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December 31, 2015

Consumers Vote "No" on Costly Organic Smoothies "Made of Swiss Chard, Cashew Milk and Himalayan Salt"




(p. D1) As recently as last month, one could hardly throw a lentil in New York City without hitting an Organic Avenue storefront, with its orange banner, stick-figure logo and promise of better living through $9 cayenne-infused lemonade.

Kat Schamens, a yoga teacher and fitness-apparel designer, liked it that way. "I would always think, 'I can't wait to go in and get my chickpea soup,' " she said.

In mid-October, Ms. Schamens learned that Organic Avenue's 10 stores had been shuttered and that the company had filed for bankruptcy. "I kind of freaked out," she said. "I was distraught. I lost my yoga for a minute."


. . .


(p. D7) The loyalty of devotees like Ms. Schamens and Ms. Kerin notwithstanding, there is an admitted emperor's new clothes quality to paying $25 for a lunch of vegetable shavings and a smoothie made of Swiss chard, cashew milk and Himalayan salt.

"You can't get people to crave this food," the former investor said. "You can't build a long-term business off what Gwyneth Paltrow likes."

Some researchers began to publish studies questioning the necessity and safety of juice cleanses. And the fashion world started to feel pushback from nutritionists and eating-disorder activists against its support of juicing in early 2013, after the Council of Fashion Designers of America announced a 50 percent discount for models on Organic Avenue juices during New York Fashion Week.



For the full story, see:

KATHERINE ROSMAN. "How Organic Avenue Lost All Its Juice." The New York Times (Sun., NOV. 5, 2015): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 4, 2015.)







December 30, 2015

Hungry Suffer Due to G.M.O. Bans by Europe's "Coalition of the Ignorant"




(p. 6) CALL it the "Coalition of the Ignorant." By the first week of October [2015], 17 European countries -- including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland -- had used new European Union rules to announce bans on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.


. . .


I have spent time with malnourished children in Tanzania whose families were going hungry because cassava crops were wiped out by brown-streak disease. That was particularly painful because in neighboring Uganda I had recently visited trial plots of genetically modified cassava that demonstrated complete resistance to the virus. The faces of the hungry children come to mind every time I hear European politicians boast about their country's G.M.O. ban and demand that the rest of the world follow suit -- as Scotland's minister did in August.

Thanks to Europe's Coalition of the Ignorant, we are witnessing a historic injustice perpetrated by the well fed on the food insecure. Europe's stance, if taken up internationally, risks marginalizing a critically important technology that we must surely employ if humanity is to feed itself sustainably in an increasingly difficult and challenging future. I can only hope that the Continent's policy makers come to their senses before it is too late.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK LYNAS. "With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 25, 2015): 6.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on OCT. 24, 2015, and has the title "With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science.")






December 29, 2015

FDA Forces Child to Go to London to Get Drug to Fight His Cancer




(p. A15) How far would you go to get a drug that could save your child's life? Across an ocean? That is exactly what the federal government is forcing some American families with dying children to do.

In 2012, when Diego Morris was 11 years old, he was diagnosed with a deadly cancer in his leg called osteosarcoma. Doctors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., removed the tumor, but the prognosis was poor. There was a significant risk that even extensive chemotherapy after surgery would not prevent the cancer from returning.

Fortunately, a team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City had developed a revolutionary new drug, mifamurtide (MTP), that can prevent osteosarcoma from coming back. A study by Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman of MD Anderson and Dr. Paul Meyers of Sloan Kettering showed the drug resulted in a 30% reduction in the osteosarcoma mortality rate at eight years after diagnosis.

The drug was approved in 2009 by the European Medicines Agency and is currently the standard of care in Europe, Israel and many other countries. In 2012 it received the prestigious Prix Galien Award, the gold medal for pharmaceutical research and development in the United Kingdom.

MPT was exactly what Diego needed. But there was one problem: The drug was not available in America because the Food and Drug Administration had rejected it, demanding additional studies. That meant that Diego had to travel from Phoenix to London to get the drug he needed to save his life--a drug that was available in almost every industrialized nation and should have been available in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:


DARCY OLSEN. "Winning the Right to Save Your Own Life; As the FDA dawdles, 24 states pass 'right-to-try' laws giving terminally ill patients access to drugs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 26, 2015.)


Olsen's commentary is related to her book:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 28, 2015

Process Innovations from "an Uber of Trucking" Can Increase Transport Efficiency




(p. B1) Investors are pouring millions of dollars into startups hoping to disrupt the $700 billion trucking industry, the latest example of Silicon Valley's efforts to upend the traditional economy.

A series of startups are vying to become an "Uber of trucking," leveraging truck drivers' smartphones to quickly connect them with nearby companies looking to ship goods. The upstarts aim to reinvent a fragmented U.S. trucking industry that has long relied on third-party brokers, essentially travel agents for trucking who connect truckers with customers.

Silicon Valley's interest in trucking has accelerated in recent months. San Francisco-based Trucker Path Inc. says it is aiming to reach a $1 billion valuation next year. The latest entrant, Seattle-based Convoy, said Tuesday it had raised $2.5 million in seed funding from investors including Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, Salesforce.com Inc. founder Marc Benioff, eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar and Uber Technologies Inc. co-founder Garrett Camp.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS and LAURA STEVENS. "Startups Accelerate Efforts to Reinvent Trucking Industry." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 27, 2015): B1 & B6.






December 27, 2015

Disney Used Money from His Cartoons to Fund the "Audacious" Breakthrough Snow White




(p. C2) The 1920s were no doubt a time much like our own, full of people who could see ways to advance and exploit new technologies, and Disney was one of those. But plenty of people have ideas; only a few manage to make them reality. Like many an Internet entrepreneur, Disney was able to do so because of a combination of serendipity and tenacity. You can read a lot into that sketch of a mouse he came up with.

"He doesn't have the financial backing to support what it is he's doing," Carmenita Higginbotham, an art historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, says of his early career. "He wants to be a bigger voice than he is. And it's a perfect metaphor, him being this small mouse, this seemingly insignificant figure or individual within this big industry that he wants to break into."

The parallel to the Internet age is also evident in the speed of his ascension. His "Steamboat Willie" cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse in effect went viral after its premiere at the Colony Theater in New York in 1928, propelled by its innovative merging of image and sound.

That gave him enough credibility and money to try something audacious: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," a project that, we're told, he outlined to his staff in 1934 by calling a meeting and enacting all the parts himself.

"What Disney was proposing had never been done, never even been tried: a feature-length, story-driven cartoon," says the narration, read by Oliver Platt. There followed a typical Hollywood story of cost overruns and jeopardized deadlines -- the animation technique used required more than 200,000 separate drawings.



For the full review, see:

NEIL GENZLINGER. "The Mind that Built the House of Mouse." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 12, 2015): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 11, 2015, and has the title "Review: PBS's 'Walt Disney' Explores a Complex Legacy.")

(Note: Genzlinger is reviewing the two part documentary on "Walt Disney" that aired on the "American Experience" series of PBS on Mon., Sept. 7 and Tues., Sept. 8, 2015.)






December 26, 2015

Cuomo Bans the Fracking that Could Revive New York's Southern Tier




(p. A25) CONKLIN, N.Y. -- The main grocery store here was replaced by a Family Dollar store, already faded. The historic front of the town hall, a castle no less, is crumbling, and donations are being solicited. The funds earmarked to strip off the lead paint from the castle's exterior went instead to clear mold from the basement.

This town of roughly 5,500 residents looks alarmingly like dozens of other towns and cities in New York's Southern Tier, a vast part of the state that runs parallel to Pennsylvania. Years ago, the region was a manufacturing powerhouse, a place where firms like General Electric and Westinghouse thrived. But over time companies have downsized, or left altogether, lured abroad or to states with lower taxes and fewer regulations.


. . .


In western New York, . . . , Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, pledged $1 billion in 2012 to support economic development. Since then, he has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into numerous Buffalo-area projects.

The Southern Tier has proved to be a harder fix. It is predominantly rural and lacks a significant population core that typically attracts the private sector.

The region is resource rich, but landowners are angry the government will not let them capitalize on it. Some had pinned their hopes of an economic revival on the prospect of the state's authorizing hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking; many of them can recite the payment formula gas companies were proposing: $500 a month per acre.

But the Cuomo administration, citing health risks, decided last year to ban the practice, leaving some farmers contemplating logging the timber on their land, a move that could destroy swaths of pristine forest.



For the full story, see:

SUSANNE CRAIG. "Former Hub of Manufacturing Ponders Next Act." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 30, 2015): A20-A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 29, 2015, and has the title "New York's Southern Tier, Once a Home for Big Business, Is Struggling.")






December 25, 2015

Hawaiian Culture Changed Swiftly in Century After 1777




(p. C1 & C6) It's startling just how swiftly change came to Hawaii after Capt. James Cook first sighted the island of Kauai in 1777: In little more than a century, Ms. Moore writes, "a closed and isolated culture, bound by superstition and religious ritual, with no understanding of individual freedom or private property," had been transformed into "a society of thriving capitalism, Protestant values, and democratic institutions."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "Hard Truths in the Past of a Tropical Eden." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPT. 22, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 21, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Paradise of the Pacific,' the Hard Truths of Hawaii's History.")


The book under review, is:

Moore, Susanna. Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






December 24, 2015

"The Market for Greek Philosophers Has Tightened"




(p. A25) Senator Marco Rubio sent fact-checkers aflutter when he said at the Republican presidential debate on Tuesday that philosophy majors would be better off going into welding. The value of a vocational degree, he argued, was greater than the payoff that comes with contemplating the cosmos.

"Welders make more money than philosophers," Mr. Rubio said. "We need more welders and less philosophers."

. . .


On Wednesday [November 9, 2015] Mr. Rubio doubled down on his assertion, sending out a fund-raising email with the subject line "more welders" and calling for the overpriced higher education system to be dismantled.

The argument echoed one he makes frequently on the stump, which the senator admits probably irks some intellectuals: "You deserve to know that the market for Greek philosophers has tightened over the last 2,000 years."



For the full story, see:

Alan Rappeport. "Philosophers Say View of Their Skills Is Dated." The New York Times (Thurs., Nov. 12, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added. The last two quoted paragraphs were combined into one paragraph in the print version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 11, 2015, and has the title "Philosophers (and Welders) React to Marco Rubio's Debate Comments.")






December 23, 2015

Greek Grave Found from Start of Age of Homer




(p. D1) Archaeologists digging at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, have discovered the rich grave of a warrior who was buried at the dawn of European civilization.

He lies with a yardlong bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.


. . .


(p. D5) An ivory plaque carved with a griffin, a mythical animal that protected goddesses and kings, lay between the warrior's legs. The grave contained gold, silver and bronze cups.


. . .


The Minoan culture on Crete exerted a strong influence on the people of southern Greece. Copying and adapting Minoan technologies, they developed the palace cultures such as those of Pylos and Mycene. But as the Mycenaeans grew in strength and confidence, they were eventually able to invade the land of their tutors. Notably, they then adapted Linear A, the script in which the Cretans wrote their own language, into Linear B, a script for writing Greek.

Linear B tablets were preserved in the fiery destruction of palaces when the soft clay on which they were written was baked into permanent form. Caches of tablets have been found in Knossos, the main palace of Crete, and in Pylos and other mainland palaces. Linear B, a script in which each symbol stands for a syllable, was later succeeded by the familiar Greek alphabet in which each symbol represents a single vowel or consonant.

The griffin warrior, whose grave objects are culturally Minoan but whose place of burial is Mycenaean, lies at the center of this cultural transfer. The palace of Pylos had yet to arise, and he could have been part of the cultural transition that made it possible. The transfer was not entirely peaceful: At some point, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete, and in 1450 B.C., the palace of Knossos was burned, perhaps by Mycenaeans. It is not yet clear whether the objects in the griffin warrior's tomb were significant in his own culture or just plunder.

"I think these objects were not just loot but had a meaning already for the guy buried in this grave," Dr. Davis said. "This is the critical period when religious ideas were being transferred from Crete to the mainland."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "A Grave, and a Gateway." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 27, 2015): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 26, 2015, and has the title "Grave of 'Griffin Warrior' at Pylos Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations.")






December 22, 2015

FDA Has No Right to Stop the Terminally Ill from Seeking Cures




(p. C4) Ms. Olsen notes that "today, about 40 percent of cancer patients attempt to enroll in clinical trials, but only about 3 percent end up participating. That means that the vast majority don't make the cut, whether because they fail to meet the strict criteria, or a trial is thousands of miles from their home." Many of those who don't get these experimental drugs are the sickest patients because they are deemed "too sick to be useful for the study."

Ms. Olsen argues that terminally ill patients should be able to access such drugs--at their own risk and outside the context of FDA-required studies--if the companies are willing to provide them, and the book's title alludes to her proposed remedy: the state-by-state campaign the Goldwater Institute is leading to pass "Right to Try" legislation. The bills would allow terminally ill patients who have "exhausted all conventional treatment options" to access an experimental treatment if their doctors believe it is "the best medical option to extend or save the patients' life" and "the treatment has successfully completed basic safety testing and is part of the FDA's ongoing evaluation and approval process." Insurers, critically, would not be required to cover the treatment--a significant hurdle, largely unexplored here, since such costs could be significant.

The think tank's campaign has been incredibly successful, with 24 states passing Right to Try laws to date. Still, Ms. Olsen doesn't present such laws as a panacea. She doesn't expect experimental treatments to always--or even often--work for terminally ill patients. But she believes that some chance is better than the alternative. "If you have the Right to Die, you have the Right to Try," Ms. Olsen writes. "And you don't have to wait on Washington to secure it."

Yet therein lies the book's main shortcoming. Washington, it turns out, has a fair bit of say here. Courts have found that the FDA's powers to regulate drug development are extraordinarily broad. Many changes Ms. Olsen champions won't be possible without congressional action to revamp the FDA's drug development process and find new ways of paying for experimental drugs that would make widespread access sustainable for patients, companies and insurers. These issues, though touched on, are not grappled with in detail.



For the full review, see:

PAUL HOWARD. "BOOKSHELF; Hail Mary Medicine; Patients spend their last days pleading with reluctant drug companies and the FDA to get access to treatments that could save their lives." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 13, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 21, 2015

Top College Football Programs "Do a Little Education on the Side"




(p. C7) When it is reported that the University of Alabama pays its head coach an annual salary of $6.5 million a year, or that the University of Oregon erected a $42 million academic support center for it players, or that the University of Texas assesses its fans as much as $20,000 in the form of "seat donations" for preferred locations, it is clear that college football is no longer just a game.

Gilbert M. Gaul contends precisely that in his persuasive new book, "Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football." . . . the elite college football programs have become a (sic) "giant entertainment businesses that happened to do a little education on the side," . . .


. . .


Given the revenue streams that winning programs generate year in and year out, it is easy to see why college administrators are drawn in by the siren call of football. But Mr. Gaul leads the chorus of those who are beyond dismayed by this juxtaposition of priorities. In the more than a decade that has passed since Mr. Gaul, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, began collecting data on the economics of college football as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he asserts that the staggering revenues of the 10 largest football programs has come largely at the expense of the academic mission.

At Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, Louisiana State University and Arkansas, revenues have increased to $762 million from $229 million from 1999 to 2012. That is a whopping 233 percent increase. Mr. Gaul observes that during this period "profit margins had ballooned to hedge-fund levels," generated by television broadcast rights, luxury suites, seat donations and corporate advertising. Mr. Gaul reports that the big universities "have netted 90 percent of all the new money that has flowed into college football the last decade or two."



For the full review, see:

MARK KRAM Jr. "Books of The Times; A Sport's Most Alluring Statistic Is Found on the Balance Sheet." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 26, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on AUG. 25, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Billion-Dollar Ball' Explores the Economics of College Football's Top Programs.")


The book under review, is:

Gaul, Gilbert M. Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey through the Big-Money Culture of College Football. New York: Viking, 2015.






December 20, 2015

Comedians Censored on College Campuses




(p. A3) Stars such as Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld have said they don't play college shows anymore because the audiences are too easily offended. Schools now often have contracts that forbid performers from using certain words or even broaching entire subjects.


. . .


Alvin Williams, who is from Chicago, said he did some college shows this year, after largely swearing off them for cruise ships about three years ago. He had been doing a lot of what he regarded as G-rated material, but was shocked to find even that could be offensive on campus.

"I'd never thought I'd see the day when family-friendly material is not appropriate for college kids," said Mr. Williams.


. . .


Mr. Williams said he no longer mimics Indian or Chinese accents or tells jokes about camels. He believes the only reason Apu, the Indian convenience-store owner on the television show "The Simpsons," still exists is because he has been grandfathered in and audiences are used to him.

The increasing sensitivity is being driven by peer pressure, Mr. Williams said. "They think, if I'm not offended by this then I'm not a good friend," he said. "If I tell a joke about black people, whites are more likely to get more offended."

Mr. Williams, who is black, refuses to jettison all his racial material, but is more apt to focus the joke on himself. One of his favorites: "I hate stereotypes with a passion," he deadpans. "The problem is I love fried chicken."



For the full story, see:

DOUGLAS BELKIN. "Comedy at College Is Often No Laughing Matter." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 13, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipses added. The online version of the article is much longer than the print version. A couple of the paragraphs quoted above, appear only in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 12, 2015, and has the title "For Stand-Up Comedians, Shows on Campus Are Often No Joke.")






December 19, 2015

Venture Capital Backed Unicorns that Become Unicorpses




(p. 1) The technology industry's boom over the last few years has been defined by the rise of "unicorns," the private companies that investors have valued at $1 billion or more. Before the term came into vogue, LivingSocial was among the biggest unicorns of its day. It now offers a glimpse of what some of today's unicorns might look like several years down the road if things go awry.


. . .


Venture capitalists anointed daily deals as the way that the Internet would invade local business, and by late 2011 LivingSocial had raised more than $800 million and reached a valuation of $4.5 billion, according to data from the research firm VC Experts. The company counted Amazon and the mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price among its investors. LivingSocial spent heavily, blanketing the airwaves with TV ad campaigns. Riding a wave of momentum, the company explored going public.

Today, LivingSocial is more unicorpse than unicorn. The company never filed for an initial public offering and consumer fervor for daily deals has cooled. T. Rowe Price has written down its stake in LivingSocial to nearly zero, data from Morningstar shows. The company's work force has shrunk to around 800 employees from 4,500 at its peak in 2011. (Groupon, which did go public, is trading at more than 85 percent below its I.P.O. price.)


. . .


LivingSocial may soon have more company. There are now 142 unicorns that are together valued at around $500 billion, according to the research firm CB Insights. Some of those highly valued start-ups are starting to show some cracks.

Snapchat, the messaging company, and Dropbox, the online storage business, were recently marked down in value by mutual fund investors. Zenefits, a human resources start-up, has said it missed sales targets and that it is slowing its hiring. On Wednesday, the payments company Square, which was valued at $6 billion by private investors last year, priced its public offering at $2.9 billion. Silicon Valley venture capitalists such as Bill Gurley of Benchmark and Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital have warned that a unicorn shakeout is coming.



For the full commentary, see:

MIKE ISAAC and KATIE BENNER. "LivingSocial Offers a Cautionary Tale to Today's Unicorns." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., NOV. 22, 2015): 1 & 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on NOV. 21, 2015. The wording of the last quoted sentence is slightly different in the print and online versions. The version above is the online version.)






December 18, 2015

Bezos Built Amazon with Methodical Patience




(p. B1) There is a simple explanation for Amazon's rise, and also a second, more complicated one. The simple story involves Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing business, which rents out vast amounts of server space to other companies. Amazon began disclosing A.W.S.'s financial performance in April, and the numbers showed that selling server space was a much bigger business than anyone had realized. Deutsche Bank estimates that A.W.S., which is less than a decade old, could soon be worth $160 billion as a stand-alone company. That's more valuable than Intel.

Yet the disclosure of A.W.S.'s size has obscured a deeper change at Amazon. For years, observers have wondered if Amazon's shopping business -- you know, its main business -- could ever really work. Investors gave (p. B11) Mr. Bezos enormous leeway to spend billions building out a distribution-center infrastructure, but it remained a semi-open question if the scale and pace of investments would ever pay off. Could this company ever make a whole lot of money selling so much for so little?

As we embark upon another holiday shopping season, the answer is becoming clear: Yes, Amazon can make money selling stuff. In the flood of rapturous reviews from stock analysts over the company's earnings report last month, several noted that Amazon's retail operations had reached a "critical scale" or an "inflection point." They meant that Amazon's enormous investments in infrastructure and logistics have begun to pay off. The company keeps capturing a larger slice of American and even international purchases. It keeps attracting more users to its Prime fast-shipping subscription program, and, albeit slowly, it is beginning to scratch out higher profits from shoppers.


. . .


Why is Amazon so far ahead? It is difficult to resist marveling at the way Mr. Bezos has built his indomitable shopping machine, and the very real advantages in price and convenience that he has brought to America's national pastime of buying stuff. What has been key to this rise, and missing from many of his competitors' efforts, is patience. In a very old-fashioned manner, one that is far out of step with a corporate world in which milestones are measured every three months, Amazon has been willing to build its empire methodically and at great cost over almost two decades, despite skepticism from many sectors of the business world.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; Long Game at Amazon Produces Juggernaut." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; How Amazon's Long Game Yielded a Retail Juggernaut.")






December 17, 2015

Do Entrepreneurial Results Excuse Entrepreneurial Arrogance?




(p. A1) Robert Whaley is a professor of finance at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management and the developer of the two major so-called fear indices -- the VIX and VXN on the Chicago Board Options Exchange -- that are used to make bets on market volatility.

READING Right now it's "Becoming Steve Jobs," by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It has a somewhat different take than Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs." I felt Isaacson's version was a little negative. But what the books have in common is that Jobs was sheer genius. So what if he was arrogant? Consider what he's done. We wouldn't have iPhones and iPads if it wasn't for his vision. I absolutely think that excuses his behavior. If everyone just wanted for people to look back and say you were kind, how would we move forward?



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Download: Robert Whaley." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 2.

(Note: the bold above is in the original. The first paragraph quoted above was written by the interviewer Kate Murphy. The paragraph following the word "Reading" is the response by the interviewee Robert Whaley.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The Steve Jobs books mentioned by Whaley, are:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Schlender, Brent, and Rick Tetzeli. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






December 16, 2015

Those Who Try Japanese Toilets, Praise Them with "Cultish Devotion"




(p. D12) Last year, Bennett Friedman, who owns a plumbing showroom in Manhattan called AF New York, took a business trip to Milan. On the morning of his return he faced a choice: stop in the bathroom there or wait until he got home. The flight was nine hours. He waited.

The move seems almost masochistic. But in his home and office bathrooms, Mr. Friedman had installed a Toto washlet. To sit upon a standard commode, he said, would be like "going back to the Stone Age."

"It feels very uncivilized," he said.

For those who own Japanese toilets, there is a cultish devotion. They boast heated seats, a bidet function for a rear cleanse and an air-purifying system that deodorizes during use. The need for toilet paper is virtually eliminated (there is an air dryer) and "you left the lid up" squabbles need never take place (the seat lifts and closes automatically in many models).


. . .


Most washlet owners, then, are converted after trying one out in the world. At a boutique hotel, say, or on a trip to Asia.

Such was the case with Robert Aboulache. Before he and his family went on a vacation to Japan, he said, friends who had visited the country told him he would love the toilets. "I thought, 'How great can the toilets be?'" Mr. Aboulache said. "They were amazing. Some have noisemakers to cover up the sound. You can pivot that little sprayer. The water can be heated or not. We got home, and I thought, 'This is not the same.'"

Three days later, Mr. Aboulache went online and bought a Toto washlet, which he installed in the shared upstairs bathroom of his home in Los Angeles as a surprise for his wife and son.

"We've been delighted," he said. "It's our favorite toilet."


. . .


Mr. Friedman, too, is an enthusiastic proselytizer for washlets, in his showroom and out in social situations, something you gather he would do even if he didn't sell them.

Whenever he talks about their virtues, he said, "I feel like one of the Apostles passing the word of God."



For the full story, see:

STEVEN KURUTZ. "For Its Devotees, the Seat of Luxury." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): D12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "The Cult of the Toto Toilet.")






December 15, 2015

Spontaneous Mummification in San Bernardo Is Unexplained




Some claim that science has gone about as far as it can go. The claim is often a step in an argument for pessimism on the future of technological progress. But that claim has been made many times in the past, and so far has always proven wrong. There's plenty of phenomena for which we have no scientific explanation, implying that there is plenty of room for the advance of science. Mostly we ignore or forget these phenomena, because it causes cognitive dissonance for us to carry around facts that do not fit into our current theories. Add spontaneous mummification in San Bernardo to the list.



(p. A14) Locals and mummification experts agree San Bernardo is a somewhat unlikely place for what's known as spontaneous mummification, a phenomenon that occurs naturally, without embalming fluids and other techniques. The climate here is neither excessively dry, like in Northern Africa, nor freezing, like the Alpine environment that preserved Otzi the Iceman, a prehistoric body found in 1991.

San Bernardo's temperature hovers around 70 degrees during the day, with enough rainfall to support crops like corn, onions, and green beans.

Cemetery workers here began noticing the mummification phenomenon in the mid-1960s, after a new graveyard was built. In Colombia, due to both tradition and earth that is often too soggy for proper burial, it is typical to inter loved ones in aboveground cement vaults, called bovedas. The bodies are generally removed after about five years because of space constraints and regulations.

Bodies in such vaults usually deteriorate significantly after a year or two, but that hasn't been the case in San Bernardo--where it is believed that most of those buried in vaults are at least partially mummified.

"Hmmm," said Ronn Wade, a member of the World Congress on Mummy Studies, an international organization, when asked about San Bernardo's spontaneous mummification. "It could be dietary, environmental, or even the concrete of the vaults where they are stored."

"It would be nice to have an explanation," added Mr. Wade, who directs the anatomical services department of the University of Maryland.


. . .


"Whatever it is, it's very local," said Gonzalo Correal, a professor at Bogota's Academy of Natural Sciences, who has studied San Bernardo's mummies.



For the full story, see:

SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ. "In Small Colombian Town, People Love Their Mummies; Preserved bodies attract tourists, but remain a mystery; something in the diet?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 1, 2015): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on Sept. 30, 2015, and has the title "In This Small Colombian Town, People Love Their Mummies; Preserved bodies of people born in roughly the last hundred years become tourist attraction.")






December 14, 2015

Health Care Mandate "Freezes You at a Time When You Need to Be Moving Fast"




(p. B4) When LaRonda Hunter opened a Fantastic Sams hair salon 10 years ago in Saginaw, Tex., a suburb of Fort Worth, she envisioned it as the first of what would eventually be a small regional collection of salons. As her sales grew, so did her business, which now encompasses four locations -- but her plans for a fifth salon are frozen, perhaps permanently.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer workers health insurance or face penalties that can exceed $2,000 per employee. Ms. Hunter, who has 45 employees, is determined not to cross that threshold. Paying for health insurance would wipe out her company's profit and the five-figure salary she pays herself from it, she said.

"The margins are not big enough within our industry to support it," she said. "It's not that I don't want to -- I love my employees, and I want to do everything I can for them -- but the numbers just don't work."


. . .


For some business owners on the edge of the cutoff, the mandate is forcing them to weigh very carefully the price of growing bigger.

"There's kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for those who say, 'I have this new potential client, but if I bring them on, I have to hire five additional people,'" said Philip P. Noftsinger, the payroll unit president at CBIZ, a financial services provider for businesses. "They're really trying to assess how much the 50th employee is going to cost."


. . .


For businesses that use many seasonal, variable-hour or temporary workers, like those in the hospitality industry, simply figuring out how many qualifying employees they have can be a challenge.

"I think companies are going to have to work with their payroll processor for the basic data, and then their accountant or attorney about what certain items mean," Mr. Prince said.

The expense and distraction of all that paperwork is one of the biggest frustrations for one business owner, Joseph P. Sergio. His industrial cleaning company, Polar Clean, which is based in South Bend, Ind., but dispatches teams nationally, has just under 50 core employees. One of its business lines is disaster restoration, and after a flood or hurricane, its temporary staff balloons.

Mr. Sergio offers health insurance to his permanent staff, but the premiums have risen so quickly that he had to switch to a more restrictive plan, with a higher deductible. He is reluctant to go over the 50-employee line and incur all of the new rules that come with it. That makes bidding for new jobs an arduous and risky exercise.

"I've had to pull my controller and a couple of top people to sit and spend days going through this," he said. "If you ramp up, and it pushes you over 50, there's all these unknown costs and complicated rules. Are we really going to be able to benefit from going after that opportunity? It freezes you at a time when you need to be moving fast."



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Leads Business Owners to Rethink Plans for Growth." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Forces Businesses to Consider Growth's Costs.")






December 13, 2015

Quiet Author Founds Start-Up to Help Introverts




(p. 10) Last month, 50 executives from General Electric gathered on the fourth floor of a SoHo office building for a "fireside chat" with Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," which has sold two million copies worldwide.


. . .


A talk about "Quiet" she gave at a 2012 TED conference has been viewed more than 11.6 million times online. And she has delivered more than 100 speeches since then, sometimes commanding five figures for an appearance. (She also does pro bono work, she stressed.)


. . .

"Writing a book is rewarding," Mr. Godin said he told her. "But it doesn't change most people's lives."

And so Ms. Cain, who has been coached in public speaking, is now promoting Quiet Revolution, a for-profit company she has started that is focused on the work, education and lifestyle of introverts, which she defines roughly as people who get their psychic energy from quiet reflection and solitude (not to be confused with people who are shy and become anxious in unfamiliar social situations). Extroverts, by contrast, thrive in crowds and have long been prized in society for their ability to command attention. Many people share attributes of both, she said.

Ms. Cain and Paul Scibetta, a former senior executive at J. P. Morgan Chase whom she met when they both worked at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the 1990s, have set up a Quiet Leadership Institute, working with executives at organizations like NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric to help them better understand the strengths of their introverted employees.


. . .


Mike Erwin, a former professor of leadership and psychology at West Point who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, invited Ms. Cain to speak to cadets in 2012 after he finished reading "Quiet." He didn't understand students who were reticent to talk in class or who wanted to explore every risk before jumping into a task. "I'm an extrovert," he said. "And, as I look back at my career, I wrote off a lot of people who didn't speak up or want to be in charge."

In May, he was appointed chief executive of the Quiet Leadership Institute, where he is helping project managers at NASA learn how to lead teams populated with introverts (a common personality type in science). At Procter & Gamble, Mr. Erwin said, executives in research and development are exploring, among other things, how to help introverts become more confident leaders.



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Instigating a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JULY 26, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 25, 2015, and has the title "Susan Cain Instigates a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts.")


The Cain book mentioned above, is:

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






December 12, 2015

How Democratic Operatives Fight Innovation-Crushing Regulations




(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the last few years, so-called sharing companies like Airbnb and Uber -- online platforms that allow strangers to pay one another for a room or a ride -- have established footholds in thousands of communities well before local regulators have figured out how to deal with them.


. . .


Chris Lehane, a Washington political operative who now serves as Airbnb's head of global policy and public affairs, framed Proposition F (p. B10) as a hotel-industry-led attack on the middle class.

In this city of about 840,000 people, roughly $8 million was raised by groups opposed to Proposition F -- about eight times the amount raised by the proposition's backers, according to records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Much of that money was spent mobilizing Airbnb hosts and users, Mr. Lehane said. Still, he repeatedly homed in on one of the company's most important talking points: Airbnb's victory was a win for the middle class.

"Cities recognize where the world is going, right, they understand that you're either going to go forward or you're going to go backward," he said. "They understand that in a time of economic inequality, this is a question of whose side are you on: Do you want to be on the side of the middle class, or do you want to be opposed to the middle class?"


. . .


Companies like Airbnb and Uber have become multibillion-dollar companies by employing a kind of guerrilla growth strategy in which they set up a modest team of workers in a city and immediately start providing their services to the public, whether local laws allow them to or not.


. . .


Mr. Lehane, a former political operative in the Clinton administration, was nicknamed the Master of Disaster for his no-holds-barred approach to winning political fights. David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama, is now a senior adviser to Uber and a member of its board.

Mr. Lehane and Mr. Plouffe have both tried to frame their companies as middle-class saviors in a moment of economic anxiety and income inequality -- themes that are playing out in the presidential election as well. Jeb Bush and other Republicans have bragged about their Uber rides on the campaign trail, praising these companies as the future of self-sufficient employment.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY and MIKE ISAAC. "Airbnb and Uber Mobilize Vast User Base to Sway Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 5, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 4, 2015.)






December 11, 2015

Environmentalists' Mandatory Green-Bins Succeed at Breeding Smarter Raccoons




(p. A1) TORONTO--Last fall, Suzanne MacDonald spent a week tempting raccoons into her Toronto-area backyard every night with rotisserie chickens locked inside organic-waste bins.

At one point, "I had like 12 raccoons on one bin trying to get in," said Ms. MacDonald, an animal behavior researcher who was testing bin prototypes for the city. None succeeded, she said, but "they did try mightily."


. . .


The battle between the city's residents and its backyard wildlife is increasingly playing out over the disposal of organic waste. Residents' green bins--which the city collects weekly at the curb--offer a smorgasbord for raccoons and have helped their numbers increase. Torontonians say it is tough to keep the (p. A8) bins sealed and the animals away.


. . .


"The members of Raccoon Nation are smart, they're hungry and they're determined," Mayor John Tory told reporters in April when he unveiled the new green bins. The bins, which feature a turn lock, will cost the city 31 million Canadian dollars ($23.6 million) and are to be rolled out next year.


. . .


Toronto was one of the first North American cities to introduce a mandatory green-bin program, as part of an effort to keep local landfills from overflowing and after years of a highly contentious cross-border garbage-disposal program in Michigan.


. . .


Ms. MacDonald believes the growing intelligence of Toronto's raccoons may be linked to the efforts people have put into outwitting them.

Her research, which has received financial backing from the National Geographic Society, suggests urban raccoons are smarter than their "country cousins," driven to new heights of intelligence by the humans working so diligently to outsmart them by creating obstacles.

"We're creating our environment in such a way that they have to be able to figure them out in order to survive," she said, "and those that figure them out will be smart and survive and pass on to their offspring."



For the full story, see:

JANE GERSTER. "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 24, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on Aug. 23, 2015, and has the title "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'.")






December 10, 2015

The Morality of Denying Hope to 30 Million Guanggun




(p. A4) One wife, many husbands.

That's the solution to China's huge surplus of single men, says Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, whose recent proposal to allow polyandry has gone viral.

. . .


By 2020, China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors -- called guanggun, or "bare branches." Birth control policies that since 1979 have limited many families to one child, a cultural preference for boys and the widespread, if illegal, practice of sex-selective abortion have contributed to a gender imbalance that hovers around 117 boys born for every 100 girls.

Though some could perhaps detect a touch of Jonathan Swift in the proposal, Mr. Xie wrote that he was approaching the problem from a purely economic point of view.

Many men, especially poor ones, he noted, are unable to find a wife and have children, and are condemned to living and dying without offspring to support them in old age, as children are required to do by law in China. But he believes there is a solution.


. . .


"With so many guanggun, women are in short supply and their value increases," he wrote. "But that doesn't mean the market can't be adjusted. The guanggun problem is actually a problem of income. High-income men can find a woman because they can pay a higher price. What about low-income men? One solution is to have several take a wife together."

He added: "That's not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life."


. . .

On Sunday [October 25, 2015], he published an indignant rebuttal on one of his blogs, accusing his critics of being driven by empty notions of traditional morality that are impractical and selfish -- even hypocritical.

"Because I promoted the idea that we should allow poor men to marry the same woman to solve the problem of 30 million guanggun, I've been endlessly abused," he wrote. "People have even telephoned my university to harass me. These people have groundlessly accused me of promoting immoral and unethical ideas.

"If you can't find a solution that doesn't violate traditional morality," he continued, "then why do you criticize me for violating traditional morality? You are in favor of a couple made up of one man, one woman. But your morality will lead to 30 million guanggun with no hope of finding a wife. Is that your so-called morality?"



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "Bachelor Glut in China Leads to a Proposal: Share Wives." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 27, 2015): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCTOBER 26, 2015, and has the title "Not Enough Women in China? Let Men Share a Wife, an Economist Suggests.")






December 9, 2015

Producer of "The Godfather" to Make Six Hour TV Version of Atlas Shrugged




(p. D1) LOS ANGELES -- It took a while -- more than 40 years, actually.

But Albert S. Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand's Objectivist bible.

Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as "The Godfather" and "The Cannonball Run," almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.

But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. "Then I'll put in my will, the one person who can't get it is you," Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.


. . .


The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand's insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.

"When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he's not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars," Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Film Producer Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 2, 2015): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2015, and has the title "Producer of 'The Godfather' Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel.")






December 8, 2015

Climate Change Likely to Be Slower and Less Harmful than Feared




(p. A11) . . . , we are often told by journalists that the science is "settled" and there is no debate. But scientists disagree: They say there is great uncertainty, and they reflected this uncertainty in their fifth and latest assessment for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It projects that temperatures are likely to be anything from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer by the latter part of the century--that is, anything from mildly beneficial to significantly harmful.

As for the impact of that future warming, a new study by a leading climate economist, Richard Tol of the University of Sussex, concludes that warming may well bring gains, because carbon dioxide causes crops and wild ecosystems to grow greener and more drought-resistant. In the long run, the negatives may outweigh these benefits, says Mr. Tol, but "the impact of climate change does not significantly deviate from zero until 3.5°C warming."

Mr. Tol's study summarizes the effect we are to expect during this century: "The welfare change caused by climate change is equivalent to the welfare change caused by an income change of a few percent. That is, a century of climate change is about as good/bad for welfare as a year of economic growth. Statements that climate change is the biggest problem of humankind are unfounded: We can readily think of bigger problems." No justification for prioritizing climate change over terrorism there.


. . .


To put it bluntly, climate change and its likely impact are proving slower and less harmful than we feared, while decarbonization of the economy is proving more painful and costly than we hoped. The mood in Paris will be one of furious pessimism among the well-funded NGOs that will attend the summit in large numbers: Decarbonization, on which they have set their hearts, is not happening, and they dare not mention the reassuring news from science lest it threaten their budgets.

Casting around for somebody to blame, they have fastened on foot-dragging fossil-fuel companies and those who make skeptical observations, however well-founded, about the likelihood of dangerous climate change. Scientific skeptics are now routinely censored, or threatened with prosecution. One recent survey by Rasmussen Reports shows that 27% of Democrats in the U.S. are in favor of prosecuting climate skeptics. This is the mentality of religious fanaticism, not scientific debate.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY And BENNY PEISER. "Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate; At the Paris conference, expect an agreement that is sufficiently vague and noncommittal for all countries to claim victory." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 28, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 27, 2015.)


The Tol working paper mentioned above, is:

Tol, Richard S. J. "Economic Impacts of Climate Change." University of Sussex Economics Working Paper No. 75-2015.






December 7, 2015

Transistors Did Not Completely Destroy the Vacuum Tube




(p. D11) . . . , just as nothing quite matches the ambience created by an incandescent bulb dimmed low, nothing quite sounds like a good tube amp. Audiophiles will argue about whether a solid-state or tube amp is superior. However, it's best to think of tubes as an aesthetic choice--akin to applying a vintage filter to a pristine snapshot.

Tubes are well suited for musical passages that can sound grating over modern equipment--for example, a classical violinist digging into her instrument during a dramatic passage. Although its overall sound may not be as crisp, a good tube amp will take that shrill edge off.

More and more music lovers are downsizing their sound systems these days, and some tube-amp makers are following suit. Miniature models, like the ones shown here, use a combination of tubes and solid-state technology to minimize bulk. A few are also surprisingly affordable and versatile. You can hook them up to pretty much any audio source, like a smartphone, computer or CD player. Then just add a pair of headphones or speakers.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL HSU. "Groove Tube." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 24, 2015): D11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Oct. 21, 2015, and has the title "The Miracle of a $150 (or Less) Tube Amplifier.")






December 6, 2015

Hunter-Gatherers Use Division of Labor




(p. D4) The division of labor in hunter-gatherer communities is complex and sophisticated, and crucial to their economic success, researchers report.

A paper in the journal Philosophical Transactions B looks at two hunter-gatherer groups: the Tsimane game hunters of lowland Bolivia, and the Jenu Kuruba honey collectors of South India.

"In contrast to the simple cave man view of a hunter-gatherer, we found that it requires a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge and training," said Paul Hooper, an anthropologist at Emory University and one of the study's authors.


. . .


When Jenu Kuruba men go in search of honey, Dr. Hooper said, "there's one man who specializes in making smoke to subdue the bees, another that climbs the trees, and others that act as support staff to lower combs."



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "Observatory; Nothing Simple About Hunter-Gatherer Societies." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 27, 2015): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The academic article mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Hooper, Paul L., Kathryn Demps, Michael Gurven, Drew Gerkey, and Hillard S. Kaplan. "Skills, Division of Labour and Economies of Scale among Amazonian Hunters and South Indian Honey Collectors." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 370, no. 1683 (Oct. 2015), DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0008.






December 5, 2015

"Racist" Woodrow Wilson Adopted "White Supremacy as Government Policy"




(p. A25) In 1882, soon after graduating from high school, the young John Davis secured a job at the Government Printing Office.

Over a long career, he rose through the ranks from laborer to a position in midlevel management. He supervised an office in which many of his employees were white men. He had a farm in Virginia and a home in Washington. By 1908, he was earning the considerable salary -- for an African-American -- of $1,400 per year.

But only months after Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as president in 1913, my grandfather was demoted. He was shuttled from department to department in various menial jobs, and eventually became a messenger in the War Department, where he made only $720 a year.

By April 1914, the family farm was auctioned off. John Davis, a self-made black man of achievement and stature in his community at the turn of the 20th century, was, by the end of Wilson's first term, a broken man. He died in 1928.

Many black men and women suffered similar fates under Wilson. As the historian Eric S. Yellin of the University of Richmond documents in his powerful book "Racism in the Nation's Service," my grandfather's demotion was part of a systematic purge of the federal government; with Wilson's approval, in a few short years virtually all blacks had been removed from management responsibilities, moved to menial jobs or simply dismissed.

My grandfather died before I was born, but I have learned much about his struggle -- and that of other black civil servants in the federal government -- from his personnel file.


. . .


Consider a letter he wrote on May 16, 1913, barely a month after his demotion. "The reputation which I have been able to acquire and maintain at considerable sacrifice," he wrote, "is to me (foolish as it may appear to those in higher stations of life) a source of personal pride, a possession of which I am very jealous and which is possessed at a value in my estimation ranking above the loss of salary -- though the last, to a man having a family of small children to rear, is serious enough."

And the reply he received? His supervisor said, simply, that my grandfather was unable to "properly perform the duties required (he is too slow)." Yet there had never been any indication of this in his personnel file.

Wilson was not just a racist. He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African-Americans and their families.



For the full commentary, see:

GORDON J. DAVIS. "Wilson, Princeton and Race." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 24, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather.")


The Yellin book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Yellin, Eric S. Racism in the Nation's Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.


See also:

Patler, Nicholas. Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration: Protesting Federal Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2004.






December 4, 2015

While Woodrow Wilson Was President of Princeton, "No Blacks Were Admitted"




(p. A1) PRINCETON, N.J. -- Few figures loom as large in the life of an Ivy League university as Woodrow Wilson does at Princeton.


. . .


But until posters started appearing around campus in September, one aspect of Wilson's legacy was seldom discussed: his racist views, and the ways he acted on them as president of the United States.

The posters, put up by a year-old student group called the Black Justice League, featured some of Wilson's more offensive quotes, including his comment to an African-American leader that "segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you," and led to a remarkable two days at this genteel (p. A17) campus last week.


. . .


Perhaps best known for leading the United States during World War I and for trying to start the League of Nations, Wilson as president rolled back gains blacks had made since Reconstruction, removing black officials from the federal government and overseeing the segregation of rank-and-file workers.

Raised in the South, he wrote of "a great Ku Klux Klan" that rose up to rid whites of "the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes."

During Wilson's tenure as president of Princeton, no blacks were admitted -- "The whole temper and tradition of the place are such that no Negro has ever applied," he wrote -- though Harvard and Yale had admitted blacks decades earlier. Princeton admitted its first black student in the 1940s.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "At Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, a Heralded Alum, Is Recast as an Intolerant One." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 23, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 22, 2015.)







December 3, 2015

Bike Helmet Regulations Hurt Health




(p. D1) . . . many cycling advocates have taken a surprising position: They are pushing back against mandatory bike-helmet laws in the U.S. and elsewhere. They say mandatory helmet laws, particularly for adults, make cycling less convenient and seem less safe, thus hindering the larger public-health gains of more people riding bikes.

All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership. Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are. Academics theorize that as drivers become used to seeing bikes on a street, they watch more closely for them.

. . .


Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Sydney's Macquarie University, actually calculated the trade-off of mandatory helmet laws. In a 2012 paper in the journal Risk Analysis, he weighed the reduction of head injuries against increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling.

Dr. de Jong concluded that mandatory bike-helmet laws "have a net negative health impact." That is in part because many people cycle to work or for errands, experts say. People tend to replace that type of cycling not with another physical activity such as a trip to the gym, but with a ride in a car.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL BACHMAN. "The Helmet-Law Backlash." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 13, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Oct. 12, 2015, and has the title "Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?")






December 2, 2015

Humans Suffered from Plague by at Least 5,000 Years Ago




(p. D4) Historians and microbiologists alike have searched for decades for the origins of plague. Until now, the first clear evidence of Yersinia pestis infection was the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century, which severely weakened the Byzantine Empire.

But in a new study, published on Thursday [Oct. 22, 2015] in the journal Cell, researchers report that the bacterium was infecting people as long as 5,000 years ago.



For the full story, see:

"Archaeology: Plagues Said to Have Hit During Bronze Age." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 27, 2015): D4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the much shorter online version of the story has the date OCT. 22 (sic), 2015, and has the title "In Ancient DNA, Evidence of Plague Much Earlier Than Previously Known." The passage quoted above is from the online version.)


The academic article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Rasmussen, Simon, Morten Erik Allentoft, Kasper Nielsen, Ludovic Orlando, Martin Sikora, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Anders Gorm Pedersen, Mikkel Schubert, Alex Van Dam, Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel, Henrik Bjørn Nielsen, Søren Brunak, Pavel Avetisyan, Andrey Epimakhov, Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin, Artak Gnuni, Aivar Kriiska, Irena Lasak, Mait Metspalu, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, Andrei Gromov, Dalia Pokutta, Lehti Saag, Liivi Varul, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, Robert A Foley, Marta Mirazón Lahr, Rasmus Nielsen, Kristian Kristiansen, and Eske Willerslev. "Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia Pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago." Cell 163, no. 3 (Oct. 2015): 571-82.






December 1, 2015

Only 5% of Gender Pay Differential Is Likely Due to Discrimination




(p. A17) Full-time employment is technically defined as more than 35 hours. This raises an obvious problem: A simple side-by-side comparison of all men and all women includes people who work 35 hours a week, and others who work 45. Men are significantly more likely than women to work longer hours, according to the BLS. And if we compare only people who work 40 hours a week, BLS data show that women then earn on average 90 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Career choice is another factor. Research in 2013 by Anthony Carnevale, a Georgetown University economist, shows that women flock to college majors that lead to lower-paying careers. Of the 10 lowest-paying majors--such as "drama and theater arts" and "counseling psychology"--only one, "theology and religious vocations," is majority male.

Conversely, of the 10 highest-paying majors--including "mathematics and computer science" and "petroleum engineering"--only one, "pharmacy sciences and administration," is majority female. Eight of the remaining nine are more than 70% male.

Other factors that account for earnings differences include marriage and children, both of which cause many women to leave the workforce for years. June O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded in a 2005 study that "there is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles."


. . .


Ms. O'Neill and her husband concluded in their 2012 book, "The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market," that once all these factors are taken into account, very little of the pay differential between men and women is due to actual discrimination, which is "unlikely to account for a differential of more than 5 percent but may not be present at all."



For the full commentary, see:

SARAH KETTERER. "The 'Wage Gap' Myth That Won't Die; You have to ignore many variables to think women are paid less than men. California is happy to try." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 1, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Sept. 30, 2015.)


The O'Neill book mentioned above, is:

O'Neill, June E., and Dave M. O'Neill. The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market: The Role of Employment Discrimination Policies. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2012.






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