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March 23, 2017

"A Corporate Jargon of Uplift That Turns Sensitive Souls Suicidal"




(p. C1) Though Dante cataloged many forms of diabolical torture in his "Inferno," a guided tour of hell, he somehow missed out on what could well be the most excruciating eternal punishment of all. I mean (ominous organ chords, please) the staff meeting that never, ever ends.

You've surely been a part of such sessions. They're those gatherings in which people waste time by talking about how to be more productive, with algebraic visual aids and a corporate jargon of uplift that turns sensitive souls suicidal.



For the full review, see:

BEN BRANTLEY. "A Circle of Hell: The Staff Meeting." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 10, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 9, 2016, and has the title "Review: 'Miles for Mary,' a Sendup of the Interminable Meeting From Hell.")






March 22, 2017

Blockchain Is a Process Innovation That Will Make Financial Records More Reliable and Easier to Access




(p. A13) Until the mid-1990s, the internet was little more than an arcane set of technical standards used by academics. Few predicted the profound effect it would have on society. Today, blockchain--the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin--might seem like a trinket for computer geeks. But once widely adopted, it will transform the world.

Blockchain offers a way to track items or transactions using a shared digital "ledger." Blocks of new transactions are added at the end of the chain, and encryption ensures that it remains unbroken--tamper-proof and error-free. This is significantly more efficient than the current methods for logging and sharing such information.

Consider the process of buying a house, a complex transaction involving banks, attorneys, title companies, insurers, regulators, tax agencies and inspectors. They all maintain separate records, and it's costly to verify and record each step. That's why the average closing takes roughly 50 days. Blockchain offers a solution: a trusted, immutable digital ledger, visible to all participants, that shows every element of the transaction.



For the full commentary, see:

GINNI ROMETTY. "How Blockchain Will Change Your Life." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 7, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")






March 21, 2017

Robert Conquest Documented the Millions Killed by Stalin




(p. A7) Mr. Conquest's master work, "The Great Terror," was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939. He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions--a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust. Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims. When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics.


. . .


Though Mr. Conquest's body count was on the high end of estimates, he remained unwavering at the publication of "The Great Terror: A Reassessment," a 1990 revision of his masterwork. When Mr. Conquest was asked for a new title for the updated book, his friend, the writer Kingsley Amis, proposed, "I Told You So, You F--ing Fools."


. . .


He was also an enthusiastic crafter of limericks, a form in which his irreverence and flair for language flourished. One version of an often-quoted one reads:

There was a great Marxist named Lenin

Who did two or three million men in.

--That's a lot to have done in,

But where he did one in

That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.



For the full obituary, see:

BRENDA CRONIN and ALAN CULLISON. "Historian Exposed Stalin's Reign of Terror." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title "Robert Conquest, Seminal Historian of Soviet Misrule, Dies at 98.")


The revised edition of Conquest's master work, is:

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. 40th Anniversary ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2007.






March 20, 2017

Spreadsheets and Committees Are Enemies of Innovation




(p. B4) "As we became more sophisticated in quantifying things we became less and less willing to take risks," says Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank. "The spreadsheet is the weapon of mass destruction against creative power."

The same could be said of university research, says Dr. Prabhakar. Research priorities are often decided by peer review, that is, a committee.

"It drives research to more incrementalism," she says. "Committees are a great way to reduce risk, but not to take risk."



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Engine of Innovation Loses Some Spark." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 21, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 20, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?")






March 19, 2017

Studying Cancer in Dogs Can Help Humans and Dogs




(p. D4) Dogs are a better natural model for some human diseases than mice or even primates because they live with people, Dr. Karlsson says. "Compared to lab mice, with dogs they're getting diseases within their natural life span, they're exposed to the same pollutants in the environment" as humans, she says.

Previous canine studies conducted by other scientists have shed light on human diseases like osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as well as the sleep disorder narcolepsy and a neurological condition, epilepsy.

With osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and one that frequently strikes certain dog breeds, researchers have discovered that tumors in dogs and children are virtually indistinguishable. The tumors share similarities in their location, development of chemotherapy-resistant growths and altered functioning of certain proteins, making dogs a good animal model of the disease. Collecting more specimens from dogs could lead to progress in identifying tumor targets and new cancer drugs in dogs as well as in children, some scientists say.



For the full story, see:

SHIRLEY S. WANG. "IN THE LAB; How Dogs' Genes Can Help Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): D4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "IN THE LAB; Why Dogs Are Some Scientists' New Best Friends.")


A paper showing how cancer research on dogs can help humans, is:

Fenger, Joelle M., Cheryl A. London, and William C. Kisseberth. "Canine Osteosarcoma: A Naturally Occurring Disease to Inform Pediatric Oncology." ILAR Journal 55, no. 1 (2014): 69-85.






March 18, 2017

Coastal Damage Caused by Storm Surges at High Tide, Not by Tiny Rise in Sea Levels




(p. A11) When Teddy Roosevelt built his Sagamore Hill on Long Island, he did so a quarter mile from shore at an elevation of 115 feet not because he disdained proximity to the beach or was precociously worried about climate change. The federal government did not stand ready with taxpayer money to defray his risk.

Estimates vary, but sea levels may have risen two millimeters a year over the past century. Meanwhile, tidal cycles along the U.S. east coast range from 11 feet every day (in Boston) to two feet (parts of Florida).

On top of this, a "notable surge event" can produce a storm surge of seven to 23 feet, according to a federal list of 10 hurricanes over the past 70 years.

We should not exaggerate the degree to which homeowners are being asked to shoulder their own risks. Washington is doling out five-figure checks to Jersey homeowners to raise houses on pilings to reduce the federal government's future rebuilding costs. But, to state the obvious, normal tidal variation plus storm surge is the danger to coastal property. Background sea-level rise is a non-factor. A FEMA study from several years ago found that fully a quarter of coastal dwellings are liable to be destroyed over a 50-year period.

Though it pleased New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pretend Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming, the storm wasn't even a hurricane by the time it hit shore--it just happened to hit at peak tide. Sure, certain people in Florida and elsewhere like to conflate the two. It's in their interests to do so.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Shoreline Gentry Are Fake Climate Victims." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 26, 2016): A11.






March 17, 2017

"We Shall Increasingly Have the Power to Make Life Good"




(p. B13) Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London.


. . .


The two volumes of "On What Matters," published in 2011, dealt with the theory of reasons and morality, arguing for the existence of objective truth in ethics.


. . .


"With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too," the philosopher Peter Singer wrote recently on the philosophy website Daily Nous.


. . .


In February [2017], Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of "On What Matters." It consists in part of responses to criticism of his work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Mr. Singer, titled "Does Anything Really Matter?"


. . .


On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit's new work:

"Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

"In Nietzsche's words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Derek Parfit, 74, Philosopher Who Explored Identity." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 5, 2017): B13.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 4, 2017, and has the title "Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74.")


The book by Parfit quoted above, is:

Parfit, Derek. On What Matters: Volume Three. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017.






March 16, 2017

Brexit "as a Cry for Liberty" from EU "Edicts and Regulations"




(p. C1) The Brexit campaign started as a cry for liberty, perhaps articulated most clearly by Michael Gove, the British justice secretary (and, on this issue, the most prominent dissenter in Mr. Cameron's cabinet). Mr. Gove offered practical examples of the problems of EU membership. As a minister, he said, he deals constantly with edicts and regulations framed at the European level--rules that he doesn't want and can't change. These were rules that no one in Britain asked for, rules promulgated by officials whose names Brits don't know, people whom they never elected and cannot remove from office. Yet they become the law of the land. Much of what we think of as British democracy, Mr. Gove argued, is now no such thing.

Instead of grumbling about the things we can't change, Mr. Gove said, it was time to follow "the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back" and "become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve." Many of the Brexiteers think that Britain voted this week to follow a template set in 1776 on the other side of the Atlantic.


. . .


(p. C2) Mr. Gove has taken to borrowing the 18th-century politician William Pitt's dictum about how England can "save herself by her exertions and Europe by her example." After Mr. Cameron departs and new British leadership arrives, it will be keen to strike new alliances based on the principles of democracy, sovereignty and freedom. You never know: That might just catch on.



For the full commentary, see:

FRASER NELSON. "A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 24, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2016, and has the title "Brexit: A Very British Revolution; The vote to leave the EU began as a cry for liberty and ended as a rebuke to the establishment.")






March 15, 2017

Fewer Tech Startups Hurts Job Creation




(p. A10) Since 2002, the number of technology startups has slowed, hurting job creation. In a 2014 study, economists Javier Miranda, John Haltiwanger and Ian Hathaway said the growth of tech startups accelerated to 113,000 in 2001 from 64,000 in 1992.

That number slumped to 79,000 in 2011 and hasn't recovered, according to the economists' calculations using updated data. The causes include global competition and increased domestic regulation, says Mr. Haltiwanger, an economics professor at the University of Maryland.



For the full story, see:

Jon Hilsenrath and Bob Davis. "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 13, 2016): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2016, and has the title "'America's Dazzling Tech Boom Has a Downside: Not Enough Jobs.")


The Haltiwanger paper mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John, Ian Hathaway, and Javier Miranda. "Declining Business Dynamism in the U.S. High-Technology Sector." Feb. 2014.






March 14, 2017

Internet Innovations Only Arose After Entrepreneurs Created PCs




(p. B15) Leo L. Beranek, an engineer whose company designed the acoustics for the United Nations and concert halls at Lincoln Center and Tanglewood, then built the direct precursor to the internet under contract to the Defense Department, died on Oct. 10 [2016] at his home in Westwood, Mass.


. . .


After the war, Dr. Beranek was recruited to teach at M.I.T., where he was named technical director of the engineering department's acoustics laboratory. The administrative director of that lab was Richard Bolt, who later founded Bolt, Beranek & Newman with Dr. Beranek and Robert Newman, a former student of Dr. Bolt's.

The company was conceived as a center for leading-edge acoustic research. But Dr. Beranek changed its direction in the 1950s to include a focus on the nascent computer age.

"As president, I decided to take B.B.N. into the field of man-machine systems because I felt acoustics was a limited field and no one seemed to be offering consulting services in that area," Dr. Beranek said in a 2012 interview for this obituary.

He hired J.C.R. Licklider, a pioneering computer scientist from M.I.T., to lead the effort, and it was Dr. Licklider who persuaded him that the company needed to get involved in computers.

Under Dr. Licklider, the company developed one of the best software research groups in the country and won many critical projects with the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. Though Dr. Licklider left in 1962, the company became a favored destination for a new generation of software developers and was often referred to as the third university in Cambridge.

"We bought our first digital computer from Digital Equipment Corporation, and with it we were able to attract some of the best minds from M.I.T. and Harvard, and this led to the ARPA contract to build the Arpanet," Dr. Beranek said.

"I never dreamed the internet would come into such widespread use, because the first users of the Arpanet were large mainframe computer owners," he said. "This all changed when the personal computer became available. With the PC, I could see that computers were fun, and that is the real reason why all innovations come into widespread use."



For the full obituary, see:


GLENN RIFKIN. "Leo Beranek, 102, Who Pivoted From Acoustics to Computers, Dies." The New York Times (Tues, OCT. 18, 2016): B15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 17, 2016, and has the title "Leo Beranek, Acoustics Designer and Internet Pioneer, Dies at 102." )






March 13, 2017

Automation Raises Productivity, Consumer Spending, and Creates New Jobs




(p. B1) Since the 1970s, when automated teller machines arrived, the number of bank tellers in America has more than doubled. James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, points to that seeming paradox amid new concerns that automation is "stealing" human jobs. To the contrary, he says, jobs and automation often grow hand in hand.

Sometimes, of course, machines really do replace humans, as in agriculture and manufacturing, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology labor economist David Autor in a succinct and illuminating TED talk, which could have served as the headline for this column. Across an entire economy, however, Dr. Autor says that's never happened.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.

In the case of bank tellers, the spread of ATMs meant bank branches could be smaller, and therefore, cheaper. Banks opened more branches, and in total employed more tellers, Mr. Bessen says.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Automation Actually Can Lead to More Job Creation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs.")


Bessen more fully presents his ATM example in his book:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.







March 12, 2017

Flaws in Early Tech, Solved by Later and Better Tech




(p. A2) Mr. Mokyr says innovators gravitate to society's greatest needs. In previous eras, it was cheap and rapid transport, reliable energy, and basic health care. Today, seven of the top 10 problems he says are most in need of innovative solutions are instances of bite-back. They include global warming, antibiotic resistance, obesity and information overload. Fixing these problems may weigh heavily on growth. Yet Mr. Mokyr argues past productivity was overstated because it didn't include those costs.

Nonetheless, he's an optimist. For every unintended consequence one innovation brings, another innovation will find the answer. Fluoridation cured tooth decay, and automotive engineers found alternatives to leaded gasoline. And distracted driving? Driverless cars may take care of that plague before long.



For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: The Cost of Innovation." The New York Times (Thurs., Oct. 20, 2016): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentaty has the date Oct. 19, 2016, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; When Tech Bites Back: Innovation's Dark Side.")






March 11, 2017

Venture Capitalists Expect Future Successful Entrepreneurs to Look Like Recent Successful Entrepreneurs




(p. 4) In recent months, the fund-raising atmosphere has cooled as venture capitalists react to the poor stock market performance of some public tech companies and question whether the recent fast pace of investment is sustainable. Venture capitalists are making fewer investments at lower valuations.

"There is this delusion that it's easy to raise money in Silicon Valley," said Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, a mentorship and investment program for start-ups. "Raising money is incredibly hard."


. . .


Venture capitalists, who hold the keys to success in Silicon Valley by providing start-up money, are even more likely to be white and male than tech company employees are. Theirs is an insular business. Most investors accept pitches only from entrepreneurs who come through an introduction, and they tend to finance people who have succeeded before, or who remind them of those who did.

According to a 2014 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, investors prefer pitches by men, particularly attractive men, to those by women, even when the content of the pitch is the same. In addition to studying the results of three entrepreneurial pitch competitions, the researchers conducted two experiments in which a representative sample of working adults heard identical pitches in male and female voices. Sixty-eight percent of people preferred to finance the company when it was pitched by a male voice, while 32 percent chose the female.


. . .


At the gender discrimination trial last year against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which the venture capital firm won, female employees said they were excluded from a ski trip, denied credit for deals they brought to the firm, and told they both didn't speak up enough and talked too much.

"I feel like it's a lot more nuanced and sometimes it's subconscious," said Julia Hu, the founder and chief executive of Lark, which makes a health and weight-loss app. "V.C.s are pattern matchers, and they're just used to seeing men like themselves."

Many women convey confidence and leadership in a different way than men do, she said. As an Asian woman, she said, she was raised to be humble and quiet and felt uncomfortable promoting her skills. "To try to be who I thought they wanted me to be, which was another Mark Zuckerberg, was actually very difficult for me without feeling inauthentic."



For the full story, see:

Miller, Claire Cain. "The Venture Capital Ceiling." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., FEB. 28, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 27, 2016, and has the title "What It's Really Like to Risk It All in Silicon Valley.")


The National Academy of Sciences study mentioned above, is:

Wood Brooks, Alison, Laura Huang, Sarah Wood Kearney, and Fiona E. Murray. "Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111, no. 12 (March 25, 2014): 4427-31.






March 10, 2017

Oil Rich Socialist Venezuela Is Importing Oil from Capitalist United States




(p. A1) EL FURRIAL, Venezuela -- One oil rig was idle for weeks because a single piece of equipment was missing. Another was attacked by armed gangs who made off with all they could carry. Many oil workers say they are paid so little that they barely eat and have to keep watch over one another in case they faint while high up on the rigs.

Venezuela's petroleum industry, whose vast revenues once fueled the country's Socialist-inspired revolution, underwriting everything from housing to education, is spiraling into disarray.

To add insult to injury, the Venezuelan government has been forced to turn to its nemesis, the United States, for help.

"You call them the empire," said Luis Centeno, a union leader for the oil workers, referring to what government officials call the United States, "and yet you're buying their oil."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CASEY and CLIFFORD KRAUSSSEPT. "How Badly Is Oil-Rich Venezuela Failing? It's Importing U.S. Oil." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 21, 2016): A1 & A12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date SEPT. 20, 2016, and has the title "How Bad Off Is Oil-Rich Venezuela? It's Buying U.S. Oil.")






March 9, 2017

British Socialized Medicine Refused to Save Life of Critic Who Loved America




(p. A29) A. A. Gill, an essayist and cultural critic whose stylishly malicious restaurant reviews for The Sunday Times made him one of Britain's most celebrated journalists, died on Saturday [December 7, 2016] in London. He was 62.

Martin Ivens, the editor of The Sunday Times, announced the death, calling Mr. Gill "the heart and soul of the paper." The cause was lung cancer.


. . .


In a long article published Sunday [December 8, 2016], after his death, Mr. Gill wrote, without rancor, that Britain's National Health Service had refused to pay for immunotherapy that he said might have extended his life.


. . .


As a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he dismissed the pâté at the beloved Paris bistro L'Ami Louis as tasting like "pressed liposuction." The shrimp and foie gras dumplings at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Asian restaurant 66, in Manhattan, were "fishy liver-filled condoms," he wrote, "with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital."

Vituperation was not his only mode. He could praise. He could turn an elegant phrase and toss off a pithy bon mot. "America's genius has always been to take something old, familiar and wrinkled and repackage it as new, exciting and smooth," he wrote in "The Golden Door: Letters to America" (2012), published in the United States in 2013 as "To America With Love."


. . .


"When people fatuously ask me why I don't write constructive criticism, I tell them there is no such thing," he wrote in his memoir. "Critics do deconstructive criticism. If you want compliments, phone your mother."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "A. A. Gill Dies at 62; Skewered Britain's Restaurants." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 13, 2016): A29.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 12, 2016, and has the title "A. A. Gill, Who Gleefully Skewered Britain's Restaurants, Dies at 62.")


Gill's book praising America, is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






March 8, 2017

Pope Francis Has "a Great Allergy to Economic Things"




(p. A7) ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRPLANE -- Pope Francis has dedicated his papacy to the plight of the poor and delivered severe critiques of economic systems that benefit the rich. But flying back to Rome from his eight-day visit to Latin America, Francis admitted he had overlooked a group.

He has delivered few messages for the global middle class.

"Thank you," he replied, after a German journalist, Ludwig Ring-Eifel, asked about the omission. "It's a good correction, thanks. You are right. It's an error of mine not to think about this."


. . .


In fact, the pope expressed "a great allergy to economic things," explaining that his father had been an accountant who often brought work home on weekends.

"I don't understand it very well," he said of economics, even though the issue of economic justice has become central to his papacy.


. . .


"Then, on the middle class, there are some words that I've said -- but a little in passing," he said, musing. "But talking about the common people, the simple people, the workers, that is a great value, no? But I think you're telling me about something I need to do. I need to delve further into this."



For the full story, see:

JIM YARDLEY. "In His Focus on Rich and Poor, Pope Admits to Overlooking the Middle Class." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 14, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 13, 2015, and has the title "Pope Francis Says He's Overlooked the World's Middle Class.")






March 7, 2017

Solar Power Plants Generate Far Less Electricity than Predicted




(p. B1) Some costly high-tech solar power projects aren't living up to promises their backers made about how much electricity they could generate.

Solar-thermal technology, which uses mirrors to capture the sun's rays, was once heralded as the advance that would overtake old fashioned solar panel farms. But a series of missteps and technical difficulties threatens to make newfangled solar-thermal technology obsolete.

The $2.2 billion Ivanpah solar power project in California's Mojave Desert is supposed to be generating more than a million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. But 15 months after starting up, the plant is producing just 40% of that, according to data from the U.S. Energy Department.


. . .


One big miscalculation was that the power plant requires far more steam to run smoothly and efficiently than originally thought, according to a document filed with the California Energy Commission. Instead of ramping up the plant each day before sunrise by burning one hour's worth of natural gas to generate steam, Ivanpah needs more than four times that much help from fossil fuels to get the plant humming every morning. Another unexpected problem: not enough sun. Weather predictions for the area underestimated the amount of cloud cover that has blanketed Ivanpah since it went into service in 2013.

Ivanpah isn't the only new solar-thermal project struggling to energize the grid. A large mirror-powered plant built in Arizona almost two years ago by Abengoa SA of Spain has also had its share of hiccups. Designed to deliver a million megawatt hours of power annually, the plant is putting out roughly half that, federal data show.



For the full story, see:

CASSANDRA SWEET. "High-Tech Solar Plants Fail to Deliver." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 13, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2015, and has the title "High-Tech Solar Projects Fail to Deliver.")






March 6, 2017

Americans Increasingly Buying Guns for Self-Defense




(p. A11) A new study of gun ownership in the United States notes a shift: Americans are increasingly interested in handguns, the types of small weapons that are easily hidden and used for self-defense, rather than rifles and shotguns used for hunting and shooting sports.

The study, conducted in 2015 by researchers from Harvard and Northeastern, sought to better understand the size and composition of the country's gun inventory. It found that handguns made up 42 percent of the country's privately owned firearms, up from 34 percent in 1994.



For the full story, see:

JULIE TURKEWITZ and TROY GRIGGS. "Looking for Security, More in U.S. Pick Up a Handgun." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 15, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 14, 2016, and has the title "Handguns Are the New Home Security.")






March 5, 2017

Hitler Could Not Face Reality (or His Conscience?) Without Opiates and Cocaine




(p. C1) Given the sheer tonnage of books already devoted to the Nazis and Hitler, you might assume that everything interesting, terrible and bizarre is already known about one of history's most notorious regimes and its genocidal leader. Then along comes Norman Ohler, a soft-spoken 46-year-old novelist from Berlin, who rummages through military archives and emerges with this startling fact: The Third Reich was on drugs.

All sorts of drugs, actually, and in stupefying quantities, as Mr. Ohler documents in "Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany," a best seller in Germany and Britain that will be published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April [2017]. He was in New York City last week and sat for an interview before giving a lecture to a salon in a loft in the East Village, near Cooper Union.


. . .


. . . the most vivid portrait of abuse and withdrawal in "Blitzed" is that of Hitler, who for years was regularly injected by his personal physician with powerful opiates, like Eukodal, a brand of oxycodone once praised by William S. Burroughs as "truly awful." For a few undoubtedly euphoric months, Hitler was also getting swabs of high-grade cocaine, a sedation and stimulation combo that Mr. Ohler likens to a "classic speedball."


. . .


(p. C4) "There are all these stories of party leaders coming to complain about their bombed-out cities," Mr. Ohler said, "and Hitler just says: 'We're going to win. These losses make us stronger.' And the leaders would say: 'He knows something we don't know. He probably has a miracle weapon.' He didn't have a miracle weapon. He had a miracle drug, to make everyone think he had a miracle weapon."

Lanky and angular, Mr. Ohler quietly conveys the mordant humor that occasionally surfaces in his book, which has a chapter titled "High Hitler."



For the full interview, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "How Hitler's Henchmen Were Kept Hopped Up." The New York Times (Fri., December 10, 2016): C1 & C4.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "High on Hitler and Meth: Book Says Nazis Were Fueled by Drugs.")


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.






March 4, 2017

Northwest Passage Cruise Ship Sells Out in Three Weeks




(p. B1) Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen took three years in the early 1900s to complete the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage, the ice-choked arctic sea route connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. Only in 1944, did a ship make it through in a single year.

This summer, the Crystal Serenity--a 820-foot-long, 13-deck cruise ship with a casino, a movie theater, six restaurants and a driving range--is planning to steam through in less than a month.

Operated by Los Angeles-based Crystal Cruises LLC, the trip sold out in three weeks, with some 1,000 would-be passengers paying about $22,000 each.


. . .


About 200 ships have traversed the 900-mile route since Amundsen's voyage between 1903 and 1906. But most of those have gone through just in the last decade as ocean warming diminishes ice cover further, and for longer, during the summer months.



For the full story, see:

Costas Paris. "Luxury Cruise to Conquer Northwest Passage." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 11, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 10, 2016, and has the title "Luxury Cruise to Conquer Northwest Passage.")






March 3, 2017

Mice Genome Reprogrammed to Rejuvenate Organs and Extend Life




(p. A22) At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., scientists are trying to get time to run backward.

Biological time, that is. In the first attempt to reverse aging by reprogramming the genome, they have rejuvenated the organs of mice and lengthened their life spans by 30 percent. The technique, which requires genetic engineering, cannot be applied directly to people, but the achievement points toward better understanding of human aging and the possibility of rejuvenating human tissues by other means.

The Salk team's discovery, reported in the Thursday issue of the journal Cell, is "novel and exciting," said Jan Vijg, an expert on aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Leonard Guarente, who studies the biology of aging at M.I.T., said, "This is huge," citing the novelty of the finding and the opportunity it creates to slow down, if not reverse, aging. "It's a pretty remarkable finding, and if it holds up it could be quite important in the history of aging research," Dr. Guarente said.


. . .


Ten years ago, the Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka amazed researchers by identifying four critical genes that reset the clock of the fertilized egg. The four genes are so powerful that they will reprogram even the genome of skin or intestinal cells back to the embryonic state.


. . .


Dr. Izpisua Belmonte believes these beneficial effects have been obtained by resetting the clock of the aging process. The clock is created by the epigenome, the system of proteins that clads the cell's DNA and controls which genes are active and which are suppressed.


. . .


Dr. Izpisua Belmonte sees the epigenome as being like a manuscript that is continually edited. "At the end of life there are many marks and it is difficult for the cell to read them," he said.

What the Yamanaka genes are doing in his mice, he believes, is eliminating the extra marks, thus reverting the cell to a more youthful state.

The Salk biologists "do indeed provide what I believe to be the first evidence that partial reprogramming of the genome ameliorated symptoms of tissue degeneration and improved regenerative capacity," Dr. Vijg said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Scientists Learn About Human Aging by Lengthening the Life Span of Mice." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 16, 2016): A22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2016, and has the title "Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May Be Reversible.")






March 2, 2017

1.87 Births Per U.S. Couple in 2015




(p. A2) The U.S. is experiencing a baby lull that looks set to last for years, a shift demographers say will likely ripple through the U.S. economy and have an impact on everything from maternity wards to federal social programs.


. . .


Demographic Intelligence, a Charlottesville, Va., firm that forecasts birth trends, projects there were about 4 million babies born in the U.S. in 2015, up slightly from the 3.99 million babies born the previous year. The total fertility rate--a snapshot that measures the number of births the average woman will have during her lifetime--is expected to rise to 1.87 in 2015 from 1.86 the previous year, according to the firm. It says its projections, which rely on unemployment rates, consumer-confidence measures and other variables, have been about 99% accurate in recent years.

That is well below the relatively strong fertility rates that started during the late 1980s and lasted until 2007, when the total fertility rate peaked at 2.12 babies per woman.



For the full story, see:

JANET ADAMY. "Low Birth Rate Poses Economic Challenge." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 11, 2016): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 10, 2016, and has the title "Baby Lull Promises Growing Pains for Economy." The passages quoted above include a sentence (at the end of the second quoted paragraph) that appears in the online, but not in the print, version.)






March 1, 2017

Kahneman Was "Consumed with Despair" Over Writing "Thinking, Fast and Slow"




(p. C23) Mr. Lewis has always had a knack for identifying eccentrics and horde-defiers who somehow tell us a larger story, generally about an idea that violates our most basic intuition. In "Moneyball," he gave us Billy Beane, who rejected the wisdom of traditional baseball scouts and rehabilitated the Oakland A's through statistical reasoning. In "The Big Short," he gave us an assortment of jittery misfits who bet against the housing market.

In "The Undoing Project," Mr. Lewis has found the granddaddy of all stories about counterintuition, because Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Tversky did some of the most definitive research about just how majestically, fantastically unreliable our intuition can be. The biases they identified that distort our decision-making are now so well known -- like our outsize aversion to loss, for instance -- that we take them for granted. Together, you can safely say, these two men made possible the field of behavioral economics, which is predicated on the notion that humans do not always behave rationally.


. . .


In a remarkable note on his sources, Mr. Lewis reveals that for years he watched Dr. Kahneman agonize over his 2011 book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," which became both a critical and a fan favorite. "Every few months he'd be consumed with despair, and announce that he was giving up writing altogether -- before he destroyed his own reputation," Mr. Lewis writes. "To forestall his book's publication he paid a friend to find people who might convince him not to publish it."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR . "Books of The Times; Two Men, Mismatched Yet Perfectly Paired." The New York Times (Fri., December 2, 2016): C21 & C23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 1, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Michael Lewis on Two Well Matched (but Finally Mismatched) Men.")


The book under review, is:

Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016.






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