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February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups




(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)






February 27, 2014

Fired Dissident Xia Yeliang Warns that Chinese Universities Do Not Value Academic Freedom




XiaYeliangFiredPekingEconomist2014-02-21.jpg "Xia Yeliang in New Jersey. Professor Xia, whose firing by Peking University provoked an outcry, is joining the Cato Institute." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A10) A Chinese dissident, dismissed from his job as an economics professor at Peking University after clashes with his government over liberalization, will become a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute on Monday, he said.

In an interview on Friday, the dissident, Xia Yeliang, warned that American universities should be careful about partnerships with Chinese universities. "They use the reputations of Western universities to cover their own scandals," he said.

"Perhaps Western universities do not realize that Chinese universities do not have the basic value of academic freedom, and try to use Western universities to cover their bad side," Professor Xia added.



For the full story, see:

TAMAR LEWIN. "Chinese Dissident Lands at Institute With a Caution to Colleges." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014, and has the title "Chinese Dissident Lands at Cato Institute With a Caution to Colleges.")






February 26, 2014

Carnegie's Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs




(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices--and profits--higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.

On the issue of the tariff--as on few others--Pittsburgh's workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.

The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 25, 2014

Catmull's Pixar Had Technology Serve Story




StorytellingAnimalBK2014-02-23.jpg

















Source of book image: http://rorotoko.com/images/uploads/gottschall_storytelling_animal.jpg



Ed Catmull, one of the creators of Pixar, discusses a favorite book of 2013. Catmull's appreciation of the importance of storytelling may help explain why the early Pixar movies were so wonderful:



(p. C6) I am constantly struck by how many people think of stories solely as entertainment--edifying or time-wasting but still: entertainment. "The Storytelling Animal" by Jonathan Gottschall shows that the storytelling part of our brain is deeper and more complex than that, wired into the way we think and learn. This struck me as a powerful idea, that our brain is structured for and shaped by stories whose value goes beyond entertainment and socialization.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Catmull praises is:

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.






February 24, 2014

Terrorist Threat to Electric Grid Is Overblown




(p. A13) On April 16, 2013, TV stations in Northern California reported a rifle attack on the Metcalf substation near San Jose along with the cutting of a nearby fiber-optic line.


. . .


One expert suggested if the assault were widely replicated around the country, it could take down the grid. Well, yes, but it would require an army. Every substation is different and would have to be scouted separately. And wouldn't such an army be keen not to give away its presence? And why, if a terrorist had dozens of trained and disciplined fighters to deploy inside the U.S., would their target be utility substations?


. . .


One agency that wasn't overselling the terrorist threat was the FBI, perhaps because the FBI investigates so many such attacks. Until the Metcalf incident is solved, any motive anyone cares to suggest will be plausible. PG&E has been a hate target of paranoiacs who believe smart meters cause cancer. The substation serves Silicon Valley, which lately has been accruing class enemies from San Francisco "progressives." Eco-radicals have been quoting Ted Kaczynski for years on the need to attack the vital systems of industrial society. And, yes, the odd al Qaeda enthusiast exists in our midst. So do 15-year-old males with a surfeit of testosterone.



For the full story, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Bull's-Eye on the Electric Grid; There's nothing new about people shooting out the lights." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 12, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 11, 2014, and the title "Bull's-Eye on the Utility System; There's nothing new about people shooting out the lights.")






February 23, 2014

Salt Encapsulates Nuclear Waste for "Millions of Years"




DesertSaltMinesNuclearWaste2014-02-21.jpg"Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. Metal walls are installed once a "panel" is filled with waste containers and backfilled with salt, shown during a tour of the mines at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A9) CARLSBAD, N.M. -- Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste.

The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons.

The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years.


. . .


Some people despair of finding a place for what officials call a high-level nuclear "repository" -- they shy away from "dump" -- but Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist who is chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and who served on a presidential study commission established after the Yucca plan was canceled, said WIPP proves it can be done.

"The main lesson from WIPP is that we have already developed a geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country, so we can in the future," she said.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A9-A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014.)






February 22, 2014

Jay Gould Said Railroad Rates Should Be Set by "the Laws of Supply and Demand"




(p. 344) Jay Gould, asked in 1885 by a Senate investigating committee if he believed a "general national law" was needed to regulate railroad rates, responded that they were already regulated by "the laws of supply and demand, production, and consumption."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 21, 2014

Hero Rebels Against the Bureau of Technology Control




InfluxBK2014-02-19.jpg
















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



(p. D8) In "Influx," . . . , a sinister Bureau of Technology Control kidnaps scientists that have developed breakthrough technologies (the cure to cancer, immortality, true artificial intelligence), and is withholding their discoveries from humanity, out of concern over the massive social disruption they would cause. "We don't have a perfect record--Steve Jobs was a tricky one--but we've managed to catch most of the big disrupters before they've brought about uncontrolled social change," says the head of the bureau, the book's villain. The hero has developed a "gravity mirror" but refuses to cooperate, despite the best efforts of Alexa, who has been genetically engineered by the Bureau to be both impossibly sexy and brilliant.

In the publishing world, there is a growing sense that "Influx," Mr. Suarez's fourth novel, may be his breakout book and propel him into the void left by the deaths of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. "Influx' has Mr. Suarez's largest initial print run, 50,000 copies, and Twentieth Century Fox bought the movie rights last month.

An English major at the University of Delaware with a knack for computers, Mr. Suarez started a consulting firm in 1997, working with companies like Nestlé on complex production and logistics-planning issues. "You only want to move 100 million pounds of sugar once," says Mr. Suarez, 49 years old.

He began writing in his free-time. Rejected by 48 literary agents--(a database expert, he kept careful track)--he began self-publishing in 2006 under the name Leinad Zeraus, his named spelled backward. His sophisticated tech knowledge quickly attracted a cult following in Silicon Valley, Redmond, Wash., and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT bookstore was the first bookstore to stock his self-published books in 2007.



For the full review, see:

EBEN SHAPIRO. "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 7, 2014): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2014, and the title "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future.")


The book under review, is:

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Dutton, 2014.



SuarezDanielAuthorInflux2014-02-19.jpg










Author of Influx, Daniel Suarez. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.








February 20, 2014

The Young, with Managerial Experience, Are Most Likely to Become Entrepreneurs




(p. A13) In a current study analyzing the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, my colleagues James Liang, Jackie Wang and I found that there is a strong correlation between youth and entrepreneurship. The GEM survey is an annual assessment of the "entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes" of thousands of individuals across 65 countries.

In our study of GEM data, which will be issued early next year, we found that young societies tend to generate more new businesses than older societies. Young people are more energetic and have many innovative ideas. But starting a successful business requires more than ideas. Business acumen is essential to the entrepreneur. Previous positions of responsibility in companies provide the skills needed to successfully start businesses, and young workers often do not hold those positions in aging societies, where managerial slots are clogged with older workers.

In earlier work (published in the Journal of Labor Economics, 2005), I found that Stanford MBAs who became entrepreneurs typically worked for others for five to 10 years before starting their own businesses. The GEM data reveal that in the U.S. the entrepreneurship rate peaks for individuals in their late 20s and stays high throughout the 30s. Those in their early 20s have new business ownership rates that are only two-thirds of peak rates. Those in their 50s start businesses at about half the rate of 30-year-olds.

Silicon Valley provides a case in point. Especially during the dot-com era, the Valley was filled with young people who had senior positions in startups. Some of the firms succeeded, but even those that failed provided their managers with valuable business lessons.

My co-author on the GEM study, James Liang, is an example. After spending his early years as a manager at the young and rapidly growing Oracle, he moved back to China to start Ctrip, one of the country's largest Internet travel sites.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD P. LAZEAR. "The Young, the Restless and Economic Growth; Countries with a younger population have far higher rates of entrepreneurship." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 22, 2013.)


The Lazear paper mentioned above, is:

Lazear, Edward P. "Entrepreneurship." Journal of Labor Economics 23, no. 4 (October 2005): 649-80.






February 19, 2014

In South Korea, "Spam Is a Classy Gift"




SpamGiftBoxesInSeoul2014-02-07.jpg "Spam gift boxes at the Lotte Department Store in Seoul." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Often when I explain the concept of an "inferior good" to my micro principles classes, I use the example of Spam, sometimes elaborating that I failed my first attempt to earn the Boy Scouts cooking merit badge, when I was unable to open my can of Spam. I go on to point out that goods that are "inferior" for some people, can be "normal" goods for other people, depending on preferences, and that I had read somewhere that Spam was a treasured gift in South Korea, and hence was probably NOT an inferior good for most South Koreans.

Finally, documentation of my impression:


(p. A1) SEOUL, South Korea -- As the Lunar New Year holiday approaches, Seoul's increasingly well-heeled residents are scouring store shelves for tastefully wrapped boxes of culinary specialties. Among their favorite choices: imported wines, choice cuts of beef, rare herbal teas. And Spam.

Yes, Spam. In the United States, the gelatinous meat product in the familiar blue and yellow cans has held a place as thrifty pantry staple, culinary joke and kitschy fare for hipsters without ever losing its low-rent reputation. But in economically vibrant South Korea, the pink bricks of pork shoulder and ham have taken on a bit of glamour as they have worked their way into people's affections.

"Here, Spam is a classy gift you can give to people you care about during the holiday," said Im So-ra, a saleswoman at the high-end Lotte Department Store in downtown Seoul who proudly displayed stylish boxes with cans of Spam nestled inside.


. . .


(p. A7) . . . George H. Lewis, a sociologist at the University of the Pacific, noted in a 2000 article in The Journal of Popular Culture that Spam won its "highest" status in South Korea. Here, he observed, Spam not only outranked Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken in status, but was given as a gift "on occasions of importance when one wishes to pay special honor and proper respect."


. . .


"Spam maintains a mythical aura on the Korean market for reasons that escape many," mused Koo Se-woong, a lecturer of Korean studies at Yale University's MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. "Given Spam's introduction to South Korea through the U.S. military, it enjoyed an association with prosperity and nutritiousness during an earlier era."


. . .


"To me, Spam was just a tasteful and convenient food that mother used to cook for us," she said. "The thing about Spam is that it goes marvelously well with kimchi and rice."



For the full story, see:

CHOE SANG-HUN. "In South Korea, Spam Is the Stuff Gifts Are Made Of." The New York Times (Mon., JAN. 27, 2014): A1 & A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2014.)


Lewis' academic article on spam, is:

Lewis, George H. "From Minnesota Fat to Seoul Food: Spam in America and the Pacific Rim." The Journal of Popular Culture 34, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 83-105.






February 18, 2014

Carnegie Donated to Pro-Steel-Tariff Republicans




(p. 331) Through good times and bad, protected tariffs on imported steel rails had kept the domestic steel business strong--and the steelmakers, a major force in Pennsylvania politics, had responded by doing all they could to reelect pro-tariff Republicans. Three weeks before the 1884 elections, Carnegie had written his partners in Pittsburgh that "Bethlehem, Penna. Steel Co., Cambria, and Lackawanna I & C [Iron & Coal] have each given $ 5,000 to the Republican National Committee and we have been asked to give the same amount which I think is only fair."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 17, 2014

Would Science Progress Faster If It Were Less Academic and More Entrepreneurial?




BootstrapGeologistBK2014-01-18.jpg














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




(p. D5) There is Big Science, defined as science that gets the big bucks. There is tried and true science, which, from an adventurous dissident's point of view, is boldly going where others have gone before but extending the prevailing knowledge by a couple of decimal places (a safe approach for dissertation writers and grant seekers).

Then there is bootstrap science, personified by Gene Shinn, who retired in 2006 after 31 years with the United States Geological Survey and 15 years with a research arm of the Shell Oil Company.


. . .


Without a Ph.D. and often without much financing, Mr. Shinn published more than 120 peer-reviewed papers that helped change many experts' views on subjects like how coral reefs expand and the underwater formation of limestone. Some of his papers, at odds with established scientific views, were initially rejected, only to be seen later as visionary.

His bootstrap ingredients included boundless curiosity, big ideas -- "gee-whiz science," he calls it -- persistence, a sure hand at underwater demolition (dynamite was comparatively easy to come by in those remarkably innocent days) and versatility at improvising core-sampling equipment on tight budgets. The ability to enlist the talents of other scientists, many with doctorates, who shared his love of hands-on field work and his impatience with official rules and permits added to the mix.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL POLLAK. "BOOKS; Science on His Own Terms." The New York Times (Tues., November 5, 2013): D5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 4, 2013.)


Book under review:

Shinn, Eugene A. Bootstrap Geologist: My Life in Science. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.






February 16, 2014

Incandesce




(p. A11) When I am asked if I want a Compact Fluorescent Light, the only thought I have is that I don't want my light to be compact, nor do I wish it to be florescent. I want a light that will incandesce across my room, filling it with a familiar yellow surf, and remind me that it was not with wax or kerosene, but with incandescent bulbs that man conquered the night.


. . .


I imagine what will happen when the filaments in my final incandescent bulbs grow weak, and I can hardly read my notes before me. Will I no longer be able to write at night? Or worse, will living with CFLs and LEDs make every day feel like I have just spent nine hours plastered before a computer screen? One day, soon, I will turn on my light and hear for the last time the signature, explosive death rattle of an incandescent bulb, and I'll hold a vigil for the light that shaped and witnessed more than a century of human history. Tender is the light, Keats might say.

In my lightless room, I'll sit for a moment and wonder how many more times in my life I'll watch a bulb go out again. As I look to my dead bulb, I'll think of the poet again and whisper: Darkling, you were not a piece of technology born for death.



For the full commentary, see:

ALEXANDER ACIMAN. "Tender Is the Light of My Incandescents; Bracing myself for life once the filaments in my beloved bulbs grow weak." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 30, 2014.)






February 15, 2014

Big Island of Hawaii Bans G.M.O.s Despite Papaya Saved from Disease




IlaganGreggorDefenderOfGMOs2014-01-19.jpg "Greggor Ilagan initially thought a ban on genetically modified organisms was a good idea." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) KONA, Hawaii -- From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill's proponents called a "G.M.O.-free oasis."

"You just type 'G.M.O.' and everything you see is negative," he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone's re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island's papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban's supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

"Are we going to just ignore them?" Mr. Ilagan wondered.

Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban's sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to "act before it's too late," the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence.


. . .


(p. 19) Ms. Wille urged a vote for the ban. "To do otherwise," she said, "would be to ignore the cries from round the world and on the mainland."

"Mr. Ilagan?" the Council member leading the meeting asked when it came time for the final vote.

"No," he replied.

The ban was approved, 6 to 3.

The mayor signed the bill on Dec. 5.



For the full story, see:

Amy Harmon. "On Hawaii, a Lonely Quest for Fact." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 5, 2014): 1 & 18-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 4, 2014, and has the title "A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.")



PapayaGeneticallyModified2014-01-19.jpg













"Papaya genetically modified to resist a virus became one part of a controversy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 14, 2014

Louise Carnegie Expressed Pompous Sanctimony While Leaving the Drudgery to Others






Andrew Carnegie's fiancée Louise:



(p. 294) "I certainly feel more in harmony with all the world after having been in communion with you, my Prince of Peace. I say this reverently, dear, for truly that is what you are to me, and I am so glad the world knows you as the Great Peacemaker." "What ideal lives we shall lead, giving all our best efforts to high and noble ends, while the drudgery of life is attended to by others. Without high ideals, it would be enervating and sinful. With them, it is glorious, and you are my prince among men, my own love."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: underline in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 13, 2014

Some Dogs, Like Humans, Thrive If They Have a Project




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Source of book image: http://www.stephthebookworm.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/What-the-Dog-Knows.jpg



(p. 40) Warren, a science journalism professor at North Carolina State University, never dreamed of becoming a cadaver dog handler, searching woods and rubble for dead bodies. She just wanted a new German shepherd puppy after the death of her saintly dog Zev. What she got was Solo: "a maniacal clown," loving and intensely smart, but "an unpredictable sociopath with other dogs." . . .

. . . Fortunately, Warren understood behavior issues are rarely the dog's fault. They often just mean humans haven't found the right way to channel their pet's energy.

. . . it's . . . a moving story of how one woman transformed her troubled dog into a loving companion and an asset to society, all while stumbling on the beauty of life in their searches for death.



For the full review, see:

REBECCA SKLOOT. "Release the Hounds." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 8, 2013): 40.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2013.)


Book under review:

Warren, Cat. What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs. New York: Touchstone, 2013.






February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad




(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.

But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.

But Fortress has a bigger fish in the pan. Its local operation, Florida East Coast Industries, is a lineal progeny of Henry Flagler, the 1890s entrepreneur who created modern Florida when he built a rail line to support his resort developments. Flagler's heirs are adopting the same model. A Grand Central-like complex will rise on the site of Miami's old train station. A similar but smaller edifice is planned for Fort Lauderdale.

The project is a vivid illustration of the factors that have to fall in place to make passenger rail viable nowadays. If the Florida venture succeeds, it would be the only intercity rail service anywhere in the world not dependent on government operating subsidies. It would be the first privately run intercity service in America since the birth of Amtrak in 1971.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Private Railroad Is Born; All Aboard Florida isn't looking for government operating subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2014.)






February 11, 2014

Global Warming Might Help Mangrove Forests Thrive in Florida




MangroveForest2014-01-19.jpg "Mangrove forests, like in the Everglades, serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and as habitat for a wide array of organisms. But salt marshes are also ecologically valuable." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) Much of the Florida shoreline was once too cold for the tropical trees called mangroves, but the plants are now spreading northward at a rapid clip, scientists reported Monday [December 30, 2013]. That finding is the latest indication that global warming, though still in its early stages, is already leading to ecological changes so large they can be seen from space.


. . .


The mangrove forests that fringe shorelines in the tropics are among the earth's environmental treasures, serving as spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and as habitat for a wide array of organisms. Yet in many places, mangroves are critically endangered by shoreline development and other human activities.

So a climatic change that allows mangroves to thrive in new areas might well be seen as a happy development.


. . .


For years, scientists working in Florida had been noticing that mangroves seemed to be creeping northward along the coast. The new study is the first to offer a precise quantification of the change, using imagery from a satellite called Landsat, and to link it to shifts in the climate.

Patrick Gillespie, a spokesman for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, offered no specific comment on the new paper. By email, he said the agency had indeed "seen an increase in mangrove habitats to the north and inward along the Atlantic coast. It's difficult to determine whether this is good or bad for the ecosystem because it's happened over a relatively short period (p. A16) of time and may be a result of many factors."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Spared Winter Freeze, Florida's Mangroves Are Marching North." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A14 & A16.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 30, 2013.)


The academic article on Florida's thriving mangrove forests, is:

Cavanaugh, Kyle C., James R. Kellner, Alexander J. Forde, Daniel S. Gruner, John D. Parker, Wilfrid Rodriguez, and Ilka C. Feller. "Poleward Expansion of Mangroves Is a Threshold Response to Decreased Frequency of Extreme Cold Events." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 111, no. 2 (January 14, 2014): 723-27.



MangroveMapGraphic2014-01-19.jpg















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







February 10, 2014

Carnegie Said "Socialism Is the Grandest Theory Ever Presented"





More on why Andrew Carnegie is not my favorite innovative entrepreneur:


(p. 257) "But are you a Socialist?" the reporter asked.

Carnegie did not answer directly. "I believe socialism is the grandest theory ever presented, and I am sure some day it will rule the world. Then we will have obtained the millennium.... That is the state we are drifting into. Then men will be content to work for the general welfare and share their riches with their neighbors."

"'Are you prepared now to divide your wealth' [he] was asked, and Mr. Carnegie smiled. 'No, not at present, but I do not spend much on myself. I give away every year seven or eight times as much as I spend for personal comforts and pleasures."



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed pronoun, in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 9, 2014

M.R.I. Evidence that Emotions Are Similar in Dogs and Humans




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Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-VIlNHG9gZ4M/Uo6zpfJTahI/AAAAAAAAU9U/9ASa-7VHHKc/s1600/a0c2a640e1085a57e07c368bfe5151f0_XL.jpg



(p. 40) Gregory Berns wasn't sure if his pug Newton really loved him. Newton wagged his tail and gave kisses, but that wasn't enough. Berns, a neuroscientist, wanted hard data. He also hoped to uncover "what makes for a strong dog-human bond" and how that might improve canine welfare. So he built a special M.R.I. machine, and trained dogs to lie still inside it, allowing him to study their brains. Though the results may seem obvious to dog lovers (that humans and dogs experience emotions similarly), they're not a given for science. Berns's book is a beautiful story about dogs, love and neurology that shows how nonhuman relationships are inspiring researchers to look at animals in new ways, for their benefit and ours.


For the full review, see:

REBECCA SKLOOT. "Release the Hounds." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 8, 2013): 40.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 6, 2013.)


Book under review:

Berns, Gregory. How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2013.



CallieDogMRI2014-01-18.jpg "After training and hot dog treats, Callie is ready for an MRI." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited above.







February 8, 2014

Organic and Kosher Chicken Have as Much Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria as Regular Chicken




(p. D3) . . . after a trip to Israel for his sister's bat mitzvah, Jack Millman came back to New York wondering whether the higher costs of kosher foods were justified.

"Most consumers perceive of kosher foods as being healthier or cleaner or somehow more valuable than conventional foods, and I was interested in whether they were in fact getting what they were paying for," said Mr. Millman, 18 and a senior at the Horace Mann School in New York City.

That question started him on a yearlong research project to compare the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria on four types of chickens: those raised conventionally; organically; without antibiotics, and those slaughtered under kosher rules. "Every other week for 10 weeks, I would go and spend the entire Saturday buying chicken," he said. "We had it specifically mapped out, and we would buy it and put it on ice in industrial-strength coolers given to us by the lab, and ship it out."

All told, Mr. Millman and his mother, Ann Marks, gathered 213 samples of chicken drumsticks from supermarkets, butcher shops and specialty stores in the New York area.

Now they and several scientists have published a study based on the project in the journal F1000 Research. The results were surprising.

Kosher chicken samples that tested positive for antibiotic-resistant E. coli had nearly twice as much of the bacteria as the samples from conventionally raised birds did. And even the samples from organically raised chickens and those raised without antibiotics did not significantly differ from the conventional ones.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "A Science Project With Legs." The New York Times (Tues., November 5, 2013): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The academic article on E. coli in different types of chicken, is:

Millman, Jack M., Kara Waits, Heidi Grande, Ann R. Marks, Jane C. Marks, Lance B. Price, and Bruce A. Hungate. "Prevalence of Antibiotic-Resistant E. Coli in Retail Chicken: Comparing Conventional, Organic, Kosher, and Raised without Antibiotics." F1000Research 2 (2013).






February 7, 2014

"Innovation" Word "Is Way Over-Used"




PeanutButterPopTarts2014-01-17.png Source of Pop-Tarts image: http://cdn.foodbeast.com.s3.amazonaws.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/poptarts.png



(p. B1) It measures nearly 3 inches by 5 inches, and it's made from enriched flour, corn syrup and creamy peanut butter.

This is Kellogg's Gone Nutty! peanut butter Pop-Tart. If you agree with Kellogg CEO John Bryant, it's one of the cereal company's important products of 2013. He went so far as to call it an innovation.

Listen to the chiefs of America's biggest companies, and you'll find the Gone Nutty! Pop-Tart has plenty of company. Most CEOs now spray the word "innovation" as if it were an air freshener. A little spritz can't hurt.

In the last three months, CEOs of S&P 500 companies have put the "innovation" word on Peony & Blush Suede perfume, premium potash and higher-alcohol Miller beer. "Innovation" also describes Dun & Bradstreet credit reports and PetSmart's temporary tattoos for pets.

Back in 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned innovation in their third-quarter conference calls, according to reviews of transcripts from Capital IQ. This year the number was 197.

When Boston Consulting Group asked 1,500 executives to rank their company innovation from 1-10, more than two-thirds rated themselves a seven or higher.

The word "is way overused," says International Paper CEO John Faraci.


. . .


(p. B8) As for the peanut butter Pop-Tarts, a Kellogg spokeswoman says that it had long been one of the most-requested new flavors.

"Development challenges and nut-allergy concerns stood in the way of launching this innovation. Since its launch, Pop-Tarts Gone Nutty has exceeded our expectations."

There's nothing wrong with keeping pace. It's what companies must do. But it's worth asking at your company, no matter what words the CEO uses: Where does survival end
and real innovation begin?



For the full commentary, see:

DENNIS K. BERMAN. "THE GAME; Is a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an Innovation?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 4, 2013): B1 & B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 3, 2013.)






February 6, 2014

Reagan "Was Canny Enough to Take His Cues from Technicians, Who Would Be Candid with Him about What the Doctors Really Meant"




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Source of book image: http://www.dispatch.com/live/export-content/sites/dispatch/life/stories/2011/03/28/2-book-rawhide-art-ga9c3l3q-1rawhide-down-large.jpg



(p. C7) It has been nearly 30 years since President Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The attack is well remembered, but the details are not. One reason for the memory lapse, according to Del Quentin Wilber, the author of "Rawhide Down," a newly revealing account of this potentially deadly attack, is that Reagan survived it so smoothly. Twelve days after being fired upon, he was back at the White House looking sensational. He ultimately enhanced his popularity by rebounding with such courage, resilience and even good cheer.


. . .


"Rawhide Down" is a fast-paced book that captures many points of view. Nurses and medical technicians have especially candid memories of the pressure they faced, the uncertainty about how to deal with such an important patient and the ad-hoc solutions they devised. They decided to call him Mr. Reagan rather than Mr. President; the situation would be less frightening that way. They were amazed by his joking, his courtesy and his general lack of V.I.P. attitude.

They were also impressed by his bravery. Throughout the incident the president had no clear idea of what had happened to him or what to expect. He struggled to breathe, brightened at any mention of the first lady and was canny enough to take his cues from technicians, who would be candid with him about what the doctors really meant. As he got ready to undergo chest surgery, one worker assured him that being taken from the E.R. to the operating room was a good thing. If he were really in peril, she said, doctors would never allow him to be moved.



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Reconstructing the Day Reagan Fell: Chaos After a President's Shooting." The New York Times (Thurs., March 10, 2011): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated March 9, 2011.)


The book under review is:

Wilber, Del Quentin. Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2011.






February 5, 2014

Evidence Babies Are Born with a Sense of Fairness




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Source of book image: http://news.yale.edu/sites/default/files/imce/main-bloom.jpg




(p. 15) Is morality innate? In his new book, "Just Babies," the psychologist Paul Bloom draws from his research at the Yale Infant Cognition Center to argue that "certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. . . . They are instead the products of biological evolution." Infants may be notoriously difficult to study (rats and pigeons "can at least run mazes or peck at levers"), but according to Bloom, they are, in fact, "moral creatures."

He describes a study in which 1-year-olds watched a puppet show where a ball is passed to a "nice" puppet (who passes it back) or to a "naughty" puppet (who steals it). Invited to reward or punish the puppets, children took treats away from the "naughty" one. These 1-year-olds seem to be making moral judgments, but is this an inborn ability? They have certainly had opportunities in the last 12 months to learn good from bad. However, Bloom has found that infants as young as 3 months old reach for and prefer looking at a "helper" rather than a "hinderer," which he interprets as evidence of moral sense, that babies are "drawn to the nice guy and repelled by the mean guy." He may be right, but he hasn't proved innateness.

Proving innateness requires much harder evidence -- that the behavior has existed from Day 1, say, or that it has a clear genetic basis. Bloom presents no such evidence. His approach to establishing innateness is to argue from universalism: If a behavior occurs across cultures, then surely it can't be the result of culture.



For the full review, see:

SIMON BARON-COHEN. "Little Angels." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 29, 2013): 15.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 27, 2013.)


Book under review:

Bloom, Paul. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. New York: Crown Publishers, 2013.






February 4, 2014

Teles Argues the Evils of Government Arise More from Its Complexity than Its Size




(p. A21) Steven M. Teles had a mind-altering essay in National Affairs called "Kludgeocracy in America." While we've been having a huge debate about the size of government, the real problem, he writes, is that the growing complexity of government has made it incoherent. The Social Security system was simple. But now we have a maze of saving mechanisms -- 401(k)'s, I.R.A.'s, 529 plans and on and on. Health insurance is now so complicated that only 14 percent of beneficiaries could answer basic questions about deductibles and co-pays.

This complexity stymies rational thinking, imposes huge compliance costs, and aids special interests who are capable of manipulating the intricacies. One of the reasons we have such complex structures, Teles argues, is that Americans dislike government philosophically, but like government programs operationally. Rather than supporting straightforward government programs, they support programs in which public action is hidden behind a morass of tax preferences, obscure regulations and intricate litigation.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards, Part 2." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)


The article praised by Brooks is:

Teles, Steven M. "Kludgeocracy in America." National Affairs 17 (Fall 2013): 97-114.






February 3, 2014

Trying to Inspire "Parents to Raise More Walts and Roys"




DisneyBirthplaceChicago2014-01-17.jpg











"A rendering of the Walt Disney Birthplace, a planned private museum in Chicago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. C3) LOS ANGELES -- The on-again-off-again campaign to turn Walt Disney's Chicago birthplace into an attraction has taken an unexpected new turn. And two theme park ride designers who mostly work for Disney rivals are at the wheel.


. . .


"We don't want to disrupt the neighborhood with a big attraction," Mr. Young said. "But we're also not interested in just putting a plaque on a house." Ms. Benadon added: "Our dream is that this house becomes a place that inspires creativity. We want to inspire parents to raise more Walts and Roys."

The couple have worked on attractions like SeaWorld shows; Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, a water ride at Universal Studios Singapore; and theme parks in China that are seeking to compete with Shanghai Disneyland, which is under construction.


. . .


So far, . . . , they have not contacted the Walt Disney Company. "We wanted to do this ourselves," Ms. Benadon said.


. . .


But Ms. Benadon and Mr. Young do have one important ally: Roy P. Disney, whose grandfather, Roy O. Disney, and great-uncle, Walt, founded the company. "On behalf of the Disney family," Mr. Disney said in a statement, "we are so pleased to see Walt Disney's historic birthplace and family home being restored to its humble origins."



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "A Chance to Step Into Disney's Childhood." The New York Times (Weds., December 4, 2013): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 3, 2013.)






February 2, 2014

Carnegie "Spoke Positively of Socialism"




Carnegie is a mixed bag for several reasons. Here is one more:


(p. 256) "A MILLIONAIRE SOCIALIST. MR. ANDREW CARNEGIE PROCLAIMS IN FAVOR OF SOCIALISTIC DOCTRINES." So read the headline of the January 2, 1885 front-page story in the New York Times, occasioned by Carnegie's remarks "in favor of Socialism" at the December meeting of the Nineteenth Century Club. One of the guests at that meeting was John Swinton, the publisher of a rather obscure radical weekly named Swinton's. Swinton invited Carnegie to sit for an interview and again he spoke positively of socialism.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 1, 2014

Twitter Founders Were Outsiders and Unafraid of Risk




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Source of the book image: http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/BN-AF602_bkrvtw_GV_20131031131314.jpg







(p. 20) . . . "Hatching Twitter," a fast-paced and perceptive new book by Nick Bilton, a columnist and reporter for The New York Times, establishes that uncertainty and dissension about its true purpose has characterized Twitter from its inception.


. . .


The company was financed by Williams, who made a bundle selling Blogger to Google and was intent on proving he wasn't a one-hit wonder. It rose from the ashes of a failed podcasting enterprise, Odeo, which Williams had bankrolled as a favor to his friend Noah Glass. Bilton sketches the founders' backgrounds and personalities in quick, skillful strokes that will serve the eventual screenwriter, director and storyboard artist well; these are characters made for the big screen.

None came from money. Ev Williams was a shy Nebraska farm boy whose parents never really understood their socially awkward, computer-obsessed son.


. . .


Having known hardship, none of the four founders were afraid of risk. To join the ill-fated Odeo, Stone walked away from a job at Google, leaving more than $2 million in unvested stock options on the table.

Twitter began with a conversation. Dorsey and Glass sat talking in a car one night in 2006 when Odeo was on the verge of collapse. Dorsey mentioned his "status concept," which was inspired by AOL's Instant Messenger "away messages" and LiveJournal status updates that people were using to mention where they were and what they were doing. Glass warmed to the idea, seeing it as a "technology that would erase a feeling that an entire generation felt while staring into their computer screens": loneliness.



For the full review, see:

MAUD NEWTON. "Four Characters." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 3, 2013): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2013.)


Book under review:

Bilton, Nick. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. New York: Portfolio, 2013.






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