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March 31, 2018

Less Global Warming Since 1990 than IPCC Predicted

(p. C3) Though temperatures have increased, the rise is not accelerating and has fallen short of the most authoritative projections. In 1990, the first assessment report of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that temperatures would rise at the rate of 0.3 degree Celsius per decade, equivalent to 3 degrees Celsius (or 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) a century. In fact, temperatures have risen since 1990 at between 0.121 and 0.198 degrees Celsius per decade, depending on which of the best data sets is used--that is, at a third to two-thirds of the rate projected by the IPCC.

. . .

Over the past several decades, the world has been getting slowly warmer, slightly wetter and less icy. It has also been no stormier, no more flood-prone and a touch less drought-prone. And sea level continues to creep slowly upward.

For the full commentary, see:

Benny Peiser and Matt Ridley. "Bad Weather Is No Reason for Climate Alarm." The Wall Street Journal Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 12, 2018.)

March 30, 2018

Decline in Startups Reduces Labor Market Dynamism

DynamismDeclineGraph2018-03-02.pngSource of graphs: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) . . . a broad sweep of statistics reveals a peculiar weariness spreading through the economy. Belying breathless headlines about the fabulous opportunities that technology is about to bestow on society, it suggests that many rich market democracies have lost much of their dynamism. Their companies are getting old, and their labor markets are getting stuck. Productivity growth has slumped. And many workers in their prime are peeling off from the labor force.

. . .

(p. B4) . . . , the economy's ability to generate and support new businesses -- agents of creative destruction that bring new products and methods into the marketplace -- appears to be faltering across the world. In the United States, the rate of company formation is half what it was four decades ago. And it is slowing in many industrialized countries.

. . .

In a study published on Tuesday [February 6, 2018] by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, Jay Shambaugh, Ryan Nunn and Patrick Liu explore what economists have figured out about the American economy's inertia and the fallout for wages and living standards.

The evidence paints a distinct picture of decline: Fewer start-ups mean fewer new ideas and fewer young, productive businesses to replace older, less productive ones. Researchers have found that the decline in companies entering the market since 1980 has trimmed productivity growth by about 3.1 percent.

The dearth of new businesses is also cutting off one of the main paths to workers' advancement: the outside job offer. Changing jobs allows workers to shift to positions in which they are more productive, and better paid. But labor market fluidity -- job switching, creation and destruction -- has been declining since the 1980s.

Clear though the pattern may be, the researchers acknowledge that we haven't yet figured out what is holding the economy's dynamism back. "This is one of those big, economywide trends," Mr. Shambaugh told me. "There is room for a lot of stories."

For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "ECONOMIC SCENE; What to Worry About: Decrease in Start-Ups Is a Sign of Stagnation." The New York Times (Wednesday, February 7, 2018): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 6, 2018, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Where Are the Start-Ups? Loss of Dynamism Is Impeding Growth.")

The paper by Shambaugh, Nunn, and Liu, that is mentioned above, is:

Shambaugh, Jay, Ryan Nunn, and Patrick Liu. "How Declining Dynamism Affects Wages." In Revitalizing Wage Growth Policies to Get American Workers a Raise, edited by Jay Shambaugh and Ryan Nunn, Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2018, pp. 11-23.

March 29, 2018

Blockchain May Bring Property Rights to the Poor

(p. A15) The great economic divide in the world today is between the 2.5 billion people who can register property rights and the five billion who are impoverished, in part because they can't. Consider what happens without a formal system of property rights: Values are reduced for privately owned assets; wages are devalued for workers using these assets; owners are denied the ability to use their assets as collateral to obtain credit or as a credential to claim public services; and society loses the benefits that accrue when assets are employed for their highest and best purpose.

. . .

Fortunately there is a new technology that could make a global property-rights registration system feasible. Patrick Byrne, an e-commerce pioneer and the CEO of Overstock.com, has committed a professional staff and significant resources to modernizing the collection and maintenance of property-rights records on a global scale. Blockchain is an especially promising technology because of its record-keeping capacity, its ability to provide access to millions of users, and the fact that it can be constantly updated as property ownership changes hands.

If Blockchain technology can empower public and private efforts to register property rights on a single computer platform, we can share the blessings of private-property registration with the whole world. Instead of destroying private property to promote a Marxist equality in poverty, perhaps we can bring property rights to all mankind. Where property rights are ensured, so are the prosperity, freedom and ownership of wealth that brings real stability and peace.

For the full commentary, see:

Phil Gramm and Hernando de Soto. "How Blockchain Can End Poverty; Two-thirds of the world's population lacks access to a formal system of property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Jan. 26, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 25, 2018.)

March 28, 2018

Rival Retailers Failed in Effort to Cut Off Ikea's Supplies

(p. B5) Ingvar Kamprad, born on a farm in the rock-strewn Swedish region of Småland, got his start as a merchant at around age 5 by buying matches in bulk and reselling them to neighbors.

He went on to pull off a rare feat: Creating a global retailing powerhouse, the furniture chain IKEA, with over 400 stores, in a business that generally has defied globalization. IKEA's furniture has delighted bargain seekers for decades and made millions of dorm rooms and first apartments habitable, despite maddening the many customers who found the assembly instructions baffling.

. . .

One of his most successful notions was that furniture could be shipped and warehoused much more cheaply in disassembled form.

. . .

Rival retailers in Sweden, shocked by IKEA's low prices, pressured furniture makers to cut off supplies to Mr. Kamprad's company. That served only to make IKEA stronger as Mr. Kamprad found he could buy furniture much more cheaply from Polish plants. The search for foreign suppliers also helped IKEA turn itself into an international company.

. . .

Mr. Kamprad remained a penny-pincher, flying economy class and lecturing his employees that waste was sinful, according to "Leading by Design," a 1999 biography by Bertil Torekull.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty and Saabira Chaudhuri. "IKEA's Founder Dies at 91." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 29, 2018): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 28, 2018, and has the title "Ingvar Kamprad Built Global IKEA Chain From a Single Furniture Store in Sweden.")

The autobiography of Kamprad, mentioned above, is:

Kamprad, Ingvar, and Bertil Torekull. Leading by Design: The Ikea Story New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

March 27, 2018

Occupational Licensing Hurts Military Spouses

(p. A15) Heather Kokesch Del Castillo launched a dietary advice business in Monterey, Calif., in 2014. The business grew and Ms. Del Castillo eventually established a nationwide client base as a "health coach." But when her husband, who is in the Air Force, was transferred to a base in Florida, her business hit a roadblock. A Florida Department of Health investigator showed up at the door of their new home with a cease-and-desist letter and a $750 fine.

After nearly two years of operating her business in Florida, Ms. Del Castillo learned that she had run afoul of a law requiring any person offering dietary advice to possess a state-issued license. Qualifying for that permit requires a bachelor's degree in dietetics, a 900-hour internship, a passing grade on an exam administered by the state Commission on Dietetic Registration, and a $355 fee. A licensed dietitian had tipped off the Health Department that Ms. Del Castillo was giving unauthorized advice. She retained the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, to fight the law that stripped her of her livelihood.

State licensing laws pose a particular burden on military spouses like Ms. Del Castillo. About 1 in 4 Americans need licenses to perform their occupations. In some states, florists, taxidermists and even fortune-tellers need licenses to operate. Far too often, these licenses serve less as safeguards of public health and safety than as barriers to entry. In many cases, the state-appointed boards that issue licenses are stocked with industry insiders seeking to restrict competition.

. . .

Military spouses were 10 times as likely to have moved to a new state in the past year than the average American, according to a combined 2012 study by the Treasury and Defense departments. Surveys suggest that anywhere from 35% to 50% of military spouses work in professions that require licensure, and nearly 75% of them would need to be relicensed upon transferring to a new state. Perhaps as a result, the unemployment rate for military spouses is 16%, while the national unemployment rate is only 4.1%

For the full commentary, see:

Shoshana Weissmann and C. Jarrett Dieterle. "Why Do You Need a College Degree to Give Diet Advice?; State licensing laws overly burden military spouses, who move frequently only to find they can't work." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 1, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 31, 2018.)

March 26, 2018

New York City Mayoral Health Regulator Shook Salt onto His Saltine Crackers

(p. A17) Purring in the mild winter day, a small armada of S.U.V.s was parked Thursday morning along 42nd Street outside the New York Public Library. Inside was Mayor Bill de Blasio, at an interfaith prayer breakfast that went on for quite a while.

By divine right of mayoralty, or someone, 13 vehicles waited at the curb in a no-standing zone, among them four black S.U.V.s (three Chevy Suburbans and one Yukon XL) an ambulance, a huge E.M.S. vehicle and a police school safety van. The engines on those big boys were running while the mayor was inside, for about two hours.

At least one of the S.U.V.s had Taxi and Limousine Commission plates. It may not have been part of the official mayoral entourage, but its dashboard was anointed with the holiest of government oils: a police placard giving it license to park where unblessed mortals cannot.

One day earlier, Mr. de Blasio announced that the city would sue five big oil companies for the hardships and costs inflicted on New York by climate change.

. . .

Hypocrisy is more widely practiced by humans than any creed. Mr. Bloomberg's health department wanted restaurants to cut sodium from their recipes but he was known to shake salt on slices of pizza and saltine crackers.

For the full commentary, see:

JIM DWYER. "Battling Climate Change From the S.U.V. Back Seat." The New York Times (Friday, January 12, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 11, 2018, and has the title "About New York; Battling Climate Change from the Back Seat of an S.U.V.")

March 25, 2018

FDR's Coast Guard Denied Entry to Future Medical Visionary

(p. B12) Dr. Arno G. Motulsky, a former refugee from Nazi Germany who became a founder of medical genetics, recognizing the connection between genes and health long before mainstream medicine did, died on Jan. 17 [2018] at his home in Seattle.

. . .

"It was his vision to study how heredity could be involved in practically everything," Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist and the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview. "The relationship between heredity and the response to drug therapy -- nobody was thinking about that until he started, 60 years ago. He anticipated it decades before science made it possible to get the answers that he dreamed of."

As technologies emerged to decode DNA, the fields that Dr. Motulsky helped originate came to the forefront of medicine, leading to improved diagnosis and treatments for a host of diseases.

. . .

Dr. Motulsky's path to prominence began in harrowing fashion. He had been one of more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German liner St. Louis, which reached the Miami coast in 1939 but was turned away by the United States and sent back to Europe.

. . .

His parents tried to leave Germany with him and his younger siblings, Leah and Lothar, in 1939, before war broke out in Europe. In an account he gave to the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics in 2016, Dr. Motulsky said his family had hoped to join his father's brother in Chicago but headed for Cuba instead after hearing that a United States quota system was causing long delays in granting visas.

His father left first. His mother followed soon afterward, taking young Arno and his brother and sister with her aboard the St. Louis in Hamburg on May 13, 1939, bound for Havana. But Cuba refused to accept the refugees, as did other Caribbean countries.

"We asked to land in America, but were denied," Dr. Motulsky said. "When we sailed close to Miami, U.S. Coast Guard cutters and planes shooed us off."

Its passengers filled with dread, the ship headed back to Europe on June 6.

"Miraculously, a few days before we would have arrived back in Germany, four other countries -- England, France, Holland and Belgium -- each agreed to take one-fourth of the passengers," Dr. Motulsky said.

For the full obituary, see:

DENISE GRADY. "Arno Motulsky, a Founder of Medical Genetics 60 Years Ago, Dies at 94." The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 29, 2018, and has the title "Arno Motulsky, a Founder of Medical Genetics, Dies at 94.")

March 24, 2018

Virtual Reality Was Intended as a Complement to Physical Reality, Not as a Substitute

(p. A17) The illusion of presence is what drove Mr. Lanier from the start. He envisioned VR not as an alternative to physical reality but as an enhancement--a way to more fully appreciate the wonder of existence. More conventional individuals, their senses dulled by the day-to-day, may be drawn to virtual reality because it seems realer than real; he considered it a new form of communication. "I longed to see what was inside the heads of other people," he writes. "I wanted to show them what I explored in dreams. I imagined virtual worlds that would never grow stale because people would bring surprises to each other. I felt trapped without this tool. Why, why wasn't it around already?"

"Dawn of the New Everything" is full of such self-revelatory moments. The author grew up an only child in odd corners of the Southwest, first on the Texas-Mexico border, then in the desert near White Sands Missile Range. When he was nine, his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was killed in a car crash on the way home from getting her driver's license. The tract house they'd bought burned down the day after construction was completed. The insurance money never came, so Jaron and his father lived in tents in the desert until they could afford to build a real home--which turned out to be a mad concoction of geodesic domes of Jaron's own design. They called it Earth Station Lanier.

. . .

Lacking a degree from high school, never mind college, he nonetheless parlayed his virtual-reality obsession into a company, VPL Research, that for a few years in the late '80s made VR seem real, if only in a lab setting. Then came board fights and bankruptcy, and VR disappeared from public view for more than 20 years.

What went wrong at VPL? Unfortunately, you won't find out here. Mr. Lanier warns us he isn't going to deliver a blow-by-blow; instead we get a disjointed sequence of half-remembered anecdotes. What does come through is his ambivalence about going into business at all, and his even deeper ambivalence toward writing about it.

For the full review, see:

Frank Rose. "BOOKSHELF; The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers.")

The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.

March 23, 2018

Reporters Celebrate Union Before Losing Jobs

(p. A23) A week ago, reporters and editors in the combined newsroom of DNAinfo and Gothamist, two of New York City's leading digital purveyors of local news, celebrated victory in their vote to join a union.

On Thursday [November 2, 2018], they lost their jobs, as Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who owned the sites, shut them down.

For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN and JOHN LELAND. "DNAinfo and Gothamist Shut Down After Workers Join a Union." The New York Times (Tuesday, November 3, 2017): A23.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 2, 2017, and has the title "DNAinfo and Gothamist Are Shut Down After Vote to Unionize." The online version says that the page number of the New York edition was A21. The page number of my edition, probably midwest, was A23.)

March 22, 2018

The Politically Correct Fight Against the Leprechaun of Notre Dame


Source of image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notre_Dame_Leprechaun

(p. A17) So it's come to this: Leprechauns are hateful.

Not just any leprechauns, mind you. This particular one--hat cocked, chin out, dukes up--happens to be the mascot for the Fighting Irish of the University of Notre Dame. The little, green-suited man is now in the same politically correct crosshairs that recently locked onto the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo. And ESPN's Max Kellerman has called on Notre Dame to follow the Indians' lead and send this leprechaun back to the end of the rainbow where he belongs.

"Many Irish-Americans are not offended, but many are," Mr. Kellerman said.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Kellerman understands the zeitgeist well. His argument that the 34 million Irish-Americans who are mostly untroubled by the Fighting Irish leprechaun must be forced to yield to the demands of one outraged Irish-American friend is as current as they come.

But in the case of Notre Dame, the more interesting question may be the one the ESPN analyst never asks. Each week on national TV, especially during football season, the Fighting Irish offer their own lesson in diversity. Instead of condemning a cartoon leprechaun, perhaps America ought to be applauding the healthy cultural appropriation that happens every time African-American, Asian-American and Latino athletes compete together wearing jerseys or helmets proudly proclaiming themselves "Irish."

For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. "Are Leprechauns Racist?; Notre Dame's Fighting Irish offer some healthy cultural appropriation." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 5, 2018.)

March 21, 2018

Entrepreneur Claims Intel Is Not "Doing What Comes Next"

(p. B3) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over 28 years at the giant computer chip maker Intel, Renée James climbed to its No. 2 position, becoming one of Silicon Valley's prominent female leaders.

Now she is taking aim at Intel's most lucrative business, one that she helped build.

Ms. James, who announced in 2015 that she would resign from Intel, on Monday revealed a start-up backed by the private equity firm Carlyle Group to sell chips to handle calculations in servers. Those computers run most internet services and corporate back-office operations.

. . .

Ms. James emphasized her respect for her former employer and played down potential competition. She said her new company, Ampere, was designing chips for new, specialized jobs at cloud services that aren't Intel's primary focus.

"I think they're the best in the world at what they do," Ms. James said of Intel. "I just don't think they're doing what comes next."

. . .

Ms. James learned management skills from Andrew Grove, the acclaimed former Intel chief. Before he died in 2016, she said, Mr. Grove encouraged her to follow her dream of a chip start-up -- a plan with parallels to the 1968 founding of Intel as a breakaway from a chip pioneer, Fairchild Semiconductor.

"He said, 'I just want you to know, this is a really hard job,'" Ms. James recalled. "I said: 'I know. But it's so much fun.'"

Her venture is the latest in a series of largely unsuccessful attempts, dating back more than seven years, to shake up the server market with technology licensed by ARM Holdings that is used as a mainstay of smartphones. One selling point is reduced power consumption, a hot topic in data centers.

For the full story, see:

DON CLARK. "Intel's Former No. 2 Aims At Lucrative Chip Market." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 5, 2018, and has the title "She Was No. 2 at Intel. Now She's Taking Aim at the Chip Maker.")

March 20, 2018

Obstacles and Conflicts Were Too Much for Lanier's "VPL Research" Startup

(p. 11) Lanier's book is, . . . , intimate and idiosyncratic. He carries us through his quirky and fascinating life story, with periodic nerdy side trips through his early thinking on more technical aspects of virtual reality. If you liked Richard Feynman's autobiographical "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" but thought it was rather self-indulgent, this book will prompt similar reactions. You could almost say that Lanier's vivid and creative imagination is a distinct character in this book, he discusses it so much. Midway through, Feynman himself makes an appearance, and it seems as if we're meeting an old friend.

Lanier has been credited with inventing the term "virtual reality," and he founded one of the original companies to produce it, VPL Research. He goes over the technology's history in detail, outlining not only the obstacles to getting consistent hardware but some personalities and interpersonal conflicts that ultimately led to his company's breaking up. He also demonstrates the role personal connections and interactions play in Silicon Valley.

For the full review, see:

CATHY O'NEIL. "Enter the Holodeck." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, February 4, 2018): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 30, 2018.)

The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.

March 19, 2018

Technology Increases Time at Home, Reducing Energy Use

(p. A15) A new study in the journal Joule suggests that the spread of technologies enabling Americans to spend more time working remotely, shopping online -- and, yes, watching Netflix and chilling -- has a side benefit of reducing energy use, and, by extension, greenhouse gas emissions.

. . .

Researchers found that, on average, Americans spent 7.8 more days at home in 2012, compared to 2003. They calculated that this reduced national energy demand by 1,700 trillion BTUs in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the nation's total energy use.

. . .

"Energy intensity when you're traveling is actually 20 times per minute than when spent at home," said Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author on the story.

One of his co-authors, Eric Williams, an associate professor of sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology, made the point a different way. "This is a little tongue in cheek, but you know in 'The Matrix' everyone lives in those little pods? For energy, that's great," he said, because living in little pods would be pretty efficient. "In the Jetsons, where everyone is running around in their jet cars, that's terrible for energy."

. . .

. . . , the study suggests that workers are spending less time at work because faster and better online services make it easier for us to work from home. As a result, we're spending less time in office buildings, which use more energy than our homes, and employers are consolidating office space.

For the full story, see:

Kendra Pierre-Louis. "Tech Creates Homebodies, And Energy Use Declines." The New York Times (Tuesday, January 30, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 29, 2018, and has the title "Americans Are Staying Home More. That's Saving Energy.")

The "in press" version of the article mentioned above, is:

Sekar, Ashok, Eric Williams, and Roger Chen. "Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States." Joule (2018).

March 18, 2018

"We Have to Entrepreneurialize Society"

Economist Klaus Schwab is the founder and organizer of the annual Davos gatherings of government and corporate insiders.

(p. R15) MR. BAKER: There has been a tremendous growth in industrial concentration, big companies getting bigger. Small companies are essentially being squeezed out. There's a concern that it's not just bureaucracies and supernational institutions, but companies themselves, are just too big and too remote. What can be done to address those concerns?

PROF. SCHWAB: We have to entrepreneurialize society. If we look where jobs will come from, they will come mainly from new enterprises, from medium-size enterprises. So companies and countries have to create an ecosystem which allows young people to create their own companies. We have to create new Facebook s, new Googles, and so on. Then we have the necessary dynamic situation which maintains a certain degree of competition in the economy.

For the full interview, see:

Gerard Baker, interviewer. "Nationalism vs. Globalism: A Question of Balance; Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, on how to deal with a fractured world." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018): R15.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has a date of Jan. 22, 2018.)

March 17, 2018

Taboo Geoengineer Outlaws Could Counter Global Warming

(p. D3) A quarter-century ago, Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, blew its top in a big way: It spewed a cubic mile of rock and ash and 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas into the atmosphere. The gas spread around the world and combined with water vapor to make aerosols, tiny droplets that reflected some sunlight away from the Earth. As a result, average global temperatures dropped by about one degree Fahrenheit for several years.

Powerful volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo's in 1991 are one of the biggest natural influences on climate. So NASA researchers and other scientists are planning a rapid-response program to study the next big one.

But the climate impact of a Pinatubo-size eruption is also a natural analog of an idea that has existed on the fringes of science for years: geoengineering, or intervening in the atmosphere to deliberately cool the planet.

One geoengineering approach would use high-flying jets to spray similar chemicals in the stratosphere. So by studying the next big volcanic eruption, scientists would also gain insights into how such a scheme, known as solar radiation management, or S.R.M., might work.

"This is important if we're ever going to do geoengineering," said Alan Robock, a Rutgers University researcher who models the effects of eruptions and who has been involved in discussions about the rapid-response project.

. . .

Geoengineering has long had an outlaw image among much of the scientific community, viewed as risky last-resort measures to solve climate problems that would be better dealt with by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even discussing geoengineering concepts has long been considered taboo among many scientists.

. . .

But in the past few years, some scientists and policymakers have begun to argue for limited direct research into geoengineering concepts to better understand their potential as well as risks, and be better prepared should global warming reach a point where some kind of emergency action were deemed necessary.

A few scientists have proposed small-scale outdoor experiments to study aspects of solar radiation management, and last month the American Geophysical Union, one of the nation's largest scientific societies, endorsed the idea of some research into what it called "climate intervention."

For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. "A Volcanic Idea for Cooling the Earth." The New York Times (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 1, 2018, and has the title "The Next Big Volcano Could Briefly Cool Earth. NASA Wants to Be Ready.")

March 16, 2018

Serial Breakthrough Innovators Have "Almost Maniacal Focus"

(p. C4) It's 6 a.m., and I'm rushing around my apartment getting ready to fly to California to teach an innovation workshop, when my 10-year-old son looks at me with sad eyes and asks, "Why are you always busy?" My heart pounds, and that familiar knife of guilt and pain twists in my stomach. Then a thought flickers through my head: Does Jeff Bezos go through this?

I recently finished writing a book about innovators who achieved multiple breakthroughs in science and technology over the past two centuries. Of the eight individuals I wrote cases about, only one, Marie Curie, is a woman. I tried to find more, even though I knew in my scientist's heart that deliberately looking for women would bias my selection process. But I didn't find other women who met the criteria I had laid out at the beginning of the project.

. . .

The politically correct thing to say at this point is that expanding the roster of future innovators to include more women will require certain obvious changes in how we handle family life: Men and women should have more equal child-care responsibilities, and businesses (or governments) should make affordable, quality child care more accessible. But I don't think it is as simple as that.

In my own case, I can afford more child care, but I don't want to relinquish more of my caregiving to others. From the moment I first gave birth, I felt a deep, primal need to hold my children, nurture them and meet their needs. Nature is extremely clever, and she has crafted an intoxicating cocktail of oxytocin and other neurochemicals to rivet the attention of parents on their children.

The research on whether this response is stronger for mothers than for fathers is inconclusive. It is tough to compare the two, because there are strong gender differences in how hormones work. Historically, however, women have taken on a larger share of the caregiving responsibilities for children, and many (myself included) would not have it any other way.

Is such a view hopelessly retrograde, a rejection of hard-won feminist achievements? I don't think so.

The need to connect with our children does not prevent women from being successful. There are many extremely successful women with very close relationships with their children. But it might get in the way of having the almost maniacal focus that the most famous serial breakthrough innovators exhibit.

I'm no Marie Curie, but I do have obsessive tendencies. If I did not have a family, I would routinely work until 4 a.m. if I had an interesting problem to chase down. But now I have children, and so at 5 p.m., I need to dial it back and try to refocus my attention on things like homework and making dinner. I cannot single-mindedly focus on my work; part of my mind must belong to the children.

This doesn't mean that mothers cannot be important innovators, but it might mean that their careers play out differently. Their years of intense focus might start later, or they might ebb and surge over time. The more we can do to enable people to have nonlinear career paths, the more we will increase innovation among women--and productivity more generally.

For the full commentary, see:

Melissa Schilling. "Why Women Are Rarely Serial Innovators; A single-minded life of invention is hard to combine with family obligations. One solution: 'nonlinear' careers." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 2, 2018.)

Schilling's commentary is related to his book:

Schilling, Melissa A. Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.

March 15, 2018

Regulating A.I. "Is a Recipe for Poor Laws and Even Worse Technology"

(p. A27) "Artificial intelligence" is all too frequently used as a shorthand for software that simply does what humans used to do. But replacing human activity is precisely what new technologies accomplish -- spears replaced clubs, wheels replaced feet, the printing press replaced scribes, and so on. What's new about A.I. is that this technology isn't simply replacing human activities, external to our bodies; it's also replacing human decision-making, inside our minds.

The challenges created by this novelty should not obscure the fact that A.I. itself is not one technology, or even one singular development. Regulating an assemblage of technology we can't clearly define is a recipe for poor laws and even worse technology.

For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW BURT. "Leave Artificial Intelligence Alone" The New York Times (Friday, January 5, 2018): A27.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 4, 2018, and has the title "Leave A.I. Alone.")

March 14, 2018

Musk's Slow Hunch May Be Undone by Smaller Satellites

(p. B3) SpaceX 's long-delayed Falcon Heavy rocket, slated for its maiden flight on Tuesday [February 6, 2018], faces uncertain commercial prospects and lacks a clear role in efforts to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon or deeper into the solar system.

The company conceived the rocket at the beginning of the decade, when SpaceX was an underdog fighting to increase its share of launches and needed a beefed-up alternative to a fleet of underpowered boosters. But after spending some $1 billion and grappling with five years of delays and huge technical challenges related to reliably harnessing power from 27 engines, the company is contending with significantly eroded commercial demand for such a potent heavy-lift booster.

The primary reason for the weakened demand is that both national security and corporate satellites continue to get smaller and lighter. So now, even if it performs as advertised, the Falcon Heavy might be Elon Musk's biggest contrarian bet since he founded SpaceX over 15 years ago.

For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "SpaceX Launch to Test Contrarian Bet." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 4, 2018, and has the title "New Falcon Heavy Rocket Represents a Major Bet for SpaceX.")

March 13, 2018

Level of Loneliness About the Same as 70 Years Ago

(p. 8) . . . is loneliness, as many political officials and pundits are warning, a growing "health epidemic"?

. . .

The main evidence for rising isolation comes from a widely reported sociology journal article claiming that in 2004, one in four Americans had no one in their life they felt they could confide in, compared with one in 10 during the 1980s. But that study turned out to be based on faulty data, and other research shows that the portion of Americans without a confidant is about the same as it has long been. Although one of the authors has distanced himself from the paper (saying, "I no longer think it's reliable"), scholars, journalists and policymakers continue to cite it.

The other data on loneliness are complicated and often contradictory, in part because there are so many different ways of measuring the phenomenon. But it's clear that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers. For example, one set of statistics comes from a study that counted as lonely people who said they felt "left out" or "isolated," or "lacked companionship" -- even just "some of the time." That's an exceedingly low bar, and surely not one we'd want doctors or policymakers to use in their work.

One reason we need to be careful about how we measure and respond to loneliness is that, as the University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo argues, an occasional and transitory feeling of loneliness can be healthy and productive. It's a biological signal to ourselves that we need to build stronger social bonds.

Professor Cacioppo has spent much of his career documenting the dangers of loneliness. But it's notable that he relies on more measured statistics in his own scientific papers than the statistics described above. One of his articles, from last year, reports that around 19 percent of older Americans said they had felt lonely for much of the week before they were surveyed, and that in Britain about 6 percent of adults said they felt lonely all or most of the time. Those are worrisome numbers, but they are quite similar to the numbers reported in Britain in 1948, when about 8 percent of older adults said they often or always felt lonely, and to those in previous American studies as well.

For the full commentary, see:

ERIC KLINENBERG. "Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?" The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, February 11, 2018): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 9, 2018.)

March 12, 2018

Mars Is Humanity's "Backup Plan"

(p. C3) The stated goal of the U.S. Mars program is to create a permanent base there. That is difficult to imagine in the planet's harsh environment, which was depicted with such stark realism in the 2015 film "The Martian."

But there are possibilities on the planet for making bases more viable. Mars explorers could use natural lava tubes in extinct volcanoes to create an underground base shielded against harmful radiation. Underground deposits of ice discovered in recent years could be used for drinking water and to provide oxygen for breathing, as well as hydrogen for rocket fuel. In theory, astronauts could eventually establish agricultural stations to create a self-sustaining colony, using genetically modified plants that could thrive in a cold environment rich in carbon dioxide.

A new spirit of exploration and discovery is certainly part of the push for this new space age, but concerns about the future of the Earth are also a motive. There is a growing realization that life on the planet is extremely fragile, that killer asteroids, super volcanoes and ice ages have nearly extinguished life in the past, and that climate change may spin out of control. Even if the Earth remains habitable, we know that one day the sun itself will expire.

So the choice ultimately will be simple: Colonize outer space, or perish. We need an insurance policy, a backup plan. The dinosaurs didn't have a space program. We may need ours to evade their fate.

For the full commentary, see:

Michio Kaku. "To the Moon, Mars and Beyond." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Feb. 6, 2018, and has the title "SpaceX Rocket Launch Is Latest Step Toward the Moon, Mars and Beyond.")

Kaku's commentary is related to his book:

Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. New York: Doubleday, 2018.

March 11, 2018

Extent of Future Global Warming Remains "Stubbornly Uncertain"

(p. A15) . . . , an exemplary French report . . . begins, "But uncertainty about how hot things will get also stems from the inability of scientists to nail down a very simple question: By how much will Earth's average surface temperature go up if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is doubled?"

"That 'known unknown' is called equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), and for the last 25 years the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--the ultimate authority on climate science--has settled on a range of 1.5 C to 4.5 C."

The French report describes a new study by climate physicists Peter Cox and Mark Williamson of the University of Exeter and Chris Huntingford of the U.K.'s Center for Ecology and Hydrology. Not only does it narrow the range of expected warming to between 2.2 and 3.4 degrees Celsius, but it rules out the possibility of worrying outcomes higher than 4 degrees.

. . .

. . . , [the IPCC] backpedaled in 2013 to adopt a wider range of uncertainty, and did so entirely in the direction of less warming.

. . .

The IPCC's new estimate was no more useful or precise than one developed in 1979 by the U.S. National Research Council, when computers and data sets were far more primitive.

This 40-year lack of progress is no less embarrassing for being thoroughly unreported in the mainstream press. The journal Nature, where the new study appears, frankly refers to an "intractable problem." In an accompanying commentary, a climate scientist says the issue remains "stubbornly uncertain."

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "BUSINESS WORLD; Good Climate News Isn't Told; Reporting scientific progress would require admitting uncertainties." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 27, 2018.)

The "new study" in Nature, mentioned above, is:

Cox, Peter M., Chris Huntingford, and Mark S. Williamson. "Emergent Constraint on Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity from Global Temperature Variability." Nature 553, no. 7688 (Jan. 18, 2018): 319-322.

March 10, 2018

Blobel Pursued a Slow Hunch for Over 30 Years

(p. B19) Günter Blobel, a molecular biologist who was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering that proteins in any living cell have virtual ZIP codes that guide them to where they can help regulate body tissues, organs and chemistry, died on Sunday [February 18, 2018] in Manhattan. He was 81.

. . .

The cause was cancer.

. . .

He spent nearly all his working life at Rockefeller University, what he regarded as the Valhalla of research.

Like many scientific advances, Dr. Blobel's had no moment of "Eureka!" It unfolded over 30 years of painstaking, often frustrating, but occasionally thrilling investigation: a process of building on others' work, intuitive thinking to form new hypotheses, and testing, using the results to modify his theories, and then testing and modifying again and again.

Driven to find underlying causes of diseases that were being treated for symptoms, and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he successively developed five models of his original "beautiful idea." Along the way he won many prestigious awards, some for essentially the same insights recognized later by the Nobel committee.

For the full obituary, see:

ROBERT D. McFADDEN. "Günter Blobel, Nobel Laureate Who Found Cell 'ZIP Codes,' Dies at 81." The New York Times (Saturday, Feb. 20, 2018): B19.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has a date of Feb. 19, 2018.)

March 9, 2018

Free Trade Increases Economic Growth

(p. 3) When President Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, I was reminded of a line from George Orwell: "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

. . . , my subject is economics, and to most people in my field, the benefits of an unfettered system of world trade are obvious.

. . .

. . . , economists have emphasized how trade affects productivity. In a model pioneered by my Harvard colleague Marc Melitz, when a nation opens up to international trade, the most productive firms expand their markets, while the least productive are forced out by increased competition. As resources move from the least to the most productive firms, overall productivity rises.

. . .

A skeptic might say that all this is just theory. Where's the evidence?

One approach to answering this question is to examine whether countries that are open to trade enjoy greater prosperity. In a 1995 paper, the economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew Warner studied a large sample of nations and found that open economies grew significantly faster than closed ones.

. . .

Trade restrictions often accompany other government policies that interfere with markets. Perhaps these other policies, rather than trade restrictions, impede growth.

To address this problem, a third approach to measuring the effects of trade, proposed by the economists Jeffrey A. Frankel of Harvard and David C. Romer of the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on geography. Some countries trade less because of geographic disadvantages.

For example, New Zealand is disadvantaged compared with Belgium because it is farther from other populous countries. Similarly, landlocked nations are disadvantaged compared with nations with their own seaports. Because these geographic characteristics are correlated with trade, but arguably uncorrelated with other determinants of prosperity, they can be used to separate the impact of trade on national income from other confounding factors.

After analyzing the data, Mr. Frankel and Mr. Romer concluded that "a rise of one percentage point in the ratio of trade to G.D.P. increases income per person by at least one-half percent."

For the full commentary, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW. ''Economic View; Reviewing the Tenets of Free Trade." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., February 18, 2018): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 16, 2018, and has the title ''Economic View; Why Economists Are Worried About International Trade.")

The Melitz article mentioned above, is:

Melitz, Marc. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity." Econometrica 71, no. 6 (Nov. 2003): 1695-1725.

The Sachs and Warner article mentioned above, is:

Sachs, Jeffrey D., and Andrew Warner. "Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration " Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 26, no. 1 (1995 ): 1-95.

The Frankel and Romer article mentioned above, is:

Frankel, Jeffrey A., and David H. Romer. "Does Trade Cause Growth?" American Economic Review 89, no. 3 (June 1999): 379-99.

March 8, 2018

Politicians Build Costly Megaprojects to Burnish Their Legacy

(p. 14) Petroski, a professor of both engineering and history at Duke and the author of such books as "The Pencil" and "The Evolution of Useful Things," brings an eye for the little things: what kinds of guardrails are best, how roads can be made safer through better signage, which paving materials last longest. One of his key lessons is that small thinking can be a virtue, because the history of infrastructure is a series of experimental and incremental improvements.

Local governments tried endless variations of asphalt and concrete before developing paving surfaces that didn't produce excess dust or deteriorate quickly under rain and snow. They gradually built longer bridges, learning from earlier designs that worked, and that didn't. They tried out different paint colors for lane markings, finding the ones that drivers could see best.

This little-things perspective is needed at a time when America's infrastructure agenda is simultaneously characterized by grandiose ambitions and limited budgets. Money is tight, and infrastructure needs are going unaddressed. At the same time, despite funding limitations, politicians have a tendency to fall in love with novel, pathbreaking, expensive projects that frequently go astray, resulting in arguments against spending more on infrastructure.

. . .

Politicians aren't drawn to megaprojects just because they believe the initial rosy cost projections and therefore underestimate the risk of complications. They also see an opportunity to build their legacy: It's more fun to say "I built that bridge" than "I retrofitted that bridge."

For the full review, see:

JOSH BARRO. "Getting There." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2016): 14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 18, 2016, and has the title "'The Road Taken,' by Henry Petroski.")

The Petroski book under review, is:

Petroski, Henry. The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2016.

March 7, 2018

The Only Duty of a Firm "Is to Produce Profits"

(p. B1) On Tuesday [January 16, 2018], the chief executives of the world's largest public companies will be receiving a letter from one of the most influential investors in the world. And what it says is likely to cause a firestorm in the corner offices of companies everywhere and a debate over social responsibility that stretches from Wall Street to Washington.

Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, is going to inform business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits -- they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock.

. . .

(p. B3) Companies often talk about contributing to society -- sometimes breathlessly -- but it is typically written off as a marketing gimmick aimed at raising profits or appeasing regulators.

Mr. Fink's declaration is different because his constituency in this case is the business community itself. It pits him, to some degree, against many of the companies that he's invested in, which hold the view that their only duty is to produce profits for their shareholders, an argument long espoused by economists like Milton Friedman.

"What does it mean to say that 'business' has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities," Friedman wrote, almost rhetorically, back in 1970 in this very newspaper. "Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades."

For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. ''DEALBOOK; A Demand For Change Backed Up By $6 Trillion." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 16, 2018): B1 & B3.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 15, 2018, and has the title ''DEALBOOK; BlackRock's Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support.")

The Milton Friedman classic article mentioned above by Sorkin, is:

Friedman, Milton. "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., Sept. 13, 1970): 32-33, 122, 124 & 126.

March 6, 2018

Russian Movie Director Bravely Criticizes Putin

(p. A8) MOSCOW -- While shooting "Loveless," an Oscar nominee this year for best foreign film, Andrey Zvyagintsev repeated virtually every scene again and again -- 12 takes on average, according to his cinematographer, sometimes as many as 28.

The differences between takes often proved undetectable to others, said the cinematographer, Mikhail Krichman -- even to the core crew that has worked on all five of his films. But the director sought some fleeting "magic."

It might be several leaves fluttering off a tree in the background, Mr. Krichman said, or the angle at which snowflakes struck a window. "These kinds of things deliver the magic of the scene, and he uses them to decide to take it or not for the movie," Mr. Krichman said of Mr. Zvyagintsev. "That makes him very different from other directors."

. . .

His role as social critic, . . . , is another reason the art-house crowd tends to respect Mr. Zvyagintsev. He is one of the few high-profile artists still brave enough to openly criticize the Russian government.

He has disparaged the recent crackdown on the arts, including the house arrest of a prominent theater director and the use of censorship for the first time in years to ban a foreign movie, "The Death of Stalin."

"We believed that in 1991 that we were present for the burial of the C.P.S.U.," he said referring to the one-party state of the Soviet Union. "The burial did not take place. Instead, the corpse rose from the coffin and is walking around and frightening us once again."

For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "A Master of Depicting Russia's Underbelly on Film." The New York Times (Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 23, 2018, and has the title "A Russian Master of the 'Dark Side' in Film.")

March 5, 2018

Silicon Valley's Intolerance of Intellectual Diversity

(p. B4) Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has said he plans to leave Silicon Valley in part because of its perceived cultural uniformity. He isn't the only one.

Several tech workers and entrepreneurs also have said they left or plan to leave the San Francisco Bay Area because they feel people there are resistant to different social values and political ideologies. Groupthink and homogeneity are making it a worse place to live and work, these workers said.

. . .

Tim Ferriss, the tech investor and best-selling author of the "4 Hour Workweek," moved to Austin, Texas, in December, after living in the Bay Area for 17 years, partly because he felt people there penalized anyone who didn't conform to a hyper liberal credo.

People in Silicon Valley "openly lie to one another out of fear of losing their jobs or being publicly crucified," said Mr. Ferriss in a recent discussion on Reddit.

. . .

Preethi Kasireddy said she wasn't surprised when she heard the news that Mr. Thiel is moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Ms. Kasireddy, a 27-year-old startup entrepreneur, said she made the same move last November because, like Mr. Thiel, she felt surrounded by people who shared identical beliefs, particularly about how to build a successful company.

Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders "have a certain way of thinking, and if you don't fit into that way of thinking you're not in the cool club," said Ms. Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn't influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project--a blockchain startup--didn't require her to be in Silicon Valley.

For the full story, see:

Douglas MacMillan. "'Thiel Isn't Alone In Tech Departure." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 20, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has a date of Feb. 18, 2018, and has the title "Like Peter Thiel, Tech Workers Feel Alienated by Silicon Valley 'Echo Chamber'.")

March 4, 2018

Clarence Darrow Did Not Always Defend Working People

(p. 12) Kersten frames Darrow's penchant for representing murderers and other criminals, for instance, as the only way he could underwrite his political work. And he doesn't even mention some of Darrow's more unseemly efforts, like the case of the good ship Eastland, when labor's beloved lawyer mounted a defense of the steamboat's chief engineer, whose negligence had been a cause of the drowning deaths of 844 working people out for a day of fun on the Chicago River.

Farrell has no such compunctions. He agrees that Darrow had core principles. "He was Jefferson's heir," he says, "his time's foremost champion of personal liberty," raging against the concentration of wealth and power that had accompanied the nation's industrialization. But Darrow also thought of the law as blood sport. He shamelessly seduced juries with his common man routine -- the rumpled suits and suspenders, the gentle country drawl -- and his extraordinary closing statements, which he packed with philosophy, poetry and cheap emotions meant to make men cry. Those were the benign manipulations, Farrell argues. In some of his biggest cases Darrow bought the testimony he needed. And when he was apparently caught in the act in 1911, he hired as his counsel the most ruthless criminal lawyer he could find -- a flashy-dressing, hard-drinking, anti-union conservative -- because there was no point in confusing means and ends.

A similarly callous streak ran through Darrow's personal life. He divorced his first wife because she wasn't sophisticated enough; married his second because she doted on him; then took a mistress 21 years his junior. He cheated on his law partners too, handing them work he didn't want to do and pocketing fees they were supposed to share. And for all his radicalism, Darrow loved a big payday: according to Farrell, he took on Leopold and Loeb, two sons of privilege, primarily because their parents offered him a $65,000 retainer.

For the full review, see:

KEVIN BOYLE. "Equal Opportunity Defender." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 10, 2011): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 8, 2011, and has the title "Clarence Darrow, Equal Opportunity Defender.")

The books under review, are:

Farrell, John A. Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. New York: Doubleday, 2011.

Kersten, Andrew E. Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.

March 3, 2018

Musk Poured PayPal Money into SpaceX and Tesla

(p. A15) Mr. Musk's first success was X.com, an email payment company. It merged with Peter Thiel's Confinity to form PayPal--and avoid competition. They had the market to themselves for a long time because fraud, especially from Eastern Europe, was so rampant on early internet payment platforms. They solved the fraud problem and enjoyed an uncontested market, eventually selling for $1.5 billion to eBay .

Then Mr. Musk headed further into the future. He took the nine-figure payout from PayPal and pushed ahead with SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City. Literally his last $20 million went to Tesla in 2008. "I was tapped out. I had to borrow money for rent after that," he later recalled.

. . .

[Google's Larry] Page reportedly once told a venture capitalist, "You know, if I were to get hit by a bus today, I should leave all of it to Elon Musk." He later explained to Charlie Rose he liked Mr. Musk's idea of going to Mars "to back up humanity." Good luck with that. But then again, I would love to see them try.

For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. ''Elon Musk's Uncontested 3-Pointers; What does the Tesla and SpaceX founder have in common with Stephen Curry?" The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 26, 2018): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2018.)

March 2, 2018

Stronger Labor Market May Increase Productivity

(p. B3) . . . the provocative conclusion of new research from the McKinsey Global Institute, the in-house think tank of the consulting giant, . . . suggests we should change how we think about the advancements that make society richer over time. It implies that as the economy returns to full employment, an outburst of faster growth in productivity -- and hence economic growth -- is a real possibility.

. . .

For years, McKinsey researchers have tried to understand what drives productivity growth from the ground up. They've studied how innovations that enable a company to make more goods and services per hour of labor spread across the economy.

The latest wrinkle is that the researchers now believe that productivity growth depends not just on the supply side of the economy -- what companies produce and what technologies they use to do it -- but also significantly on the demand side. That is to say, productivity advancements don't happen in a vacuum just because technology is available. They also happen because companies need to increase production to match demand for their goods, and a shortage, either of workers or of materials, forces them to think creatively about how to do so.

. . .

. . . consider how this dynamic might apply in the restaurant industry (or retail, or tourism).

The basic technology for self-serve kiosks has been around for years. But when the unemployment rate was at its post-crisis highs, employers could have their pick of good workers at relatively low prices. Now, with the jobless rate at 4.1 percent, good workers are harder to find. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, companies have been more open to installing technology that may have a significant upfront cost and require reworking how a restaurant is organized, but allow more sales without hiring more workers.

For the full commentary, see:

Neil Irwin. "Why Researchers Believe a Productivity Boom Is Now a Real Possibility." The New York Times (Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has a date of Feb. 21, 2018, and has the title "The Economy Is Getting Hotter. Is a Productivity Boom Next?")

The McKinsey report discussed above, is:

Remes, Jaana, James Manyika, Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Woetzel, Jan Mischke, and Mekala Krishnan. "Solving the Productivity Puzzle." Report McKinsey Global Institute, Feb. 2018.

March 1, 2018

Regulations Threaten Precision Medicine Innovations Against Cancer

(p. A15) The federal government is threatening to limit treatment options for doctors fighting cancer.

. . .

At issue is whether reimbursements will be available to most physicians, hospitals and patients for a diagnostic technology known as next-generation sequencing. A cornerstone of the emerging field of precision medicine, NGS tests analyze molecular changes that occur in cancerous tumors and show up in biopsies.

. . .

Under the proposed policy, only one of hundreds of laboratories that currently offer NGS testing would meet all the new reimbursement requirements. The policy would in effect force clinicians and institutions to send all NGS testing to a single vendor, Foundation Medicine .

This is unfair to cancer patients. The proposal would result in a monopoly, allowing price manipulations, decreasing quality, and potentially contributing to market failure. It would turn the entire genomic-testing industry upside-down. The FDA is already unable to keep up with advances in precision medicine. Restricting access to cutting-edge molecular testing would stifle growth in precision medicine at approved testing sites nationwide. The limits could prevent desperately needed innovation, setting back progress in genomic testing and oncology by at least a decade.

For the full commentary, see:

Olivier Elemento. ''A New Regulatory Threat to Cancer Patients; Washington may impose needless limits on genetic testing." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 26, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2018.)



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