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September 30, 2014

"Seeing What Everybody Has Seen and Thinking What Nobody Has Thought"





Szent-Györgyi is onto something important below. But I think it would be more accurate to say that we all experience dissonant events (but usually not the same dissonant events, as Szent-Györgyi implies), and that most of us let the events pass without noticing, or remembering, or making use of them. What is rare is to notice the events, remember them and make use of them. Those who carry around with them the burden of unsolved problems, and unfixed frustrations, are more likely to see in unexpected events solutions to those problems and fixes for the frustrations. This all takes the effort of our better self (what Kahneman calls our System 2). It takes effort to carry around the problems, to bear the dissonant observations, and to suffer the indifference of friends and the ridicule of experts. But it is through such effort that we better understand the world and, most importantly, that we improve the world.


(p. 12) "Discovery (p. 13) consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought," according to Nobelist Albert Szent-Györgyi.14


. . .


(p. 324) 14. Albert Szent-Györgyi, Bioenergetics (New York: Academic Press, 1957), 57.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 29, 2014

For Health Entrepreneurs "the Regulatory Burden in the U.S. Is So High"




(p. A11) Yo is a smartphone app. MelaFind is a medical device. Yo sends one meaningless message: "Yo!" MelaFind tells you: "biopsy this and don't biopsy that." MelaFind saves lives. Yo does not. Guess which firm found it easier to put their product in consumers hands?


. . .


In January 2010, Jeffrey Shuren, a veteran FDA official, was appointed director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the division responsible for evaluating MelaFind. Dr. Shuren, Dr. Gulfo writes, had "a reputation for being somewhat anti-industry" and "an aggressive agenda to completely revamp the device approval process." Thus in March MELA Sciences was issued something called a "Not Approvable letter" raising various questions about MelaFind.


. . .


The letter sent the author into survival mode. He battled the FDA, calmed investors, and defended against the lawsuit all while trying to keep the company afloat. Under stress, Dr. Gulfo's health began to decline: He lost 29 pounds, his hair began to fall out, and the pain in his gut became so intense he needed an endoscopy.


. . .


The climax to this medical thriller comes when, in "the greatest 15 minutes of [his] life," Dr. Gulfo delivers an impassioned speech, à la "Twelve Angry Men," to the FDA's advisory committee. The committee voted for approval, 8 to 7, and, perhaps with the congressional hearing in mind, the FDA approved MelaFind in September 2011.

It was a major triumph for the company, but Dr. Gulfo was beat. He retired from the company in June 2013-- . . .


. . .


Google's Sergey Brin recently said that he didn't want to be a health entrepreneur because "It's just a painful business to be in . . . the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs." Mr. Brin won't find anything in Dr. Gulfo's book to persuade him otherwise. Until we get our regulatory system in order, expect a lot more Yo's and not enough life-saving innovations.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; It's Broke. Fix It. MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 12, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the final paragraph, which is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Innovation Breakdown' by Joseph V. Gulfo; MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.")


The book under review is:

Gulfo, Joseph V. Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014.






September 28, 2014

Pause in Global Warming Invalidates Climate-Change Models




(p. A13) When the climate scientist and geologist Bob Carter of James Cook University in Australia wrote an article in 2006 saying that there had been no global warming since 1998 according to the most widely used measure of average global air temperatures, there was an outcry. A year later, when David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London made the same point, the environmentalist and journalist Mark Lynas said in the New Statesman that Mr. Whitehouse was "wrong, completely wrong," and was "deliberately, or otherwise, misleading the public."

We know now that it was Mr. Lynas who was wrong. Two years before Mr. Whitehouse's article, climate scientists were already admitting in emails among themselves that there had been no warming since the late 1990s. "The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998," wrote Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in Britain in 2005. He went on: "Okay it has but it is only seven years of data and it isn't statistically significant."

If the pause lasted 15 years, they conceded, then it would be so significant that it would invalidate the climate-change models upon which policy was being built. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) written in 2008 made this clear: "The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more."

Well, the pause has now lasted for 16, 19 or 26 years--depending on whether you choose the surface temperature record or one of two satellite records of the lower atmosphere. That's according to a new statistical calculation by Ross McKitrick, a professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "OPINION; Whatever Happened to Global Warming? Now come climate scientists' implausible explanations for why the 'hiatus' has passed the 15-year mark." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 5, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2014.)


The article mentioned above by economist McKitrick is:

McKitrick, Ross R. "HAC-Robust Measurement of the Duration of a Trendless Subsample in a Global Climate Time Series." Open Journal of Statistics 4 (2014): 527-35. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojs.2014.47050


For a possible deeper explanation of the McKitrick results, you may consult:

McMillan, David G., and Mark E. Wohar. "The Relationship between Temperature and CO2 Emissions: Evidence from a Short and Very Long Dataset." Applied Economics 45, no. 26 (2013): 3683-90.






September 27, 2014

Theory Said Giant Bird Could Not Fly, But It Flew Anyway




(p. A3) Scientists have identified the largest flying bird ever found--an ungainly glider with a wingspan of 21 feet or more that likely soared above ancient seas 25 million years ago.

Until now, though, it was a bird that few experts believed could get off the ground. By the conventional formulas of flight, the extinct sea bird--twice the size of an albatross, the largest flying bird today--was just too heavy to fly on its long, fragile wings.

But a new computer analysis reported Monday [July 7, 2014] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the bird apparently could ride efficiently on rising air currents, staying aloft for a week or more at a stretch.


. . .


"You have to conclude that this animal was capable of flapping its wings and taking off, even though it is much heavier than the theoretical maximum weight of a flapping flying bird," said Luis Chiappe, an expert on flight evolution at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, who wasn't involved in the project. "Our modern perspective on the diversity of flight is rather narrow," he said. "These were very unique birds."


. . .


"This was a pretty impressive creature," said avian paleontologist Daniel T. Ksepka at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn., who conducted the analysis of the bird's biomechanics. "Science had made a rule about flight, and life found a way around it."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "U.S. NEWS; Giant Bird Was Able to Fly, Scientists Find; Computer Analysis Shows Ancient Glider Could Get Off the Ground, Defying Conventional Theories of Flight." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 8, 2014): A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date July 7, 2014.)






September 26, 2014

Serendipitous Discoveries Are Made by "Accidents and Sagacity"




(p. 6) "Accident" is not really the best word to describe such fortuitous discoveries. Accident implies mindlessness. Christopher Columbus's discovery of the American continent was pure accident--he was looking for something else (the Orient) and stumbled upon this, and never knew, not even on his dying day, that he had discovered a new continent. A better name for the phenomenon we will be looking at in the pages to follow is "serendipity," a word that came into the English language in 1754 by way of the writer Horace Walpole. The key point of the phenomenon of serendipity is illustrated in Walpole's telling of an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (set in the land of Serendip, now known as Sri Lanka): "As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."

Accidents and sagacity. Sagacity--defined as penetrating intelligence, keen perception, and sound judgment--is essential to serendipity. The men and women who seized on lucky accidents that happened to them were anything but mindless. In fact, their minds typically had special qualities that enabled them to break out of established paradigms, imagine new possibilities, and see that they had found a solution, often to some problem other than the one they were working on. Accidental discoveries would be nothing without keen, creative minds knowing what to do with them.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 25, 2014

Insider Reports on Crony Journalism at CBS and ABC





You hear a lot these days about 'crony capitalism' which no-one, including me, much likes. (The version I like is entrepreneurial capitalism.) But we too often forget that adjective "crony" can modify other nouns besides "capitalism." Here are a couple of examples of crony journalism.


(p. A11) . . . skip to the second part, which is mostly a memoir and almost all about journalism. It includes one of the toughest critiques of television news ever written by an insider. From 1977 to 1989, Mr. Lewis worked for ABC News and then for CBS's news program "60 Minutes."


. . .


The most acute of Mr. Lewis's frustrations came when Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," refused to broadcast a Lewis report on former government officials profiting as U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests unless the name of Hewitt's good friend Pete Peterson, then chairman of the Blackstone Group, was excised from the script. In the story, a photograph showed five smiling Blackstone executives, all former federal appointees, in a Japanese newspaper advertisement seeking business for their lobbying efforts. Mr. Peterson was singled out by name in the voice-over narrative. Correspondent Mike Wallace, for whom Mr. Lewis worked directly, implored him in a shouting match to remove Mr. Peterson's name, to no avail. But Hewitt was more subtle, simply refusing to schedule the piece for airing. Mr. Lewis bitterly relented to Hewitt's implicit demand and quit the day after the story was broadcast.

As for ABC, Mr. Lewis reports that its legendary news chief Roone Arledge killed a tough story on tobacco at the request of "the Corporate guys," who were fearful that the network could complicate its position in a libel suit that Philip Morris had already filed against the broadcaster.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD J. TOFEL. "BOOKSHELF; Media Manipulation; At ABC News and CBS's '60 Minutes,' producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 16, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: '935 Lies' by Charles Lewis; At ABC News and CBS's '60 Minutes,' producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected.")


The book being reviewed is:

Lewis, Charles. 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






September 24, 2014

Less Time in Office Leaves Workers Happier, Less Stressed and Equally Productive




(p. 4) A recent study, published in The American Sociological Review, aimed to see whether the stress of work-life conflicts could be eased if employees had more control over their schedules, including being able to work from home.   . . .

The study, financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved the information technology department of a large corporation.   . . .

As part of the research, department managers received training to encourage them to show support for employees' family and personal lives, said Erin Kelly, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota and one of the lead authors of the study. Then employees were given much more control over their schedules than before. They "were free to work where and when they preferred, as long as the work got done," she said.

The results: The employees almost doubled the amount of time they worked at home, to an average of 19.6 hours from 10.2 hours. Total work hours remained roughly the same. Focusing on results rather than time spent at the office, and cutting down on "low value" meetings and other tasks, helped employees achieve more flexibility, Professor Kelly said.

Compared with another group that did not have the same flexibility, employees interviewed by the researchers said they felt happier and less stressed, had more energy and were using their time more effectively, Professor Kelly said. There was no sign that the quality of the work improved or declined with the changed schedules, she added.



For the full story, see:

PHYLLIS KORKKI. "Yes, Flexible Hours Ease Stress. But Is Everyone on Board?." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., AUG. 24, 2014): C4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 23, 2014.)


The study mentioned above is:

Kelly, Erin L., Phyllis Moen, and Eric Tranby. "Changing Workplaces to Reduce Work-Family Conflict: Schedule Control in a White-Collar Organization." American Sociological Review 76, no. 2 (April 2011): 265-90.






September 23, 2014

French Government Wastes $68.5 Million Ordering Trains Too Wide for Many Platforms




(p. B3) PARIS--France's state-run railway system on Wednesday admitted failing to mind the gap, after realizing that a fleet of new trains it has ordered are too wide to fit many of the country's stations.

Confirming a report in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, train operator Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer and network owner Réseau Ferré de France said about 1,300 of France's 8,700 railway platforms must be trimmed to make way for the wider rolling stock.

It will cost about €50 million ($68.5 million) to alter the platforms to fit the new trains by 2016, when they are delivered, SNCF and RFF said.



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM HOROBIN. "French in Uproar Over Train Snafu." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title "Mind the Gap: New French Trains Too Wide for Many Platforms.")






September 22, 2014

Funding Policies Constrain or Enable Serendipitous Discoveries




(p. xiv) Casting a critical eye on the way in which our society spends its research dollars, Happy Accidents offers new benchmarks for deciding how to spend future research funds. We as a society need to take steps to foster the kind of creative, curiosity-driven research that will certainly result in more lifesaving medical breakthroughs. Fostering an openness to serendipity has the potential to accelerate medical discovery as never before.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






September 21, 2014

"A Small Masterpiece of Animal Literature"




(p. A13) In the annals of publishing, there may be a precedent or two for a venerable military historian setting aside his generals and artillery to evoke the love affair that consumed him as a younger man, but it's probably safe to say that in none of these memoirs is the object of adoration feathered, 10 inches tall and given to maniacally attacking the historian's shoelaces. Such is the case with Martin Windrow's "The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar." If the above description makes the book sound funny, touching and divertingly novel, so it is. But there's more to it than that. In relaxed yet lapidary prose, Mr. Windrow--best known for "The Last Valley," his 2004 account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu--has produced an homage to both a creature and its species that is almost Leonardo-like in its precision and spirit of curiosity. The result is nothing less than a small masterpiece of animal literature.


. . .


Mumble became his mate-equivalent, and he hers. With the restraint typical of an educated Englishman of his generation, he does not dilate on what she meant to him, but we feel it the more keenly for his reticence.

A paradoxical pitfall of animal literature is that it achieves its effects too easily: Consider how quick we are to laugh when a writer so much as mentions a monkey. The good stuff, however, stands out for its refusal to push buttons or indulge in glib anthropomorphism. In this perfect book, Mr. Windrow may compare Mumble to a samurai and think of her as hurling at pigeons the owlish equivalent of a certain Anglo-Saxon expletive, but he never loses sight of what she is: Strix aluco, a beautiful alien.



For the full review, see:

BEN DOWNING. "BOOKSHELF; Full Feather Jacket; A military historian and an owl make a home together in a London high-rise. Visitors are issued vintage helmets for protection." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 1, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar' by Martin Windrow; A military historian and an owl make a home together in a London high-rise. Visitors are issued vintage helmets for protection.")


The book being reviewed is:

Windrow, Martin. The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 20, 2014

Modelers Can Often Obtain the Desired Result





(p. A13) After earning a master's degree in environmental engineering in 1982, I spent most of the next 10 years building large-scale environmental computer models. My first job was as a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency. I was hired to build a model to assess the impact of its Construction Grants Program, a nationwide effort in the 1970s and 1980s to upgrade sewer-treatment plants.

The computer model was huge--it analyzed every river, sewer treatment plant and drinking-water intake (the places in rivers where municipalities draw their water) in the country. I'll spare you the details, but the model showed huge gains from the program as water quality improved dramatically. By the late 1980s, however, any gains from upgrading sewer treatments would be offset by the additional pollution load coming from people who moved from on-site septic tanks to public sewers, which dump the waste into rivers. Basically the model said we had hit the point of diminishing returns.

When I presented the results to the EPA official in charge, he said that I should go back and "sharpen my pencil." I did. I reviewed assumptions, tweaked coefficients and recalibrated data. But when I reran everything the numbers didn't change much. At our next meeting he told me to run the numbers again.

After three iterations I finally blurted out, "What number are you looking for?" He didn't miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show $2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy.


. . .


There are no exact values for the coefficients in models such as these. There are only ranges of potential values. By moving a bunch of these parameters to one side or the other you can usually get very different results, often (surprise) in line with your initial beliefs.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. CAPRARA. "OPINION; Confessions of a Computer Modeler; Any model, including those predicting climate doom, can be tweaked to yield a desired result. I should know." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 9, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 8, 2014.)






September 19, 2014

Curing Cancer Requires Enabling Serendipity, Not a Centrally Planned War




Happy Accidents is a wonderful book on serendipitous discovery that I ran across serendipitously. I had never heard of the author, but was interested in serendipity, so I started to collect books that Amazon says have something to do with serendipity. I let Happy Accidents sit on my shelf for about four years before starting to read.

The author is a retired, distinguished physician. The book is mainly a compendium of cases where major medical advances resulted from chance discoveries. Of course, the discoveries usually required more than just good luck. They usually required that someone was alert to the unexpected, and was willing to work in order to turn the unexpected into a cure. Their efforts are often made all the harder because of resistance from powerful incumbent "experts" and institutions. Often the discoveries go against the current theory, and are discovered by underfunded marginal outsiders.

Meyers points out that the centrally planned War on Cancer has cost the taxpayer a lot of money, and has largely failed to achieve its intended and predicted results. The reason is that you cannot centrally plan serendipity.

During the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of Meyers' more revealing examples or thought-provoking comments.


Book discussed:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






September 18, 2014

Feds Threaten 14,000 Dead Men with Prison, if They Fail to Register for Draft




(p. A3) . . . the Selective Service System mistakenly sent notices to more than 14,000 Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897, ordering them to register for the nation's military draft and warning that failure to do so is "punishable by a fine and imprisonment."


. . .


Chuck Huey, 73, of Kingston, said he got a notice addressed to his late grandfather Bert Huey, a World War I veteran who was born in 1894 and died in 1995 at age 100.


. . .


Huey said he tried calling the Selective Service but couldn't get a live person on the line.


. . .


"You just never know. You don't want to mess around with the federal government," he said.



For the full story, see:

The Associated Press. "14,000 men sent draft reminders 100 years too late." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., July 11, 2014): 3A.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 17, 2014

Bill Gates on Xerox's Inventions and Mistakes




(p. C3) Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn't miss a beat: "It's 'Business Adventures,' by John Brooks, " he said. "I'll send you my copy." I was intrigued: I had never heard of "Business Adventures" or John Brooks.

Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me--and more than four decades after it was first published--"Business Adventures" remains the best business book I've ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you're reading this, I still have your copy.)


. . .


One of Brooks's most instructive stories is "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox." (The headline alone belongs in the Journalism Hall of Fame.) The example of Xerox is one that everyone in the tech industry should study. Starting in the early '70s, Xerox funded a huge amount of R&D that wasn't directly related to copiers, including research that led to Ethernet networks and the first graphical user interface (the look you know today as Windows or OS X).

But because Xerox executives didn't think these ideas fit their core business, they chose not to turn them into marketable products. Others stepped in and went to market with products based on the research that Xerox had done. Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, drew on Xerox's work on graphical user interfaces.

I know I'm not alone in seeing this decision as a mistake on Xerox's part. I was certainly determined to avoid it at Microsoft. I pushed hard to make sure that we kept thinking big about the opportunities created by our research in areas like computer vision and speech recognition. Many other journalists have written about Xerox, but Brooks's article tells an important part of the company's early story. He shows how it was built on original, outside-the-box thinking, which makes it all the more surprising that as Xerox matured, it would miss out on unconventional ideas developed by its own researchers. (To download a free e-book of "Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox," go to GatesNotes.com.)



For the full review, see:

BILL GATES. "My Favorite Business Book." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 12, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last quoted sentence is in the location, and has the wording, of the printer version, not the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 11, 2014, and has the title "Bill Gates's Favorite Business Book.")


The book being reviewed is:

Brooks, John. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street. pb ed. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, Inc., 2014.






September 16, 2014

Structural Reforms Needed to Increase Innovation




(p. A13) . . . , a lack of "demand" is no longer the problem.


. . .


Where, instead, are the problems? John Taylor, Stanford's Nick Bloom and Chicago Booth's Steve Davis see the uncertainty induced by seat-of-the-pants policy at fault. Who wants to hire, lend or invest when the next stroke of the presidential pen or Justice Department witch hunt can undo all the hard work? Ed Prescott emphasizes large distorting taxes and intrusive regulations. The University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan deconstructs the unintended disincentives of social programs. And so forth. These problems did not cause the recession. But they are worse now, and they can impede recovery and retard growth.

These views are a lot less sexy than a unicausal "demand," fixable by simple, magic-bullet policies. They require us to do the hard work of fixing the things we all agree need fixing: our tax code, our cronyist regulatory state, our welter of anticompetitive and anti-innovative protections, education, immigration, social program disincentives, and so on. They require "structural reform," not "stimulus," in policy lingo.



For the commentary, see:

JOHN H. COCHRANE. "OPINION; The Failure of Macroeconomics; When models don't yield the spending policies they want, some Keynesians abandon models--but not the spending." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., July 3, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2014.)






September 15, 2014

Drugs May Rebuild Muscle in Frail Elderly




(p. B1) In 1997, scientist Se-Jin Lee genetically engineered "Mighty Mice" with twice as much muscle as regular rodents. Now, pharmaceutical companies are using his discovery to make drugs that could help elderly patients walk again and rebuild muscle in a range of diseases.


. . .


"I am very optimistic about these new drugs," says Dr. Lee, a professor of molecular biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who isn't involved in any of the drug trials. "The fact that they're so far along means to me they must have seen effects."

Myostatin is a naturally occurring protein that curbs muscle growth. The drugs act by blocking it, or blocking the sites where it is detected in the body, potentially rebuilding muscle.



For the full story, see:

HESTER PLUMRIDGE and MARTA FALCONI. "Drugs Aim to Treat Frailty in Aging." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 28, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the second paragraph quoted above is divided into two mini-paragraphs in the online, but not in the print, version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2014, and has the title "Drugs Aim to Help Elderly Rebuild Muscle.")






September 14, 2014

Similarities Between Lucretius and Galileo




(p. 254) Like Lucretius, Galileo defended the oneness of the celestial and terrestrial world: there was no essential difference, he claimed, between the nature of the sun and the planets and the nature of the earth and its inhabitants. Like Lucretius, he believed that everything in the universe could be understood through the same disciplined use of observation and reason. Like Lucretius, he insisted on the testimony of the senses, against, if necessary, the orthodox claims of authority. Like Lucretius, he sought to work through this testimony toward a rational comprehension of the hidden structures of all things. And like Lucretius, he was convinced that these structures were by nature constituted by what he called "minims" or minimal particles, that is, constituted by a limited repertory of atoms combined in innumerable ways.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






September 13, 2014

Under Communism People Felt They Had No Control Over Their Lives




(p. C4) "When people have to talk about Communism," they tend to employ passive, impersonal constructions, as if they "had no influence on anything and were unwilling to take personal responsibility," he notes in one typically observant passage. "Thus, in a situation where someone ought to say: 'I was afraid to talk about it,' 'I hadn't the courage to ask about it,' or 'I had no idea about it,' they say: 'There was no talk about it.' 'Nothing was known about it.' 'That wasn't asked about.' "


For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Understanding the Land Where 'Kafkaesque' Was Born." The New York Times (Mon., June 23, 2014): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 22, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Szczygiel, Mariusz. Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2014.






September 12, 2014

3.2 Million Waiting for Care Under England's Single-Payer Socialized Medicine




(p. A13) . . . even as the single-payer system remains the ideal for many on the left, it's worth examining how Britain's NHS, established in 1948, is faring. The answer: badly. NHS England--a government body that receives about £100 billion a year from the Department of Health to run England's health-care system--reported this month that its hospital waiting lists soared to their highest point since 2006, with 3.2 million patients waiting for treatment after diagnosis. NHS England figures for July 2013 show that 508,555 people in London alone were waiting for operations or other treatments--the highest total for at least five years.

Even cancer patients have to wait: According to a June report by NHS England, more than 15% of patients referred by their general practitioner for "urgent" treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer waited more than 62 days--two full months--to begin their first definitive treatment.


. . .


The socialized-medicine model is struggling elsewhere in Europe as well. Even in Sweden, often heralded as the paradigm of a successful welfare state, months-long wait times for treatment routinely available in the U.S. have been widely documented.

To fix the problem, the Swedish government has aggressively introduced private-market forces into health care to improve access, quality and choices. Municipal governments have increased spending on private-care contracts by 50% in the past decade, according to Näringslivets Ekonomifakta, part of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, a Swedish employers' association.



For the commentary, see:

SCOTT W. ATLAS. "OPINION; Where ObamaCare Is Going; The government single-payer model that liberals aspire to for the U.S. is increasingly in trouble around the world." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., Aug. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 13, 2014.)






September 11, 2014

The Health Hazards of Government Guidelines on Salt




SaltIntakeGuidelinesGraphic2014-08-17.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) A long-running debate over the merits of eating less salt escalated Wednesday when one of the most comprehensive studies yet suggested cutting back on sodium too much actually poses health hazards.

Current guidelines from U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and other groups set daily dietary sodium targets between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower, well below the average U.S. daily consumption of about 3,400 milligrams.

The new study, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years, found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.

The findings, published in the (p. A2) New England Journal of Medicine, are the latest to challenge the benefit of aggressively low sodium targets--especially for generally healthy people. Last year, a report from the Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress on health issues, didn't find evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.



For the story, see:

RON WINSLOW. "Low-Salt Diets May Pose Health Risks, Study Finds." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., Aug. 14, 2014): A1-A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 13, 2014, an has the title "Low-Salt Diets May Pose Health Risks, Study Finds.")






September 10, 2014

Cardinal Explained to Emperor that It Is OK to Lie to Heretics




Notwithstanding the assurances that the pope, the council, and the emperor had given him, Hus was almost immediately vilified and denied the opportunity to speak in public. On November 28, barely three weeks after he arrived, he was arrested on order of the cardinals and taken to the prison of a Dominican monastery on the banks of the Rhine. There he was thrown into an underground cell through which all the filth of the monastery was discharged. When he fell seriously ill, he asked that an advocate be appointed to defend his cause, but he was told that, according to canon law, no one could plead the cause of a man charged with heresy. In the face of protests from Hus and his Bohemian supporters about the apparent violation of his safe-conduct, the emperor chose not to intervene. He was, it was said, uncomfortable about what seemed a violation of his word, but an English cardinal had reportedly reassured him that "no faith need be kept with heretics."


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: this quote is from somewhere on pp. 167-168; I bought the Kindle version which does not give page numbers correctly and I can't recover pages on this one from Google books; I would guess it is all on p. 168.)






September 9, 2014

"Et La Liberté!"




(p. C7) [A] milestone in the diary comes in 1943 when [Guéhenno's] students are drafted into compulsory work service in Germany; many escape to Spain or join resistance groups. Nor was Guéhenno exempt from the repression. That same year he was demoted by the Vichy education minister to the rank of a beginning instructor, assigned to teach 17 hours of class a week rather than the usual six and faced with supervising hundreds of students. "Stammering with fatigue," he wondered how he would have time to keep his diary going. But he cheered up whenever he contemplated how many of the authors in his curriculum were bona fide revolutionaries: "Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Danton, Robespierre, Chénier, Hugo, Michelet ..., I have nothing to discuss but suspects." He liked to end his class sessions by shouting "Et la liberté!"


For the full review, see:

Alice Kaplan. "Shedding Light on Nazi-Occupied Paris." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 26, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis in original; words in brackets were added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 25, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Guéhenno, Jean. Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris. Translated by David Ball. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.






September 8, 2014

Zionists "Risk Their Lives for an Idea"




(p. C1) . . . , without hesitation or (for the most part) complaint, proudly responding to the call-up, Israelis stand ready to defend their nation. They risk their lives for an idea.

The idea is Zionism. It is the belief that the Jewish people should have their own sovereign state in the Land of Israel. Though founded less than 150 years ago, the Zionist movement sprung from a 4,000-year-long bond between the Jewish people and its historic homeland, an attachment sustained throughout 20 centuries of exile. This is why Zionism achieved its goals and remains relevant and rigorous today. It is why citizens of Israel--the state that Zionism created--willingly take up arms. They believe their idea is worth fighting for.

Yet Zionism, arguably more than any other contemporary ideology, is demonized. "All Zionists are legitimate targets everywhere in the world!" declared a banner recently paraded by anti-Israel protesters in Denmark. "Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances," warned a sign in the window of a Belgian cafe. A Jewish demonstrator in Iceland was accosted and told, "You Zionist pig, I'm going to behead you."


. . .


What is it about Zionism that elicits such loathing? After all, the longing of a dispersed people for a state of their own cannot possibly be so repugnant, especially after that people endured centuries of massacres and expulsions, culminating in history's largest mass murder. Perhaps revulsion toward Zionism stems from its unusual blend of national identity, religion and loyalty to a land. Japan offers the closest parallel, but despite its rapacious past, Japanese nationalism doesn't evoke the abhorrence aroused by Zionism.

Clearly anti-Semitism, of both the European and Muslim varieties, plays a role. Cabals, money grubbing, plots to take over the world and murder babies--all the libels historically leveled at Jews are regularly hurled at Zionists. And like the anti-Semitic capitalists who saw all Jews as communists and the communists who painted capitalism as inherently Jewish, the opponents of Zionism portray it as the abominable Other.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL B. OREN. "In Defense of Zionism." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 2, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 1, 2014.)






September 7, 2014

Conservatives Still Read Books, Despite Book Industry Slump




(p. B1) Of all the headaches of her current book tour -- the declining sales, the constant travel, the interviews that generated unkind headlines about her family's wealth -- this one may sting Hillary Rodham Clinton the most: Her memoir, "Hard Choices," has just been toppled from its spot on the best-seller list by a sensational Clinton account by her longtime antagonist Edward Klein.


. . .


. . . : the conservative book-buying public, . . . has continued to generate sales despite the industry's overall slump, . . .



For the full story, see:

AMY CHOZICK and ALEXANDRA ALTER. "A Provocateur's Book on Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales." The New York Times (Fri., July 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 10, 2014, and has the title "A Provocateur's Book on Hillary Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales.")







September 6, 2014

Future Pope Showed an Interest in the "Higher Forms of Piracy"




(p. 158) A decade older than his apostolic secretary Poggio, Baldassare Cossa had been born on the small volcanic island of Procida, near Naples. His noble family held the island as its personal possession, the hidden coves and well-defended fortress evidently well suited to the principal family occupation, piracy. The occupation was a dangerous one: two of his brothers were eventually captured and condemned to death. Their sentence was commuted, after much pulling of strings, to imprisonment. It was said by his enemies that the young Cossa participated in the family business, owed to it his lifelong habit of wakefulness at night, and learned from it his basic assumptions about the world.

Procida was far too small a stage for Baldassare's talents. Energetic and astute, he early displayed an interest in what we might call higher forms of piracy. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Bologna--in Italy it was legal studies rather than theology that best prepared one for a career in the Church--where he obtained doctorates in both civil and canon law. At his graduation ceremony, a colorful affair in which the successful candidate was conducted in triumph through the town, Cossa was asked what he was going to do now. He answered," To be Pope."



Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






September 5, 2014

"Malthus Was Wrong"




(p. 20) The biggest problem with Malthusiasm, as Mayhew addresses at length, is that Malthus was wrong. He thought England was nearing the limits of its ability to provide for its growing population. But as that population continued to grow in the 19th century, the country proved more than able to feed itself by increasing agricultural productivity and importing food that it could easily pay for with its industrial wealth. And toward the end of the century, birthrates began falling and population growth slowed.


. . .


There is evidence enough in this book for a pretty withering attack on Malthusianism, if not on Malthus. Mayhew, however, prefers the role of calm and evenhanded guide. At the end he's even hinting that today's Malthusian prophets of environmental doom are on to something. They may be: Just because Malthus was wrong about nature's limits in 1798 doesn't prove we won't ever hit those limits. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Still, you'd think it would put more of a damper on people's Malthusiasm.



For the full review, see:

JUSTIN FOX. "Head Count." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., Aug. 3, 2014): 20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014. )


The book being reviewed is:

Mayhew, Robert J. Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014.






September 4, 2014

Established Companies Are Not Structured for Exponential Growth




(p. A13) Why are large tech companies losing the ability to innovate? Entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail studies the new generation of "exponential corporations," enterprises that grow 10 times faster than the average rate. He believes that established companies simply aren't structured for this kind of speed. So their only choice is to buy those companies that can still innovate rapidly.

If Mr. Ismail is correct--and the current dynamic in Silicon Valley suggests that he may be--we're on the brink of a major restructuring of business strategy, venture capital and almost every part of the high-tech world. It may be time to stop waiting for famous tech companies to roll out the hottest new product and start investing in startups that can sell their innovations to big companies. Tech appears to be evolving into a different kind of field: one that is, paradoxically, more static at the top but also more dependent on entrepreneurship than ever before.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "An Innovation Slowdown at the Tech Giants; Seen anything new and big lately from Cisco, Yahoo or even Twitter?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 1, 2014.)


The Ismail research mentioned above, is discussed further in:

Ismail, Salim, Mike Malone, and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It). New York: Diversion Books, 2014.






September 3, 2014

Predictors of Technological Doom Have "All Been Wrong"




GrowingAndDecliningJobsGraph2014.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 4) JUST over 50 years ago, the cover of Life magazine breathlessly declared the "point of no return for everybody." Above that stark warning, a smaller headline proclaimed, "Automation's really here; jobs go scarce."

As events unfolded, it was Life that was nearing the point of no return -- the magazine suspended weekly publication in 1972. For the rest of America, jobs boomed; in the following decade, 21 million Americans were added to the employment rolls.

Throughout history, aspiring Cassandras have regularly proclaimed that new waves of technological innovation would render huge numbers of workers idle, leading to all manner of economic, social and political disruption.

As early as 1589, Queen Elizabeth I refused a patent on a knitting machine for fear it would put "my poor subjects" out of work.

In the 1930s, the great John Maynard Keynes predicted widespread job losses "due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour."

So far, of course, they've all been wrong. But that has not prevented a cascade of shrill new proclamations that -- notwithstanding centuries of history -- "this time is different": . . .



For the full commentary, see:

Steven Rattner. "Fear Not the Coming of the Robots." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JUNE 22, 2014): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2014.)






September 2, 2014

Poggio Helped Invent Italics Script




(p. 115) What Poggio accomplished, in collaboration with a few others, remains startling. They took Carolingian minuscule--a scribal innovation of the ninth-century court of Charlemagne--and transformed it into the script they used for copying manuscripts and writing letters. This script in turn served as the basis for the development of italics. They were then in effect the inventors of the script we still think of as at once the clearest, the simplest, and the most elegant written representation of our words. It is difficult to take in the full effect without seeing it for oneself, for example, in the manuscripts preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence: the smooth bound volumes of vellum, still creamy white after more than five hundred years, (p. 116) contain page after page of perfectly beautiful script, almost magical in its regularity and fineness.


Source:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






September 1, 2014

"The Metric System Can Be Our Operating System Without Being Our Interface"




(p. C6) The outcome was perhaps foreshadowed, as Mr. Marciano points out, when President Ford, using a customary unit, noted that American industries were "miles ahead" when it came to adopting the metric system.

Mr. Marciano tells his story more or less without editorializing, until the end. Surveying the centuries of fights over measurement, he finishes on a rather intriguing point: Standardization no longer matters that much.


. . .


. . . , with the computerization of life, we don't have to worry about converting from one measurement to another; our software does this for us. We can still speak in pounds or feet, even if everything in the world of manufacturing and technology is really, at bottom, done in the metric system. In the evocative terminology of Mr. Marciano, "the metric system can be our operating system without being our interface."



For the full review, see:

SAMUEL ARBESMAN. "Liters and Followers; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Whatever Happened to the Metric System?' by John Bemelmans Marciano; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." )


The book being reviewed is:

Marciano, John Bemelmans. Whatever Happened to the Metric System?: How America Kept Its Feet. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014.






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