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January 31, 2016

Founder Title Gives Dorsey "the Leeway to Make Significant Changes"




(p. B1) Twitter Inc. is handing the chief executive reins back to Jack Dorsey, entrusting its founding architect to reassure investors and revive the social-media service's sagging user growth.


. . .


(p. B10) Company insiders say there was nothing interim about the way Mr. Dorsey carried himself since July 1, when Dick Costolo stepped down as CEO. He initiated debates about fundamental product features, including Twitter's trademark 140-character limit per tweet. He frequently sends companywide emails late at night, which include news stories that highlight Twitter's value in the world. These messages and his close involvement have shifted the tone and boosted morale, according to these people.


. . .


His reputation as a product visionary will be tested as he tackles his priority: to figure out how to make Twitter easy enough to use by anyone. More than his product ideas, however, Mr. Currie endorsed Mr. Dorsey's leadership skills as the reason the board decided to bring him back on a permanent basis.

In the eyes of employees and users, the founder title gives him the leeway to make significant changes that weren't afforded by Mr. Costolo.



For the full story, see:


YOREE KOH. "Dorsey Is CEO of Twitter Once Again." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Twitter Names Co-Founder Jack Dorsey CEO.")






January 30, 2016

Some Heroes Are Punished for Doing What Is Right




At some point in the last few months watched, and jotted a few notes, on a C-SPAN presentation by Ralph Peters related to his historical novel Valley of the Shadow, that I caught part of. C-SPAN lists the show as first airing on June 23, 2015. My attention was drawn when Peters started talking about Lew Wallace. I had a minor curiosity about Lew Wallace for two obscure reasons. The first is that in young adulthood my favorite actor was Charlton Heston, one of whose most notable movies was Ben Hur, which was based on a novel by Lew Wallace. The other was that as an adult Lew Wallace lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana where there is still a small museum in his old study, a museum that holds memorabilia related to the Heston Ben Hur movie. The reason I know about the museum is that I graduated from Wabash College, which is also located in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Peters said that he was fascinated by forgotten figures and that one of these was Lew Wallace. According to Peters, Lew Wallace saved the union during the Civil War. A confederate general named Jubal Early would have seized Washington, D.C., if Wallace and an officer named Jim Ricketts had not taken the initiative to lead a force to stop Early. For doing what had to be done, Wallace risked court martial, and Wallace was indeed fired from the army. After Ricketts gave a full account of what had happened, Wallace was re-instated, but Lincoln did not approve of his receiving a new command. Peters said that this was because Wallace was unpopular with some powerful Indiana Republicans, and that Lincoln was facing an election in which he needed to win Indiana.

The above is a rough summary of Peters's account. I don't know if any of it is disputed by other experts. But it is a good story, and I hope that it is true.

The Peters historical novel discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Peters, Ralph. Valley of the Shadow: A Novel. New York: Forge Books, 2015.






January 29, 2016

"Good News for the Grumpy": Happiness Does Not Lengthen Life




(p. A6) A study published on Wednesday [Dec. 9, 2015] in The Lancet, following one million middle-aged women in Britain for 10 years, finds that the widely held view that happiness enhances health and longevity is unfounded.

"Happiness and related measures of well-being do not appear to have any direct effect on mortality," the researchers concluded.

"Good news for the grumpy" is one way to interpret the findings, said Sir Richard Peto, an author of the study and a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford.

He and his fellow researchers decided to look into the subject because, he said, there is a widespread belief that stress and unhappiness cause disease.

Such beliefs can fuel a tendency to blame the sick for bringing ailments on themselves by being negative, and to warn the well to cheer up or else.

"Believing things that aren't true isn't a good idea," Professor Peto said in an interview. "There are enough scare stories about health."

The new study says earlier research confused cause and effect, suggesting that unhappiness made people ill when it is actually the other way around.


. . .


Professor Peto said particularly important data came from 500,000 women who reported on their baseline surveys that they were in good health, with no history of heart disease, cancer, stroke or emphysema.

A "substantial minority" of these healthy women said they were stressed or unhappy, he said, but over the next decade they were no more likely to die than were the women who were generally happy.



For the full story, see:

DENISE GRADY. "Happiness Doesn't Bring Good Health, Study Finds." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 10, 2015): A6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 9, 2015, and has the title "Happiness Doesn't Bring Good Health, Study Finds.")


The research summarized in the passages quoted above, appeared in:


Liu, Bette, Sarah Floud, Kirstin Pirie, Jane Green, Richard Peto, and Valerie Beral. "Does Happiness Itself Directly Affect Mortality? The Prospective UK Million Women Study." The Lancet (Dec. 9, 2015) DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)01087-9.







January 28, 2016

Frustrating Failure to Cure Cancer




PiersonEmmaAndGrandfather2016-01-20.jpg"Emma Pierson as a child playing chess with her grandfather, whose cancer she is trying to fight." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D4) . . . in the four years since I learned I carried a BRCA mutation, I have watched my attempts to do something about it repeatedly miss the mark. I joined a laboratory to do cancer research, but the paper we wrote had little to do with cancer; I joined a company that offered the cheapest BRCA tests on the market, and its service was shut down a month after I arrived. I am 24 years old; at 25, I will have to choose between aggressive screening and prophylactic mastectomy. I had hoped to use my brain to protect my body, but I am running out of time.

If life's complexities confound a 20-year-old's desperate idealism, cancer's do as well. The more I learn, the more I worry that we may never find a singular cure for cancer: that each cancer's unique biological filigree necessitates a brutal and byzantine combination of treatments.

I also worry that the end goal is so far away that we sometimes lose sight of its importance, and view biological research as a competitive game rather than a means of saving lives. I feared being the worst student in my first cancer class, even though a roomful of researchers better than I am is exactly what I should want. Since then, I've seen many indications of the competitiveness in cancer research -- a teacher who made us promise not to steal other students' final projects, scientists who snipe at one another or falsify work -- that make me think I am not the only one who sometimes forgets what is at stake.


. . .


I am not going to cure cancer, not even the BRCA cancers. And I am going to watch the people I love die from diseases I cannot understand or prevent. I would be lying if I told you I have made my peace with that. It gives me hope only to fight, as my grandfather did, for futures unseen: to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.



For the full commentary, see:

EMMA PIERSON. "Leaving No Move Untried." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Seeking a Cancer-Free World." The last words in Pierson's commentary quote the final line of Alfred Lord Tennyson's great poem "Ulysses.")






January 27, 2016

Hiring Based on What People Can Do, Instead of Their Credentials




(p. B4) Compose Inc. asks a lot of job applicants. Anyone who wants to be hired at the San Mateo, Calif., cloud-storage firm must write a short story about data, spend a day working on a mock project and complete an assignment.

There is one thing the company doesn't ask for: a résumé.

Compose is among a handful of companies trying to judge potential hires by their abilities, not their résumés. So-called "blind hiring" redacts information like a person's name or alma mater, so that hiring managers form opinions based only on that person's work. In other cases, companies invite job candidates to perform a challenge--writing a software program, say--and bring the top performers in for interviews or, eventually, job offers.

Bosses say blind hiring reveals true talents and results in more diverse hires. And the notion that career success could stem from what you know, and not who you know, is a tantalizing one.


. . .


"We were hiring people who were more fun for us to talk to," says Mr. Mackey. Trouble was, they were often a poor fit for the job, according to the CEO.

So the company, which was acquired by International Business Machines Corp. last year, added an anonymous sample project to the hiring process. Prospective hires spend about four to six hours performing a task similar to what they would do at Compose--writing a marketing blog post for a technical product, for example.


. . .


The sample projects have unearthed hires who have turned out to be top performers, says Mr. Mackey.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "Why Bosses Are Turning to 'Blind Hiring'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 6, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan. 5, 2016, and has the title "The Boss Doesn't Want Your Résumé.")






January 26, 2016

Open Offices Are "an Absurd Attack on Concentration"




(p. A11) Mr. Newport acknowledges the good intentions behind open offices: They are meant to encourage serendipity and teamwork. But he argues that burdening workers with perpetual distractions constitutes "an absurd attack on concentration" that creates "an environment that thwarts attempts to think seriously." Sure, there's collaboration--not least the unspoken camaraderie among coworkers who have shared in the cringe-inducing experience of hearing a colleague castigate her spouse over the phone.

Mr. Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, is the unusual academic who will sully himself with matters as practical as: How can a talented employee rack up the rarefied and acute skills--writing, coding, scouring the latest mergers and acquisitions--that make someone indispensable? His answer? Expanding your capacity for "deep work," ruthlessly weeding out distractions and regularly carving out stretches of time to sharpen abilities. Mr. Newport explains why honing an ability to concentrate can yield enormous professional payouts. Then he lays out rules for becoming one such rare bird.

Most corporate workers, Mr. Newport argues, don't have clear feedback about how to spend their time. As a result, employees use "busyness as a proxy for productivity," which Mr. Newport describes aptly as "doing lots of stuff in a visible manner"--blasting out emails, for instance, or holding meetings on superficial progress on some project.


. . .


The book's best example is the Pulitzer Prize winning Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro, known for working on a meticulous schedule in his Manhattan office dressed in a coat and tie "so that he never forgets when he sits down with his research that he is going to work," as one profile of Mr. Caro put it.



For the full review, see:

KATE BACHELDER. "BOOKSHELF; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; Yes, open offices cultivate camaraderie--among coworkers who all cringe as a colleague shouts at her soon-to-be ex-husband over the phone." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 20, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 19, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.






January 25, 2016

Recording a Pain of "5" and Then Leaving Without Relieving




If health care was provided by free market companies whose success depended on voluntarily attracting customers, instead of by bureaucratic, hyper-regulated, CYA incentivized, and competition-insulated bureaucracies, would the surreal experience reported below be as common as it is?



(p. 11) A FRIEND was recently hospitalized after a bicycle accident. At one point a nursing student, together with a more senior nurse, rolled a computer on wheels into the room and asked my friend to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

She mumbled, "4 to 5." The student put 5 into the computer -- and then they left, without further inquiring about, or relieving, my friend's pain.

This is not an anecdote about nurses not doing their jobs; it's an illustration of what our jobs have become in the age of electronic health records. Computer documentation in health care is notoriously inefficient and unwieldy, but an even more serious problem is that it has morphed into more than an account of our work; it has replaced the work itself.

Our charting, rather than our care, is increasingly what we are evaluated on. When my hospital switched to bar code scanning for medication administration, not only were the nurses on my floor rated as "red," "yellow" or "green" based on the percentage of meds we scanned, but those ratings were prominently and openly displayed on printouts left at the nurses' station.


. . .


We need to streamline our records so that they serve just one master: the patient. We should focus on the most important information in guaranteeing accuracy of diagnosis, efficacy of treatment, continuity of care and patient safety. Otherwise the content of our care will be increasingly warped by the demands of our e-record systems -- and patients like my poor friend will lie in hospital beds in pain, uncomforted by the knowledge that the electronic record of that pain is satisfyingly and exactingly complete.



For the full commentary, see:

THERESA BROWN. "Patients vs. Paperwork." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 20, 2015): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 19, 2015, and has the title "When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care.")






January 24, 2016

"Hey You, Get Busy" Bolted in Place




(p. D8) Most scientists rely on grants from the federal government and private foundations to finance their work. Michael W. Davidson turned to neckties.

Mr. Davidson, who died on Dec. 24 [2015] at 65, used sophisticated microscopes to create stunning, psychedelic images of crystallized substances like DNA and hormones, and he contributed to Nobel Prize-honored research about the inner workings of cells. His images were on the covers of scientific journals and, as unlikely as it might seem, on neckwear.

They found their way into men's apparel in the early 1990s, when Mr. Davidson called Irwin Sternberg, the president of the necktie company Stonehenge Ltd., proposing a series of ties using his ultramagnified, wildly colorful images of vitamins. Mr. Sternberg, though skeptical, agreed to take a look.

"When I saw Michael's work, I started to think I couldn't get a designer more talented," Mr. Sternberg said in an interview.

Stonehenge released a line of "vitamin ties" in September 1993. A year later, neckties with Mr. Davidson's images of moon rocks were released on the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar mission. Ties with images of cocktails, beer and wine followed. Millions of ties were sold, and a slice of the profits -- millions of dollars -- went to charity. Mr. Davidson's share went to his laboratory work at Florida State University in Tallahassee.


. . .


Mr. Davidson started college at Georgia Southern University, then attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia before earning a chemistry degree at Georgia State.

He arrived at Florida State in the early 1980s as a graduate student. He quit to start a business chrome-plating auto parts.

A few years later, Mr. Davidson returned to Florida State as a microscopy technician for a materials research laboratory. "He just came in and said, 'I think there are things we can do,' and he got hired," said Kirby Kemper, a retired Florida State physics professor who was then associate chairman of the physics department.

To produce his work, Mr. Davidson hired an army of assistants. Some were undergraduates. Others were out of school with no credentials in the field. But the work helped propel many of them to successful jobs in academia and industry.

Eric Clark had been a nurse when Mr. Davidson hired him as an assistant in 1999. Now, as an application developer, he is continuing Mr. Davidson's educational website and scientific illustration operations. (The molecular biology laboratory was disbanded.)

Mr. Davidson worked seven days a week, and he expected the same of the people who worked with him. On his door was a large metal sign that said, "Hey you, get busy." MagLab officials told him to take it down. Mr. Davidson bolted it in place, and it is still there.



For the full obituary, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Michael W. Davidson, 65, a Scientist Who Had an Artist's Eye for Detail." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 16, 2016): D8.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 12, 2016, and has the title "Michael W. Davidson, a Success in Microscopes and Neckwear, Dies at 65.")






January 23, 2016

Cooking Over Indoor Wood Fires Kills Millions




(p. A13) Indoor air pollution, caused mainly by cooking over wood fires indoors, is the world's biggest cause of environmental death. It kills an estimated four million people every year, as noted by the nonprofit science news website, SciDev.Net. Getting fossil-fueled electricity and gas to them is the cheapest and quickest way to save their lives. To argue that the increasingly small risk of dangerous climate change many decades hence is something they should be more worried about is positively obscene.


For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "The Green Scare Problem; Raising constant alarms--about fracking, pesticides, GMO food--in the name of safety is a dangerous game." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 13, 2015): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 13, 2015.)






January 22, 2016

Regulations Slow Eradication of Cancer




(p. D3) . . . the triumph of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's and then for many other tumors opened an interlocking series of dilemmas. In the clinic and the hospital, the new protocols demanded that doctors muster the courage to make their patients very sick in order to make them well. But how sick was too sick? The risks and benefits of the powerful treatments now needed careful, deliberate assessment at every stage of the disease.

Similar questions dogged those who developed, evaluated and regulated the drugs. How poisonous could these agents safely be? How assiduously should desperate patients be saved by their government from pharmaceutical risk?

Dr. DeVita stands firmly among those affirming cancer patients' right to aggressive treatment. One particular exchange summarizes his philosophy: "Do your patients speak to you after you do this to them?" one skeptic asked him early on. "The answer is yes," he replied, "and for a lot longer."

The regulatory caution of the Food and Drug Administration has been a thorn in his side for decades: "I'd like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not." In fact, he writes, "the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in."



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "An Unbowed Warrior." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Review: Science and Politics Collide in 'The Death of Cancer'.")


The book under review, is:

DeVita, Vincent T., and Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable--and How We Can Get There. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.






January 21, 2016

Anti-GMO Chipotle No Longer Wears Health Halo




(p. A13) . . . if you need an anecdote for how the year unfolded for the anti-GMO movement, look no further than Chipotle. Last spring the fast food company announced with great fanfare that it would take GMO ingredients off its menu. It was all downhill after that. As was quickly pointed out, Chipotle wasn't being fully truthful, since its soft drinks and cheese contain genetically modified ingredients, and its meat comes from animals fed genetically modified grains. A lawsuit filed in California, which is pending, accused Chipotle of false advertising and deceptive marketing.

Then cases of food-borne illnesses hit Chipotle locations across the country. Supporters of traditional agriculture, who have felt maligned by the burrito company, started keeping a tally of the number of people sickened by Chipotle's food (ongoing, but more than 300) versus the number sickened by GMOs (zero). As the year winds to a close, the company that once wore the restaurant industry's health halo is apologizing, preparing for lawsuits, recentralizing its vegetable preparation and cutting locally sourced ingredients.



For the full commentary, see:

JULIE KELLY. "The March of Genetic Food Progress; 'Farmaceuticals' and other GM products are slowly being approved, despite political scare campaigns." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 29, 2015.)






January 20, 2016

In Poor Province, Chinese Communists Spend Over $400,000 Building Giant Golden Statue of Mao, Starver of Millions of the Proletariat




(p. B1) ZHUSHIGANG, China -- Just two days after images of a giant gold-colored statue of Mao in the bare fields of Henan Province spread across the Internet, the statue was gone -- torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials.

Villagers said demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning [January 7, 2016], and by Friday morning [January 8, 2016], only a pile of rubble remained.

The 120-foot-tall statue, which local media reports said cost $465,000, had been under construction for months and was nearing completion when it began to attract attention.

Some commenters on social media denounced the extravagance of the colossus in a poor, rural part of China, where the money might have been better spent on education or health care.


. . .


Others pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward.


. . .


Statues of Mao, the founder of the People's Republic of China, were once ubiquitous in China, and many survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying Mao's era was one when officials were selfless and honest.

But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivization and industrialization of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions of people died.



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "An Outcry Helps Topple a Mao Statue 120 Feet Tall." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 9, 2016): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "Golden Mao Statue in China, Nearly Finished, Is Brought Down by Criticism.")






January 19, 2016

Private Start-Ups Pursue Fusion Approaches Ignored by Government




(p. B5) Fusion reactions release no carbon dioxide. Their fuel, derived from water, is abundant. Compared with contemporary nuclear reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms apart, a fusion plant would produce little radioactive waste.

The possibilities have attracted Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. He has invested in General Fusion, a start-up in British Columbia, through Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages his venture capital investments. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is betting on another fusion company, Tri Alpha Energy, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., an hour south of Los Angeles, through his venture arm, Vulcan Capital.

Peter Thiel -- the co-founder of PayPal, who once lamented the superficiality of the technology sector by saying, "We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters" -- has invested in a third fusion start-up, Helion Energy, based near Seattle, through Mithril Capital Management.

Government money fueled a surge in fusion research in the 1970s, but the fusion budget was cut nearly in half over the next decade. Federal research narrowed on what scientists saw as the most promising prototype -- a machine called a tokamak, which uses magnets to contain and fuse a spinning, doughnut-shape cloud of hydrogen.

Today's start-ups are trying to perfect some of the ideas that the government left by the wayside.

After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, in the mid-1990s, Michl Binderbauer had trouble securing federal funds to research an alternative approach to fusion that the American government briefly explored -- one that adds the element boron into the hydrogen fuel. The advantage of the mixture is that the reaction does not fling off neutrons that, like shrapnel, can wear down machine parts and make them radioactive.

Mr. Binderbauer, along with his Ph.D. adviser, Norman Rostoker, founded Tri Alpha Energy, eventually raising money from the venture capital arms of Mr. Allen and the Rockefeller family. The company has raised over $200 million.



For the full story, see:

DINO GRANDONI. "Start-Ups Take on Challenge of Fusion." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 26, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 25, 2015, and has the title "Start-Ups Take On Challenge of Nuclear Fusion.")






January 18, 2016

Madison Revised Notes to Aid Jefferson's Attack on Hamilton




C-SPAN Book TV today played an extended interview with Mary Sarah Bilder about her book on James Madison's notes on the constitutional convention. Madison revised his notes to share with Jefferson, who had not been present during the convention. Chernow, in his biography of Hamilton, reports how Jefferson criticized Hamilton for aristocratic tendencies. What is most surprising about Bilder's comments is that Madison had made comments at the convention similar to Hamilton's discussing whether there might be merits to monarchy. But in his revision of the notes, he deleted those comments before passing the notes to Jefferson, presumably as part of his desire to ally himself more closely with Jefferson and to join in Jefferson's vilification of Hamilton.

This is not an earth-shattering finding, but it adds support to Chernow's defense of Hamilton. Jefferson was the slave-holding aristocrat in practice, while Hamilton opposed slavery, and Hamilton's intellectual speculations on the best form of government were not notably monarchist within the context of the time.

The book discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.


The Chernow book I mention above, is:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






January 17, 2016

A More Dynamic Labor Market May Be the Answer to Italy's "Quo Vado?"




(p. A19) ROME -- A balding government clerk in his late 30s has one true love: "il posto fisso," a job for life. He doesn't want to compete in the labor market; he has no urge to move on. He doesn't even want to earn more. Give him a desk, a chair and a 9-to-5 job in the "pubblica amministrazione," and he's happy. Clocking in late, chatting with colleagues, accepting small bribes from taxpayers (most favored: quail), a regular salary -- that's life!

And, of course, there are rubber stamps. The clerk loves them. Slam! Slam! Slam! When his boss, who wants to get rid of him, asks angrily: "What have you contributed to this department?" he shows her his stamping prowess, and almost demolishes her glass table.

This is, more or less, the story of "Quo Vado?" a new comedy that has smashed Italian box office records. It had its premiere on Jan. 1, and in its first week made $39 million; "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," in three weeks, reached just $23 million. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Quo Vado?" -- or "Where Am I Going?" a modern spin on the Latin question "Quo vadis?" ("Where are you going?") -- is on course to beat the box-office record for an Italian film in the country, currently at $56 million, set by 2013's "Sole a catinelle."


. . .


Italians aren't afraid of a more dynamic labor market. There is still the dream of making it in the private sector, even if it is less secure than the public-sector jobs that have long been the backbone of the Italian work force. Two out of three workers, according to a recent survey in the Turin newspaper La Stampa, wouldn't mind taking a risk, as long as it meant the prospect of career advancement.

To foster this more proactive mood, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi -- who has seen "Quo Vado?" with his family -- last year introduced labor-market legislation known as the Jobs Act (in English, mysteriously). It makes hiring and firing easier, but only in the private sector. For state jobs, like Checco's, things stay the same. Once you're in, you're in.



For the full commentary, see:

Severgnini, Beppe. "More Popular than 'Star Wars'." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 16, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 14, 2016, and has the title "The Secret Behind Italy's Favorite New Film." Where there are minor differences between the print and online versions, the version above follows the online version.)






January 16, 2016

Parents Set Up For-Profit Companies for Quicker Cures




(p. B1) Karen Aiach was working as a management consultant when she learned that her first daughter, Ornella, had Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare disease in which a missing enzyme causes toxic substances to build up in the body.

Ornella was 6 months old, and the prognosis was grim: She would develop mentally and physically to between ages 2 and 4, plateau and then lose whatever she had learned. She would become extremely hyperactive and develop sleeping disorders. Most likely she would not live past 15.

Within two years of the diagnosis, Ms. Aiach, who lives in a Paris suburb, had quit her consulting job to learn everything she could about the disease. She hired a neurobiologist to guide her in the world of medical research. And when she learned that few treatments were in the works, she founded a company called Lysogene to focus on genetic therapy.

Instead of raising money and awareness by setting up a nonprofit foundation, a more typical route, she opted to start a for-profit company to seek treatments, if not a cure. Far from common, what Ms. Aiach and other parents like her are trying is to leverage their wealth, contacts and the hope of sophisticated investors to jump-start research into rare diseases.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . with some rare diseases, where minimal research has been done, a little effort goes a long way.

Nicole Boice, who founded Global Genes, one of the leading rare-disease patient advocacy organizations, said even small investments can have meaningful impacts.

"You can start moving the needle with $3,500," she said. "That leads you to the next $25,000, and then to innovation grants and funding at $100,000. That starts the interest from biotech."

Gradually, parents like Matt Wilsey, a technology entrepreneur, have made headway. First, his family spent the better part of four years trying to figure out what afflicted his daughter, Grace, now 6. Even after her genome was sequenced, the first diagnosis turned out to be wrong. Grace, it finally was determined, was the second person in the world known to have a deficiency in the gene known as NGLY1.

"We went around the country," Mr. Wilsey said. "We were just trying to find one doctor who had seen another patient with these symptoms." After years of efforts, several dozen children have been found to have the same deficiency.

"Our goal is to find a cure," said Mr. Wilsey, who lives in the San Francisco area.

"A lot of people in science dismiss that because cures are rare. But when I say cures, they're not going to be astronauts. They're going to be leading some sort of independent life. They're going to be able to eat without choking. They're going to be able to take a bath without drowning. They're going to be able to communicate, whether with some assistive device or not."

These parents also had a successful model to follow. In 1998, John Crowley left his job at Bristol-Myers Squibb to start a biotechnology company to search for a treatment for Pompe disease, a neuromuscular disorder that two of his children had. Within four years, the company, Novazyme Pharmaceuticals, had devised a treatment that he credits with saving their lives. His story was immortalized in the 2010 film "Extraordinary Measures," starring Harrison Ford. And his company was bought by the pharmaceutical giant Genzyme for $137.5 million in 2001.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN. "Wealth Matters; Parents of Children With Rare Diseases Find Hope in For-Profit Companies." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "Wealth Matters; Building a Company to Treat a Rare Disease.")






January 15, 2016

The Bet in Alphabet Is that Autonomy Will Work




(p. B4) To see how Google Inc. Chief Executive Larry Page hopes to turbocharge a growing fleet of speculative projects under a new holding company, look at Nest Labs.

After Google acquired the maker of connected-home devices for $3.2 billion in 2014, Nest kept its own recruiters and its own system for vetting job candidates, skirting Google's famously deliberate hiring process. Nest still rents computer servers from Amazon.com Inc., rather than use Google's data centers. Nest co-founder and CEO Tony Fadell also curbed some Google perks, such as free food, to maintain Nest's scrappy vibe.

Mr. Fadell and co-founder Matt Rogers negotiated unusual autonomy for Nest. Now, as Google reorganizes and creates a new parent company, Alphabet Inc., it is using Nest as a model for running its other startup operations--the "bets" in Alphabet--according to people familiar with the plan.

The restructuring separates Google's core businesses--including Internet search, the Android operating system and YouTube--from newer unrelated businesses such as Nest, Google Life Sciences and Fiber, the fast Internet service. Mr. Page will remain CEO of the Alphabet holding company, but step back from running Google's core to oversee the other units, which will operate more independently.


. . .


"If Google can deliver more broadly what it gave Nest, that predicts success for the rest of the Alphabet projects," said Max Levchin, a co-founder of PayPal Holdings Inc. who spent more than a year at Google after it bought his social startup Slide in 2010.



For the full story, see:

ALISTAIR BARR. "At Google, Breathing Room for New Ideas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 2, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 1, 2015, and has the title "At Google, Breathing Room for New Ideas.")






January 14, 2016

Koch Employees Motivated by the Fulfillment of Meaningful Work




(p. A11) . . . , Mr. Koch defines "principled entrepreneurship" as the effort to maximize profit by "creating superior value," as well as by "acting lawfully and with integrity." What is good for business, he says, is good for society--another aspect of good profit.

The culture of a company is formed, Mr. Koch observes, when employees internalize such principles and practices. Although employees should be urged, he says, to be agents of change, to think critically and, when necessary, to challenge the decisions of their bosses, they will find that their most significant motivation is a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. "We cannot ignite a passion for creating the greatest value," Mr. Koch writes, "if there is no meaning in our work."



For the full review, see:

JOSEPH MACIARIELLO. "BOOKSHELF; The Company He Keeps; Respect means treating people on their merits--not according to the rigid categories of identity politics. Merit will always create value." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 23, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 22, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Koch, Charles G. Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World's Most Successful Companies. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






January 13, 2016

Focused Investing by Entrepreneurs Can Create Illiquid Wealth that Is Large But Precarious




The implications of the point made in the passages quoted below, were boldly drawn out by George Gilder in his article "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth."



(p. B4) Wealth-X found that from July 2014 to July 2015, 45 percent of the ultrawealthy in the United States lost some part of their wealth; 11 percent lost more than half of it.

The reasons for the drop in wealth differed. But why so many ultra-wealthy people -- defined as those with more than $30 million -- lost so much of their wealth so quickly offers lessons in financial management, no matter how much money you have.

Sure, this group still has a lot of money. But those who lost a lot of money made similar mistakes: Too much of their money was tied up in one investment and too little of their money was in cash or some other liquid investment. And too often, they didn't think enough about the likelihood that something could go wrong.


. . .


"A lot of people have this view that wealth is inherited," said Mykolas Rambus, chief executive of Wealth-X. "That's very much not the case." Most are successful entrepreneurs who built fortunes, he said, "And most of their money is in privately held companies, not your Googles and Facebooks."

He said 75 percent of the world's wealth, when real estate is included, was privately held.

In the period examined by Wealth-X, overconcentration and illiquidity were big factors when someone lost a fortune.

Curtis James Jackson III, better known as the rapper 50 Cent, was worth $240 million in May 2014 and about $50 million last month, according to Wealth-X. The precipitous drop was caused almost entirely by the falling values of four of his companies, with interests ranging from clothing to film production. They declined to $7.2 million from $150 million in 12 months, according to Wealth-X's research.

The same could be said for Mr. Charney, who was ousted from his company American Apparel, which later filed for bankruptcy protection. His share of the company was estimated at over $65 million in May 2014 and is now virtually worthless. At American Apparel's height, in 2007, Forbes put Mr. Charney's stake at $550 million.

"Every financial adviser in the United States says you've got to diversify," Mr. Rambus said. "There is a lesson here about volatility and concentration. Rewind to the dot-com crash. There were plenty of folks who were seriously overexposed to tech and lost their shirts."

But there's a paradox here. Generally, it was overconcentration in one, illiquid company -- whose value rose exponentially -- that made people ultrawealthy in the first place.



For the full story, see:

PAUL SULLIVAN . "Wealth Matters; Reversal of Fortunes for Some Superrich." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "Wealth Matters; The Bad Fortune of Some Ultrawealthy People.")


The Gilder article praised above, is:

Gilder, George. "The Enigma of Entrepreneurial Wealth." Inc. 14, no. 10 (Oct. 1992): 161-64, 66 & 68.






January 12, 2016

North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley




For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.



(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. -- "California and New York want what we've got," said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. "They like drones, but they've got a steep learning curve ahead."

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and -- unlike in other sparsely populated states -- lots of expertise already in place.

Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.

"The potential up here is tremendous," said Jack Dalrymple, the state's governor. "It's not about supporting a company or two; it's creating the leading edge of an industry."

North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.")






January 11, 2016

Entrepreneurs Who Pay Taxes "Expect Services--Like Justice"




(p. B3) ATHENS -- Demetri Politopoulos, the founder of a midsize beer producer in northern Greece, says he nearly fainted when he heard the news late one night in October.

The Greek Parliament was planning to pass a law that would increase the tax he paid for each hectoliter of beer he sold by 50 percent.

Just like that, the microbrewery he started 17 years ago would go under, as his new tax bill of 1.6 million euros would wipe out his expected 1.45 million euros in profit for the year.


. . .


He started his business in 1998, but even as demand for his Vergina beer grew, his share of the market stayed in the low single-digits as the market leader did all in its power to prevent shops and restaurants from selling his product.


. . .


In 2005, Mr. Politopoulos took his case to the Hellenic Republic Competition Commission, citing numerous examples of what he said were unfair business practices by Heineken, from persuading retailers to not stock Vergina to more serious examples of bullying and intimidation.

But as is often the case in Greece, his petition went nowhere.

With Greece under unremitting pressure to find new revenue sources, the idea to close the gap between the way small and large brewers are taxed may have seemed a good idea.

That is, until Mr. Politopoulos took the floor in Parliament on Nov. 2.

"We are proud to pay taxes in Greece, but this is going to put us out of business," he said. "And when we do pay our taxes, we expect services -- like justice. Without justice in a society, there is nothing."

His 10-minute declamation hit a cord. A video of the speech went viral and parliamentary members rallied to his cause.

Indeed, concerns are growing here that in a rush to raise much-needed revenue, Greece and its creditors are placing an unfair burden on an already decimated private sector.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "A Greek Dvid Lands Some Big Punches." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "In Greece, Brewer's Woes Reflect Struggle of Business Owners.")






January 10, 2016

The Filth, Slaughter and Disease, That Was Rome




McCloskey's "Great Fact" says that life was very bad for tens of thousands of years until the capitalist industrial revolution started to make it better. The tens of thousands of years can be thought of as a horizontal hockey stick handle, with the capitalist industrial revolution represented by a sharply ascending blade. Rome was a bump on the hockey stick handle, but as the last paragraph quoted below suggests, not too much of a bump.



(p. C4) . . . Ms. Beard is competent and charming company. In "SPQR" she pulls off the difficult feat of deliberating at length on the largest intellectual and moral issues her subject presents (liberty, beauty, citizenship, power) while maintaining an intimate tone.

"In some ways, to explore ancient Rome from the 21st century is rather like walking on a tightrope, a very careful balancing act," she writes. "If you look down on one side, everything seems reassuringly familiar: there are conversations going on that we almost join, about the nature of freedom or the problems of sex; there are buildings and monuments we recognize and family life lived out in ways we understand, with all their troublesome adolescents; and there are jokes that we 'get.'"

"On the other side, it seems completely alien territory. That means not just the slavery, the filth (there was hardly any such thing as refuse collection in ancient Rome), the human slaughter in the arena and the death from illnesses whose cure we now take for granted; but also the newborn babies thrown away on rubbish heaps, the child brides and the flamboyant eunuch priests."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Early Rome: Its Warts and Wonders." The New York Times (Weds., Nov. 18, 2015): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome,' Mary Beard Tackles Myths and More.")


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.


On the hockey stick, see:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "McCloskey's Great Fact; Review of: McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World." Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy 1, no. 2 (2012): 200-05.






January 9, 2016

Behavioral Economists Ignore Biases and Irrationalities of Governments




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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Vicusi and Gayer paper mentioned above, is:

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






January 8, 2016

How to Monopolize a Dead Technology




(p. C3) LOS ANGELES -- When Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" is released in a special roadshow version (with overture, intermission and additional footage) on Dec. 25, it will represent a feat worthy of the heist in the director's "Jackie Brown."

The film is scheduled to open on 96 screens in the United States and four in Canada, all in 70-millimeter projection, a premium format associated with extravaganzas of the 1950s and 1960s.

Yet from a theatrical standpoint, the technology is nearly obsolete. Last year, "Interstellar" opened in 70 millimeter at only 11 comparable locations. There were only 16 in 2012 for "The Master," which renewed interested in the format. No film has opened with 100 70-millimeter prints since 1992. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, 97 percent of the 40,000 screens in the United States now use digital projection.


. . .


"We looked around for anybody who was selling them," said Erik Lomis, Weinstein's president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment. "We tried to keep it as quiet as possible as to why. Eventually word leaked out why we were looking for them, and then the price went up."


. . .


"We've been accused of actually cornering the market on 70-millimeter projectors," Mr. Cutler said. "It's probably pretty true. There probably aren't too many out there that we didn't find." Most of them were destroyed, he added, during the conversion to digital projection.


. . .


Ultra Panavision also produces subtle aesthetic effects, unusual even to viewers familiar with 70 millimeter. The lens "for lack of a better word is a softer lens," Mr. Sasaki said. During a screening of test footage for the film, he pointed out the impressionistic qualities of the focus and explained how the image catered to our eyes' natural depth cues.

With projectors found and lenses made, the next hurdle is labor: Most theaters no longer have projectionists with a working knowledge of these machines. Mr. Cutler's company will provide training for each site. "One way or the other, we will fulfill this need," he said. "It will be a combination of house staff that we can train, professional projectionists that we can bring in, projectionists that we can find locally, and potentially some technical staff that we'll bring in." Every theater showing the film will get a spare set of belts, fuses and light bulbs, and instructions. Mr. Cutler's staff will also be standing by for calls.



For the full story, see:

BEN KENIGSBERG. "In a World Gone Digital, Room for a Lost Format." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 12, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 11, 2015, and has the title "Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight' Resurrects Nearly Obsolete Technology.")






January 7, 2016

Brits Attack Freedom, the Poor and the Environment, by Taxing Plastic Bags




(p. A4) LONDON -- Some warned of "bag rage" by irate shoppers. The Daily Mail predicted, "Plastic Bags Chaos Looms." Chloe Metzger, a 21-year-old blogger and student, wrote on Twitter: "I understand the whole #plasticbags thing but it couldn't be more annoying."

Nerves were rattled, jokes were made and the annoyance of it all was duly noted in Britain this week. Nevertheless, shoppers pulled off something that has also occurred in other cities, states and countries: They began weaning themselves off plastic shopping bags.

Starting this week, the government introduced a 5 pence charge for plastic bags for most groceries, clothes and other purchased items. And while it did not lead to a nationwide mutiny, as some had warned, it did create some tension in cashier lines.


. . .


The TaxPayers' Alliance, an anti-tax group, said the new measure would burden families struggling to get by.

A 2013 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, which champions laissez-faire economics, argued that paper and reusable bags were worse for the environment than plastic bags when it came to energy and water use, and to greenhouse gas emissions. "Every type of grocery bag incurs environmental costs," wrote H. Sterling Burnett, the author of the study.

Whatever the arguments, the charge has inspired a mix of applause, resentment, fear and humor.

It has also inspired ingenious new ways to try to get around paying the new fee. The Daily Express, a British tabloid, noted that there was "nothing to stop Brits buying loose vegetables, being rewarded with their free plastic bag and ramming it full of the rest of the shopping."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "British Begin Attack Aimed at a Scourge of the Realm." The New York Times (Weds., OCT. 7, 2015): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 6, 2015, and has the title "Charge for Plastic Bags in Britain Draws Applause, Anger and Humor.")


The 2013 bag report, referred to above, is:

Burnett, H. Sterling. "Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?" National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report # 353, Dec. 2013.






January 6, 2016

Was "the Naturally Aloof" Washington, an Introvert?




(p. C6) In "The Washingtons," an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.


. . .


Her social graces, . . . , served the naturally aloof George well during his eight increasingly trying years as president. Martha had a way of keeping conversation flowing around her, Ms. Fraser says, while George's "silences could unnerve the most confident." An official dinner with the Washingtons could be an ordeal, since George was a terrible conversationalist and was known to sit silently tapping his spoon against the table, obviously impatient for the evening to end.



For the full review, see:

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH. "Domestic Tranquility; Martha kept conversation flowing at dinner; George's silences 'could unnerve the most confident.'" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Flora. The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love". New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






January 5, 2016

Fewer Startups and Slower Growth Among the Fewer: Double Whammy to Economic Growth




(p. 7B) Previous studies have shown that, despite the success of firms like Facebook, the number of startups has dropped sharply, from about 13 percent of all firms in the late 1980s to about 8 percent in 2011. Now, a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that the expansion of the remaining startups -- which traditionally has been much faster than the growth of existing companies -- has slowed considerably. By some measures, it now barely exceeds the average of older companies.

So there's a double whammy: fewer startups and slower growth among the survivors. This could be one reason why the recovery from the Great Recession has been so sluggish, with the economy's growth averaging about 2 percent annually from 2010 to 2014, much slower than earlier post-World War II recoveries.



For the full commentary, see:

Robert J. Samuelson. "Our rate of startups is stalling at an inopportune time." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Dec. 20, 2015): 7B.


I strongly suspect, but am not sure, that the NBER working paper referred to above, is:

Decker, Ryan, John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Where Has All the Skewness Gone? The Decline in High-Growth (Young) Firms in the U.S." NBER Working Paper # 21776, Dec. 2015.






January 4, 2016

"We're from the Streets and We Want Change"




(p. A9) CARACAS, Venezuela -- On a sunny afternoon, Jorge Millán, an opposition candidate for congress, walked through the narrow streets of a lower-middle-class neighborhood, pressing the flesh in what was once a no man's land for people like him.


. . .


With the economy sinking under the weight of triple-digit inflation, a deep recession, shortages of basic goods and long lines at stores despite the nation's vast oil reserves, the opposition has its best chance in years to win a legislative majority.


. . .


"I was a Chavista, but Chávez isn't here anymore," said Mr. Omaña, referring to the followers of the former president.

"It's this guy," he said, referring to Mr. Maduro. "It's not the same."

Mr. Omaña complained about having to stand in long lines to buy food and about the fast-rising prices, saying that for the first time since Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998 he would vote for an opposition candidate.

"Enough is enough," he said. "We need something good for Venezuela."

Venezuelan politics was dominated after 1998 by Mr. Chávez and the movement he started, which he called the Bolivarian revolution, after the country's independence hero, Simón Bolívar. Mr. Chávez died in 2013, and his disciple, Mr. Maduro, was elected to succeed him, vowing to continue Mr. Chávez's socialist-inspired policies.


. . .


Opposition candidates said one of the biggest surprises of the campaign has been the warm reception they have received in what were once hostile pro-government strongholds.

Carlos Mendoza, 53, a motorcycle taxi driver and former convict who works in the district where Mr. Millán is running, said that he belongs to a group, known as a colectivo, that in the past was paid by the government to help out during campaigns, attend rallies and drive voters to the polls. Such groups were also often used to intimidate opposition supporters.

"They called us again this time," Mr. Mendoza said. "I told them, 'No way, you're not using me again.' "

"We're from the streets," he said, "and we want change."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Venezuela's Economic Pain Gives Opposition Lift Before Vote." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 5, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2015, and has the title "Venezuela's Economic Woes Buoy Opposition Before Election.")






January 3, 2016

Affirmative Action Reduces Number of Black Scientists




Malcolm Gladwell, in chapter three of David and Goliath, persuasively argues that science students who would thrive at a solid public university, may be at the bottom of their class at Harvard, and in discouragement switch to an easier non-science major. Gladwell's argument has implications for affirmative action, as noted by Gail Heriot in the passages quoted below.



(p. A13) . . . , numerous studies--as I explain in a recent report for the Heritage Foundation--show that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are less likely to go on to high-prestige careers than otherwise-identical students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle of the class or higher. In other words, encouraging black students to attend schools where their entering credentials place them near the bottom of the class has resulted in fewer black physicians, engineers, scientists, lawyers and professors than would otherwise be the case.

But university administrators don't want to hear that their support for affirmative action has left many intended beneficiaries worse off, and they refuse to take the evidence seriously.

The mainstream media support them on this. The Washington Post, for instance, recently featured a story lamenting that black students are less likely to major in science and engineering than their Asian or white counterparts. Left unstated was why. As my report shows, while black students tend to be a little more interested in majoring in science and engineering than whites when they first enter college, they transfer into softer majors in much larger numbers and so end up with fewer science or engineering degrees.

This is not because they don't have the right stuff. Many do--as demonstrated by the fact that students with identical entering academic credentials attending somewhat less competitive schools persevere in their quest for a science or engineering degree and ultimately succeed. Rather, for many, it is because they took on too much, too soon given their level of academic preparation.



For the full commentary, see:

GAIL HERIOT. "Why Aren't There More Black Scientists? The evidence suggests that one reason is the perverse impact of university racial preferences." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 22, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Oct. 21, 2015.)


Heriot's report for the Heritage Foundation, is:

Heriot, Gail. "A "Dubious Expediency": How Race-Preferential Admissions Policies on Campus Hurt Minority Students." Heritage Foundation Special Report #167, Aug. 31, 2015.


Gladwell's book, mentioned above, is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






January 2, 2016

Key Roman Institution Was Citizenship for All




(p. C5) . . . , early in the fourth century B.C., everything changes. Somehow Rome's wars began to escalate in scale, their victories turned into conquests, their victims into allies, and Roman expansion became a bow wave rolling across Italy. Exactly how this "great leap forward" was achieved remains unclear. There are fragments of laws, a tradition of civil conflict leading to political reform, and the tombs of the first generation of great military leaders. But, as Ms. Beard says, "the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle become hard to fit together."

The best we can say is that, sometime in the early fourth century, consuls, senators and people emerge rapidly from the shadows, carrying all before them. By the time this was noticed by the other great powers of the day--Phoenician Carthage in what is now Tunisia and the Macedonian kings who had ruled everything east of the Adriatic since Alexander the Great--it was too late to stop Rome. Roman institutions did not drive this expansion, as Polybius had thought. In fact they played desperate catch-up for the rest of the Republic, trying to create ways of governing an empire that was not exactly accidental but certainly not planned. The one institution that Ms. Beard leaves in place as a motor of expansion rather than a response to it was Rome's unusual capacity to absorb the defeated and redirect their arms and resources to its own ends. "SPQR" ends with the logical culmination of that process, the extension of full citizenship to almost every one of Rome's 60 million subjects in A.D. 212.



For the full review, see:

GREG WOOLF. "Dawn of the Eternal City." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






January 1, 2016

"Growing Emphasis on Climate Aid Is Immoral"




(p. A13) . . . aid is being diverted to climate-related matters at the expense of improved public health, education and economic development. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has analyzed about 70% of total global development aid and found that about one in four of those dollars goes to climate-related aid.

In a world in which malnourishment continues to claim at least 1.4 million children's lives each year, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation, this growing emphasis on climate aid is immoral.



For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "This Child Doesn't Need a Solar Panel; Spending billions of dollars on climate-related aid in countries that need help with tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 22, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Oct. 21, 2015.)






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