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June 30, 2017

Amazon Increases Rewards to Live-Video-Content-Creators




(p. B4) Amazon.com Inc.'s Twitch is allowing more broadcasters to make money on its platform, a move that could help the live-streaming business seize on challenges facing bigger rivals YouTube and Facebook Inc.

On Friday, Twitch said it will open up its revenue-sharing program next week for more broadcasters to get paid whenever they receive "bits"--custom, animated emoticons that act as an online currency for viewers to tip them. Twitch says bits are a way for those in the broadcasters' channels to cheer them on.

Twitch will add more money-making opportunities to its new "affiliate program" in the future, the company said. Currently, only the top 1% of the 2.2 million people who stream on Twitch at least once a month--members of its so-called "partner program"--can generate revenue on the platform.


. . .


Twitch said its top earners in the partner program, who are its most popular broadcasters, make more than $100,000 a year. Under the new affiliate program, creators with fewer fans must meet certain criteria to demonstrate their commitment to streaming, such as a minimum number of hours spent on the air, to earn revenue. The amount of money the platform shares with its broadcasters varies depending on how it is earned.

Twitch sells bits to viewers in bundles ranging from $1.40 for 100 to $308 for 25,000. Broadcasters then earn one cent every time a viewer uses one.



For the full story, see:

Sarah E. Needleman. "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 22, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2017, and has the title "Twitch Entices Video Creators With More Revenue Sharing.")






June 29, 2017

Dynamism Dying from Bad Attitudes or Bad Policies?





I agree with Tyler that the U.S. is less dynamic than it once was. But I mainly blame our bad government policies, while he mainly blames our own bad attitudes.



(p. A15) Is the "land of opportunity," with dynamic labor markets and fresh sources of renewal, a thing of the past?

That's the fear of Tyler Cowen, who argues in "The Complacent Class" that America is increasingly defined by an aversion to risk as well as to anything that is unfamiliar or different. He sees a broad swath of the American population losing "the capacity to imagine or embrace a world where things do change rapidly for most if not all people." This mind-set, he says, has "sapped us of the pioneer spirit that made America the world's most productive and innovative economy."


. . .


To make his case, Mr. Cowen draws a contrast between the changes that Americans experienced in the first half of the 20th century and the changes of the past 50 years. The earlier period saw dramatic improvements in health and education as well as a proliferation of automobiles, airplanes and telephones. By comparison, the changes since 1965 have been modest. "A lot of our technological world seems to have stood pretty much still," he writes, "albeit with a variety of quality improvements along the way." He even notes that, while popular narcotics in the past were mind-altering (LSD) or activity-inciting (cocaine), today's drugs of choice, such as heroin and opioids, "induce a dreamlike stupor and passivity."


. . .


Given Mr. Cowen's own innovative thinking, it's disappointing that he does not focus more on potential remedies to the torpor he describes.



For the full review, see:


Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How American Workers Got Lazy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cowen, Tyler. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.







June 28, 2017

Retiring Later Improves Health in Old Age




(p. 3) Despite what may seem like obvious benefits, scholars can't make definitive statements about the health effects of working longer. The research is inherently difficult: Just as retirement can influence health, so can health influence retirement.

"I would say, in my experience, the research is mixed," said Dr. Maestas of Harvard Medical School. "The studies I have seen tend to show that there are health benefits to working longer."

As the economists Axel Börsch-Supan and Morten Schuth of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy put it in an article for the National Bureau of Economic Research, "Even disliked colleagues and a bad boss, we argue, are better than social isolation because they provide cognitive challenges that keep the mind active and healthy."

Other studies have examined the impact of work and employment on the richness of social networks and social connectedness. The economists Eleonora Patacchini of Cornell University and Gary Engelhardt of Syracuse University tapped into a database of some 1,300 people from ages 57 to 85 that asked about their social networks in 2005 and 2010. After controlling for marital status, age, health and income, they concluded that people who continued to work enjoyed an increase in the size of their networks of family and friends of 25 percent. The social networks of retired people, on the other hand, shrank during the five-year period. In the study, the gains were found to be largely limited to women and older people with postsecondary education.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER FARRELL. "Retiring; Their Jobs Keep Them Healthy." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 3, 2017, and has the title "Retiring; Working Longer May Benefit Your Health.")


The article by Börsch-Supan and Schuth, is:

Börsch-Supan, Axel, and Morten Schuth. "Early Retirement, Mental Health, and Social Networks." In Discoveries in the Economics of Aging, edited by David A. Wise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014, pp. 225-50.






June 27, 2017

Countries Became Prosperous by Studying Drucker (Who Had Studied Schumpeter)





According to the article quoted below, former Cambodian communists are studying the thought of Peter Drucker. Drucker wrote many influential articles and books. My favorite is his article praising his teacher Joseph Schumpeter, written in the year that Schumpeter would have turned 100.



(p. A4) MALAI, Cambodia -- For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot's death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

"I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker's ideas and made the countries prosperous," he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

Mr. Tep Khunnal helped lead the way, as a founder of an agricultural export company and a small microfinance bank for farmers before rising to become the district governor. From that position, he encouraged his constituents to follow suit.


. . .


"We joined the communists, and now we have joined the capitalists, which is much better," said Dim Sok, a local official.


. . .


Mr. Tep Khunnal, 67, retired from government and business a few years ago and now devotes his time to spreading Drucker's ideas across the country. He teaches at a university in a neighboring province and is translating the theorist's work into Khmer. He has even compiled his favorite bits of Drucker's wisdom into a small handbook.


. . .


He said he began reading about economics while serving as a Khmer Rouge envoy to the United Nations in the 1980s. Although he liked Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, and Frederick Taylor, who pioneered scientific management, he was most drawn to Drucker's insistence that employees were central to an enterprise's success.

"What I find interesting for me is that he talks about individuals, he gives power to individuals, not to collectivism," he said of Drucker. "Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century, he talked about efficiency, but Drucker talked about effectiveness."



For the full story, see:

JULIA WALLACE. "MALAI JOURNAL; Pol Pot's Former Followers Become Cadres for Capitalism." The New York Times (Thurs., MARCH 23, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2017, and has the title "MALAI JOURNAL; They Smashed Banks for Pol Pot. Now They're Founding Them.")


The article by Drucker on Schumpeter, mentioned by me above, is:

Drucker, Peter F. "Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?" Forbes (May 23, 1983): 24-28.






June 26, 2017

Fearing FDA, Schools Stop Students from Using Sunscreen Lotions




(p. A11) The Sunbeatables curriculum, designed by specialists MD Anderson Cancer Center, features a cast of superheroes who teach children the basics of sun protection including the obvious: how and when to apply sunscreen.

There's just one wrinkle. Many of the about 1,000 schools where the curriculum is taught are in states that don't allow students to bring sunscreen to school or apply it without a note from a doctor or parent and trip to the nurse's office.

Schools have restrictions because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labels sunscreen as an over-the-counter medication.


. . .


Melanoma accounts for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths and is among the most common types of invasive cancers. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma, says Dr. Tanzi. And sun damage is cumulative. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that 23% of lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18. Regular sunscreen application is a widespread recommendation among medical experts though some groups have raised concerns about the chemicals in certain sunscreens.

"Five or more sunburns increases your melanoma risk by 80% and your non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 68%," Dr. Tanzi says.

Pediatric melanoma cases add up to a small but growing number. There are about 500 children diagnosed every year with the numbers increasing by about 2% each year, says Shelby Moneer, director of education for the Melanoma Research Foundation.



For the full story, see:

Sumathi Reddy. "YOUR HEALTH; It's School, No Sunscreen Allowed." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 16, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 15, 2017, and has the title "YOUR HEALTH; Where Kids Aren't Allowed to Put on Sunscreen: in School.")






June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"




(p. 13) In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers. The hope -- naturally -- was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California's electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or ­smartphone.

Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent dec­ades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.


. . .


As in the case of Zelenograd, hubs of genius do not arise from government planning or by acting on the observations of a traveler. They're happy accidents. To attempt to clone such things or pinpoint their characteristics is futile.



For the full review, see:

ASHLEE VANCE. "Smart Sites." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''The Geography of Genius,' by Eric Weiner.")


The book under review, 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.







June 24, 2017

On-Site Work "Is a Remnant of the Industrial Era"




(p. B5) Studies show that when employees have the choice to work remotely, "business is a whole lot better" for "people, the planet and profit," said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, a consulting firm that focuses on emerging workplace trends.

Gallup's State of the American Workplace report, released in February [2017], showed that more American employees were working remotely and for longer periods. The "sweet spot" was employees who spend three to four days a week off site; they reported feeling most engaged at work.

Mohammed Chahdi, global human resources services director for Dell, said a large percentage of its 140,000 employees already worked remotely and the goal was to have 50 percent do so by 2020. The strategy has helped the company "grow smart," he said, by reducing its real estate and environmental footprints and retaining talented employees.

"We have data that show employees are more engaged when they enjoy flexibility," said Mr. Chahdi, who works remotely from Toronto. "Why insist that they be in an office when it simply doesn't matter?"

A new study, Future Workforce, released in February [2017] by Upwork, a marketplace for online work, surveyed more than 1,000 hiring managers in the United States. It found that only one in 10 believed location was important to a new hire's success; nearly two-thirds said they had at least some workers who did a significant portion of their work from a remote location, and about half agreed that they had trouble finding the talent they needed locally.

"Remote work has gone mainstream," said Stephane Kasriel, Upwork's chief executive. On-site work between the hours of 9 and 5 "is a remnant of the industrial era."



For the full story, see:

TANYA MOHN. "ITINERARIES; Digital Nomads Wander World Without Missing a Paycheck." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 4, 2017): B5.

(Note: bracketed years added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 3, 2017, and has the title "ITINERARIES; The Digital Nomad Life: Combining Work and Travel.")






June 23, 2017

Geoengineering Could Cheaply and Quickly Counter Global Warming




(p. B1) Last month, scholars from the physical and social sciences who are interested in climate change gathered in Washington to discuss approaches like cooling the planet by shooting aerosols into the stratosphere or whitening clouds to reflect sunlight back into space, which may prove indispensable to prevent the disastrous consequences of warming.

Aerosols could be loaded into military jets, to be sprayed into the atmosphere at (p. B4) high altitude. Clouds at sea could be made more reflective by spraying them with a fine saline mist, drawn from the ocean.


. . .


. . . , geoengineering needs to be addressed not as science fiction, but as a potential part of the future just a few decades down the road.

"Today it is still a taboo, but it is a taboo that is crumbling," said David Keith, a noted Harvard physicist who was an organizer of the conclave.


. . .


Geoengineering would be cheap enough that even a middle-income country could deploy it unilaterally. Some scientists have estimated that solar radiation management could cool the earth quickly for as little as $5 billion per year or so.



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; To Curb Global Warming, Science Fiction May Become Fact." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 5, 2017): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 4, 2017, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; To Curb Global Warming, Science Fiction May Become Fact.")






June 22, 2017

Oregon Gadfly Fined for Practicing Engineering Without a License




(p. B2) Mats Jarlstrom acknowledges that he is unusually passionate about traffic signals -- and that his zeal is not particularly appreciated by Oregon officials.

His crusade to make traffic lights remain yellow longer -- which began after his wife received a red-light camera ticket -- has drawn some interest among transportation specialists and the media. But among the power brokers in his hometown, Beaverton, it has elicited ridicule and exasperation.

"They literally laughed at me at City Hall," Mr. Jarlstrom recalled of a visit there in 2013, when he tried to share his ideas with city counselors and the police chief.

Worse still was getting hit recently with a $500 fine for engaging in the "practice of engineering" without a license while pressing his cause. So last week, Mr. Jarlstrom filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, charging the state's licensing panel with violating his First Amendment rights.

"I was working with simple mathematics and applying it to the motion of a vehicle and explaining my research," said Mr. Jarlstrom, 56. "By doing so, they declared I was illegal."

The lawsuit is the latest and perhaps most novel shot in the continuing campaign against the proliferation of state licensing laws that can require costly training and fees before people can work. Mr. Jarlstrom is being represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization partly funded by the billionaire brothers and activists Charles G. and David H. Koch.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without License." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2017): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2017, and has the title "Yellow-Light Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without a License.")






June 21, 2017

FDR's Attorney General Warned Black Newspapers That He Would "Shut Them All Up"




(p. 12) . . . as the former Chicago Defender editor and reporter Ethan Michaeli shows in his extraordinary history, "The Defender," the Negro press barons attacked military segregation with a zeal that set Roosevelt's teeth on edge. The Negro press warned black men against Navy recruiters who would promise them training as radiomen, technicians or mechanics -- then put them to work serving food to white men. It made its readers understand that black men and women in uniform were treated worse in Southern towns than German prisoners of war and sometimes went hungry on troop trains because segregationists declined to feed them. It focused unflinchingly on the fistfights and gun battles that erupted between blacks and whites on military bases. And it reiterated the truth that no doubt cut Roosevelt the most deeply: His government's insistence on racial separation was of a piece with the "master race" theory put in play by Hitler in Europe.

This was not the first time The Defender and its sister papers had attacked institutional racism. That part of the story begins with Robert S. Abbott, the transplanted Southerner who created The Defender in 1905 and fashioned it into a potent weapon.


. . .


The black press was considerably more powerful and self-assured by 1940, when Abbott died and his nephew John H. Sengstacke succeeded him.


. . .


Things stood thus in 1942, when Sengstacke traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke found Biddle in a conference room, sitting at a table across which was spread copies of black newspapers that included The Defender, The Courier and The Afro-American. Biddle said that the black papers were flirting with sedition and threatened to "shut them all up."



For the full review, see:

BRENT STAPLES. "'A 'Most Dangerous' Newspaper." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 4, 2016, and has the title "''The Defender,' by Ethan Michaeli.")


The book under review, is:

Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






June 20, 2017

Government Regulations Suppress Poor Street Entrepreneurs




(p. 7) HANOI, Vietnam -- As strips of tofu sizzle beside her in a vat of oil, Nguyen Thu Hong listens for police sirens.

Police raids on sidewalk vendors have escalated sharply in downtown Hanoi since March [2017], she said, and officers fine her about $9, or two days' earnings, for the crime of selling bun dau mam tom -- vermicelli rice noodles with tofu and fermented shrimp paste -- from a plastic table beside an empty storefront.

"Most Vietnamese live by what they do on the sidewalk, so you can't just take that away," she said. "More regulations would be fine, but what the cops are doing now feels too extreme."

Southeast Asia is famous for its street food, delighting tourists and locals alike with tasty, inexpensive dishes like spicy som tam (green papaya salad) in Bangkok or sizzling banh xeo crepes in Ho Chi Minh City. But major cities in three countries are strengthening campaigns to clear the sidewalks, driving thousands of food vendors into the shadows and threatening a culinary tradition.


. . .


. . . some experts say street food is not inherently less sanitary than restaurant food. "If you're eating fried foods or things that are really steaming hot, then there's probably not much difference at all," said Martyn Kirk, an epidemiologist at the Australian National University.


. . .


Ms. Hong, the Hanoi vendor, said her earnings had cratered by about 60 percent since the start of the crackdown, when she moved to her present location from a busy street corner as a hedge against police raids.



For the full story, see:

MIKE IVES. "Food So Popular, Asian Cities Want It Off the Streets." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 30, 2017): 7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 29, 2017, and has the title "Efforts to Ease Congestion Threaten Street Food Culture in Southeast Asia.")






June 19, 2017

"The System Is Totally Crazy"




(p. D1) Mr. Ahmed, 46, is in the business of chicken and rice. He immigrated from Bangladesh 23 years ago, and is now one of two partners in a halal food cart that sets up on Greenwich Street close to the World Trade Center, all year long, rain or shine. He is also one of more than 10,000 people, most of them immigrants, who make a living selling food on the city's sidewalks: pork tamales, hot dogs, rolled rice noodles, jerk chicken.

These vendors are a fixture of New York's streets and New Yorkers' routines, vital to the culture of the city. But day to day, they struggle to do business against a host of challenges: byzantine city codes and regulations on street vending, exorbitant fines for small violations (like setting up an inch too close to the curb) and the occasional rage of brick-and-mortar businesses or residents.


. . .


(p. D6) Mr. Ahmed ties on his apron and pushes a few boxes underneath the cart so he can squeeze inside and get to work. Any boxes peeking out beyond the cart's footprint could result in a fine (penalties can run up to $1,000), as could parking his cart closer than six inches to the curb, or 20 feet to the building entrance. Mr. Ahmed knows all the rules by heart.


. . .


He applied for a food vendor's license, took a required health and safety class, bought a used cart and took it for an inspection by city officials. (The health department inspects carts at least once a year, and more frequently if a violation is reported.)

Mr. Ahmed still needed a food-vending permit, though, and because of a cap on permits imposed in the 1980s, only 4,000 or so circulate. He acquired his from a permit owner who has charged him and his partner $25,000 for two-year leases (for a permit that cost the owner just $200), which they are still paying off.

A day ago, Mr. Ahmed received a text message: 100 vendors were protesting the cap. Organized by the Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit group that is part of the Urban Justice Center and offers legal representation to city vendors, they hoped to pressure the City Council to pass legislation introduced last fall that would double the number of food-vending permits, gradually, over the next seven years. Mr. Ahmed, who believes the costs for those starting out should be more manageable, wanted to join them, but like many vendors, he couldn't get away from work.

"The system is totally crazy," Mr. Ahmed says. "Whoever has a license, give them a permit. It's good for all of us."



For the full story, see:

TEJAL RAO. "A Day in the Lunch Box." The New York Times (Weds., APRIL 19, 2017): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2017, and has the title "A Day in the Life of a Food Vendor.")






June 18, 2017

300,000-Year-Old Homo Sapien Fossils Found




(p. A6) Fossils discovered in Morocco are the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, scientists reported on Wednesday [June 7, 2017], a finding that rewrites the story of mankind's origins and suggests that our species evolved in multiple locations across the African continent.

"We did not evolve from a single 'cradle of mankind' somewhere in East Africa," said Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of two new studies on the fossils, published in the journal Nature. "We evolved on the African continent."

Until now, the oldest known fossils of our species dated back just 195,000 years. The Moroccan fossils, by contrast, are roughly 300,000 years old. Remarkably, they indicate that early Homo sapiens had faces much like our own, although their brains differed in fundamental ways.


. . .


Resetting the clock on mankind's debut would be achievement enough. But the new research is also notable for the discovery of several early humans rather than just one, as so often happens, said Marta Mirazon Lahr, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the new study.

"We have no other place like it, so it's a fabulous finding," she said.

The people at Jebel Irhoud shared a general resemblance to one another -- and to living humans. Their brows were heavy, their chins small, their faces flat and wide. But all in all, they were not so different from people today.

"The face is that of somebody you could come across in the Metro," Dr. Hublin said.

The flattened faces of early Homo sapiens may have something to do with the advent of speech, speculated Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London.

"We really are at very early stages of trying to explain these things," Dr. Stringer said.

The brains of the inhabitants of Jebel Irhoud, on the other hand, were less like our own.

Although they were as big as modern human brains, they did not yet have its distinctively round shape. They were long and low, like those of earlier hominins.

Dr. Gunz, of the Max Planck Institute, said that the human brain may have become rounder at a later phase of evolution. Two regions in the back of the brain appear to have become enlarged over thousands of years.

"I think what we see reflect adaptive changes in the way the brain functions," he said. Still, he added, no one knows how a rounder brain changed how we think.

The people of Jebel Irhoud were certainly sophisticated. They could make fires and craft complex weapons, such as wooden handled spears, needed to kill gazelles and other animals that grazed the savanna that covered the Sahara 300,000 years ago.

The flint is interesting for another reason: Researchers traced its origin to another site about 20 miles south of Jebel Irhoud. Early Homo sapiens, then, knew how to search out and to use resources spread over long distances.



For the full story, see:

Zimmer, Carl. "MATTER; Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering History of Species." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 8, 2017): A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2017, and has the title "MATTER; Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering History of Our Species.")


I believe the two Nature articles mentioned above, are:

Hublin, Jean-Jacques, Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer, Shara E. Bailey, Sarah E. Freidline, Simon Neubauer, Matthew M. Skinner, Inga Bergmann, Adeline Le Cabec, Stefano Benazzi, Katerina Harvati, and Philipp Gunz. "New Fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the Pan-African Origin of Homo Sapiens." Nature 546, no. 7657 (June 8, 2017): 289-92.

Richter, Daniel, Rainer Grün, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Teresa E. Steele, Fethi Amani, Mathieu Rué, Paul Fernandes, Jean-Paul Raynal, Denis Geraads, Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer, Jean-Jacques Hublin, and Shannon P. McPherron. "The Age of the Hominin Fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the Origins of the Middle Stone Age." Nature 546, no. 7657 (June 8, 2017): 293-96.






June 17, 2017

"20 Years in a Labor Camp for 'Practicing Capitalism'"




(p. 23) "Just talk to any Chinese who lived through that time," a middle-aged man whose father spent nearly 20 years in a labor camp for "practicing capitalism" tells the radio reporter Rob Schmitz, in "Street of Eternal Happiness," his new book about some of the ordinary people he encounters in his Shanghai neighborhood. "We all have the same stories."


For the full review, see:

ADAM ROSE. "'Shanghai Confidential." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 15, 2016): 23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 13, 2016, and has the title "'Street of Eternal Happiness,' by Rob Schmitz'.")


The book under review, is:

Schmitz, Rob. Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road. New York: Crown, 2016.






June 16, 2017

Self-Driving Cars Would Help Older Adults Continue to Live at Home




(p. B4) Single, childless and 68, Steven Gold has begun to think about future mobility and independence. Although in good health, he can foresee a time when he won't be a confident driver, if he can drive at all. While he hopes to continue to live in his suburban Detroit home, he wonders how he will be able to get to places like his doctor's office and the supermarket if his driving becomes impaired.

For Mr. Gold and other older adults, self-driving cars might be a solution.

The number of United States residents age 70 and older is projected to increase to 53.7 million in 2030, from 30.9 million in 2014, according to the Institute for Highway Safety. Nearly 16 million people 65 and older live in communities where public transportation is poor or nonexistent. That number is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers remain outside of cities.

"The aging of the population converging with autonomous vehicles might close the coming mobility gap for an aging society," said Joseph Coughlin, the director of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology AgeLab in Cambridge.

He said that 70 percent of those over age 50 live in the suburbs, a figure he expects to remain steady despite a recent rise in moves to urban centers. Further, 92 percent of older people want to age in place, he said.



For the full story, see:

MARY M. CHAPMAN. "Wheels; For the Aged, Self-Driving Cars Could Bridge a Mobility Gap." The New York Times (Fri., March 24, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 23, 2017, and has the title "Wheels; Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdles.")






June 15, 2017

Middle Class Wants to Be Free to Choose Skinnier Health Insurance




(p. B4) For Linda Dearman, the House vote last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a welcome relief.

Ms. Dearman, of Bartlett, Ill., voted for President Trump largely because of his contempt for the federal health law. She and her husband, a partner in an engineering firm, buy their own insurance, but late last year they dropped their $1,100-a-month policy and switched to a bare-bones plan that does not meet the law's requirements. They are counting that the law will be repealed before they owe a penalty.

"Now it looks like it will be, and we're thrilled about that," Ms. Dearman, 54, said. "We are so glad to feel represented for a change."


. . .


In interviews over the last few days, people who support repealing the Affordable Care Act pointed to their long-simmering resentment of its mandate that most Americans have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Many also said that they could no longer afford the comprehensive coverage available on the individual market, and that they were eager to once again be allowed to choose skinnier policies without a penalty.

"Now I will no longer be expected to pay twice what I should for a product I don't need and be treated like a criminal with a fine if I refuse," said Edward Belanger, 55, a self-employed business appraiser in Dallas. He is an independent who usually votes Republican but last year chose Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, over Mr. Trump.

Like the Dearmans, Mr. Belanger canceled a plan that complies with the Affordable Care Act and bought a short-term policy that does not meet the law's standards, paying $580 a month for his family of four compared with the nearly $1,200 a month he paid last year. Policies like theirs usually have high deductibles and primarily offer catastrophic coverage for major injuries.



For the full story, see:

ABBY GOODNOUGH. "Feeling Hurt By Health Law, and Eager to See G.O.P. Repeal It." The New York Times (Tues., May 16, 2017): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2017, and has the title "Why Some Can't Wait for a Repeal of Obamacare.")






June 14, 2017

Lower Ivory Prices Reduce Incentives to Poach Elephants




(p. A9) NAIROBI, Kenya -- Finally, there's some good news for elephants.

The price of ivory in China, the world's biggest market for elephant tusks, has fallen sharply, which may spell a reprieve from the intense poaching of the past decade.

According to a report released on Wednesday [March 29, 2017] by Save the Elephants, a respected wildlife group in Kenya, the price of ivory is less than half of what it was just three years ago, showing that demand is plummeting.



For the full commentary, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Ivory Prices May Mean a Reprieve for Elephants." The New York Times (Thurs., March 30, 2017): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 29, 2017, and has the title "Elephants Get a Reprieve as Price of Ivory Falls.")






June 13, 2017

Banks Often Less Transparent and Less Flexible than Bank Alternatives




I saw a C-Span interview on their weekend Book TV today (3/16/17), with Professor Lisa Servon. She pointed out that many of the highly regulated, and much-criticized, alternative banking services, offer a more transparent, more flexible, and more friendly service environment than the incumbent banking industry. She even argues that for those with low-incomes, and low-education, the alternative services are often less expensive. This happens because those with low-incomes and low education are often those who by mistake or by difficult circumstance, incur high fees at banks.

She points out that many who are bankless, previously made use of bank services, but decided to go with the alternatives. She suggested that in a free market environment, some of the alternatives might creatively destroy the incumbent banks.

Servon is clearly no libertarian, but much of what she says is thought-provoking.


Servon's book is:

Servon, Lisa. The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2017.






June 12, 2017

DARPA's $66 Million Fails to Develop Tech to Match Dog Noses




(p. A2) "What's cool about dogs is when they do come into contact with an odor, they can track it to its source," said L. Paul Waggoner, co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University. "There is not an instrument out there that replicates a dog's nose."

That's not for lack of effort.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense spent $66 million between 1997 and 2010 drawing on the expertise of at least 35 different research institutions to develop sensors that could detect explosives as ably as a dog and identify other chemicals.


They couldn't do it.


. . .


Surprisingly, pigs and ferrets outperformed German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, breeds often chosen for odor detection.

But overall, dogs won out because of their combination of qualities: Not only do they have strong noses, they are compatible with people, they respond to training, and--for now--they beat technology paws down.



For the full commentary, see:

Jo Craven McGinty. "THE NUMBERS; Dogs Still Beat Technology in the Smell Test." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 25, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2017, and has the title"THE NUMBERS; Making Sense of a Dog's Olfactory Powers.")






June 11, 2017

Mainstream Economist William Baumol Celebrated Innovative Entrepreneurs





William J. Baumol is a key source in my book project on Innovation Unbound. I had hoped he would be able to read, and comment on, the current draft, but that is not to be. He was one of the heroes of the economics of entrepreneurship.



(p. A13) The disease that bears William J. Baumol's name is not what led to his death on May 4 [2017] at age 95, but it is what cemented his legacy as one of the pre-eminent economists of the 20th century.


. . .


Professor Baumol was "one of the great economists of his generation," Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, said in an interview, adding, "The series of insights he had about managerial economics, the role of innovation -- a whole series of innovational breakthroughs over a long period of time -- had a profound effect on economics."


. . .


"Nobody ever explained to him the difference between work and play," Daniel Baumol said of his father. "During a long trip, he would sit in the back of the car, oblivious to the world, and as we pulled in, he would announce, 'I just finished that article.'"

Patrick Bolton, a professor of economics at Columbia, described Professor Baumol as "someone who could come to a big problem and bring an extremely simple analysis that really shaped the way people would think about it."



For the full obituary, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "William J. Baumol, 95, Leading Thinker in Economics." The New York Times (Fri., May 12, 2017): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 10, 2017 and has the title "William J. Baumol, 95, 'One of the Great Economists of His Generation,' Dies.")


My favorite Baumol paper, is:

Baumol, William J. "Education for Innovation: Entrepreneurial Breakthroughs Versus Corporate Incremental Improvements." In Innovation Policy and the Economy, edited by Adam B. Jaffe, Josh Lerner and Scott Stern. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005, pp. 33-56.






June 10, 2017

Apple Funds Corning's Glass Innovation




(p. B6) SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple is seeding the next generation of American-made glass for its iPhones and iPads, and its investments may have the side benefit of helping the company win favor in Washington.

Apple announced Friday [May 12, 2017] that it was giving $200 million to Corning, which makes the tough, scratch-resistant face for every iPhone and iPad, to support the glass maker's efforts to develop and build more sophisticated products at its factory in Harrodsburg, Ky.

Corning has made the glass for every iPhone since the original 10 years ago. Apple's investment, the first from the technology giant's $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing in the United States, will help Corning develop thinner, more versatile glass for iPhones as well as other product lines that Apple is exploring, such as screens for self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses.

The move goes beyond Apple's traditional practice of subsidizing suppliers, said Tim Bajarin, president of the technology consulting firm Creative Strategies.

"I would see this more as an Apple-Corning partnership to flesh out what other kinds of things you would use glass for," he said. "They are literally thinking about stuff you and I aren't thinking about yet."



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Apple Gives $200 Million to Advance Phone Glass." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 13, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 12, 2017, and has the title "Apple Gives Corning $200 Million to Invent Better Phone Glass.")






June 9, 2017

"Death Has Never Made Any Sense to Me"




(p. 10) . . . , Kinsley is intent on being wryly realistic about coping with illness and the terminal prospects ahead. He makes fun of a fellow boomer, Larry Ellison, the C.E.O. of Oracle, who has spent millions in a quest for eternal life, and who was quoted as saying, "Death has never made any sense to me." Kinsley quips: "Actually the question is not whether death makes sense to Larry Ellison but whether Larry Ellison makes sense to death. And I'm afraid he does."


For the full review, see:

PHILLIP LOPATE. "Senior Moments'." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "Michael Kinsley's 'Old Age: A Beginner's Guide'.")


The book under review, is:

Kinsley, Michael. Old Age: A Beginner's Guide. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2016.






June 8, 2017

Silicon Valley Funding Big Dings in the Universe





When Steve Jobs was trying to recruit Pepsi's John Sculley to become Apple CEO, Jobs asked him something like: 'do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want a chance to make a ding in the universe.'



(p. B1) One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news -- most recently the one selling a $700 juicer -- and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.

But don't be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn't just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you've ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren't just funding big things -- they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.



For the full commentary, see:

Manjoo, Farhad. "STATE OF THE ART; These Days, Moon Shots Are Domain of the Valley." The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 17, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 17, 2017, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Google, Not the Government, Is Building the Future.")






June 7, 2017

Open Offices Disrupt Analytical Thinking and Creativity




(p. A13) Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee's field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity, research shows. While employers have long tried to quiet disruptive sounds in open workspaces, some are now combating visual noise too.


. . .


"I could barely ever focus," says Ms. Spivak, marketing and communications director for San Francisco-based Segment.

Her company overhauled its layout when it moved to new offices in April. Its former space was like a warehouse, creating "these long lines of sight across the workspace, where you have people you know and recognize moving by and talking to each other. It was incredibly distracting," CEO Peter Reinhardt says.


. . .


(p. A15) Being surrounded by teammates with similar work patterns can be comforting to employees. Unpredictable movements around the edges of a person's field of vision compete for cognitive resources, however, says Sabine Kastner, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University who has studied how the brain pays attention for 20 years. People differ in their ability to filter out visual stimuli. For some, a teeming or cluttered office can make it nearly impossible to concentrate, she says.


. . .


In an experiment with Chinese factory workers published in 2012, Ethan Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, found teams were 10% to 15% more productive when they worked behind a curtain that shielded them from supervisors' view. The employees felt freer to experiment with new ways to solve problems and improve efficiency when protected from their bosses' critical gaze, Dr. Bernstein says.

A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.



For the full commentary, see:

Sue Shellenbarger. "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 10, 2017): A13 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2017 and has the title "WORK & FAMILY; Why You Can't Concentrate at Work.")


The Bernstein paper, mentioned above, is:

Bernstein, Ethan S. "The Transparency Paradox." Administrative Science Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 2012): 181-216.






June 6, 2017

Bezos Stayed the Course, Refuted the Skeptics, and Made a Ding in the Universe




(p. B1) Twenty years ago this week, Amazon.com went public.

Skeptics of Jeff Bezos, the company's founder, have spent the better part of the past two decades second-guessing and vilifying him: He has been described as "a monopolist," "literary enemy No. 1," "a notorious international tax dodger," impossible, a ruthless boss and -- more than once -- "Lex Luthor." His company used to routinely be described as Amazon.con.

But you know what?

Here we are, 20 years later, and Mr. Bezos has an authentic, legitimate claim on having changed the way we live.

He has changed the way we shop. He has changed the way companies use computers, by moving much of their information and systems to cloud services. He's even changed the way we interact with computers by voice: "Alexa!"

Along the way, he has bought -- and fixed -- The Washington Post, one of the nation's premier journalistic institutions. And through his aerospace company, Blue Origin, he has invested billions of dollars in the race to space, a onetime hobby that, if successful, could change the world much more pro-(p. B3)foundly than free one-day shipping.


. . .


Perhaps the most surprising thing Mr. Bezos was able to accomplish, despite his detractors, was to find investors willing to trust him enough to invest in Amazon even as it racked up losses after losses.

That's not to say investors were always happy with Mr. Bezos -- they would frequently punish his stock, making it seem like a volatile investment. Then, every so often, he would surprise investors with profits, as if to suggest, "Yes, we can make money whenever we want, if we don't want to invest in the future."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; 20 Years On, Bezos Alters the Way We Shop and Live." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 16, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 15, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; 20 Years On, Amazon and Jeff Bezos Prove Naysayers Wrong.")






June 5, 2017

Going Postal




(p. 19) Over all, Leonard emphasizes a darker side of postal history, from the corruption scandals that periodically erupted after Andrew Jackson politicized the service, creating a gargantuan patronage machine, to oppressive government censorship campaigns. He devotes much of a chapter to Anthony Comstock, the longtime postal inspector and self-styled "weeder in God's garden," who banned and prosecuted the mailing of birth control pamphlets, "marriage aids" and "indecent" literary works like Walt Whitman's poems, lest they pollute public morals. Still another chapter charts the spree of mass killings by overworked, underpaid and aggrieved postal workers in the 1980s and early 1990s.


For the full review, see:

LISA McGIRR. "We Had Mail." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 10, 2016): 19.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 8, 2016, and has the title "Two Books Recount How Our Postal System Created a Communications Revolution.")


The book under review, is:

Leonard, Devin. Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service. New York: Grove Press, 2016.






June 4, 2017

Lower Quality Restaurants Most Hurt by Minimum Wage Hike




(p. A17) "There's only so much you can charge for tamales," the owner of a small eatery said in 2015 to explain one reason he was closing.

For some empirical backup, consider an April [2017] study from Michael Luca at Harvard Business School and Dara Lee Luca at Mathematica Policy Research. They used Bay Area data from the review website Yelp to estimate that a $1 minimum-wage hike leads to a 14% increase in "the likelihood of exit for a 3.5-star restaurant."

Put differently, San Francisco's minimum wage experiment may be dangerous for your favorite white-tablecloth restaurant--the kind of place where the food is exquisite and can command a premium--but it's downright deadly for your local white-apron diner.



For the full commentary, see:


Michael Saltsman. "The Minimum Wage Eats Restaurants; A San Francisco ex-owner says: 'There's only so much you can charge for tamales.'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 9, 2017): A17.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 9, 2017,)


The Luca and Luca paper, mentioned above, is:

Luca, Dara Lee and Luca, Michael. "Survival of the Fittest: The Impact of the Minimum Wage on Firm Exit." (April 2017). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 17-088.






June 3, 2017

"Mind-Bending" Automatic Braking Trickles Down to Cheaper Cars




(p. B4) I first experienced radar-assisted cruise control in a $70,000 Mercedes in 2001. Slowing automatically to keep from hitting the car ahead felt like a magic trick. In 2009, I was told to drive a new $50,000 Volvo into the back of a "parked car" (really, an inflatable mock-up). Every fiber of my body wanted to stomp on the brake pedal. Instead, the car did it for me. Automatic braking is mind-bending the first time.

Both of these technologies are standard equipment on 2017 Toyota Corollas, which start at $19,385. So is lane-keeping assist, which nudges the car back between the road stripes if you wander. Automatic high-beam headlamps, too.

Huzzah for technology trickle down!



For the full story, see:

TOM VOELK. "Tech Trickles Down into a Safer Corolla." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 16, 2017, and has the title "Video Review: Not-So-Standard Equipment on the Otherwise Standard Corolla.")






June 2, 2017

Since 1880 North America Is Warmer by One and a Half Degrees Fahrenheit




(p. A23) Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That's especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It's to acknowledge it honestly.


For the full commentary, see:

Stephens, Bret. "Climate of Complete Certainty." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 29, 2017): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 28, 2017.)







June 1, 2017

Many Great Inventors Rose, with Little Education, from Poverty




(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives--depending on which side of the gun you were on--because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. "If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?" he wrote. "War would be a thing of the past." And you wouldn't need the Gatling gun.

Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in "America the Ingenious" came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, "needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil." Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York's Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship--as American as apple pie." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 2016.







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