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June 30, 2016

David Sokol Worries that in Over-Regulated America, Free Enterprise Is Under Attack




(p. C1) David Sokol, once widely expected to succeed Mr. Buffett as chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has kept a fairly low profile since leaving the conglomerate amid a stock-trading controversy five years ago.


. . .


In addition to becoming a more-vocal investor, Mr. Sokol, 59 years old, is becoming increasingly vocal about politics. He is an avowed fan of "Atlas Shrugged," the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that made a moral case for capitalism and self interest. In public speeches and columns, Mr. Sokol has drawn comparisons between the dystopian, over-regulated America portrayed in the book and the present day, saying (p. C2) that free enterprise is increasingly under attack.



For the full story, see:

SERENA NG and ANUPREETA DAS. "From Buffett Protege to Activist." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 25, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2016, and has the title "Warren Buffett's Former Heir-Apparent Resurfaces as Activist Investor.")


The Ayn Rand novel that Sokol admires, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.






June 29, 2016

Perfect Reliability Is Not Worth the Cost




(p. B4) Say what you will about Plain Old Telephone Service, but it worked. The functionality of POTS, as it was known, was limited to making calls, and they were expensive. But many traditional phone companies offered 99.999% reliability, which allowed for about five minutes of downtime a year.

Today's networks are far less expensive, infinitely more capable and nowhere near as reliable as the wired-to-the-wall phone, . . .


. . .


To some extent, contemporary networks suffer from inattention. The old phone system worked so well because regulators in certain countries like the U.S. said it had to, and enough money was set aside to fund an army of technicians and engineers to oversee it. That generally isn't the case with modern, digital networks and IT infrastructure, and companies often neglect this nuts-and-bolts technology.


. . .


Underneath it all, the economics of falling prices carry a trade-off. Consumers get more for their money in the mobile, digital era, but that often leaves margin-stretched companies with fewer resources to invest in robustness and maintenance. Reliability is as much a function of business and risk management as it is about tech.

"I don't know if people are sweating that detail as much as they used to," said Mr. Bayer, previously CIO of the Securities and Exchange Commission.


. . .


Former NYSE Euronext Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Leibowitz told the Journal in 2013 the public shouldn't expect market technology to function perfectly, a goal that would be too expensive to implement even if it were technically feasible.



For the full story, see:

STEVE ROSENBUSH and STEVEN NORTON. "Network Reliability, a Relic of Business?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 10, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 9, 2015 and has the title "What We Learned From the NYSE, United Airlines Tech Outages.")






June 28, 2016

If Rapamycin Works in Humans as in Mice, We Gain 20 Years in Good Health




KaeberleinMattWithDogDobby2016-05 -26.jpg"Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a biology of aging researcher, with his dog Dobby in North Bend, Wash. He helped fund a drug study using his own money." Source of caption: p. A12 of print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A12) But scientists who champion the study of aging's basic biology -- they call it "geroscience" -- say their field has received short shrift from the biomedical establishment. And it was not lost on the University of Washington researchers that exposing dog lovers to the idea that aging could be delayed might generate popular support in addition to new data.

"Many of us in the biology of aging field feel like it is underfunded relative to the potential impact on human health this could have," said Dr. Kaeberlein, who helped pay for the study with funds he received from the university for turning down a competing job offer. "If the average pet owner sees there's a way to significantly delay aging in their pet, maybe it will begin to impact policy decisions."

The idea that resources might be better spent trying to delay aging rather than to cure diseases flies in the face of most disease-related philanthropy and the Obama administration's proposal to spend $1 billion on a "cancer moonshot." And many scientists say it is still too unproven to merit more investment.

The National Institutes of Health has long been organized around particular diseases, including the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. There is the National Institute on Aging, but about a third of its budget last year was directed exclusively to research on Alzheimer's disease, and its Division of Aging Biology represents a tiny fraction of the N.I.H.'s $30 billion annual budget. That is, in part, because the field is in its infancy, said the N.I.H. director, Dr. Francis Collins.


. . .


"The squirrels in my neighborhood have a 25-year life span, but they look like rats that live two years," said Gary Ruvkun, a pioneer in aging biology at Harvard Medical School. "If you look at what nature has selected for and allowed, it suggests that you might be able to get your hands on the various levers that change things."


. . .


Over 1,500 dog owners applied to participate in the trial of rapamycin, which has its roots in a series of studies in mice, the first of which was published in 2009. Made by a type of soil bacterium, rapamycin has extended the life spans of yeast, flies and worms by about 25 percent.

But in what proved a fortuitous accident, the researchers who set out to test it in mice had trouble formulating it for easy consumption. As a result, the mice were 20 months old -- the equivalent of about 60 human years -- when the trial began. That the longest-lived mice survived about 12 percent longer than the control groups was the first indication that the drug could be given later in life and still be effective.

Dr. Kaeberlein said he had since achieved similar benefits by giving 20-month-old mice the drug for only three months. (The National Institute on Aging rejected his request for funding to further test that treatment.) Younger mice, given higher doses, have lived about 25 percent longer than those not given the drug, and mice of varying ages and genetic backgrounds have been slower to develop some cancers, kidney disease, obesity and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In one study, their hearts functioned better for longer.

"If you do the extrapolation for people, we're probably talking a couple of decades, with the expectation that those years are going to be spent in relatively good health," Dr. Kaeberlein said.


. . .


. . . what dog lovers have long considered the sad fact that their pets age about seven times as fast as they do, Dr. Kaeberlein knew, would be a boon for a study of rapamycin that would have implications for both species. An owner of two dogs himself, he was determined to scrounge up the money for the pilot phase of what he and Dr. Promislow called the Dog Aging Project.

Last month, he reported at a scientific meeting that no significant side effects had been observed in the dogs, even at the highest of three doses. And compared with the hearts of dogs in the control group, the hearts of those taking the drug pumped blood more efficiently at the end. The researchers would like to enroll 450 dogs for a more comprehensive five-year study, but do not yet have the money.

Even if the study provided positive results on all fronts, a human trial would carry risks.

Dr. Kaeberlein, for one, said they would be worth it.

"I would argue we should be willing to tolerate some level of risk if the payoff is 20 to 30 percent increase in healthy longevity," he said. "If we don't do anything, we know what the outcome is going to be. You're going to get sick, and you're going to die."



For the full story, see:

AMY HARMON. "CHASING IMMORTALITY; Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Humans' Biggest Killer: Age." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "CHASING IMMORTALITY; Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Slowing Aging Process.")


An academic paper that discusses the wide variability in life span of different species in the order Rodentia (which includes short-lived rats and long-lived squirrels), is:

Gorbunova, Vera, Michael J. Bozzella, and Andrei Seluanov. "Rodents for Comparative Aging Studies: From Mice to Beavers." Age 30, no. 2-3 (June 25, 2008): 111-19.






June 27, 2016

Utilities Shifting Back to Fossil Fuels to Reduce Electricity Prices




(p. B1) KEADBY, England -- A wind farm here, along the River Trent, cranks out enough clean electricity to power as many as 57,000 homes. Monitored remotely, the windmills, 34 turbines each about 400 feet high, require little attention or maintenance and are expected to produce electricity for decades to come.

"They're very well behaved," said Sam Cunningham, the wind farm's manager, as she drove around the almost three-square-mile site.

The owner of the wind farm, the British electricity company SSE, has been betting big on turbines as well as other renewables for years, with multibillion-dollar investments that have made the utility the country's leading provider of clean power. In theory, last year's United Nations climate accord in Paris should have been a global validation of the company's business strategy.

But instead of doubling down, the utility is rethinking its energy mix, reconsidering plans for large wind farms and even restarting a mothballed power plant that runs on fossil fuel.

The moves reflect the existential debate faced by many major power companies, as they grapple with real-world energy economics and shifts in government policy. The calculus for fossil fuels can be more favorable at a time when energy prices are low and countries like Britain are rethinking subsidies on renewables to keep electricity prices down."



For the full story, see:

STANLEY REED. "Clean Power Muddied by Cheap Fuel." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016 and has the title "In Britain, a Green Utility Company Sees Winds of Change.")






June 26, 2016

Rallying the Enlightenment Defense of Free Speech




(p. C1) OXFORD, England -- After the murders at Charlie Hebdo last year, the public intellectual Timothy Garton Ash -- once a dashing foreign correspondent, long since a scholar amid the spires of Oxford -- issued an appeal to news organizations: Publish the offending cartoons, all of you together, and in that way proclaim the vitality of free speech.

"Otherwise," he warned, "the assassin's veto will have prevailed."

By this reckoning, the assassins triumphed, for most publications ignored his entreaty, to protect their staffs from danger or to protect their readers from offense.


. . .


. . . , free speech is on the defensive, Mr. Garton Ash argues, and he is trying to rally the resistance.


(p. C4) . . . , he has written a scrupulously reasoned 491-page manifesto and user's guide, "Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World," due out in the United States on Tuesday [May 24, 2016] which includes his case for defying threats, his opposition to hate-speech laws and his view on whether another's religion deserves your respect.


. . .


"We as a society have to hold the line," he said in the interview. "There has to be less appeasement." For this, solidarity is required: Law-enforcement authorities must safeguard those who speak up, and taxpayers must be willing to pay the high costs this will incur. "Otherwise," he added, "yielding to violent intimidation is itself objectively a kind of incitement to violence, right? Because you encourage the next guys to have a go."


. . .


A vulnerability of Mr. Garton Ash's project is that his principles are so deeply rooted in Enlightenment ideals, which are not universally shared.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM RACHMAN. "A Manifesto Extolling Free Speech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 23, 2016): C1 & C4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 22, 2016, and has the title "Timothy Garton Ash Puts Forth a Free-Speech Manifesto.")


Ash's manifesto in defense of free speech, is:

Ash, Timothy Garton. Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 25, 2016

The Roles of Bad Luck and Periodicity in Species Extinctions





To the extent that bad luck, and periodically recurring natural causes, explain species extinctions, the role of humans in causing extinctions may be less than is sometimes assumed.



(p. A21) Dr. Raup challenged the conventional view that changes in diversity within major groups of creatures were continuous and protracted, and advanced the theory that such changes can be effected by random events.

And he questioned the accepted notion that biodiversity -- that is, the number of extant species -- has vastly increased over the past 500 million years, pointing out, among other things, that because newer fossils embedded in newer rock are easier to find than older fossils in older rock, it is possible that we simply have not uncovered the evidence of many older species whose existence would undermine the theory. His conclusion, that the data of the fossil record does not allow the unambiguous presumption that biodiversity has increased, has profound implications.


. . .


Dr. Raup's most famous contribution to the field may have been the revelation in 1983, after a six-year study of marine organisms he conducted with J. John Sepkoski Jr., that over the last 250 million years, extinctions of species spiked at regular intervals of about 26 million years.

Extinction periodicity, as it is known, enlivened the study of huge volcanic eruptions and of changes in the earth's magnetic field that may have coincided with periods of mass extinction. It has also given rise to numerous theories regarding the history of life, including that the evolution of myriad species has been interrupted by nonterrestrial agents from the solar system or the galaxy.


. . .


"Much of our good feeling about planet Earth stems from a certainty that life has existed without interruption for three and a half billion years," he wrote. "We have been taught, as well, that most changes in the natural world are slow and gradual. Species evolve in tiny steps over eons; erosion and weathering change our landscape but at an almost immeasurably slow pace."

He continued: "Is all this true or merely a fairy tale to comfort us? Is there more to it? I think there is. Almost all species in the past failed. If they died out gradually and quietly and if they deserved to die because of some inferiority, then our good feelings about earth can remain intact. But if they died violently and without having done anything wrong, then our planet may not be such a safe place."



For the full obituary, see:

BRUCE WEBER. "David M. Raup, Who Transformed Field of Paleontology, Dies at 82." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JULY 15, 2015 and has the title "David M. Raup, Who Transformed Field of Paleontology, Dies at 82.")






June 24, 2016

Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopus Are Thriving




(p. 9) The squids are all right -- as are their cephalopod cousins the cuttlefish and octopus.

In the same waters where fish have faced serious declines, the tentacled trio is thriving, according to a study published Monday [May 23, 2016].

"Cephalopods have increased in the world's oceans over the last six decades," Zoë Doubleday, a marine ecologist from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and lead author of the study, said in an email. "Our results suggest that something is going on in the marine environment on a large scale, which is advantageous to cephalopods."

Dr. Doubleday and her team compiled the first global-scale database of cephalopod population numbers, spanning from 1953 to 2013.


. . .


"When we looked at the data by cephalopod group we were like 'Oh my God -- they're all going up,' " she said.

She said it was remarkable how consistent the increases were among the three cephalopod groups, which included species that swim in the open seas and creatures that scuttle through tide pools. They published their findings in the journal Current Biology.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "One Resident of the Sea, Unlike Many, Is Thriving." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 25, 2016): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 24, 2016, and has the title "Squid Are Thriving While Fish Decline.")


The academic Current Biology article mentioned above, is:

Doubleday, Zoë A., Thomas A. A. Prowse, Alexander Arkhipkin, Graham J. Pierce, Jayson Semmens, Michael Steer, Stephen C. Leporati, Sílvia Lourenço, Antoni Quetglas, Warwick Sauer, and Bronwyn M. Gillanders. "Global Proliferation of Cephalopods." Current Biology 26, no. 10 (Mon., May 23, 2016): R406-R07.






June 23, 2016

Hidebound Banks Ride Uber, Hoping to Manage I.P.O.




(p. A1) Wall Street banks can be hidebound in their ways: insisting on suits and ties and handing out BlackBerries after everyone else has moved on to the iPhone. But if there is one thing that can push even the most conservative bank into the future, it is the prospect of business.

The latest reminder came this week when JPMorgan Chase announced that it would reimburse all of its employees for rides taken with Uber -- offering access to "Uber's expanding presence and seamless experience," the company said in a news release.

JPMorgan made its decision long after other parts of corporate America were already hailing cars through the California start-up. But banks have recently shown a fondness for the service -- with Goldman making the company part of its official travel policy in late May and Morgan Stanley putting out its own news release about its Uber use late last year.

Bank experts were quick to note that these moves come as the banks are jockeying to win a coveted spot managing Uber's initial public offering -- one that is not yet scheduled but that is assumed to be coming in the not-too-distant future. The I.P.O. for Uber, whose fund-raising so far has pegged its valuation at $50 billion, will most likely be the blockbuster I.P.O. in whatever year it takes place.



For the full story, see:

NATHANIEL POPPER. "An Uber I.P.O. Ahead, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?" The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2015 and has the title "An Uber I.P.O. Looms, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?")






June 22, 2016

Reforestation Can Absorb Much Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Energy




Matt Ridley has pointed out that agricultural innovations, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allow us to grow more food on less farmland, and thus return more farmland to forests.



(p. D6) A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide.")


An academic study mentioned above, is:

Chazdon, Robin L., Eben N. Broadbent, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano, T. Mitchell Aide, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Dylan Craven, Jarcilene S. Almeida-Cortez, George A. L. Cabral, Ben de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan M. Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mario M. Espírito-Santo, María C. Fandino, Ricardo G. César, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Paulo Massoca, Jorge A. Meave, Rita Mesquita, Francisco Mora, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Edith Orihuela-Belmonte, Marielos Peña-Claros, Eduardo A. Pérez-García, Daniel Piotto, Jennifer S. Powers, Jorge Rodríguez-Velazquez, Isabel Eunice Romero-Pérez, Jorge Ruíz, Juan G. Saldarriaga, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, Nathan G. Swenson, Maria Uriarte, Michiel van Breugel, Hans van der Wal, Maria D. M. Veloso, Hans Vester, Ima Celia G. Vieira, Tony Vizcarra Bentos, G. Bruce Williamson, and Lourens Poorter. "Carbon Sequestration Potential of Second-Growth Forest Regeneration in the Latin American Tropics." Science Advances 2, no. 5 (May 13, 2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639


The Ridley book mentioned way above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






June 21, 2016

Half of Important Psychology Articles Could Not Be Replicated




(p. A1) The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters' behavior because of concerns about faked data.

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday [August 27, 2015] in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.

The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work.



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Psychology's Fears Confirmed: Rechecked Studies Don't Hold Up." The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 28, 2015): A1 & A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 27, 2015 and has the title "Many Psychology Findings Not as Strong as Claimed, Study Says.")


The Science article reporting the large number of psychology articles that proved unreplicable, is:

Open Science Collaboration. "Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science." Science 349, no. 6251 (Aug. 28, 2015): 943.






June 20, 2016

Taxpayer Funded Stadiums Fail to Bring Promised Economic Development




(p. C14) The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been an epicenter of the U.S. stadium-and-arena boom, rolling out five major sports facilities since 1990 that together cost more than $2 billion.

Now, the neighboring cities are readying for a sixth: a 20,000-seat, $150 million Major League Soccer stadium to be built by 2018 in St. Paul about halfway between the two downtowns.


. . .


But taken with the other facilities that have a combined seat count of nearly 200,000, this latest project illustrates how the Twin Cities are an acute example of the rapid increase in stadiums and arenas in U.S. cities. These developments come despite a growing chorus of warnings from economists who say the stadiums are almost always poor drivers of economic development. Even when these facilities do spur nearby investment, economists and critics say the cost to the public is typically far higher than with traditional economic-development programs.


"I've lived in the Twin Cities since 1976, and have seen this proliferation of new sports stadia," said Jane Prince, a St. Paul city council member who voted against the soccer stadium aid package. "I just don't see the promised economic development occurring in conjunction with all of these."


. . .


"There's not one group that makes these decisions--it was two city governments, it was a legislature, it was sports owners," said R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2014. Mr. Rybak said he had long been critical of sports subsidies but he grudgingly helped craft the aid package for the Vikings stadium after the team was poised to move elsewhere.

That deal, and the others, he said, were "also driven by the increasingly crazy politics of sports economics," in which teams want their own facilities, custom designed for their ideal crowd sizes.



For the full story, see:

ELIOT BROWN. "Twin Cities to Get Yet Another Stadium." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 23, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2016, and has the title "In Twin Cities, How Many Stadiums Are Enough?")






June 19, 2016

How Wal-Mart Benefits Small Entrepreneurs




(p. B1) At the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. here, dozens of its buyers held half-hour meetings earlier this month with hundreds of prospective suppliers touting products--from frozen deep-fried turkeys to toddler dirt bikes--all eager for a chance to land on the shelves of the world's largest retailer.

Scott Bonge, a Little Rock, Ark., investor and father of three, was trying to interest Wal-Mart in his plastic shaving stencil, the GoateeSaver. With sales of shaving gear falling as more men embrace scruff and beards, Wal-Mart is looking for different shaving paraphernalia to sell.

The product "came out of my own need for something to keep my goatee looking even back in college," Mr. Bonge told Jason Kloster, senior buyer for personal care at Wal-Mart.

Mr. Kloster then drilled down into how many American men have goatees. Without an exact answer, Mr. Bonge noted that they are popular in the South among men over 25.

"I've been in the category for four years and I've never heard of your brand," Mr. Kloster said. "Your biggest challenge is awareness." Mr. Kloster suggested selling the device on Walmart.com to test demand before offering it in stores.

The daylong event provides a window into the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers as well as the influence retailers have both on selecting the products for their shelves and how those products appear.

These meetings serve a clear purpose for prospective suppliers--a shot at vaulting into retail's big leagues.



For the full story, see:

SARAH NASSAUER. "Inside Wal-Mart's 'Shark Tank'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 23, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 22, 2015 and has the title "Pitching Products to Wal-Mart, in 30 Minutes.")






June 18, 2016

Some "Rescue" Groups "Kidnap and Mutilate" Street Dogs




(p. D1) MONTAGUE, Mass. -- Think of all the dogs out there: labradors and poodles and labradoodles; huskies and westies and dogues de Bordeaux; pit bulls and spaniels and lovable mutts that go to doggy day care.

Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million.

But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don't have flea collars. And they certainly don't have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world.

In their new book, "What Is a Dog?," Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers -- the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago.


. . .


(p. D6) In 2001, their book "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution" challenged the way scientists thought about the beginnings of dogs.

They argued against the widely held view that one day a hunter-gatherer grabbed a wolf pup from a den and started a breeding program. Instead, they argued, dogs domesticated themselves.

Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.


. . .


Although the Coppingers recognize the social cost of animals that are unvaccinated and running free, they argue that killing the dogs, as some countries do during rabies epidemics, does not help. It's impossible to kill them all, and because they breed rapidly, the population quickly rebounds.

Nor do the Coppingers have any sympathy for rescue groups that, as Dr. Coppinger puts it, "kidnap and mutilate" street dogs from the Caribbean and elsewhere to bring them to American shelters to live as pets, "where they are made totally dependent and entirely restricted." This is supposed to benefit the dogs, but Dr. Coppinger argues that they are taken from a rich social environment, with many dogs, to lives of relative isolation.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Don't Call them Strays." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 19, 2016): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars.")


The dog books mentioned above, are:

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. What Is a Dog? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. New York: Scribner, 2001.






June 17, 2016

Uber to Politicians: "Catch-Me-If-You-Can"




(p. B1) Last week, the home-sharing service Airbnb had more than 40,000 listings in Paris, making the French capital the company's most popular destination for travelers looking to rent a room or an entire apartment. Paris officials applaud it for bringing innovation to the city's hotel industry.

The ride-hailing company Uber had a much more difficult week.

Thousands of Parisian taxi drivers took to the streets to protest UberPop, the company's low-cost service that's similar to UberX in the United States. French politicians denounced the company for defying the country's transport laws. And two of Uber's top executives in France were detained by the police and accused of operating an illegal taxi business. By Friday [July 3, 2015], the company had suspended UberPop across the country.

Uber and Airbnb are similar in many ways. Both born in San Francisco, the companies are now two of the largest entrants in the so-called on-demand economy, in which services are available at the touch of a smartphone button. They are both flush with investor money -- with valuations in the tens of billions of dollars -- and are using the cash to expand rapidly around the world.

But the starkly different paths in France for these companies lay bare contrasting strategies as they encounter the world of global regulators. Since it began in 2009, Uber has entered city after city, in Europe and elsewhere, with a largely catch-me-if-you-can attitude. Airbnb, which offers more rooms than traditional hotel groups like Hilton and InterContinental, has instead tilted toward courting local politicians in many of its most popular markets.

So far, Uber's approach has not significantly slowed it down. The company operates in more than 300 cities in almost 60 countries and is valued by investors at more than $40 billion.



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "The Bumps in Uber's Fast Lane." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 8, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 7, 2015, and has the title "What Uber Can Learn From Airbnb's Global Expansion.")






June 16, 2016

Government Elephant Ivory Bans Endanger Rare Helmeted Hornbills





Another unintended consequence of well-intentioned government policy.



(p. A3) BEIJING -- Even as China, the world's leading market for illegal ivory, promises to help safeguard elephants in Africa, a rare bird in Southeast Asia is in danger because its skull is being sold in China as an ivory alternative, conservationists say.


. . .


More than 2,000 helmeted hornbill skulls, or casques, were seized by the authorities in Indonesia and China in the past five years, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental organization based in London. In some cases, Chinese citizens were caught trying to leave Indonesia with casques in their luggage.


. . .


China has joined the world in taking a stand against the trade in elephant and rhinoceros products. In September, during his state visit to the United States, President Xi Jinping pledged to "enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export."

But some conservationists worry that less celebrated but also threatened animals, including the helmeted hornbill, are being overlooked, becoming easy picks to meet the demand.

"Shifting to hornbill ivory is like grabbing a low-hanging fruit," Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, the director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, wrote in an email.



For the full story, see:

SHAOJIE HUANG. "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Hornbill Bird." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Bird.")






June 15, 2016

Regulations and Bureaucratic Inefficiency May Kill Restaurant




(p. A22) To begin with, although the B&H Dairy Restaurant on Second Avenue in Manhattan now hangs by a thread, no one was hurt there on March 26 [, 2015], the day that three buildings on the same block were leveled by a gas explosion.


. . .


"On the third day after the explosion, people from the building department and Con Edison came together," Mr. Abdelwahed said. "They inspected the place, upstairs, downstairs, the pipes, the basement. They told me, 'You are O.K., you should be fine, no problem.' "

That changed, he said, in the charged days that followed, as it emerged that apparently illegal alterations to the gas lines had been made in one of the buildings down the street.

The original inspector returned, he said, and told him that another inspection was going to happen in a couple of days. "He said, 'You're not going to pass that inspection. Because of what happened next door, I don't want to be responsible for the future,' " Mr. Abdelwahed said.

All of the gas piping in the building has to be replaced, a job the landlord has taken on, though it is not clear what deficiencies it had. The Buildings Department file for 127 Second Avenue shows that there were no open violations on the premises in March, and none now.

After questions were put four times to the city on Thursday about the nature of the problems with B&H's operation, a spokesman for the mayor said the administration was trying to help small businesses affected by the explosion, including the restaurant.

In B&H, Mr. Abdelwahed said, the inspector noted that his stove had five burners, but the plans on file showed only four. "He required me to correct it on the plan," Mr. Abdelwahed said. "Originally it was four. I don't know how it came to be five. It's not an issue. Where was an inspector before all this? You're trying to show you're working?"


. . .


"He told me, 'You have to change the fire system,' " Mr. Abdelwahed said of the inspector. "Of course, I had a fire suppression system all the time, inspected. I told him, 'I am going to go out of business.' He said: 'I'm sorry, I can't help you.' They don't want to be responsible for anything."

Because the fire suppression system was going to jut into the backyard, Mr. Abdelwahed had to apply for permission from the city's Landmarks Commission as the block is part of a historic landmark district. Only after that approval was granted could his contractor apply for a building permit.

"What's killing them is the lag time," said Mr. Reynolds, who is organizing crowdfunding support for the restaurant. Bernadette Nation, an official with the city's Department of Small Business Services, has cut red tape in getting permits issued, and their story has been covered on New York 1 and by many blogs.



For the full story, see:

JIM DWYER. "About New York; Unharmed by a Gas Explosion, but Choked by the Red Tape That Followed." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): A22.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added. The quote from Mr. Reynolds in the last passage above, appears in the print version of the article, but not in the online version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2015.)






June 14, 2016

Suburbs Solved City Over-Crowding and Allowed Child Rearing




(p. C7) . . . , Adna Ferrin Weber, writing in 1899, had it right. "The 'rise of the suburbs' it is," he wrote, "which furnishes the solid basis of a hope that the evils of city life, so far as they result from overcrowding, may be in large part removed."


. . .

Joel Kotkin, in "The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us," presents the most cogent, evidence-based and clear-headed exposition of the pro-suburban argument. In Mr. Kotkin's view, there is a war against suburbia, an unjust war launched by intellectuals, environmentalists and central-city enthusiasts. In pithy, readable sections, each addressing a single issue, he debunks one attack on the suburbs after another. But he does more than that. He weaves an impressive array of original observations about cities into his arguments, enriching our understanding of what cities are about and what they can and must become, with sections reflecting on such topics as "housing inflation," "the rise of the home-based economy," "the organic expansion of cities" and "forces undermining the middle class in global cities."

The essence of Mr. Kotkin's defense of suburban expansion in the United States--with which he is most familiar and where the opposition to his views is better organized and much more formidable than elsewhere--is that suburbs now contain the great majority of residences as well as jobs. Suburban neighborhoods, he suggests, are as conducive to community living and as "green" as central-city ones. But his critique of conventional urban-planning wisdom goes further. He argues that central-city living is largely unaffordable by the middle class, let alone the poor; that central cities are becoming the abodes of the global rich, encouraging glamorous consumption rather than providing middle-class jobs; and that dense urban living in small, expensive quarters discourages child rearing, a critical concern for policy makers in many industrialized countries today.



For the full review, see:

SHLOMO ANGEL. "In Praise of Urban Sprawl; Dense urban living discourages child rearing. It is no surprise that there are 80,000 more dogs than children in San Francisco." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Kotkin, Joel. The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. Chicago: Agate B2 Books, 2016.






June 13, 2016

Cloud Profits Give "Amazon Cover to Plunge into New Projects"





Jeff Bezos is what I call a "project entrepreneur": he uses profits from earlier projects to fund new projects.



(p. B12) When it comes to investment, Amazon.com no longer has to stop to take a breath. And that is making it an even more formidable rival to bricks-and-mortar retailers.

The e-commerce giant has reported minimal profits in its 19-year history as a public company as it has pursued a pattern of near-endless investment. Amazon has plowed money into expanding its warehouse and delivery infrastructure and branching into new markets such as grocery, music, online video and, most recently, apparel.

In the past, Amazon has occasionally chosen to take a quarter here and there to press pause on that investment. That had the effect of reassuring the market that it could immediately be profitable if it ever chose to stop.


. . .


The protective shield of the cloud seems to be giving Amazon cover to plunge into new projects at an even more rapid clip than it has in the past.



For the full story, see:

MIRIAM GOTTFRIED. "Amazon Cloud Profit Sparks Retail Storm." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): B12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2016, and has the title "Amazon's Cloud Cover Makes It a Bigger Threat.")






June 12, 2016

Workers Gain Slightly Larger Percent of GDP




WorkerCompensationGraph2016-05-27.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) American workers are reaping fewer of the gains of a growing economy in the form of pay and benefits. Shareholders are reaping more in the form of corporate profits. That shift has been one of the most important economic stories of the last several decades, and it is the key to understanding stagnant wages for middle-class workers and a soaring stock market in the last quarter-century.

Here is what is less widely understood: That trend appears to be reversing itself.

It is early and the reversal may not last. And it certainly hasn't fully undone the shift underway since the 1980s. But the numbers are quite clear that in the last couple of years workers have claimed a bigger piece of the economic pie and shareholders a smaller one.

The evidence available so far in 2016 -- steady growth in wages and weak earnings for publicly traded companies -- suggests that the reversal is continuing this year.



For the full story, see:

Neil Irwin. "The Upshot; Workers Are Getting a Bit More of the Economic Pie." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 6, 2016): B1 & B9.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 3, 2016, and has the title "The Upshot; Workers Are Getting a Bit More of the Economic Pie (and Shareholders Less).")






June 11, 2016

"Students Are Hungry to Make an Impact"




(p. B2) "Today's students are hungry to make an impact, and we have to be responsive," said Gordon Jones, the dean of a new College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University in Idaho and the former director of Harvard's Innovation Lab.

Yet campus entrepreneurship fever is encountering skepticism among some academics, who say that start-up programs can lack rigor and a moral backbone.

Even a few entrepreneurship educators say that some colleges and universities are simply parroting an "innovate and disrupt" Silicon Valley mind-set and promoting narrow skill sets -- like how to interview potential customers or pitch to possible investors -- without encouraging students to tackle more complex problems.

"A lot of these universities want to get in the game and serve this up because it's hot," Mr. Jones said. "The ones that are doing it right are investing in resources that are of high caliber and equipping students to tackle problems of importance."


. . .


. . . the quick start-up workshops offered on some campuses can seem at odds with the traditional premise of liberal arts schools to educate deliberative, critical thinkers.

"Real innovation is rooted in knowledge and durable concern and interest, not just 'I thought of something that nobody ever thought of before,'" said Jonathan Jacobs, who writes frequently about liberal education and is the chairman of the philosophy department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York. "That's not educating people, frankly."

And at least a few professors of entrepreneurship say that some universities are not ensuring that students learn the fundamentals of starting, running and sustaining a business.



For the full story, see:

NATASHA SINGER. "Colleges Rush to Embolden Entrepreneurs." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 29, 2015): A1 & B2 (sic).

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 28, 2015, and has the title "Universities Race to Nurture Start-Up Founders of the Future.")






June 10, 2016

Imperial Passivity of the Holy Roman Empire Allowed Liberty and Diversity




(p. C7) On Aug. 6, 1806, an imperial herald decked out in full court regalia galloped purposefully through the streets of Vienna to a magnificent medieval church at the center of the city. Once there, he ascended to the balcony, blew his silver trumpet and declared that the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that had lasted for more than 1,000 years, was no more.


. . .


But because the empire never evolved into a viable nation-state, many scholars and politicians regarded it as a failure. The Germans in particular (including the great 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke) blamed the empire for the fact that Germany remained a "delayed nation" that was only unified (through Prussian machinations) in 1871.

Yet it was precisely this lack of political centralization, Mr. Wilson argues, that provided the empire with its greatest strength. Imperial passivity meant that individual rulers and states were largely left alone to govern as they wished. And all subjects had the right to appeal to the emperor if they believed their rights had been trammeled upon. Jews, for example, were given imperial protection as early as 1090; and though forced to live as second-class citizens during much of the empire's history, many viewed its dissolution as a catastrophe.

Political fragmentation also had cultural benefits. Unlike France and England, with their single capital and monarch, the Holy Roman Empire had numerous kings, courts and centers of patronage. The result was a remarkably wide distribution of educational and cultural institutions, one that is still observable in the former imperial lands. It was probably also no coincidence that both the printing press and Europe's first mail service were launched within the fragmented empire or that the imperial territories experienced higher levels of economic growth than regions of Europe with more centralized control.


. . .


Though far from perfect, the empire lasted for as long as it did because it strove to provide the two things most hoped for in a state: liberty and security.



For the full review, see:

MARK MOLESKY. "The Strength of a Weak State; In the Holy Roman Empire, individual rulers and states were largely left to govern as they wished." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Wilson, Peter H. Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016.






June 9, 2016

Feds Spend Over $500 Million to Aid Barges Shipping Coal




(p. B1) CHARLEROI, Pa.--A few years ago, coal barges lined up 20 or 30 deep, waiting their turn for a towboat to shuttle them through the locks near this town along the Monongahela River.

These days it is the towboats that often sit idle. Cheap natural gas, stricter power-plant-emissions rules and a weak steel market have gutted coal demand, and with it traffic on the rivers that have served as the industry's commercial arteries for over a century.

Nevertheless, river infrastructure is about to be flooded with federal cash. In December, Congress authorized $405 million to improve river locks and dams over the next fiscal year, the most since 2008.

The money follows a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort spearheaded by the Waterways Council Inc., which represents an array of companies including coal producer Murray Energy Corp., utility FirstEnergy Corp., agricultural-commodities trader Cargill Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp.


. . .


"It's kind of ironic--we're spending even more to update and modernize this system when the value and volume of the commodities is diminishing, and coal is something that we as a country are moving away from," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a conservative-leaning advocacy group that analyzes infrastructure spending.



For the full story, see:

ROBBIE WHELAN. "Barges Get a Boost, Even as Demand Sinks." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2016, and has the title "U.S. Opens Spigot for Lock-and-Dam Fixes, Even as Coal Traffic Dwindles.")






June 8, 2016

A Rooftop Farm Is "a Foolish Endeavor" Due to High Costs and Government Regulations




(p. B1) BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is "a foolish endeavor" because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms.



For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. "Farming Startups Have Tough Row to Hoe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 14, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2016, and has the title "Farming Gets High Tech in Bid to Offer Locally Grown Produce.")






June 7, 2016

Steady-State Stagnation Is Not an Option




Some environmentalists advocate an end to economic growth. Inside economics, and in the broader world, a heated debate has considered whether an economy can long stagnate in a steady-state. The idea that it can, is captured in the circular flow diagram that has been a fixture of many introductory economics textbooks for many decades. I argue that without the dynamism that is achieved by innovative entrepreneurs, long-term stagnation is not an option. Exogenous events, such as earthquakes, will always come along to disturb the steady-state. And when they do, only entrepreneurs can restore the steady-state. If there are no entrepreneurs, there will be decline. If there are entrepreneurs, they will not stop at the steady-state; they will seek progress. The choice is forward or backward. Long-term steady-state stagnation is not an option.



(p. 10) SANKHU, Nepal -- As the anniversary of Nepal's devastating earthquake came and went last week, Tilakmananda Bajracharya peered up at the mountainside temple his family has tended for 13 generations, wondering how long it would remain upright.


. . .


Many people here pin their hopes on promises of foreign aid: After the disaster, images of collapsed temples and stoic villagers in a sea of rubble were beamed around the world, and donors came forward with pledges of $4.1 billion in foreign grants and soft loans.

But those promises, so far, have not done much to speed the progress of Nepal's reconstruction effort. Outside Kathmandu, the capital, many towns and villages remain choked with rubble, as if the earthquake had happened yesterday. The government, hampered by red tape and political turmoil, has only begun to approve projects. Nearly all of the pledged funds remain in the hands of the donors, unused.

The delay is misery for the 770,000 households awaiting a promised subsidy to rebuild their homes. Because a yearly stretch of bad weather begins in June, large-scale rebuilding is unlikely to begin before early 2017, consigning families to a second monsoon season and a second winter in leaky shelters made of zinc sheeting.


. . .


. . . , some visitors who came here to assess the reconstruction expressed shock at how little had been done.


. . .


"It has been a horrible year," said Anju Shrestha, 36, whose shed stands on a site that once held a three-story brick house.

A neighbor, Kanchhi Shrestha, guessed her age at about 75, based on a major earthquake that occurred two years before she was born. She pulled her skirt up to show feet splotchy with raw sores.

"I will die in this shelter if they do not give me money," she said. "I have nothing to eat."

However, she added, it would be inappropriate for a person like her to demand assistance from Nepal's government.

"We cannot scold the government," she said. "If the government provides, we will fold our hands and tell them, 'You are God.' "



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "A Year Later, Nepal Is Trapped in the Shambles of a Devastating Quake." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., May 1, 2016): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2016, and has the title "A Year After Earthquake, Nepal's Recovery Is Just Beginning.")






June 6, 2016

Plastic Buttons Replaced Seashell Buttons, but Technology Can Be Restored





In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly has made the point that most obsolete technologies remain available to satisfy nostalgia, or for more practical uses, if the need arises. Below is another example.



(p. C27) In a tan outbuilding overlooking a pond in northeastern Connecticut, equipment for turning seashells into buttons has lain fallow for nearly eight decades. The building's owner, Mark Masinda, a retired university administrator, is working to transform the site into a tourist attraction.

In the early 1900s, his grandfather William Masinda, a Czech immigrant, supervised a dozen button makers in the building, which is on a rural road in Willington. They cut, drilled and polished bits of shells imported from Africa and Australia to make "ocean pearl buttons" with two or four holes. The area's half-dozen button factories supplemented the incomes of families struggling to farm on rocky terrain.

The Masinda operation closed in 1938, as plastic flooded the market. "The equipment he had just couldn't make the transition," Mr. Masinda said.


. . .


Mr. Masinda is planning to reactivate the equipment and open the site for tours by . . . spring [2016].



For the full story, see:

EVE M. KAHN. "Antiques; Restoring a Button Factory." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): C27.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 3, 2015, and has the title "Antiques; Yale Buys Collection of Scattered Medieval Pages; Restoring a Button Factory.")


The Kelly book mentioned above, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 5, 2016

Technology Can Restore Hand Control to Quadriplegic




(p. A1) Five years ago, a college freshman named Ian Burkhart dived into a wave at a beach off the Outer Banks in North Carolina and, in a freakish accident, broke his neck on the sandy floor, permanently losing the feeling in his hands and legs.

On Wednesday [April 13, 2016], doctors reported that Mr. Burkhart, 24, had regained control over his right hand and fingers, using technology that transmits his thoughts directly to his hand muscles and bypasses his spinal injury. The doctors' study, published by the journal Nature, is the first account of limb reanimation, as it is known, in a person with quadriplegia.

Doctors implanted a chip in Mr. Burkhart's brain two years ago. Seated in a lab with the implant connected through a computer to a sleeve on his arm, he was able to learn by repetition and arduous practice to focus his thoughts to make his hand pour from a bottle, and to pick up a straw and stir. He was even able to play a guitar video game.


. . .


"Watching him close his hand for the first time -- I mean, it was a surreal moment," Dr. Rezai said. "We all just looked at each other and thought, 'O.K., the work is just starting.'"

After a year of training, Mr. Burkhart was able to pick up a bottle and pour the contents into a jar, and to pick up a straw and stir. The doctors, though delighted, said that more advances would be necessary to make the bypass system practical, affordable and less invasive, most likely through wireless technology. But the improvement was significant enough, at least in the lab, that rehabilitation specialists could reclassify Mr. Burkhart's disability from a severe C5 function to a less severe C7 designation.

For now, the funding for the project, which includes money from Ohio State, Battelle and private donors, is set to run out this year -- and with it, Mr. Burkhart's experience of restored movement.

"That's going to be difficult, because I've enjoyed it so much," Mr. Burkhart said. "If I could take the thing home, it would give me so much more independence. Now, I've got to rely on someone else for so many things, like getting dressed, brushing my teeth -- all that. I just want other people to hear about this and know that there's hope. Something will come around that makes living with this injury better."



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Quadriplegic Gets Use of Hand from Chip Placed in His Brain." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 14, 2016): A1 & A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 13, 2016, and has the title "Chip, Implanted in Brain, Helps Paralyzed Man Regain Control of Hand.")


The scientific article in Nature reporting the advance, is:

Bouton, Chad E., Ammar Shaikhouni, Nicholas V. Annetta, Marcia A. Bockbrader, David A. Friedenberg, Dylan M. Nielson, Gaurav Sharma, Per B. Sederberg, Bradley C. Glenn, W. Jerry Mysiw, Austin G. Morgan, Milind Deogaonkar, and Ali R. Rezai. "Restoring Cortical Control of Functional Movement in a Human with Quadriplegia." Nature 533, no. 7602 (May 12, 2016): 247-50.






June 4, 2016

Abstract Art Belongs in "the Trash Heap of Art History"




(p. A20) . . . , Mr. Safer sometimes raised hackles, as when he questioned the basic premise of abstract art in a 1993 report, calling much of it "worthless junk" destined for "the trash heap of art history" and saying it was overvalued by the "hype" of critics, art dealers and auction houses. The art world recoiled, but Mr. Safer, who described himself as a "Sunday painter," stood his ground.


For the full obituary, see:


ROBERT D. McFADDEN. "Morley Safer, Chronicler of Vietnam and Mainstay of '60 Minutes,' Dies at 84." The New York Times (Fri., May 20, 2016): A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "Morley Safer, Mainstay of '60 Minutes,' Is Dead at 84.")






June 3, 2016

New Fuel Cell Efficiently Both Sequesters Carbon Dioxide and Produces Energy




(p. B1) For years, FuelCell Energy has been considered a company to watch. Its technology promised to help economically reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which could help combat climate change. The Danbury, Conn., company might be able to make a difference, experts said, if only it had a partner with really deep pockets.

Now it has one.

In an agreement announced on Thursday [May 5, 2016], Exxon Mobil said it had tightened an existing relationship with FuelCell in hopes of taking the technology from the lab to the market.


. . .


The company's fuel cells are already used to provide clean energy in about 50 locations around the world but without a connection to fossil-fuel power plants, as envisioned in the new agreement.

The fuel cells use a high-temperature molten carbonate salt mixture. Carbon dioxide flows into the fuel cell and emerges in a concentrated form that is ready for storage.

It is this idea of matching up power plants, which produce carbon dioxide, with fuel cells that are hungry for it that led to a collaboration between Exxon Mobil and FuelCell that started more than four years ago.

The result, at least so far in the laboratory, is that the fuel cells effectively isolate and compress the carbon dioxide while producing enough power to more than make up for the energy cost of capturing the carbon.



For the full story, see:

JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Exxon in Deal with Company to Advance Carbon Capture Technology." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 6, 2016): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 3, 2016, and has the title "Exxon Mobil Backs FuelCell Effort to Advance Carbon Capture Technology.")






June 2, 2016

Neurosurgical Establishment Waited Decade to Adopt Jannetta's Cure




(p. C6) Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, a neurosurgeon who as a medical resident half a century ago developed an innovative procedure to relieve an especially devastating type of facial pain, died on Monday [April 1?, 2016] in Pittsburgh.


. . .


"This was a condition that had been documented for a thousand years: There are references in the ancient literature to what was originally called 'tic douloureux,' " Mark L. Shelton, the author of "Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon," a 1989 book about Dr. Jannetta, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "People knew of this unexplained, very intense, episodic facial pain but didn't know the cause of it."


. . .


In the mid-1960s, Dr. Jannetta made a striking discovery while he was a neurosurgical resident at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dissecting a set of cranial nerves for a class presentation, he noticed something amiss: a tiny blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve.

"It came to him as something of a flash of insight," Mr. Shelton said. "He saw this blood vessel literally impinging on the nerve so that there was actually a groove in the nerve where the vessel pressed."

What if, Dr. Jannetta wondered, this were the source of the nerve damage? Though his insight is universally accepted today, it was novel to the point of subversion in the 1960s.

"The idea that a very small blood vessel, the diameter of a mechanical pencil lead, could cause such outsize pain didn't resonate with people at the time," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


If the vessel was a vein, it could simply be cauterized and excised. If it was an artery, however -- a more essential structure -- it would, Dr. Jannetta realized, have to be gently nudged out of the way.

He created a means of doing so that involved slipping a tiny pad of soft Teflon, about the size of a pencil eraser, between the artery and the nerve.

Dr. Jannetta performed the first microvascular decompression operation in 1966. The patient, a 41-year-old man, was relieved of his pain.

It took about a decade for the procedure to win acceptance from the neurosurgical establishment, owing partly to Dr. Jannetta's youth and partly to the novelty of his idea.

"He convinced many, many skeptics -- and there were a lot of skeptics in the early years -- because it seemed so counterintuitive as to what caused neurological disease," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


His many laurels include the medal of honor from the World Federation of Neurological Societies; the Olivecrona Award, presented by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and the Horatio Alger Award, which honors perseverance in the face of adversity or opposition.



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Neurosurgeon and Pioneer on Facial Pain, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2016): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 14, 2016, and has the title "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Pioneering Neurosurgeon on Facial Pain, Dies at 84.")


The book about Jannetta, mentioned above, is:

Shelton, Mark. Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.






June 1, 2016

Mao's Cultural Revolution Murdered a Million Chinese




(p. A5) A fur coat that kept a family's three children warm at night, seized and still in the home of their tormentors. A 5-year-old's finger, broken while fleeing from the scene of a terrifying beating. A stone memorial in a village to a "good" family that was largely wiped out.

These are some of the things readers recalled when asked how their families were affected by the Cultural Revolution, a decade of political upheaval unleashed by Mao Zedong half a century ago that left a million or more in China dead and many more traumatized. In dozens of responses, the message was clear: People remember. Families talk. The imprint of old fears remains. Those who suffered teach their grandchildren that it is safer to work hard and keep quiet. "The Cultural Revolution is over," wrote Huang Xin, a reader from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. "But the Cultural Revolution is never far away."

Here is a selection of the responses. Some have been condensed and edited for clarity, or translated from Chinese.


. . .


Jonathan Yang, 32, New York

As a first-generation Chinese American, I heard at great length about my mother's struggles to survive her "bad upbringing" (wealthy) and how her family was decimated when she was 8 years old. Growing up in work camps, her adolescence was robbed and although she was lucky enough to escape China under political asylum under Nixon's open-door policy, the trauma of the revolution lingers in her to this day.

Her stories captivated me. However, they did not seem real because we were never taught how horrendous China's history was in school. We were taught relentlessly about atrocities such as slavery and the Holocaust, but somehow China's dark past never seemed to be part of our education. To say this is a disservice is an understatement. Americans for the most part have no idea how heinous Mao's regime really was. The sheer numbers as compared to slavery and the Holocaust are at least tenfold. Yet there is no memorial, no education. It is almost as if this history does not matter.



For the full story, see:

"After Half a Century, the Imprint of China's Cultural Revolution Is Still Deep." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold and italics in original online version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "Readers Respond: The Cultural Revolution's Lasting Imprint." Where there are differences in the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






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