« November 2014 | Main | January 2015 »


December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity




(p. 301) Even in the early twentieth century, the climate was more conducive to serendipitous discovery. In the United States, for example, scientific research was funded by private foundations, notably the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York (established 1901) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1913). The Rockefeller Institute modeled itself on prestigious European organizations such as the Pasteur Institute in France and the Koch Institute in Germany, recruiting the world's best scientists and providing them with comfortable stipends, well-equipped laboratories, and freedom from teaching obligations and university politics, so that they could devote their energies to research. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the most expansive supporter of basic research, especially in biology, between the two world wars, relied on successful programs to seek promising scientists to identify and accelerate burgeoning fields of interest. In Britain, too, the Medical Research Council believed in "picking the man, not the project," and nurturing successful results with progressive grants.

After World War II, everything about scientific research changed. The U.S. government--which previously had had little to do with funding research except for some agricultural projects--took on a major role. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew out of feeble beginnings in 1930 but became foremost among the granting agencies in the early 1940s at around the time they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. The government then established the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 to promote progress in science and engineering. Research in the United States became centralized and therefore suffused with bureaucracy. The lone scientist working independently was now a rarity. Research came to be characterized by large teams drawing upon multiple scientific disciplines and using highly technical methods in an environment that promoted the not-very-creative phenomenon known as "groupthink." Under this new regime, the competition (p. 302) among researchers for grant approvals fostered a kind of conformity with existing dogma. As the bureaucracy of granting agencies expanded, planning and justification became the order of the day, thwarting the climate in which imaginative thought and creative ideas flourish.



Source:

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






December 30, 2014

"Bad Ideas Die Hard, Especially Those that Flatter Our Vanity"




(p. C5) Mütter was one of the first plastic surgeons in America.


. . .


Mütter was also a pioneer of burn surgery.


. . .


Every hero needs a good antagonist and Mütter had a great one, a professor and blowhard named Charles D. Meigs who was as contrary as a Missouri mule. Meigs was a highly regarded obstetrician and one of Mütter's colleagues at Jefferson. He rejected Mütter's namby-pamby notions by reflex. Anesthesia? Pshaw! Men and women are put on earth to suffer. Handwashing? Humbug! The very idea that physicians could spread disease was preposterous. As Meigs wrote, "a gentleman's hands are clean." Unfortunately, bad ideas die hard, especially those that flatter our vanity. The fight to make medicine as humane as possible continues long after Mütter's premature death from tuberculosis in 1859.



For the full review, see:

JOHN ROSS. "The Doctor Will See You Now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.")


The book under review is:

Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. Dr. Müt­ters Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. New York: Gotham Books, 2014.






December 29, 2014

"It's Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees"




(p. A1) MIAMI -- In an unexpected echo of the refugee crisis from two decades ago, a rising tide of Cubans in rickety, cobbled-together boats is fleeing the island and showing up in the waters off Florida.

Leonardo Heredia, a 24-year-old Cuban baker, for example, tried and failed to reach the shores of Florida eight times.

Last week, he and 21 friends from his Havana neighborhood gathered the combined know-how from their respective botched migrations and made a boat using a Toyota motor, scrap stainless steel and plastic foam. Guided by a pocket-size Garmin GPS, they finally made it to Florida on Mr. Heredia's ninth attempt.

"Things that were bad in Cuba are now worse," Mr. Heredia said. "If there was more money in Cuba to pay for the trips, everyone would go."


. . .


(p. A18) . . . Yannio La O, 31, [is] an elementary school wrestling coach who arrived in Miami last week after a shipwreck landed him in Mexico.

He and 31 others departed from Manzanillo, in southern Cuba, in late August on a boat they built over the course of three months. They ran into engine trouble, and the food they brought was contaminated by a sealant they carried aboard to patch holes in the hull. They spent 24 days lost at sea.

"Every day at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m., somebody died," Mr. La O said.

Nine people, including a pregnant woman, died and were thrown overboard, and six more got on inner tubes and disappeared before the Mexican Navy rescued the survivors, Mr. Sánchez said. Two more died at shore. Mr. La O said he survived by drinking urine and spearing fish.


. . .


"Even if half the people who leave from Cuba do not survive, that means half of them did," Mr. La O said, speaking from his grandmother's house in Miami, where he arrived last week. "I would tell anyone in Cuba to come. It's better to die on your feet than live on your knees."



For the full story, see:

FRANCES ROBLES. "In Rickety Boats, Cuban Migrants Again Flee to U.S." The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 10, 2014): A1 & A18.

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

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






December 28, 2014

"Milestone of Dubious Distinction:" Venezuela Joins North Korea and Cuba in Food Rationing




(p. A15) MARACAIBO, Venezuela--Amid worsening shortages, Venezuela recently reached a milestone of dubious distinction: It has joined the ranks of North Korea and Cuba in rationing food for its citizens.

On a recent, muggy morning, Maria Varge stood in line outside a Centro 99 grocery store, ready to scour the shelves for scarce items like cooking oil and milk. But before entering, Ms. Varge had to scan her fingerprint to ensure she wouldn't buy more than her share.

Despite its technological twist on the old allotment booklet, Venezuela's new program of rationing is infuriating consumers who say it creates tiresome waits, doesn't relieve shortages and overlooks the far-reaching economic overhauls the country needs to resolve the problem.

"These machines make longer lines," said Ms. Varge, 50, as she was jostled by people in line, "but you get inside, and they still don't have what you want."



For the full story, see:

SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ. "WORLD NEWS; Despite Riches, Venezuela Starts Food Rationing; Government Rolls Out Fingerprint Scanners to Limit Purchases of Basic Goods; 'How Is it Possible We've Gotten to This Extreme'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 23, 2014): A15.

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






December 27, 2014

Eisenhower Warned that "a Government Contract Becomes Virtually a Substitute for Intellectual Curiosity"




(p. 300) In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the nation about the influence of the "military-industrial complex," coining a phrase that became part of the political vernacular. However, in the same speech, he presciently warned that scientific and academic research might become too dependent on, and thus shaped by, government grants. He foresaw a situation in which "a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity."


Source:

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






December 26, 2014

How "the Credentials Arms-Race" Now "Defines Young Adulthood"




(p. A11) . . . "Excellent Sheep" is a cri de coeur against the credentials arms-race that now defines young adulthood--and even childhood--for many Americans. But you don't have to take his word for it: The book features interviews and correspondence with students and recent graduates of elite institutions. Beyond their glowing transcripts and the fact that they have become "accomplished adult-wranglers," these students are anxious, depressed and searching for some deeper meaning in their lives. "For many students, rising to the absolute top means being consumed by the system. I've seen my peers sacrifice health, relationships, exploration, activities that can't be quantified and are essential for developing souls and hearts, for grades and resume building," one Stanford student told the author. A Yalie put it more succinctly: "I might be miserable, but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale."


For the full review, see:

EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH. "BOOKSHELF; The Credentials Arms-Race; Students sacrifice all to grades and resume building--'I might be miserable,' a Yalie noted, 'but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale.'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 20, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite' by William Deresiewicz; Students sacrifice all to grades and resume building--'I might be miserable,' a Yalie noted, 'but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale.'.")


The book under review is:

Deresiewicz, William. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. New York, NY: Free Press, 2014.






December 25, 2014

U.S. Patents and Start-Ups Fall When We Exclude Tech Immigrants




(p. A19) The process of bringing skilled immigrants to the U.S. via H-1B visas and putting them on the path to eventual citizenship has been a political football for at least a decade. It has long been bad news for those immigrants trapped in this callous process. Now the U.S. economy is beginning to suffer, too.

Every year, tens of thousands of disappointed tech workers and other professionals give up while waiting for a resident visa or green card, and go home--having learned enough to start companies that compete with their former U.S. employers. The recent historic success of China's Alibaba IPO is a reminder that a new breed of companies is being founded, and important innovation taking place, in other parts of the world. More than a quarter of all patents filed today in the U.S. bear the name of at least one foreign national residing here.

The U.S. no longer has a monopoly on great startups. In the past, the best and brightest people would come to the U.S., but now they are staying home. In Silicon Valley, according to a 2012 survey by Duke and Stanford Universities and the University of California at Berkeley, the percentage of new companies started by foreign-born entrepreneurs has begun to slide for the first time--down to 43.9% during 2006-12, from 52.4% during 1995-2005.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "OPINION; The Self-Inflicted U.S. Brain Drain; Up to 1.5 million skilled workers are stuck in immigration limbo. Many give up and go home." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCT. 16, 2014): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 15, 2014.)


The 2012 survey is discussed further in:

Wadhwa, Vivek, AnnaLee Saxenian, and F. Daniel Siciliano. "Then and Now: America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part VII." Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, October 2012.


An in-depth discussion of the issues raised by Malone can be found in:

Wadhwa, Vivek. The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. pb ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press, 2012.






December 24, 2014

How Creative Destruction Reuses Capital




(p. B1) The Internet is moving to a shopping center near you.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., a vacated Target store is about to be home to rows of computer servers, network routers and Ethernet cables courtesy of a local data-center operator. In Jackson, Miss., a former McRae's department store will get the same treatment next year. And one quadrant of the Marley Station Mall south of Baltimore is already occupied by a data-center company that last year offered to buy out the rest of the building.

As America's retailers struggle to keep up with online shopping, the Internet is starting to settle into some of the very spaces where brick-and-mortar customers used to shop.



For the full story, see:

DREW FITZGERALD and PAUL ZIOBRO. "This Used to Be a Shopping Mall." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 3, 2014, and has the title "Malls Fill Vacant Stores With Server Rooms.")






December 23, 2014

Loewi Proved a Slow Hunch after 17 Years




(p. 243) Loewi had long been interested in the problem of neurotransmission and believed that the agent was likely a chemical substance and not an electrical impulse, as previously thought, but he was unable to find a way to test the idea. It lay dormant in his mind for seventeen years. In a dream in 1921, on the night before Easter Sunday, he envisioned an experiment to prove this. Loewi awoke from the dream and, by his own account, "jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper." Upon awakening in the morning, he was terribly distressed: "I was unable to decipher the scrawl."

The next night, at three o'clock, the idea returned. This time he got up, dressed, and started a laboratory experiment.



Source:

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






December 22, 2014

Charismatic Prophets of Technological and Organizational Innovation




(p. C7) Walter Isaacson's last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs --the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson's fine new book, "The Innovators," is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak --"forerunners" who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface.


. . .


Mr. Isaacson's heart is with the engineers: the wizards of coding, the artists in electrons, silicon, copper, networks and mice. But "The Innovators" also gives space to the revolutionary work done with men as well as mice: experiments in the organizational forms in which creativity might be encouraged and expressed; in the aesthetic design of personal computers, phones and graphical fonts; in predicting and creating what consumers did not yet know they wanted; and in the advertising and marketing campaigns that make them want those things. Not the least of the revolutionaries' inventions was their own role as our culture's charismatic prophets, uniquely positioned to pronounce on which way history was going and then to assemble the capital, the motivated workers and the cheering audiences that helped them make it go that way.



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "The Best Way to Predict the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added. The first word of the title in the print version was "They." Above, I have corrected the typo.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Innovators' by Walter Isaacson.")


The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






December 21, 2014

Embryo Stem-Cells Improve Sight in Severe Vision Loss Patients




(p. A7) Researchers have used stem cells from human embryos to treat patients suffering from severe vision loss, the first time the technique has been shown to be both safe and potentially effective in a sustained way.


. . .


. . . , Dr. Lanza and his colleagues first obtained an eight-cell embryo from a fertility clinic. (The embryo was left over from fertility treatments and was destined for destruction.)


. . .


Vision tests suggested that 10 of the 18 treated eyes had improved sight, with eight patients reading more than 15 additional letters on a reading chart in the first year after transplant. Visual acuity remained the same or improved in seven patients, though it decreased by more than ten letters in one patient.



For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK. "Vision Improves in Stem-Cell Trial." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCT. 15, 2014): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2014, and has the title "Stem Cells Show Potential Benefits for Eye Diseases.")






December 20, 2014

Property Rights Increase Oyster Farming




(p. A14) Oyster farming, also known as aquaculture, is one of the few growing businesses here on the western shore of Maryland, a sleepy outpost best known for the sunburned watermen who have pulled crabs and fish from bays like Chesapeake and Calvert for generations. Recent changes to state policy and a growing national affection for oysters (sprinkled with lemon juice only, please) have brought back the shellfish, once as much a staple to Maryland as corn is to Iowa. In the past few years, the state has issued 111 oyster farming leases across 2,240 acres of waters; scores more are pending.


. . .


Oyster farmers -- a mélange of scientists, businesspeople, new-career seekers and others -- argue that by recreating oyster reefs, they are helping to clean the area's bays, stimulate the very ecosystem that sustains crab and fish populations and return a tradition to the region.


. . .


[In 2010], Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the Shellfish Aquaculture Leasing bill, removing many impediments to shellfish aquaculture, including prohibitions on leasing in many county waters, making them available for the first time to nonresidents and corporations, and ending restrictions on the amount of space that could be leased. Oyster farming immediately took off in various regions of coastal Maryland.

Farmed oysters, like their wild kin, serve as filters for the water -- one oyster can suck down and spit out 50 gallons of water a day -- but are less prone to disease.



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER. "A New Bounty of Oysters, but There Is a Snag." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 7, 2014): A14 & A18.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 6, 2014, and has the title "A New Bounty of Oysters in Maryland, but There Is a Snag.")






December 19, 2014

Much Knowledge Results from Mistaken Hypotheses




(p. 239) If we were to eliminate from science all the great discoveries that had come about as the result of mistaken hypotheses or fluky experimental data, we would be lacking half of what we now know (or think we know). --NATHAN KLINE, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST


Source:

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






December 18, 2014

The Washing Machine Is a Great Bulwark of Women's Liberation




(p. C9) If the past is foreign country because they do things differently there, we're lucky to have such a knowledgeable cicerone as Ruth Goodman.


. . .


"I like to put time and effort into studying the objects and tools that people made and used, and I like to try methods and approaches out for myself," she writes in "How to Be a Victorian." This sounds straightforward enough but hardly hints at the leaps of imaginative empathy the author is so good at: When she visits a museum to examine a Victorian farm worker's wool coat, for example, she sees both the husband "who sweated and left stains on his clothes, who physically felt the cold" and the wife who "spent hours carefully and neatly sewing up the tear."

Ms. Goodman observes that the wife's technique for repair matches one taught in working-class textbooks, a fact that raises questions in her mind. "How widespread was such needlework education, and was it likely to have been women who carried out such repairs?" she wonders. "If it takes me over an hour to do the work, would my Victorian forebears have been quicker? When would they have fitted such a chore into their day?" That little rip in the man's coat, it turns out, is like a tiny window into "the great sweeps of political and economic life" that in turn "bring us back to the personal." Trade disruptions in textiles during the American Civil War, for instance, "pushed up the price of the labourer's coat, making that repair more necessary."


. . .


Many, many things about daily life are far better now: "My own historical laundry experiences have led me to see the powered washing machine as one of the great bulwarks of women's liberation, an invention that can sit alongside contraception and the vote."



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "Living Like a Queen; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'How to Be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never.")


The book under review is:

Goodman, Ruth. How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014.






December 17, 2014

Most Venture Capital Firms Do Not Back "Ambitious, Long-Shot Projects"




(p. B4) Successful venture capitalism is about managing risk, so partners at most VC firms invest in businesses they think will become viable, or at least worthy of an acquisition, in the shortest time possible.

That doesn't leave much appetite among VCs for startups working on ambitious, long-shot projects, the sort that require basic research, and that's a shame.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Our Last Great Hope: Venture Capital." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 21, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 20, 2014, and the title "KEYWORDS; Humanity's Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists.")






December 16, 2014

"People Don't Like Open Plans"




(p. A1) Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing.

Few industries seem as uniquely ill suited to the concept. The process of acquiring, editing and publishing books is rife with moments requiring privacy and quiet concentration. There are the sensitive negotiations with agents; the wooing of prospective authors; the poring over of manuscripts.


. . .


(p. B6) Even as the walls of America's workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts -- like corporate law firms -- a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.

"The evidence against open-plan offices is mounting," said Nikil Saval, the author of "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." "The idea is that these offices encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters. But there's not a lot of evidence behind these claims. Whereas there is a lot of evidence that people don't like open plans."

The notion of cookie-cutter cubicles is especially anathema to a certain breed of editors who see themselves more as men and women of letters than they do as businesspeople.

"It's a world of words that we're working towards, not an intellectual sweatshop," said Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and an opponent of open-plan offices.

For book editors, offices provide more than just privacy. They like to fill the bookcases inside with titles that they've published, making for a kind of literary trophy case to impress visitors.



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")


The Saval book is:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.






December 15, 2014

"The World Is Not Only Stranger than We Imagine, It Is Stranger than We Can Imagine"




(p. 238) The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once commented, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." This famous quote is often used to support the notion that the mysteries of the universe are beyond our understanding. Here is another way to interpret his insight: Because so much is out there that is beyond our imagination, it is likely that we will discover new truths only when we accidentally stumble upon them. Development can then proceed apace.


Source:

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

(Note: I have corrected a typo in the Haldane quote. Meyers mistakenly has "that" for the second "than.")






December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"




(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)


The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.






December 13, 2014

Economic Hope Cures Terrorism




(p. C1) As the U.S. moves into a new theater of the war on terror, it will miss its best chance to beat back Islamic State and other radical groups in the Middle East if it doesn't deploy a crucial but little-used weapon: an aggressive agenda for economic empowerment. Right now, all we hear about are airstrikes and military maneuvers--which is to be expected when facing down thugs bent on mayhem and destruction.

But if the goal is not only to degrade what President Barack Obama rightly calls Islamic State's "network of death" but to make it impossible for radical leaders to recruit terrorists in the first place, the West must learn a simple lesson: Economic hope is the only way to win the battle for the constituencies on which terrorist groups feed.

I know something about this. A generation ago, much of Latin America was in turmoil. By 1990, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, had seized control of most of my home country, Peru, where I served as the president's principal adviser. Fashionable opinion held that the people rebelling were the impoverished or underemployed wage slaves of Latin America, that capitalism couldn't work outside the West and that Latin cultures didn't really understand market economics.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, however. Reforms in Peru gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow--spurring an unprecedented rise in living standards.



For the full commentary, see:

HERNANDO DE SOTO. "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to give the Arab world another path." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 11, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 10, 2014, and the title "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment.")


Soto's masterpiece is:

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York: Basic Books, 1989.






December 12, 2014

Scientists Seriously Discuss Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming




(p. A1) UTRECHT, the Netherlands -- The solution to global warming, Olaf Schuiling says, lies beneath our feet.

For Dr. Schuiling, a retired geochemist, climate salvation would come in the form of olivine, a green-tinted mineral found in abundance around the world. When exposed to the elements, it slowly takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Olivine has been doing this naturally for billions of years, but Dr. Schuiling wants to speed up the process by spreading it on fields and beaches and using it for dikes, pathways, even sandboxes. Sprinkle enough of the crushed rock around, he says, and it will eventually remove enough CO2 to slow the rise in global temperatures.

"Let the earth help us to save the earth," said Dr. Schuiling, who has been pursuing the idea single-mindedly for several decades and at 82 is still writing papers on the subject from his cluttered office at the University of Utrecht.

Once considered the stuff of wild-eyed fantasies, such ideas for countering climate change -- known as geoengineering solutions, because they intentionally manipulate nature -- are now being discussed seriously by scientists.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Climate Cures Seeking to Tap Nature's Power." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & A6.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")






December 11, 2014

Alertness to What Problem Can Be Solved with Unexpected Results




(p. 208) "Every scientist must occasionally turn around and ask not merely, 'How can I solve this problem?' but, 'Now that I have come to a result, what problem have I solved?" This use of reverse questions is of tremendous value precisely at the deepest parts of science."--NORBERT WIENER, INVENTION:THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IDEAS


Source:

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






December 10, 2014

Churchill Was More than an Epiphenomenon




(p. C2) It is easy to see why so many historians and historiographers have taken the Tolstoyan line, that the story of humanity isn't the story of great people and shining deeds. It has been fashionable to say that those so-called great men and women are just epiphenomena, meretricious bubbles on the vast tides of social history. The real story, on this view, is about deep economic forces, technological advances, changes in the price of sorghum, the overwhelming weight of an infinite number of mundane human actions.

The story of Winston Churchill is a pretty withering retort to all that malarkey.



For the full essay, see:

BORIS JOHNSON. "He Still Stands Alone." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Churchill Still Stands Alone.")


The passage quoted above is related to Johnson's book:

Johnson, Boris. The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. New York: Riverhead, 2014.






December 9, 2014

45,000 Year Old Human Genome Sequenced




(p. A14) Scientists have reconstructed the genome of a man who lived 45,000 years ago, by far the oldest genetic record ever obtained from modern humans. The research, published on Wednesday [October 22, 2014] in the journal Nature, provided new clues to the expansion of modern humans from Africa about 60,000 years ago, when they moved into Europe and Asia.

And the genome, extracted from a fossil thighbone found in Siberia, added strong support to a provocative hypothesis: Early humans interbred with Neanderthals.

"It's irreplaceable evidence of what once existed that we can't reconstruct from what people are now," said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin who was not involved in the study. "It speaks to us with information about a time that's lost to us."


. . .


By comparing the Ust'-Ishim man's long stretches of Neanderthal DNA with shorter stretches in living humans, Dr. Paabo and his colleagues estimated the rate at which they had fragmented. They used that information to determine how long ago Neanderthals and humans interbred.

Previous studies, based only on living humans, had yielded an estimate of 37,000 to 86,000 years. Dr. Paabo and his colleagues have now narrowed down that estimate drastically: Humans and Neanderthals interbred 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, according to the new data.



For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. "Man's Genome From 45,000 Years Ago Is Reconstructed." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 23, 2014): A14.

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

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






December 8, 2014

Billionaire Risks All for Hong Kong Freedom




(p. A11) Hong Kong If Chinese soldiers crush Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, there's little doubt media tycoon Jimmy Lai will be high on their wanted list. His Apple Daily newspaper and Next magazine cheer on the movement for universal suffrage. He bankrolls the city's pro-democracy political parties, as financial records stolen by hackers show. The government-owned media accuse him of fomenting a "color revolution" at the behest of the American government. . . .

But Mr. Lai's activities this week are not hard to track. From about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., he sits in the protesters' encampment outside the main government offices. Most of the time he can be found at one of the makeshift supply pavilions labeled "materials stand," chatting with students or listening to speeches.

On Friday morning, I find Mr. Lai at the encampment reading essays by Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu, and we walk to a nearby food court to chat. Two photographers from a pro-Beijing newspaper conspicuously record our meeting.



For the full interview, see:

HUGO RESTALL. "Hong Kong's Billionaire Democrat; Despite threats and smears from Beijing, Jimmy Lai talks about his support for student protesters in Hong Kong and why they might succeed." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Oct. 3, 2014.)






December 7, 2014

Forssmann's Courage Rewarded with "Professional Criticism and Scorn"




(p. 197) Forssmann's report in the leading German medical journal garnered him not hosannas but instead fierce professional criticism and scorn. In response to a senior physician who claimed undocumented priority for the procedure, the twenty-five-year-old Forssmann was forced to provide an addendum to his publication one month later. Rigid dogmatism and an authoritarian hierarchy characterized the German medicine of that day. The human heart, as the center of life, was considered inviolable by instrumentation and surgery.


Source:

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






December 6, 2014

Edison Claimed an Inventor Needs "a Logical Mind that Sees Analogies"




(p. C3) Thomas Edison famously said that genius requires "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Edison's third criterion for would-be innovators is less well-known but perhaps even more vital: "a logical mind that sees analogies."


. . .


The art of analogy flows from creative re-categorization and the information that we extract from surprising sources. Take the invention of the moving assembly line. Credit for this breakthrough typically goes to Henry Ford, but it was actually the brainchild of a young Ford mechanic named Bill Klann. After watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley, Klann thought that auto workers could assemble cars through a similar process by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails.

Overcoming significant management skepticism, Klann and his cohorts built a moving assembly line. Within four months, Ford's line had cut the time it took to build a Model T from 12 hours per vehicle to just 90 minutes. In short order, the moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and unlocked trillions of dollars in economic potential. And while in retrospect this innovation may seem like a simple, obvious step forward, it wasn't; the underlying analogy between moving disassembly and moving assembly had eluded everyone until Klann grasped its potential.



For the full essay, see:

JOHN POLLACK. "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike.")


The passages quoted above are related to Pollack's book:

Pollack, John. Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2014.






December 5, 2014

Simplot's Company Keeps Innovating with Potatoes




(p. B1) A potato genetically engineered to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in French fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting, the Department of Agriculture announced on Friday [November 7, 2014].

The potato's DNA has been altered so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is suspected of causing cancer in people, is produced when the potato is fried.

The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors for financial reasons. Potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.

The biotech tubers were developed by the J. R. Simplot Company, a privately held company based in Boise, Idaho, which was the initial supplier of frozen French fries to McDonald's in the 1960s and is still a major supplier. The company's founder, Mr. Simplot, who died in 2008, became a billionaire.

The potato is one of a new wave of genetically modified crops that aim to provide benefits to consumers, not just to farmers as the widely grown biotech crops like herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn do. The nonbruising aspect of the potato is similar to that of genetically engineered nonbrowning apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, which are awaiting regulatory approval.


. . .


The question now is whether the potatoes -- which come in the Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic varieties -- will be adopted by food companies and restaurant chains. At least one group opposed to such crops has already pressed McDonald's to reject them.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "New Potato, Hot Potato: U.S. Approves Modified Crop. Next Up: French-Fry Fans." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 7, 2014, and has the title "U.S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans.")






December 4, 2014

Consumers Cannot Count on Regulators for Safety




(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- The nation's top auto regulator faced withering criticism across Capitol Hill on Tuesday over its failure to identify a deadly defect in General Motors cars -- even as its top official tried again and again to shift the blame back to the automaker.

Hours after a House committee released a scathing report about the agency's yearslong failure to spot the ignition-stalling defect that has now been linked to 19 deaths, a Senate subcommittee hearing turned angry and tense. Lawmakers from both parties accused the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of overlooking evidence that could have saved lives and of deferring to the auto industry rather than standing up to it.

The agency was "more interested in singing 'Kumbaya' with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat," said Senator Claire McCaskill, the subcommittee's chairwoman, in sharp questioning reminiscent of her interrogation of G.M.'s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, in a hearing before the same panel in the spring.


. . .

(p. B2) "You want to obfuscate responsibility, rather than take responsibility," Ms. McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said, her voice rising. "We've all said shame on G.M." She added, "You've got to take some responsibility that this isn't being handled correctly."


. . .


Watching from a seat just behind Mr. Friedman [deputy administrator of the N.H.T.S.A.] was Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Rose, a teenager who was killed in 2005 when her Cobalt ran off the road, into a tree, and the air bags did not deploy.

As Mr. Friedman continued to speak, Ms. Christian said she could feel herself getting flushed and increasingly upset over the agency's lack of remorse.

"It was extremely frustrating to hear David Friedman go on about how his agency was this wonderful thing," she said. "All along they missed the glaringly obviously defects."



For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT and AARON M. KESSLER. "Congress Castigates Auto Regulator Over a Deadly G.M. Defect." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A1 & B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014, and has the title "Senators Take Auto Agency to Task Over G.M. Recall." In the Midwest edition that I receive, this article started on p. A1; according to the indexes, and the online edition, in the New York edition, the article started on p. B1.)






December 3, 2014

Denied Approval to Catheterize Hearts, Forssmann Catheterized His Own




(p. 195) Forssmann received his medical degree from the University of Berlin in 1929. That year, he interned at a small hospital northwest of Berlin, the Auguste-Viktoria-Heim in Eberswalde. He pleaded with his superiors for approval to try a new procedure--to inject drugs directly into the heart--but was unable to persuade them of his new concept's validity. Undaunted, Forssmann proceeded on his own. His goal was to improve upon the administration of drugs into the central circulation during emergency operations.

The circumstances of the incident on November 5, 1929, revealed by Forssmann in his autobiography, could hardly have been (p. 196) more dramatic. The account reflects Forssmann's dogged determination, willpower, and extraordinary courage. He gained the trust of the surgical nurse who provided access to the necessary instruments. So carried away by Forssmann's vision, she volunteered herself to undergo the experiment. Pretending to go along with her, Forssmann strapped her down to the table in a small operating room while his colleagues took their afternoon naps. When she wasn't looking, he anesthetized his own left elbow crease. Once the local anesthetic took effect, Forssmann quickly performed a surgical cutdown to expose his vein and boldly manipulated a flexible ureteral catheter 30 cm toward his heart. This thin sterile rubber tubing used by urologists to drain urine from the kidney was 65 cm long (about 26 inches). He then released the angry nurse.

They walked down two flights of stairs to the X-ray department, where he fearlessly advanced the catheter into the upper chamber (atrium) on the right side of his heart, following its course on a fluoroscopic screen with the aid of a mirror held by the nurse. (Fluoroscopy is an X-ray technique whereby movement of a body organ, an introduced dye, or a catheter within the body can be followed in real time.) He documented his experiment with an X-ray film. Forssmann was oblivious to the danger of abnormal, potentially fatal heart rhythms that can be provoked when anything touches the sensitive endocardium, the inside lining of the heart chambers.



Source:

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






December 2, 2014

Lippmann Attacked FDR's Socialist National Industrial Recovery Act




(p. A13) . . . Duke economic historian Craufurd D. Goodwin employs the writings of the once-famous newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann to describe the fervid U.S. debates that began with the 1929 stock-market crash.


. . .


Lippmann established his intellectual credentials in the 1920s, writing several well-received books. They included "Public Opinion," which excoriated the press for sloppy coverage of government policies and actions. The book is often seen as a call for top-down rule by experts, but Mr. Goodwin argues that Lippmann had something else in mind--that he was eager for expert opinion and "reasoned study" to be widely disseminated so that self-government would be more fully informed and the citizenry less easily manipulated.


. . .


At first, Lippmann embraced the Keynesian argument that government could ameliorate downswings in business cycles through deficit spending, but he later had second thoughts about economic engineering and became more attuned to the free-market ideas of Friedrich Hayek, whom he knew and consulted.   . . .    Lippmann attacked as ill-conceived the most ambitious New Deal brainstorm, the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which attempted to organize all business and industry into cartels to boost prices.



For the full review, see:

GEORGE MELLOAN. "BOOKSHELF; The Umpire of American Public Debate; Certain that a return of investment confidence would restore prosperity, Lippmann criticized those that blamed Wall Street for the malaise." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 13, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Walter Lippmann: Umpire of American Public Debate; Certain that a return of investment confidence would restore prosperity, Lippmann criticized those that blamed Wall Street for the malaise.")


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, Craufurd D. Walter Lippmann: Public Economist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.






December 1, 2014

Serendipitous Discovery of CorningWare




(p. A15) S. Donald Stookey, a scientist with Corning Glass Works who in the 1950s accidentally discovered a remarkably strong material that could be used not just to make the nose cone of a missile but also to contain a casserole in both a refrigerator and hot oven -- its durable culinary incarnation was called CorningWare -- died on Tuesday [November 4, 2014] in Rochester.


. . .


Dr. Stookey had not planned to invent it. Experimenting at Corning one day in 1953, he put photosensitive glass into a furnace, intending to heat it to 600 degrees.

"When I came back, the temperature gauge was stuck on 900 degrees, and I thought I had ruined the furnace," he said in an interview several years ago. "When I opened the door to the furnace, I saw the glass was intact and had turned a milky white. I grabbed some tongs to get it out as fast as I could, but the glass slipped out of the tongs and fell to the floor. The thing bounced and didn't break. It sounded like steel hitting the floor."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "S. Donald Stookey, Scientist, Dies at 99; Among His Inventions Was CorningWare." The New York Times (Sat., NOV. 8, 2014): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 6, 2014.)






HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg


















The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats