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November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money

(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."

For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")

November 29, 2014

Einthoven Tried to Share Prize Money with His Assistant

(p. 194) One event that occurred after Einthoven received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1924 speaks volumes about his integrity. In the construction of his string galvanometer and laboratory experiments over many years, Einthoven was rather clumsy with his hands and relied very much on the collaboration of his chief assistant K. F. L. van der Woerdt. Years later, when he received the $40,000 in Nobel Prize money, Einthoven wished to share it with his assistant but soon learned that the man had died. He sought out the man's two surviving sisters, who were living in genteel poverty in a kind of almshouse. He journeyed there by train and gave them half of the award money.


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

November 28, 2014

When Pirates Were More Enlightened than Most Governments

(p. A11) While slaves were oppressed by the social order, Mr. Rediker argues, pirates on the high seas were remaking it. An estimated 2,500 buccaneers prowled the Atlantic and the Caribbean at any given time during the first half of the 18th century. The great majority were former merchant seamen, or deserters from the Royal Navy. They were aged between 14 and 50, though most were in their 20s. Married men were not welcome for fear that they might desert and compromise an entire pirate crew.

Here, Mr. Rediker suggests, egalitarianism was being practiced at sea half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. And, he adds, there was a striking uniformity of rules and customs on all pirate vessels. At the start of each voyage, or whenever a new captain was chosen, a wide-ranging social compact would be drawn up listing rights and responsibilities. The articles would allocate authority, deal with the distribution of plunder, and set the rules of punishment to enforce discipline. Booty was usually allocated according to skills and duties--the captain might be given two shares; gunners, boatswains, mates, carpenters and medics one and a half shares; and the rest of the crew a share each. In times of battle, the crew gave the captain unquestioned authority whether fighting, chasing or being chased. What perhaps set the pirates most apart from their former colleagues in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy was punishment. The lash, for example, was rarely used. Fighting was not allowed on board and disputes between crew had to be settled ashore by sword or pistol. This brought an unusual degree of harmony to the pirate ship. Incorrigible trouble makers were unceremoniously dumped and left behind on deserted islands. Vengeance was also freely taken upon captives, and woe betide any ship's captain who had tyrannized and abused his crew.

For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Motley Crew at the Helm; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Outlaws of the Atlantic' by Marcus Rediker; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution.")

Book under review:

Rediker, Marcus. Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014.

November 27, 2014

Catering to Auto Dealers, State Governments Restrict Consumers Right to Buy Direct from Tesla

(p. 7B) Backed by dealership trade groups, several states, including Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas and Virginia, have banned or restricted Tesla from selling to the public.

The Iowa Department of Transportation asked Tesla to stop its West Des Moines test drives after being alerted to the event by the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association, said Paul Steier, director of the DOT's Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection.

. . .

State law requires auto dealers to be licensed, and by offering test drives, Tesla was acting as a dealer, Steier said. "You can't just set up in a hotel parking lot and sell cars," said Bruce Anderson, president of the Iowa Automobile Dealers Association. "This is a regulated industry."

For the full story, see:

Joel Aschbrenner, The Des Moines Register. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." USA Today (Weds., September 26, 2014): 7B.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 25, 2014, and differs in some respects from the print version. In the quotes above, I have followed the print version.)

November 26, 2014

Robotic Milkers Are Less Costly, Easier to Manage and More Humane to Cows

(p. A1) EASTON, N.Y. -- Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves.

Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand.

Scores of the machines have popped up across New York's dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy -- and manure-averse -- generation.

. . .

The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day -- turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions (p. A19) around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal's "milking speed," a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.

. . .

The Bordens and other farmers say a major force is cutting labor costs -- health insurance, room and board, overtime, and workers' compensation insurance -- particularly when immigration reform is stalled in Washington and dependable help is hard to procure.

The machines also never complain about getting up early, working late or being kicked.

"It's tough to find people to do it well and show up on time," said Tim Kurtz, who installed four robotic milkers last year at his farm in Berks County, Pa. "And you don't have to worry about that with a robot."

The Bordens say the machines allow them to do more of what they love: caring for animals.

"I'd rather be a cow manager," Tom Borden said, "than a people manager."

For the full story, see:

JESSE McKINLEY. "With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 23, 2014): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

November 25, 2014

Major Cancer Drugs Have Come from Unexpected Sources

(p. 182) Starting in the last decades of the twentieth century, last decades of the twentieth century, sophisticated genetics and molecular biology have been aimed toward a more precise understanding of the cell's mechanisms. Yet, even here, chance has continued to be a big factor. Surprising discoveries led to uncovering cancer-inducing genes (oncogenes) and tumor-suppressing genes, both of which are normal cellular genes that, when mutated, can induce a biological effect that predisposes the cell to cancer development. A search for blood substitutes led to anti-angiogenesis drugs. Veterinary medicine led to oncogenes and vaccine preparations to tumor-suppressor genes. In one of the greatest serendipitous discoveries of (p. 183) modern medicine, stem cells were stumbled upon during research on radiation effects on the blood.

Experience has clearly shown that major cancer drugs have been discovered by independent, thoughtful, and self-motivated researchers--the cancer war's "guerrillas," to use the reigning metaphor--from unexpected sources: from chemical warfare (nitrogen mustard), nutritional research (methotrexate), medicinal folklore (the vinca alkaloids), bacteriologic research (cisplatin), biochemistry research (sex hormones), blood storage research (angiogenic inhibitors), clinical observations (COX-2 inhibitors), and embryology (thalidomide).


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

November 24, 2014

Affordable Care Act Reduces GDP, Employment and Labor Income

(p. A17) Whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name depends on how, or whether, you consider its consequences for the wider economy.

. . .

I estimate that the ACA's long-term impact will include about 3% less weekly employment, 3% fewer aggregate work hours, 2% less GDP and 2% less labor income. These effects will be visible and obvious by 2017, if not before. The employment and hours estimates are based on the combined amount of the law's new taxes and disincentives and on historical research on the aggregate effects of each dollar of taxation. The GDP and income estimates reflect lower amounts of labor as well as the law's effects on the productivity of each hour of labor.

. . .

The Affordable Care Act is weakening the economy. And for the large number of families and individuals who continue to pay for their own health care, health care is now less affordable.

For the full commentary, see:

CASEY B. MULLIGAN. "OPINION; The Myth of ObamaCare's Affordability; The law's perverse incentives will have the nation working fewer hours, and working those hours less productively." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 9, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

Mulligan's research on the effects of Obamacare is detailed in his Kindle e-book:

Mulligan, Casey B. Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform. Flossmoor, IL: JMJ Economics, 2014.

November 23, 2014

Cat Stevens Protests New York Government Ban on Paperless Tickets

(p. C3) Yusuf, the singer until recently called Yusuf Islam, but better known as Cat Stevens for his 1970s hits like "Peace Train," has canceled a concert at the Beacon Theater in frustration over New York state laws on ticket scalping.

. . .

"I have been a longtime supporter of paperless tickets to my shows worldwide and avoiding scalpers," Yusuf wrote. "Unfortunately NY has a state law that requires all tickets sold for shows in NYC to be paper, enabling them to be bought and sold at inflated prices."

After heavy lobbying by the ticketing industry, New York passed a law in 2010, which has since been renewed, requiring promoters to offer customers the option of transferrable tickets.

For the full story, see:

BEN SISARIO. "Cat Stevens Cancels Show and Cites Ticket Law." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 25, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPTEMBER 24, 2014, and has the title "Yusuf, the Former Cat Stevens, Cancels New York Concert.")

November 22, 2014

Socialist Price Setting Causes Shortages of Corn Flour, Car Batteries and Toilet Paper

(p. B1) Venezuela's prices on everything from butter to flat-screen TVs are set without warning by the government, which also caps corporate profits at 30%. Any profits evaporate quickly, however, because inflation is almost double that.

And expanded price controls imposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded late leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez in April 2013, have exacerbated shortages of basic items such as corn flour, car batteries and toilet paper, triggering violent street protests since early February.

For the full story, see:

MAXWELL MURPHY and KEJAL VYAS. "CFO JOURNAL; Currency Chaos in Venezuela Portends Write-Downs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B1 & B6.

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

November 21, 2014

Cancer Gains Have Not Come from "Centralized Direction"

(p. 180) The truth remains that over the course of the twentieth century, the greatest gains in the battle against cancer came from independent research that was not under any sort of centralized direction and that did not have vast resources at its disposal. As we have seen, such research led to momentous chance discoveries in cancer chemotherapy and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of the disease that have resulted in exciting new therapeutic approaches.


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

November 20, 2014

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors' Prison

(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country's insolvency. He was bullish on America's future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures--a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land--that eventually landed him in debtors' prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in "Robert Morris's Folly."

For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. "Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Robert Morris's Folly' by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.")

The book being reviewed is:

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris's Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

November 19, 2014

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.) Is "Over"

(p. A27) In 2006, beekeepers in Pennsylvania's apple country noticed the first sign of many bad things to come. Once thriving beehives were suddenly empty, devoid of nearly all worker bees, but with an apparently healthy, if lonely, queen remaining in place. Over a period of just three months, tens of thousands of honeybees were totally gone. Multiply this across millions of beehives in millions of apiaries in the more than 22 states that were soon affected, and suddenly we faced a huge, tragic mystery. Up to 24 percent of American apiaries were experiencing colony collapse disorder (C.C.D.).

. . .

We still don't really know why C.C.D. was happening, but it looks as if we are turning the corner: Scientists I've spoken to in both academia and government have strong reason to believe that C.C.D. is essentially over. This finding is based on data from the past three years -- or perhaps, more accurately, the lack thereof. There have been no conclusively documented cases of C.C.D. in the strict sense. Perhaps C.C.D. will one day seem like yet another blip on the millennium-plus timeline of unexplained bee die-offs. Luckily, the dauntless efforts of beekeepers have brought bee populations back each time.

For the full commentary, see:

NOAH WILSON-RICH. "Are Bees Back Up on Their Knees?" The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 25, 2014): A27.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 24, 2014.)

November 18, 2014

Japanese Try to Sell the iPhone of Toilets in United States

(p. B8) TOKYO--Yoshiaki Fujimori wants to be the Steve Jobs of toilets.

Like iPhones, app-packed commodes are objects of desire in Mr. Fujimori's Japan. The lids lift automatically. The seats heat up. Built-in bidets make cleanup a breeze. Some of them even sync with users' smartphones via Bluetooth so that they can program their preferences and play their favorite music through speakers built into the bowl.

Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by one of two companies: Toto Ltd., Japan's largest maker of so-called sanitary ware, or Lixil Corp., where Mr. Fujimori is the chief executive.

Now Mr. Fujimori is leading a push to bring them to the great unwashed. In May, Lixil plans to add toilets with "integrated bidets" to the lineup of American Standard Brands, which Lixil acquired last year for $542 million, including debt.

. . .

Few people realized they needed smartphones until Apple's iPhone came along. So it will be in the U.S. with American Standard's new toilets, Mr. Fujimori said.

"Industry presents iPhone--industry presents shower toilet," Mr. Fujimori said in an interview at Lixil's headquarters in Tokyo. "We can create the same type of pattern."

. . .

Mr. Fujimori maintained that once American consumers try such toilets, they won't go back.

"This improves your standard of living," he said. "It doesn't hurt you. People like comfort, they like ease, they like automatic. And people like clean."

For the full story, see:

ERIC PFANNER and ATSUKO FUKASE. "Smart Toilets Arrive in U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

November 17, 2014

War on Cancer Was "Profoundly Misconceived"

(p. 179) Following the testing of nearly half a million drugs, the number of useful anticancer agents remains disappointingly small. Expressions of discontent with the methodology of research and of research and the appalling paucity of results were, over the years, largely restricted to the professional literature. However, in 2001 they broke through to the popular media. In an impassioned article in the New Yorker magazine entitled "The Thirty Years' War: Have We Been Fighting Cancer the Wrong Way?" Jerome Groopman, a respected clinical oncologist and cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, fired a devastating broadside. "The war on cancer," he wrote, "turned out to be profoundly misconceived--both in its rhetoric and in its execution. The high expectations of the early seventies seem almost willfully naïve." Regarding many of the three-phased clinical trials, with their toxic effects, he marveled at "how little scientific basis there was and how much sensationalism surrounded them." Groopman concluded that hope for progress resided in the "uncertainty inherent in scientific discovery."


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

(Note: italics in original.)

November 16, 2014

Steelcase Designs Quiet Space for Introverts to Think

(p. D2) Introverts' nervous systems are more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts' are, according to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

"When introverts get too much stimulation, they feel overwhelmed and jangled," she said.

With no privacy or way to shield themselves from the commotion, introverts, estimated to make up one-third to one-half of the population, can feel exposed in the modern workplace. Being on display is imposing and distracting to them, Cain said.

Office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. is trying to give the left-behind introverts some love. Its new set of "quiet spaces," designed in collaboration with Cain, aims to help introverts relax and focus away from the eyes of their coworkers.

. . .

Part of Steelcase's pitch to potential customers: this is a talent issue. Why spend so much time and money recruiting employees if they can't focus and work well in your space?

For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "How to Avoid that Sinking Feeling When in the Fish Bowl." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 3, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 2, 2014, and has the title "For Office Introverts, a Room of One's Own.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.

November 15, 2014

"Rebel" Russian Thugs Kill Plans and Entrepreneurship in Donetsk

(p. A13) "We do not go out at night," said Irina, a journalist who lost her job when the rebels closed her newspaper in May. "We have stopped planning."

Her boyfriend, Evgeny, lost his job, too, when his security firm folded. He said the business collapsed after the rebels seized money from the central bank and armored vehicles from other banks, leading them to close. He turned to his secondary business, fixing motorbikes, only to be ordered at gunpoint to fix some stolen motorbikes for the rebels.

"I came to the conclusion there is no sense," he said. "You start a business and get a bit successful, and two weeks later men with guns come and say, 'Good boy, get lost.' "

For the full story, see:

CARLOTTA GALL. "Lured Back by a Cease-Fire in Ukraine, but Not Feeling at Home Yet." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 11, 2014): A6 & A13.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 10, 2014.)

November 14, 2014

High Skill Foreign Workers Raise Wages for Native Workers

WageGrowthRelatedToChangesInForeignSTEMworkersGraph2014-10-08.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) "A lot of people have the idea there is a fixed number of jobs," said . . . , Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis. "It's completely turned around."

Immigrants can boost the productivity of the overall economy, he said, "because then the pie grows and there are more jobs for other people as well and there's not a zero-sum trade-off between natives and immigrants."

Mr. Peri, along with co-authors Kevin Shih at UC Davis, and Chad Sparber at Colgate University, studied how wages for college- and noncollege-educated native workers shifted along with immigration. They found that a one-percentage-point increase in the share of workers in STEM fields raised wages for college-educated natives by seven to eight percentage points and wages of the noncollege-educated natives by three to four percentage points.

Mr. Peri said the research bolsters the case for raising, or even removing, the caps on H-1B visas, the program that regulates how many high-skilled foreign workers employers can bring into the country.

For the full story, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN and MATT STILES. "Study: Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 23, 2014): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 22, 2014, and has the title "Skilled Foreign Workers a Boon to Pay, Study Finds.")

The paper discussed in the passage quoted above, is:

Peri, Giovanni, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber. "Foreign Stem Workers and Native Wages and Employment in U.S. Cities." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Paper Number 20093, May 2014.

November 13, 2014

In 1971 Nixon "Launched an All-Out War on Cancer"

(p. 173) In 1971 the U.S. government finally launched an all-out "war on cancer." In his State of the Union address in January 1971, President Richard Nixon declared: "The time has come in America when the same kind of concerted effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal."

As the country debated a bill known as the National Cancer Act, the air was filled with feverish excitement and heady optimism. Popular magazines again trumpeted the imminent conquest of cancer. However, some members of the committee of the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, which was asked by the NCI to review the cancer plan envisioned by the act, expressed concern regarding the centralization of planning of research and that "the lines of research... could turn out to be the wrong leads." The plan fails, the reviewers said in their confidential report, because

It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand, and that given the right kind of administration and organization, the hard problems can be solved. It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer.


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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

November 12, 2014

FDR Ruthlessly Manipulated Political Process

(p. D8) Michael C. Janeway, a former editor of The Boston Globe and executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly who wrote two books chronicling what he saw as the intertwined decline of democracy and journalism in the United States, died on Thursday [April 17, 2014] at his home in Lakeville, Conn.

. . .

The second book, "The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power From FDR to LBJ," published in 2004, measured some of the ideas in his first book against the history of the New Deal. It focused on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inner circle of advisers, a group of political operatives and thinkers often called Roosevelt's "brain trust," who helped conceive ideas like the minimum wage, Social Security and federal bank deposit insurance.

Mr. Janeway's father, Eliot Janeway, an economist, Democratic hand and columnist for Time magazine (a portfolio not unheard-of in those days), was a prominent member of that group.

Michael Janeway suggested that in undertaking the radical changes necessary to yank the "shattered American capitalist system into regulation and reform," Roosevelt and his team manipulated the political process with a level of ruthlessness that may have been justified by the perils of the times. But in the years that followed, he wrote, the habit of guile and highhandedness devolved into the kind of arrogance that defined -- and doomed -- the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, Roosevelt's last political heir.

For the full obituary, see:

PAUL VITELLO. "Michael Janeway, 73, Former Editor of The Boston Globe." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 19, 2014): D8.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has title "Michael Janeway, Former Editor of The Boston Globe, Dies at 73.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Janeway, Michael. The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power from FDR to LBJ, Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

November 11, 2014

Model Flaws Result in No Useful Climate Consensus

At the end of the first page of the commentary quoted below, the following biographical credentials were provided for the author of the commentary:

(p. C1) Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist of where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.

(p. C1) The idea that "Climate science is settled" runs through today's popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.

. . .

(p. C2) We often hear that there is a "scientific consensus" about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn't a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.

. . .

• Although the Earth's average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.

Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.

. . .

• A crucial measure of our knowledge of feedbacks is climate sensitivity--that is, the warming induced by a hypothetical doubling of carbon-dioxide concentration. Today's best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars.

These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not "minor" issues to be "cleaned up" by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research.

Yet a public official reading only the IPCC's "Summary for Policy Makers" would gain little sense of the extent or implications of these deficiencies. These are fundamental challenges to our understanding of human impacts on the climate, and they should not be dismissed with the mantra that "climate science is settled."

For the full commentary, see:

STEVEN E. KOONIN. "Climate Science Is Not Settled." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 20, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: italics in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 19, 2014.)

November 10, 2014

Pay Gap Widest in Jobs that Value Long Hours, Face Time and Being on Call


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

(p. B3) "The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours," [Harvard economist Claudia Goldin] . . . wrote in a paper published [in April 2014] . . . in The American Economic Review.

Occupations that most value long hours, face time at the office and being on call -- like business, law and surgery -- tend to have the widest pay gaps. That is because those employers pay people who spend longer hours at the office disproportionately more than they pay people who don't, Dr. Goldin found. A lawyer who works 80 hours a week at a big corporate law firm is paid more than double one who works 40 hours a week as an in-house counsel at a small business.

Jobs in which employees can easily substitute for one another have the slimmest pay gaps, and those workers are paid in proportion to the hours they work.

Pharmacy is Dr. Goldin's favorite example. A pharmacist who works 40 hours a week generally earns double the salary of a pharmacist who works 20 hours a week, and as a result, the pay gap for pharmacists is one of the smallest.

Pharmacy became such an equitable profession not because of activism but because of changes in the labor market (fewer self-owned pharmacies and more large corporations) and changes in technology (storing patient records on computers where they are easily accessible by any pharmacist).

For the full story, see:

Claire Cain Miller. "Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 24, 2014): B3.

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

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

The Goldin academic paper mentioned above, is:

Goldin, Claudia. "A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter." American Economic Review 104, no. 4 (April 2014): 1091-119.

November 9, 2014

"Discovery Cannot Be Achieved by Directive"

(p. 170) As early as 1945 the medical advisory committee reporting to the committee reporting to the federal government on a postwar program for scientific research emphasized the frequently unexpected nature of discoveries:

Discoveries in medicine have often come from the most remote and unexpected fields of science in the past; and it is probable that this will be equally true in the future. It is not unlikely that significant progress in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, cancer, and other refractory conditions will be made, perhaps unexpectedly, as the result of fundamental discoveries in fields unrelated to these diseases.... Discovery cannot be achieved by directive. Further progress requires that the entire field of medicine and the underlying sciences of biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, bacteriology, pathology, parasitology, etc., be developed impartially.

Their statement "discovery cannot be achieved by directive" would prove to be sadly prophetic.


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

(Note: italics in original.)

November 8, 2014

Shetl Golden Age Ended When "Russia Repurposed Shtetl Jews as Scapegoats"

(p. 15) Smuggling looms large not only in the economy of Petrovsky-Shtern's shtetl but for its symbolism, too. The author is interested in the way aspects of one world slide inside another. His golden-age shtetl was born when Russia swallowed a giant slice of Poland at the end of the 18th century and went from having few Jews to overseeing vast numbers of them, many of whom lived in privately owned Polish towns.

These towns are the essential ingredients of the hybrid world Petrovsky-Shtern is celebrating. Polish nobles had permitted Jews to live there on the condition that they ran the outdoor markets, sold liquor and in general acted as engines of trade. When the towns fell under Russian rule, Jews retained many of their economic privileges while expanding their civil rights, especially after they displayed a willingness to inform on their erstwhile Polish overlords.

Shtetl dwellers became adept at playing the declining Polish nobility off against bribable Russian officials. The czar had not yet laid his heavy hand on the trade by which shtetl Jews powered the economic growth of western Russia. Neither had he made nationalism the supreme ideology and Eastern Orthodoxy synonymous with Russian nationalism.

That would come, and as the Russian treasury bought up more and more of the private towns and trade died, Russia repurposed shtetl Jews as scapegoats for a restive peasant population.

For the full review, see:

JONATHAN ROSEN. "World of Our Great-Grandfathers." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 27, 2014): 15.

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

The book under review is:

Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

November 7, 2014

Wal-Mart Nimbly Evades Bank Industry Efforts to Restrict Competition

(p. B3) Here comes Wal-Bank.

After years of thwarted efforts to break into banking, Walmart is making its biggest foray yet into everyday financial services.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is teaming up with Green Dot, known for its prepaid payment cards, to supply checking accounts to almost anyone over 18 who passes an ID check.

. . .

. . . the new Walmart initiative will be the first full-blown, off-the-shelf checking account. To help attract customers, Walmart and Green Dot will forgo a screening system many banks use to vet potential customers and rely instead on a proprietary system. The model is expected to allow almost any consumer who passes an identification check to open an account in minutes, according to Green Dot.

In the past, Walmart has tried to secure a federal bank charter to become a deposit-taking bank, but abandoned that effort in 2007 in the face of opposition from the banking industry. Since then, the retailer has assembled an array of services that could be offered without a charter, as well as partnerships with financial service companies like Green Dot.

For the full story, see:

HIROKO TABUCHI and JESSICA SILVER-GREENBERG. "Finding a Door Into Banking, Walmart Prepares to Offer Checking Accounts." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 24, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2014, and has the title "Walmart Prepares to Offer Low-Cost Checking Accounts.")

November 6, 2014

Moss Revived After 1,500 Years

(p. D3) Typically, plants break down into organic matter as they become permafrost. Looking at the ancient moss from Signy Island, however, Dr. Convey and his colleagues wondered if, after centuries of frozen darkness, it could grow again.

It was an unlikely idea. Scientists had not managed to revive moss that had been frozen for more than 20 years. Still, Dr. Convey thought it would be interesting to try. "It was just kite-flying," he said.

The scientists put a core of Signy permafrost under a lamp in a lab in Britain and misted it from time to time with water. After a few weeks, the moss was sending up new green growth.

The deepest layer in which the resuscitated moss grew was three and a half feet below the surface. Based on radiocarbon tests, as they report in the journal Current Biology, the revived moss turned out to be more than 1,500 years old. It's been in a state of suspended animation, in other words, since the age of King Arthur.

. . .

In some cases, organisms may naturally revive after thousands of years without scientists' help. And it's possible that they play an important role in their ecosystems.

At the end of each ice age, for example, retreating glaciers leave behind bare ground that develops into new ecosystems. Dr. Convey wonders if moss, and perhaps other species, may survive under the ice for thousands of years and revive when the glaciers melt. "That gives you a very different way of understanding the biodiversity of a region," he said.

While cloning mammoths remains speculative, reviving dormant organisms is now passing out of its proof-of-concept stage. The research could lead to using revival to help bolster endangered species.

"You could use whatever is stored in ice or sediment as a sort of backup for biodiversity," said Luisa Orsini of the University of Birmingham in England. But, she said, "one has to be really, really careful introducing something from the past."

For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. "MATTER; A Growth Spurt at 1,500 Years Old." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 18, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 17, 2014.)

The academic paper reporting the research summarized above, is:

Roads, Esme, Royce E. Longton, and Peter Convey. "Millennial Timescale Regeneration in a Moss from Antarctica." Current Biology 24, no. 6 (March 17, 2014): R222-R223.

November 5, 2014

"Folkman Persisted in His Genuinely Original Thinking"

(p. 141) As detailed by Robert Cooke in his 2001 book Dr. Folkman's War, the successful answers to these basic questions took Folkman through diligent investigations punctuated by an astonishing series of chance observations and circumstances. Over decades, Folkman persisted in his genuinely original thinking. His concept was far in advance of technological and other scientific advances that would provide the methodology and basic knowledge essential to its proof, forcing him to await verification and to withstand ridicule, scorn, and vicious competition for grants. Looking back three decades later, Folkman would ruefully reflect: "I was too young to realize how much trouble was in store for a theory that could not be tested immediately."


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

(Note: italics in original.)

November 4, 2014

Less than One Percent of Government Spending Is Cost Effective

(p. A3) . . . , most Americans don't think of their government as particularly successful. Only 19 percent say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to Gallup.

. . .

Of the 11 large programs for low- and moderate-income people that have been subject to rigorous, randomized evaluation, only one or two show strong evidence of improving most beneficiaries' lives.

"Less than 1 percent of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence of cost-effectiveness," writes Peter Schuck, a Yale law professor, in his new book, "Why Government Fails So Often," a sweeping history of policy disappointments.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "A Quiet Movement to Help Government Fail Less Often." The New York Times (Tues., July 15, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the last two paragraphs quoted above, were combined into one paragraph in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has title "The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Schuck, Peter. Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

November 3, 2014

Evidence Some Flies Can Adapt to Climate Change

(p. D7) In the early 2000s, Ary A. Hoffmann, a biologist then at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, wondered how the many species in tropical rain forests would cope when their humid environment dried out.

. . .

. . . at the end of the experiment, the flies were no more resistant to dry air than their forebears. The flies seemed to lack the genetic potential to evolve. Those results suggested that if the rain forest home of Drosophilia birchii loses its high humidity, the flies will die off.

. . .

Recently, two of Dr. Hoffmann's collaborators -- Belinda van Heerwaarden and Carla M. Sgrò of Monash University -- decided to rerun the experiment, but with a crucial twist.

Rather than expose the flies to 10 percent relative humidity, Dr. van Heerwaarden and Dr. Sgrò tried 35 percent. That's still far drier than the moist air of rain forests, but it's not the aridity one might encounter on a summer day in Death Valley.

"It's a humidity that's more relevant to the predictions for how dry the environment would become in the next 30 to 50 years," Dr. Sgrò said.

. . .

Unlike the flies in the earlier studies, it didn't take long for these to start evolving. After just five generations, one species was able to survive 23 percent longer in 35 humidity.

For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. "MATTER; Study Gives Hope of Adaptation to Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 29, 2014): D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 24, 2014.)

The recent paper discussed above, is:

van Heerwaarden, Belinda, and Carla M. Sgrò. "Is Adaptation to Climate Change Really Constrained in Niche Specialists?" Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281, no. 1790 (2014): 1-1.

November 2, 2014

Zambrano Was Cement Process Innovator

(p. A22) Beginning in 1992, Mr. Zambrano bought up far-flung producers to create the third-largest cement company in the world. He remade each new acquisition, introducing high technology and logistical efficiencies that made Cemex the subject of business school case studies at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From his own computer Mr. Zambrano could monitor any Cemex operation in more than 50 countries, said Rossana Fuentes-Berain, a Mexican journalist who wrote a 2007 book about Mr. Zambrano, "Grey Gold."

What distinguished him was "the technology, the management and the hunger to prove that you can be as good as anybody in the market," Ms. Fuentes-Berain said.

For the full obituary, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Lorenzo Zambrano, 70, Leader of Cemex, Dies." The New York Times (Thurs., May 15, 2014): A22.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 13, 2014, and has the title "Lorenzo H. Zambrano, Head of Cement Giant Cemex, Dies at 70.")

The biography mentioned above, as of this posting, is only available in Spanish:

Fuentes-Berain, Rossana. Oro Gris: Zambrano, La Gesta de Cemex y la Globalizacion en Mexico. Aguilar, 2007.

November 1, 2014

Centrally Planned War on Cancer "Fails to Allow for Surprises"

(p. 115) It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand.... It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer. --A COMMITTEE OF THE INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, ON THE NATIONAL CANCER ACT AND THE "WAR ON CANCER"


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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)


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