« June 2016 | Main | August 2016 »


July 31, 2016

Bourgeois Ideology Caused the Great Enrichment




(p. A13) What accounts for the wealth and prosperity of the developed nations of the world? How did we get so rich, and how might others join the fold?

Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economist and historian, has a clarion answer: ideas. It was ideas, she insists--about commerce, innovation and the virtues that support them--that account for the "Great Enrichment" that has transformed much of the world since 1800.


. . .


. . . , this monumental achievement was caused by a change in values, Ms. McCloskey says--the rise of what she calls, in a mocking nod to Marx, a "bourgeois ideology." It was far from an apology for greed, however. Anglo-Dutch in origin, the new ideology presented a deeply moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of work and innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity, and the liberty, dignity and equality of ordinary people. Preaching tolerance of difference and respect for the individual, it applauded those who sought to improve their lives (and the lives of others) through material betterment, scientific and technological inquiry, self-improvement, and honest work. Suspicious of hierarchy and stasis, proponents of bourgeois values attacked monopoly and privilege and extolled free trade and free lives while setting great store by prudence, enterprise, decency and hope.



For the full review, see:

DARRIN M. MCMAHON. "BOOKSHELF; The Morality of Prosperity; Grinding poverty was the norm for humanity until 1800. It changed with the rise of values like tolerance and respect for individual liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 13, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






July 30, 2016

King Henry I Might "Have Liked Being Buried Under a Car Park"




(p. A4) LONDON -- Looking for a dead medieval king? You might want to check under a parking lot.

That theory, at least, is on the minds of archaeologists and historians in Reading, about 40 miles west of London, who this week will begin searching for the high altar of the abbey founded by King Henry I. They believe that the altar -- and, they hope, the king's remains -- could be under the parking lot of a local prison, near the abbey ruins. The area around a nearby nursery school will also be searched.

Nearly four years ago, archaeologists discovered King Richard III's grave under a parking lot in Leicester, about 100 miles northwest of London, on the site of a former monastery.


. . .


John Mullaney, a historian who is part of the team undertaking the search, said that archaeologists knew "within a few yards" where Henry was probably buried. He said the team would use ground-penetrating radar to search the area around the prison, and around a nearby nursery school.


. . .


As to whether a former monarch would roll in his grave at the prospect of spending eternity under a parking lot, Mr. Mullaney was philosophical.

"I'm afraid that England is a nation of car drivers," he said. "We are a small country and most people travel by cars, so we need lots of car parks. Henry was a reforming king and would have been fascinated by the idea of cars and transport, and may well have liked being buried under a car park."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "The Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 14, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 13, 2016, and has the title "Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot.")






How Many Government Staff Members Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb in King Tut's Display Case?




(p. A7) The intense attention paid by experts to Tutankhamen's tomb has not always been matched by staff members at the run-down Egyptian Museum. In January the government said eight people at the state-run museum were being disciplined for their role in a botched repair job that caused minor but lasting damage to King Tut's golden burial mask.

The repair job was an attempt to correct the damage caused by workers who had accidentally knocked the beard from the 3,300-year-old artifact in August 2014 as they repaired a light fixture in its display case.



For the full story, see:

DECLAN WALSH. "King Tut's Blade, and 'Iron From the Sky'." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 3, 2016): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 2, 2016, and has the title "King Tut's Dagger Made of 'Iron From the Sky,' Researchers Say.")






July 29, 2016

"We Can Fight Back When Our Lives Depend on It"




(p. A23) San Jose, Calif. -- I'LL never forget the first piece of safety advice I got when I began my transition from the male body in which I was born to the female body I now occupy: Carry a whistle. If I was attacked, I was supposed to blow it in hopes it would alert some do-gooder to dash into a dark alley to break up a brutal hate crime.

The idea was not only preposterous, it was also insulting. The implication was that I, being transgender, wouldn't be able to save myself. But I didn't need a whistle; I had a gun.

Since the attack in Orlando, Fla., many L.G.B.T. groups have been calling loudly for laws restricting gun ownership. But if anyone should be concerned about protecting the individual right to bear arms, it's L.G.B.T. people. We need to stop preaching nonviolence and voting for politicians who don't protect us.

Violence toward L.G.B.T. people is real. We are victimized at far greater rates than other minority groups. We often face multiple assailants. The attacks are frenzied and quickly escalate from harassment, to fists, to something altogether different. People die.

If you find yourself in a violent encounter, you're lucky if you get three seconds to react. If you want to save yourself, you have to go on the offensive. And a whistle isn't going to cut it.


. . .


But every day, Americans use guns to defend themselves, and they don't even have to pull the trigger. The mere appearance of a firearm can save their life. Just last week, Tom G. Palmer, now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote in an op-ed article in The New York Daily News about an episode in his 20s when he flashed his pistol at a group of men who were threatening to kill him because he was gay -- and they retreated.

This is a call to L.G.B.T. people to take their own defense seriously, and to question the left-leaning institutions that tell them guns are bad, and should be left to the professionals. Become a professional. You're allowed. That's what the Second Amendment is for. We can fight back when our lives depend on it.



For the full commentary, see:


NICKI STALLARD. "The L.G.B.T. Case for Guns." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 22, 2016): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 28, 2016

Letter to a Crony Capitalist




(p. B4) . . . , an excellent read is "Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism," by Jeff Gramm, owner and manager of the Bandera Partners hedge fund and an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. This book explores the rise of activist investors like Carl C. Icahn and Daniel S. Loeb.

Mr. Gramm has collected a series of deliciously rich letters, many of which were never before published, sent to chief executives by investors by everyone from Warren Buffett to Ross Perot. They are eye-opening, often chilling and include fascinating lessons about business.

My personal favorite is this letter from Mr. Loeb to the chief executive of Star Gas Partners: "It seems that Star Gas can only serve as your personal 'honey pot' from which to extract salary for yourself and family members, fees for your cronies and to insulate you from the numerous lawsuits that you personally face due to your prior alleged fabrications, misstatements and broken promises. I have known you personally for many years and thus what I am about to say may seem harsh, but is said with some authority. It is time for you to step down from your role as C.E.O. and director so that you can do what you do best: retreat to your waterfront mansion in the Hamptons where you can play tennis and hobnob with your fellow socialites. The matter of repairing the mess you have created should be left to professional management and those that have an economic stake in the outcome."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Gramm, Jeff. Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism. New York: HarperBusiness, 2016.






July 27, 2016

World Health Organization Praises Coffee, Reversing 1991 Warning




(p. A9) An influential panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded on Wednesday [JUNE 15, 2016] that regularly drinking coffee could protect against at least two types of cancer, a decision that followed decades of research pointing to the beverage's many health benefits. The panel also said there was a lack of evidence that it might cause other types of cancer.

The announcement marked a rare reversal for the panel, which had previously described coffee as "possibly carcinogenic" in 1991 and linked it to bladder cancer. But since then a large body of research has portrayed coffee as a surprising elixir, finding lower rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and several cancers in those who drink it regularly.



For the full story, see:

ANAHAD O'CONNOR. "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes, in Reversal of a 1991 Study." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 16, 2016): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 15, 2016, and has the title "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes.")






July 26, 2016

Government Land Use Regulations Increase Income Inequality




(p. A1) . . . a growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy.

It has even to some extent changed how Americans of different incomes view opportunity. Unlike past decades, when people of different socioeconomic backgrounds tended to move to similar areas, today, less-skilled workers often go where jobs are scarcer but housing is cheap, instead of heading to places with the most promising job opportunities, according to research by Daniel Shoag, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and Peter Ganong, (p. B2 [sic]) also of Harvard.


. . .


"To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.

And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like "maintaining neighborhood character" or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.

The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.

"You don't want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don't," said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "When Cities Spurn Growth, Equality Suffers." The New York Times (Mon., July 4, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2016, and has the title "How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality.")


The paper mentioned above by Ganong and Shoag, is:

Ganong, Peter, and Daniel Shoag. "Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?" Working Paper, Jan. 2015.


The paper mentioned above by Hsieh and Moretti, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper # 21154, May 2015.






July 25, 2016

Tesla and Google Bet on Different Paths to Driverless Cars




(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In Silicon Valley, where companies big and small are at work on self-driving cars, there have been a variety of approaches, and even some false starts.

The most divergent paths may be the ones taken by Tesla, which is already selling cars that have some rudimentary self-driving functions, and Google, which is still very much in experimental mode.

Google's initial efforts in 2010 focused on cars that would drive themselves, but with a person behind the wheel to take over at the first sign of trouble and a second technician monitoring the navigational computer.

As a general concept, Google was trying to achieve the same goal as Tesla is claiming with the Autopilot feature it has promoted with the Model S, which has hands-free technology that has come under scrutiny after a fatal accident on a Florida highway.

But Google decided to play down the vigilant-human approach after an experiment in 2013, when the company let some of its employees sit behind the wheel of the self-driving cars on their daily commutes.

Engineers using onboard video cameras to remotely monitor the results were alarmed by what (p. B5) they observed -- a range of distracted-driving behavior that included falling asleep.

"We saw stuff that made us a little nervous," Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who directs the car project at Google, said at the time.

The experiment convinced the engineers that it might not be possible to have a human driver quickly snap back to "situational awareness," the reflexive response required for a person to handle a split-second crisis.

So Google engineers chose another route, taking the human driver completely out of the loop. They created a fleet of cars without brake pedals, accelerators or steering wheels, and designed to travel no faster than 25 miles an hour.

For good measure they added a heavy layer of foam to the front of their cars and a plastic windshield, should the car make a mistake. While not suitable for high-speed interstate road trips, such cars might one day be able to function as, say, robotic taxis in stop-and-go urban settings.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Tesla and Google Take Two Roads to Driverless Car." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "Tesla and Google Take Different Roads to Self-Driving Car.")






July 24, 2016

Most Eventually Successful Entrepreneurs Don't Quickly Quit Their Day Jobs




(p. B4) For people who prefer an introspective read that is both inspiring and has a dash of self-help, Adam Grant's "Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World" is truly original. Mr. Grant, the youngest-ever tenured full professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, dives into what it takes to be a shoot-the-moon, Steve-Jobs-like success. Many of his conclusions are counterintuitive and based on deep research.

The biggest surprise for me was that the most successful entrepreneurs didn't quit their day jobs to pursue their ideas; instead, they stayed at work until they had worked all the kinks out of their plans and gotten them off the ground. The other head-scratcher in this book? Procrastination is a great thing. (This was a terrific revelation.)

Mr. Grant's research shows that some of the most creative thoughts develop during periods of so-called procrastination.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






July 23, 2016

EU Regulations Frustrate Innovation




(p. A13) The EU is a supranational government run in a fundamentally undemocratic, indeed antidemocratic, way. It has four presidents, none of them elected. Power to initiate legislation rests entirely with an unelected commission. Its court can overrule our Parliament.


. . .


. . . today, Britain--the most outward-facing of the major European economies--will thrive if it leaves. . . .

This is because the EU's obsession with harmonization (of currency and rules) frustrates innovation. Using as an excuse the precautionary principle or the need to get 28 countries to agree, the EU gets in the way of the new. "Technological progress is often hindered or almost impossible in Europe," says Markus Beyrer, director general of BusinessEurope, a confederation of industry groups. Consequently, we've been left behind in digital technology: There are no digital giants in Europe to rival Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

The EU is also against free trade. It says it isn't, but its actions speak louder. The EU has an external tariff that deters African farmers from exporting their produce to us, helping to perpetuate poverty there, while raising prices in Europe. The EU confiscated Britain's right to sign trade agreements--though we were the nation that pioneered the idea of unilateral free trade in the 1840s. All the trade agreements that the EU has signed are smaller, as measured by the trading partners' GDP, than the agreements made by Chile, Singapore or Switzerland. Those the EU has signed usually exclude services, Britain's strongest sector, and are more about regulations to suit big companies than the dismantling of barriers.

Even worse than in Westminster or Washington, the corridors of Brussels are crawling with lobbyists for big companies, big banks and big environmental pressure groups seeking rules that work as barriers to entry for smaller firms and newer ideas. The Volkswagen emissions scandal came from a big company bullying the EU into rules that suited it and poisoned us. The anti-vaping rules in the latest Tobacco Products Directive, which will slow the decline of smoking, came from lobbying by big pharmaceutical companies trying to defend the market share of their nicotine patches and gums. The de facto ban on genetically modified organisms is at the behest of big green groups, many of which receive huge grants from Brussels.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "The Business Case for Brexit; Britain will thrive outside the EU, free from Brussels' regulation and empowered to cut its own trade deals." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 22, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 21, 2016.)






July 22, 2016

Iceland Project Turns 95% of Carbon Dioxide into Calcite Rock




(p. A6) For years, scientists and others concerned about climate change have been talking about the need for carbon capture and sequestration.


. . .


Among the concerns about sequestration is that carbon dioxide in gaseous or liquid form that is pumped underground might escape back to the atmosphere. So storage sites would have to be monitored, potentially for decades or centuries.

But scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and other institutions have come up with a different way to store CO2 that might eliminate that problem. Their approach involves dissolving the gas with water and pumping the resulting mixture -- soda water, essentially -- down into certain kinds of rocks, where the CO2 reacts with the rock to form a mineral called calcite. By turning the gas into stone, scientists can lock it away permanently.

One key to the approach is to find the right kind of rocks. Volcanic rocks called basalts are excellent for this process, because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron, which react with CO2.

Iceland is practically all basalt, so for several years the researchers and an Icelandic utility have been testing the technology on the island. The project, called CarbFix, uses carbon dioxide that bubbles up naturally with the hot magma that powers a geothermal electrical generating plant 15 miles east of the capital, Reykjavik.


. . .


Early signs were encouraging: . . .


. . .


The scientists found that about 95 percent of the carbon dioxide was converted into calcite. And even more important, they wrote, the conversion happened relatively quickly -- in less than two years.

"It's beyond all our expectations," said Edda Aradottir, who manages the project for the utility, Reykjavik Energy.


. . .


. . . the researchers say that there is enough porous basaltic rock around, including in the ocean floors and along the margins of continents.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Project in Iceland for Storing Carbon Shows Promise." The New York Times (Fri., June 10, 2016): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 9, 2016, and has the title "Iceland Carbon Dioxide Storage Project Locks Away Gas, and Fast.")


The research mentioned above was detailed in an academic paper in Science:

Matter, Juerg M., Martin Stute, Sandra Ó Snæbjörnsdottir, Eric H. Oelkers, Sigurdur R. Gislason, Edda S. Aradottir, Bergur Sigfusson, Ingvi Gunnarsson, Holmfridur Sigurdardottir, Einar Gunnlaugsson, Gudni Axelsson, Helgi A. Alfredsson, Domenik Wolff-Boenisch, Kiflom Mesfin, Diana Fernandez de la Reguera Taya, Jennifer Hall, Knud Dideriksen, and Wallace S. Broecker. "Rapid Carbon Mineralization for Permanent Disposal of Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Emissions." Science 352, no. 6291 (June 10, 2016): 1312-14.






July 21, 2016

Tech Support Causes Rage By Taking Away Sense of Control




(p. B4) Especially frustrating when talking to tech support is not being understood because you are trying to communicate with machines or people who have been trained to talk like machines, either for perceived quality control or because they don't speak English well enough to go off-script.

"It's utterly maddening because the thing about conversations is that when I say something to you, I believe I'm having influence on the conversation," said Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-host of the podcast "Two Guys on Your Head." "And when you say something back to me that makes no sense, now I see that all these words I spoke have had no effect whatsoever on what's happening here."

When things don't make sense and feel out of control, mental health experts say, humans instinctively feel threatened. Though you would like to think you can employ reason in this situation, you're really just a mass of neural impulses and primal reactions. Think fight or flight, but you can't do either because you are stuck on the phone, which provokes rage.

Of course, companies rated best for tech support often charge more for their products or they may charge a subscription fee for enhanced customer care so the cost of helping you is baked in, as with Apple's customer support service, AppleCare, and the Amazon Prime subscription service.

You can also find excellent tech support in competitive markets like domain name providers, where operators such as Hover and GoDaddy receive high marks. Also a good bet are hungry upstarts trying to break into markets traditionally dominated by large national companies. Take regional internet and phone service providers like Logix and WOW, which rank near the top in customer support surveys.



For the full story, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Why Help on Tech Is Unbearable." The New York Times (Mon., July 4, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2016, and has the title "Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable.")






July 20, 2016

The Lucky Success of the Half-Blind "Becomes the Inevitable Coup of the Assured Visionary"




(p. B1) The most fun business book I have read this year? "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley," by a former Facebook executive, Antonio García Martinez. I was sent a galley copy several months ago and picked it up with no intention of reading more than the first couple of pages. I don't think I looked up until about three hours later.

This is a tell-all of Mr. Martinez's experience in venture capital and later at Facebook, filled with insights about Silicon Valley -- what he calls "the tech whorehouse" -- mixed with score-settling anecdotes that will occasionally make you laugh out loud. Clearly there will be people who hate this book -- which is probably one of the things that makes it such a great read.

The dedication page includes this gem: "To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you." Mr. Martinez is particularly incisive when it comes to illustrating how failed ideas that happen to work are often spun into great successes: "What was an improbable bonanza at the hands of the flailing half-blind becomes the inevitable coup of the assured visionary," he writes. "The world crowns you a genius, and you start acting like one."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Martinez, Antonio Garcia. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. New York: Harper, 2016.






July 19, 2016

Good Niche Movies Can Be More Profitable than Blockbusters




(p. 5D) "Counterprogramming is the framework to get the most
bang for the buck for movies that aren't necessarily going to be blockbusters. "

Counterprogramming has become a crazy expensive game of chicken, Dergarabedian says.

Scheduling a rom-com next to a superhero franchise or a horror movie on Valentine's Day is a classic ploy, he says, but there's no formula that's guaranteed. "You still have to be able to deliver the movie," Dergarabedian says. "People are looking for different and good. You can't just rely on being the other option."


. . .


"A lot of these are David and Goliath matchups," Dergarabedian says. "But it's about who wins the profitability derby. That can ultimately be more important than where you rank on the chart."

To determine success, look at how well the audience is served rather than money, says Erik Davis, managing editor for Movies.com and Fandango.com. The greater the disparity in the genres, the better the position to succeed, he says.

Though Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 performed modestly against BvS, Davis considers that scheduling a a win. "They (both) have potential to mine their specific audience," he says.



For the full story, see:

Heady, Chris. "Studios Think Outside the Box (Office)." USA Today (Thurs., July 7, 2016): 5D.






July 18, 2016

"Students Love It When We Share What We're Passionate About"




(p. F5) NEW LONDON, Conn. -- Between forkfuls of pad Thai, chicken and tofu, 20 Connecticut College faculty members listened as Michael Reder talked about teaching.

"The research shows that students love it when we share what we're passionate about," said the animated Mr. Reder, whose enthusiasm for teaching is infectious. "Students often say they want to be a name and known to the faculty. But what's interesting is how much they also want to know about you. They want to hear about what you do and why you do it."



For the full story, see:

JOHN HANC. "Professors as Teachers." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 23, 2016): F5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2016, and has the title "Teaching Professors to Become Better Teachers.")






July 17, 2016

New Technology Reveals Huge Helium Supplies




(p. A8) Helium's role in superconductivity and other applications has grown so much that there have been occasional shortages. The gas forms in nature through radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, but exceedingly slowly; in practical terms, all the helium we will ever have already exists. And because it does not react with anything and is light, it can easily escape to the atmosphere.


. . .


But now scientists have figured out a way to explore specifically for helium. Using their techniques, they say, they have found a significant reserve of the gas in Tanzania that could help ease concerns about supplies.


. . .


Working with scientists from the University of Oxford and a small Norwegian start-up company called Helium One, the researchers prospected in a part of Tanzania where studies from the 1960s suggested helium might be seeping from the ground. The area is within the East African Rift, a region where one of Earth's tectonic plates is splitting. The rifting has created many volcanoes.

Dr. Gluyas said the gas discovered in Tanzania may be as much as 10 percent helium, a huge proportion compared with most other sources. The researchers say the reservoir might contain as much as 54 billion cubic feet of the gas, or more than twice the amount currently in the Federal Helium Reserve, near Amarillo, Tex., which supplies about 40 percent of the helium used in the United States and is being drawn down.

The next step would be for Helium One or one of the major helium suppliers around the world to exploit the find.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "A New Way to Search Out Elusive Helium." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 29, 2016): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 28, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Devise New Way to Find an Elusive Element: Helium.")






July 16, 2016

"Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments"




(p. A11) Adam Fifield's entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments--such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.


. . .


While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant's career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.


. . .


Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had--his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant's time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries--plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.






July 15, 2016

Majerus Did Not Need a Randomized Trial to Know that Aspirin Prevents Heart Attacks




(p. A21) Philip W. Majerus, a biochemist who was credited as being the first to theorize that taking small doses of aspirin regularly can prevent heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable patients, died last Wednesday [June 8, 2016] at his home in St. Louis. . . .


. . .


Even before his findings were confirmed in a study by other researchers a decade later, Dr. Majerus was taking aspirin daily.

"I was already convinced that aspirin prevented heart attacks," he recalled in the journal Advances in Biological Regulation in 2014. "I was unwilling to be randomized into a trial where I might end up with the placebo. I refused to participate."

Dr. Majerus recommended that "all adults should take an aspirin daily unless they are among the few percent of the population that cannot tolerate the drug." The cardiovascular benefit of aspirin was fully achieved by 50 to 75 milligrams daily, he said, and "there is no evidence that branded aspirin, which is much more expensive, is in any way superior to the generic version."

Later studies found that for people in their 50s who are vulnerable to heart disease, taking daily doses of aspirin reduces the risk of heart disease.


. . .


Investigating how aspirin inhibited clotting, Dr. Majerus concluded that the medicine modified an enzyme that leads to the formation of a platelet-made molecule that constricts blood vessels and aggregates platelets. The pills' effect lasts for the platelets' life span, typically about two weeks.

"Phil Majerus, more than any other individual, has produced the most original body of work on biochemistry of platelets as it relates to thrombosis," Prof. Joseph L. Goldstein, a Nobel laureate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said when the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award was announced.



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Dr. Philip Majerus, Who Recognized Heart Benefits of Aspirin, Is Dead at 79." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 15, 2016): A23.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JUNE 14, 2016, and has the title "Dr. Philip Majerus, Who Discerned Aspirin's Heart Benefits, Dies at 79.")






July 14, 2016

Universities Limit Free Speech




(p. F10) Ask Andrea M. Quenette if she thinks that colleges and universities are doing a good job refereeing the debate over free speech, and she'll respond with an emphatic 'no.'

"Schools are not doing enough to protect free speech," Ms. Quenette, a communications professor at the University of Kansas, said in an email. "Specifically, they are protecting the speech of some, those whom they fear or those voices which are loudest, but they are not protecting the speech of those whose voices are easier to silence. Generally, these quieter voices are those of faculty and staff who should rightfully fear for their jobs should they use unpopular, but legally protected, words."


. . .


According to a poll recently released by the Gallup Organization, 78 percent of 3,072 students from 32 four-year private and public colleges believed their campuses should strive to create an open environment where they would be exposed to a range of speech and views. Twenty-two percent noted that "colleges should prohibit biased or offensive speech in the furtherance of a positive learning environment." But 69 percent favored limitations on speech when it came to language that was deliberately upsetting to some groups.

An October 2015 survey of 800 students nationwide, sponsored by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, reported that 63 percent favored requiring professors to use "trigger warnings" to alert students to subject matter that might be unsettling. By a 51 percent to 36 percent margin, students also supported speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty.



For the full story, see:

ABBY ELLIN. "Studies in Free Speech." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 23, 2016): F10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2016, and has the title "Studies in the First Amendment, Playing Out on Campus.")






July 13, 2016

Computers and Humans as Complements Rather than Substitutes




(p. B1) "A lot of companies pushed hard on the idea that technology will solve every problem, and that we shouldn't use humans," said Paul English, the co-founder of a new online company called Lola Travel. (p. B10) "We think humans add value, so we're trying to design technology to facilitate the human-to-human connection."


. . .


"I tried to create the best travel website on the market," he said. "But as good as we thought our tech was, there were many times where I thought I did a better job for people on the phone than our site could do."

You've most likely experienced the headaches Mr. English is talking about. Think back to the last time you booked anything beyond a routine trip online. There's a good chance you spent a lot more time and energy than you would have with a human. Sure, the Internet has obligingly stepped in to help; there are review sites, travel blogs, discussion forums and the hordes on social media to answer every possible travel question. But these resources only exacerbate the problem. They often turn what should be a fun activity into an hourslong research project.


. . .


In many cases, yes, but there remain vast realms of commerce in which guidance from a human expert works much better than a machine. Other than travel, consider the process of finding a handyman or plumber. The Internet has given us a wealth of data about these services. You could spend all day on Craigslist, Yelp or Angie's List finding the best person for your job, which is precisely the problem.

"It's going to be a long time until a computer can replace the estimating power of an experienced handyman," said Doug Ludlow, the founder of the Happy Home Company, a one-year-old start-up that uses human experts to find the right person for your job. The company, which operates in the San Francisco Bay Area but plans to expand nationally, has contracts with a network of trusted service professionals in your area. To get some work done, you simply text your Happy Home manager with a description of the problem and maybe a few pictures.

"A quick glance from our handyman gives us an idea of who to send to your job, and what it will cost," Mr. Ludlow said. The company handles payment processing, scheduling and any complaints if something goes wrong.

I recently used Happy Home to get a few home theater cables concealed in a wall. The experience was liberating -- I found a handyman and a drywall specialist to do my job with little more than few texts, and no time spent scouring through web reviews.

It isn't feasible to get humans involved in all of our purchases. Humans are costly and they're limited in capacity. The great advantage of computers is that they "scale" -- software can serve evermore customers for ever-lower prices.

But one of the ironies of the digital revolution is that it has also helped human expertise scale. Thanks to texting, human customer service agents can now serve multiple customers at a time. They can also access reams of data about your preferences, allowing them to quickly find answers for your questions.

As a result, for certain purchases, the cost of adding human expertise can be a trivial part of the overall transaction. Happy Home takes a cut of each service it sets up, but because it can squeeze out certain efficiencies from operating a network of service professionals, its prices match what you'd find looking for a handyman on your own. That's true of human travel agencies, too -- the commissions on travel are so good that Lola can afford to throw in human expertise almost as a kind of bonus.

The rise of computers is often portrayed as a great threat to all of our jobs. But these services sketch out a more optimistic scenario: That humans and machines will work together, and we, as customers, will be allowed, once more, to lazily beg for help.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "State of the Art; The Machines Rose, but Now Start-Ups Add Human Touch." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 17, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 16, 2015, and has the title "State of the Art; In a Self-Serve World, Start-Ups Find Value in Human Helpers.")






July 12, 2016

Edgar Speyer Was Entrepreneur Who Created Innovative London Tube Infrastructure




(p. A13) Before World War I, Edgar Speyer headed the London branch of the German-based Speyer banking conglomerate. Among other things, he was a great lover of music. His mansion on Grosvenor Square was a cynosure for composers-- Debussy, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg--all of whom availed themselves of the luxuries of the house, playing or conducting their work in private performances. "We live even more elegantly than kings and emperors," Grieg wrote, referring to the mansion's suite of rooms for visitors.

Not all of Edgar Speyer's interests were so ethereal. The British Speyer branch was a key source of railroad finance, and Edgar himself was best known for creating--in partnership with Charles Yerkes, a Chicago entrepreneur--the London tube system, with its innovative "deep-tube" design. Edgar persisted in expanding the system despite its precarious finances and for many years functioned as its chief executive.


. . .


The Speyer bank, Mr. Liebmann tells us, had roots going back to the 14th century, at the threshold of a long surge in international commerce. New forms of paper--bills of exchange, letters of credit and much else--allowed traders to leverage up their businesses quite remarkably. Over time, houses like those of Baring, Rothschild and Speyer shifted out of their traditional-goods trading for the higher volumes and higher fees available from trading just the paper claims. The Speyers were known as the leading investment and trading house in Frankfurt, Germany, usually ranked just behind the Rothschilds in the Jewish financial imperium.



For the full review, see:


CHARLES R. MORRIS. "BOOKSHELF; Second Only to the Rothschilds; Speyer banks funded the London underground, placed the first Union Civil War bonds in Europe and built the Madeira-Mamore railroad." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 26, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 25, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Liebmann, George W. The Fall of the House of Speyer: The Story of a Banking Dynasty. London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2015.






July 11, 2016

Ozone Hole Shrinking




(p. A4) Nearly three decades after the world banned chemicals that were destroying the atmosphere's protective ozone layer, scientists said Thursday that there were signs the atmosphere was on the mend.

The researchers said they had found "fingerprints" indicating that the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica, a cause of concern since it was discovered in 1984, was getting smaller.


. . .


"This is just the beginning of what is a long process," said Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lead author of the study, published in the journal Science.


. . .


Ozone depletion is a complex process that is affected by variables like temperature, wind and volcanic activity. So Dr. Solomon and the other researchers looked at data from satellites and balloon-borne instruments taken each September. That made it easier to separate the effects of the decline in chlorine atoms from the other factors. They also compared the data with the results of computer models.

The study found that the ozone hole had shrunk by about 1.5 million square miles, or about one-third the area of the United States, from 2000 to 2015.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Ozone Hole Shows Signs of Shrinking, Study Shows." The New York Times (Fri., July 1, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 30, 2016, and has the title "Ozone Hole Shows Signs of Shrinking, Scientists Say.")


The academic paper in Science, mentioned above, is:

Solomon, Susan, Diane J. Ivy, Doug Kinnison, Michael J. Mills, Ryan R. Neely, and Anja Schmidt. "Emergence of Healing in the Antarctic Ozone Layer." Science (June 30, 2016) 10.1126/science.aae0061.






July 10, 2016

Tribe Uses Autonomy to Fight American Dental Association (A.D.A.) Credentialism




(p. A10) Mr. Kennedy, 56, a soft-spoken Tlingit Native Alaskan, is a dental therapist, the rough equivalent of a physician assistant. He is trained to perform the most common procedures that dentists do, from fillings to extractions. Since January, when he started at the Swinomish Dental Clinic, over 50 miles north of Seattle, he has been the only dental therapist on tribal land anywhere in the lower 48 states. He studied in Alaska, which has the nation's only program -- patterned after one in New Zealand -- aimed at training therapists specifically to work in underserved tribal areas.

Laws here in Washington and most other states bar dental therapists, who have long been opposed by the American Dental Association, so the tribe created its own licensing system. The federal Indian Health Service, which pays for medical care on Indian lands, cannot compensate therapists unless authorized by the state, so the Swinomish (pronounced SWIN-o-mish) needed private foundation support and meticulous accounting so that no law was violated.

"We had to take matters into our own hands," said Brian Cladoosby, the chairman of the Swinomish Senate and president of the National Congress of American Indians. The breaking point came in 2015, after Washington's Legislature -- pressured by the dental lobby, Mr. Cladoosby said -- declined for the fifth year in a row to pass a bill allowing a therapist program. Asserting tribal sovereignty, the tribe forged ahead anyway.

"The American Dental Association is no friend to American Indian tribes," Mr. Cladoosby said in an interview.


. . .


(p. A11) Dr. Rachael R. Hogan, a dentist who works at the Swinomish Clinic, supervises Mr. Kennedy's work. At first she did not think the arrangement would work. The A.D.A.'s safety concerns made sense, she said.

"I was leery," she said. But after watching Mr. Kennedy for the past four months and visiting the training school in Alaska, she has changed her mind. By practicing procedures over and over -- more than most dental school graduates, who must also study a broad range of diagnostic and disease issues -- therapists can hone procedures, she said, to an art.

"Their fillings are better," she said. "Are we providing substandard care by providing a therapist? Actually, I would say it's the opposite."



For the full story, see:

KIRK JOHNSON. "Asserting Tribal Sovereignty to Improve Indian's Dental Care." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 23, 2016): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 22, 2016, and has the title "Where Dentists Are Scarce, American Indians Forge a Path to Better Care.")






July 9, 2016

German Car Makers in No Rush to Catch Up to Tesla




(p. A7) When Elon Musk rolled out the new Tesla Model X at the end of September [2015], some grumbled that the Silicon Valley car maker's all-electric luxury crossover was coming to market two years too late. It depends on who you ask. The Big Three German auto makers only wish they could catch the tail of Mr. Musk's rocket.

I'm not talking about units sold, though Tesla's target of 50,000 cars in 2015 is a respectable chunk of the global luxury-sedan market. But Tesla has taken more hide off German prestige and sense of technical primacy. I mean, the Model X was just rubbing their noses in it with those "falcon" doors, right? In executive interviews at the Frankfurt Auto Show any praise of Tesla was guaranteed to land on the table like a paternity suit.


. . .


I wonder if any traditional auto maker whose existence does not hang in the balance can ever have enough belly for the EV long game?

Even if the Germans had market-bound EVs in mass quantities, there is the concurrent problem of charging. As the estimable John Voelcker of Green Car Reports notes, the luxury incumbents have no plans to challenge Tesla on charging availability. Tesla has hundreds of charging stations in the U.S. and Europe and plans for hundreds more--all free to owners.


. . .


I am struck by the lag time. This isn't about profit and loss but industry leadership. The Germans are headed where Tesla already is and, taking Frankfurt as the measure, they are in no great hurry to get there.



For the full commentary, see:

Dan Neil. "RUMBLE SEAT; How Tesla Leaves its Rivals Playing Catch Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 10, 2015): D11.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 8, 2015.)






July 8, 2016

Franklin Was Appalled by the Boston Tea Party, But Was More Appalled by British Arrogance




(p. A13) When George III assumed the throne in 1760, Franklin was full of praise for his "virtue" and "steadiness." Many American associates considered him somewhat sycophantic.

Mr. Goodwin's assessment is gentler. "Franklin was a proud Briton, but he was not starry-eyed." By 1770 he was frustrated by Britain's "treatment of her American colonies as one giant farm and forest of raw materials." His relations with Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, became venomous. Lord North, the prime minister, icily ignored him. Franklin began to produce anonymous satires rebuking British attitudes toward America.

The nadir came in December 1773, when word reached London of the Boston Tea Party. Incensed, the king's Privy Council summoned Franklin to Westminster. He was already in bad odor for having leaked impolitic correspondence from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The Privy Council chamber was, on this occasion, packed with counselors and curious members of the public. Other than Edmund Burke, they were hostile. Franklin stood grimly motionless as the solicitor general pounded the table and subjected him to "an hour-long verbal assault." The council roared approval as he accused Franklin of acting for "the most malignant purposes." The American had "forfeited all the respect of societies and of men."

The humiliation of Benjamin Franklin gratified the grandees of George III's government, but the episode epitomized their arrogant maladministration. Franklin was hardly an anti-British zealot. He favored reconciliation and might have been an effective mediator had he been respected and trusted. Franklin was so appalled by the Boston Tea Party that he offered to personally repay the East India Co. That this rather Anglophilic colonial served as the Privy Council's whipping boy demonstrates how obdurate the government had become.

Franklin's revenge was served hot. He left England in March of 1775 under threat of arrest. Twenty months later he arrived in France, where his diplomacy would deliver a mortal blow to Britain's American empire.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Loyal to Britain; Franklin's years in France resulted in military aid and recognition of American independence. His time in London? Slightly less successful." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






July 7, 2016

Richest Rich Use Crony Capitalism to Game Tax System




(p. A1) Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.


. . .


(p. A12) "There's this notion that the wealthy use their money to buy politicians; more accurately, it's that they can buy policy, and specifically, tax policy," said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who served as chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. "That's why these egregious loopholes exist, and why it's so hard to close them."

The Family Office

Each of the top 400 earners took home, on average, about $336 million in 2012, the latest year for which data is available. If the bulk of that money had been paid out as salary or wages, as it is for the typical American, the tax obligations of those wealthy taxpayers could have more than doubled.

Instead, much of their income came from convoluted partnerships and high-end investment funds. Other earnings accrued in opaque family trusts and foreign shell corporations, beyond the reach of the tax authorities.

The well-paid technicians who devise these arrangements toil away at white-shoe law firms and elite investment banks, as well as a variety of obscure boutiques. But at the fulcrum of the strategizing over how to minimize taxes are so-called family offices, the customized wealth management departments of Americans with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in assets.


. . .


The major industry group representing private equity funds spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year lobbying on such issues as "carried interest," the granddaddy of Wall Street tax loopholes, which makes it possible for fund managers to pay the capital gains rate rather than the higher standard tax rate on a substantial share of their income for running the fund.



For the full story, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER and PATRICIA COHEN. "By Molding Tax System, Wealthiest Save Billions." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: bold, and larger font, in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 29, 2015, and has the title "For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions.")






July 6, 2016

Standard Oil Money Funded Homage to Oz




(p. A1) Vandals are slowly destroying the Land of Oz, a small private theme park nestled atop Beech Mountain, N.C., built on land bought years ago with money from a Standard Oil fortune. Thieves and urban explorers have carted off polka-dot mushrooms, a pair of cement lions and, most hurtfully, pieces of the golden-hued path that runs through the park.

"It's magical," says Vicky Conley of Morganton, N.C., who took her son to Oz last year when he was six. "People should leave it alone."


. . .


(p. A8) In 1966, Mr. Leidy's grandfather Page Hufty--an insurance pioneer and real-estate developer in Palm Beach, Fla.--bought land on Beech Mountain. His wife, Frances Archbold Hufty, was the granddaughter of John D. Archbold, a titan of the Gilded Age and John D. Rockefeller's right-hand man at Standard Oil, which was dissolved by the government in 1911.

Mr. Hufty leased some of the land to other developers, who wanted a summer theme park to complement their ski resort.

The Land of Oz opened in 1970, amid much fanfare about the 70th anniversary of L. Frank Baum's classic book. Debbie Reynolds stopped by. So did Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie. At least 300,000 people visited the first year, says Neva Specht, a historian and a dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at Appalachian State University.

By the second year, she says, it was one of the biggest attractions in the Southeast, and it graced the cover of "Southern Living" magazine.


. . .


But the park quickly became more of a white elephant than a Merry Old Land. Attendance dropped, as families were lured away by splashier attractions like Disney World, which opened the following year in Orlando, Fla. The developers went bankrupt, and Mr. Leidy's grandparents eventually gained ownership.


. . .


Mr. Leidy installed fences topped with barbed wire, but thieves cut through. Security cameras didn't seem to deter anyone either. Mr. Leidy is now hiring guards.


. . .


Mr. Leidy says he doesn't know what lies in store over the rainbow, but thinks his grandparents would be proud.

"Until we figure out a long-term plan here," he says, "it's important to me to protect it."



For the full story, see:

CHRISTINA REXRODE. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can't Save Oz." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 18, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2016, and has the title "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can't Save Oz From Vandals.")






July 5, 2016

Details of a Case of Gene Transfer Between Species




(p. A7) . . . in recent years, scientists have pinpointed many instances of horizontal gene transfer--genes being ferried from one species into an entirely unrelated species that happens to live in the same environment.

For example, a gene from a species of bacteria has been discovered in the genome of the coffee berry borer beetle, where it enables the beetle to feed exclusively on coffee beans. It is through horizontal gene transfer that bacteria typically develop antibiotic resistance.

A few months ago, a team of U.K. researchers concluded that the "jumping gene" method enabled humans to acquire more than 145 foreign genes from bacteria, viruses and fungi over the course of our evolution.

The big mystery is: How does this happen? In the latest study, researchers suggest a possible route whereby the genes of parasitic wasps jump into the genomes of butterflies and moths.



For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK. "Scientists Find How Genes Jump Species." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 18, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Learn How Genes Can Jump Between Species.")


The academic paper reporting the possible details of a process of horizontal gene transfer, is:

Gasmi, Laila, Helene Boulain, Jeremy Gauthier, Aurelie Hua-Van, Karine Musset, Agata K. Jakubowska, Jean-Marc Aury, Anne-Nathalie Volkoff, Elisabeth Huguet, Salvador Herrero, and Jean-Michel Drezen. "Recurrent Domestication by Lepidoptera of Genes from Their Parasites Mediated by Bracoviruses." PLoS Genetics 11, no. 9 (Sept. 17, 2015): e1005470.






July 4, 2016

Rudderless Russians Admire Stalin, Jobs, Gates and Gandhi




(p. A13) What makes Chelyabinsk compelling is its people. They are largely decent and undeniably intelligent, protective of what they have achieved, wary of the unknown, and, above all, clever and flexible at adapting to changing times. In a word, they are . . . wily men (and women) . . .


. . .


Perhaps most telling is Alexander, who lives in a village five hours from the city. He admires Mr. Putin and the system the president has built, even as he complains that corruption is rife, governance is poor, and the local economy is held back by an overbearing and rapacious state. Alexander's criticisms mirror those of the citizens in the book who consider themselves dissidents and activists, though Alexander would never consider himself either one. "He is proud of Putin," Ms. Garrels writes, "and between him and those who dread their country's current course, there is an unbridgeable divide."

This sort of internal contradiction isn't unique to Alexander. Many of the Russians Ms. Garrels meets hold views that seem impossible to reconcile. She cites polls that show that two-thirds of ethnic Russians call themselves Orthodox believers, but many of those very same people say that they do not believe in God. At one point, the author visits a prestigious state secondary school where the students offer a curious mix of heroes: Joseph Stalin, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Gandhi. The search for a post-Soviet ideology has, in Chelyabinsk and across Russia, led to a strange mishmash, at once faithful and mystical, distrustful and fatalistic.



For the full review, see:

JOSHUA YAFFA. "BOOKSHELF; Russia's Wily Men and Women; Russians hold views that seem impossible to reconcile. Students at a reputable school offer a curious mix of heroes: Stalin and Steve Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 18, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 17, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Garrels, Anne. Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.






July 3, 2016

Wild Turkeys, Reintroduced by Government, Now Threaten Government Mail Delivery




(p. A25) HILLSDALE, N.J. -- In some neighborhoods of this placid New Jersey borough in Bergen County, they are seemingly everywhere -- waddling by the dozen in the road, perched on car roofs, pecking at the tires of delivery trucks.

But wild turkeys, which were wiped out in the state by the mid-1800s, put on their most brazen display on Tuesday [Feb., 16, 2016], when a letter carrier felt trapped in his truck and telephoned his boss for help.

"Hey sarge," the postmaster said in a 911 call to the Hillsdale Police Department. "You're not going to believe this, but I got a carrier that's being attacked by wild turkeys and won't let him deliver the mail."

The letter carrier, who was not identified, was inside his truck on Esplanade Drive, surrounded by four or five turkeys, when two officers arrived, according to Capt. Sean Smith of the Police Department. "The first officer attempted to blow the siren and that didn't work," he said on Thursday. "Then the other officer got out of his car and ran aggressively toward the turkeys and that did the trick."


. . .


While New Jersey environmental officials say they are unaware of anyone's being physically harmed by a turkey, the large birds are intimidating. The state's Department of Environmental Protection, which reintroduced turkeys to the state in the 1970s, says that there are now about 25,000 statewide. "It's a success story," said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the environmental agency.


. . .


. . . some local officials and residents say face-to-face turkey encounters are increasing and can be scary. The postmaster who placed the 911 call in Hillsdale told the police that the turkey situation was "crazy." "I mean, they're actually attacking, biting," he said. "They chase the trucks -- everything." The police sergeant simply said, "Wow."



For the full story, see:

LISA W. FODERARO. "Brazen as They Are Wild, Turkeys Greet Neighbors." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 19, 2016): A25.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 18, 2016, and has the title "Turkeys, Running Amok, Are a 'Success Story' in New Jersey.")






July 2, 2016

President Kenyatta Burns Ivory, Raising Its Price, and Increasing the Incentive for Poachers to Kill Elephants




If President Kenyatta wants to save elephants, instead of burning ivory, he should sell it on the open market, moving the supply curve to the right, and lowering the price of ivory. A lower price of ivory would reduce the incentive for poachers to kill elephants.







(p. 10) NAIROBI, Kenya -- What do you do when you have more than $100 million worth of ivory sitting around, just collecting dust?

You burn it, of course.

That is what Kenya did on Saturday, when President Uhuru Kenyatta lit a huge pyre of elephant tusks as a way to show the world that Kenya is serious about ending the illegal ivory trade, which is threatening to push wild elephants to extinction.

"No one, and I repeat, no one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death -- the death of our elephants and the death of our natural heritage," Mr. Kenyatta said.



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.")






July 1, 2016

"Robots Take Away Subhuman Jobs"




(p. A21) Joseph F. Engelberger, a visionary engineer and entrepreneur who was at the forefront of the robotics revolution, building robots for use on assembly lines and fostering another, named Seymour, to handle chores in hospitals, died on Tuesday [December 1, 2015] in Newtown, Conn. . . .


. . .


Mr. Engelberger was a force in robotics from its early days, in the 1960s, when his company, Unimation, in Danbury, Conn., developed the Unimate, a robotic arm that would greatly accelerate industrial production lines.


. . .


Labor unions and some corporate managers resisted robotics at first, worrying, as Mr. Engelberger later put it, "that the robots can take all the jobs away."

He disagreed with that notion.

"It's unjustified," he told The New York Times in 1997. "The robots take away subhuman jobs which we assign to people."

Unimate proved to be more precise than the human hand in completing some repetitive and dangerous tasks. Automobile makers employed the arm to weld and move vehicle parts, apply adhesives to windshields and spray-paint car bodies -- jobs that had posed chemical hazards to workers.



For the full obituary, see:

JEREMY PEARCE. "Joseph F. Engelberger, a Leader of the Robot Revolution, Dies at 90." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): A33.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 2, 2015, and has the title "Joseph F. Engelberger, a Leader of the Robot Revolution, Dies at 90.")






HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Archives















The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats