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January 31, 2015

Ezra Pound, a Major Literary Figure of the 20th Century, "Loved the Movies of Walt Disney"

(p. C5) "Mussolini asked," in A. David Moody 's retelling, "what was his aim in writing The Cantos, and Pound replied, 'to put my ideas in order'; and Mussolini said, 'What do you want to do that for?' " When the poet turned from this dismissal to economic policy, which had lately become the central obsession of his life, the dictator was unimpressed by Pound's list of 18 proposals, alighting particularly on his assertion that "in the Fascist state taxes were no longer necessary": "Have to think about THAT," Mussolini said and ended the interview. To the fascist dictator, Pound, by any measure one of the 20th century's major literary figures, merited hardly more bother than a fly.

. . .

(p. C7) . . . he was not always an elitist. He loved the movies of Walt Disney, . . .

For the full review, see:

DAVID MASON. "The Makers of Modernism; Pound's generous spirit looms over 20th-century literature, and in the early years his megalomania seemed harmless." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014): C5 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 5, 2014, and has the title "The Tragic Hero of Literary Modernism; Ezra Pound's generous spirit looms over 20th-century literature, and in the early years his megalomania seemed harmless." The first part of the title in the print version was intended to cover both the review of the Pound biography and an accompanying review of a biography of the writer and publisher James Laughlin.)

The book under review is:

Moody, A. David. Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume II: The Epic Years. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.

January 30, 2015

Lower Cost LEDs Will Reduce Light Prices, and Increase Quantity Consumed (Yes, Virginia, There Really Is a Law of Demand)

(p. A29) The growing evidence that low-cost efficiency often leads to faster energy growth was recently considered by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. They concluded that energy savings associated with new, more energy efficient technologies were likely to result in significant "rebounds," or increases, in energy consumption. This means that very significant percentages of energy savings will be lost to increased energy consumption.

. . .

That's not a bad thing. Most people in the world, still struggling to achieve modern living standards, need to consume more energy, not less. Cheap LED and other more efficient energy technologies will be overwhelmingly positive for people and economies all over the world.

For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER and TED NORDHAUS. "The Problem With Energy Efficiency." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 9, 2014): A29.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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

January 29, 2015

Government Encouraged the Dust Bowl of the 1930s

Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time helps us to understand the motives and struggles of those who suffered in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains of the United States. Sometimes he also illuminates the role that the government had in encouraging ordinary people to move to a place that would soon be hell on earth.

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most thought-provoking passages of Egan's book.

Book discussed:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

January 28, 2015

TransCanada Plans to Use Eminent Domain to Build the Keystone Pipeline

I am not opposed to the Keystone Pipeline on environmental grounds. But I have long believed that property rights should be defended, and that we too readily allow the violation of property rights through eminent domain.

If the Keystone Pipeline can be built without eminent domain, then I am in favor of allowing it. If it can only be built by violating landowners' property rights, then I oppose it.

(p. 1A) LINCOLN -- As the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate pledged quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline early next year, final offers were landing Tuesday in dozens of Nebraska mailboxes.

TransCanada Corp. said it mailed new offers of right-of-way payments this week to more than 100 Nebraska landowners who have refused to sign an easement contract.

The letters also say the company will pursue eminent domain against landowners who don't agree to terms by Jan. 16. The company says Nebraska law requires condemnation proceedings to start within two years of the state's approval of the pipeline route, which occurred Jan. 22, 2013.

For the full story, see:

Joe Duggan. "TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., DECEMBER 17, 2014): 1A & 3A.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Keystone XL pipeline: TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners.")

January 27, 2015

Stalin Was "a People Person"

(p. 12) In "Stalin. Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928," a masterly account that is the first of a projected three-volume study, Kotkin paints a portrait of an autodidact, an astute thinker, "a people person" with "surpassing organizational abilities; a mammoth appetite for work; a strategic mind and an unscrupulousness that recalled his master teacher, Lenin."

For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SIEGEL. "'Stalin,' by Stephen Kotkin." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., NOV. 30, 2014): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 26, 2014, and has the title "'Stalin,' by Stephen Kotkin.")

The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.

January 26, 2015

Double-Blind Clinical Trials Are NOT the Only Source of Good Evidence

(p. 16) Back in her office, . . . [rheumatologist Jennifer Frankovich] found that the scientific literature had no studies on patients like this to guide her. So she did something unusual: She searched a database of all the lupus patients the hospital had seen over the previous five years, singling out those whose symptoms matched her patient's, and ran an analysis to see whether they had developed blood clots. "I did some very simple statistics and brought the data to everybody that I had met with that morning," she says. The change in attitude was striking. "It was very clear, based on the database, that she could be at an increased risk for a clot."

The girl was given the drug, and she did not develop a clot. "At the end of the day, we don't know whether it was the right decision," says Chris Longhurst, a pediatrician and the chief medical information officer at Stanford Children's Health, who is a colleague of Frankovich's. But they felt that it was the best they could do with the limited information they had.

A large, costly and time-consuming clinical trial with proper controls might someday prove Frankovich's hypothesis correct. But large, costly and time-consuming clinical trials are rarely carried out for uncommon complications of this sort. In the absence of such focused research, doctors and scientists are increasingly dipping into enormous troves of data that already exist -- namely the aggregated medical records of thousands or even millions of patients to uncover patterns that might help steer care.

. . .

(p. 17) . . . , developing a "learning health system" -- one that can incorporate lessons from its own activities in real time -- remains tantalizing to researchers. Stefan Thurner, a professor of complexity studies at the Medical University of Vienna, and his researcher, Peter Klimek, are working with a database of millions of people's health-insurance claims, building networks of relationships among diseases. As they fill in the network with known connections and new ones mined from the data, Thurner and Klimek hope to be able to predict the health of individuals or of a population over time. On the clinical side, Longhurst has been advocating for a button in electronic medical-record software that would allow doctors to run automated searches for patients like theirs when no other sources of information are available.

With time, and with some crucial refinements, this kind of medicine may eventually become mainstream. Frankovich recalls a conversation with an older colleague. "She told me, 'Research this decade benefits the next decade,' " Frankovich says. "That was how it was. But I feel like it doesn't have to be that way anymore."

For the full story, see:

VERONIQUE GREENWOOD. "Eureka; Dr. DATA; Can Statistical Analysis Tell Us What Clinical Trials Cannot?" The New York Times Magazine (Sun., OCT. 5, 2014): 16-17.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 3, 2014, and has the title "Eureka; Can Big Data Tell Us What Clinical Trials Don't?")

January 25, 2015

26 Different Drugs Lengthen Healthy Life Span in Mice

(p. F5) For thousands of years, people have sought to escape or outrun their mortality with potions, pills and elixirs, often blended with heavy doses of hope and will.

In the "Epic of Gilgamesh," a Mesopotamian king searched for the secret of immortality after the death of his best friend. At least three Chinese emperors in the Tang dynasty died after consuming treatments containing lead and mercury that they hoped would make them immortal. In the late 19th century, a French-American physiologist seemed to have found the elixir of life by injecting the elderly and himself with extracts from animal testicles.

. . .

"By targeting fundamental aging processes, we might be able to delay the major age-related chronic diseases instead of picking them off one at time," said Dr. James Kirkland, a professor of aging research and head of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic. "For example, we don't want to have situation where we, say, cure cancer and then people die six months later of Alzheimer's disease or a stroke. It would be better to delay all of these things together."

This is where the field known as the biology of aging is moving -- to develop drugs that will increase life span and what researchers refer to as health span, the period of life when people are able to live independently and free from disease.

Dr. Kirkland said that at least six drugs had been written up in peer-reviewed journals and that he knew of about 20 others that appear to affect life span or health span in mice. The goal is to see if those benefits can be translated into humans to increase their longevity, "to find interventions that we can use in people that might, say, make a person who's 90 feel like they're 60 or a person who's 70 feel like they're 40 or 50."

Other researchers are studying centenarians, seeking to understand whether certain genes have carried them past 100 years old and kept them in good health.

For the full story, see:

TRACEY SAMUELSON. "Science (and Quacks) vs. the Aging Process." The New York Times (Weds., Nov. 19, 2014): F5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2014.)

January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"

(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


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

(Note: italics in original.)

January 23, 2015

"It Is the Individual Who Is the Agent of the Action"

(p. C6) Mr. Mischel begins by describing how, in the late 1960s, he and his colleagues devised a straightforward experiment to measure self-control at the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University. In its simplest form, children between the ages of 4 and 6 were given a choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows if they waited 15 minutes. Some kids ate the marshmallow right away, but most would engage in unintentionally hilarious attempts to overcome temptation.

. . . About a third of the original subjects, the researchers reported, deferred gratification long enough to get the second treat.

. . . in 2006, . . . Mr. Mischel published a new paper in the prestigious journal Psychological Science. The researchers had done a follow-up study with the students they had tested 40 years before, examining the sort of adults they had grown into. They found that the children who were able to delay gratification had higher SAT scores entering college, higher grade-point averages at the end of college and made more money after college. Perhaps not surprisingly, they also tended to have a lower body-mass index.

. . .

In his commencement address, Adm. McRaven explained his final life lesson with an anecdote: "In SEAL training there is a bell," he explained. "A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit--is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o'clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT--and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell." To ring the bell is to give up.

Interestingly, one of Mr. Mischel's lesser-known marshmallow experiments had a similar setup, with a bell that the children could ring to call back the experimenter and save them from themselves. For the children, though, ringing the bell was not giving up but calling in the cavalry. His book is an encouraging reminder that, despite all the factors that urge us to indulge, "at the end of that causal chain, it is the individual who is the agent of the action and decides when to ring the bell." You are ultimately in control of your self.

For the full review, see:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "Willpower and Won't Power; To resist the tempting treat, kids looked away, squirmed, sang or simply pretended to take a bite." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 20, 2014): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 19, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Marshmallow Test' by Walter Mischel; To resist the tempting treat, kids looked away, squirmed, sang or simply pretended to take a bite.")

The book under review is:

Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

January 22, 2015

As with Airplanes, Lives Must Be Risked to Achieve Routine Safety in Spaceships

(p. A21) SEATTLE -- ONE clear winter day in 1909, in Hampshire, England, a young man named Geoffrey de Havilland took off in a twin-propeller motorized flying machine of his own design, built of wood, piano wire and stiff linen hand-stitched by his wife. The launch was flawless, and soon he had an exhilarating sensation of climbing almost straight upward toward the brilliant blue sky. But he soon realized he was in terrible trouble.

The angle of ascent was unsustainable, and moments later de Havilland's experimental plane crashed, breaking apart into a tangled mass of shards, splinters and torn fabric, lethal detritus that could easily have killed him even if the impact of smashing into the ground did not. Somehow, he survived and Sir Geoffrey -- he was ultimately knighted as one of the world's great aviation pioneers -- went on to build an astonishing array of military and civilian aircraft, including the world's first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet.

I thought immediately of de Havilland on Friday when I heard that Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, a rocket-powered vehicle designed to take well-heeled tourists to the edge of space, had crashed on a flight over the Mojave Desert, killing one test pilot and seriously injuring the other.

. . .

Certainly the Wright brothers and others like de Havilland were involved in what we now view as an epic quest, but many experts of the day were certain that flight, however interesting, was destined to be not much more than a rich man's hobby with no practical value.

"The public has greatly over-estimated the possibilities of the aeroplane, imagining that in another generation they will be able to fly over to London in a day," said a Harvard expert in 1908. "This is manifestly impossible." Two other professors patiently explained that while laymen might think that "because a machine will carry two people another may be constructed that will carry a dozen," in fact "those who make this contention do not understand the theory of weight sustentation in the air."

. . .

There will be tragedies like the crash of SpaceShipTwo and nonlethal setbacks such as the fiery explosion, also last week, of a remote-controlled rocket intended for a resupply mission to the International Space Station. There will be debates about how to improve regulation without stifling innovation. Some will say private industry can't do the job -- though it's not as if the NASA-sponsored Apollo or space shuttle missions went off without a hitch (far from it, sadly).

But at the heart of the enterprise there will always be obsessives like Sir Geoffrey, who forged ahead with his life's work of building airplanes despite his own crash and, incredibly, the deaths of two of his three sons while piloting de Havilland aircraft, one in an attempt to break the sound barrier. Getting to routine safety aloft claimed many lives along the way, and a hundred years from now people will agree that in that regard, at least, spaceships are no different from airplanes.

For the full commentary, see:

SAM HOWE VERHOVEK. "Not a Flight of Fancy." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 4, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

January 21, 2015

Obamacare Advisor Says Obscure Law Passed Due to "Stupidity of the American Voter"

(p. A4) Jonathan Gruber, the economist at the heart of a fresh debate about the Affordable Care Act, has had more than a dozen appointments to visit the White House since Democrats began drafting the health law in 2009, records show.

The visits included at least one group meeting with President Barack Obama , as well as appointments with senior administration officials who helped shape the 2010 law that expanded health insurance to millions of Americans.

The White House in recent days has tried to distance itself from Mr. Gruber, a 49-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, since a 2013 video surfaced last week in which he said the law passed because of the "huge political advantage" of the legislation's lacking transparency. He also referred to the "stupidity of the American voter."

Republicans have seized on the comments as evidence that supporters of the law purposely misled the public about its costs.

"It is amusing to watch Washington liberals discount Mr. Gruber's truth-telling as a gaffe and disown" his involvement in the law, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).

For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR and COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON. "Health Adviser Gruber Logged Regular White House Visits." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 18, 2014): A4.

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

January 20, 2015

Outsiders Persevere to Pursue Breakthroughs

(p. 315) Despite all the examples given, mainstream medical research stubbornly continues to assume that new drugs and other advances will follow exclusively from a predetermined research path. Many, in fact, will. Others, if history is any indication, will not. They will come not from a committee or a research team but from an individual, a maverick who views a problem with fresh eyes. Serendipity will strike and be seized upon by a well-trained scientist or clinician who also dares to rely upon intuition, imagination, and creativity. Unbound by traditional theory, willing to suspend the usual set of beliefs, unconstrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his or her pursuits, this outsider will persevere and lead the way to a dazzling breakthrough. Eventually, once the breakthrough becomes part of accepted medical wisdom, the insiders will pretend that the outsider was one of them all along.


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

January 19, 2015

Leading Computability Expert Says Humans Can Do What Computers Cannot

(p. B4) What does Turing's research tell us?

"There is some scientific basis for the view that humans are doing something that a machine isn't doing--and that we don't even want our machine to do," says S. Barry Cooper, a mathematician at Leeds and the foremost scholar of Turing's work.

The math behind this is deep, but here's the short version: Humans seem to be able to decide the validity of statements that should stump us, were we strictly computers as Turing described them. And since all modern computers are of the sort Turing described, well, it seems that we've won the race against the machines before it's even begun.

. . .

The future of technology isn't about replacing humans with machines, says Prof. Cooper--it's about figuring out the most productive way for the two to collaborate. In a real and inescapable way, our machines need us just as much as we need them.

For the full commentary, see:

Mims, Christopher. "KEYWORDS; Why Humans Needn't Fear the Machines All Around Us; Turing's Heirs Realize a Basic Truth: The Machines We Create Are Not, Indeed Cannot Be, Replacements for Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DEC. 1, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 30, 2014, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Why We Needn't Fear the Machines; A Basic Truth: Computers Can't Be Replacements for Humans.")

One of the major books by the Turing and computability expert quoted in the passages above, is:

Cooper, S. Barry. Computability Theory, Chapman Hall/CRC Mathematics Series. Boca Raton, Florida: Chapman and Hall/CRC Mathematics, 2003.

January 18, 2015

Oldest Outlines of Human Hands Found in Indonesia

(p. A17) A team of researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday [October 8, 2014] that paintings of hands and animals in seven limestone caves on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may be as old as the earliest European cave art.

. . .

The researchers said the earliest images, with a minimum age of 39,900 years, are the oldest known stenciled outlines of human hands in the world. Blowing or spraying pigment around a hand pressed against rock surfaces would become a common practice among cave artists down through the ages -- . . .

For the full story, see:

JOHN NOBLE WILFORD. "Paintings in Indonesia May Predate Oldest Known Cave Art." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 9, 2014): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 8, 2014, and has the title "Cave Paintings in Indonesia May Be Among the Oldest Known.")

January 17, 2015

Greenpeace Desecrates Fragile, Ancient Hummingbird Etching in Peru

(p. A7) CARACAS, Venezuela -- An expression of concern by the environmental group Greenpeace about the carbon footprint was marred this week by real footprints -- in a fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert.

The Peruvian authorities said activists from the group damaged a patch of desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird.

. . .

. . . the Peruvian authorities were seething over the episode, which they said had scarred one of the country's most treasured national symbols.

. . .

"The hummingbird was in a pristine area, untouched," Mr. Castillo said. "Perhaps it was the best figure."

Mr. Castillo said that the culture ministry had sent out a team with drone aircraft equipped with cameras so that they could evaluate the damage without entering the delicate area.

He said that the harm was both physical and symbolic.

"This stupidity has co-opted part of the identity of our heritage that will now be forever associated with the scandal of Greenpeace," he said.

For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Peru Is Indignant After Greenpeace Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 13, 2014): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 12, 2014.)

January 16, 2015

Successful Discoverers "Follow the Evidence Wherever It Leads"

(p. 314) Why are particular people able to seize on such opportunities and say, "I've stumbled upon a solution. What's the problem?" Typically, such people are not constrained by an overly focused or dogmatic mindset. In contrast, those with a firmly held set of preconceptions are less likely to be distracted by an unexpected or contradictory observation, and yet it is exactly such things that lead to the blessing of serendipitous discovery.

Serendipitous discoverers have certain traits in common. They have a passionate intensity. They insist on trying to see beyond their own and others' expectations and resist any pressure that would close off investigation. Successful medical discoverers let nothing stand in their way. They break through, sidestep, or ignore any obstacle or objection to their chosen course, which is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. They have no patience with dogma of any kind.

The only things successful discoverers do not dismiss out of hand are contradictory--and perhaps serendipitously valuable--facts. They painstakingly examine every aspect of uncomfortable facts until they understand how they fit with other facts. Far from being cavalier about method, serendipitous discoverers subject their evidence and suppositions to the most rigorous methods they can find. They do not run from uncertainty, but see it as the raw material from which new scientific and medical certainties can be wrought.


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

January 15, 2015

Resilience of Ordinary People Matters Most in Early Stages of Crisis

(p. A11) Throughout "The Resilience Dividend," Ms. Rodin pays particular attention to the influence that ordinary people can have in a crisis, especially in the early stages, when it may not be clear what has happened and the professionals haven't had time to put a plan into place. In the minutes after Boston Marathon bombing last year, citizens rushed forward to help the injured. In New York City on 9/11, hundreds of privately owned boats carried thousands of stranded commuters off the island of Manhattan and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.

For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Never Waste a Crisis; How was the city of MedellĂ­n transformed from the murder capital of South America into a thriving urban center? Escalators." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 20, 2014.)

The book being reviewed is:

Rodin, Judith. The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

January 14, 2015

Bezos Devices Aim to Create a Virtuous Cycle 'Flywheel'

(p. B1) Amazon now makes four different kinds of devices. There are dedicated e-readers, multipurpose tablets and, starting this year, a TV streaming device and a smartphone, the Fire Phone. Just this week, Amazon introduced another streaming machine, the Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that is the size of a USB stick and promises to turn your television into an Amazon-powered video service.

. . .

(p. B9) What is Amazon's endgame with all these devices? Mr. Bezos has always said that his mission, with hardware, is to delight users with devices that are priced fairly. The devices also contribute to Mr. Bezos's famous "flywheel," the virtuous cycle by which greater customer satisfaction leads to more sellers in his store, which leads to more products, greater efficiencies, lower prices and, in turn, more customers.

"Everything is about getting that flywheel spinning, and it isn't necessarily about building a big and successful tablet business of their own," said Benedict Evans, an analyst who works at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and has studied Amazon closely. "Whether they actually drive meaningful commerce isn't entirely clear, but Amazon is rigorously focused on data, so if they're doing it, you can trust that there must be data that justifies it."

And if this year's devices don't take off, you can bet that Mr. Bezos will try a slightly different tack next year.

For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design for Devices." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 30, 2014): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 29, 2014, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design in Devices.")

Bezos's enthusiasm for Jim Collins's "flywheel" idea is discussed in:

Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

January 13, 2015

While Looking for Spotted Fever, He Found the Cause of Lyme Disease

(p. A25) Willy Burgdorfer, a medical entomologist who in 1982 identified the cause of what had been a mysterious affliction, Lyme disease, died on Monday [November 17, 2014] at a hospital in Hamilton, Mont. He was 89.

. . .

In the early 1980s, Dr. Burgdorfer was analyzing deer ticks from Long Island that were suspected to have caused spotted fever when he stumbled on something unexpected under his microscope: spirochetes, disease-causing bacteria shaped like corkscrews. They were located in only one section of the ticks, the so-called midguts. He had studied spirochetes in graduate school.

"Once my eyes focused on these long, snakelike organisms, I recognized what I had seen a million times before: spirochetes," he said in a 2001 oral history for the National Institutes of Health, which include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He had not been working on Lyme disease, but he had spoken with the doctor who helped discover it, Dr. Allen Steere of Yale. After he saw the spirochetes in the Long Island ticks, he quickly realized that the bacteria might also be in the deer ticks believed to be playing a role in Lyme disease in Connecticut and elsewhere, including Long Island.

For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM YARDLEY. "Willy Burgdorfer, Who Found Bacteria That Cause Lyme Disease, Is Dead at 89." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 20, 2014): A25.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date NOV. 19, 2014.)

January 12, 2015

"Peer Review Institutionalizes Dogmatism by Promoting Orthodoxy"

(p. 305) Peer review institutionalizes dogmatism by promoting orthodoxy. Reviewers prefer applications that mesh with their own perspective on how an issue should be conceptualized, and they favor individuals whom they know or whose reputations have already been established, making it harder for new people to break into the system.6 Indeed, the basic process of peer review demands conformity of thinking and disdains a maverick's approach. "We can hardly expect a committee," said the biologist and historian of science, Garrett Hardin, "to acquiesce in the dethronement of tradition. Only an individual can do that."7 Young investigators get the message loud and clear: Do not challenge existing beliefs and practices.

So enmeshed in the conventional wisdoms of the day, so-called "peers" have again and again failed to appreciate major breakthroughs even when they were staring them in the face. This reality is evidenced by the fact that so many pioneering researchers were inappropriately scheduled to present their findings at undesirable times when few people were in the audience to hear about them.


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

January 11, 2015

Solution to Problems of Retirement: Don't Retire

(p. A13) Unsurprisingly, one response to the retirement challenge is: Don't do it. Not, at least, until you really must. As Mr. Farrell argues (with plenty of supporting evidence), there is no magic element of personal doom attached to one's 65th birthday or whatever age is believed to separate honest labor from a twilight of idleness. If you like what you do well enough, can perform your tasks competently and could use the income, why not keep working? The satisfactions of work are too often unrecognized in the popular imagination. Without it, a lot people wouldn't know what to do.

And the longer you work, of course, the more money you will have when you eventually do retire, a strategy that works to the good of society too, since your paychecks will be contributing to FICA and will help keep the system running.

For the full review, see:

GEOFFREY NORMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Second Acts After 65; People who could be playing golf and doting on their grandchildren are starting businesses. One senior launched a coffee house in Detroit." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 24, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Unretirement' by Chris Farrell; People who could be playing golf and doting on their grandchildren are starting businesses. One senior launched a coffee house in Detroit.")

The book under review is:

Farrell, Chris. Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.

January 10, 2015

Inequality Much Less If You Count Government Transfers as Part of Income

Despite the gratuitous jab contained in the "fanciful assumptions" phrase, what is notable about the passages quoted below is that Porter is mainly, though grudgingly, granting Burkhauser's main point: including government transfers reduces allegedly high inequality.

(p. B1) Washington already redistributes income from the rich to the poor. Richard Burkhauser and Philip Armour from Cornell and Jeff Larrimore from the Joint Committee on Taxation have become heroes to the right by trying to establish that government redistribution has, in fact, erased the trend of increasing inequality.

While these claims rest on fanciful assumptions about what counts as income, their analysis of taxes and government programs does support the argument that the government does more than it has in a long time to protect lower-income Americans from the blows of the market economy.

. . .

(p. B5) "Substantial changes in tax and transfer policies during the Bush and Obama administrations have increased dramatically the resources available at the middle of the distribution and at the bottom more so," Professor Burkhauser told me.

. . .

Research by Leslie McCall of Northwestern University finds that . . . American voters remain lukewarm about government interventions to reduce income inequality, . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Seeking New Tools to Address a Wage Gap." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 5, 2014): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

The Burkhauser co-authored paper summarized above, is:

Armour, Philip, Richard V. Burkhauser, and Jeff Larrimore. "Levels and Trends in U.S. Income and Its Distribution: A Crosswalk from Market Income Towards a Comprehensive Haig-Simons Income Approach." Southern Economic Journal 81, no. 2 (Oct. 2014): 271-93.

I believe that the research being to referred to by McCall is in her book:

McCall, Leslie. The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

January 9, 2015

Behavioral Economists Ignore Biases and Irrationalities of Governments

(p. A4) . . . it is quite a leap between acknowledging markets sometimes fail and arguing they are inherently flawed. Policy makers who work from the second assumption risk overreaching, by seeing market failure where there is none and ignoring their own behavioral biases, in either case leaving people worse off, not better. Public trust in free markets hasn't wavered notably in the U.S. or Britain from precrisis levels and even in the pope's native Argentina, attitudes aren't much more negative than in 2009.

. . .

. . . , consumers don't seem irrational when they evaluate fuel economy; one study found changes in gasoline prices are closely reflected in the relative prices of less fuel-efficient used cars.

Besides, as Mr. Viscusi and Mr. Gayer note, the government has behavioral biases of its own. Courts and regulators assign more value to the potential harm of a new drug than its potential benefits. Politicians take actions out of proportion to the risks, for example by closing schools during the Ebola scare or imposing onerous airline-security checks to prevent terrorist hijackings.

For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "Market Critics Shouldn't Overreach." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 24, 2015): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 23, 2015, and has the title "Critics of Free Market Shouldn't Overreach." Where there are minor differences between the print and online versions of the article, the sentences quoted above follow the online version.)

The Vicusi and Gayer paper mentioned above, is:

Viscusi, W. Kip, and Ted Gayer. "Behavioral Public Choice: The Behavioral Paradox of Government Policy." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 38, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 973-1007.

French Entrepreneurs Protest Government Crushing Them with Taxes and Regulations

FrenchBossesProtest2014-12-26.jpg "Protesting business owners in Paris brandished locks and chains to signify the constraints they said the government imposed on French businesses." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) PARIS -- They jammed the boulevards, blowing whistles, tossing firecrackers, wearing locks and chains around their necks, and shouting into megaphones: "Enough is enough!"

In France, where protest marches are a well-practiced tradition, it is usually workers who take to the streets. But in a twist on Monday, thousands of French bosses demonstrated in Paris and Toulouse, the opening act in a weeklong revolt against government regulations and taxes that they say are straitjacketing companies, discouraging hiring and choking the economy.

"We feel like we're being taken hostage," said Laurence Manabre, owner of a home-maintenance business that has 28 workers -- but could employ many more, she said, if not for onerous government-imposed labor rules.

Ms. Manabre marched with the throng toward the Finance Ministry, brandishing a bronze lock, a symbol that hundreds of other bosses wore to signify the constraints they said the Socialist government imposed on French businesses. "Between regulations, taxes, new laws, and razor-thin margins," she said, "we're being crushed little by little."

. . .

. . . there are . . . entrenched parts of the French labor code, which employers say make it a difficult, lengthy process to lay off employees, and make bosses reluctant to take on new workers, especially with permanent contracts.

"France has high unemployment," Ms. Manabre said. "But the French labor code is incomprehensible, and it just keeps getting more complex. How can I possibly hire more people?"

. . .

Mr. Roland has 35 employees, and his son is supposed to take over the business when he retires. But now his son is thinking of leaving the country, Mr. Roland said, because "France doesn't seem to have a future, and the conditions for entrepreneurs are difficult."

Mr. Roland said he did not plan to hire more workers, out of concern that coming regulations would menace his already-thin profit margins.

For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "In Twist on French Tradition, Bosses Take to Streets in Protest." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 2, 2014): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 1, 2014,)

January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries

(p. 303) When scientists were allowed to pursue whatever they found, serendipitous discovery flourished.

Today, targeted research is pretty much all there is. Yet, as Richard Feynman put it in his typical rough-hewn but insightful manner, giving more money "just increases the number of guys following the comet head."2 Money doesn't foster new ideas, ideas that drive science; it only fosters applications of old ideas, most often enabling improvements but not discoveries.


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

January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones

(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?

. . .

The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.

For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")

The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

January 6, 2015

Netflix Proved TV Programs Can Be Delivered on Web

(p. B1) Netflix pointed a way forward by not only establishing that programming could be reliably delivered over the web, but showing that consumers were more than ready to make the leap. The reaction of the incumbents has been fascinating to behold.

As a reporter, I watched as newspapers, books and music all got hammered after refusing to acknowledge new competition and new consumption habits. They fortified their defenses, doubled down on legacy approaches and covered their eyes, hoping the barbarians would recede. That didn't end up being a good idea.

Television, partly because its files are so much larger and tougher to download, was insulated for a time, and had the benefit of having seen what happens when you sit still -- you get run over.

. . .

For any legacy business under threat of disruption, the challenge is to get from one room -- the one with the tried and true profitable approach -- to another, (p. B5) where consumers are headed and innovators are setting up shop. To get there, you have to enter a long, dark hallway, a scary place.

For the full commentary, see:

David Carr. "The Stream Finally Cracks the Dam of Cable TV." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B1 & B5.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

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

January 5, 2015

Inequality Increased by Lack of Investment Knowledge or Discipline

MiddleAndLowIncomeScaredStocksGraph.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A2) Millions of Americans inadvertently made a classic investment mistake that contributed to today's widening economic inequality: They bought high and sold low.

. . .

. . . the data suggest some investors simply sold at the wrong moment. "Even at the worst of the recession, most people still had jobs," said Mr. Maki. "Certainly, some of the people who got out of the equity market were doing it because of fear rather than need."

That's also the finding of new research from economists Bing Chen and Frank Stafford at the University of Michigan. They plumbed the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a survey that tracks the same households over time, to evaluate the factors behind their fluctuating incomes and wealth.

Households with the highest education and strong portfolios to begin with were likely to keep buying stocks during the decline, they found. Those with less education and smaller account balances were more likely to sell during the downturn.

When the subsequent rebound happened, the already rich got even richer.

. . .

". . . there certainly is a widening gap there in terms of the return that higher-income people are receiving in the market," said Mr. Akabas [an economist at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington who works on the center's Personal Savings Initiative]. "Lower- to middle-income people aren't privy to those gains. That's exacerbated by the fact that many of them have taken their money out of the stock market."

For the full commentary, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN. "THE OUTLOOK; Market Missteps Fuel Inequality." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 27, 2014): A2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 26, 2014, and has the title "THE OUTLOOK; Bad Stock-Market Timing Fueled Wealth Disparity.")

January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity

(p. 302) Inherent in the system is a mindset of conformity: one will tend to submit only proposals that are likely to be approved, which is to say, those that conform to the beliefs of most members on the committee of experts. Because of the intense competition for limited money, investigators are reluctant to submit novel or maverick proposals. Needless to say, this environment stifles the spirit of innovation. Taking risks, pioneering new paths, thwarting conventional wisdom--the very things one associates with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientists of the past--don't much enter into the picture nowadays.


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

January 3, 2015

When Asked What He Took in College, Tackle Frank Hanley Replied: "Baths!"

(p. A9) College football fans have a tendency to view the unsavory aspects of the game as a modern phenomenon. Dave Revsine's "The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation" knocks this myth flat in its first few pages. The book is a stirring survey of malfeasance, meticulously documented and brought to life by Mr. Revsine, a former ESPN anchor who is now a host for the Big Ten Network. Excessive violence? Yup. Eligibility scams? Sure. Wanton profiteering? You bet.

. . .

In the fervent pursuit of ticket sales and publicity, schools routinely recruited players whom they made little pretense about educating. The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked by Harper's Weekly what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: "Baths!"

. . .

Yet for the devoted fan "The Opening Kickoff" is a first-class account of football's turbulent origins, one that helps explain how a collision sport became the most conspicuous part of American higher education and a de facto developmental league for the pros in which unpaid "student-athletes" generate billions of dollars of revenue.

The marriage of academics and athletics, Mr. Revsine ruefully reminds us, was never going to be especially innocent. As Harvard President Charles Eliot put it back in 1905, "Deaths and injuries are not the strongest argument against football. That cheating and brutality are profitable is the main evil."

For the full review, see:

STEVE ALMOND. "BOOKSHELF; Collegiate Collisions; The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: 'Baths!'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 27, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 26, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Bookshelf: 'The Opening Kickoff' by Dave Revsine; The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: 'Baths!'.")

The book under review is:

Revsine, Dave. The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2014.

January 2, 2015

Somewhere in a Garage Is the Next Google

(p. B6) . . . Monday [Oct. 13, 2014] Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman used a speech in Berlin to talk about Amazon's success in search, how Facebook crushed Google on social networking and his conviction that somewhere in the world there is a garage-based company that will take out Google.

. . .

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Schmidt's speech:

. . .

THE NEXT GOOGLE: "But more important, someone, somewhere in a garage is gunning for us. I know, because not long ago we were in that garage. ... The next Google won't do what Google does, just as Google didn't do what AOL did."

For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Google Chairman on Competition." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 20, 2014): B6.

(Note: bolded words, and last ellipsis, in original; other ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2014, and has the title "Google Executive Chairman: Amazon Is a Lovely Place to Shop and Search." There are minor differences between the print and online versions. In the passages quoted above, where the two differ, I follow the print version.)

January 1, 2015

FAA Requires Drones to Carry Onboard Manuals

(p. B1) BERLIN--In four years, Service-drone.de GmbH has emerged as a promising player here in the rapidly expanding commercial-drone industry. The 20-employee startup has sold more than 400 unmanned aircraft to private-sector companies and now is pitching its fourth-generation device.

Over the same period, Seattle-based Applewhite Aero has struggled to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration just to fly its drones, which are designed for crop monitoring. The company, founded the same year as Service-drone, has test-flown only one of its four aircraft, and is now moving some operations to Canada, where getting flight clearance is easier.

"We had to petition the FAA to not carry the aircraft manual onboard," said Applewhite founder Paul Applewhite. "I mean, who's supposed to read it?" Mr. Applewhite, like many of his U.S. peers, fears the drone industry "is moving past the U.S., and we're just getting left behind."

For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "U.S. Rules Clips Drone Makers' Wings." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 6, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 5, 2014, and has the title "Regulation Clips Wings of U.S. Drone Makers.")



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