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September 30, 2016

"Cognitive Flexibility" and "Openness to Experience" Promote Creativity




(p. C3) In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the "wrong" order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group--the ones engaged in a schema violation--consistently demonstrated more "cognitive flexibility," a prerequisite for creative thinking.


. . .


Exceptionally creative people such as Curie and Freud possess many traits, of course, but their "openness to experience" is the most important, says the cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. That seems to hold for entire societies as well.

Consider a country like Japan, which has historically been among the world's most closed societies. Examining the long stretch of time from 580 to 1939, Dean Simonton of the University of California, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared Japan's "extra cultural influx" (from immigration, travel abroad, etc.) in different eras with its output in such fields as medicine, philosophy, painting and literature. Dr. Simonton found a consistent correlation: the greater Japan's openness, the greater its achievements.

It isn't necessarily new ideas from the outside that directly drive innovation, Dr. Simonton argues. It's simply their presence as a goad. Some people start to see the arbitrary nature of many of their own cultural habits and open their minds to new possibilities. Once you recognize that there is another way of doing X or thinking about Y, all sorts of new channels open to you, he says. "The awareness of cultural variety helps set the mind free," he concludes.

History bears this out. In ancient Athens, foreigners known as metics (today we'd call them resident aliens) contributed mightily to the city-state's brilliance. Renaissance Florence recruited the best and brightest from the crumbling Byzantine Empire. Even when the "extra cultural influx" arrives uninvited, as it did in India during the British Raj, creativity sometimes results. The intermingling of cultures sparked the "Bengal Renaissance" of the late 19th century.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC WEINER. "The Secret of Immigrant Genius; Having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 16, 2016): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 15, 2016.)


The above commentary by Weiner is related to his book, which is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.


The paper mentioned above as co-authored by Ritter, is:

Ritter, Simone M., Rodica Ioana Damian, Dean Keith Simonton, Rick B. van Baaren, Madelijn Strick, Jeroen Derks, and Ap Dijksterhuis. "Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 961-64.


The paper mentioned above by Simonton on Japanese openness, is:

Simonton, Dean Keith. "Foreign Influence and National Achievement: The Impact of Open Milieus on Japanese Civilization." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 72, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 86-94.







September 29, 2016

Chinese Industry Using Robots to Automate Routine Tasks




(p. B1) China's appetite for European-made industrial robots is rapidly growing, as rising wages, a shrinking workforce and cultural changes drive more Chinese businesses to automation. The types of robots favored by Chinese manufacturers are also changing, as automation spreads from heavy industries such as auto manufacturing to those that require more precise, flexible robots capable of handling and assembling smaller products, including consumer electronics and apparel.

At stake is whether China can retain its dominance in manufacturing.


. . .


(p. B2) China, in 2013, became the world's largest market for industrial robots, surpassing all of Western Europe, according to the International Federation of Robotics. In 2015, Chinese manufacturers bought roughly 67,000 robots, about a quarter of global sales, and demand is projected to more than double to 150,000 robots annually by 2018.



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Intuit Sheds PC Roots to Rise as Cloud Service." The New York Times (Mon., APRIL 11, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 10, 2016, and has the title "Intuit Sheds Its PC Roots and Rises as a Cloud Software Company.")






September 28, 2016

Dogs Know More than We Knew




(p. A14) Dr. Andics, who studies language and behavior in dogs and humans, along with Adam Miklosi and several other colleagues, reported in a paper to be published in this week's issue of the journal Science that different parts of dogs' brains respond to the meaning of a word, and to how the word is said, much as human brains do.


. . .


A trainer spoke words in Hungarian -- common words of praise used by dog owners like "good boy," "super" and "well done." The trainer also tried neutral words like "however" and "nevertheless." Both the praise words and neutral words were offered in positive and neutral tones.

The positive words spoken in a positive tone prompted strong activity in the brain's reward centers. All the other conditions resulted in significantly less action, and all at the same level.


. . .


In terms of evolution of language, the results suggest that the capacity to process meaning and emotion in different parts of the brain and tie them together is not uniquely human. This ability had already evolved in non-primates long before humans began to talk.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "For Dogs, It's What You Say and Also How You Say It." The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 30, 2016): A14.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 29, 2016, and has the title "With Dogs, It's What You Say -- and How You Say It.")


The scientific article on canine cognition, mentioned above, is:

Andics, A., A. Gábor, M. Gácsi, T. Faragó, D. Szabó, and Á Miklósi. "Neural Mechanisms for Lexical Processing in Dogs." Science 353, no. 6303 (Sept. 2, 2016): 1030-32.






September 27, 2016

Startup Entry and Scaling Are Easier and Faster Due to Internet




(p. B1) The world might be a mess, but look on the bright side: Men's shaving products are much better than they used to be.


. . .


The same forces that drove Dollar Shave's rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge -- a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative (p. B7) products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.

These kinds of online brands aren't new. Dollar Shave is five years old, and Warby Parker, the online eyewear company, began selling glasses over the web in 2010. But over the last few years there's been a proliferation of such companies -- into underwear, children's clothing, cosmetics and more -- and the Dollar Shave deal suggests their growing importance. These firms could become an emerging problem for consumer products conglomerates like Procter & Gamble, and they might also spell trouble for television, which relies heavily on brand advertising for its revenue.


. . .


"We think it's a unique moment in history where you can create brands that can be scaled quickly thanks to technology, but you can still maintain a one-to-one connection that delivers an elevated level of customer experience," said Philip Krim, chief executive of Casper, which sells mattresses online.

Mr. Krim and four friends started Casper two years ago after studying the traditional mattress industry. They discovered it was plagued by inefficiencies and annoying gimmicks. Customers had to trudge to a mattress store and awkwardly prostrate themselves on numerous surfaces before choosing one to use for a decade. There were too many choices and brands, and mattresses were expensive.

With Casper, you simply buy the mattress online and it's shipped to you in a comically small box (the compressed foam expands into a full-sized mattress, like a magic trick). You have three months to try it out, and if you don't like it, the company will come pick it up free.

Casper's business model offers a break from the annoyance of offline mattress shopping. It also works out for the company. Casper advertises on social networks, on Google, podcasts and a variety of other places online; the ads are creative, convincing, targeted and cheap. By selling directly rather than through retail middlemen, the company also creates a connection with customers that allows it to test and develop new products -- it now sells sheets and pillows, too.

After two years in business, Casper is on track to book $200 million in sales over the next year, but its success isn't ensured. Precisely because the internet has lowered barriers to entry, Casper is facing a surge of new mattress start-ups like Helix Sleep, Tuft & Needle and Leesa, among others.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 28, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 27, 2016, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; How Companies Like Dollar Shave Club Are Reshaping the Retail.")






September 26, 2016

Patent Holder of Piggly Wiggly Self-Service Method Sued Hoggly Woggly for Infringement




(p. A11) A typical U.S. supermarket carries 42,000 items: Grab a cart, stroll the aisles and help yourself to an extravagant assortment of goods. Today it's hard to imagine buying groceries any other way. But self-service was a game-changer when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., 100 years ago this month.

Before then a shopper would hand his grocery list to a clerk, who would fetch the merchandise while the customer lingered up front. That might sound appealing in this era of big-box stores with no help in sight, but at busy times the wait could stretch uncomfortably long.

Saunders, a school dropout who worked as a flour and grain salesman, had observed firsthand the inefficiencies of the rural grocers he supplied. Many of these stores, he became convinced, failed for two reasons: credit losses from customers' charge accounts (which were then customary), and labor costs from clerks and delivery boys.


. . .


Eager to protect his invention, Saunders applied for multiple patents. His first, for a "Self Serving Store," was granted in 1917. It wasn't long, though, before imitators like Handy Andy and Helpy Selfy made their debut. Saunders successfully sued an especially brash copycat, Hoggly Woggly, for infringement.


. . .


Saunders didn't integrate circuits or sequence the human genome. An observer once noted that coming up with a self-service grocery was "as simple as looking out the window or scratching your ear." Still, it was Saunders who gambled on the unconventional approach, doggedly spread self-service across the nation and shaped the grocery industry we know today.



For the full commentary, see:

JERRY CIANCIOLO. "The Man Who Invented the Grocery Store." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 8, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2016.)


The only book I could find about Clarence Saunders, is:

Freeman, Mike. Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly: The Rise & Fall of a Memphis Maverick. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.






September 25, 2016

Did Feds Try to Sully Sully's Reputation?




(p. B3) Even before this weekend's release of the Hollywood movie "Sully," about the pilot who safely landed a disabled US Airways airliner on the Hudson River on a frigid January day in 2009, a rebuttal campaign is already underway by some of the participants in the real-life story.

The federal investigators who conducted the inquiry into the flight contend that "Sully" tarnishes their reputation.


. . .


Allyn Stewart, a producer of the film, said it was not a case of taking creative license to ratchet up the drama. "The story is told through the experiences of Jeff and Sully, and so they felt under extreme scrutiny and they were," Ms. Stewart said.

Jeff is the co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, played in the film by Aaron Eckhart.

Captain Sullenberger, who retired from US Airways in 2010, said in an email that the tension in the film accurately reflected his state of mind at the time. "For those who are the focus of the investigation, the intensity of it is immense," he said, adding that the process was "inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance."



For the full story, see:

CHRISTINE NEGRONI. "Safety Agency Challenges True' Story told in the Film 'Sully'." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 10, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 9, 2016, and has the title "'Sully' Is Latest Historical Film to Prompt Off-Screen Drama.")


Sully's book, on which the movie is loosely based, is:

Sullenberger, Chesley B., III, and Jeffrey Zaslow. Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.






September 24, 2016

Executive Job-Hopping Increases




(p. B8) Corey Heller often finds himself ordering fresh business cards. The human resources executive has switched employers nine times since 1996--and spent less than three years at six of those workplaces.

In any other era, the 51-year-old Mr. Heller would be viewed as an unstable job hopper. But today, that stigma is starting to fade amid greater pressure for rapid results and decreased workplace loyalty, according to executive recruiters and coaches. The change suggests that companies increasingly believe high-level hires with multiple recent employers bring fresh insights and a mix of experience.


. . .


Brief stints will spread "because of the explosion of online recruiting and opportunistic offers to candidates with strong profiles,'' predicts Stefanie Smith, a New York executive coach.



For the full story, see:

JOANN S. LUBLIN. "Job-Hopping Is Losing Its Stigma." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 27, 2016): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2016, and has the title "Job-Hopping Executives No Longer Pay Penalty.")






September 23, 2016

When Consumers Want More Trucks and SUVs, Feds Mandate More Hybrids and Electrics




(p. B1) DETROIT -- While American consumers were taking advantage of low gas prices to buy trucks and sport utility vehicles in large numbers, some automakers delayed investing in slower-selling electrified vehicles.

But with increases in federal fuel-economy standards looming in 2017, car companies are hustling to bring out hybrid and electric models to help them meet the new rules -- even though electrified vehicles make up only 2 percent of overall sales.

The federal government has mandated corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But companies need to meet an interim standard of about 37 m.p.g. by next year.

Now, despite declining gas prices, automakers are showing off a raft of electric and hybrid models this week at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit.



For the full story, see:

BILL VLASIC. "Going Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 12, 2016): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 11, 2016, and has the title "Automakers Go Electric, Even if Gas Is Cheap.")






September 22, 2016

Sutter Headed BHAG Team that Created Boeing 747






Collins and Porras in Built to Last recommend the pursuit of Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A prime example is the Boeing 747.



(p. B9) Joe Sutter, whose team of 4,500 engineers took just 29 months to design and build the first jumbo Boeing 747 jetliner, creating a gleaming late-20th-century airborne answer to the luxury ocean liner, died on Tuesday [August 30, 2016] in Bremerton, Wash.


. . .


In less time than Magellan spent circumnavigating the globe, Boeing engineers transformed Mr. Sutter's napkin doodles into the humpbacked, wide-bodied behemoth passenger and cargo plane known as the 747. The plane would transform commercial aviation and shrink the world for millions of passengers by traveling faster and farther than other, conventional jetliners, without having to refuel.


. . .


"If ever a program seemed set up for failure, it was mine," Mr. Sutter said in his 2006 autobiography, "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation," written with Jay Spenser.


. . .


Adam Bruckner of the University of Washington's department of aeronautics and astronautics later described the 747 as "one of the great engineering wonders of the world, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower or the Panama Canal."


. . .


"Aviators were more than mere mortals to us," Mr. Sutter recalled in his autobiography. "They were a different breed, intrepid demigods in silk scarves, puttees and leather flying helmets with goggles."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Joe Sutter, 95, Is Dead; Guided the Development of Boeing's 747 Jetliner." The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): B9.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title "Joe Sutter, Who Led an Army in Building Boeing's Jumbo 747, Dies at 95.")


Sutter's autobiography, is:

Sutter, Joe, and Jay Spencer. 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.






September 21, 2016

Maduro Counts on Marxist Professor to Be Miraculous "Jesus Christ of Economics"




(p. B1) CARACAS, Venezuela--President Nicolás Maduro, hoping for an economic miracle to salvage his country, has placed his trust in an obscure Marxist professor from Spain who holds so much sway the president calls him "the Jesus Christ of economics."

Alfredo Serrano--a 40-year-old economist whose long hair and beard have also elicited the president's comparison to Jesus--has become the central economic adviser to Mr. Maduro, according to a number of officials in the ruling United Socialist Party and other government consultants.


. . .


Most international and domestic economists blame Venezuela's food shortages, which have triggered riots, on price controls and expropriations. Mr. Serrano, though, attributes an "inefficient distribution system in the hands of speculative capitalism," which he says allows companies to hoard products. He also says foreign and local reactionary forces are waging an economic war against Venezuela.

The adviser has championed urban agriculture in a country where about 40% of fertile land is left fallow by price controls and seed shortages. Mr. Maduro created the Ministry of Urban Agriculture, headed by a 33-year-old member researcher at Mr. Serrano's think tank, Lorena Freitez. A senior adviser at the think tank, Ricardo Menéndez, heads the planning ministry.

"Serrano is a typical European leftist who came to Latin America to experiment with things no one wants at home: state domination, price controls and fixed exchange rates," said José Guerra, a Venezuelan opposition lawmaker and former chief economist at the central bank.



For the full story, see:

ANATOLY KURMANAEV and MAYELA ARMAS. "Maduro Turns to Spanish Marxist for a Miracle." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 9, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 8, 2016, and has the title "Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro Looks to a Marxist Spaniard for an Economic Miracle.")






September 20, 2016

Airline Startups Stall in Bureaucratic Regulatory Headwinds




(p. B4) Mr. Vallas owns California Pacific Airlines, known as CP Air, his latest venture in a peripatetic business career that has included stints in areas as varied as land development and other aviation-related ventures.

CP Air has sat on a metaphorical runway for years -- engines idling, ready for takeoff -- while awaiting certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mr. Vallas's patience is wearing thin. After all, he is 95, and he regards the airline as a legacy, an exclamation point to a colorful life.


. . .


. . . then there was that matter with the F.A.A. The agency has repeatedly denied applications. A letter from 2013, one of several from the agency, advised him that the application's contents were "incomplete, inaccurate and do not appear to have been reviewed for quality."


. . .


The government shutdown in 2013 and the F.A.A.'s staff reduction did not help matters, the agency acknowledges.


. . .


The process of greenlighting a new airline has become more complicated since Mr. Vallas sold a previous venture, a charter service called Air Resorts, in 1997.

He acknowledges the vast increase in paperwork since that era but contends that the conditions for acceptance have been met.

Mr. Vallas's airline is not the only one that has encountered bureaucratic headwinds. Other proposed airlines are in limbo for various reasons, including Baltia Airlines, created in 1989 to fly between New York City and Russia, which still lacks the authorities' blessing.



For the full story, see:

MIKE TIERNEY. "ITINERARIES; A Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "ITINERARIES; Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway, Stymied by Bureaucracy.")






September 19, 2016

Innovations Make It Easier to Form and Run Smaller Firms




(p. B3) Unilever is paying $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club, a five-year-old start-up that sells razors and other personal products for men. Every other company should be afraid, very afraid.

The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees.


. . .


Now it is possible to leverage technology and transportation systems that never existed before. Dollar Shave Club used Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing service started by the online retailing giant in 2006 that encouraged a proliferation of e-commerce companies. Manufacturing now is just as much a line item as is a distribution apparatus. This is the business strategy of many other disruptive companies, including the home-sharing site Airbnb, which upends the idea of needing a hotel. The ride-hailing start-up Uber could never have been possible without a number of inventions including the internet, the smartphone and, most important, location tracking technology, enabling anyone to be a driver.



For the full commentary, see:

STEVEN DAVIDOFF SOLOMON. "Deal Professor; In Comfort of a Close Shave, a Distressing Disruption." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 27, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 26, 2016, and has the title "Deal Professor; $1 Billion for Dollar Shave Club: Why Every Company Should Worry.")






September 18, 2016

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease




(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body's functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn't so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one's social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.

Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don't know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.


. . .


Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to "chronic arousal" (or stress).


. . .


Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.

These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress -- from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control -- was driving much of the difference in survival.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "When Blood Pressure Is Political." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)


The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar's book:

Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 17, 2016

Cutting Taxes Helps Economy More than Increasing Government Spending






I believe the "policy missteps" diagnosis is mainly the right one, but quote some comments on the "secular stagnation" diagnosis because I want to document that for easy access for my book project.



(p. 3) Economists, like physicians, sometimes confront a patient with an obvious problem but no obvious diagnosis. That is precisely the situation we face right now.


. . .


Secular stagnation Lawrence H. Summers, former economic adviser to President Obama, has suggested that the problem predates the recent financial crisis. He points to the long-term decline in inflation-adjusted interest rates as evidence of reduced demand for capital to fund investment projects. He cites several reasons for the change, including lower population growth, lower prices for capital goods and the nature of recent innovations, like the replacement of brick-and-mortar stores with retail websites. The result, he says, is secular stagnation -- a persistent inability of the economy to generate sufficient demand to maintain full employment.

His solution? More government spending on infrastructure, like roads, bridges and airports. If the government takes advantage of lower interest rates to make the right investments in public capital -- admittedly a big if -- the policy would promote employment in the short run as projects are being built and make the economy more productive when they are put into use.


. . .


Policy missteps When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the economy was in the midst of the Great Recession. President Obama's advisers relied on standard Keynesian theory when they proposed a large increase in government spending to energize the economy. The stimulus package was the administration's first economic policy initiative. As the economy recovered, the administration supported tax increases to shrink the budget deficit.

But even at the time, there were reasons to doubt this approach. A 2002 study of United States fiscal policy by the economists Olivier Blanchard and Roberto Perotti found that "both increases in taxes and increases in government spending have a strong negative effect on private investment spending." They noted that this finding is "difficult to reconcile with Keynesian theory."

Consistent with this, a more recent study of international data by the economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna found that "fiscal stimuli based on tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based on spending increases."



For the full commentary, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW. "Economic View; One Economic Sickness, Five Diagnoses." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., JUNE 19, 2016): 5.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 17, 2016.)


A Larry Summers paper on his version of secular stagnation, is:

Summers, Lawrence H. "U.S. Economic Prospects: Secular Stagnation, Hysteresis, and the Zero Lower Bound." Business Economics 49, no. 2 (April 2014): 65-73.


The Blanchard and Perotti paper mentioned above, is:

Blanchard, Olivier, and Roberto Perotti. "An Empirical Characterization of the Dynamic Effects of Changes in Government Spending and Taxes on Output." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 117, no. 4 (Nov. 2002): 1329-68.


The Alesina and Ardagna paper mentioned above, is:

Alesina, Alberto, and Silvia Ardagna. "Large Changes in Fiscal Policy: Taxes Versus Spending." In Tax Policy and the Economy. Volume 24, edited by Jeffrey R. Brown. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press; Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2010, pp. 35-68.






September 16, 2016

Greenland Shark Likely to Have Lived to at Least 272 Years Old




(p. A11) The mysterious Greenland shark lives at extreme depths in dark, icy waters, which have long protected it from scientists' prying eyes.

But now, an international group of researchers has estimated the dark brown cartilaginous fish may live as long as 500 years--which would make it the longest-living vertebrate on the planet.

The work, published Thursday [Aug. 11, 2016] in the journal Science, "offers the first hard evidence of how long-lived this poorly understood shark species can be," said Steve Campana, a shark expert at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, who wasn't involved in the study.


. . .


. . . the 11-person team of researchers turned to math models and radiocarbon dating, a technique typically used to date fossils. They focused their work on the eye lens nucleus of each shark, a structure that stops developing at birth and therefore serves as a rough proxy of birth date. They measured the levels of carbon-14 in the tissue, which animals stop accumulating when they die.

The oldest shark in the study, which measured more than 16 feet, lived an estimated 392 years, according to the scientists. Because the study had a margin of error of 120 years for that fish, the researchers concluded the sharks could live up to about 500 years.



For the full story, see:

DANIELA HERNANDEZ. "Enigmatic Shark Can Live for Centuries, Study Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 12, 2016): A12.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2016, and has the title "Mysterious Greenland Shark May Live Hundreds of Years, Scientists Say." The online version included several additional sentences, interspersed through the article, that were not included in the print version. The sentences quoted above, appeared in both versions, but the formatting of the quotes above, most closely follow the print version.)


The research article reporting findings discussed above, is:

Nielsen, Julius, Rasmus B. Hedeholm, Jan Heinemeier, Peter G. Bushnell, Jørgen S. Christiansen, Jesper Olsen, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Richard W. Brill, Malene Simon, Kirstine F. Steffensen, and John F. Steffensen. "Eye Lens Radiocarbon Reveals Centuries of Longevity in the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus)." Science 353, no. 6300 (Aug. 12, 2016): 702-04.






September 15, 2016

Andreessen Venture Funds Succeed Modestly





In an Andrew Ross Sorkin column, Sean Parker urged successful entrepreneurs to become serial entrepreneurs, rather than to semi-retire as venture capitalists. In that column, Marc Andreessen was quoted as sympathizing with Parker's view.



(p. A1) Andreessen Horowitz's first three venture funds have nearly doubled their investment capital or better since inception, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that provide a rare look at the performance of one of Silicon Valley's top venture-capital firms.

But an analysis of its returns, compared with funds from top rivals and industry averages, shows that Andreessen Horowitz hasn't yet earned its reputation as an elite firm.

The firm, co-founded by web pioneer Marc Andreessen in 2009, is routinely mentioned among the pantheon of great startup investors with the likes of Sequoia Capital, a status that has allowed it to command higher fees than some of its peers.

Sequoia has separated itself from the pack thanks to its consistently high returns. Its 2003 and 2006 venture funds have both risen eightfold net of fees, according to a person familiar with the matter.


. . .


(p. A2) Venture-capital firms raise money from universities, pension funds and other institutions to wager on startups. They typically raise a new fund every few years, operating a handful at the same time with each expected to wind down after 10 years.

Though they fall short of their top-notch rivals, all three Andreessen Horowitz funds--whose bets include Instagram, Airbnb and Pinterest Inc.--have outperformed the average of venture funds raised in the same years, according to benchmark data from investment adviser Cambridge Associates. The earliest fund, raised in 2009, ranks in the top 5% of venture funds from that year; the second fund, raised in 2010, ranks in the top 50%; and the third from 2012 ranks in the top 25%.



For the full story, see:

Winkler, Rolfe. "Andreessen's Venture Firm Trails Rivals." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and had the title "Andreessen Horowitz's Returns Trail Venture-Capital Elite.")


The views of Sean Parker and Marc Andreessen on venture capital, that I mention at the top, are summarized in:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "Dealbook; Taking a Risk, and Hoping That Lightning Strikes Twice." The New York Times (Tues., July 24, 2012): B1 & B4.






September 14, 2016

Traveling Health Volunteers Often Do Harm




(p. D3) Tens of thousands of religious and secular institutions now send hundreds of thousands of health volunteers from the United States out into the world, generating close to an estimated $1 billion worth of unpaid labor. Volunteers include experienced medical professionals and individuals who can provide only elbow grease; between these extremes of competence are the hordes of students in the health professions, among whom global volunteering has become immensely popular.


. . .


Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.

Problems may lie with the structure of a program rather than the personnel. Volunteer projects may be choppy and discontinuous, one set of volunteers not knowing what the previous group was up to, and not able to leave suggestions for the next group. Medications may run out. Surgery may be performed with insufficient provisions for postoperative care.

Even well-organized programs may undermine hosting communities in unanticipated ways: For instance, a good volunteer-based clinic may sap confidence in local medical care and, providing free services, threaten to put local physicians out of business.


. . .


A few studies on the long-term effects of short-term good works are ongoing. In the meantime, "there is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised," Dr. Lasker finds.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "The Folly of the Well-Meaning Traveling Volunteer." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "Books; Book Review: 'Hoping to Help' Questions Value of Volunteers.")


The book under review, is:

Lasker, Judith N. Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.






September 13, 2016

Feds Use Taxpayer Money to Buy $20 Million of Cheese




(p. C1) U.S. agricultural officials agreed to purchase $20 million of cheese products from struggling dairy farmers who pleaded for a bailout earlier this month.

Around 11 million pounds of food will be donated to families throughout the country through government nutrition-assistance programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.


. . .


The national Milk Producers Federation, a group of roughly 30,000 farmers, on Aug. 12 asked the agency to purchase a much as $150 million of cheese, as a glut of dairy products and other food commodities has sent prices for many farmers to the lowest levels in years.



For the full story, see:

Gee, Kelsy. "U.S. Says Cheese--to Aid Farmers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 25, 2016): C1.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: after much searching on 9/10/16, I could not find an online version of the story on the WSJ site.)






September 12, 2016

Colorful Coral Reef Is Thriving in Hot Water




(p. D1) In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead.

On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.

Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?

This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples -- unmistakable signs of life.

"Everything looked just magnificent," said Jan Witting, the expedition's chief scientist and a researcher at Sea Education Association, based in Woods Hole, Mass.

. . .


(p. D6) If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

No one actually knows what drives reef resilience or even what a coral reef looks like as it is rebounding. In remote, hard-to-get-to places, our understanding of coral is roughly akin to a doctor's knowing only what a patient looks like in perfect health and after death, Dr. Rotjan said.



For the full story, see:

KAREN WEINTRAUB. "In Splash of Colors, Signs of Hope for Coral Reefs." The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 16, 2016): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 15, 2016, and has the title "Giant Coral Reef in Protected Area Shows New Signs of Life." The print version gave incorrect affiliation for Jan Witting. The version above is the online version.)






September 11, 2016

FDA Blocking Stem-Cell Therapies from Those With No Other Hope




(p. D2) Research is exploding into ways stem cells might be harnessed to cure diseases, mend damaged tissue, even grow replacement organs.


. . .


Jeffrey Weiss, a retinal surgeon in Margate, Fla., has treated about 570 patients with retinal and optic nerve diseases with stem cells taken from patients' bone marrow as part of a study, and says that about 60% have had meaningful improvement. Patients pay $19,000 to $21,000 to receive the injections.

Shawn Rockafellow, a 31-year old truck dispatcher in Chandler, Ariz., started rapidly losing his vision in 2014 to a genetic disease and says he was told to accept that he was going blind. His mother read about Dr. Weiss's work. Mr. Rockafellow raised the $20,000 fee on GoFundMe, a personal charity website, and had the treatment in both eyes in January.

After three months, the vision in his right eye went from roughly 20/1,000 to 20/400. After six months, it was 20/300. His left eye hasn't improved as much, so he wants to try the treatment again. His regular ophthalmologist, Scott Markham, says "the fact that he's not worsening is fantastic."


. . .


Mark Berman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., cosmetic surgeon who co-founded a network of stem-cell clinics, says "fundamentally, all we are doing is a simple, surgical procedure. This is not witch-doctor stuff. We are repairing cell damage with people's own stem cells." He says the member clinics in 25 states have treated about 5,000 patients to date, with no significant adverse events.

SammyJo Wilkinson, a former dot-com executive, developed multiple sclerosis in 1995 and was confined to a wheelchair by 2011. She says her symptoms started to improve almost immediately after receiving a high-dose stem cell treatment at a Houston clinic in 2012. When the FDA blocked access to that form of therapy, Ms. Wilkinson went to Cancún, Mexico, for follow-ups. After a total of five treatments for $90,000, she says she has far less pain, can exercise and walk short distances with the help of a walker.

At the FDA hearing, Ms. Wilkinson, who founded a patient group called Patients for Stem Cells, plans to appeal for a faster approval process for stem-cell therapies and a registry to monitor patient outcomes. "Patients will never get these treatments if they have to go the traditional double-blind placebo-controlled trial route. That takes 10 years and $1 billion," she says. "There's got to be a middle ground, where you don't shut off treatment, you just keep track of it."



For the full story, see:

Beck, Melinda. "Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 30, 2016): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 29, 2016, and has the title "Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny." There are minor differences in wording between the online and print versions. The sentences quoted above, follow the online version.)






September 10, 2016

"Practice Makes Perfect, but It Doesn't Make New"




(p. 12) Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted -- as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.


. . .


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet "only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators," laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. "Those who do must make a painful transition" to an adult who "ultimately remakes a domain."

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "How to Raise a Creative Child." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 31, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

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






September 9, 2016

College Admissions Process Encourages Superficial Service




(p. 3) This summer, as last, Dylan Hernandez, 17, noticed a theme on the social media accounts of fellow students at his private Catholic high school in Flint, Mich.

"An awfully large percentage of my friends -- skewing towards the affluent -- are taking 'mission trips' to Central America and Africa," he wrote to me in a recent email. He knows this from pictures they post on Snapchat and Instagram, typically showing one of them "with some poor brown child aged 2 to 6 on their knee," he explained. The captions tend to say something along the lines of, "This cutie made it so hard to leave."

But leave they do, after as little as a week of helping to repair some village's crumbling school or library, to return to their comfortable homes and quite possibly write a college-application essay about how transformed they are.


. . .


Hernandez reached out to me because he was familiar with writing I had done about the college admissions process. What he described is something that has long bothered me and other critics of that process: the persistent vogue among secondary-school students for so-called service that's sometimes about little more than a faraway adventure and a few lines or paragraphs on their applications to selective colleges.

It turns developing-world hardship into a prose-ready opportunity for growth, empathy into an extracurricular activity.

And it reflects a broader gaming of the admissions process that concerns me just as much, because of its potential to create strange habits and values in the students who go through it, telling them that success is a matter of superficial packaging and checking off the right boxes at the right time. That's true only in some cases, and hardly the recipe for a life well lived.


. . .


Richard Weissbourd, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer who has studied the admissions process in the interest of reforming it, recalled speaking with wealthy parents who had bought an orphanage in Botswana so their children could have a project to write and talk about. He later became aware of other parents who had bought an AIDS clinic in a similarly poor country for the same reason.

"It becomes contagious," he said.

A more recent phenomenon is teenagers trying to demonstrate their leadership skills in addition to their compassion by starting their own fledgling nonprofit groups rather than contributing to ones that already exist -- and that might be more practiced and efficient at what they do.


. . .


In many cases they are compelled. Tara Dowling, the director of college counseling at the Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, R.I., said that many secondary schools (including, as it happens, Dylan Hernandez's) now require a minimum number of hours of service from students, whose schedules -- jammed with sports, arts, SAT prep and more -- leave little time for it.

Getting it done in one big Central American swoop becomes irresistible, and if that dilutes the intended meaning of the activity, who's to blame: the students or the adults who set it up this way?



For the full commentary, see:

Bruni, Frank. "To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 14, 2016): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 13, 2016.)






September 8, 2016

Precautionary Principle Slows Cloning Innovation




(p. A8) Dolly the Sheep started her life in a test tube in 1996 and died just six years later. When she was only a year old, there was evidence that she might have been physically older. At five, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. And at six, a CT scan revealed tumors growing in her lungs, likely the result of an incurable infectious disease. Rather than let Dolly suffer, the vets put her to rest.

Poor Dolly never stood a chance. Or did she?

Meet Daisy, Diana, Debbie and Denise. "They're old ladies. They're very healthy for their age," said Kevin Sinclair, a developmental biologist who, with his colleagues at the University of Nottingham in Britain, has answered a longstanding question about whether cloned animals like Dolly age prematurely.

In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, the scientists tested these four sheep, created from the same cell line as Dolly, and nine other cloned sheep, finding that, contrary to popular belief, cloned animals appear to age normally.


. . .


Not only did many countries, including Canada and Australia, ban reproductive cloning in animals, but the United Nations banned all kinds of cloning in humans in 2005. Last year the European Union made importing food from cloned animals or their offspring illegal.


. . .


Now, based on results of this new study, researchers have confirmed what most scientists believed years ago: Cloning does not lead to premature aging.


. . .


Many scientists hope that changes in perception will lead to advances in reproductive technology that will enable us to provide food for a growing global population, save endangered species and develop advanced therapies.



For the full story, see:

JOANNA KLEIN. "Dolly's Fellow Clones, Enjoying the Golden Years." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 27, 2016): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 26, 2016, and has the title "Dolly the Sheep's Fellow Clones, Enjoying Their Golden Years.")






September 7, 2016

When Minimum Wage Rises, So Does Crime




(p. A13) By significantly reducing the available stock of job opportunities at the bottom end of the career ladder, a higher minimum wage increases the likelihood that unemployed teens will seek income elsewhere. A 2013 study by economists at Boston College analyzed increases in state and federal minimum-wage levels between 1997 and 2010. It found that low-skill workers affected by minimum-wage hikes were more likely to lose their jobs, become idle and commit crime. The authors warn that their results "point to the dangers both to the individual and to society from policies that restrict the already limited employment options of this group."


For the full commentary, see:

MARK J. PERRY and MICHAEL SALTSMAN. "The Fight for $15 Will Hit North Philly Hard; Not far from Democrats' soiree, teen unemployment is at 42%. What if the minimum wage doubles?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 27, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 26, 2016.)


The 2013 study by Boston College economists, mentioned above, was published in 2014. The published version is:

Beauchamp, Andrew, and Stacey Chan. "The Minimum Wage and Crime." B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 14, no. 3 (July 2014): 1213-35.






September 6, 2016

American Indians Suffer from Lack of Property Rights




(p. A15) There are almost no private businesses or entrepreneurs on Indian reservations because there are no property rights. Reservation land is held in trust by the federal government and most is also owned communally by the tribe. It's almost impossible for tribe members to get a mortgage, let alone borrow against their property to start a business. The Bureau of Indian Affairs regulates just about every aspect of commerce on reservations.

Instead of giving Indians more control over their own land--allowing them to develop natural resources or use land as collateral to start businesses--the federal government has offered them what you might call a loophole economy. Washington carves out a sector of the economy, giving tribes a regulatory or tax advantage over non-Indians. But within a few years the government takes it away, in many cases leaving Indian tribes as impoverished and more disheartened than they were before.


. . .


What American Indians need first is less regulation. There is a reason that Native Americans say BIA, the initials for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, really stands for "Bossing Indians Around."



For the full commentary, see:

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY. "The Loophole Economy Is No Jackpot for Indians; Running casinos or selling tax-free cigarettes can't substitute for what tribes truly need: property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2016.)


The above commentary by Riley is related to her book, which is:

Riley, Naomi Schaefer. The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians. New York: Encounter Books, 2016.






September 5, 2016

RFID Tags Can Enable Process Innovations




(p. A11) The numbers don't look good: Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that worker productivity dropped 0.5% in the second quarter of 2016--the third quarterly decline in a row. Productivity growth, a key driver of improved living standards, has averaged only 1.3% a year over the past decade, compared with 2.9% from mid-1995 through the end of 2005.

Why the slowdown? One theory is that markets have already wrung the easy efficiencies out of current technology. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen noted in June that some economists "believe that the low-hanging fruit of innovation largely has been picked and that there is simply less scope for further gains."

Count me in the optimistic camp. Low-cost wireless technologies are only beginning to break down the wall between the physical and digital worlds, and early-adopting companies are already achieving astounding productivity gains.


. . .


Employees can take inventory by waving an RFID reader over a shelf or a rack. A 2009 study by the University of Arkansas found scanning 10,000 items took 53 hours using bar codes, but only two hours with RFID. That efficiency allows Macy's to inventory items every month rather than once or twice annually. Pam Sweeney, Macy's senior vice president of logistics systems, tells me that RFID has pushed inventory accuracy in these departments to 95%.


. . .


As the cost of RFID tags falls to only cents apiece, the applications widen. Imagine checking out at the grocery store one day simply by running your cart through a scanner in a few seconds--no bar codes required. How many hours a year would that save consumers and employees both? If you want a million minuscule reasons to be bullish about productivity, look no further than tiny RFID tags.



For the full commentary, see:

MARK ROBERTI. "How Tiny Wireless Tech Makes Workers More Productive; Macy's and Delta are using cheap RFID tags to blend the physical and digital." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 17, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 16, 2016.)






September 4, 2016

Venezuelans Revel in Socialist Paradise of Plenty




SearchForFoodInLootedCumanaGroceryStore2016-07-11.jpg"A man searched for food last week at a grocery store in Cumaná that had been looted." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) CUMANÁ, Venezuela -- With delivery trucks under constant attack, the nation's food is now transported under armed guard. Soldiers stand watch over bakeries. The police fire rubber bullets at desperate mobs storming grocery stores, pharmacies and butcher shops. A 4-year-old girl was shot to death as street gangs fought over food.

Venezuela is convulsing from hunger.

Hundreds of people here in the city of Cumaná, home to one of the region's independence heroes, marched on a supermarket in recent days, screaming for food. They forced open a large metal gate and poured inside. They snatched water, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, potatoes, anything they could find, leaving behind only broken freezers and overturned shelves.

And they showed that even in a country with the largest oil reserves in the world, it is possible for people to riot because there is not enough food.

In the last two weeks alone, more than 50 food riots, protests and mass looting have erupted around the country. Scores of businesses have been stripped bare or destroyed. At least five people have been killed.


. . .


(p. A3) It has not always been clear what provokes the riots. Is it hunger alone? Or is it some larger anger that has built up in a country that has crumbled?

Inés Rodríguez was not sure. She remembered calling out to the crowd of people who had come to sack her restaurant on Tuesday night [June 14, 2016], offering them all the chicken and rice the restaurant had if they would only leave the furniture and cash register behind. They balked at the offer and simply pushed her aside, Ms. Rodríguez said.

"It is the meeting of hunger and crime now," she said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CASEY. "Pillaging by Venezuelans Reveals Depth of Hunger." The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 20, 2016): A1 & A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 19, 2016, and has the title "Venezuelans Ransack Stores as Hunger Grips the Nation.")






September 3, 2016

87% of Billionaires Inherited Less than Half of Wealth




(p. C6) Billionaires controlled 3.9% of the world's total household wealth in 2015, slightly down from 4% in 2014, according to Wealth-X, a consulting group that uses public records and research staff to manually track the habits of ultra-high-net-worth individuals, or people valued at more than $30 million.


. . .


For most billionaires, however, it takes more than an inheritance to join the so-called three-comma club, according to the census; 87% of billionaires, up from 81% in 2014, made the majority of their fortunes themselves.

Todd Morgan, senior managing director at Bel Air Investment Advisors LLC in Los Angeles, says several of his billionaire clients are entrepreneurs and they are "very driven" and typically opt to keep working long after they've made their fortune.

"It's not, 'I'm worth a billion, now I'm going to sit on a beach and relax.' It's more of, 'What can I create or achieve next?'" he says.



For the full story, see:

VERONICA DAGHER. "Ranks of Billionaires Grow, and They're Getting Richer." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 8, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "The Rich Get Richer as Billionaires Increase in Number." There are minor differences in wording between the online and print versions. The sentences quoted above, follow the online version.)






September 2, 2016

Mather and Boylston Risked Much to Fight Smallpox





I enjoyed reading the book reviewed below. From the title, and from reviews, I had the impression that it would mostly be about the smallpox epidemic and the innoculation conflict. I was surprised that of equal, or greater, importance in the book is the role of James Franklin's newspaper in laying the intellectual groundwork for the American Revolution. I learned from that part of the book too, but some might feel misled from the title about what the book was mainly about. (I think "fever" in the title is intended as a double entendre, referring both to a fever from smallpox, and a fever from the ideas of liberty.)



(p. A11) Inoculation was proposed by Cotton Mather, a figure much diminished in the 30 years since Salem. He had suffered a terrible sequence of tragedies, losing his wife and 10 of his children to accidents and epidemic disease. He had also been marginalized within the religious community by quarrels and scandals. But he had become an assiduous student of science, corresponding with the Royal Society in London and learning from its "Transactions" that inoculation against smallpox had long been practiced in Constantinople. Mr. Coss shows how Mather's investigations led him to consult a source closer to home. His slave Onesimus, when asked whether he had ever had smallpox, replied "both Yes, and No": He had been inoculated as a child in Africa, receiving a mild infection and subsequent immunity.

Inoculation was commonplace across swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Mr. Coss explains, but this inclined the doctors of Enlightenment-era Europe to regard it as a primitive superstition. Such was the view of William Douglass, the only man in Boston with the letters "M.D." after his name, who was convinced that "infusing such malignant filth" in a healthy subject was lethal folly. The only person Mather could persuade to perform the operation was a surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston, whose frontier upbringing made him sympathetic to native medicine and who was already pockmarked from a near-fatal case of the disease.

"Given that attempting inoculation constituted an almost complete leap of faith for Boylston," Mr. Coss writes, "he spent surprisingly little time agonizing over it." He knew personally just how savage the toll could be. On June 26, 1721, just as the epidemic began to rage in earnest, Boyston filled a quill with the fluid from an infected blister and scratched it into the skin of two family slaves and his own young son.

News of the experiment was greeted with public fury and terror that it would spread the contagion. A town-hall meeting was convened, at Dr. Douglass's instigation, at which inoculation was condemned and banned. Mather's house was firebombed with an incendiary device to which a note was attached: "I will inoculate you with this."



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "'BOOKSHELF; An Ounce of Prevention; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 2, 2016, and has the title "'BOOKSHELF; When Ben Franklin Was Against Vaccines; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him.")


The book under review, is:

Coss, Stephen. The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.






September 1, 2016

GE Replaces Annual Performance Review with Frequent Feedback




(p. B8) General Electric Co. is getting rid of ratings.

The industrial giant's salaried employees will no longer be given one of five labels--ranging from "role model" to "unsatisfactory"--as part of their annual performance review. The changes, to be announced to employees Tuesday, breaks with a system GE has used in some form or another for the last 40 years.

Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt is undertaking a bid to refocus on the company's core industrial business. To spur these efforts, GE has spent the past few years reimagining the way its 310,000 employees work, placing new emphasis on experimentation and risk-taking. A new performance-management system asks employees and managers to exchange frequent feedback via a mobile app called PD@GE, in person or by phone. The messages are compiled into a performance summary at the end of the year.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "GE Scraps Staff Ratings to Spur Feedback." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 27, 2016): B8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 26, 2016, and has the title "GE Does Away With Employee Ratings.")






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