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September 30, 2015

"Stunned" Geophysicists Are Headed "Back to the Drawing Board"




(p. A3) Bringing the blur of a distant world into sharp focus, NASA unveiled its first intimate images of Pluto on Wednesday [July 15, 2015], revealing with startling clarity an eerie realm where frozen water rises in mountains up to 11,000 feet high.


. . .


At a briefing held Wednesday [July 15, 2015] at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., mission scientists said they were stunned by what the images reveal.

"It is going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board," said Alan Stern, the New Horizons project's principal investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Across 3 Billion Miles of Space, NASA Probe Sends Close-Ups of Pluto's Icy Mountains." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 15, 2015, has the title "NASA Releases Close-Up Pictures of Pluto and Its Largest Moon, Charon," and has some different wording than the print version. The quote above follows the online version.)






September 29, 2015

Smart and Energetic Young Adults in France Find Opportunity in England, Australia or the U.S.




(p. A6) The income gap between generations is even more severe in France than in the United States, said Louis Chauvel, a French sociologist who has also worked in America on income inequality and other issues. On top of that, Mr. Chauvel added, the United States economy has been rebounding, while unemployment in France has been rising since 2008 and has hovered around 10 percent for the last two years.

"In the U.S., the young 25-year-olds have lots of opportunities," he said. "It's generally much better to be relatively young in the United States than to be aging.

"In France, we face a completely different trend: We have more and more educated young French citizens, and they face economic scarcity, even though they have more education than their parents."

Young adults in France see their taxes going to finance social benefits for retirees that they believe they will never receive, Mr. Chauvel added. The most energetic and smartest among them do find jobs, he said, but often they can do it only by leaving France for Britain, Australia or the United States.



For the full story, see:

ALISSA J. RUBIN and AURELIEN BREEDEN. "'Song for French Charity Strikes Discordant Note." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 4, 2015): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 3, 2015, and has the title "'Toute La Vie,' Song for French Charity, Strikes Discordant Note.")






September 28, 2015

Autism Is "Inseparably Tied to Innovation"




(p. 11) "NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.


For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "'Skewed Diagnosis; A Science Journalist's Reading of Medical History Suggests that the 'Autism Pandemic' Is an Optical Illusion." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 17, 2015, and has the title "'NeuroTribes,' by Steve Silberman.")


The book under review, is:

Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin Random House, 2015.






September 27, 2015

Disneyland Started as a "Nightmare" and "Fiasco"




(p. C12) Sixty years ago, on July 18, 1955, the "Happiest Place on Earth," better known as Disneyland, opened to the public. But on that day, the former orange grove in Anaheim, Calif., was one of the most miserable places in America. A heat wave caused the park's new asphalt to stick to people's shoes. A gas leak forced parts of the site to close, a plumbers strike led to a water shortage, and lax security resulted in dangerous overcrowding.

Reviewing the $17.5 million theme park, a journalist wrote in a local newspaper, "Walt's dream is a nightmare...a fiasco the like of which I cannot recall in 30 years of show life."

Undeterred, Walt Disney added ever more attractions and innovations, transforming mass leisure from its violent origins in the ancient world to today's amusement-park industry, with $12 billion of annual revenue in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:

AMANDA FOREMAN. "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 18, 2014): C12.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2015, an has the title "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60.")






September 26, 2015

112 Years of Spectacular Progress Started With Wilbur Wright




PlutoYouthfulMountains2015-08-16.jpg
"New close-up images of a region near Pluto's equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) LAUREL, Md. -- The first close-up image of Pluto has revealed mountains as tall as the Rockies, and an absence of craters -- discoveries that, to their delight, baffled scientists working on NASA's New Horizons mission and provided punctuation for a journey nine and a half years in the making.

Only 112 years after the Wright Brothers were barely able to get their airplane off the ground, a machine from Earth has crossed the solar system to a small, icy world three billion miles away. The flyby on Tuesday, when New Horizons buzzed within 7,800 miles of the former ninth planet, came 50 years to the day after NASA's Mariner 4 spacecraft made a similar first pass by Mars.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Pluto's Portrait From New Horizons: Ice Mountains and No Craters." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 15, 2015.)






September 25, 2015

"If You Get Too Cold, I'll Tax the Heat"




(p. A11) George Harrison knew what he was talking about when he wrote the song "Taxman" for the Beatles: "If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." Had the Internet been around in 1966, they might have added: "If you use the Web, I'll tax your tweet."


For the full commentary, see:

OHN THUNE and AJIT PAI. "Taxman, Won't You Please Spare The Internet?; A moratorium on taxing online access has been an unqualified success. Let's make it permanent." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 17, 2014.)






September 24, 2015

Antiquated Education Needs Reform to Encourage Entrepreneurship




(p. 22) . . . "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era," by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith -- argues that the only way to ensure any kind of future security for our children is to totally upend the education system and rethink what school is for.

"Disrupt" is a buzz word these tech-world gurus use sparingly, but that's what they mean. Wagner works at Harvard's Innovation Lab, Dintersmith in venture capital, funding education and tech start-ups. . . . Their argument is this: Public education in America is based on antiquated late-19th-century priorities, on the need "to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy." Most of the stuff children are forced to know, and on which our culture's sense of achievement is based, is unnecessary in the age of Google. But tests and test-makers still run the show, and kids are required to "jump through hoops" and drill and drill to assimilate reams of facts ("content") instead of learning the skills that will keep them employed and employable for years to come -- which is to say, the skills to be entrepreneurs.


. . . .


. . . the assumption that undergirds this whole tract: that every person can -- or should -- be molded into an entrepreneur.



For the full review, see:

LISA MILLER. "Raise Them Up; A Vision of Education for an Entrepreneurial America." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 22.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "'Most Likely to Succeed,' by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.")


The book under review, is:

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.






September 23, 2015

Venezuelans Irritated by Short Supply of Cerveceria Polar Beer




(p. 5A) CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelans are facing the prospect of a heat wave without their favorite beer, the latest indignity in a country that has seen shortages of everything from disposable diapers to light bulbs.

Cerveceria Polar, which distributes 80 percent of the beer in the socialist South American country, began shutting down breweries this week because of a lack of barley, hops and other raw materials, and has halted deliveries to Caracas liquor stores.

"This is never-never land," said Yefferson Ramirez, who navigated a rush of disgruntled customers Thursday behind the counter at a corner store in posh eastern Caracas. The shop has been out of milk and bottled water for months, but the beer shortfall is provoking a new level of irritation.



For the full story, see:

Associated Press. "Venezuela's top beer scarce amid heat wave." Omaha World-Heraldl (Sat., Aug. 8, 2015): 5A.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 7, 2015.)






September 22, 2015

Venezeuelan Socialists Seize Warehouses of Cerveceria Polar Beer




PolarWorkersProtestSocialistsSeizingProperty.jpg "Polar workers protested the government's decision to expropriate warehouse land in Caracas on Thursday [July 30, 2015]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A7) CARACAS, Venezuela--The government ordered major food companies, including units of PepsiCo and Nestlé Inc., to evacuate warehouses in an area where the state plans to expropriate land to build low-cost housing.


. . .


Manuel Larrazábal, a director at Polar, said he hoped the government would reconsider the measure. "We don't doubt that they need to construct housing, which is so important, but we ask why it has to affect active industrial facilities."


. . .


Some workers painted messages including "No to expropriation" and "Let us work" onto the walls of the industrial park and on dozens of trucks that lined the streets outside, which were blocked by police and National Guard. Polar said the move would affect some 600 workers, as well as 1,400 employees who transport their goods around Caracas and two neighboring states.


. . .


Polar suspended operations at its facility after getting the order Wednesday night. The expropriation order extends a history of shaky relations between it and the government, which began under the late leader Hugo Chávez and continues under his protégé, Mr. Maduro.

In recent months, the company, which is the largest beer maker in Venezuela, said it had to halt work at several plants and breweries due to labor strife. It has also struggled with difficulties in acquiring raw materials and U.S. dollars to pay overseas suppliers, a process controlled by the government due to complicated currency regulations.



For the full story, see:

KEJAL VYAS . "Venezuela Takeover Order Riles Companies; Maduro's government wants industrial zone to build housing for poor." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)






September 21, 2015

Obama Praises Koch Brothers for Supporting Criminal Justice Reforms




(p. A1) Once known for grim letters to fellow wealthy Americans warning of socialist apocalypse, Charles G. Koch now promotes research on the link between freedom and everyday happiness. Turn on "The Big Bang Theory" or "Morning Joe," and you are likely to see soft-focus television spots introducing some of the many employees of Koch Industries.

Instead of trading insults with Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, Mr. Koch and his brother, David H. Koch, are trading compliments with President Obama, who this month praised the Kochs' support for criminal justice reform at a meeting of the N.A.A.C.P.


. . .


(p. A17) . . ., the Kochs have made cause with prominent liberals to change federal sentencing rules, which disproportionately affect African-Americans, while a Koch-backed nonprofit, the Libre Initiative, offers driving lessons and tax preparation services to Latinos.


. . .


The brothers are sensitive to criticism that they are recent converts to issues like criminal justice. Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries, said the company had become active in defendants' rights back in the 1990s, after four employees at a Texas refinery were snared in what the company viewed as an overzealous prosecution of federal clean air and hazardous waste laws. The company and family have long donated to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Holden said, as well as to the United Negro College Fund and other charities.

"Charles obviously is a classical liberal, who believes in the Bill of Rights, and limited but necessary government," Mr. Holden said. "If those are your guideposts, criminal justice reform is where you need to be."


. . .


Michael L. Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, said in an interview that any political dimension to the giving was not his concern.

"My focus is very narrow: Is this program working for our students?" said Dr. Lomax, adding, "I don't really get very involved in the critics."


. . .


Civil libertarians have also sought the company out as a partner. Mr. Holden has made several trips to the White House, striking up a partnership with Valerie Jarrett, one of Mr. Obama's top advisers. "People are pulling us in because we can be helpful," Mr. Holden said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Alter Image." The New York Time (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Try to Alter Their Image.")






September 20, 2015

"A Collective Thumbing of the Nose at" Burma's Dictatorship




(p. A9) For a young man born in a premodern dictatorship, Nway appeared to have it all. The son of a physician, he grew up in the town of Twantay, Burma, with the comforts typically reserved for the country's military elite. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and raising a family of his own.

That all changed one night after the abortive elections of 1990, when Nway's father, a supporter of the democracy movement, was arrested on unnamed charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison. There, he was kept in solitary confinement and endured routine beatings, interrogations and mock suffocations until he died of "complications of the liver" in October 1996.

Nway's father was gone but not forgotten: His awza, or influence, lives on. Inspired by his father's legacy, Nway dropped out of medical school and devoted his life to bringing liberal democracy to Burma.


. . .


At one point in the book, Nway is pursued by the "dogs" of Burma's security forces and happens upon some old acquaintances at a beer den. The friends swallow their fear and summon passersby to help protect him. They sit down, building "a fort around Nway" in "a collective thumbing of the nose at the Special Branch police" until he is able to slip away on a motorbike.

For Ms. Schrank, this anecdote embodies the philosophy that ultimately makes the dissidents' appeal to the people of Burma successful. In her final chapter she notes that it has now become "cool" to tie across your forehead a strip of cloth with the sign of the NLD and support the party "that only months before had belonged to the underground students and come most often with a one-way ticket to prison."



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS DESATNICK. "BOOKSHELF; Freedom Fighters; To understand how Burma's military junta began coming apart at the seams, you need to meet this band of 'oddballs and dreamers.'" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Schrank, Delphine. The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma. New York: Nation Books, 2015.






September 19, 2015

Increasing Recalls of Organic Food Due to Bacterial Contamination




(p. B3) New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products.

Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

"What's striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label," Mr. Pollack said. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Private Analysis Shows a Sharp Increase in the Number of Organic Food Recalls." The New York Times (Fri., Aug. 21, 2015): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 20, 2015, and has the title "Recalls of Organic Food on the Rise, Report Says." The last paragraph quoted above differs in the print and online versions; the version quoted is the print version. The online version of the paragraph is: "According to Stericycle, 87 percent of organic recalls since 2012 were for bacterial contamination, like salmonella and listeria, rather than a problem with a label. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it," Mr. Pollack said.")






September 18, 2015

Disneyland "Immersed the Viewer in the Story Itself"




(p. A11) On July 17, 1955, about 28,000 people (roughly half of whom had been sold counterfeit tickets) walked, for the first time, through the gates of Disneyland and into history. To say it didn't go smoothly would be an understatement: The temperature was 101 degrees (hot, even for Southern California) and difficulties with both the plumbing system and the labor unions made it impossible for anyone to get a drink. Only a handful of the rides and attractions were open at all, and most of those were continually breaking down and closing. Even the animals--the horses and mules in the Wild West attractions--refused to cooperate. That walk may have been historic, but it was made even more difficult by all the asphalt--poured only a few hours earlier--that kept sticking to everyone's shoes.

. . .


With Disneyland, Walt Disney took the concept of narrative to the extreme: Rather than merely showing the viewer a story, even with the heightened naturalism of sound, color and a combination of cartoon characters and real actors, the theme park actually immersed the viewer in the story itself.


. . .


Walt Disney--who famously said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world"--would be pleased that in the half century since his death, his creation has been constantly tinkered with. Although very little remains of the park that opened in 1955, he would still recognize it, and love it.



For the full commentary, see:

WILL FRIEDWALD. "CULTURAL COMMENTARY; Finding Disneyland; Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland, a Park that Was ahead of Its Time." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 15, 2015): D5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 14, 2015, and has the title "CULTURAL COMMENTARY; Celebrating 60 Years of Disneyland; In honor of Disneyland's 60th birthday, a look back at a park that was ahead of its time.")







September 17, 2015

Fire Cooked Carbohydrates Fed Bigger Brains




(p. D5) Scientists have long recognized that the diets of our ancestors went through a profound shift with the addition of meat. But in the September issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology, researchers argue that another item added to the menu was just as important: carbohydrates, bane of today's paleo diet enthusiasts. In fact, the scientists propose, by incorporating cooked starches into their diet, our ancestors were able to fuel the evolution of our oversize brains.


. . .


Cooked meat provided increased protein, fat and energy, helping hominins grow and thrive. But Mark G. Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London, and his colleagues argue that there was another important food sizzling on the ancient hearth: tubers and other starchy plants.

Our bodies convert starch into glucose, the body's fuel. The process begins as soon as we start chewing: Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which begins to break down starchy foods.

Amylase doesn't work all that well on raw starches, however; it is much more effective on cooked foods. Cooking makes the average potato about 20 times as digestible, Dr. Thomas said: "It's really profound."


. . .


Dr. Thomas and his colleagues propose that the invention of fire, not farming, gave rise to the need for more amylase. Once early humans started cooking starchy foods, they needed more amylase to unlock the precious supply of glucose.

Mutations that gave people extra amylase helped them survive, and those mutations spread because of natural selection. That glucose, Dr. Thomas and his colleagues argue, provided the fuel for bigger brains.



For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. "MATTER; For Evolving Brains, a 'Paleo' Diet of Carbs." The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 18, 2015): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 13, 2015.)


The academic article summarized in the passages above, is:

Hardy, Karen, Jennie Brand-Miller, Katherine D. Brown, Mark G. Thomas, and Les Copeland. "The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution." The Quarterly Review of Biology 90, no. 3 (Sept. 2015): 251-68.






September 16, 2015

Should We Have a Right to the Silence that "Contributes to Creativity and Innovation"?




(p. D5) The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.


. . .


Or do we? Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. . . .


. . .


To engage in inventive thinking during those idle hours spent at an airport requires silence.


. . .


I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD. "OPINION; The Cost of Paying Attention." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 8, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 7, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is related to the author's book:

Crawford, Matthew B. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






September 15, 2015

More Danger from Existing Artificial Stupidity than from Fictional Artificial Intelligence




(p. B6) In the kind of artificial intelligence, or A.I., that most people seem to worry about, computers decide people are a bad idea, so they kill them. That is undeniably bad for the human race, but it is a potentially smart move by the computers.

But the real worry, specialists in the field say, is a computer program rapidly overdoing a single task, with no context. A machine that makes paper clips proceeds unfettered, one example goes, and becomes so proficient that overnight we are drowning in paper clips.

In other words, something really dumb happens, at a global scale. As for those "Terminator" robots you tend to see on scary news stories about an A.I. apocalypse, forget it.

"What you should fear is a computer that is competent in one very narrow area, to a bad degree," said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the president of the Future of Life Institute, a group dedicated to limiting the risks from A.I.

In late June, when a worker in Germany was killed by an assembly line robot, Mr. Tegmark said, "it was an example of a machine being stupid, not doing something mean but treating a person like a piece of metal."


. . .


"These doomsday scenarios confuse the science with remote philosophical problems about the mind and consciousness," Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a nonprofit that explores artificial intelligence, said. "If more people learned how to write software, they'd see how literal-minded these overgrown pencils we call computers actually are."

What accounts for the confusion? One big reason is the way computer scientists work. "The term 'A.I.' came about in the 1950s, when people thought machines that think were around the corner," Mr. Etzioni said. "Now we're stuck with it."

It is still a hallmark of the business. Google's advanced A.I. work is at a company it acquired called DeepMind. A pioneering company in the field was called Thinking Machines. Researchers are pursuing something called Deep Learning, another suggestion that we are birthing intelligence.


. . .


DeepMind made a program that mastered simple video games, but it never took the learning from one game into another. The 22 rungs of a neural net it climbs to figure out what is in a picture do not operate much like human image recognition and are still easily defeated.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "The Real Threat Computers Pose: Artificial Stupidity, Not Intelligence." The New York Times (Mon., JULY 13, 2015): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 11, 2015, and has the title "The Real Threat Posed by Powerful Computers.")






September 14, 2015

How Jack Dorsey Achieves Work-Life Balance: "I Don't Have a Family"




(p. B1) Maybe Jack Dorsey needs to clone himself.

On July 1, the technology entrepreneur took on the challenge of turning around Twitter, the social media site that he co-founded and that he was asked to run as interim chief executive. At the same time, Mr. Dorsey has filed confidential paperwork to sell stock to the public in the other company where he is chief executive, Square, a mobile payments provider, a person briefed on the action said on Friday [July 24, 2015].

The collision of events adds fodder to one of Silicon Valley's hottest topics: how Mr. Dorsey will juggle the companies, and whether he will forgo responsibilities at one to concentrate on the other.


. . .


(p. B2) On Tuesday [July 28, 2015], Mr. Dorsey will face Twitter investors when he reports the San Francisco-based company's quarterly earnings. The executive has been preparing for the event, where his performance will be scrutinized.

Mr. Dorsey has also spent time at Square, which has offices about a block away from Twitter's on Market Street in San Francisco. Last week, he moderated a panel discussion on women in technology at Square's twice-monthly staff meeting, featuring three women -- Sarah Friar, Alyssa Henry and Francoise Brougher -- who head finance, engineering and business operations, respectively, at the mobile payments company.

During a part of the session that focused on parenting, according to a person who attended the meeting, Mr. Dorsey was asked how he managed to achieve work-life balance. He told the audience, "Uh, I don't have a family."



For the full story, see:

MIKE ISAAC and VINDU GOEL. "Square's Filing Turns Talk to Dorsey's Juggling Skills." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 25, 2015): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JULY 24, 2015.)







September 13, 2015

The Dynamism of Venturesome New Yorkers: "If You Want Country Living, Move to the Country"




(p. A18) One cannot live any closer to the terminals of La Guardia Airport than the residents of East Elmhurst, Queens. Some homes sit only a few hundred yards away from the control tower, on the opposite side of the Grand Central Parkway. The new $4 billion airport hub envisioned for the site, announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, would be even closer.

So it might be assumed that the promise of years of heavy-duty construction and the associated noise, traffic and dust would fill residents with dread.

Not quite.

"We live in New York City, honey," said Michele Mongeluzo, 56, whose house sits on a rise just south of the parkway, offering an unobstructed view of the airport and the proposed construction site. "If you want country living, move to the country."

In interviews this week along the blocks closest to the airport, residents almost universally said that they not only had no trepidation about the construction but that they also actually welcomed it. Improvements, they said, were long overdue.

Furthermore, they suggested, what was a little construction on top of the aural challenges -- the roaring jet engines, the chop of helicopter rotors, the incessant highway traffic -- that they had already contended with and apparently overcome?

"If it's noisy, I'm used to it," said Freddy Fuhrtz, 75, who retired as an employee in the cargo division of Pan Am and still lives in the two-story house on 92nd Street where he grew up and raised his children. "It's progress."



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE. "Construction Plans Don't Faze Airport Neighbors." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A18 & A21.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "Construction Plans for La Guardia Airport Don't Faze Its Neighbors.")






September 12, 2015

Too Much Positive Thinking Creates Relaxed Complacency




(p. D5) In her smart, lucid book, "Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation," Dr. Oettingen critically re-examines positive thinking and give readers a more nuanced -- and useful -- understanding of motivation based on solid empirical evidence.

Conventional wisdom has it that dreams are supposed to excite us and inspire us to act. Putting this to the test, Dr. Oettingen recruits a group of undergraduate college students and randomly assigns them to two groups. She instructs the first group to fantasize that the coming week will be a knockout: good grades, great parties and the like; students in the second group are asked to record all their thoughts and daydreams about the coming week, good and bad.

Strikingly, the students who were told to think positively felt far less energized and accomplished than those who were instructed to have a neutral fantasy. Blind optimism, it turns out, does not motivate people; instead, as Dr. Oettingen shows in a series of clever experiments, it creates a sense of relaxation complacency. It is as if in dreaming or fantasizing about something we want, our minds are tricked into believing we have attained the desired goal.

There appears to be a physiological basis for this effect: Studies show that just fantasizing about a wish lowers blood pressure, while thinking of that same wish -- and considering not getting it -- raises blood pressure. It may feel better to daydream, but it leaves you less energized and less prepared for action.


. . .


In one study, she taught a group of third graders a mental-contrast exercise: They were told to imagine a candy prize they would receive if they finished a language assignment, and then to imagine several of their own behaviors that could prevent them from winning. A second group of students was instructed only to fantasize about winning the prize. The students who did the mental contrast outperformed those who just dreamed.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. "Books; Dare to Dream of Falling Short." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D5.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. New York: Current, 2014.






September 11, 2015

Refugee Walks Nearly 30 Miles Across English Channel, Dodging Hurtling Trains in Dark, Before His Arrest




(p. A1) LONDON -- For one African migrant, there was nothing left to lose.

The migrant, Abdul Rahman Haroun, 40, risked his life this week by climbing four fences, evading international search teams and as many as 400 security cameras, and walking about 30 miles in the darkness of the Channel Tunnel in an effort to reach Britain from Calais, France. He dodged trains traveling to London from Paris as they hurtled by at up to 100 miles per hour.

He had made it nearly to the other side, Folkestone, England, before he was caught and arrested on Tuesday [August 4, 2015].

Three days later news of Mr. Haroun's perilous journey was still reverberating in Britain, a country polarized by a spiraling migration crisis. Though much about him remains unknown -- the police said he is Sudanese and has no fixed address -- his story of determination had reduced the sprawling migration crisis to a human scale, . . .



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "In a First, a Sudanese Migrant Nearly Crosses the English Channel on Foot." The New York Times (Sat., AUG. 8, 2015): A1 & A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 7, 2015.)






September 10, 2015

Uber Used Political Entrepreneurship to Fight Government Regulations




(p. A15) Mayor Bill de Blasio's summertime battle with Uber exposed vulnerabilities in his political operation and has given rise to resentment among many of the allies he will need to advance his agenda at City Hall.


. . .


Aides to the mayor said they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of television ads, which began to air on July 14, the day after they met with Uber officials to negotiate.

Uber also ran a sophisticated digital strategy, with more than 40,000 people emailing the mayor and almost 20,000 sending him twitter messages.

City Hall repeatedly stumbled when it tried to fight back.

Aides managed to send emails to thousands of Uber users, saying they were only trying to slow the car service's expansion--while studying the issue--but were flooded by many people incorrectly accusing them of trying to totally ban the service.


. . .


After Uber staged several large rallies, the mayor's office aggressively tried to find supporters. But a rally on City Hall steps had fewer than 200 people, and many other officials didn't want to enter the fray.

Many of the city's influential black leaders were already backing Uber and had appeared at a July 14 news conference. Aides to the mayor were furious. "It was the African-American ministers that turned this fight," said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group.



For the full story, see:

JOSH DAWSEY. "War With Uber Hurt de Blasio With Allies; Aides to the mayor say they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of TV ads." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)







September 9, 2015

"I'll Be Lucky When I'm in England"




(p. A4) CALAIS, France -- The sun had barely set when a 23-year-old Eritrean woman who gave her name as Akbrat fell into step with dozens of other men and women and started scaling the fence surrounding the entrance to the French side of the Channel Tunnel.

The barbed wire cut her hands, but she did not feel the pain. The police seemed to be everywhere. She thought of her 5-year-old son back in Africa and ran, zigzag through the falling shadows, once almost colliding with an officer in a helmet.

Then she was alone. She slipped under the freight train and waited, clambering out just as it began moving.

But before she could hurl herself onto the train bed transporting trucks filled with Britain-bound produce, a French officer caught up with her, she recalled in an interview on Thursday. Blinded by tear gas, she stumbled and bruised her right ankle. After being ejected from the complex around the tunnel, it took her five hours to limp the nine miles back to the refugee camp of makeshift shelters that its 3,000 inhabitants call the "jungle."

"You're lucky you weren't killed," someone told her.

"I'm not lucky," she responded. "I'll be lucky when I'm in England."


. . .


For many of the migrants who have been coming to the Continent from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, Calais, a mere 21 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, is their last stop. If they make it across to Britain, many believe they will have reached safety and a better life.



For the full story, see:

KATRIN BENNHOLD and ALISSA J. RUBIN. "Migrants Taste Freedom at Tunnel's Door." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A4 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "Migrants in Calais Desperately Rush the Channel Tunnel to England, Night After Night.")



See also:

ALISSA J. RUBIN. "Hundreds of Migrants Try to Clamber Onto Trains and Cross Channel to England." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 29, 2015): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 28, 2015, and has the title "Hundreds of Migrants Try to Cross English Channel on Freight Trains.")


MATTHIAS VERBERGT and NOEMIE BISSERBE. "Migrant Crisis Continues at U.K.-France Border; Up to about 1,000 migrants spotted Wednesday night near the Eurotunnel terminal site." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015.)







September 8, 2015

"The Countryside Was Romantic Only to People Who Didn't Have to Live There"




(p. C4) Mr. Meyer's motivation for writing his book is simple and straightforward. "Since 2000, a quarter of China's villages had died out, victims of migration or the redrawing of municipal borders," as the country urbanizes, he notes early on, adding: "Before it vanished I wanted to experience a life that tourists, foreign students, and journalists (I had been, in order, all three) only viewed in passing."

"In Manchuria" shifts back and forth among various genres. It is part travelogue, part sociological study, part reportage and part memoir, but it is also a love offering to Mr. Meyer's wife, Frances, who grew up in the unfortunately named Wasteland, the village that Mr. Meyer chooses as his base near the start of this decade, and to the unborn son she is carrying by the time "In Manchuria" ends.


. . .


After a year in Wasteland, Mr. Meyer was ready to move on, and he now divides his time between Singapore and Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing. But his interlude in Manchuria clearly taught him many lessons, perhaps the most fundamental being this: "The countryside was romantic only to people who didn't have to live there."



For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "A Vanishing Way of Life for Peasants in China." The New York Times Book Review (Mon., MARCH 8, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 8, 2015, and has the title "Review: Michael Meyer's 'In Manchuria' Documents a Changing Rural China.")


The book under review, is:

Meyer, Michael. In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






September 7, 2015

Smugly Believing Those Who Disagree with Us Are Stupid




(p. 3) Many liberals, but not conservatives, believe there is an important asymmetry in American politics. These liberals believe that people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum are fundamentally different. Specifically, they believe that liberals are much more open to change than conservatives, more tolerant of differences, more motivated by the public good and, maybe most of all, smarter and better informed.

The evidence for these beliefs is not good. Liberals turn out to be just as prone to their own forms of intolerance, ignorance and bias. But the beliefs are comforting to many. They give their bearers a sense of intellectual and even moral superiority. And they affect behavior. They inform the condescension and self-righteousness with which liberals often treat conservatives.


. . .


. . . my strongest memory of Mr. Stewart, like that of many other conservatives, is probably going to be his 2010 interview with the Berkeley law professor John Yoo. Mr. Yoo had served in Mr. Bush's Justice Department and had drafted memos laying out what techniques could and couldn't be used to interrogate Al Qaeda detainees. Mr. Stewart seemed to go into the interview expecting a menacing Clint Eastwood type, who was fully prepared to zap the genitals of some terrorist if that's what it took to protect America's women and children.

Mr. Stewart was caught unaware by the quiet, reasonable Mr. Yoo, who explained that he had been asked to determine what legally constituted torture so the government could safely stay on this side of the line. The issue, in other words, wasn't whether torture was justified but what constituted it and what didn't. Ask yourself how intellectually curious Mr. Stewart really could be, not to know that this is what Bush administration officials had been saying all along?



For the full commentary, see:

GERARD ALEXANDER. "Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 9, 2015): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 7, 2015.)

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)






September 6, 2015

"Fight the Decay Called Silence"





HoveChenjerai2015-08-14.jpg




Chenjerai Hove speaking in 2001. Source of photo: online version of the NYT obituary quoted and cited below.







(p. B7) Chenjerai Hove, one of Zimbabwe's leading writers, whose poems and novels powerfully evoked the struggles of ordinary village folk before and after independence, died on July 12 [2015] in Stavanger, in southwestern Norway.


. . .


Writing primarily in English, but also in his native Shona, Mr. Hove vividly depicted the lives of the humblest of his countrymen caught up in the guerrilla war waged against British colonial rule and, after independence in 1980, dealing with the hopes and disappointments of living under Robert Mugabe's rule.


. . .


In newspaper columns and essays, Mr. Hove painted a bleak picture of post-independence Zimbabwe and sharply criticized the Mugabe regime. The government retaliated with a campaign of intimidation that drove him into exile in 2001 -- first to France, then to the United States and finally to Norway, where the International Cities of Refuge Network, an organization that helps persecuted writers, placed him as a guest writer in Stavanger.

"Chenjerai was a national treasure," Wilf Mbanga, the editor of the British-based weekly The Zimbabwean, told The Independent of London. "It is such a tragedy that one of Zimbabwe's best-known writers was hounded out of his country and forced to live -- and die -- in exile. He was never afraid to speak the truth, no matter however painful that might be."


. . .


"I try to write in order to fight the decay called silence, to communicate with myself so as to search for the 'other' in me," he wrote in 2007 in an essay for the collection "Writers Under Siege: Voices of Freedom From Around the World."

He continued: "What keeps me going is that every new word and metaphor I create is a little muscle in the act of pushing the dictatorship away from our real and imaginative existence."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Chenjerai Hove, Zimbabwean Author, Is Dead at 59." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 25, 2015): B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JULY 23, 2015, and has the title "Chenjerai Hove, Chronicler of Zimbabwean Struggles, Dies at 59.")







September 5, 2015

Science Is a Process, Not a Set of Settled Conclusions




(p. A11) Are there any phrases in today's political lexicon more obnoxious than "the science is settled" and "climate-change deniers"?

The first is an oxymoron. By definition, science is never settled. It is always subject to change in the light of new evidence. The second phrase is nothing but an ad hominem attack, meant to evoke "Holocaust deniers," those people who maintain that the Nazi Holocaust is a fiction, ignoring the overwhelming, incontestable evidence that it is a historical fact.


. . .


. . . , the release of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit in 2009 showed climate scientists concerned with the lack of recent warming and how to "hide the decline." The communications showed that whatever the emailers were engaged in, it was not the disinterested pursuit of science.

Another batch of 5,000 emails written by top climate scientists came out in 2011, discussing, among other public-relations matters, how to deal with skeptical editors and how to suppress unfavorable data. It is a measure of the intellectual corruption of the mainstream media that this wasn't the scandal of the century. But then again I forget, "the science is settled."



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN STEELE GORDON. "The Unsettling, Anti-Science Certitude on Global Warming; Climate-change 'deniers' are accused of heresy by true believers; That doesn't sound like science to me." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date July 30, 2015.)






September 4, 2015

Most Early Christians Blended in as Ordinary Romans




(p. C9)The earliest Christian building excavated anywhere in the Roman Empire, the famous house-church of Dura-Europos (now under the enlightened protection of Islamic State), dates to the mid-third century. Literary sources, both Christian and non-Christian, make it abundantly clear that Christian communities grew up everywhere in the Mediterranean in the 150 years after Jesus' death: Think of the famous congregations of Corinth, Colossae and Ephesus, vividly evoked in Paul's letters. But to the archaeologist these communities are completely invisible. Where are they?

In his lively new book, "Coming Out Christian in the Roman World," Douglas Boin offers an answer. Early Christian writers like St. John of Patmos or Tertullian of Carthage rejected any hint of compromise with the Roman imperial state or with their non-Christian neighbors: "No man," warned Tertullian grimly, "can serve two masters." But there is no particular reason to think that Tertullian's views were widely accepted at the time. Fundamentalist zealots often have the loudest voices. In fact, it seems, most early Christians were quite happy to rub along quietly with the Roman world as they found it. They served in the Roman army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual. Their archaeological invisibility is easy to explain: Aside from their personal convictions (revealed every now and then in their choice of graffiti), most early Christians were just ordinary Romans.



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Rome at the Crossroads; Apart from their convictions, most early Christians were just ordinary Romans. They served in the army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Boin, Douglas Ryan. Coming out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar's Empire. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






September 3, 2015

Dynamism "in Danger of Being Stultified by Planners"




(p. A25) . . . , the attempt to tame the market will end up stultifying it. Everybody knows that capitalism's creative destruction can be rough. But over the last few decades, a ragged version of global capitalism in places ranging from China to Nigeria has brought about the greatest reduction in poverty in human history. America's fluid style of capitalism attracts driven and talented immigrants and creates vast waves of technological innovation. This dynamism is always in danger of being stultified by planners who think they can tame it and by governing elites who want to rig it. We should not take it for granted.

The coming debate about capitalism will be between those who want to restructure the underlying system and those who want to help people take advantage of its rough intensity. It will be between people who think you need strong government to defeat oligarchy and those who think you need open competition.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "Two Cheers for Capitalism." The New York Times (Fri., July 31, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 2, 2015

Communist Party Destroying Dissenting Civic Groups in China




YangZiliTransitionInstituteChina2015-07-05.jpg"Yang Zili of the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research went into hiding." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A4) BEIJING -- First, the police took away the think tank's former graphic designer, then the young man who organized seminars, and eventually its founder. Another employee fled China's capital, fearing he would be forced to testify against his colleagues in rigged trials.

"The anxiety is overwhelming, not knowing if they are coming for you," said the employee, Yang Zili, a researcher at the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research in Beijing, who has been in hiding since November. "It's frightening because as they disappear, one friend after another, the police are not following any law. They just do as they please."

These are perilous days for independent civic groups in China, especially those that take on politically contentious causes like workers' rights, legal advocacy and discrimination against people with AIDS. Such groups have long struggled to survive inside China's ill-defined, shifting margins of official tolerance, but they have served as havens for socially committed citizens.

Under President Xi Jinping, however, the Communist Party has forcefully narrowed the bounds of accepted activity, setting off fears that these pockets of greater openness in China's generally restrictive political landscape may soon disappear.


. . .


The campaign has focused on groups deemed sanctuaries for dissent. From its cramped offices in the university district of northwest Beijing, the Transition Institute championed a mix of free market economics and support for the downtrodden, conducting research on the exploitation of taxi drivers, school policies that shortchange rural children and the environmental costs of the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. But the institute also attracted advocates of democratic reform, some of whom had prior run-ins with the authorities.

"We always hoped to eke out survival in tough circumstances," said Mr. Yang, 43, the researcher now in hiding, who spent eight years in prison for holding informal discussions with a group of friends about multiparty elections and a free press. "But the more independent NGOs," he added, referring to nongovernmental organizations, "especially the ones that criticize government policies or don't help the government's image, have encountered a policy of containment, even destruction."


. . .


(p. A6) With his colleagues disappearing one by one, Mr. Yang decided to go underground. He was in the institute office one morning in late November when a police officer called and told him to go to a station for questioning. Instead, Mr. Yang left an Internet message for his wife, shut off his cellphone, and slipped away, taking only the clothes on his back. "It was a spur-of-the-moment decision," he said in an interview.

Meeting with a reporter at a location several hours' drive from Beijing, he said he missed his wife and 4-year-old son, and visibly nervous, he talked about his fear of being returned to prison.

Mr. Yang said he would turn himself in should a warrant be issued for his arrest, but he was not interested in cooperating with what he described as an extralegal persecution of his colleagues.

"I still don't understand what we did wrong," he said. "We were just trying to help improve China."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS and CHRIS BUCKLEY. "In China, Civic Groups' Freedom, and Followers, Are Vanishing." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A4 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2015.)






September 1, 2015

Keeping Growth Rate High in China Achieved by More Misallocation of Capital




(p. A11) . . . , it is Beijing's recent moves to ease fiscal policy that will ensure that this year's growth target can be met. Unlike traditional Keynesian stimulus programs, which are typically conducted at the central-government level, in China fiscal easing primarily involves providing additional state-bank money to local governments.

This has a more immediate and powerful effect on GDP growth and job creation, but it comes at a high cost: overinvestment in local projects and the misallocation of capital. China's landscape is littered with unused highways and airports, redundant steel and cement plants, unnecessary municipal office buildings and "ghost cities" filled with empty high-rises and deserted shopping malls.

From 2009-13, "ineffective investment" amounted to a stunning 41.8 trillion yuan ($6.8 trillion), according to research published in 2014 by Xu Ce of China's National Development and Reform Commission and Wang Yuan of the Academy of Macroeconomic Research.

That China is heading down this path again can only mean that it has no other way to reach its growth target. It is also an indication of how little the economic system has changed despite the leadership's much vaunted reform initiatives and efforts to tackle corruption at all levels of government.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK A. DEWEAVER. "Why China Will Still Reach Its Target Growth Rate; The stock market crash won't stop Beijing from shoveling trillions into wasteful local projects.'" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 30, 2015.)






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