and Coolies




(p. 7) By the European Middle Ages, craftiness manifested itself most significantly in a new use of energy. An efficient horse collar had disseminated throughout society, drastically increasing farm acreage, while water mills and windmills were improved, increasing the flow of lumber and flour and improving drainage. And all this plentitude came without slavery. As Lynn White, historian of technology, wrote, "The chief glory (p. 8) of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building for the first time in history of a complex civilization which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies but primarily on non-human power." Machines were becoming our coolies.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






April 5, 2013

"Before British Settlement" American Indians Lived Lives of "Violence, Terror and Stoic Suffering"




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Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Mfln_Fc2NF4/ULE7koH_h7I/AAAAAAAAD1Y/4AOrpodtoac/s1600/9780394515700.jpg



(p. C8) Mr. Bailyn opens with an account of the Indians of eastern North America in the years before English settlement. He reviews their economy, technology, religion and much else, drawing examples from the Powhatan, the Pequot and other tribes. He emphasizes the violence, terror and stoic suffering in their lives rather more than the contemporary specialists in the subject would, but brutality--on just about everyone's part--is a major theme throughout this book.


For the full review, see:

J.R. MCNEILL. "BOOKSHELF; Before Plymouth Rock, and After." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 17, 2012): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 16, 2012.)



Book under review:

Bailyn, Bernard. The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.






April 4, 2013

Scientists May Be Double-Dipping in Multiple Grants for Same Project




(p. D) The government may be wasting millions of dollars by paying for the same research projects twice, according to a new analysis of grant and contract records.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and Duke University compared more than 600,000 grant summaries issued to federal agencies since 1985. What they found was almost $70 million that might have been spent on projects that were already at least partly financed. The results were published in the journal Nature.



For the full story, see:

DOUGLAS QUENQUA. "Study Flags Duplicate Financing." The New York Times (Sat., February 5, 2013): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2013.)



The research summarized above, can be found in:

Garner, Harold R., Lauren J. McIver, and Michael B. Waitzkin. "Research Funding: Same Work, Twice the Money?" Nature 493, no. 7434 (Jan. 31, 2013): 599-601.






April 3, 2013

Liver Transplant Pioneer Roy Calne Has a "Rebellious Nature"




CalneRoyLiverTransplantPioneer2013-03-09.jpg











"Roy Y. Calne" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.





(p. D2) Sir Roy Calne is a pioneer of organ transplants -- the surgeon who in the 1950s found ways to stop the human immune system from rejecting implanted hearts, livers and kidneys. In 1968 he performed Europe's first liver transplant, and in 1987 the world's first transplant of a liver, heart and lung.


. . .


When you were studying medicine in early-1950s Britain, what was the prevailing attitude toward organ transplantation?

It didn't exist! While a medical student, I recall being presented with a young patient with kidney failure. I was told to make him as comfortable as possible because he would die in two weeks.

This troubled me. Some of our patients were very young, very deserving. Aside from their kidney disease, there was nothing else wrong with them. I wondered then if it might be possible to do organ transplants, because kidneys are fairly simple in terms of their plumbing. I thought in gardening terms. Might it not be possible to do an organ graft, replacing a malfunctioning organ with a healthy one? I was told, "No, that's impossible."

Well, I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature. Just ask my wife.



For the full interview, see:

CLAUDIA DREIFUS, interviewer. "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; "I've always tended to dislike being told that something can't be done. I've always had a somewhat rebellious nature."" The New York Times (Weds., November 27, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original to indicate interviewer (Dreifus) question.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date November 26, 2012 and has the title "A CONVERSATION WITH ROY Y. CALNE; Organ Transplant Pioneer Talks About Risks and Rewards.")






April 2, 2013

Great Cities Innovate to Adapt to Possible Global Warming Floods




(p. C3) Spurred by long histories of disastrous storms, the urban engineers of Venice, Tokyo and the Netherlands have been among the pioneers of modern flood control, building storm surge barriers and sea walls on the scale of the pyramids. Such structures could well be models for New York City in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

The cities most experienced in building bulwarks against flood tides and storm surges are at a turning point, however, in their struggle for control of nature. The land upon which they are built continues to sink, population grows and the seas around them rise. As city planners reach the limits of conventional flood control measures, they are experimenting with ways to re-engineer low-lying urban waterfronts.

In Rotterdam, architects are building houses that float on floods. Beneath Tokyo, engineers have tunneled to create miles of emergency floodwater reservoirs. And in St. Petersburg, where storm tides have flooded the city about once a year since its founding in 1703, engineers last year completed a storm-surge barrier more than 15 miles long.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Keeping Our Heads Above Water; What can New York learn from other great cities battling rising tides and sinking land?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 1, 2012): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 30, 2012.)






April 1, 2013

Kevin Kelly Explains and Criticizes Amish Attitude toward Technology




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Source of book image: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/files/2012/02/kevin-kelly-book_rdax_620x349-300x285.jpg



Kevin Kelly's book has received a lot of attention, sometimes in conjunction with Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From, with which it shares some themes. I found the Kelly book valuable, but frustrating.

The valuable part includes the discussion of the benefits of technology, and the chapter detailing Amish attitudes and practices related to technology. On the latter, for instance, I learned that the Amish do not categorically reject new technology, but believe that it should be adopted more slowly, after long community deliberation.

What frustrated me most about the book is that it argues that technology has a life of its own and that technological progress is predetermined and inevitable. (I believe that technological progress depends on enlightened government policies and active entrepreneurial initiative, neither of which is inevitable.)

In the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of the more important or thought-provoking passages in the book.


The reference for Kelly's book, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.



The Johnson book mentioned above, is:

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






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