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January 22, 2019

Tracking the Rosenbergs Was About Catching Spies, Not About Suppressing Dissent




(p. 18) In writing about the events and the back story surrounding the espionage case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Howard Blum, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, seems at first glance to be going over well-trod territory. But "In the Enemy's House" is not a mere rehash. Instead, it is an account of the two men who were principally responsible for tracking down the Rosenbergs: Robert Lamphere, an F.B.I. counterintelligence agent, and Meredith Gardner, the most experienced and able code-breaker working for the United States government.


. . .


Blum's book is especially valuable in rebutting the dwindling few who still believe the Rosenberg case was about the government seeking to curb the civil liberties of dissenters. Suppression of dissent, Blum demonstrates, was the furthest thing from the two men's minds.



For the full review, see:

Ronald Radosh. "Catching the Rosenbergs." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 15, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 10, 2018, and has the title "In This True-Life Spy Story, It's America vs. Russia, the Early Years.")


The book under review, is:

Blum, Howard. In the Enemy's House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies. New York: Harper, 2018.






January 21, 2019

"Advanced" Russian Robot Praised on Russian Government TV Had Human Inside




(p. A11) MOSCOW -- Russian state television hailed it as "one of the most advanced robots," showing a tall, white android dancing clumsily to a catchy tune. It seemed so human.

There was a good reason:It was just a man in a robot costume.

In the television report, the robot, called Boris, spoke slowly with a very synthetic voice.

"I know mathematics well, but I also want to know how to draw and write music!" Boris said in a report broadcast on Tuesday [December 11, 2018] by the state-owned Rossiya-24 news channel. His eyes flashed mysteriously.

Boris danced in front of a crowd of children, who had gathered at a youth forum designed to help them choose their future professions.

"It is quite possible one of them could dedicate their lives to robotics," the journalist Arseny Kondratiev said in his report. "At the forum, they had the opportunity to see one of the most advanced robots."



For the full story, see:


Ivan Nechepurenko. "'Look, Kids: It's a Robot. But Wait! It's Alive!." The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 14, 2018): A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 13, 2018, and has the title "A Talking, Dancing Robot? No, It Was Just a Man in a Suit.")






January 20, 2019

Labor Market Polarization in Cities




WagesAndPopDensityGraph2019-01-13.pngSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




I attended David Autor's lecture at the early-January American Economic Association (AEA) meetings, that is discussed in the passages quoted below. It was an interesting, and sometimes almost exciting lecture. More than once he said something like: 'now here's something I wouldn't have believed before 72 hours ago when we got these results.'

But it seemed very much a work in progress. In his lecture he accepts the polarization of the labor market has a current fact, even in cities. ("Polarization" roughly implies that high-level and low-level jobs are fine, but mid-level jobs are disappearing.)

In a 2015 paper, that I like very much, Autor argued that polarization is a temporary phenomenon that he did not expect to last. This 2015 paper was not mentioned in his Ely Lecture at the AEA.




(p. B1) "People have lamented, 'Well, all these areas that lost manufacturing, why don't those workers just get up and go somewhere else?'" said Mr. Autor, who looked at wage data from the census and American Community Survey and recently presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. "It's just not at all obvious what that place is. It's less obvious to me now than it was a month ago."

Mr. Autor attributes the declining urban wage premium in this chart to the disappearance of "middle-skill jobs" in production but also in clerical, administrative and sales work. Many of these jobs have gone overseas. Others have been automated out of existence.

This kind of work, he argues, was historically clustered in cities (meaning the entire labor market around cities, within commuting zones). And because of that, workers with limited (p. B5) skills could find better opportunities by moving there.

Now, the urban jobs available to people with no college education -- as servers, cleaners, security guards, home health aides -- are basically the same kind as those available in smaller towns and rural communities.



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui. "The Upshot; Opportunity in Cities Falls to the Educated." The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 11, 2019, and has the title "The Upshot; What if Cities Are No Longer the Land of Opportunity for Low-Skilled Workers?")


Autor's 2015 paper, that I praise above, is:

Autor, David H. "Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation." Journal of Economic Perspectives 29, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 3-30.






January 19, 2019

Apple Watch Would Make a Small Firm's Day, but Is Only a Ding for Apple




(p. B5) Do not pity Timothy D. Cook. He has made hundreds of millions of dollars as Apple's chief executive. He is regarded as one of business's best bosses, and runs a company with a beloved brand and $130 billion in cash.


. . .


Whatever he does, Mr. Cook faces enormous expectations. It takes a lot to fuel growth at a company that had $265.6 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year.

The Apple Watch dominates the market for wearable technology and would be a smash hit for any other company. For Apple? Watches have been counted in the "other products" category in financial results.



For the full story, see:


Jack Nicas. "'5 Reasons Apple's Chief May Face Tougher Times Ahead." The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 4, 2019, and has the title "5 Reasons You Wouldn't Want to Be in Tim Cook's Shoes Right Now.")






January 18, 2019

Young Back Choi Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




In this excellent book, Arthur Diamond offers a spirited defense of open and free market system, saying that much of the complaints against capitalism is based on (1) mistakenly conflating free market competition with cronyism, and (2) grossly under-appreciating the innovative entrepreneur's ability to solve problems in all sorts of areas--in the past and in the future. One of the central claims of the author, based on his understanding of the epistemology of innovation, namely, the necessity of self-funding of all breakthrough entrepreneurs, underlines the need for open and competitive markets if we are to enjoy in the future benefits of innovative dynamism, as we have in the past.


Young Back Choi, Professor of Economics and Finance, St. John's University. Author of Paradigms and Conventions: Uncertainty, Decision Making, and Entrepreneurship.



Choi's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






January 17, 2019

Persistent Teenage Entrepreneur Sold Truffles to Fine Restaurants




(p. A19) SEATTLE -- There is an industrial stretch of 37th Street in Long Island City, Queens, just off Queens Boulevard where you can walk and suddenly be hit with the most incongruous of odors: the pungent, earthy smell of truffles.

You have arrived at the nondescript warehouse of Regalis Foods, which sells fine truffles and other expensive wild foods.

Inside, the truffle smell is more intense and the work pace is on full holiday bustle.

"The week before New Year's is our busiest of the year," said the owner, Ian Purkayastha, 26, who started Regalis at age 19 with a cooler in a beat-up minivan. He now supplies many of the finest restaurants in Manhattan -- including Eleven Madison Park and Le Bernardin -- which are typically packed for New Year's Eve.


. . .


Mr. Purkayastha grew up in Houston, and Fayetteville, Ark., where an uncle taught him how to forage for mushrooms.

A taste of truffle ravioli at age 14 began the fascination with truffles, and by 15, he was buying small shipments from Europe to sell to fine restaurants his parents would drive him to.

By 17, he moved to New York and began transporting his truffles in a cooler on wheels. He would visit upscale restaurants in Manhattan and try to convince chefs to sample his products.

The renowned restaurateur David Chang, the founder of Momofuku restaurants, recalled being impressed by the tenacity of the teen with fine products.

"He must have been 18 and he was just really persistent," Mr. Chang said.

"The fact that he was so young was always unnerving to everyone," he added. "But his product was extraordinary, so I trusted him to get me stuff. He continually got very high-quality products."



For the full story, see:


Corey Kilgannon. "'Fulfilling the Demand for New Year's Eve Caviar, Truffle and Crab." The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Truffles, Crab and Caviar: Preparing for New Year's at the Warehouse of Expensive Eats." The online date is the same as the print date.)






January 16, 2019

Buyers Trust Amazon's Delivery Speed




(p. B1) SEATTLE -- Olivia Zimmermann started her holiday shopping early this year, buying a Bluetooth speaker from Best Buy for her sister. It was supposed to arrive by Dec. 10 [2018], two weeks before Christmas.

The speaker never showed up -- and the post office said it had delivered the package to a different town. Best Buy apologized and offered to reship it. But Ms. Zimmermann, who works in marketing in Chicago, was over it.

"I just want a refund," she told the retailer, and then added: "At this point, I have already ordered from Amazon because I know for a fact it will be here when they say it will."

Amazon is far and away the leader in e-commerce, outpacing competitors like Walmart, Target and eBay. But its dominance is never more pronounced than in the nail-biter last-minute sprint before Christmas.

The company, based in Seattle, has had a two-decade-long obsession with shrinking the time from click to doorstep. It has built warehouses in more than 30 states and a sophisticated web of delivery methods, giving it a logistical advantage.

Amazon has used that edge to lead people to expect near instant gratification that, for a while, only it could deliver. The company built trust in its delivery speed with its Prime membership, which costs $119 a year and includes two-day shipping. This year, in the days leading up to Christmas, Amazon's share of online sales will increase by almost 50 percent -- to about half of all digital sales -- while most rivals fade, according to the market research firm Rakuten Intelligence.

"Amazon's ability to fulfill more quickly and effectively than competitors has been a key differentiator back to the earliest days," said Kenneth Cassar, an analyst with Rakuten Intelligence, which is an independent subsidiary of the Japanese e-retailer Rakuten.



For the full story, see:

Karen Weise. "'For Christmas, All They Want Is From Amazon." The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 21, 2018, and has the title "Last-Minute Shoppers Increasingly Trust Only Amazon to Deliver.")






January 15, 2019

Hollywood Should Respond When "the Audience Starts Voting with Their Feet"




(p. C1) Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Heading into the holidays, there still was no host for the 2019 Academy Awards, following the withdrawal of Kevin Hart over his controversial Twitter history. Next year's ceremony will be the 30th anniversary of the last time the Oscars went emcee-free, in 1989.

The telecast's producer, Allan Carr ("Grease," "Can't Stop the Music"), tried to fill the void by staging a kitschy opening number that is now considered the most cringe-worthy moment in awards-show history: Rob Lowe's duet with Snow White on a reworked version of "Proud Mary." (Sample lyric: "I used to work a lot for Walt Disney, starring in cartoons every night and day.")

"It's fitting and proper that we continue to honor the dark and tragic event that befell our nation 30 years later," Lowe deadpanned. "I'm particularly looking forward to the candlelight vigils."


. . .


(p. C6) Do you think the Oscars learned a lesson from this debacle?

[Sarcastically] It's always been a huge relief to me that after Snow White, the Oscars got their act together and avoided any further controversy and embarrassment. By the way, it's basically a show that nobody wants to do. It's really sad. But honestly, they've got nobody to blame but themselves.

Why do you say that?

Making movies is about the audience, and when the audience starts voting with their feet, like they have been, only people who take themselves so seriously and self-reverentially would be incapable of making the kind of changes that one would need to make to be relevant to the times.



For the full story, see:

Bruce Fretts. "'Rob Lowe Has A Last Laugh At the Oscars." The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original online version.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 21, 2018, and has the title "Rob Lowe on Dancing With Snow White and Getting the Last Laugh." The bold questions are by Bruce Fretts. The answers that follow are by Rob Lowe.)






January 14, 2019

Big Data Crushes "Intuition, Skill and Experience"




(p. 14) Drawing on an eclectic bunch of anecdotes and studies, Tenner makes his way through four sectors in which "intuition, skill and experience" have been effectively crushed by "big data, algorithms and efficiency": media and culture, education, transportation and medicine.

A few of his examples:

Search algorithms have extended the ability to find scientific journal articles and books dating to the 19th century. In principle, this means scholars may encounter a broad range of research and discovery, dredge up forgotten work and possibly connect important dots. But in reality, as one sociologist found after studying citations in 35 million scientific journal articles from before and after the invention of the internet, researchers, beholden to search algorithms' tendency to generate self-reinforcing feedback loops, are now paying more attention to fewer papers, and in general to the more recent and popular ones -- actually strengthening rather than bucking prevailing trends.

GPS is great for getting from one point to another, but if you need more context for understanding your surroundings, it's fairly useless. We've all had experiences in which the shortest distance, as calculated by the app, can also be the most dangerous or traffic-clogged. Compare the efficiency of GPS with the three years aspiring London cabdrivers typically spend preparing for the arduous examination they must pass in order to receive their license. They learn to build a mental map of the entire city, to navigate under any circumstance, to find shortcuts and avoid risky situations -- all without any external, possibly fallible, help. Which is the more efficient, ultimately, the cabby or Google Maps?

In the early 2000s, electronic medical records and electronic prescribing appeared to solve the lethal problem of sloppy handwriting. The United States Institute of Medicine estimated in 1999 that 7,000 patients in the United States were dying annually because of errors in reading prescriptions. But the electronic record that has emerged to answer this problem, and to help insurers manage payments, is full of detailed codes and seemingly endless categories and subcategories. Doctors now have to spend an inordinate amount of time on data entry. One 2016 study found that for every hour doctors spent with patients, two hours were given over to filling out paperwork, leaving much less time to listen to patients, arguably the best way to avoid misdiagnoses.

Faced with all these "inefficiently efficient" technologies, what should we do? Tenner wants more balance.



For the full review, see:

Gal Beckerman. " Kicking the Geeks Where It Hurts." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 30, 2018): 14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 4, 2018, and has the title "What Silicon Valley Could Use More Of: Inefficiency.")


The book under review, is:

Tenner, Edward. The Efficiency Paradox: What Big Data Can't Do. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.






January 13, 2019

"The Tightest Labor Market Since 1969"




(p. B6) Crystal Romans, a recruiter in North Carolina, set up a face-to-face interview with a job candidate for a position at a large bank. She confirmed the time, 8:30 a.m., the night before and had a colleague stationed to walk the candidate into the room. When morning came, the candidate never showed.

Panicked, Ms. Romans sent text messages. She called. She left the applicant a voice mail. Silence.

"It's a running joke here of the level of audacity," Ms. Romans said of job candidates' escalating bad behavior, which frequently includes "ghosting," or vanishing without a trace on the people trying to hire them.


. . .


These are trying times for the nation's recruiters. Once as popular as prom kings and queens--and often overrun with hundreds of qualified job applications for an open position--recruiters find their standing has shifted in the booming economy. Instead of vying for their attention, would-be workers blow off recruiters' calls and ignore their emails.

Recruiters report they are stood up, kept waiting for appointments and regularly ridiculed online. That's because in the tightest labor market since 1969, job seekers have the upper hand, and they know it.



For the full story, see:

Chip Cutter. "For Job Recruiters, these Are Trying Times." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2018): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 19, 2018, and has the title "The Loneliest Job in a Tight Labor Market.")






January 12, 2019

Drones Bringing Vaccine May Be Interpreted by Some as Cargo Cult Vindication




(p. A10) In the village of Cook's Bay, on the remote side of the remote island of Erromango, in the remote South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, 1-month-old Joy Nowai was given shots for hepatitis and tuberculosis that were delivered by a flying drone on Monday.

It may not have been the first vial of vaccine ever delivered that way, but it was the first in Vanuatu, which is the only country in the world to make its childhood vaccine program officially drone-dependent.

"I am so happy the drone brought the stick medicine to Cook's Bay as I don't have to walk several hours to Port Narvin for her vaccines," her mother, Julie Nowai told a Unicef representative. "It is only 15 minutes' walk from my home."


.. . .


. . . , about 20 percent of Vanuatu's 35,000 children under age 5 do not get all their shots, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

So the country, with support from Unicef, the Australian government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, began its drone program on Monday. It will initially serve three islands but may be expanded to many more.

In the future, that expansion may run into some unusual turbulence -- Vanuatu is one of the few places where "cargo cults" are still active, and the drones match their central religious dogma: that believers will receive valuable goods delivered by airplane.

That will have to be handled carefully, a Unicef representative said.


. . .


. . . : Vanuatu still has adherents of the John Frum movement, one of the South Pacific cargo cults whose adherents pray for valuables arriving from the sky.

The cults date back more than 100 years, but reached their zenith during and after World War II.

Islanders whose ancestors had been kidnapped by whites to work on plantations in Australia and Fiji watched "silver birds" flown in by the Japanese and American militaries disgorge vast amounts of "cargo" -- food, medicines, tools and weapons -- which was sometimes shared with them.

The legend spread that the cargo was gifts from the ancestors, but that it had been intercepted and stolen by the foreigners. After the war ended, the cults built airstrips and model planes to lure the "birds" back.



For the full story, see:

Donald G. McNeil Jr. "'A Buzzing Thing in the Sky' Delivers Vaccines to Vanuatu." The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2018, and has the title "An Island Nation's Health Experiment: Vaccines Delivered by Drone.")






January 11, 2019

Iowa Regulations Require Cosmetologists Get 16 Times the Training of Medics




(p. 6) The amount of time Ms. Lozano spent learning to give haircuts, manicures and facials was enormous, but the requirement was set by the state, and she didn't much question it. She was determined to earn enough money to move out of her mother's house. Only a few weeks after getting her cosmetology license in 2005, she was hired at a local Great Clips.

The job, though, paid just $9 an hour, which meant that her days double-shifting at Pizza Hut weren't over. Even with tips, Ms. Lozano didn't earn more than $25,000 in any of her first few years as a cosmetologist. For years, she relied on food stamps and health insurance from the state. She couldn't cover living expenses and keep chipping away at her loan payments. Thirteen years after graduating, she still owes more than $8,000.


. . .


Each state sets its own standards. Most require 1,500 hours, and some, like New York and Massachusetts, require only 1,000. Iowa requires 2,100 -- that's a full year's worth of 40-hour workweeks, plus an extra 20. By comparison, you can become an emergency medical technician in the state after 132 hours at a community college. Put another way: An Iowa cosmetologist who has a heart attack can have her life saved by a medic with one-sixteenth her training.

There's little evidence that spending more hours in school leads to higher wages. Nor is there proof that extra hours result in improved public safety. But one relationship is clear: The more hours that students are forced to be in school, the more debt they accrue. Among cosmetology programs across the nation, Iowa's had the fourth-highest median student debt in 2014, according to federal data.


. . .


(p. 7) Iowa, with its 2,100-hour standard, remains "an embarrassment," said Dawn Pettengill, a Republican state representative who will retire next month. Hoping to lower the profession's barrier to entry, Ms. Pettengill this year introduced legislation that would drop the hours to 1,500. Republicans in the Senate proposed a similar bill.

Schools and their lobbyists mounted a fierce pushback. The schools "were livid," said State Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican subcommittee chairman. "I didn't expect the amount of opposition."

The school association's political action committee had given more than $20,000 to Iowa candidates since 2014. It also had three lobbyists registered with the state; for the last session, the organization paid the lobbyists' company $12,500.

While the dollar amounts weren't huge, a little goes a long way in Des Moines. Hearings weren't publicized, or even required, giving an advantage to the well-organized group.



For the full story, see:

Meredith Kolodner and Sarah Butrymowicz. "For-Profit Cosmetology Schools Can Entangle Students in Debt That $10-an-Hour Jobs Barely Dent." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018): 6-7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 26, 2018, and has the title "A $21,000 Cosmetology School Debt, and a $9-an-Hour Job.")






January 10, 2019

Michael C. Munger Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




Creative destruction is the mainspring that animates growth and prosperity. Few people fully understand creative destruction; fewer still can explain it. In this remarkable book, Diamond uses compelling stories and plain English to construct the case for creative destruction, extending Schumpeter's deep insights into the 21st century.


Michael C. Munger, Professor of Political Science, and Director, PPE Program, Duke University. Author of Tomorrow 3.0: Transaction Costs and the Sharing Economy, and other works.



Munger's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






January 9, 2019

Entrepreneurial Farmers Benefit from Global Warming




(p. A1) LA CRETE, Alberta--The farm belt is marching northward.

Upper Alberta is bitter cold much of the year, and remote. Not much grows other than the spruce and poplar that spread out a hundred miles around Highway 88 north toward La Crete. Signs warn drivers to watch for moose and make sure their gas tanks are filled. Farms have produced mostly wheat, canola and barley. Summers were so short farmer Dicky Driedger used to tease his wife about wasting garden space growing corn.

Today, Mr. Driedger is the one growing corn. So are many other northern-Alberta farmers who are plowing up forests to create fields, which lets them grow still more of it. The new prospect of warmer-weather crops is helping lift farmland prices, with an acre near La Crete selling for nearly five times what it fetched 10 years ago.

One reason is the warming planet and longer growing seasons. Temperatures around La Crete are 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average annually than in 1950, Canadian federal climate records show, and the growing season is nearly two weeks longer.

"A few degrees doesn't sound like much," said Mr. Driedger, 56, who has farmed for three decades in the area roughly as far north as Ju-(p. A6)neau, Alaska. "Maybe it doesn't make such a big difference on wheat or canola, but on corn, it sure does."


. . .


Agricultural giants such as Bayer AG , Cargill Inc., DowDuPont Inc. and Bunge Ltd. are pushing to develop hardier crops, plan new logistics networks and offer new technologies designed to help farmers adapt. DowDuPont, maker of Pioneer brand seeds, said its scientists are developing crops that mature faster and in drier conditions for farmers in regions growing hotter. It is marketing weather services to help farmers better anticipate storms and weather-driven crop disease.


. . .


"I look for places that don't yet grow soybeans, that will eventually grow soybeans," said Joelle Faulkner, chief executive of Area One Farms, a Toronto investment firm that buys land in partnership with farmers.

On Area One land where farmers have planted soybeans, farmers' profitability has grown 30% over three to five years, boosting the land's value by roughly the same amount, she said. The spread of warmer-weather crops, she said, represents "the less negative effect of climate."


. . .


Seed and pesticide giant Bayer, which bought U.S. seed purveyor Monsanto this year, is breeding corn plants to be faster-maturing to produce crops in cooler climates. Those efforts help farmers in borderline areas take advantage of climatic shifts.

A decade ago, Monsanto's fastest-growing corn needed about 80 days to mature for harvesting, said Dan Wright, who oversees Bayer's Canadian corn and soybean research from Guelph, Ontario. Next year, he aims to begin selling corn that will mature in 70 days, targeting farmers in places like Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Red Deer, Alberta. For corn and soybeans, the company's two biggest crops by sales, he said, such areas represent the "edge opportunity."



For the full story, see:

Jacob Bunge. "Warming Climate Pushes Corn North." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Nov. 25, 2018): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2018, and has the title "A Warming Climate Brings New Crops to Frigid Zones.")






January 8, 2019

Regulations to Keep Herds Small May Destroy Reindeer Herding




(p. A6) Jovsset Ante Sara, a boyish-looking 26-year-old, knows his section of the tundra as if it were a city grid, every hill and valley familiar, the land acquired over generations through the meticulous work of his ancestors.

He can tell his reindeer from any others by their unique earmark. And he and his family need them to live and preserve their claim to the land as well as their traditions.

That's why, Mr. Sara says, he has refused to abide by Norwegian laws, passed more than a decade ago, that limit the size of reindeer herds. The measure was taken, the government says, to prevent overgrazing.

Mr. Sara's herd was capped at 75. So every year, if the herd grows, he must pare it down. At least, those are the rules. He has refused to cull his 350 to 400 reindeer, and took the government to court.


. . .


For decades, the Norwegian government has designated reindeer herding as an exclusively Sami activity, providing herding licenses tied to ancestral lands.

The regulations limiting herd sizes were passed in 2007, forcing Sami to eliminate 30 percent of their reindeer at the time.

Mr. Sara said the limits have been devastating. If he obeyed the limit, he said, he would make only $4,700 to $6,000 a year.

"Clearly it's not possible to make a living as the job has become quite expensive, requiring snowmobiles and all the equipment that goes along with that," he said.

The law also states that any herders who are no longer profitable can lose their license. But that is not all Mr. Sara said he would lose.

"I would lose everything my ancestors worked their entire lives to create for us today," he said. "I will lose the land."



For the full story, see:

Nadia Shira Cohen. "The Hinterlands Where Reindeer Are a Way of Life." The New York Times (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2018, and has the title "NORWAY DISPATCH; Where Reindeer Are a Way of Life.")






January 7, 2019

Scientists Optimistic That Great Barrier Reef Is Resilient to Global Warming




(p. A12) Among the threatened corals of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world that has been ravaged by global warming, researchers have found a reason for optimism -- or at least a reason not to despair completely.

Coral reefs, which by some estimates support a quarter of all ocean life, are harmed by warming oceans. The effects can be seen in the loss of their vibrant colors, a phenomenon known as bleaching. But after ocean temperatures surged in 2016 around the Great Barrier Reef, causing severe damage, researchers found that the corals that survived were more resistant to another period of extreme warmth the following year.

"It's one enormous natural selection event," said Terry Hughes, an expert on coral reefs at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a study published Monday [December 7, 2018] in the journal Nature Climate Change. In effect, the 2016 heat wave killed off many of the most heat-sensitive corals and selected for the corals that could handle higher ocean temperatures.

"So when the heat returned in 2017, the susceptible corals had been substantially depleted," Dr. Hughes said. "The new coral assemblage, if you like, at the beginning of the second heat waves, was made up predominantly of the more heat-tolerant species, the more robust ones."


. . .


The study provides a measure of hope that coral reefs may be able to survive as oceans warm over the coming decades.



For the full story, see:


Kendra Pierre-Louis. "What Doesn't Kill Reefs May Make Them Stronger." The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018): A12.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 10, 2018, and has the title "Scientists Find Some Hope for Coral Reefs: The Strong May Survive.")


The official citation to the print version of the article mentioned above, is:

Hughes, Terry P., James T. Kerry, Sean R. Connolly, Andrew H. Baird, C. Mark Eakin, Scott F. Heron, Andrew S. Hoey, Mia O. Hoogenboom, Mizue Jacobson, Gang Liu, Morgan S. Pratchett, William Skirving, and Gergely Torda. "Ecological Memory Modifies the Cumulative Impact of Recurrent Climate Extremes." Nature Climate Change 9, no. 1 (Jan. 2019): 40-43.






January 6, 2019

Entrepreneurial Alfalfa Farmers Increase Profits by Recreating Alkali Bee Habitat




(p. C3) Remedies for bee decline can be as simple as planting flowers and reducing pesticide use, but the results are often transformational. With the right mix of flowers and nesting habitat, nearly any patch of ground can be turned into a bee garden and provide everything small bees need to forage, nest and reproduce over the course of a season. For larger, farther-ranging bee species, such gardens are important flower and nectar resources, like pit-stops scattered across the landscape.

For a glimpse of what is possible on a larger scale, bee campaigners everywhere look to a small community in rural Washington state. For three generations, alfalfa farmers in the Touchet Valley have been raising more than a valuable seed crop. Scattered across their blooming fields are wide, barren plots of salted earth, specially tended and irrigated to mimic the nesting habitat of a tiny burrowing bee. Honeybees don't like alfalfa, but the native alkali bees thrive on it, and with the farmers' help their numbers have skyrocketed. As the local saying goes, "You get more flowers, you get more bees." And every bee brings increased yields and profits.



For the full essay, see:

Thor Hanson. "'The Plight of the Humble Bee." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 30, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 29, 2018.)


Hanson's essay is closely related to his book:

Hanson, Thor. Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






January 5, 2019

U.S. Population Growth Rate Is Slowest in 80 Years




(p. A13) The population of the United States grew at its slowest pace in more than eight decades, the Census Bureau said Wednesday [December 19, 2018], as the number of deaths increased and the number of births declined.

Not since 1937, when the country was in the grips of the Great Depression and birthrates were down substantially, has it grown so slowly, with just a 0.62 percent gain between July 2017 and July 2018. With Americans getting older, fewer babies are being born and more people are dying, demographers said.

The past year saw a particularly high number of deaths -- 2.81 million -- and relatively few births, 3.86 million.



For the full story, see:

Sabrina Tavernise. "Growth Rate In Population Is at Lowest Since 1937." The New York Times (Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018): A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 19, 2018, and has the title "Fewer Births, More Deaths Result in Lowest U.S. Growth Rate in Generations.")






January 4, 2019

Berezin Saw Entrepreneurship as Path for Women to Advance in "Male-Dominated Field"




(p. A5) By the time she reached her early 40s, Ms. Berezin was a veteran computer designer who had created an automated reservation system for United Air Lines. Even so, as an extremely rare woman in a male-dominated field, she saw little chance of reaching senior management.

Her only route to the top, Ms. Berezin concluded, was to start a company. In 1969, with two colleagues, she founded Redactron Corp. to design and make computerized typewriters, a category that became known as word processors before being subsumed into today's more versatile desktop computers.

Ms. Berezin, who died Dec. 8 [2018] at the age of 93, served as president of Redactron, whose sales pitch was "Free the secretary," suggesting an escape from drudgery into more challenging work. Initially lacking screens, the devices featured IBM Selectric typewriters hooked up to boxy computers allowing texts to be edited, stored and printed.

Based in Hauppauge, N.Y., the company sold machines as far afield as Australia and had more than 500 employees by 1975. A recession and high interest rates created a financial crisis that forced Ms. Berezin to sell Redactron to Burroughs Corp. in January 1976.

Once Burroughs acquired Redactron, she lost control of product development and watched as others made decisions that she said doomed her word processor.



For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. "Butting Heads With Men Suited Computer Pioneer." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018): A5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 14, 2018, and has the title "Evelyn Berezin Pioneered Word Processors and Butted Heads With Men.")






January 3, 2019

Mitch Daniels Views Higher Education as a "Racket" (Health Care Too)




(p. A11) Mr. Daniels, 69, is the most innovative university president in America.


. . .


Mr. Daniels kicks off our conversation with a morality tale: "I'll speak to an audience of businesspeople and say: Here's the racket that you should have gone into. You're selling something, a college diploma, that's deemed a necessity. And you have total pricing power." Better than that: "When you raise your prices, you not only don't lose customers, you may actually attract new ones."

For lack of objective measures, "people associate the sticker price with quality: 'If school A costs more than B, I guess it's a better school.' " A third-party payer, the government, funds it all, so that "the customer--that is, the student and the family--feels insulated against the cost. A perfect formula for complacency." The parallels with health care, he observes, are "smack on."



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW: College Bloat Meets 'The Blade'." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Dec. 14, 2018.)






January 2, 2019

James Gwartney Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction




Discovery, innovation, and dynamic change are vastly underappreciated by both economists and the general public. Professor Diamond explains how discovery and development of new products and lower cost production methods of the past 250 years have transformed our lives and promoted human progress beyond even the dreams of our ancestors. Further, these dynamic improvements are continuing today at an even more rapid rate. This book brings the what, why, and how of human progress alive, and it does so in an understandable and entertaining manner. It is a must read for both the scholar and interested layperson.


James Gwartney, Professor of Economics, Florida State University. Co-author of Economics: Private and Public Choice, Economic Freedom of the World, and other works.



Gwartney's advance praise is for:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.






January 1, 2019

Environmentalists Seek to Reduce Cow Burps and Ethanol




(p. A8) . . . a sweeping new study issued Wednesday [December 5, 2018] by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group . . . warns that the world's agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.


. . .


. . . the authors are not counting on a major worldwide shift to vegetarianism.

"We wanted to avoid relying on magic asterisks," said Timothy D. Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton University and the World Resources Institute and lead author of the report.


. . .


The authors . . . pointed to possible techniques to reduce the climate impact of existing farms. For instance, new chemical compounds could help prevent nitrogen fertilizers from producing nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. And scientists are exploring feed additives that get cows to burp up less methane, another big contributor to global warming.


. . .


But, Mr. Searchinger said, many of the recommendations in the report, such as breeding new, higher-yielding crop varieties or preventing soil erosion, could also help farmers adapt to climate change.


. . .


. . . , the report's authors call for a limit on the use of bioenergy crops, such as corn grown for ethanol in cars, that compete with food crops for land.



For the full story, see:

Brad Plumer. "Can We Grow More Food On Less Land? We Must." The New York Times (Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018): A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2018, and has the title "Can We Grow More Food on Less Land? We'll Have To, a New Study Finds.")



The report summarized above, is:

Searchinger, Tim, Richard Waite, Craig Hanson, Janet Ranganathan, Patrice Dumas, and Emily Matthews. "Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050." World Resources Institute, 2018.






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