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January 31, 2018

"The Establishment Drew Its Knives" Against Lister's Handwashing




(p. C5) Lindsey Fitzharris's slim, atmospheric "The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine" has its share of resplendent gore. . . . The book is an imperfect first effort, stronger at the beginning than at the end, and a bit workaday when it isn't freaky -- it floats less on narrative momentum than on an armada of curious details. But the story it tells is one of abiding fascination, in part because it involves a paradigm shift so basic, so seemingly obvious, that one can scarcely believe the paradigm needed shifting in the first place.


. . .


The real drama in Lister's story comes from the resistance he faced to his theories. After he published the last article in a five-part series in the medical journal The Lancet, carefully outlining his system for killing "septic germs," the establishment drew its knives. The inventor of chloroform wrote under a pseudonym to complain that Lister was taking credit for having discovered the miracles of carbolic acid. (He wasn't.) Others accused him of fearmongering, dismissing Pasteur's germ theory as pure hooey. The editor of The Lancet himself refused to use the word "germ."

"It was difficult for many surgeons at the height of their careers," Fitzharris writes, "to face the fact that for the past 15 or 20 years they might have been inadvertently killing patients by allowing wounds to become infected with tiny, invisible creatures."


. . .


There were, after all, others -- most famously the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847, he hypothesized that puerperal fever was spread by doctors carrying "cadaverous particles" from the deadhouse to the obstetrics ward at Vienna's General Hospital. When he set up a basin filled with chlorinated water and enjoined his colleagues to do something radical after autopsies -- wash their hands -- mortality rates plummeted.

The establishment still rejected Semmelweis's hypothesis when he published it. Over the years, Fitzharris writes, his behavior grew increasingly erratic. He was eventually committed to an asylum.

Lister, meanwhile, lived to a ripe old age and got a mouthwash named after him. Timing, personality and geopolitics always help determine who earns the garlands for innovation. But it's sad to think that Semmelweis never lived to see the vindication of his theory. He died in that asylum, possibly from an infection, believing that his contribution had been bleached from the record.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR . "Books of The Times; Wash Up, Doc: How Hospitals Became Clean." The New York Times (Thursday, November 30, 2017): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 29, 2017, and has the title "Books of The Times; The Story of How Surgeons Cleaned Up Their Act.")


The book under review, is:

Fitzharris, Lindsey. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.






January 30, 2018

Kodak Using Blockchain to Manage Digital Photo Property Rights




(p. B1) Shares of Eastman Kodak more than doubled after the company waded into the digital-currency world with plans to launch an initial coin offering.

Kodak on Tuesday [January 9, 2018] said the coin, KodakCoin, would be the backbone of a new platform that will help photographers license their work and track the unlicensed use of their images. The coin uses the technology behind bitcoin, called blockchain, to keep a digital ledger of the photographs.


. . .


"For many in the tech industry, 'blockchain' and 'cryptocurrency' are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who've long struggled to assert control over their work and how it's used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem," said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke in a statement.

For the past several years, people have been experimenting with ways to use blockchain. At its essence, blockchain is an open record of transactions, maintained in an online ledger that is distributed across a network of computers, that cannot be tampered with. That makes it like an indelible time stamp, which could be useful in a case of copyright and digital-rights management.



For the full story, see:


Erik Holm and Paul Vigna. "Kodak Snaps Is Crypto-Moment."The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan 10, 2018): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan 9, 2018, and has the title "Kodak Catches Crypto Fever." The online version has two additional paragraphs between the last two paragraphs quoted above.)






January 29, 2018

"Without Amazon, We Wouldn't Be Here"




(p. B1) KANATA, Ontario -- Truth be told, the headquarters of Instant Pot don't look much like a church.

But inside this sterile, gray office building on the outskirts of Ottawa, behind a door marked only by a small metal sign, a new religion has been born.

Its deity is the Instant Pot, a line of electric multicookers that has become an internet phenomenon and inspired a legion of passionate foodies and home cooks. These devotees -- they call themselves "Potheads" -- use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget's praises to the unconverted.


. . .


(p. B5) I went to Kanata to get a peek behind the scenes of the Instant Pot phenomenon and meet its creator: Robert Wang, who invented the device and serves as chief executive of Double Insight, its parent company. What I found was a remarkable example of a new breed of 21st-century start-up -- a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth. It is also a testament to the enormous power of Amazon, and its ability to turn small businesses into major empires nearly overnight.


. . .


In 2010, after several months of sluggish sales in and around Ontario, Mr. Wang listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device's pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat.

Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.


. . .


Mr. Wang credits the device's technological advances -- most notably, a group of sensors that keep the cooker from overheating or exploding under pressure.

Instant Pot's internet fandom also gives it a leg up. The food bloggers behind popular recipe sites like Nom Nom Paleo were early converts to electric pressure-cooking, and cookbook authors took note of the device's cult appeal. Mr. Wang says that more than 1,500 Instant Pot cookbooks have been written, including several of Amazon's current best-sellers.

Amazon has played a particularly large role in Instant Pot's rise. Early on, Instant Pot joined the "Fulfillment by Amazon" program, in which Amazon handles the packing and shipping of a seller's products in exchange for a cut of each item sold. Eventually, Instant Pot sent Amazon wholesale shipments directly from factories in China, and Amazon began promoting the machines in its major annual sales. At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot's sales came through Amazon.

"Without Amazon, we wouldn't be here," Mr. Wang said.



For the full story, see:

KEVIN ROOSE. "The Shift; Instant Pot's Inner Sanctum." The New York Times (Mon., December 18, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 17, 2017, and has the title "The Shift; Inside the Home of Instant Pot, the Kitchen Gadget That Spawned a Religion.")






January 28, 2018

Trying to Explain Low AI Productivity Gains as Due to Slow Adapting and Old Habits




(p. A2) In a recent paper Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chad Syverson of the University of Chicago note electric motors based on alternating current were introduced in the late 1800s but even by 1919 half of U.S. factories still weren't electrified. The integrated circuit was commercialized in the 1960s yet 25 years later computers still represented just 5% of the value of all business equipment. Indeed, since the introduction of computers labor productivity has behaved much as it did after the introduction of electric motors and the internal combustion engine.

The authors blame these lags on the cost and time it takes for businesses to adapt to new technologies, obstacles they see at work today. Online shopping came along in the 1990s but retailers struggled to adapt business processes to the internet. They needed to build complementary infrastructure such as fulfillment centers, and, the authors note, customers had to adapt their habits, as well.


. . .


. . . perhaps the U.S. is at a point when technology and an economy growing solidly with low unemployment become mutually reinforcing. "Entrepreneurs are more willing to take risks, including investments in new technologies and new business models when the economy is running hotter," says Mr. Brynjolfsson. "This will speed up the adoption of the kinds of conventions needed to take full advantage of artificial intelligence and other new technologies," he said.



For the full commentary, see:

Greg Ip. ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Technology-Driven Boom Is Finally Coming." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 27, 2017, and has the title ''CAPITAL ACCOUNT; A Tech-Driven Boom Is Coming; Please Be Patient.")


The Brynjolfsson, Rock and Syverson paper, mentioned above, is:

Brynjolfsson, Erik, Daniel Rock, and Chad Syverson. "Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics." NBER Working Papers # 24001. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Nov. 2017.






January 27, 2018

World War I Spread the Deadly Flu of 1918




(p. A17) The Spanish flu began in the spring of 1918, infected 500 million people, and killed between 50 million and 100 million of them--more than both world wars and the Holocaust combined. Not since the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century--the Black Death--had such a fearsome pestilence devastated mankind.

Spanish-flu patients "would soon be having trouble breathing," writes Laura Spinney in "Pale Rider," her gripping account of the pandemic.


. . .


Ms. Spinney is at her best in trying to tease out the real origin of the pandemic. The first suspect was China, where pneumonic plague had erupted on the Manchurian border in 1910. The government, trying to curry favor with the Allies in World War I, had then sent tens of thousands of laborers, many infected, to dig trenches on the Western Front. Another theory put the initial outbreak at the British army's mobilization base in Étaples in northern France. A third candidate was in the American heartland, at a U.S. Army staging base, Camp Funston in Kansas. The question is unsettled, but plainly the movement of troops in the Great War accelerated the flu's spread.


. . .


The frantic search for the cause of the pandemic was nightmarish, too. A respected researcher persuaded himself and others that he had found the bacillus, and he persisted even though autopsies rarely turned up his pet suspect in the tissues of the dead. The microbe hunters couldn't find their quarry because it slipped through the ultrafine strainers they tried to catch it with, and it was invisible to their microscopes. It was what the French bacteriologist Émile Roux called an "être de raison," an organism whose existence could be deduced only from its effects. Eventually a virus--1/20th the size of a bacillus--was identified as the culprit. It was not actually seen until decades later with the invention of the electron microscope.



For the full review, see:

Edward Kosner. "BOOKSHELF; A World Of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 11, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 10, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A World of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.")


The book under review, is:

Spinney, Laura. Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.






January 26, 2018

Apple Orchard Must Focus on "Placating a Government Regulator"




(p. A1) ALTAMONT, N.Y. -- For eight weeks every fall, Indian Ladder Farms, a fifth-generation family operation near Albany, kicks into peak season.

The farm sells homemade apple pies, fresh cider and warm doughnuts. Schoolchildren arrive by the busload to learn about growing apples. And as customers pick fruit from trees, workers fill bins with apples, destined for the farm's shop and grocery stores.

This fall, amid the rush of commerce -- the apple harvest season accounts for about half of Indian Ladder's annual revenue -- federal investigators showed up. They wanted to check the farm's compliance with migrant labor rules and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets pay and other requirements for workers.

Suddenly, the small office staff turned its focus away from making money to placating a government regulator.

The investigators arrived on a Friday in late September and interviewed the farm's management and a group of laborers from Jamaica, who have special work visas. The investigators hand delivered a notice and said they would be back the following week, when they asked to have 22 types of records available. The request included vehicle registrations, insurance documents and time sheets -- reams of paper in all.

Over the next several days, the Ten Eyck family, which owns the farm, along with the staff devoted about 40 hours to serving the investigators, who visited three times before closing the books.

"It is terribly disruptive," said Peter G. Ten Eyck II, 79, who runs the farm along with a daughter (p. A14) and son. "And the dimension that doesn't get mentioned is the psychological hit: They are there to find something wrong with you. And then they are going to fine you."

This is life on the farm -- and at businesses of all sorts. With thick rule books laying out food safety procedures, compliance costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and ever-changing standards from the government and industry groups, local produce growers are a textbook example of what many business owners describe as regulatory fatigue.

Over the past five decades, Mr. Ten Eyck said, there has been an unending layering of new rules and regulations on his farm of over 300 acres, as more government agencies have taken an interest in nearly every aspect of growing food, and those agencies already involved have become even more so.

Now, a new rule is going into effect that will significantly expand the oversight of one regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, at the farm.


. . .


Researchers at the Mercatus Center, a conservative-leaning economic think tank at George Mason University, say apple orchards are facing a growing federal regulatory burden. Quantifying that burden is difficult, but using a computer algorithm that analyzes regulations through keyword searches, researchers from the center's RegData Project estimated the federal regulatory code contains 12,000 restrictions and rules on orchards, up from about 9,500, or an increase of 26 percent, from a decade ago.

Many of those rules apply to other businesses as well, and some restrict the actions of government regulators, not the orchard owners. Using the Mercatus Center data, and screening for such exceptions, The New York Times identified at least 17 federal regulations with about 5,000 restrictions and rules that were relevant to orchards.


. . .


. . . regulation streamlining is a winning message across the political spectrum when it comes to making life easier for small businesses, according to more than 20 interviews with business owners and others in the produce industry.

Industry by industry, small businesses have been lobbying governments -- from town health departments to federal cabinet agencies -- to simplify rules and eradicate redundancy.


. . .


The grievances relate largely to the sheer amount of time and money that it takes to comply, and what farmers see as a disconnect between them -- the rule followers -- and the rule makers, who Mr. Ten Eyck describes as "people looking at a computer screen dreaming up stuff."

"The intentions are not bad," he said. "It is just that one layer after another gets to be -- trying to top the people before them."



For the full story, see:

STEVE EDER. "One Apple Orchard and 5,000 Government Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A14-A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "When Picking Apples on a Farm With 5,000 Rules, Watch Out for the Ladders.")






January 25, 2018

"The Transforming Power of the Individual Will"




(p. A10) "These deep transformations have started and will continue with the same force, the same rhythm, the same intensity in 2018," the French president told his compatriots in his New Year's Eve greetings a few days before.

Mr. Macron was hinting at the real disruptions he has brought about in French political life -- in employment and fiscal policy so far, with other big jolts promised soon. Remarkably in so hidebound a country he is getting away with it.


. . .


Mr. Macron imbibed from his mentor, the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a belief in the transforming power of the individual will. As proof, the young president can point to his own quick rise to the top, a stunning success that undergirds many of his pronouncements.

Similarly, the changes he has pushed through so far -- like his lightening of the mammoth French labor code, with barely a whimper from the opposition -- only buttress the narrative of individual determination, which he now hopes to infuse in his fellow citizens.

It is an unusual position for a French politician, who for generations have emphasized the protective power of the state -- and the proof of any success will come only with a significant drop in the stubborn 10-percent jobless rate, elusive so far. But already surveys show higher levels of confidence among business executives than have been seen in many years.



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "French President Opens Year With Scolding for Journalists." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title "Macron Opens Year Pulling No Punches With Journalists, or Anyone.")






January 24, 2018

Automation Is "About Doing More with the People We've Got"




(p. A1) Mr. Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.

He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Mr. Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.

"I'm not really worried," he says. "There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us."


. . .


(p. A8) The Garpenberg mine has been in operation more or less since 1257. More than a decade ago, Boliden teamed up with Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, to put in wireless internet. That has allowed miners to talk to one another to fix problems as they emerge. Miners now carry tablet computers that allow them to keep tabs on production all along the 60 miles of roads running through the mine.

"For us, automation is something good," says Fredrik Hases, 41, who heads the local union chapter representing technicians. "No one feels like they are taking jobs away. It's about doing more with the people we've got."



For the full story, see:

PETER S. GOODMAN. "Sweden Adds Human Touch to a Robotic Future." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "The Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine.")






January 23, 2018

Britain's Peaceful Ceding of Global Dominance Was a "Shining Exception"




(p. A13) At Harvard, the scholar Graham Allison, with a research team, has studied the historical precedents for power transitions, and his findings are not encouraging. In almost every case, he discovered, conflict was the result. The perennial danger, he explained in "Destined for War," published earlier this year, is that the weakening greater power will force a confrontation with its growing rival in order to stem its own decline, as Athens did with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The results can be disastrous, as they were for Athens.

The shining exception to the pattern is the peaceful shift in global dominance between 1870 and 1945. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, tackles this subject in "Safe Passage: The Transition From British to American Hegemony," a remarkable and timely chronicle--living history of the best sort.


. . .


In the 1840s, the two powers clashed over the Oregon Territory. Britain, though stronger militarily, accepted a compromise that endures to this day in the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel. Then, during the Civil War, London resisted the temptation to halt the rise of a competitor-power by supporting the Confederacy--say, by breaking the Union blockade. Britain's reasoning, in this case, rested on the self-interested desire to maintain the integrity of the blockade weapon for its own use and, in part, on a growing abhorrence of slavery.

As a result of such decisions, a peaceful transition--a "safe passage"--became possible. Its core logic, in Ms. Schake's view, was a mutuality of ideological and geopolitical interests, a realistic grasp of shifting military and economic power, and a kind of political cross-pollination: The United States, to paraphrase Ms. Schake's formulation, became more imperial as Britain became more democratic.



For the full review, see:

Brendan Simms. "BOOKSHELF; Make Way for the New Boss; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?" The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The 'Safe Passage' From British to American Hegemony; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?")


The book under review, is:

Schake, Kori. Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.






January 22, 2018

Is a Michelin Star the Best Metric of Good Food?




(p. A4) MONTCEAU-LES-MINES, France -- It is like giving up your Nobel, rejecting your Oscar, pushing back on your Pulitzer: Jérôme Brochot, a renowned and refined chef, decided to turn in his Michelin star.

He is renouncing the uniquely French distinction that separates his restaurant from thousands of others, the lifetime dream of hundreds. But Mr. Brochot's decision was not a rash one, born of arrogance, ingratitude or spite. Rather, it was for a prosaic, but still important, reason: he could no longer afford it.


. . .


Even in a region famed for its culinary traditions, this declining old mining town deep in lower Burgundy could not sustain a one-star Michelin restaurant. Mr. Brochot, a youthful-looking 46, had gambled on high-end cuisine in a working-class town and lost.


. . .


Already Mr. Brochot's strategy appears to be working. He has cut his prices and is offering a more down-to-earth cuisine of stews, including the classic blanquette de veau, and serving cod instead of the more expensive sea bass.

It had depressed him deeply, he said, to have to throw away costly bass and turbot, like gold even in France's street markets, at the end of every sitting because his customers couldn't afford it. "There was a lot of waste," he said.

"Since we changed the formula, we've gotten a lot more people," Mr. Brochot said. Above all, the effect has been psychological. "In the heads of people, a one-star, it's the price," he said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, most of the tables had diners, including Didier Mathus, the longtime former mayor, a Socialist.


. . .


"Maybe the star scared people," Mr. Mathus said. "I understand. He's saying, 'Don't be scared to come here.' Here, it's simple people, with modest incomes."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Rejected Honor Reflects Hardships of 'the Other France'." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "Chef Gives Up a Star, Reflecting Hardship of 'the Other France'.")






January 21, 2018

"New Jerseyans Are More Flammable than People in the Other 49 States"




(p. A17) At 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, New Jersey became the last state in the nation where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gasoline around the clock.


. . .


It is a distinction that makes Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr., a state lawmaker, spout frustration by the gallon.

"It's ridiculous," said Mr. O'Scanlon, a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County who will soon take a seat in the State Senate. "If I want to pull in, get in and out quickly, I should be able to do so."

Mr. O'Scanlon said that he frequently pumps his own gas, ignoring the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act of 1949, the statute that first forbade civilians from putting their grubby hands on the nozzle.


. . .


New Jersey legislators cited safety concerns when they passed the original law that barred residents from pumping gas almost 70 years ago. But when gas station owners challenged the ban in 1951, the state's Supreme Court ruled that self-serve was indeed "dangerous in use." And the ban held up, despite attempts to fight it in the 1980s.

In the rest of the country, self-service stations became the norm. Safer unleaded gasoline became more common, thanks to federal regulations, as did pumps that accepted credit cards. In most of the United States, that spelled the end of an era when attendants offered to wipe your windshield and check your oil while the tank filled up and you fumbled for a tip.

Mr. O'Scanlon is undeterred by the dual weights of history and public opinion. He said that he may bring a new proposal this year, just to keep the conversation alive. He said that economic arguments about jobs and safety are absurd, given that drivers in other states have been pumping their own gas for decades and lived to tell the tale.

"The only thing you could argue is that New Jerseyans are more flammable than people in the other 49 states," he said. "Because we eat so much oily pizza, funnel cake and fries, maybe you could make that argument. Otherwise, it's simply ridiculous."



For the full story, see:

JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH. "New Jersey Is Last State to Insist at Gas Stations: Don't Touch That Pump." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018.)






January 20, 2018

Health Info from Apple Watches Will Allow Patients to "Take More Control"




(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In the last months of Steve Jobs's life, the Apple co-founder fought cancer while managing diabetes.

Because he hated pricking his finger to draw blood, Mr. Jobs authorized an Apple research team to develop a noninvasive glucose reader with technology that could potentially be incorporated into a wristwatch, according to people familiar with the events, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.


. . .


In September [2017], Apple announced that the Apple Watch would no longer need to be tethered to a smartphone and would become more of a stand-alone device. Since then, a wave of device manufacturers have tapped into the watch's new features like cellular connectivity to develop medical accessories -- such as an electrocardiogram for monitoring heart activity -- so people can manage chronic conditions straight from their wrist.


. . .


(p. B4) A digital health revolution has been predicted for years, of course, and so far has been more hype than progress. But the hope is that artificial intelligence systems will sift through the vast amounts of data that medical accessories will collect from the Apple Watch and find patterns that can lead to changes in treatment and detection, enabling people to take more control of how they manage their conditions instead of relying solely on doctors.

Vic Gundotra, chief executive of AliveCor, a start-up that makes portable electrocardiograms, said this would put patients on a more equal footing with doctors because they would have more information on their own conditions.

"It's changing the nature of the relationship between patient and doctor," he said, adding that doctors will no longer be "high priests."


. . .


Apple is also looking at potentially building an electrocardiogram into future models of the Apple Watch, according to a person familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. It is unclear whether the EKG development, earlier reported by Bloomberg, would be introduced; such a product would most likely require F.D.A. clearance.

Separately, Apple is continuing research on a noninvasive continuous glucose reader, according to two people with knowledge of the project. The technology is still considered to be years away, industry experts said.

The current solution used by many diabetics is also coming to the Apple Watch. Dexcom, a maker of devices measuring blood sugar levels for diabetics, said it was awaiting F.D.A. approval for a continuous glucose monitor to work directly with the Apple Watch. Continuous glucose monitors use small sensors to pierce the skin to track blood sugar levels and relay those readings through a wireless transmitter.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "As Wearable Devices Evolve, The Apple Watch Offers an EKG." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Freed From the iPhone, the Apple Watch Finds a Medical Purpose.")






January 19, 2018

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"




(p. 18) Run through anyone's list of "disruptive" innovations in the works today and they begin to seem like small-time stuff as we contemplate "Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World." Driverless cars, virtual reality, robots--these are interesting possibilities. But slaughter-free flesh for humanity, meat without misery, dinner without death: Now we're talking "transformational."

Who would not wish--all the more so if it meant giving up nothing--to make the abattoirs of the world fall silent? Suppose, as Paul Shapiro asks us to imagine, that after 10,000 or so years of raising other creatures for the killing, and some 60 years of raising them in the pitiless conditions of factory farms, we produced meat and other animal products from cultured cells, with no further need of the animals themselves, or at least no need that required their suffering.


. . .


To assume that the entrepreneurs and scientists described in "Clean Meat" cannot one day match precisely the beef, pork, chicken, duck and all the rest that carnivores demand is a bet against human ingenuity. Consider how close plant-based alternatives to meat, milk and eggs have come already. Not for nothing has Tyson Foods acquired a 5% stake in the startup Beyond Meat, through a venture fund focused, as Tyson announced, on "breakthrough technologies," including clean meat.

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"--a slogan of the future, Mr. Shapiro hopes.



For the full review, see:

Matthew Scully. "Making Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 5, 2018, and has the title "Review: 'Clean Meat' Could Make Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef.")


The book under review, is:

Shapiro, Paul. Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.






January 18, 2018

"Reject the Dark Side: Free the Net!"




(p. C5) HEALY Matt, what's a culture/politics tidbit most people don't know?

FLEGENHEIMER Washington's most prolific consumer of pop culture is very likely ... Ted Cruz. Amateur "S.N.L." historian, '80s movie buff and instigator of a Twitter feud with Mark Hamill over net neutrality. He explained the meaning of "Star Wars" to Luke Skywalker. It was very Cruz: @HammillHimself Luke, I know Hollywood can be confusing, but it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet. That's why giant corps (Google, Facebook, Netflix) supported the FCC power grab of net neutrality. Reject the dark side: Free the net! Ted Cruz 12:25 PM - Dec 17, 2017

ROGERS '80s movie buff?

FLEGENHEIMER "The Princess Bride"! Life on the campaign trail with Ted Cruz was basically months of "Princess Bride" imitations with an occasional discussion of Obamacare.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT FLEGENHEIMER and KATIE ROGERS. "'S.N.L.' Kimmel. Covfefe." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis, bold and caps, in original.).

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Kimmel, Covfefe, 'Wonder Woman': Washington on Pop Culture in 2017." The commentary/discussion is credited to Flegenheimer and Rogers, but Patrick Healy also participated. There are a few minor differences in how the print and online versions present the Cruz tweet. The quote above, follows the print version.)






January 17, 2018

Why People Have Trouble Taking Global Warming Seriously




(p. A15) It was only getting worse here and all across the Northeast in the wake of a "bomb cyclone" that turned Boston streets into an Arctic sea and left three-foot snowdrifts across New England. Weather forecasters were predicting temperature lows that could shatter century-old records in Worcester, Mass., Hartford and elsewhere.

Millions of people from Florida to Maine were left shivering as schools closed and flights were canceled this week. Officials said that seven deaths appeared to be tied to the weather.

Windows splintered. Car batteries died. Along the Maine coastline, the flooding left icebergs in people's yards. Ice fishermen had to keep their smelt bait close to them for fear it would freeze solid. Even snowmobiles coughed and sputtered and refused to start.

Across this American tundra, people called their heating-oil companies for emergency supplies and sat stranded on the sides of roads as tow-truck companies reported five-hour wait times to jump-start a dead battery or tow away a snowbound car. People slept in winter coats and debated whether wool, cotton or silk made for the best long underwear.



For the full story, see:

JESS BIDGOOD, KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JACK HEALY. "The Big Payoff At the Summit: Frozen Misery." The New York Times (Sat., January 6, 2018): A1 & A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title "An Eyelash-Freezing 'Icy Hell': The One Spot That Could Feel Like Minus 100.")






January 16, 2018

Badly Understood Starfish Causes Half of Great Barrier Reef Decline




(p. A9) BYRON BAY, Australia -- The Great Barrier Reef is literally being eaten alive.


. . .


One study found that between 1985 and 2012, the reef lost an average of 50 percent of its coral cover. Starfish predation was responsible for almost half that decline, along with tropical cyclones and bleaching.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown. One hypothesis is that currents are bringing nutrient-rich water from the deep sea up into the shelf, which correlates with starfish larvae growth.


. . .


Coral reefs are constantly undergoing change, and they follow a cycle of death and renewal, said Hugh Sweatman, a scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.



For the full story, see:

ISABELLA KWAI. "A Voracious Starfish Is Destroying the Great Barrier Reef." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018.)


The academic study mentioned above, is:

De'ath, Glenn, Katharina E. Fabricius, Hugh Sweatman, and Marji Puotinen. "The 27-Year Decline of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef and Its Causes." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, no. 44 (Oct. 30, 2012): 17995-99.






January 15, 2018

Revival of the Resilient Brer Rabbit




(p. C23) When Robert Weil, the editor in chief and publishing director of Liveright, approached Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar with the idea of putting together "The Annotated African American Folktales," the two Harvard professors responded with a mix of excitement and trepidation.


. . .


"The Annotated African American Folktales," which came out in November [2017], contains more than 100 African and African-American folk tales as well as introductory essays and commentary to provide historical context. It draws from the rich, undersung work of folklorists from West Africa to the Deep South.


. . .


Professors Gates and Tatar . . . tackle controversial parts of folklore history, dedicating a chapter to the work of Joel Chandler Harris.


. . .


The decision to include Harris's work in this collection produced lively discussions between Mr. Gates and Ms. Tatar. "I felt uncomfortable with it," Ms. Tatar said. But Mr. Gates disagreed. The exchange proved to be a key moment of collaboration.

"In my house, growing up in Piedmont, West Virginia, we collected Mother Goose and Joel Chandler Harris," he said. "My father used to tell Brer Rabbit stories to my brother and me all the time."


. . .


In the late 19th century and early 20th century, African-Americans debated whether these folk tales were worth preserving. Some people considered the stories remnants of slavery rather than evidence of ingenuity.

The novelist Toni Morrison, however, has played an important role in validating these stories by integrating them into her writing, Ms. Tatar said.

While Ms. Morrison's novels contain traces of innovative uses of folklore, "Tar Baby" is the most obvious and the one Mr. Gates was particularly eager to include in this collection. Not only is it one of his favorite stories but he also finds the appearance of the tar baby in many cultures "haunting." The original folk tale is the story of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Angry that Brer Rabbit is always stealing from his garden, Brer Fox makes a tar baby. Brer Rabbit comes across the figure and tries to start a conversation. He grows frustrated by the lack of response and hits the tar baby, only to find his paw stuck in what is a doll made of tar and turpentine.


. . .


Folk tales give us "ancestral wisdom," they teach children lessons about compassion, forgiveness and respect, said Ms. Tatar. They take us "back to the people who lived before us." They help us "navigate the future."

Mr. Gates couldn't agree more. He has dedicated this labor of love to his 3-year-old granddaughter. He wants the book to be not just for her and black children of her generation, but for all American children.



For the full commentary, see:

LOVIA GYARKYE. "Folklore Reclaimed From History's Dustbin." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 15, 2017): C23.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title "From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next Generation.")


The book by Gates and Tatar, is:

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Maria ‎Tatar, eds. The Annotated African American Folktales. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2017.


The book by Joel Chandler Harris, is:

Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895.






January 14, 2018

Tax Overhaul "Armageddon"




(p. A19) To travel the liberal byways of social media over recent weeks was to learn that Donald Trump was on the precipice of axing Robert Mueller and was likely to use the days just before Christmas, when we were distracted by eggnog and mistletoe, to lower the blade.

Christmas has come. Christmas has gone. Mueller has not.

To listen to Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, the tax overhaul that Trump just signed into law is no mere plutocratic folly. It's "Armageddon" (Pelosi's actual word). Their opposition is righteous, but how will millions of voters who notice smaller withholdings from their paychecks and more money in their pockets square that seemingly good fortune with such prophecies of doom on a biblical scale?

Some of these Americans may decide that the prophets aren't to be trusted -- and that the president isn't quite the pestilence they make him out to be.



For the full commentary, see:

Bruni, Frank. "The Dangers Of Trump Delirium." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "The End of Trump and the End of Days.")






January 13, 2018

Some Elevator Operator Jobs Remain




(p. 10) There are 69,381 passenger elevators in this vertically obsessed city, and nearly all of them promise a journey about as exotic and exciting as making toast. You get in, you push a button, the doors open a few seconds later at your destination.

But there remain quite a few machines, manually controlled and chauffeur-driven, where climbing aboard is more like taking a short trip on the Orient Express.


. . .


Most of the elevators are in residential buildings, but a few war horses serve heavy duty in commercial complexes.

Collectively they form a hidden museum of obsolete technology and anachronistic employment, a network of cabinets of wonder staffed round the clock. No one knows how many there are, exactly. The city Department of Buildings offered a list of more than 600, but spot checks indicated that most had gone push-button long ago. On the other hand, officials at Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, to which most doormen and elevator operators belong, said they knew of only one or two.

A non-exhaustive field survey this fall turned up 53 buildings with manual passenger elevators. There are undoubtedly dozens more, but probably not hundreds.

Why they still exist in such relative profusion, when the city is down to its last few seltzer men and its final full-time typewriter repair shop, when replacement parts are no longer made and must be machined by hand, is a question with many answers. But sentiment plays a large part.


. . .


Push-button elevators had actually been around since the 1890s, but were not practical for larger buildings. They were slow. Initially they could make only one stop per trip. Later, they could make multiple stops, but only in the order the buttons were pressed.

It took until 1950 for Otis to perfect a push-button system smart enough to handle the traffic and shifting demands for service over the course of the day in a multi-elevator building. The company's Autotronic system, Otis boasted in advertisements, "minimizes the human element" and "gives tenants a sprightly feeling of independence."

The elevator man's fate was sealed.

Almost.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "Riding a Time Capsule to Apt. 8G." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 17, 2017): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 15, 2017, and has the title "Riding a Time Capsule to Apartment 8G.")






January 12, 2018

DeepMind Mastered "Go" Only After It Was Told the Score




(p. C3) To function well outside controlled settings, robots must be able to approximate such human capacities as social intelligence and hand-eye coordination. But how to distill them into code?

"It turns out those things are really hard," said Cynthia Breazeal, a roboticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.


. . .


Even today's state-of-the-art AI has serious practical limits. In a recent paper, for example, researchers at MIT described how their AI software misidentified a 3-D printed turtle as a rifle after the team subtly altered the coloring and lighting for the reptile. The experiment showed the ease of fooling AI and raised safety concerns over its use in real-world applications such as self-driving cars and facial-recognition software.

Current systems also aren't great at applying what they have learned to new situations. A recent paper by the AI startup Vicarious showed that a proficient Atari-playing AI lost its prowess when researchers moved around familiar features of the game.


. . .


Google's DeepMind subsidiary used a technique known as reinforcement learning to build software that has repeatedly beat the best human players in Go. While learning the classic Chinese game, the machine got positive feedback for making moves that increased the area it walled off from its competitor. Its quest for a higher score spurred the AI to develop territory-taking tactics until it mastered the game.

The problem is that "the real world doesn't have a score," said Brown University roboticist Stefanie Tellex. Engineers need to code into AI programs so-called "reward functions"--mathematical ways of telling a machine it has acted correctly. Beyond the finite scenario of a game, amid the complexity of real-life interactions, it's difficult to determine what results to reinforce. How, and how often, should engineers reward machines to guide them to perform a certain task? "The reward signal is so important to making these algorithms work," Dr. Tellex added.


. . .


If a robot needs thousands of examples to learn, "it's not clear that's particularly useful," said Ingmar Posner, the deputy director of the Oxford Robotics Institute in the U.K. "You want that machine to pick up pretty quickly what it's meant to do."



For the full commentary, see:

Daniela Hernandez. "'Can Robots Learn to Improvise?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 16, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 15, 2017.)


The paper by the researchers at Vicarious, is:

Kansky, Ken, Tom Silver, David A. Mely, Mohamed Eldawy, Miguel Lázaro-Gredilla, Xinghua Lou, Nimrod Dorfman, Szymon Sidor, Scott Phoenix, and Dileep George. "Schema Networks: Zero-Shot Transfer with a Generative Causal Model of Intuitive Physics." Manuscript, 2017.


The paper, mentioned above, from the MIT Media Lab, is:

Athalye, Anish, Logan Engstrom, Andrew Ilyas, and Kevin Kwok. "Synthesizing Robust Adversarial Examples." Working paper, Oct. 30, 2017.






January 11, 2018

Will Ending Firm Hierarchy Create "a Blissful Business Utopia"?




(p. 18) "The Kingdom of Happiness" doesn't take place in Silicon Valley per se, but it is definitively about tech culture. Groth follows Tony Hsieh, the creator of Zappos, as he pours $350 million of his personal wealth into downtown Las Vegas with the goal of reinventing the area as . I won't be giving away the story by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Hsieh, . . ."


. . .


When she's sober, Groth documents Hsieh's attempt to integrate "holacracy" into his organizations, a term that rids a company of hierarchy and titles, and instead creates an all-for-one do-what-you-want mentality. (No, I'm not kidding.) It gave me a panic attack just thinking of working in a place like that.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Groth, Aimee. The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh's Zapponian Utopia. New York: Touchstone, 2017.






January 10, 2018

Rise in Cobalt Price Will Increase Quantity Supplied, and Increase Search for Substitutes




(p. B14) . . . the dreaded shortage of cobalt, which is used in the cathode of the batteries, is a bit more complicated than industry projections would suggest.


. . .


Like cobalt, rare earths aren't so rare. China's move to restrict exports in 2010 exacerbated the perceived shortage, sending the prices of some varieties up 10-fold. Companies such as Molycorp, Rare Element Resources Ltd. and Quest Rare Mineral Ltd., which all had some connection to reserves, saw their shares surge based on supposedly rosy prospects. Since then, all have lost nearly all of their value.

Already, Mr. Heppel explains, other users of the metal, for example in the pigments industry, are searching for alternatives. Meanwhile, some batteries, such as a design by Tesla, use less of the metal. Lower-performing batteries use none at all, and those batteries' capabilities may improve with technological tweaks.

Supply will react too. Companies that operate copper and nickel mines, where cobalt is co-produced, are targeting expansion, and there are some pure-play cobalt mines being planned that could start producing shortly after the projected shortage hits.

For electric vehicles, this looks more like a speed bump than a cliff.



For the full commentary, see:

Spencer Jakab. "Will a Shortage of Cobalt Kill Electric-Vehicle Makers?" The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Will Tesla Die for Lack of Cobalt?.")






January 9, 2018

Only 5% of Jobs at Risk of Total Automation




(p. B6) About 15% of all hours worked globally could be automated by 2030 using technology that is currently available, McKinsey estimates. The new report builds on McKinsey's earlier research, published in January [2017], which found that 60% of all occupations could be at least partially automated with current tools, though fewer than 5% are at risk of total automation.

Like prior waves of technological change, the adoption of new tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence will likely create more jobs than it destroys, says the Institute, the think-tank arm of consulting firm McKinsey & Co.



For the full story, see:

Lauren Weber. "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Can Kill More Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 30, 2017): B6.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2017, and has the title "Forget Robots: Bad Public Policies Could Be Bigger Job Killers.")






January 8, 2018

Supersonic Technology Constrained by Regulators




(p. B5) Japan Airlines Co. 9201 -0.09% has become the first carrier to invest in Boom Technology Inc., a U.S. startup seeking to build a faster-than-sound airliner capable of flying more than four dozen premium passengers to Tokyo from the West Coast in roughly five hours.


. . .


With a one-third scale version now scheduled to start flight tests in late 2018--nearly a year later than initially planned--JAL's involvement is expected to influence cabin design and various operational issues. Blake Scholl, Boom's founder and chief executive, said such cooperation is intended "to determine whether airlines will really be happy to have this airliner in their fleets," including from a maintenance perspective.


. . .


Boom's project has initial support from several venture funds and is taking an unusual approach by adopting various technologies already certified by regulators.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "Supersonic Jet Gets Boost." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 6, 2017): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2017, and has the title "Japan Airlines Invests in Fledgling Supersonic Aircraft Company." The online version differs significantly in wording from the print version. Where different, the passages quoted above, follow the online wording.)






January 7, 2018

Kid Paid $100,000 to Skip College and Mine Asteroids




(p. 18) As I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles, I placed a copy of "Valley of the Gods," by Alexandra Wolfe, on the table, and a waitress walking by stopped to peer at the cover. . . .

"It's about Silicon Valley," I began. "It follows this young kid, John Burnham, who gets paid $100,000 by this weird billionaire guy, Peter Thiel, whom you've probably heard of; he's a big Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican National Convention?" -- a blank stare from the waitress. "Anyway, Thiel pays him (and a bunch of other kids) to forgo college so Burnham can mine asteroids, but he doesn't actually end up mining the asteroids and. . . ."


. . .


The book begins with the protagonist, Burnham (or antagonist, depending whose side you're on), who isn't old enough to drink yet but is debating dropping out of college to follow the Pied Piper of libertarian and contrarian thinking, Peter Thiel, to Silicon Valley. As Wolfe chronicles, Thiel, who has a degree from Stanford University and largely credits where he is today (a billionaire) to his time at that school, started the Thiel Fellowship, in 2011, which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old to say no to M.I.T., Stanford or, in Burnham's case, the University of Massachusetts, to pursue an Ayn Randian dream of disrupting archetypal norms.

It won't be giving away the ending by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Burnham.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipsis at end of second paragraph, in original; other two, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Wolfe, Alexandria. Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






January 6, 2018

Congestion Pricing Rises Again, as Crises Loom




(p. A18) For decades, urban planners, economists, city officials and business leaders have revived again and again some version of a toll system both to manage the city's worsening traffic and provide more revenue for public transit. Over and over it was batted down, only to be resurrected, most recently in August when Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared that "congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come."

Now a state task force, called Fix NYC, has been assembled with the goal of developing another congestion pricing plan. It has been nine years since the last major effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg died in Albany after state legislative leaders refused to bring it to a vote. Mr. Cuomo, after once expressing doubt about congestion pricing's chances, is expected to unveil a plan early next year and make it a centerpiece of his legislative agenda.

This time congestion pricing is back at a moment of crisis -- above ground, streets are becoming increasingly snarled in large part because of the boom in ride-hailing apps, while below ground the problem is even worse as the city's aging subway system is riddled with delays and in dire need of money. The state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, faces a litany of problems, including antiquated signals and overcrowded cars, that have led to frequent breakdowns -- much of it documented by smartphone-toting commuters for the world to see.



For the full story, see:

WINNIE HU. "A Solution to Gridlock, Years in the Making." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 29, 2017): A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 28, 2017, and has the title "New York's Tilt Toward Congestion Pricing Was Years in the Making.")






January 5, 2018

Hundreds of Thousands of Californians Moving to Texas, Arizona and Nevada




(p. A18) For more than three decades, California has seen a net outflow of residents to other states, as less expensive southern cities like Phoenix, Houston and Raleigh supplant those of the Golden State as beacons of opportunity.


. . .


. . . , for many Californians, the question is always sitting there: Is this worth it? Natural disasters are a moment to take stock and rethink the dream. But in the end, the calculation almost always comes down to cost.


. . .


California was once a migration magnet, but since 2010 the state has lost more than two million residents 25 and older, including 220,000 who moved to Texas, according to census data. Arizona and Nevada have each welcomed about 180,000 California expatriates since the start of the decade.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "Californians Brave Fires, but Flee Cost of Living." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 13, 2017): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 12, 2017, and has the title "Quakes and Fires? It's the Cost of Living That Californians Can't Stomach.")






January 4, 2018

"Sea-Level Projections Too High" from Global Warming




(p. A10) In the summer of 2015, two New York Times journalists joined a team of researchers in Greenland that was conducting a unique experiment: directly measuring a river of meltwater runoff on the top of the ice.

Now, the scientists have published the results of that work. A key finding -- that not as much meltwater flows immediately through the ice sheet and drains to the ocean as previously estimated -- may have implications for sea-level rise, one of the major effects of climate change.

The scientists say it appears that some of the meltwater is retained in porous ice instead of flowing to the bottom of the ice sheet and out to sea.

"It's always treated as a parking lot, water runs straight off," said Laurence C. Smith, a geographer at the University of California, Los Angeles who led the field work in 2015. "What we found is that it appears there is water retention."

"It's plausible that this is quite an important process, which could render sea-level projections too high," he added.

There's still much that remains unknown about the ice sheet, which at roughly 650,000 square miles is more than twice the size of Texas.


. . .


When he first sent the results to modelers, Dr. Smith said, "they couldn't believe it." After months of back-and-forth, Dr. Smith and his colleagues concluded that the model estimates were accurate, but there was something else going on with some of the meltwater. "What is missing," he said, "is a physical process that is not currently considered by the models -- water retention in ice."


. . .


"If there's a mismatch between observation and model," Dr. Tedesco said, "that means the model is moving the mass in one way or another and not respecting the way things happen in the real world."



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN AND DEREK WATKINS . "As Greenland Melts, Where's the Water Going?" The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 13, 2017): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 5 [sic], 2017.)


The published article presenting the results briefly mentioned above, is:

Smith, Laurence C., Kang Yang, Lincoln H. Pitcher, Brandon T. Overstreet, Vena W. Chu, Åsa K. Rennermalm, Jonathan C. Ryan, Matthew G. Cooper, Colin J. Gleason, Marco Tedesco, Jeyavinoth Jeyaratnam, Dirk van As, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Willem Jan van de Berg, Brice Noel, Peter L. Langen, Richard I. Cullather, Bin Zhao, Michael J. Willis, Alun Hubbard, Jason E. Box, Brittany A. Jenner, and Alberto E. Behar. "Direct Measurements of Meltwater Runoff on the Greenland Ice Sheet Surface." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114, no. 50 (2017): E10622-E31.






January 3, 2018

Enforcing New Blood Pressure Guidelines May Lead to Serious Falls




(p. A23) "Under New Guidelines, Millions More Americans Will Need to Lower Blood Pressure." This is the type of headline that raises my blood pressure to dangerously high levels.


. . .


The new recommendation is principally in response to the results of a large, federally funded study called Sprint that was published in 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine.


. . .


A blood pressure of 130 in the Sprint study may be equivalent to a blood pressure of 140, even 150, in a busy clinic. A national goal of 130 as measured in actual practice may lead many to be overmedicated -- making their blood pressures too low.


. . .


Serious falls are common among older adults. In the real world, will a nationwide target of 130, and the side effects of medication lowering blood pressure, lead to more hip fractures? Ask your doctors. See what they think.


. . .


I suspect many primary-care practitioners will want to ignore this new target. They understand the downsides of the relentless expansion of medical care into the lives of more people. At the same time, I fear many will be coerced into compliance as the health care industry's middle management translates the 130 target into a measure of physician performance. That will push doctors to meet the target using whatever means necessary -- and that usually means more medications.

So focusing on the number 130 not only will involve millions of people but also will involve millions of new prescriptions and millions of dollars. And it will further distract doctors and their patients from activities that aren't easily measured by numbers, yet are more important to health -- real food, regular movement and finding meaning in life. These matter whatever your blood pressure is.



For the full commentary, see:

H. GILBERT WELCH. "Rethinking Blood Pressure Advice." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 16, 2017): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 15, 2017, and has the title "Don't Let New Blood Pressure Guidelines Raise Yours.")


Welch has a book that makes a similar point, though more broadly, to that made in the passages quoted above:

Welch, H. Gilbert. Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2015.






January 2, 2018

France's "Mille-Feuille" Regulations




(p. A1) France has long been known for its open hostility to corporations and its suspicion of personal wealth. Taxes were high, regulations were baffling and "It's not possible" was the default answer to any question -- if a company could even find the right person to ask.

Now, the country is in the midst of a sweeping attempt at national rebranding. Labor laws are being changed to make hiring and firing easier. New legislation has slashed a "wealth tax" that was said to drive millionaires out of the country.


. . .


(p. A5) "When you grow up in France, none of the heroes you learn about are entrepreneurs," said Brigitte Granville, a professor of economics at Queen Mary University of London, who was raised in France. "When someone gets rich in France, people immediately ask, 'What did he do to make this money? He must be a nasty person.'"


. . .


Now, a new crop of French leaders, most notably the free market-supporting president, Emmanuel Macron, are vigorously trying to shed this anticapitalist reputation. During his campaign, he visited London, home to as many as 400,000 French expatriates, urging them to return to France and "innovate."


. . .


France's economic makeover has inspired some derision outside of the country, too. It has the faint smell of desperation to people like Nicolas Mackel, the chief executive of Luxembourg for Finance, a public-private partnership that promotes the country as a business hub.


. . .


"You'll accuse me of bashing the French," he said over tea recently, "but earlier this year, they announced that they would have regulators who speak English. We didn't need to do that because our regulators already speak English and always have."

For France, English-speaking government officials would be little more than a promising start. The country has so many bewildering layers of regulations that its system is known, unaffectionately, as mille-feuille, a reference to a densely layered pastry.



For the full story, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "Paris Tries On A Fresh Look: Less Red Tape." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 11, 2017): A1 & A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)


(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 10, 2017, and has the title "As Brexit Looms, Paris Tries a Business Makeover.")






January 1, 2018

The Dutch Laughed in Their Golden Age




(p. 16) HAARLEM, the Netherlands -- If you were asked to quickly close your eyes and conjure a picture of the Dutch Golden Age, you might come up with an image of dour, pale figures clad all in black with stiff white ruffs bracing their necks. But it may be time to update that image.

Jokes, and particularly coarse or bawdy humor, were apparently central to the life and art of the Dutch 17th century, according to a new exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum here, "The Art of Laughter: Humor in the Golden Age" which runs from Nov. 11 through March 18, 2018. The exhibition features about 60 masterpieces from leading artists such as Hals, Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Judith Leyster and Gerard van Honthorst, inspired by comic characters, explicit humor and visual punning -- with lots of images of people laughing.

"If we learned anything from the research, it was how incredibly important and how widespread humor was in the Golden Age in Dutch culture, but also in painting," said Anna Tummers, one of the show's curators at the museum, in an interview a few weeks before the opening. "The more we worked on it, the more we realized quite how many paintings have a joke as their very core."


. . .


The type of humor in the pictures breaks down into three categories. More than half make scatological references (in which "human excreta feature prominently," according to the exhibition catalog) while sexually suggestive images make up much of the rest. In the second category, the jokes often focus on "unbridled lust or unequal love." The third category is trompe-l'œil images -- which are designed to fool the eye -- or painted practical jokes, which had been in existence since antiquity but surged during the Dutch Golden Age.

"There are lots of sources about how art lovers and others couldn't stop laughing when they realized that they were taken in by pictures of for example, a boy sleeping or a maid that someone tried to kiss, but who turned out to be a painting," Ms. Tummers said.



For the full review, see:

NINA SIEGAL. "Need a Laugh? The Dutch Golden Age Can Help." The New York Times FINE ARTS & EXHIBITS Section (Sun., OCT. 29, 2017): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 21 [sic], 2017, and has the title "Need a Good Laugh? Check Out Some 17th-Century Dutch Art." The wording of the online version differs substantially from that in the print version. The passages quoted above, are from the online version.)






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