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August 20, 2018

Anthony Bourdain "Let the Locals Shine"




(p. A15) People are mourning celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain all over the world--from Kurdistan to South Africa, from Gaza to Mexico. That may surprise American social-justice warriors who have turned food into a battlefield for what they call "cultural appropriation."

"When you're cooking a country's dish for other people," an Oberlin College student wrote last year, "you're also representing the meaning of the dish as well as its culture. So if people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as 'authentic,' it is appropriative." This was prompted by a dining-hall menu that included sushi and banh mi. Celebrity alumna Lena Dunham weighed in on the side of the social-justice warriors.


. . .


Bourdain was a frequent target of similar criticism. When he declared Filipino food the next big thing, a writer for London's Independent newspaper complained that his "well-meaning" comments were "the latest from a Western (usually white) celebrity chef or food critic to take a once scoffed at cuisine, legitimize it and call it a trend."

Bourdain took it in stride. Asked on his CNN show, "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," what he thought about culinary cultural appropriation, he said: "Look, the story of food is the story of appropriation, of invasion and mixed marriages and war and, you know . . . it constantly changes. You know, what's authentic anyway?"


. . .


When Bourdain took us to places like Libya and Venezuela and West Virginia, he let the locals shine. His vocation was about more than food. It was about people--understanding their cultures and their lives, lifting them up and making their dishes.



For the full commentary, see:

Elisha Maldonado. "Bourdain vs. the Social-Justice Warriors; The celebrity chef scoffed at the notion of opposing 'cultural appropriation.'" The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 12, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 11, 2018.)








August 19, 2018

A Dinner to Remember




(p. 6) The economist Dambisa Moyo, author most recently of "Edge of Chaos," loves Agatha Christie's "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep" Hercule Poirot.


. . .


You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

1) Vikram Seth, the economist turned novelist. His "A Suitable Boy" remains one of my all-time favorite books. 2) Ayn Rand, the philosopher and novelist. I am drawn to her irreverence -- a woman ahead of her time. 3) Maya Angelou, the poet who penned "Still I Rise" and "Phenomenal Woman" ... enough said.



For the full interview, see:


Dambisa Moyo. "'BY THE BOOK; Dambisa Moyo." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 29, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis between sentences added; ellipsis internal to sentence, and bold question, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 26, 2018. The first sentence and the bold question are by the unnamed writer-interviewer. The answer after the bold question is by Moyo.)


Moyo's book, mentioned above, is:

Moyo, Dambisa. Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth, and How to Fix It. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






August 18, 2018

Resilient Wichita Zoo Flamingo Flies Free in Texas




FlamingoFreeTexas208-08-02.jpgFlamingo stands free and tall in Texas, nearly 13 years after escaping Wichita zoo. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) That can't be right.

A flamingo? In South Texas?

Ben Shepard, in the first week of his summer internship with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, thought it must have been something else.


. . .


Mr. Shepard had the rare pleasure of spotting No. 492, an African flamingo that, for more than a decade, has shown you can still survive when no one gets around to clipping your wings.


. . .


In June 2005, on a very windy day in Wichita, a guest reported seeing two flamingos out of their enclosure. No. 492 and No. 347 had flown out; the staff had missed the signs that their feathers needed to be clipped again.

Each attempt to approach the flamingos spooked them. Soon they flew away to a drainage canal on the western side of Wichita, where they remained under observation of park officials for a week, Mr. Newland said.

They couldn't get closer than 50 yards away from the birds, and were stumped on how to get them back. Perhaps they could try in the cover of night, using a spotlight to disorient them.

They never got the chance. July 3 brought a terrible thunderstorm. And on July 4 -- Independence Day, . . . -- the birds were gone.


. . .


But great fortune was ahead for No. 492. Soon after it arrived in Texas, it found an unlikely companion: a Caribbean flamingo that, Mr. Newland speculates, may have been blown into the Gulf during a tropical storm. They were seen together as early as 2006 and as recently as 2013.

"Even though they're two different species, they are enough alike that they would have been more than happy to see each other," he said. "They're two lonely birds in kind of a foreign habitat. They're not supposed to be there, so they have stayed together because there's a bond."

Though they're often referred to as mates, no one knows the sex of either bird. And Mr. Newland said the fact that they're roughly the same height suggests they're likely to be the same sex.


. . .


"It's less about animals escaping from a zoo than how resilient the animals on our planet are," he said.



For the full story, see:

Daniel Victor. "Flamingo, After Cinematic Escape and Years on the Run, Is Spotted in Texas." The New York Times (Thursday, June 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 27, 2018, and has the title "A Flamingo? In Texas? A Zoo Fugitive Since 2005 Is Still Surviving in the Wild." Where the wording differs between versions, the quotes above follow the somewhat more detailed online version.)






August 17, 2018

Union Slows UPS Automation




(p. B1) As UPS tries to satisfy America's 21st-century shopping-and-shipping mania, parts of its network are stuck in the 20th century. The company still relies on some outdated equipment and manual processes of the type rival FedEx Corp. discarded or that newer entrants, including Amazon.com Inc., never had.

UPS says about half its packages are processed through automated facilities today. At FedEx, 96% of ground packages move through automated sites. UPS workers are unionized; FedEx's ground-operations workers aren't.


. . .


(p. B2) UPS is negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to renew a five-year contract, which expires July 31. Representing 260,000 UPS drivers, sorters and other workers, the union wants UPS to hire more full-time workers to help handle the surge in packages. It has opposed technology such as autonomous vehicles and drones and is wary of projects that do work with fewer employees.

"The problem with technology is that it does ultimately streamline jobs," says Sean O'Brien, a Teamsters leader in Boston. "It does eliminate jobs. And once they're replaced, it's pretty tough to get them back."

FedEx, with no unionized workforce in its ground network, doesn't have to worry as much about labor strife. And because it built its ground network more recently, it hasn't had to retrofit older facilities with automation. "For an older hub, automating is like heart surgery," says Ted Dengel, FedEx Ground's managing director of operations technology. "We can drop automation in before a package hits a facility."



For the full story, see:

Paul Ziobro. "UPS is Running Late." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018, and has the title "UPS's $20 Billion Problem: Operations Stuck in the 20th Century.")






August 16, 2018

Emmanuel Macron Invokes the Spirit of Joseph Schumpeter




(p. A7) PARIS--Speaking at the annual gathering of the business and political elite in Davos earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron invoked the spirit of one of his favorite early-20th-century thinkers, Joseph Schumpeter.

The economist is the father of "creative destruction," the theory that innovation sustains growth by destroying old business models. The embrace of such thinking has made Mr. Macron, an investment banker turned head-of-state, a darling of the globalist set. But this time, Mr. Macron warned that disruption was descending into a battle for the survival of the fittest.

"Schumpeter is very soon going to look like Darwin. And living in a completely Darwinian world is not good," Mr. Macron said.

France's president is on a mission to save globalism from itself and, lately, that has become a lonely road.



For the full story, see:

Stacy Meichtry and William Horobin. "Macron Walks a Line on Globalism." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title "Macron's Lonely Road: Saving Globalism From Itself." In the last couple of sentences quoted, the wording follows the online version rather than the slightly different print version.)






August 15, 2018

"Books Were Systematically Burned"




(p. 12) Vandalizing the Parthenon temple in Athens has been a tenacious tradition. Most famously, Lord Elgin appropriated the "Elgin marbles" in 1801-5. But that was hardly the first example. In the Byzantine era, when the temple had been turned into a church, two bishops -- Marinos and Theodosios -- carved their names on its monumental columns. The Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, hence its pockmarked masonry -- the result of an attack by Venetian forces in the 17th century. Now Catherine Nixey, a classics teacher turned writer and journalist, takes us back to earlier desecrations, the destruction of the premier artworks of antiquity by Christian zealots (from the Greek zelos -- ardor, eager rivalry) in what she calls "The Darkening Age."


. . .


Debate -- philosophically and physiologically -- makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species. Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.

To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution; Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.

But Christians did fetishize dogma. In A.D. 386 a law was passed declaring that those "who contend about religion ... shall pay with their lives and blood." Books were systematically burned.


. . .


. . . she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria. Intellectuals in Antioch (in ancient Syria) were tortured and beheaded, as were the statues around them.


. . .


Nixey closes her book with the description of another Athena, in the city of her name, being decapitated around A.D. 529, her defiled body used as a steppingstone into what was once a world-renowned school of philosophy. Athena was the deity of wisdom. The words "wisdom" and "historian" have a common ancestor, a proto-Indo-European word meaning to see things clearly. Nixey delivers this ballista-bolt of a book with her eyes wide open and in an attempt to bring light as well as heat to the sad story of intellectual monoculture and religious intolerance. Her sympathy, corruscatingly, compellingly, is with the Roman orator Symmachus: "We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?"



For the full review, see:

Bettany Hughes. "'How the Ancient World Was Destroyed." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 12.

(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 8, 2018, and has the title "How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World.")


The book under review, is:

Nixey, Catherine. The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.







August 14, 2018

Entrepreneur Was Frustrated by Patients' Pill Confusion




(p. B2) TJ Parker grew up working the counter for his father's pharmacy in Concord, N.H., where he became frustrated by how much customers struggled to keep track of their medications.

He went to pharmacy school but rather than take up the family business, he and a friend set out to change it. In 2013, they launched an online pharmacy from Manchester, N.H. On Thursday, the 32-year-old CEO said he sold his startup to Amazon.com Inc. It was a roughly $1 billion deal, according to people familiar with the deal. Mr. Parker is expected to stay involved after the deal, said a person familiar with the matter.


. . .


One of the company's earliest investors, David Frankel of Boston-based Founders Collective, wrote in a post on the website Medium Thursday that the company showed promise with two founders that complement each other.

"TJ cherishes beautiful design but has the bearing of a doctor," he wrote of Mr. Parker, while Mr. Cohen was able to master the technical challenges behind an "indispensable pill dispensing solution."


. . .


While attending the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, he started taking fashion-design classes at the nearby Massachusetts College of Art. "Pharmacy school was sooo boring," he said in the interview.

His design-school stint was short-lived, but the expertise, he said, inspired PillPack's concept of simplifying medication regimens by sorting pills into so-called "dose packets," dispensed from a small box in baggies marked with the date and time they are to be taken.

It turned out to be a billion-dollar idea.



For the full story, see:

Eliot Brown and Sharon Terlep. "Frustrated Pharmacist Came Up With PillPack." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 29, 2018): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2018, and has the title "Behind PillPack's $1 Billion Sale, a Frustrated 32-Year-Old Pharmacist.")






August 13, 2018

Zuckerberg Calls Musk "Pretty Irresponsible" on A.I. "Doomsday" Fears




(p. 1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Mark Zuckerberg thought his fellow Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk was behaving like an alarmist.

Mr. Musk, the entrepreneur behind SpaceX and the electric-car maker Tesla, had taken it upon himself to warn the world that artificial intelligence was "potentially more dangerous than nukes" in television interviews and on social media.

So, on Nov. 19, 2014, Mr. Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, invited Mr. Musk to dinner at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Two top researchers from Facebook's new artificial intelligence lab and two other Facebook executives joined them.

As they ate, the Facebook contingent tried to convince Mr. Musk that he was wrong. But he wasn't budging. "I genuinely believe this is dangerous," Mr. Musk told the table, according to one of the dinner's attendees, Yann LeCun, the researcher who led Facebook's A.I. lab.

Mr. Musk's fears of A.I., distilled to their essence, were simple: If we create machines that are smarter than humans, they could turn against us. (See: "The Terminator," "The Matrix," and "2001: A Space Odyssey.") Let's for once, he was saying to the rest of the tech industry, consider the unintended consequences of what we are creating before we unleash it on the world.


. . .


(p. 6) Since their dinner three years ago, the debate between Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk has turned sour. Last summer, in a live Facebook video streamed from his backyard as he and his wife barbecued, Mr. Zuckerberg called Mr. Musk's views on A.I. "pretty irresponsible."

Panicking about A.I. now, so early in its development, could threaten the many benefits that come from things like self-driving cars and A.I. health care, he said.

"With A.I. especially, I'm really optimistic," Mr. Zuckerberg said. "People who are naysayers and kind of try to drum up these doomsday scenarios -- I just, I don't understand it."



For the full story, see:

Cade Metz. "Moguls and Killer Robots." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the Feud Over Killer Robots.")






August 12, 2018

Chinese Communists Plan to Dominate Memory Chips by Stealing Micron Innovations




(p. B1) JINJIANG, China -- With a dragnet closing in, engineers at a Taiwanese chip maker holding American secrets did their best to conceal a daring case of corporate espionage.

As the police raided their offices, human resources workers gave the engineers a warning to scramble and get rid of the evidence. USB drives, laptops and documents were handed to a lower-level employee, who hid them in her locker. Then she walked one engineer's phone out the front door.

What those devices contained was more valuable than gold or jewels: designs from an American company, Micron Technology, for microchips that have helped power the global digital revolution. According to the Taiwanese authorities, the designs were bound for China, where they would help a new, $5.7 billion microchip factory the size of several airplane hangars rumble into production.

China has ambitious plans to overhaul its economy and compete head to head with the United States and other nations in the technology of tomorrow. The heist of the designs two years ago and the raids last year, which were described by Micron in court filings and the police in Taiwan, represent the dark side of that effort -- and explain in part why the United States is starting a trade war with China.

A plan known as Made in China 2025 calls for the country to become a global competitor in an ar-(p. B2)ray of industries, including semiconductors, robotics and electric vehicles. China is spending heavily to both innovate and buy up technology from abroad.

Politicians in Washington and American companies accuse China of veering into intimidation and outright theft to get there. And they see Micron, an Idaho company whose memory chips give phones and computers the critical ability to store and quickly retrieve information, as a prime example of that aggression.



For the full story, see:


Paul Mozur. "Darker Side Of Tech Bid By China." The New York Times (Saturday, June 23, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 22, 2018, and has the title "Inside a Heist of American Chip Designs, as China Bids for Tech Power.")






August 11, 2018

How Precision Metalwork Was Required for Industrial Revolution




(p. 16) In "The Perfectionists," Simon Winchester celebrates the unsung breed of engineers who through the ages have designed ever more creative and intricate machines. He takes us on a journey through the evolution of "precision," which in his view is the major driver of what we experience as modern life.


. . .


This expert working of metal is traced back to James Watt and his development of the steam engine. The first prototypes leaked copious amounts of steam and weren't very efficient. The problem was that the piston didn't fit exactly in its cylinder -- small imperfections in the surfaces of both allowed pockets of air to escape. Watt enlisted the help of John "Iron Mad" Wilkinson, so called because of his expertise (even obsession) with metal. Wilkinson had previously patented a way to bore out precise cylinders for more accurate cannons, and he suggested the same method be applied to Watt's ill-fitting system. It worked, and the improved engine allowed the conversion of energy to movement on an unprecedented scale. The Industrial Revolution, Winchester declares, could now begin.



For the full review, see:

Roma Agrawal. "Perfect Fit." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 14, 2018, and has the title "Under Modernity's Hood: Precision Engineering.")


The book under review, is:

Winchester, Simon. The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2018.






August 10, 2018

Widely-Used HireVue Algorithm Can Lock-In Hiring Biases




(p. A23) The products of a company called HireVue, which are used by over 600 companies including Nike, Unilever and even Atlanta Public Schools, allow employers to interview job applicants on camera, using A.I. to rate videos of each candidate according to verbal and nonverbal cues. The company's aim is to reduce bias in hiring.

But there's a catch: The system's ratings, according to a Business Insider reporter who tested the software and discussed the results with HireVue's chief technology officer, reflect the previous preferences of hiring managers. So if more white males with generally homogeneous mannerisms have been hired in the past, it's possible that algorithms will be trained to favorably rate predominantly fair-skinned, male candidates while penalizing women and people of color who do not exhibit the same verbal and nonverbal cues.



For the full story, see:


Joy Buolamwini. "The Hidden Dangers Of Facial Analysis." The New York Times (Friday, June 22, 2018): A23.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 21, 2018, and has the title "When the Robot Doesn't See Dark Skin.")






August 9, 2018

"It's Time for the FDA to Get with the Program"




(p. A14) Are eggs good for you or not?

It's never been more confusing for consumers to answer that seemingly simple question. Vilified for years for their high cholesterol content, eggs more recently have broken back into dietary fashion. Nutrition experts today are touting eggs' high levels of protein, essential vitamins and nutrients like brain-booster choline.

Government guidelines sometimes contradict nutrition experts' advice as they play catch up with the latest scientific findings. Dietary advice from the U.S. departments of agriculture and health and human services includes eggs as part of a healthy diet, but also says cholesterol intake should be as low as possible. And the Food and Drug Administration says that eggs are too high in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to be labeled "healthy" by food marketers.

It's such a scrambled issue that one egg brand is petitioning for an official government reassessment of eggs. "There's so much new science out there about eggs, it's time for the FDA to get with the program," says Jesse Laflamme, chief executive of Pete and Gerry's Organics, who filed a citizen's petition urging the agency to rethink its ban on calling eggs "healthy."



For the full commentary, see:

Ellen Byron. "The Great Egg Conundrum." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A14.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 12, 2018, and has the title "The Great Egg Debate: Are They Healthy or Not?")






August 8, 2018

NYC Government Hid Public Housing Lead Paint Violations




(p. A1) The federal government on Monday [June 11, 2018] delivered a withering rebuke of New York City's housing authority, accusing officials of systematic misconduct, indifference and outright lies in the management of the nation's oldest and largest stock of public housing.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said the authority, which houses at least 400,000 poor and working-class residents, covered up its actions, training its staff on how to mislead federal inspectors and presenting false reports to the government and to the public about its compliance with lead-paint regulations. The failures endangered tenants and workers for years, the prosecutors said, and potentially left more children than previously known poisoned by lead paint in their apartments.

The accusations were contained in an 80-page civil complaint filed against the authority on Monday in federal court by the office of Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan, after a lengthy investigation.

The problems at the authority "reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure," the prosecutors said, "including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist."



For the full story, see:

Benjamin Weiser and J. David Goodman. "Rot, Deception and Danger in Public Housing." The New York Times (Tuesday, June 12, 2018): A1 & A21.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 11, 2018, and has the title "New York City Housing Authority, Accused of Endangering Residents, Agrees to Oversight.")






August 7, 2018

Rupert Murdoch's Journalism Praised in New York Times




HolmesElizabethTheranosCEO2018-07-17.jpgElizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Theranos. (Apparently it takes more than a black turtleneck to be Steve Jobs.) Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 13) In 2015, Vice President Joe Biden visited the Newark, Calif., laboratory of a hot new start-up making medical devices: Theranos. Biden saw rows of impressive-looking equipment -- the company's supposedly game-changing device for testing blood -- and offered glowing praise for "the laboratory of the future."

The lab was a fake. The devices Biden saw weren't close to being workable; they had been staged for the visit.

Biden was not the only one conned. In Theranos's brief, Icarus-like existence as a Silicon Valley darling, marquee investors including Robert Kraft, Betsy DeVos and Carlos Slim shelled out $900 million. The company was the subject of adoring media profiles; it attracted a who's who of retired politicos to its board, among them George Shultz and Henry Kissinger. It wowed an associate dean at Stanford; it persuaded Safeway and Walgreens to spend millions of dollars to set up clinics to showcase Theranos's vaunted revolutionary technology.


. . .


Even for a private company like Theranos, disclosure is the bedrock of American capitalism -- the "disinfectant" that allows investors to gauge a company's prospects. Based on Carreyrou's dogged reporting, not even Enron lied so freely.


. . .


Holmes . . . pleaded with Rupert Murdoch -- the power behind The Wall Street Journal and, as it happened, her biggest investor -- to kill the story. It's a good moment in American journalism when Murdoch says he'll leave it to the editors.


. . .


Some of the directors displayed a fawning devotion to Holmes -- in effect becoming cheerleaders rather than overseers. Shultz helped his grandson land a job; when the kid reported back that the place was rotten, Grandpa didn't believe him. There is a larger moral here: The people in the trenches know best. The V.I.P. directors were nectar for investor bees, but they had no relevant expertise.



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "This Will Only Hurt a Little." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 21, 2018, and has the title "How One Company Scammed Silicon Valley. And How It Got Caught.")


The book under review, is:

Carreyrou, John. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.






August 6, 2018

Even the Mighty Fall: Dow Drops GE




(p. B1) General Electric Co. will drop out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average next week, a milestone in the decline of a firm that once ranked among the mightiest of blue-chips and was a pillar of the U.S. economy.


. . .


The decision to drop GE, an original member of the Dow that has been a part of the 30-stock index continuously since 1907, marks the latest setback for a company that once was the most valuable U.S. firm but has been hit hard in recent years by the unraveling of its finance business and competitive problems.



For the full story, see:

Michael Wursthorn and Thomas Gryta. "GE Drops Out of the Dow After A Century." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 20, 2018): B1 & B12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 19, 2018, and has the title "GE Drops Out of the Dow After More Than a Century." The passages quoted above follow the slightly longer wording in the online version.)






August 5, 2018

Drones "Stifled" by Stringent Regulations




(p. B5) The commercial drone industry is being stifled by unnecessarily stringent federal safety rules enforced by regulators who frequently pay only lip service to easing restrictions or streamlining decision-making, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The unusually strongly worded report released Monday [June 11, 2018] urges "top-to-bottom" changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration assesses and manages risks from drones.


. . .

. . . minimal but persistent levels of risk already are accepted by the public,according to the report. A fundamental issue is "what are we going to compare [drone] safety to?" said consultant George Ligler, who served as chairman of the committee that drafted the document.

"We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace, although we know birds can and do bring down aircraft," the report said.



For the full story, see:

Andy Pasztor. "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 12, 2018): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 11, 2018, and has the title "FAA's Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says.")






August 4, 2018

Obits for Gig Economy Are Premature




(p. A21) Data confirm the "gig economy" is taking off--or do they? A 2017 Upwork study found that 36% of the labor force engaged in some form of contract or freelance work in 2017. In 2015 the Mercatus Center counted 1099-MISC and W-2 tax forms, which report contractor and employee income, respectively. The number of W-2s declined 3.5% between 2000 and 2014, while the 1099-MISC count grew 22% (albeit from a much smaller base).

But then the Bureau of Labor Statistics weighed in. Its Contingent and Alternative Employment Arrangements survey, released last week, caused a flurry of clickbait headlines like "Everything we thought we knew about the gig economy is wrong" and "Gig economy jobs aren't really taking over America's workforce."


. . .


A notable study by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger used the same questions as the BLS survey, but worked with a different sample population (the RAND American Life Panel) and used an internet survey. It found that alternative employment arrangements as a worker's primary form of employment grew more than 50% between 2005 to 2015, when they collected their data.

It would at least be hasty to conclude that alternative employment arrangements declined between 2005 to 2017. And more important, the BLS data are not an accurate description or measure of gig-economy work, since they exclude most workers engaged in this type of work through supplementary income.



For the full commentary, see:

Liya Palagashvili. "Don't Be So Sure the Gig Is Up; Contract work has fallen as a share of employment, a BLS study finds. But there are reasons to doubt it.." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


They study by Katz and Krueger, mentioned above, is:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015." National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, NBER Working Papers: 22667, 2016.

Also relevant is their:

Katz, Lawrence F., and Alan B. Krueger. "The Role of Unemployment in the Rise in Alternative Work Arrangements." American Economic Review 107, no. 5 (May 2017): 388-92.






August 3, 2018

History of Energy Shows Power of Human Ingenuity to Solve Problems




(p. 16) In this meticulously researched work, Rhodes brings his fascination with engineers, scientists and inventors along as he presents an often underappreciated history: four centuries through the evolution of energy and how we use it. He focuses on the introduction of each new energy source, and the discovery and gradual refinement of technologies that eventually made them dominant. The result is a book that is as much about innovation and ingenuity as it is about wood, coal, kerosene or oil.


. . .


Moreover, there is a familiar pattern when one energy source supplants another: As each obstacle is cleared, a new one appears. The distillation of Pennsylvania "rock oil," for instance, established that itt offered a superior mode of lighting, a discovery that immediately presented the challenge of producing such oil -- then collected from places where it bubbled to the surface -- in sufficient quantities. Similarly, the invention of the petroleum-fueled internal combustion engine required Charles F. Kettering and Thomas Midgely Jr. to resolve the pressing problem of "engine knock" that resulted from small, damaging explosions in the cylinders.


. . .


. . . , by the end one gets a sense of boosted confidence about the ability of technology and human ingenuity to solve even those problems that at first seem insurmountable.



For the full review, see:

Meghan L. O'sullivan. "Power On." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 24, 2018): 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 18, 2018, and has the title "A History of the Energy We Have Consumed.")


The book under review, is:

Rhodes, Richard. Energy: A Human History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.






August 2, 2018

Regulations Support Car Incumbents and Undermine Tesla Profitability




(p. A13) . . . governments everywhere have decided, perversely, that electric cars will not be profitable. In every major market--the U.S., Europe, China--the same political dispensation now applies: Established auto makers effectively will be required to make and sell electric cars at a loss in order to continue profiting from gas-powered vehicles.

This has rapidly become the institutional structure of the electric-car industry world-wide, for the benefit of the incumbents, whether GM in the U.S. or Daimler in Germany. Let's face it, the political class always had a bigger investment in these incumbents than it ever did in Tesla.

Tesla has a great brand, great technology and great vehicles. To survive, it also needs to mate itself to a nonelectric pickup truck business. . . .

We'll save for another day the relating of this phenomenon to Mr. Musk's recently erratic behavior and pronouncements. . . . Keep your eye on the bigger picture--the bigger picture is the global regulatory capture of the electric car moment by the status quo. And note the irony that Tesla's home state of California was the original pioneer of this insiders' regulatory bargain with its so-called zero-emissions-vehicle mandate.

Electric cars were going to remain a niche in any case, but public policy is quickly ruling out the possibility (which Tesla needed) of them at least being a profitable niche.



For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Tesla Crackup Foretold; The real problem is that governments everywhere have ordained that electric cars will be sold at a loss." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 23, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2018.)







August 1, 2018

In a Robustly Redundant Labor Market Most "Will Find New Jobs Quickly"




(p. A1) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [June 12, 2018] said it will cut about 9% of its workforce in an effort to deliver its first profit during a make-or-break period of building a mass-market electric car.

The layoffs of about 3,500 employees come as Chief Executive Elon Musk reorganizes Tesla's management structure to make it flatter, and as the company tries to ramp up production of the all-electric Model 3 compact sedan.

In a memo to employees, Mr. Musk said the job cuts are mostly aimed at salaried staff and won't affect production workers assembling the company's vehicles. "This will not affect our ability to reach Model 3 production targets in the coming months," he wrote.


. . .


(p. A8) "What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable," Mr. Musk wrote in the email to employees Tuesday. "That is a valid and fair criticism of Tesla's history to date."


. . .


On Twitter, Mr. Musk acknowledged that he was losing good people. "I think they will find new jobs quickly," he said.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla to Cut Workforce by 9%, In Bid for Sustainable Profit." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A1 & A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2018, and has the title "Tesla Cutting About 9% of Global Workforce.")






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