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February 28, 2018

Marx Liked Bourgeois Modernity Better than Feudal Despotism




(p. 24) In his early writings and well through the 1860s, Marx propounded a theory of history that extolled the heroic achievements of the bourgeoisie as the collective agent of global change. Before the proletariat could develop into a mature class and become truly conscious of its revolutionary task, he reasoned, it was first necessary for capitalism thoroughly to modernize the world. All remnants of feudalism would dissolve; local custom and tradition would be swept aside, and industrial production would surge, condensing the two remaining classes into radically opposed groups in anticipation of capitalism's final crisis.

This theory implied a certain inevitability to the gathering processes of historical change. It also left little room for the possibility of independent revolution in less developed regions around the globe, in the east or in the outer reaches of Europe's empires. Marx's universalism found its classic expression in "The Communist Manifesto," which declared that all nations must submit "on pain of extinction" to the forces of bourgeois modernity. Elsewhere, Marx celebrated the introduction of steam power into India and the consequent dissolution of the archaic "village system." And in the first volume of "Capital," completed in 1867, he still reserved special disdain for what he called "ancient Asiatic" forms of production, condemning them as symptoms of a despotism that must be swept aside on the way to revolution.



For the full review, see:

PETER E. GORDON. "Call Him Karl." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 23, 2016): 24.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 21, 2016, and has the title "A New Biography Focuses on Karl Instead of Marxism.")


The book under review, is:

Jones, Gareth Stedman. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.






February 27, 2018

Sri Lanka Encourages Poachers to Kill Elephants





In my micro principles class each semester, I recount the argument in a text by Baumol and Blinder, that if governments want to save elephants, they would not crush or burn their ivory, they would supply it to the market, reducing the price, and hence reducing the incentives for poachers to kill elephants.



(p. A4) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- A group of saffron-robed monks chanted as officials crushed more than 300 elephant tusks in a seaside ceremony on Tuesday [January 26, 2016], as the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor by sending a powerful message of intolerance for elephant poaching.


. . .


The ceremonial crushing of the 359 tusks began with two minutes of silence, after which the group of Buddhist monks chanted prayers for a "rebirth without suffering" for the elephants killed. In a show of religious solidarity, Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders joined the monks in their prayers.

After the ceremony, the crushed ivory was transported to a factory in Puttalam, a district in the island's northwest, for incineration, government officials said.



For the full story, see:

DHARISHA BASTIANS and GEETA ANAND. "Sri Lanka Destroys an Illegal Ivory Cache." The New York Times (Weds., January 27, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2016, and has the title "Sri Lanka Destroys Illegal Elephant Tusks.")






February 26, 2018

Environmentalists Deprive the Poor of Cool Comfort




(p. A1) DELHI -- A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur every time another working-class family brings home its first air-conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 117 degrees in May.

"You wake up totally fresh," exulted Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May. "I wouldn't say we are middle class," she said. "But we are closer."

But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi.


. . .


(p. A8) Sandhya Chauhan and her family live in two musty, windowless subterranean rooms, which turn stifling on summer nights, leaving six sweat-soaked adults to fidget, toss and pace until morning. They have lived there for 20 years, unable to find other lodging on the household's combined earnings of around 30,000 rupees a month, or less than $450.

But it was never as awful as this May, when temperatures crept so high that Ms. Chauhan's friends speculated that the earth was colliding with the sun. After a doctor warned Mrs. Chauhan that heat exhaustion was affecting their oldest son's health, her husband bought an air-conditioner on credit. Though they are hardly middle class -- "we have never let this thought cross our minds," Mrs. Chauhan said -- the purchase has changed the way they see themselves.

"My children sleep in peace," she said. "There was a sense of happiness from inside. There was a sense that father has done a great job."

Among the changes that have come with increasing wealth, Ms. Devi said, is the confidence to spend on the family's comfort, rather than squirreling every bit of savings away.

"Education is teaching people to take care of themselves," she said. "Now that we are used to air-conditioners, we will never go back."



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY and CORAL DAVENPORT. "A Climate Deal Could Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach." The New York Times (Thurs., October 13, 2016): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Emerging Climate Accord Could Push A/C Out of Sweltering India's Reach." The online version of the article says that the New York edition had the headline "Accord May Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach" and appeared on p. A12. In my paper, which is probably the midwest edition, the title was as cited in the main citation above, and appeared on pp. A1 and A8.)






February 25, 2018

Over-Regulated, Quasi-Governmental Health Sector Is Often Slow in Face of Crisis





The nurse interviewed in the passages quoted below, also appeared at about the same period, on Anderson Cooper's CNN 360 show. On that she had a wonderful riff on how the hospital was irresponsible in taking so long to get the right protective gear. She says that they could, and should, have gotten it overnight through Amazon Prime.



(p. B4) DALLAS -- A nurse who observed and participated in the care of Ebola patients at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital spoke out publicly on Thursday about what she characterized as inadequate training and infection control there.


. . .


Ms. Aguirre said she and other nurses were "horrified" at the protocols used to care for Ms. Pham. She said they received instruction only once about the proper use of personal protective equipment -- gloves, masks, gowns, hoods and shields -- before entering Ms. Pham's room, and then were shown how to remove the potentially contaminated gear while in the room. The garb left a triangle of skin exposed on the front of her neck.

"The very first time I was being instructed to put the stuff on I immediately voiced my concerns," Ms. Aguirre said. "Why would I be wearing two pairs of gloves, three pairs of bootees, have my entire body covered in plastic, have two hoods on and have an area so close to my mouth and my nose exposed? And they said, 'We know, we've addressed it and basically our verdict on that at this time is we're taping that area closed.' "



For the full story, see:

KEVIN SACK. "Controls Poor at Hospital, Nurse Says." The New York Times (Fri., October 17, 2014): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014, and has the title "WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet." The online version says that the New York print version was on p. A14. My paper, probably the midwest version, was on p. A18.)






February 24, 2018

How Communism Hurt




(p. 8) In an episode near the end of her thoughtful and eloquent memoir, "Among the Living and the Dead," Inara Verzemnieks accompanies a cousin on her mail route in rural Latvia. They stop at a crude mailbox nailed to a tree. The mailbox belongs to an old woman who has elected to live alone, deep in the forest. Verzemnieks is drawn to the mystery of this woman and imagines seeking her out to pose the question that infuses her book: "How to live with this hurt?"


. . .


. . . the hurt Verzemnieks refers to is not directly her own; rather it is something she has imbibed and inherited from the paternal grandparents who raised her, ethnic Latvians who settled in America after World War II. It is the pain of their exile, the yearning for family left behind and the burden of memories from the war itself -- her grandmother's long, perilous flight across Europe from the Soviet forces, and her grandfather's service as a conscript for the German Army, about which he does not speak.


. . .


Her family's true home was in the region of Gulbene, in the northeast of Latvia, not far from the Russian border. More specifically, it was at her grandmother's ancestral homestead, called Lembi. When the Soviet Union collapsed, her grandparents succeeded in returning once. After they died, Verzemnieks went as well, spending parts of five consecutive years living with her grandmother's younger sister, Ausma, one of the last surviving members of her grandparents' generation. The book interleaves stories from her grandparents' past and from Ausma's, along with Verzemnieks's impressions of life in present-day rural Latvia, governed by its traditional rhythms, intricately and spiritually fused with the natural world. She is there to experience this life, to connect with her family, but also to gain Ausma's trust so as to elicit her story. That story is the complement to her grandparents', the two together constituting the Latvian national wartime narrative: those who suffered the pain of leaving and those subjected to the pain of staying -- which meant life under the Soviet yoke, collectivization and, often, expulsion to Siberia. Ausma shared this fate. In 1949, she, her mother and her invalid brother were stripped of their beloved farm and sent into the taiga. They survived largely because Ausma withstood grueling physical labor and dreadful privation. For her great-niece's sake, she recounts this past, even though it often brings her to tears.



For the full review, see:

DAVID BEZMOZGIS. "Homeland." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 17, 2017): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 15, 2017, and has the title "A Writer Visits Latvia in Search of Her Roots.")


The book under review, is:

Verzemnieks, Inara. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.






February 23, 2018

Innovations Make Internal Combustion Engines Much More Efficient




(p. B4) . . . gas- and diesel-powered engines are not done yet. Just as electrified cars -- whether hybrids or pure battery-powered models -- seem headed for market dominance, Mazda announced a breakthrough in gasoline engines that could make them far more efficient. It is the latest plot twist in a century of improvements for internal combustion engines, a power source pronounced dead many times that has persisted nevertheless.


. . .


Mazda said it had made a big advance in a combustion method commonly known as homogeneous charge compression ignition, which would result in gasoline engines that are 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the company's best existing engines. Researchers around the world have tried to crack this process for years, but it has never really left the laboratory.

Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture -- very little gas for the amount of air -- that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.



For the full story, see:

NORMAN MAYERSOHN. "Advances Mean Plenty of Life Left for Internal Combustion Engine." The New York Times (Fri., August 18, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 17, 2017, and has the title "WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet.")






February 22, 2018

NYC Fee for Plastic Bags Is "a Tax on the Poor and the Middle Class"




(p. A18) The ubiquitous, easily torn, often doubled-up plastic bags from the grocery store -- hoarded by dog owners, despised by the environmentally concerned and occasionally caught in trees -- will soon cost at least a nickel in New York City.

The City Council voted 28 to 20 on Thursday to require certain retailers to collect a fee on each carryout bag, paper or plastic, with some exceptions. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the measure.


. . .


Mr. Bloomberg offered a proposal in 2008 for a 6-cent bag fee -- 5 cents for stores; a penny for the city -- before dropping it several months later amid strong opposition. At the time, one of the opponents on the Council was Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now a state senator. Last month, Senator Felder introduced a bill that would prohibit the levying of local fees on bags; it passed a committee this week.

In discussing his opposition this week, Mr. Felder traced the 200-year history of how people have carried their groceries home, progressing from cloth bags to boxes to paper to plastic, and said that reusing bags presented a health hazard. He said he would hold a hearing on his bill in the city next month.

"That's nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class -- the most disadvantaged people," he said.

Opposition to the measure has also come from the plastic bag industry -- via its lobbying arm, the American Progressive Bag Alliance -- as well as from those who, like Mr. Felder, said the fee amounted to a regressive tax, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority New Yorkers . . . .



For the full story, see:

J. DAVID GOODMAN. "Council Approves a Fee on Checkout Bags." The New York Times (Fri., May 6, 2016): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 5, 2016, and has the title "5ยข Fee on Plastic Bags Is Approved by New York City Council.")







February 21, 2018

Washington, D.C. Tax Rate Cuts Increased Economic Growth AND Tax Revenue




(p. B1) The capital's financial affairs were in such disarray by the mid-1990s that they were taken over by a federal financial control board that operated until 2001. Yet in 2014 the council cut corporate and business taxes, reduced individual rates for everyone earning less than $1 million and broadened the tax base by eliminating many loopholes.

As a headline on the conservative website The Daily Caller put it, "Hell Freezes Over: DC Passes Tax Reform."

In the ensuing years, economic growth and tax receipts have surged, enabling the city to accelerate cuts that were being phased in. The legislation was not revenue neutral, in the sense that broadening the tax base offset the reduction in rates. It was a tax cut. But in a development that would surely warm the hearts of pro-growth Republicans, the economic lift was so strong that tax receipts increased, and last (p. B3) year hit a record.



For the full commentary, see:


JAMES B. STEWART. ''For Tax Reform Lessons, Congress Needn't Look Far Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., September 1, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 31, 2017.)







February 20, 2018

Audacious Heart Surgery During WW II Was Proof of Concept




(p. C9) The battle to operate meaningfully within the heart was a source of wonder and inspiration. Innovative in the extreme, brave to the point of recklessness, only exceptional characters could succeed. Some people claimed that only psychopaths could thrive in this environment. They were correct. More sensitive souls, like John Gibbon, who launched open-heart surgery in 1953, gave up after a spate of child deaths.

Thomas Morris tells this history well. "The Matter of the Heart" provides a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the major advances in cardiac surgery as derived from surgical literature, media reports and textbooks.


. . .


On Feb. 19, 1945, the courageous U.S. military surgeon Dwight Harken was attempting to remove bullets and shrapnel from in and around wounded soldiers' hearts as a group of senior British surgeons looked on. His operating theater consisted of a ramshackle hut with corrugated iron roof in the English Cotswolds. "Working as quickly as he could, Harken now made a small incision in the heart wall and inserted a pair of forceps to widen the opening," Mr. Morris recounts. "Through this aperture he introduced a clamp and fastened it around the elusive piece of metal. For a moment all was quiet. And then . . . 'suddenly, with a pop as if a champagne cork had been drawn, the fragment jumped out of the ventricle, forced by the pressure within the chamber. Blood poured out in a torrent.' . . . Harken put a finger over it, and picking up a needle started to sew it shut. . . . He discovered that he had sewn his glove to the wall of the heart. Finally his assistant cut him loose, and the job was done. Opening the heart, removing the shell fragment and repairing the incision had taken three minutes. His distinguished guests were deeply impressed: this was surgery of a sophistication and audacity which none had seen before." This was the case that persuaded the English and American allies that heart surgery was indeed a possibility.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Westaby. "How the Beat Goes On; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal two second quoted paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title "Review: How the Beat Goes On in 'The Matter of the Heart'; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery.")


The book under review, is:

Morris, Thomas. The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.






February 19, 2018

Harlem Parents Want to Enroll Their Children in Charter Schools




(p. A15) In New York City, . . . , a comprehensive study found improved academic performance, safety, and student engagement at district schools with charter schools, particularly high-performing ones, located nearby or in the same building.


. . .


Ultimately, the bare-knuckled attacks by charter-school opponents are a sign of desperation. Parent demand for a better education is undeniable: 14,000 Harlem children were entered into charter-school lotteries this year, vying for a total of only 3,000 spots; across the city, 48,000 students are on charter school waitlists.

Parents now have the freedom to choose and they are choosing charter schools. It is our responsibility as New Yorkers to give them more of what they want: public schools that are engines of opportunity rather than roadblocks to success.



For the full commentary, see:

Eva Moskowitz. ''Test Scores Don't Lie: Charter Schools Are Transformative; Our black and Hispanic students in Central Harlem outperform the city's white pupils by double digits." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 24, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 23, 2017.)


The "comprehensive study" mentioned above, is:


Cordes, Sarah A. "In Pursuit of the Common Good: The Spillover Effects of Charter Schools on Public School Students in New York City." Education Finance and Policy (forthcoming).







February 18, 2018

Renewed Tinkering on the Farm




(p. B1) The green tractor trundling across a Manitoba field with an empty cab looks like it's on a collision course with Matt Reimer's combine--until it neatly turns to pull alongside so he can pour freshly harvested wheat into its trailer.

The robot tractor isn't a prototype or top-of-the-line showpiece. It's an eight-year-old John Deere that the 30-year-old Mr. Reimer modified with drone parts, open-source software and a Microsoft Corp. tablet. All told, those items cost him around $8,000. He said that's about how much he saved on wages for drivers helping with last year's harvest.

Mr. Reimer's alterations, which he hopes to replicate for other farmers this year, are part of a technology revolution sweeping North America's breadbasket. Farmers, many of them self-taught, are building their own robotic equipment, satellite-navigation networks and mobile applications, moving their tinkering projects out of machine sheds and behind a computer screen.

This homespun hacking--which sometimes leapfrogs innovations by big equipment companies like Deere & Co. and navigation specialists like Trimble Navigation Ltd. --reflects dwindling farm incomes, the low price of electronic hardware and, sometimes, off-season boredom.



For the full story, see:

Jacob Bunge. "Farmers Harvest Homegrown Tech."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on May 2, 2016, and has the title "Farmers Reap New Tools From Their Own High-Tech Tinkering.")






February 17, 2018

Knowledge from Self-Experimentation Should Be Publishable




(p. D4) When Bob Hariri developed a product he thought could be useful as a human-skin replacement for burn victims, he had no trouble finding a subject willing to test it--himself.

An entrepreneur and a neurosurgeon with both a medical degree and a doctorate, Dr. Hariri is one of a number of scientists who have experimented on themselves with new or yet-to-be approved medical products or technologies, and who say such practice can be indispensable in the development of innovative biomedical treatments.

Some scientists are pushing for self-experimentation data to be reported publicly and more systematically to aid scientific progress. Alex Zhavoronkov, chief executive of an aging-research company called InSilico Medicine Inc., and others hope to start a peer-reviewed journal on self-experimentation, where scientists and other qualified individuals would publish high-quality case studies of tests performed on themselves. He plans to launch a crowdfunding operation in the next few months to fund it.

The idea is "to unlock the knowledge [of self-experimentation] that resides there anyway," says Dr. Zhavrononkov, who takes an old diabetes drug called metformin that is supposed to have antiaging properties, even though it hasn't been approved for that purpose.


. . .


Advocates say self-experimentation can yield information that is hard to get from a clinical trial. The experimenter feels what it's like to be the patient and gets insight into how to improve testing procedures. Also, a number of individual reports, when cobbled together, can start to yield a picture of whether a new treatment is likely to work or not, though one wouldn't rely on those reports alone to conclude safety or effectiveness.



For the full story, see:

Wang, Shirley S. "Why Medical Researchers Experiment on Themselves."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 26, 2016): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2016, and has the title "IN THE LAB; More Medical Researchers Engage In Self-Experimentation.")






February 16, 2018

Child Prodigies Seldom Excel as Adults




(p. 15) Child prodigies are exotic creatures, each unique and inexplicable. But they have a couple of things in common, as Ann Hulbert's meticulous new book, "Off the Charts," makes clear: First, most wunderkinds eventually experience some kind of schism with a devoted and sometimes domineering parent. "After all, no matter how richly collaborative a bond children forge with grown-up guides, some version of divorce is inevitable," Hulbert writes. "It's what modern experts would call developmentally appropriate." Second, most prodigies grow up to be thoroughly unremarkable on paper. They do not, by and large, sustain their genius into adulthood.


. . .


The very traits that make prodigies so successful in one arena -- their obsessiveness, a stubborn refusal to conform, a blistering drive to win -- can make them pariahs in the rest of life. Whatever else they may say, most teachers do not in fact appreciate creativity and critical thinking in their own students. "Off the Charts" is jammed with stories of small geniuses being kicked out of places of learning. Matt Savage spent two days in a Boston-area Montessori preschool before being expelled. Thanks to parents who had the financial and emotional resources to help him find his way, he is now, at age 25, a renowned jazz musician.



For the full review, see:

AMANDA RIPLEY. "Gifted and Talented and Complicated." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 21, 2018): 15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 17, 2018.)


The book under review, is:

Hulbert, Ann. Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.






February 15, 2018

Farmers Buy Inputs Cheaper Online




(p. B4) Brandon Sinclair spent $26,000 on herbicides for his corn and soybean fields last year, roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-operative.

The savings came from a source many U.S. farmers have been slow to tap: the internet.

Farmers have long made pilgrimages to farm stores and co-operatives to purchase seeds, fertilizer and weed and pest killers. Now, with a commodity glut pressuring crop prices and pushing farm incomes to an eight-year low, farmers are scouring the web for better deals on the products they use to grow their crops.

The shift could upend a decades-old system built around small-town suppliers that also offer farming advice and sell services such as spraying for weeds. Mr. Sinclair says the math is simple: Using savings found online, the 31-year old Illinois farmer was able to spring for a helicopter to wrangle his herd of cattle. Now he is urging his neighbors to shop online, too.

"I've always been kind of a tech guru and a tight-ass," Mr. Sinclair said.



For the full story, see:

Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge. "U.S. Farmers Buy in Bulk Online."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 16, 2017, and has the title "E-Commerce for Farmers: Shopping Online for $26,000 of Herbicides.")






February 14, 2018

New Technology Reveals Fossil Secrets




(p. A11) Using a new laser imaging technique to reveal traces of soft tissue in fossils of an early feathered, birdlike dinosaur, scientists have found direct evidence of a wing structure needed for flight that was previously invisible from the preserved bone evidence.

The research is part of a body of work on the cutting edge of paleontology, leveraging new technology to flesh out the study of fossils beyond bones, to look at soft tissue and feathers. Other scientists have recently turned up evidence of the protein collagen preserved in dinosaur fossils millions of years old, and scanned feathers, muscle, skin and ligament tissue from a dinosaur's tail preserved in amber.

Known as laser-stimulated fluorescence, the new imaging technique "is revealing information preserved in the fossil we can't see with normal light," says University of Hong Kong paleontologist Michael Pittman, one of the leaders of the research, published Tuesday [February 28, 2017] in Nature Communications.



For the full story, see:

Ellie Kincaid. "Imaging Reveals Soft Tissue in Dinosaur Fossil." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 1, 2017): A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2017, and has the title "New Imaging Method Helps Scientists Look Beyond Dinosaur Bones.")






February 13, 2018

Musk "Could Be Completely Delusional"




(p. B2) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [January 23, 2018] unleashed a bold pay package for Chief Executive Elon Musk that again ties his compensation entirely to key performance benchmarks. This time, the goals take the electric-car maker to cosmic heights, including an ultimate aim of hitting $650 billion in market value.


. . .


Mr. Musk could net billions of dollars by hitting only a few of the milestones. Tesla said in a proxy filing the 20.26 million stock options today would have a preliminary value of about $2.62 billion. But if Tesla were to reach the audacious market value of $650 billion--as much as Amazon.com Inc. is worth today--the company said Mr. Musk's stock award would reap him as much as $55.8 billion fully vested.

That total, however, assumes the company's shares outstanding won't be diluted. Tesla has added tens of millions of shares over the past several years, so that total dollar figure is unlikely.


. . .


Mr. Musk is saying, "I want to set an audacious goal, and then if I achieve it, then pay me audaciously," said John Challenger, a longtime expert in corporate compensation as chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "He is in some ways capturing the spirit of Silicon Valley."


. . .


Mr. Musk had previously committed the company to reaching a market cap of $700 billion, something he reiterated last year. "I could be completely delusional, but I think I see a clear path to that outcome," he told analysts in May.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla Primes Musk's Pay for Blastoff." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 24, 2018): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "Elon Musk Could Net Billions by Hitting Tesla's New Milestones." Where the wording of the two versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the wording of the online version.)






February 12, 2018

Value of Higher Education Is in the Signaling, Not the Learning




(p. A13) Mr. Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, argues that most of the value of education--especially higher education--comes from "signaling," not from the content of learning. As a result, Americans are "overeducated," and it's time to stop spending so much money (both private and public) on schools.


. . .


After surveying the research on the "transfer of learning," Mr. Caplan concludes: "Students learn only the material you specifically teach them . . . if you're lucky." Generally, they don't know how to transfer their reasoning from one topic to a related one. As to informal reasoning--the ability to come up with arguments for or against a particular proposition--education's effect, he says, has been "tiny." He similarly dispenses with the claim that schools teach common values or civic education. As college attendance has skyrocketed, he notes, voter turnout has declined.



For the full review, see:

Naomi Schaefer Riley. "BOOKSHELF; Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?" The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to second paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?")


The book under review, is:

Caplan, Bryan. The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






February 11, 2018

Trump Tax Plan Induces Firms to Repatriate Hundreds of Billions




(p. A23) Apple's announcement on Wednesday [January 17, 2018] that it will repatriate most of the estimated $274 billion that it holds in offshore earnings is great news for the United States. Uncle Sam will get a one-time $38 billion tax payment. The company promises to add 20,000 jobs to its U.S. work force, a 24 percent increase, and build a new campus. Another $5 billion will go toward a fund for advanced manufacturing in America.

C'mon. What's with the long face?

In December this column warned that hysterical opposition to the Republican tax bill was a fool's game for Democrats that could only help Donald Trump. Yes, there were things to dislike in the legislation, from both a liberal and a conservative perspective.

But it was not the moral and fiscal apocalypse its critics claimed. And its central achievement -- a dramatic cut in corporate rates to 21 percent from 35 percent -- was an economic no-brainer that many Democrats, including President Obama, had supported (albeit less steeply) just a few years ago.

Apple will not be the only multinational that will soon bring back gigantic profits to take advantage of new low repatriation rates. Microsoft holds $146 billion in overseas earnings, Pfizer $178 billion, General Electric $82 billion, Alphabet $78 billion, and Cisco $71 billion, according to estimates from the Zion Research Group. The total stash is about $3 trillion -- by one measure nearly three times what it was just a decade ago.

Assume that just half of that money comes home to the United States. It's still the equivalent of Canada's entire gross domestic product. Not too shabby, especially considering all the hyperbolic predictions of economic doom that went with Trump's election



For the full commentary, see:


Stephens, Bret. "Clueless Versus Trump." The New York Times (Sat., January 20, 2018): A23.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 19, 2018.)






February 10, 2018

With Cuts in Red Tape, Firms Invest More




(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation -- and may finally raise wages significantly.

While business leaders are eager for the tax cuts that take effect this year, the newfound confidence was initially inspired by the Trump administration's regulatory pullback, not so much because deregulation is saving companies money but because the administration has instilled a faith in business executives that new regulations are not coming.

"It's an overall sense that you're not going to face any new regulatory fights," said Granger MacDonald, a home builder in Kerrville, Tex. "We're not spending more, which is the main thing. We're not seeing any savings, but we're not seeing any increases."


. . .


(p. A10) Only a handful of the federal government's reams of rules have actually been killed or slated for elimination since Mr. Trump took office. But the president has declared that rolling back regulations will be a defining theme of his presidency. On his 11th day in office, Mr. Trump signed an executive order "on reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs," including the stipulation that any new regulation must be offset by two regulations rolled back.

That intention and its rhetorical and regulatory follow-ons have executives at large and small companies celebrating. And with tax cuts coming and a generally improving economic outlook, both domestically and internationally, economists are revising growth forecasts upward for last year and this year.


. . .


. . . economists see a plausible connection between Mr. Trump's determination to prune the federal rule book and the willingness of businesses to crank open their vaults. Measures of business confidence have climbed to record heights during Mr. Trump's first year.


. . .


"We have spent the past dozen years or longer operating in environments that have had an increasing regulatory burden," said Michael S. Burke, the chairman and chief executive of Aecom, a Los Angeles-based multinational consulting firm that specializes in infrastructure projects. "That burden has slowed down economic growth, it's slowed down investment in infrastructure. And what we've seen over the last year is a big deregulatory environment."


. . .


The White House sees its efforts as having their intended effect. Mr. Trump boasted about his deregulatory efforts last month at an event where he stood in front of a small mountain of printouts representing the nation's regulatory burden and ceremonially cut a large piece of "red tape."

The chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, said in an interview that the administration's freeze on new regulations, in particular, appeared to have buoyed confidence. Though he cautioned that it could take years of research to pin down the magnitude of the effects, he said deregulation was "the most plausible story" to explain why economic growth in 2017 had outstripped most forecasts.

"Our view is, the 'no new regulations' piece has to be more powerful than we thought," he said.



For the full story, see:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and JIM TANKERSLEY. "With Red Tape Losing Its Grip, Firms Ante Up." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Trump Effect: Business, Anticipating Less Regulation, Loosens Purse Strings.")






February 9, 2018

Cuts in Red Tape Build Business Confidence




TrumpCutsRedTape2018-01-31.jpg"President Trump described his administration's deregulation efforts in remarks at the White House on Thursday. He then stood between two piles of paper representing government regulations in 1960, (20,000 pages, he said), and today -- a pile that was about six feet tall (said to be 185,000 pages)." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A22) WASHINGTON -- President Trump said on Thursday that his administration was answering "a call to action" by rolling back regulations on environmental protections, health care, financial services and other industries as he made a push to showcase his accomplishments near the end of his first year in office.

The remarks highlighted an area where Mr. Trump has perhaps done more to change the policies of his predecessor than any other, with regulatory shifts that have affected wide sections of the economy.

. . .


Echoing his days as a real estate developer with the flair of a groundbreaking, Mr. Trump used an oversize pair of scissors to cut a ribbon his staff had set up in front of two piles of paper, representing government regulations in 1960 (20,000 pages, he said), and today -- a pile that was about six feet tall (said to be 185,000 pages).


. . .


. . . , several economic indicators -- and comments from companies large and small -- suggest that a shift in federal regulatory policy is building business confidence and accelerating economic growth, developments Mr. Trump certainly took credit for on Thursday [December 14, 2017].

A survey of chief executives released this month by the Business Roundtable found that, for the first time in six years, executives did not cite regulation as the top cost pressure facing their companies.

"C.E.O.s appear to be responding to the administration's energetic focus on regulation," Joshua Bolten, the roundtable's president, said this month.



For the full story, see:


ERIC LIPTON and DANIELLE IVORY. "Most Far-Reaching' Rollback of Rule." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 15, 2017): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title "Trump Says His Regulatory Rollback Already Is the 'Most Far-Reaching'." The online page for this article says that it appeared on p. A16 of the New York edition. My page number above is from my paper, which was probably the midwest edition.)






February 8, 2018

Innovation Skeptics Fail to See Its Broad Benefits




(p. B11) Professor Juma died on Dec. 15 [2017] at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64. His wife said the cause was cancer. At his death he was widely credited as having been an important force in ensuring that biotechnology would play a critical role in improving economic life in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. "So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change."

Professor Juma's latest book, "Innovation and Its Enemies" (2016), described how technological change is often greeted with public skepticism. Beneath such opposition, he argued, is the belief that only a small segment of society will benefit from potential progress, while the much broader society bears the greatest risk.


. . .


Professor Juma could be lighthearted in the classroom or in public in order to make his points. With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, he shared with them cartoons that teased skeptics of science and innovation. One of his last posts featured a game show called "Facts Don't Matter." In it, a contestant is told: "I'm sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points."



For the full obituary, see:

ADEEL HASSAN. "Calestous Juma, 64, Advocate of African Progress, Dies." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "Calestous Juma, 64, Dies; Sought Innovation in African Agriculture.")


The most recent book by Juma, mentioned above, is:

Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






February 7, 2018

Incentive Packages to Big Incumbent Firms Hurt Local Start-Ups




(p. A1) When New Jersey announced a $7 billion package of tax incentives to try to lure Amazon's second headquarters to Newark, local officials saw a chance to jump-start a city that has long struggled with poverty and joblessness.

Many economists, however, saw something else: a failed development strategy that they had hoped was falling out of favor.


. . .


(p. A15) Gina Schaefer, who owns a dozen hardware stores in the Washington area, said she did not mind paying taxes, and had learned to deal with the bureaucratic hurdles that come with running a small business in the area. But she said it was frustrating to watch local governments -- three of the 20 finalists for the Amazon project are in the Washington area -- roll out the red carpet for a multibillion-dollar corporation. Suddenly, she said, her tax dollars could be flowing to one of her most daunting competitors.

"There are no incentives for those of us who are already here," Ms. Schaefer said. Alluding to Amazon's chief executive, Jeff Bezos, she added, "Why should the richest man in the history of the world get money to open his business?"

Indeed, tax incentives tend to flow overwhelmingly to big, established companies, rather than to the local start-ups that research has shown are a more significant source of job growth. And some who have studied the issue say incentives rarely work: Companies will play cities and states off one another to save money, but ultimately base site-selection decisions mostly on other factors.



For the full story, see:

BEN CASSELMAN. "Risks for Cities In Sweetening Amazon's Pot." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 27, 2018): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2018, and has the title "Promising Billions to Amazon: Is It a Good Deal for Cities?")






February 6, 2018

45 Start-Ups Working on New Processor Chips




(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, tech industry financiers showed little interest in start-up companies that made computer chips.

How on earth could a start-up compete with a goliath like Intel, which made the chips that ran more than 80 percent of the world's personal computers? Even in the areas where Intel didn't dominate, like smartphones and gaming devices, there were companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia that could squash an upstart.

But then came the tech industry's latest big thing -- artificial intelligence. A.I., it turned out, works better with new kinds of computer chips. Suddenly, venture capitalists forgot all those forbidding roadblocks to success for a young chip company.

Today, at least 45 start-ups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars, and at least five of them have raised more than $100 million from investors. Venture capitalists invested more than $1.5 billion in chip start-ups last year, nearly doubling the investments made two years ago, according to the research firm CB Insights.

The explosion is akin to the sudden proliferation of PC and hard-drive makers in the 1980s. While these are small companies, and not all will survive, they have the power to fuel a period of rapid technological change.



For the full story, see:

CADE METZ. "Bets on A.I. Open a New Chip Frontier." The New York Times (Mon., January 15, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 14, 2018, and has the title "Big Bets on A.I. Open a New Frontier for Chip Start-Ups, Too.")






February 5, 2018

Trump Argues Regulations Impede Infrastructure Investment




(p. A18) Mr. Trump is pursuing a similar shift in regulation, seeking to reverse or rewrite a host of rules intended to protect workers and consumers, under the theory that freeing companies from "red tape" will allow businesses to prosper, with wide-ranging benefits.

In remarks at the White House last week, Mr. Trump argued that regulation was impeding private investment in infrastructure. He held up a long, multicolored chart that he said reflected the permitting process for the construction of "a highway or a roadway."

"By the time you finished, you probably gave up," Mr. Trump said.



For the full story, see:

BINYAMIN APPELBAUM and ANA SWANSON. "Trump Bets on Business to Lift Workers." The New York Times (Thurs., December 21, 2017): A18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2017, and has the title "Republican Economic Policies Put Business First." The online version says that the page number for the print New York edition was A19. My print paper was probably the midwest edition.)






February 4, 2018

Cognitive Abilities Highest After Waking in Morning




(p. A15) A raft of studies in disciplines ranging from medicine to economics have yielded all sorts of data on the science of timing. Daniel Pink, an author who regularly applies behavioral science to the realm of work, has handily distilled the findings in "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing."


. . .


For a slim book, "When" brims with a surprising amount of insight and practical advice. In amiable, TED-talk-ready prose, Mr. Pink offers scheduling tips for everything from workouts to weddings. Exercise, for example, is best done in the morning for those who hope to lose weight, build strength and boost their mood through the day.


. . .


Moods are not the only things that shift every 24 hours. Our cognitive abilities also morph in foreseeable ways. We are often sharpest in the hours after waking up, which makes morning the best time to take exams or answer logic problems. Researchers analyzing four years of test results for two million Danish schoolchildren found that students consistently scored higher in mornings than afternoons.



For the full review, see:

Emily Bobrow. "BOOKSHELF; Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon."


The book under review, is:

Pink, Daniel H. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2018.






February 3, 2018

Weather Channel Entrepreneur Was a Global Warming Skeptic




(p. B1) John S. Coleman, a co-founder of the Weather Channel, the original meteorologist on ABC's "Good Morning America" and, later in his career, a vocal climate change skeptic, died on Saturday [January 20, 2018] at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas. He was 83.


. . .


His career took him through broadcast positions in Omaha, Milwaukee and Peoria, Ill. He joined the fledgling "Good Morning America" in 1975 and stayed for seven years.

"He was sort of a weather rock star at the time," said Joseph D'Aleo, whom Mr. Coleman recruited out of academia to lend a hand at "Good Morning America" and to help him develop his idea for a 24-7 weather channel.

"He was dedicated to everything he did; he'd sometimes take off after the morning shows, get on an airplane, go halfway across the country and meet with venture capitalists to present his idea," Mr. D'Aleo said in an interview.

But after a year of false starts, Mr. D'Aleo said, Mr. Coleman "felt a little bit like Sancho Panza behind Don Quixote and his impossible dream."


. . .


The American Meteorological Society named Mr. Coleman broadcast meteorologist of the year in 1983, citing his "many years of service in presenting weather reports of high informational, educational and professional quality."


. . .


By the time he retired in 2014, he had become a lightning rod for controversy over his views on climate change.

At the top of his personal blog, he wrote: "There is no significant man-made global warming at this time, there has not been any in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future."



For the full obituary, see:

TIFFANY Hsu. "John Coleman, 83, TV Weather Pioneer." The New York Times (Weds., January 24, 2018): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 21, 2018, and has the title "John S. Coleman, Weather Channel Co-Founder, Dies at 83.")






February 2, 2018

Tinkerers Create Cheap Prosthetic Hands with 3-D Printers




(p. D1) The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations as a result of lawn mower accidents, according to a study in Pedatrics..

State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices, powered by batteries and electronic motors, and they can cost thousands of dollars. Even if children are able to manage the equipment, they grow too quickly to make the investment practical. So most do without, fighting to do with one hand what most of us do with two.

E-nable, an online volunteer organization, aims to change that. Founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, the group matches children like Dawson in need of prosthetic hands and fingers with volunteers able to make them on 3-D printers. Designs may be downloaded into the machines at no charge, and members who create new models share their software plans freely with others.

The materials for a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand can cost as little as $20 to $50, and some experts say they work just as well, if not better, than much costlier devices. Best of all, boys and girls usually love their D.I.Y. prosthetics.



For the full story, see:

Mroz, Jacqueline. "Hand of a Superhero." The New York Times (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): D1 & D6..

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 16, 2015. I do not have the print version, so I cannot confirm if there are differences between the online and print versions, and am not sure if the whole passage quoted above appears on p. D1, or if some or all of it is from p. D6.)






February 1, 2018

Firms Invest in France as Rules "Make It Easier to Hire and Fire"




(p. B1) PARIS -- The announcements came in a steady drumbeat. Around 1,300 job cuts at France's biggest automaker. At least 2,500 at France's largest supermarket chain. Over 200 sought at a major clothing retailer. And thousands more are on the way.

Just weeks after France's labor overhaul went into effect, companies are readily taking advantage of new rules that make it easier to hire and fire.


. . .


Perceptions of France, long derided as a difficult place to do business for its onerous labor rules, are changing.

Growth has recently picked up after being stagnant for nearly five years. And there are signs that the changes, a major piece of the president's economic program, are drawing the interest of investors.

Amazon will open a new distribution center south of Paris this year, creating over 1,000 jobs. Facebook and Google announced Monday they would invest in artificial intelligence development in France. Also Monday, Toyota announced it would invest 300 million euros, or $367 million, to increase capacity at a plant in northern (p. B3) France, creating up to 700 jobs through 2020.

"The complex labor laws have historically been the No. 1 obstacle to the competitiveness and attractiveness of France," said Olivier Marchal, the chairman of Bain & Company France, a business consulting firm. The changes, together with other business-friendly measures such as a gradual reduction in the corporate tax, have "drastically changed investor perceptions," he said.



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Newfound Freedom ... to Fire." The New York Times (Weds., January 24, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis in article title, in original; ellipsis between quoted paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "French Companies Have Newfound Freedom ... to Fire.")






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