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October 31, 2014

Declaration and Constitution Built Upon Philosophical Radicals Locke, Spinoza, Epicurus and Lucretius




(p. C7) In Mr. Stewart's telling, the central tenets of "philosophical radicalism" worked their way into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by a kind of ideological stealth. When, for example, Jefferson referred in the first paragraph of the Declaration to "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle" a nation, he wasn't just offering a palatable conception of deity to his religious or nominally religious readers. He was drawing on a radical tradition stretching back to John Locke and especially to the Dutch rationalist Baruch Spinoza, who himself had drawn on the ancient Greek philosophers Epicurus and Lucretius.


For the full review, see:

BARTON SWAIM. "How Radical Were the Founders?; Was America's revolution driven by political philosophers, or practical men reacting to events?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 26, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 25, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Nature's God' by Matthew Stewart & 'Independence' by Thomas P. Slaughter; Was America's revolution driven by political philosophers, or practical men reacting to events?")


The book discussed in the quoted passage is:

Stewart, Matthew. Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.






October 30, 2014

British Parents Jailed by Nationalized Health Service for Trying to Sell Home to Pay for Son's Cancer Treatment




(p. A4) . . . , no Briton is ever entirely happy with the taxpayer-funded service, and now the case of a 5-year-old boy with a brain tumor has thrown a harsh light on the $170 billion-a-year system.

Critics are asking whether the service was justified in refusing a cancer treatment for the boy, Ashya King, sought by his desperate parents in an effort to save his life, and whether it overstepped in trying to impose its decision on his family.

The refusal set off a chain of events that enthralled and horrified the British public, as Ashya's parents removed their son from University Hospital Southampton in England on Aug. 28 without the consent of British doctors, setting off a highly publicized international hunt. Concern for the child, however, turned into public outrage when the parents, Brett and Naghemeh King, were arrested and jailed in Madrid, where they had traveled to sell their holiday home so they could pay for the treatment, called proton beam therapy.


. . .


"They treated us like terrorists," Mr. King, 51, said during an emotional news conference in Spain, where he and his wife were held for three days, separated from their critically ill son, as British authorities pursued University Hospital Southampton's recommendation that Ashya be made a ward of the court.


. . .


(p. A10) Professor Hunter . . . said that, because the health service is publicly accountable, doctors tend to be reluctant to recommend innovative solutions for fear of lawsuits if things go wrong.

Mrs. Anderton, too, said that, despite the excellent care her son received, the N.H.S. is not always at the cutting edge. "The only downside is that we don't have advanced types of treatments that could be lifesaving," she said.



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO DE FREYTAS-TAMURA. "Health Care for Britain in Harsh Light." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A4 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014.)






October 29, 2014

Marxist Publisher Supports Justice of Intellectual Property Rights




(p. A1) The Marxist Internet Archive, a website devoted to radical writers and thinkers, recently received an email: It must take down hundreds of works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or face legal consequences.

The warning didn't come from a multinational media conglomerate but from a small, leftist publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, which asserted copyright ownership over the 50-volume, English-language edition of Marx's and Engels's writings.

To some, it was "uncomradely" that fellow radicals would deploy the capitalist tool of intellectual property law to keep Marx's and Engels's writings off the Internet. And it wasn't lost on the archive's supporters that the deadline for complying with the order came on the eve of May 1, International Workers' Day.


. . .


(p. A4) . . . the libertarian Cato Institute enjoyed teasing its ideological adversaries with an I-told-you-so blog post titled, "Because Property Rights Are Important."


. . .


The publisher . . . tried to turn the tables on its critics, questioning whether it was indeed radical to believe that there is no ownership of content produced through hard work, like the mammoth translation and annotation of Marx's and Engels's work, a project initially directed by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s that took some 30 years of collaboration among scholars across the world.

In a note on its site, Lawrence & Wishart said its critics were not carrying on the socialist and communist traditions, but reflecting a "consumer culture which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers, leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid, while the large publishing and other media conglomerates and aggregators continue to enrich themselves through advertising and data-mining revenues."



For the full story, see:

NOAM COHEN. "Claiming a Marx Copyright? How Uncomradely." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2014): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2014, and has the title "Claiming a Copyright on Marx? How Uncomradely.")






October 28, 2014

In Finding Cure for Ulcers, Marshall Was Not Constrained by the Need to Obtain Approval or Funding




(p. 113) Marshall was a youthful maverick, not bound by traditional theory and not professionally invested in a widely held set of beliefs. There is such a thing as being too much of an insider. Marshall viewed the problem with fresh eyes and was not constrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his pursuits. It is also noteworthy that his work was accomplished not at a high-powered academic ivory tower with teams of investigators but instead far from the prestigious research centers in the Western Hemisphere.

The delay in acceptance of Marshall's revolutionary hypothesis reflects the tenacity with which long-held concepts are maintained. Vested interests--intellectual, financial, commercial, status--keep these entrenched. Dogmatic believers find themselves under siege by a new set of explanations.



Source:

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






October 27, 2014

China May Have Higher Incomes, But India Has Freedom and Hope




(p. A11) The author remains generally optimistic about India's prospects. Economic reforms that began in 1991 have quickened growth. On average, GDP has grown nearly 7% a year since then. Thanks to a media revolution that began in the 1990s and has exploded over the past decade, a state-owned monopoly over television news has given way to upward of 450 raucous channels that make Fox News look staid by comparison. The author argues that together these two trends have sparked a kind of virtuous cycle: Better-educated and better-fed Indians are demanding more from their politicians. A take-no-prisoners media will keep them on their toes.


. . .


Educated Indians can't stop complaining about the politicians who lead them. Yet, echoing the historian Ramachandra Guha, Mr. Denyer argues that India's main success since its independence in 1947 has been political rather than economic. It has strengthened its democratic institutions and nurtured religious and cultural pluralism. Despite the fact that the average Indian earned $1,500 last year, less than a fourth of the average Chinese, it is in New Delhi, not Beijing, that you can afford to call the president (or prime minister) a blithering idiot without worrying about a midnight knock on the door.



For the full review, see:

SADANAND DHUME. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door.")


The book being reviewed is:

Denyer, Simon. Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India's Unruly Democracy. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.






October 26, 2014

Warming of Northwest Is Due to Waves, Not Human Activity




(p. A19) Scientists have long known that sea surface temperatures are lower when strong winds whip up ocean waves, and higher when the seas are calm. Researchers generally have assumed that the phenomenon was but one factor in that warming, and that increased levels of carbon dioxide from human activity play a major role in driving rising temperatures.

But the new analysis, which relies on wind, barometric pressure and temperature data recorded from 1900 to 2012, concludes that human activity has little impact.

"The concept of winds controlling or affecting ocean temperature in that very way is not controversial, but the strength of that relationship was quite amazing" in the northwestern Pacific, said James Johnstone, a climatologist and the study's lead author. "It explains practically every wiggle in the ocean temperature variations. It's a phenomenal correlation."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL WINES. "Human Role in Warming of Northwest Played Down." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 23, 2014): A19.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 22, 2014.)


The Johnstone paper, summarized above, is:

Johnstone, James A., and Nathan J. Mantua. "Atmospheric Controls on Northeast Pacific Temperature Variability and Change, 1900-2012." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print, September 22, 2014, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318371111.






October 25, 2014

American Poor Are Richer Now than in the Past




PriceChangesBySectorGraph2014-10-07.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?

Americans -- even many of the poorest -- enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago.


. . .


(p. B2) Two broad trends account for much of the change in poor families' consumption over the past generation: federal programs and falling prices.

Since the 1960s, both Republican and Democratic administrations have expanded programs like food stamps and the earned-income tax credit. In 1967, government programs reduced one major poverty rate by about 1 percentage point. In 2012, they reduced the rate by nearly 13 percentage points.

As a result, the differences in what poor and middle-class families consume on a day-to-day basis are much smaller than the differences in what they earn.

"There's just a whole lot more assistance per low-income person than there ever has been," said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "That is propping up the living standards to a considerable degree," he said, citing a number of statistics on housing, nutrition and other categories.


. . .


. . . another form of progress has led to what some economists call the "Walmart effect": falling prices for a huge array of manufactured goods.

Since the 1980s, for instance, the real price of a midrange color television has plummeted about tenfold, and televisions today are crisper, bigger, lighter and often Internet-connected. Similarly, the effective price of clothing, bicycles, small appliances, processed foods -- virtually anything produced in a factory -- has followed a downward trajectory. The result is that Americans can buy much more stuff at bargain prices.



For the full story, see:

ANNIE LOWREY. "Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2014): A1 & B2 (sic).

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2014, and has the title "Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind.")






October 24, 2014

Ideas Should Not Be Rejected Just Because They Disagree with Reigning Theory




(p. 107) . . . Claude Bernard, the nineteenth-century founder of experimental medicine, . . . famously said, "If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory."


Source:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)






October 23, 2014

The Invention of the Vacuum Tube as a Revolutionary Event




(p. A11) Mr. Bryce's engrossing survey has two purposes. The first is to refute pessimists who claim that technology-driven economic growth will burn through the planet's resources and lead to catastrophe. "We are living in a world equipped with physical-science capabilities that stagger the imagination," he writes. "If we want to bring more people out of poverty, we must embrace [technological innovation], not reject it." The book's other purpose is to persuade climate-change fundamentalists that they are standing on the wrong side of history. Instead of saving the planet by going backward to Don Quixote's windmills, they need to take a progressive approach to technology itself, he says, striving to make nuclear power safer, for instance, and using the hydrocarbon revolution sparked by fracking and deep-offshore exploration to bridge the way to the future.


. . .


Mr. Bryce focuses in particular on the vacuum tube, designed in 1906 by Lee de Forest, the man also credited with inventing the radio.

The discovery of the vacuum tube, Mr. Bryce says, was a revolutionary event. By trapping the energy generated from the free flow of electrons and directing it to boost a small AC current into a much larger one, de Forest created electric amplification--which the transistor and integrated circuit would multiply exponentially.



For the full review, see:

ARTHUR HERMAN. "BOOKSHELF; How to Defuse the Power Elite; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper' by Robert Bryce; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.")


The book being reviewed is:

Bryce, Robert. Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






October 22, 2014

Nevada Government Lets Tesla Sell Directly to Consumers




(p. A13) . . . in addition to rubber-stamping the agreement that waived Tesla's property, sales and business taxes for a decade or more--while throwing in discount power rates--the Nevada legislature also approved a bill last week that would exempt the auto maker from franchising regulations outlawing the company's retail approach. The state's auto dealers, who only weeks ago threatened to sue over the matter, shifted gears and endorsed the legislation.

"My car dealers want to assist in any way they can," John Sande of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association told the Reno Gazette Journal. "Nevada law does not allow Tesla to come in and sell directly to the consumer, so we are going to have to come in and change it so they can sell directly to the consumer."

No doubt the dealers balanced the pros and cons of agitating for their own self-interest against overwhelming political support for the deal and the spending potential of thousands of new, well-paid workers who may prefer a Ford or Chevy pickup over a $70,000 Tesla Model S. But the fact that Nevada legislators so quickly jettisoned a key provision of the state's dealership-franchise provisions speaks volumes about how essential these statutes really are to the well-being of their constituents.

There is no rational reason Tesla--or any other automobile manufacturer--should be restricted from selling new cars directly to those who seek to buy them.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN KERR. "OPINION; Tesla Breaks the Auto Dealer Cartel; Nevada lets the electric car maker sell directly to consumers. Too bad everyone else still can't." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 17, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2014.)







October 21, 2014

Apprenticeships as an Alternative to Education Credentials




(p. R3) College degrees and internships don't produce the same quality of worker as intensive, on-the-job apprenticeships, says Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the South Carolina Technical College System. Employers are seeing "a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level" from college graduates, Mr. Neese says. "Interns do grunt work, generally." In contrast, he says, "an apprenticeship is a real job."


. . .


"The apprenticeship model helps us show people there's a career path within this company," says Robby Hill, owner of HillSouth, a Florence, S.C., technology consulting firm taking advantage of South Carolina's on-the-job training program. New employees see the opportunities ahead, along with a clearly delineated ladder of skill acquisition and salary increases, says Mr. Hill, whose 22-person firm offers apprenticeships for IT and administrative-support employees. The company also asks employees to sign noncompete agreements as they get accredited for new skills.



For the full story, see:

LAUREN WEBER. "JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP IN HR; Here's One Way to Solve the Skills Gap. Apprenticeships Can Help Give Companies the Employees They Need. So Why Aren't There More of Them." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 28, 2014): R3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2014, and has the title "JOURNAL REPORTS: LEADERSHIP; Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline? Some States Try Extending the Practice to More Professions.")






October 20, 2014

Needed Revolutionary Ideas Often Come From Outsiders




(p. 103) . . . where knowledge is no longer growing and the field has been worked out, a revolutionary new approach is required and this is more likely to come from the outsider. The skepticism with which the experts nearly always greet these revolutionary ideas confirms that the available knowledge has been a handicap."


Source:

W. I. B. Beveridge as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 19, 2014

Fleck Made Two Versions of His Typhus Vaccine: A Worthless Version for the SS Troops and an Effective Version for His Fellow Buchenwald Inmates




(p. C7) Ludwik Fleck (1896-1961), who earned a doctorate at Lwów University while studying under Weigl, also became interested in typhus during World War I, when he too was drafted by Austria-Hungary. Fleck's specialty was immunology, and in 1919 he joined Weigl's institute. Somewhere between 1921 and 1923 he crafted a way to diagnose typhus, but despite this achievement, Polish anti-Semitism denied him the academic recognition that his talent merited. During this period, he would occupy government posts (until 1935, when anti-Semitic policies made it impossible for Jews to hold such positions) and, with his wife's dowry, opened his own laboratory.

By August 1942, Fleck, though confined to Lwów's Jewish ghetto, managed to create a vaccine from the urine of typhus patients. (Fleck's vaccine may have been easier to produce than Weigl's.) Six months later, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he worked in a bacteriological research unit and where he was treated somewhat better than most camp inmates. In December 1943, Fleck was dispatched to the Buchenwald concentration camp to work on a typhus vaccine.

The Germans wanted the Buchenwald typhus-vaccine prisoner unit--some were physicians and scientists, some weren't--to follow instructions for making a vaccine that had originated at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. It was a convoluted process that involved rabbit lungs and the organs of other animals. The unit's inmates, including Fleck, who understood immunology better than anyone else at Buchenwald, conspired to produce two kinds of vaccine: large quantities of worthless serum that were shipped to SS troops at the front; and much smaller doses of effective vaccine that were used to secretly immunize prisoners. Their daring sabotage could have led to their execution, of course, but their Nazi overseers in the camp were too medically ignorant to understand what was transpiring. If senior SS officials elsewhere became suspicious, the prisoners would supply the real vaccine for testing by the skeptical parties.



For the full review, see:

HOWARD SCHNEIDER. "The Fever that Gripped Europe." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl' by Arthur Allen; Two scientists who worked to beat typhus and sabotage the Nazis.")


The book being reviewed:

Allen, Arthur. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.


My dissertation adviser, Stephen Toulmin, recommended a philosophy of science book by Ludwig Fleck that I have owned for several decades, but never gotten around to reading. It is said to anticipate some of the issues discussed by Thomas Kuhn in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The Fleck book is:

Fleck, Ludwik. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. pb ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981 [first published in German in 1935].






October 18, 2014

The Ants Answer to Global Warming




(p. C4) While experts search for ways to cope with excessive atmospheric carbon, the world's ants may have had a solution all along.

A new paper reports that ants radically accelerate the breakdown of some important minerals into chemicals that suck carbon dioxide--a byproduct of burning fossil fuels--out of the atmosphere to form new rocks.


. . .


Ants are so effective at promoting this process that they might have played an unheralded role in cooling the planet over millions of years, the author writes, adding that if we can figure out how they do it, we could investigate how to emulate them to sequester atmospheric carbon ourselves.



For the full story, see:

DANIEL AKST. "R AND D; Are Ants Cooling the World?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 16, 2014): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 15, 2014.)


The paper on the ant solution to global warming is:

Dorn, Ronald I. "Ants as a Powerful Biotic Agent of Olivine and Plagioclase Dissolution." Geology 42, no. 9 (Sept. 2014): 771-74.







October 17, 2014

French Socialist Wants to Encourage Entrepreneurs by Reducing Regulations




MacronFrenchSocialist2014-10-07.jpg "Emmanuel Macron, France's new economy minister, has been a major force behind a recent shift by President François Hollande toward a more centrist economic policy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B3) . . . , what is important, Mr. Macron said, as a late train from the nearby Gare de Lyon rumbled beneath his window, is that France continue to streamline and modernize the welfare state.

"For me being a Socialist today is about defending the unemployed, but also defending businessmen who want to create a company, and those who need jobs," he said. "We have to shift the social model from a lot of formal protections toward loosening bottlenecks in the economy."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "France's 36-Year-Old Economy minister Is Face of the New Socialism." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 7, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 6, 2014, and has the title "Emmanuel Macron, Face of France's New Socialism.")






October 16, 2014

Medical Innovator "Maintained a Healthy Skepticism Toward Accepted Wisdom"




(p. 103) Barry Marshall, a lanky twenty-nine-year-old resident in internal medicine at Warren's hospital, was assigned to was assigned to gastroenterology for six months as part of his training and was looking for a research project. The eldest son of a welder and a nurse, Marshall grew up in a remote area of Western Australia where self-sufficiency and common sense were essential characteristics. His personal qualities of intelligence, tenacity, open-mindedness, and self-confidence would serve him and Warren well in bringing about a conceptual revolution. Relatively new to gastroenterology, he did not hold a set of well-entrenched beliefs. Marshall could maintain a healthy skepticism toward accepted wisdom. Indeed, the concept that bacteria caused stomach inflammation, and even ulcers, was less alien to him than to most gastroenterologists.


Source:

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






October 15, 2014

We Feel Safer When We Have More Personal Control




(p. C3) So how should we approach risk? The numbers can help, especially if we simplify them. For acute risks, a good measure is the MicroMort, devised by Stanford's Ronald A. Howard in the 1970s. One MicroMort (1 MM) is equal to a one-in-a-million chance of death.


. . .


In truth, "Don't do that, it's dangerous!" is about much more than the numbers. We must also reflect on the full basis for our preferences--such as, to take one small psychological characteristic among many, what we value in life, as well as what we fear.


. . .


In fact, the numbers tend to have the effect of highlighting the psychological factors. Take traveling. For 1 MM, you can drive 240 miles in the U.S., fly 7,500 miles in a commercial aircraft or fly just 12 miles in a light aircraft. We tend to feel safer if we feel more personal control, but we have no control whatsoever in a passenger jet, the safest of all (notwithstanding last week's terrible tragedy). You could take that as evidence of human irrationality. We take it as evidence that human motives matter more than the pure odds allow.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL BLASTLAND and DAVID SPIEGELHALTER. "Risk Is Never a Strict Numbers Game; We tell children to shun ecstasy but don't fret about horseback riding--and other foibles of our view of danger." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 18, 2014.)


The passages quoted above were from a commentary adapted from the book:

Blastland, Michael, and David Spiegelhalter. The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death. New York: Basic Books, 2014.






October 14, 2014

Boring Jobs Cause Stress and Lower Productivity




(p. B4) A study published this year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that measurements of people's heart rates, hormonal levels and other factors while watching a boring movie -- men hanging laundry -- showed greater signs of stress than those watching a sad movie.

"We tend to think of boredom as someone lazy, as a couch potato," said James Danckert, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a co-author of the paper. "It's actually when someone is motivated to engage with their environment and all attempts to do so fail. It's aggressively dissatisfying."

It's not just the amount of work, Professor Spector said, also but the type.   . . .

"You can be very busy and a have a lot to do and still be bored," he said. The job -- whether a white-collar managerial position or blue-collar assembly line role -- also needs to be stimulating.


. . .


In a 2011 paper based on the doctoral dissertation of his student Kari Bruursema, Professor Spector and his co-authors found that the stress of boredom can lead to counterproductive work behavior, like calling in sick, taking long breaks, spending time on the Internet for nonwork-related reasons, gossiping about colleagues, playing practical jokes or even stealing. While most workers engage in some of these activities at times, the bored employee does it far more frequently, he said.



For the full story, see:

ALINA TUGEND. "Shortcuts; The Contrarians on Stress: It Can Be Good for You." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 4, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 3, 2014.)


The Experimental Brain Research study mentioned above, is:

Merrifield, Colleen, and James Danckert. "Characterizing the Psychophysiological Signature of Boredom." Experimental Brain Research 232, no. 2 (Feb. 2014): 481-91.


The article mentioned above, that is co-authored by Spector, is:

Bruursema, Kari, Stacey R. Kessler, and Paul E. Spector. "Bored Employees Misbehaving: The Relationship between Boredom and Counterproductive Work Behaviour." Work & Stress 25, no. 2 (April 2011): 93-107.






October 13, 2014

Mexicans Abandon Government Subsidized Housing Developments




(p. A5) ZUMPANGO, Mexico -- In an enormous housing development on the edge of this scrappy commuter town, Lorena Serrano's 11-foot-wide shoe box of a home is flanked by abandoned houses. The neighborhood has two schools, a few bodegas and a small community center that offers zumba classes.

There is very little else.

"There are no jobs, no cinema, no cantina," said Ms. Serrano of the 8,000-home development, called La Trinidad. Her husband's commute to the capital, Mexico City, about 35 miles south, takes two hours each way by bus and consumes a quarter of his salary, she said. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

Ms. Serrano, 39, is among more than five million Mexicans who, over the past decade, bought houses through a government program that made mortgages available to low-income buyers.

The program, initially hailed by some experts as the answer to Mexico's chronic housing deficit, fueled a frenzy of construction and helped inspire similar efforts in Latin America and beyond, including Brazil's "My House, My Life," which aims to build at least 3 million homes by this year.

But the concrete sprawl around Mexico City and other big towns grew faster than demand. Commutes proved unbearable, and residents abandoned their homes.



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "ZUMPANGO JOURNAL; They Built It. People Came. Now They Go." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 9, 2014): A5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 8, 2014.)






October 12, 2014

"It Is Often Essential to Spot the Exceptions to the Rule"





Baruch Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976:


(p. 98) . . ., Blumberg learned an invaluable lesson: "In research, it is often essential to spot the exceptions to the rule--those cases that do not fit what you perceive as the emerging picture.... Frequently the most interesting findings grow out of the 'chance' or unanticipated results."


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)






October 11, 2014

Variable Gene Expression Gives Us "Surprising Resilience"




(p. 11) As a physician who researches and treats rare genetic disorders, Sharon Moalem, the author of "Inheritance," sees firsthand how sharply DNA can constrain our lives. Yet "our genes aren't as fixed and rigid as most of us have been led to believe," he says, for while genetic defects often create havoc, variable gene expression (our genes' capacity to respond to the environment with a flexibility only now being fully recognized) can give our bodies and minds surprising resilience. In his new book, Moalem describes riveting dramas emerging from both defective genes and reparative epigenetics.


. . .


Moalem's earthy, patient-focused account reminds us that whatever its promise, genetics yet stands at a humble place.



For the full review, see:

DAVID DOBBS. "The Fault in Our DNA." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 13, 2014): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 10, 2014.)


Book under review:

Moalem, Sharon. Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives--and Our Lives Change Our Genes. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014.






October 10, 2014

Labor Process Innovations Increased Productivity




(p. 6) . . . , Greg Clark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, has gone so far as to argue that the Industrial Revolution was in part a self-control revolution. Many economists, beginning with Adam Smith, have argued that factories -- an important innovation of the Industrial Revolution -- blossomed because they allowed workers to specialize and be more productive.

Professor Clark argues that work rules truly differentiated the factory. People working at home could start and finish when they wanted, a very appealing sort of flexibility, but it had a major drawback, he said. People ended up doing less work that way.

Factories imposed discipline. They enforced strict work hours. There were rules for when you could go home and for when you had to show up at the beginning of your shift. If you arrived late you could be locked out for the day. For workers being paid piece rates, this certainly got them up and at work on time. You can even see something similar with the assembly line. Those operations dictate a certain pace of work. Like a running partner, an assembly line enforces a certain speed.

As Professor Clark provocatively puts it: "Workers effectively hired capitalists to make them work harder. They lacked the self-control to achieve higher earnings on their own."

The data entry workers in our study, centuries later, might have agreed with that statement. In fact, 73 percent of them did agree to this statement: "It would be good if there were rules against being absent because it would help me come to work more often."

Of course with newer forms of technology, showing up for work on time need not mean being physically at a given workplace. A study by the economists Nicholas Bloom, John Roberts and Zhichun Ying of Stanford and James Liang of Peking University looked at call center workers in China. In their experiment, some workers were randomly assigned to work at home, others worked in group call centers. The work habits of both groups were carefully monitored electronically, and the workers knew it. The researchers found that those working at home were 13 percent more productive than those in call centers. With modern technology, we now have so many ways to quantify, track and motivate productivity. We do not need to lock factory doors or even have a factory. Yet we have not yet begun to scratch the surface of motivating production in this way.



For the full commentary, see:

SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN. "Economic View; Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 28, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 27, 2014.)


The article mentioned above by Clark is:

Clark, Gregory. "Factory Discipline." Journal of Economic History 54, no. 1 (March 1994): 128-63.


The article mentioned above by Bloom, Liang, Roberts and Ying is:

Bloom, Nicholas, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying. "Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment." August 18, 2014.






October 9, 2014

Feds Allow Hollywood to Use Drones




(p. B1) LOS ANGELES -- The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014] with the help of Hollywood.

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska.

Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.

The decision has implications for a broad range of industries including agriculture, energy, real estate, the news media and online retailing. "While the approval for Hollywood is very limited in scope, it's a message to everyone that this ball is rolling," said Greg Cirillo, chairman of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, a law firm in Washington.

Michael P. Huerta, the administrator of the F.A.A., said at least 40 similar applications were pending from companies beyond Hollywood. One is Amazon, which wants permission to move forward with a drone-delivery service. Google has acknowledged "self-flying vehicle" tests in the Australian outback.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial use," Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation, told reporters in a conference call.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014.)






October 8, 2014

Why Did Waksman Not Pursue the Streptomycin Antibiotic?





What did Waksman lack to pursue the streptomycin antibiotic sooner? Enough independent funding? Alertness? Enough desire to make a ding in the universe? Enough unhappiness about unnecessary death? Willingness to embrace the hard work of embracing dissonant facts?


(p. 83) Waksman missed several opportunities to make the great discovery earlier in his career, but his single-mindedness did not allow for, in Salvador Luria's phrase, "the chance observation falling on the receptive eye." In 1975 Waksman recalled that he first brushed past an antibiotic as early as 1923 when he observed that "certain actinomycetes produce substances toxic to bacteria" since it can be noted at times that "around an actinomycetes colony upon a plate a zone is formed free from fungous and bacterial growth." In 1935 Chester Rhines, a graduate student of Waksman's, noticed that tubercle bacilli would not grow in the presence of a soil organism, but Waksman did not think that this lead was worth pursuing: "In the scientific climate of the time, the result did not suggest any practical application for treatment of tuberculosis." The same year, Waksman's friend Fred Beau-dette, the poultry pathologist at Rutgers, brought him an agar tube with a culture of tubercle bacilli killed by a contaminant fungus growing on top of them. Again, Waksman was not interested: "I was not moved to jump to the logical conclusion and direct my efforts accordingly.... My major interest at that time was the subject of organic matter decomposition and the interrelationships among soil micro-organisms responsible for this process."


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






October 7, 2014

Nader Enlists Mises, Hayek, Friedman and Stigler in Critique of Crony Capitalism




(p. A9) Mr. Nader, the consumer crusader who ran for president to the left of Al Gore, is perhaps the last person one would expect to admire a libertarian critique of the corporate state. But in "Unstoppable" he respectfully describes the views of Ludwig Von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, George Stigler and other free-market economists. He praises their distrust of politicians, lobbyists and businessmen who seek to put government power in the service of corporate profit.

Not that the Republican Party is always guided by such thinkers. Mr. Nader neatly describes how corporatist RINOs (Republican In Name Only) co-opt the party's anti-statist crusaders. "The corporatist Republicans," he writes, "let the libertarians and conservatives have the paper platforms . . . and then move into office, where they are quick to throw out a welcome mat for Big Business lobbyists with their slush funds." He cites Adam Smith's suspicion of regulations that benefit special interests: "Such restraints favor the privileged interests that want to entrench their economic advantages through the force of law."

These are profound observations and ones that I saw play out while editing the Americas column for this newspaper in the 1980s and '90s. Mercantilist Latin American businessmen who claimed to cheer market forces often thrived only because of their contacts in government. They reached out to the Journal's editorial page as allies but were more socialist in practice than some of their left-wing enemies. Little did I suspect that a similar form of mercantilism, or corporate statism, would take root in the U.S. It is a pleasure to see Mr. Nader doing battle against such cozy arrangements.



For the full review, see:

DAVID ASMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Let's Make a Deal; Ralph Nader's latest crusade is against the convergence of big business and government power. Let's hope he succeeds." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A9.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Unstoppable' by Ralph Nader; Ralph Nader's latest crusade is against the convergence of big business and government power. Let's hope he succeeds.")


Book under review:

Nader, Ralph. Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. New York: Nation Books, 2014.






October 6, 2014

Shellshock Bug Shows Low Quality of Open Source Software




(p. B1) Long before the commercial success of the Internet, Brian J. Fox invented one of its most widely used tools.

In 1987, Mr. Fox, then a young programmer, wrote Bash, short for Bourne-Again Shell, a free piece of software that is now built into more than 70 percent of the machines that connect to the Internet. That includes servers, computers, routers, some mobile phones and even everyday items like refrigerators and cameras.

On Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014], security experts warned that Bash contained a particularly alarming software bug that could be used to take control of hundreds of millions of machines around the world, potentially including Macintosh computers and smartphones that use the Android operating system.

The bug, named "Shellshock," drew comparisons to the Heartbleed bug that was discovered in a crucial piece of software last spring.

But Shellshock could be a bigger threat. While Heartbleed could be used to do things like steal passwords from a server, Shellshock can be used to take over the entire machine. And Heartbleed went unnoticed for two years and affected an estimated 500,000 machines, but Shellshock was not discovered for 22 years.


. . .


Mr. Fox maintained Bash -- which serves as a sort of software interpreter for different commands from a user -- for five years before handing over the reins to Chet Ramey, a 49-year-old programmer who, for the last 22 years, has maintained the software as an unpaid hobby. That is, when he is not working at his day job as a senior technology architect at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.


. . .


(p. B2) The mantra of open source was perhaps best articulated by Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, who wrote in 1997 that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." But, in this case, Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, said, those eyeballs are more consumed with new features than quality. "Quality takes work, design, review and testing and those are not nearly as much fun as coding," Mr. Bellovin said. "If the open-source community does not develop those skills, it's going to fall further behind in the quality race."



For the full story, see:

NICOLE PERLROTH. "Flaw in Code Puts Millions At Big Risk." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014, and has the title "Security Experts Expect 'Shellshock' Software Bug in Bash to Be Significant.")






October 5, 2014

Feds Protect Us from Baby Photos




(p. 1) Pictures of smiling babies crowd a bulletin board in a doctor's office in Midtown Manhattan, in a collage familiar to anyone who has given birth. But the women coming in to have babies of their own cannot see them. They have been moved to a private part of the office, replaced in the corridors with abstract art.

"I've had patients ask me, 'Where's your baby board?' " said Dr. Mark V. Sauer, the director of the office, which is affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center. "We just tell them the truth, which is that we no longer post them because of concerns over privacy."

For generations, obstetricians and midwives across America have proudly posted photographs of the babies they have delivered on their office walls. But this pre-digital form of social media is gradually going the way of cigars in the waiting room, because of the federal patient privacy law known as Hipaa.

Under the law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does.



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "Baby Pictures at the Doctor's? Cute, Sure, but Illegal." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 10, 2014): 1 & 19.

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






October 4, 2014

Cancer Will Likely Be Cured by "Lone Wolves, Awkward Individualists, Nonconformists"





Morton Meyers quotes Ernst Chain, who received the Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Fleming and Florey, for developing penicillin:


(p. 81) But do not let us fall victims of the naive illusion that problems like cancer, mental illness, degeneration or old age... can be solved by bulldozer organizational methods, such as were used in the Manhattan Project. In the latter, we had the geniuses whose basic discoveries made its development possible, the Curies, the Rutherfords, the Einsteins, the Niels Bohrs and many others; in the biologic field... these geniuses have not yet appeared.... No mass attack will replace them.... When they do appear, it is our job to recognize them and give them the opportunities to develop their talents, which is not an easy task, for they are bound to be lone wolves, awkward individualists, nonconformists, and they will not very well fit into any established organization.


Source:

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

(Note: ellipses in original.)






October 3, 2014

China as Evil Empire




(p. C1) Mr. Eimer is a British correspondent who sometimes roamed around minority areas using a second passport with (p. C6) a tourist visa to avoid official restrictions that apply to journalists. What he found on his travels was a pattern of misrule and oppression on the part of the Han, as ethnic Chinese call themselves, and a mixture of resentment, despair, resignation and anomie among the subjugated peoples.


. . .


Because Mr. Eimer is not bound by diplomatic or journalistic niceties, he can be blunt in the terminology he uses. To him, China is not so much a state or a nation as a "huge, unwieldy and unstable empire," with the Han in the dominant position that the Austrians, Turks or English once enjoyed in empires now vanished.


. . .


"We say China is a country vast in territory, rich in resources and large in population," Mao Zedong said in a 1956 speech buried deep in the fifth volume of his selected works but cited by Mr. Eimer as a likely explanation for Chinese expansionism. "As a matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich."

As the Mao speech shows, Mr. Eimer is especially adept at ferreting out obscure historical facts and documents that put the lie to Beijing's claims that these outlying areas have always been part of China. To deal with neighbors who were then outside its borders, the Qing dynasty, he notes, "established a separate bureaucracy called the Lifan Yuan, or Court of Colonial Affairs," which "functioned much like the former Colonial Office in the U.K., which administered the British Empire."

Mr. Eimer's travels take him to all four quadrants of China's land border, the longest in the world. His method is to spend time with an ethnic minority living in Chinese territory, then cross over to a neighboring country to see how the same group is faring there -- almost always better than in China.



For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Antidote to Illusion, Examining Restive Borders." The New York Times (Mon., AUG. 4, 2014): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 3, 2014, and has the title "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Antidote to Illusion, Examining Restive Borders; 'The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China,' by David Eimer.")


The book being reviewed is:

Eimer, David. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014.






October 2, 2014

Regulations Deter Start-Ups, Creating a "Senile Economy"




(p. 5B) We may have a "senile economy," says economist Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution. That's senile as in old, rigid and undynamic.


. . .


Litan is not just blowing smoke. In a new study, he and Ian Hathaway measured the age of American businesses. They were astonished by what they found: From 1992 to 2011, the share of U.S. firms that were 16 and older jumped from 23 percent to 34 percent.


. . .


What happened to all the entrepreneurs? Good question.

"We do not have an explanation," write the University of Maryland and the Census Bureau economists. Neither does Litan. "One theory is that the cumulative effect of regulations," he says, discriminates against new businesses and favors "established firms that have the experience and resources to deal with it." What allegedly deters and hampers startups is not any one regulation but the cost and time of complying with a blizzard of them.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SAMUELSON. "Fewer entrepreneurs spells trouble." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., August 11, 2014): 5B.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The article mentioned above by Hathaway and Litan is:

Hathaway, Ian, and Robert E. Litan. "The Other Aging of America: The Increasing Dominance of Older Firms." In Economic Studies at Brookings, The Brookings Institution (July 2014): 1-17.






October 1, 2014

Brazil Libertarian Uses Laser Vision to Privatize Trains




BrazilLaserVisionLibertarian2014-09-30.jpg"In campaign ads, Paulo Batista, who is running for a seat in the São Paulo state legislature, is a superhero looking for old commuter trains to blast into privatization with his laser vision." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A4) RIO DE JANEIRO -- An auditor flies through the air like Superman, shooting laser beams from his eyes.


. . .


"The neutral, generic method of appealing to voters is a mediocre and failed way of doing politics," said Paulo Batista, 34, a real estate auditor and self-described libertarian who is running for a seat in São Paulo's state legislature.

Mr. Batista's ads, depicting him as a superhero using his laser vision to privatize dilapidated commuter trains, are popular on YouTube.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Brazil's Politicians Often Play the Clown in Ads." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 3, 2014): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2014.)






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