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December 10, 2017

Socialized Medicine "Mummifies Its Doctors in Spools of Red Tape"



(p. A17) One of the reasons patients find condescension from doctors especially loathsome is that it diminishes them -- if you're gravely ill, the last thing you need is further diminishment. But the desires of patients, Marsh notes, are often paradoxical. They also pine for supreme confidence in their physicians, surgeons especially, because they've left their futures -- the very possibility of one at all, in some cases -- in their doctors' custody. "So we quickly learn to deceive," Marsh writes, "to pretend to a greater level of competence and knowledge than we know to be the case, and try to shield our patients a little from the frightening reality they often face."

Over time, Marsh writes, many doctors start to internalize the stories they tell themselves about their superior judgment and skill. But the best, he adds, unlearn their self-deceptions, and come to accept their fallibility and learn from their mistakes. "We always learn more from failure than from success," he writes. "Success teaches us nothing."

This was a prominent theme in Marsh's last book, and readers may have a sense of déjà vu while reading this one. Like "Do No Harm," "Admissions" is wandering and ruminative, an overland trek through the doctor's anxieties and private shames. Once again, he recounts his miscalculations and surgical catastrophes, citing the French doctor René Leriche's observation that all surgeons carry cemeteries within themselves of the patients whose lives they've lost. Once again, he rails against the constraints of an increasingly depersonalized British health care system, which mummifies its doctors in spools of red tape. Once again, he describes his operating theater in all of its Grand Guignol splendor, with brains swelling beyond their skulls and suction devices "slurping obscenely" as tumors evade his reach.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; Surgical Catastrophes, Private Shames." The New York Times (Sat., Oct. 7, 2017): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 5, 2017, and has the title "Books of The Times; A Surgeon Not Afraid to Face His Mistakes, In and Out of the Operating Room.)


The book under review, is:

Marsh, Henry. Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2017.






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success



(p. A17) Muhammad Yunus has big goals: zero world poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions.


. . .


Mr. Yunus has long been a hero of mine for his innovative faith in the resourcefulness of low-income people.


. . .


If you want to motivate support for social enterprise, a utopian promise of "A World of Three Zeros" makes for a better book title than "Helping 60 Albanian Farmers Grow Herbs." And Mr. Yunus's paean to entrepreneurship does indeed deliver inspiration about the power of human creativity. But problematic arguments remain, especially his imprecise criticisms of the current economic system and the implausibility of replacing the whole system with social entrepreneurship.

A major problem is one of scale. Mr. Yunus's many social-enterprise examples are all on the same micro level as the 60 Albanian herb farmers. And while there's nothing wrong with making a large number of small-scale efforts to help a great many people, it doesn't qualify as a whole new system for the $76 trillion global economy. Mr. Yunus doesn't confront the scaling problem. He could have noted, for instance, that successful social entrepreneurs, unlike successful private entrepreneurs, by definition don't get the high profits to reinvest in scaling up successes.



For the full review, see:

William Easterly. "BOOKSHELF; How to Solve Global Poverty." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 3, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 2, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Yunus, Muhammad. A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.






December 2, 2017

FCC Spectrum Regulations Drive Innovators to Bankruptcy



(p. A17) In 2004 the FCC moved to relax L-Band rules, permitting deployment of a terrestrial mobile network. Satellite calls would continue, but few were being made, and sharing frequencies with cellular devices made eminent sense. By 2010, L-Band licensee LightSquared was ready to build a state-of-the-art 4G network, and the FCC announced that the 40 MHz bandwidth would become available. LightSquared quickly spent about $4 billion of its planned $14 billion infrastructure rollout. Americans would soon enjoy a fifth nationwide wireless choice.

But in 2012 the FCC yanked LightSquared's licenses. Various interests, from commercial airlines to the Pentagon, complained that freeing up the L Band could cause interference with Global Positioning System devices, since they are tuned to adjacent frequencies. Yet cheap remedies--such as a gradual roll-out of new services while existing networks improved reception with better radio chips--were available. In reality, the costliest spectrum conflicts emanate from overprotecting old services at the expense of the new. With its licenses snatched away, LightSquared instantly plunged into bankruptcy.


. . .


. . . regulatory impediments continue to block progress. Years after the L-Band spectrum was slated for productive use in 4G, it lies fallow--now delaying upgrades to 5G.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas W. Hazlett. "How Politics Stalls Wireless Innovation; The FCC unveiled its National Broadband Plan in 2010--but couldn't stick to it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 2, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 1, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






November 28, 2017

"The Tabula Rasa of the American Dream"



(p. 22) The four Keats siblings, John and George, sister Fanny, and a third brother, "star crossed" Tom, dead of tuberculosis at 19, were all well schooled in the World of Pains. The orphaned children of a shiftless stable hand, they survived on the miserly dole of a tea merchant appointed their guardian. "The lives of these orphans," Gigante remarks, "do have the makings of fairy tale." John trained in medicine before taking up the far riskier profession of poetry; reviews of his ambitious long poem "Endymion" were so harsh that Byron cruelly joked he was "snuffed out by an article." George limped along as a clerk in various mercantile firms, dreaming of something more ­adventurous.

Gigante has had the clever idea of telling the stories of John and George as parallel lives, a dual biography of brothers.


. . .


In her view, George's departure to America with his young wife, Georgiana, was "an imaginative leap across 4,000 miles onto the tabula rasa of the American dream." And yet, nothing -- nothing, that is, beyond his famous brother -- distinguishes George from thousands of other immigrants who joined in the Western migration during the tough years following the French Revolution, when it became painfully clear that possibilities for advancement in class-stratified Great Britain were severely curtailed.


. . .


The land of opportunity was also the land of crushing disappointment. On his second trip to America, after blowing his inheritance on a dubious investment with his elegant friend and neighbor Audubon, and retreating from the bleak prairies to more civilized Louisville, George finally completed his sawmill. (He would have been wiser to invest in Audubon's pictures of otters and buzzards than a crackpot steamboat scheme.) After a few years of profit, when he built a columned mansion equipped with slaves near the center of town, George lost it all again in the Panic of 1837.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER BENFEY. "Ode to Siblings." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "A Keats Brother on the American Frontier.")


The book under review, is:

Gigante, Denise. The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.






November 24, 2017

Monkeys Want More Information



(p. 13) In his book "The Compass of Pleasure," the Johns Hopkins neurobiologist David J. Linden explicates the workings of these regions, known collectively as the reward system, elegantly drawing on sources ranging from personal experience to studies of brain activity to experiments with molecules and genes. . . ,

. . . the biggest surprise, and the one most relevant to current debates, is a "revolutionary" experiment Linden discusses near the end of his book. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health gave thirsty monkeys the option of looking at either of two visual symbols. No matter which they moved their eyes to, a few seconds later the monkeys would receive a random amount of water. But looking at one of the symbols caused the animals to receive an extra cue that indicated how big the reward would be. The monkeys learned to prefer that symbol, which differed from the other only by providing a tiny amount of information they did not already have. And the same dopamine neurons that initially fired only in anticipation of water quickly learned to fire as soon as the information-providing symbol became visible. "The monkeys (and presumably humans as well) are getting a pleasure buzz from the information itself," Linden writes.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Think Again." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "Is the Brain Good at What It Does?")


The book under review, is:

Linden, David J. The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.






November 20, 2017

Those with Full Bladders Are More Financially Prudent



(p. 12) The "your brain, warts and more warts" genre is well represented by the new book "Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives," by Dean Buonomano, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A.


. . .


. . . researchers have reported that subjects with full bladders exercised more self-control in a completely unrelated realm (financial decisions) than subjects who had been permitted to relieve themselves first -- a finding that earned them this year's Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, awarded annually to unusual or ridiculous-seeming scientific research.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Think Again." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "Is the Brain Good at What It Does?")


The book under review, is:

Buonomano, Dean. Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






November 16, 2017

Can "Radical Transparency" Work "in Today's Polarized and Litigious World"?



(p. B1) In 1993, Ray Dalio, the chairman of what is today the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates, received a memo signed by his top three lieutenants that was startlingly honest in its assessment of him.

It was a performance review of sorts, and not in a good way. After mentioning his positive attributes, they spelled out the negatives. "Ray sometimes says or does things to employees which makes them feel incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, pressed or otherwise bad," the memo read. "If he doesn't manage people well, growth will be stunted and we will all be affected."

To Mr. Dalio, the message was both devastating and a wake-up call. His reaction: "Ugh. That hurt and surprised me."

That moment helped push Mr. Dalio to rethink how he approached people and to begin developing a unique -- and sometimes controversial -- culture inside his firm, one based on a series of "principles" that place the idea of "radical transparency" above virtually all else.


. . .


(p. B5) Of course, the larger question is whether Mr. Dalio's version of utopia -- a place where employees feel comfortable offering blunt and in some cases brutal feedback -- can exist outside Bridgewater's controlled environment of mostly self-selecting individuals who either embrace the philosophy or quickly exit. Given the intense environment, as you might expect, there are horror stories of employees who have left in tears. Turnover among new employees is high.

Mr. Dalio's critics -- and there are many -- say his principles offer permission to be verbally barbaric, and they question whether the $160 billion firm's success is a product of such "radical transparency" or whether he can afford such a wide-ranging social experiment simply because the firm is so financially successful.

In truth, it is hard to imagine how harsh individual critiques in the workplace can work at many other organizations in today's polarized and litigious world, where people are increasingly looking for "safe spaces" and those who say they are offended by a particular argument are derided as "fragile snowflakes."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 5, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2017, and has the title, "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." )


The Dalio book, discussed above, is:

Dalio, Ray. Principles: Life and Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






November 12, 2017

Gig Workers Have More Control Over Retirement Savings



(p. 2D) "There's this myth that the Gig Economy equals Uber driver," said Diane Mulcahy, who recently wrote a book on the subject. "If you are not a full-time employee in a full-time job, you are part of the Gig Economy."

While gig workers have been around as long as there have been handymen, tutors, writers and musicians, what's new about the Gig Economy is how quickly it has infiltrated white-collar professions and industries such as health care, finance, the law and technology, Mulcahy said. She is a private equity adviser for the Kauffman Foundation, which studies and supports entrepreneurship. As proof, she said, look at the growth of national online placement services like Toptal for tech and finance workers and Axiom for lawyers.


. . .


Managing volatile income can come down to ongoing business development and networking. Gig workers must make sure to keep business flowing through the development pipeline and writing contracts in a way that ensures ongoing cash flow, Mulcahy said.

Saving for retirement is one of the few areas where the independent contractor has an advantage because through IRAs and 401(k)s for the self-employed, they can save more quickly and at higher levels than their full-time brethren, she said.

This all comes as the economy has fundamentally changed.

"This is the future of work," Mulcahy said. "The full-time employee is getting to be the worker of last resort."



For the full story, see:

Miami Herald. "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 6, 2017): 1D-2D.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title, "As full-time jobs slip away, Gig Economy movement leverages skills and passions into multiple jobs.")


The Mulcahy book, mentioned above, is:

Mulcahy, Diane. The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want. New York: AMACOM, 2016.







November 8, 2017

Has Jeff Bezos Given Up on Well-Paying Jobs for Average Citizens?





I have not read Scott Galloway's new book, but suspect that there will be much in it to disagree with. But he makes a thought-provoking, and plausible, point, in the passage below, quoted from a Galloway op-ed piece.



(p. C3) I recently spoke at a conference the day after Jeff Bezos. During his talk, he made the case for a universal guaranteed income for all Americans. It is tempting to admire his progressive values and concern for the public welfare, but there is a dark implication here too. It appears that the most insightful mind in the business world has given up on the notion that our economy, or his firm, can support that pillar of American identity: a well-paying job.


For the full commentary, see:

Scott Galloway. "Amazon Takes Over the World." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Galloway, Scott. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






November 4, 2017

Retail Entrepreneur J.C. Penney's Utopian Community Collapsed



(p. A19) Many American entrepreneurs have obsessed over how to make good use of their wealth. The money of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie built 1,689 public libraries. Julius Rosenwald, the genius behind Sears, Roebuck, devoted much of his fortune to funding schools for African-American children in the rural South. Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller gave vast sums to medical research, higher education and Baptist missions. For James Cash Penney, the obsession was farming. As David Delbert Kruger shows in "J.C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture," the famed merchant's devotion to his rural roots brought not just commercial success but also meaning in life.


. . .


Penney's farming ventures began in 1921, when he bought 720 acres near Hopewell Junction, N.Y., hired a veteran breeder and worked with him to select the best Guernsey cattle he could find. Emmadine Farm would operate for more than 30 years, supplying breeding stock to small farmers around the country and eventually furnishing a large commercial dairy.

Four years later, Penney purchased 120,000 acres in northeast Florida, intending to create a utopian community where committed, morally upright families could build a future on 20-acre plots, living rent-free for a year and using buildings and equipment provided by Penney to grow their first crop before deciding whether to buy the land. He hired experts who encouraged the farmers to be self-sufficient and advised them on when and how to plant vegetables and fruit trees. Initially, Penney Farms flourished, but then disaster struck: crop prices collapsed, the farmers moved away and in 1930 Penney's own fortune was wiped out. The following year, the entrepreneur was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown.



For the full review, see:

Marc Levinson. "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy Capitalist." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 25, 2017): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 24, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Kruger, David Delbert. J. C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.






October 31, 2017

The Theologian Who Challenged Papal Infallibility



(p. A13) In his 2015 remarks to a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis was the picture of a modern pontiff. He noted that "the contemporary world . . . demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it." He cheered the future technological contributions of "America's outstanding academic and research institutions." He saw it as his papal duty "to build bridges" and, departing the Capitol, asked for the good wishes of those "who do not believe or cannot pray."

This was a far cry from his 19th-century predecessor Pius IX, who in 1864 issued a "Syllabus of Errors" to correct some of the alarming social and intellectual trends that had proliferated over the previous decades. Among the errors that "Pio Nono" condemned were the notions that "every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true" and that "the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilization."

Those seeking to understand this dramatic transformation of the modern papacy would do well to read Thomas Albert Howard's "The Pope and the Professor." Mr. Howard, a professor at Valparaiso University, explains in captivating detail the circumstances of the papacy's historical conservatism. He also resurrects the plucky scholar who sought to calibrate papal authority for modern times, the German theologian Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890). The conflict between Döllinger's critique of papal supremacy and Pius IX's defense makes for a riveting story that goes well beyond church history and explores the key intellectual and political developments of 19th-century Europe.



For the full review, see:

D.G. Hart. "BOOKSHELF; Infallibility and Its Discontents." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 30, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Howard, Thomas Albert. The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz Von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017.






October 27, 2017

Brooklyn Reinvented Through Creative Destruction



(p. A13) The Wythe Hotel sits in the heart of Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood directly across the river from Manhattan. Opened to rave reviews in 2012, the hotel offers luxury dining at Reynard restaurant and spectacular city views from the rooftop bar. (Beers: $11.) Not long ago, the Williamsburg waterfront was a postindustrial wilderness, abandoned but for squatting artists; today it's lined with glass towers and strolling millennials. The Wythe, set in a 1901 factory that once produced barrels for local breweries, features rooms with exposed-brick walls, spare concrete floors and beds made from salvaged wood. The streetscape retains a gritty feel--except at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, when party kids pour out of the nearby nightclubs and limos jostle for curb space with Ubers.

It's easy to mock such scenes. But the borough's boom deserves to be taken seriously, argues Kay S. Hymowitz in her engaging book, "The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back." Ms. Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, recounts how "a left-for-dead city"--"a cultural and economic peasant enviously eyeing the seigneur just across the East River"--has reinvented itself in recent decades and emerged as "just about the coolest place on earth." What, she asks, turned Brooklyn into a global brand?


The history of the borough, according to Ms. Hymowitz, embodies what economist Joseph Schumpeter dubbed the "creative destruction" of capitalism--the continual obliteration of old modes of production by rising industries and new technologies. In colonial times, Dutch and English farmers tamed the lush hills of Long Island's southwestern tip. Slavery flourished; the indigenous Canarsee people disappeared. In the 19th century, industrial growth annihilated the bucolic past, while immigration reshaped the city's culture. Factories closed and capital fled in the postwar decades, shattering communities and leaving the built landscape to decay. That destruction, though, cleared the decks for another burst of creative energy--one that has made Brooklyn a model, and a cautionary tale, for the cities of tomorrow.



For the full review, see:


Michael Woodsworth. "BOOKSHELF; Kings County Comeback." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 17, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 16, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Hymowitz, Kay S. The New Brooklyn: What It Takes to Bring a City Back. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.






October 23, 2017

Biodiversity May Increase If We "Let the Winners Go on Winning"



(p. C7) In 2004 Mr. Thomas, a biologist at the University of York, garnered headlines with a study predicting that at least a fifth of land animals and plants would be "committed to extinction" by 2050. In "Inheritors of the Earth," Mr. Thomas does not disavow those findings. A mass extinction is in full swing, he concedes. But the "gloom-merchants" are ignoring the success stories, Mr. Thomas argues, of animals and plants that are thriving in the Anthropocene. Nature, in many respects, "is coping surprisingly well," he writes, and we shouldn't ignore "the gain side of the great biological equation of life."

In some corners of the planet, warmer, wetter conditions have allowed a greater variety of species to survive than would have just decades ago, he points out, while modern transport keeps new immigrants rolling in. The result is a greater number of species in many regions--more local biodiversity--even if the global picture may be trending toward less.

Many species that contribute to diverse and functioning ecosystems aren't native--they did not evolve where they now occur. And introduced species can jump-start evolutionary processes. They compete with established species, prey on them, or breed with them, and they can occupy ecological niches once occupied by organisms that have died out or are faring poorly.

Mr. Thomas describes a honeysuckle in Pennsylvania that's a hybrid of species from several remote continents, and yet delicious to local flies, which began to interbreed out of a shared love of its berries; there's a deer with Japanese genes that's doing just fine in Scotland's woods. We should be cheering on these victors, he says, but instead many have been subjected to dubious campaigns to eradicate them.

Conservation usually aims to help the most imperiled species, and favors those with a longer claim to the habitats they occupy. But rather than "always try to defend the losers," Mr. Thomas proposes, what if we embraced the dynamism of evolution and let the winners go on winning?



For the full review, see:

Jennie Erin Smith. "Picking Sides in the Fight for Survival." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.






October 19, 2017

Rise of Civilization Made Possible by Fish



(p. C7) The subtitle of "Fishing" rather misleads: Mr. Fagan, an archaeological writer and emeritus professor at U.C. Santa Barbara, devotes nearly half this book to the way fishing was practiced for hundreds of thousands of years in subsistence cultures around the world, beginning with pre-Neanderthal hominids trapping catfish in shallow pools or shrinking rivers. He goes on to survey ancient fishing practices in the East and the West, the Old World and the New, and then the rise and fall of civilizations, the ascendancy of commerce, and such contemporary tools as lines 60 miles long bearing 30,000 baited hooks.

Along the way we find that fishing not only sustained ancient empires and modern nations to a degree we may not have grasped before--the pyramids of Giza, Mr. Fagan notes, could not have been built without hundreds of workers processing thousands of Nile fish each day, both fresh and dried, for laborers--but nurtured them as well.

The cooperative nature of fishing, wherever catches were rich and stable, fostered complex and hierarchical communities long before cities arose. The technologies of boat-building and seamanship seeded exploration. Shells, beads and dried or salted fish sustained long-distance trade networks, and even today, Mr. Fagan writes, fish are "the most traded commodity in the world." And of course preserved fish--nutritious, lightweight, long-lasting--were the primary fuel of merchant fleets, navies and conquering armies.

No coincidence, then, that civilizations flourished along seacoasts or river systems, and yet we conceive of civilization as primarily an agricultural phenomenon, and we celebrate the farmer as its founder and culture hero. By contrast, fishermen, writes Mr. Fagan, "lived at the obscure margins of society, anonymous, hard-working, and laconic, and largely outside the dramas that interest historians."



For the full review, see:


Richard Adams Carey. "What the Land Owes to the Sea." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Fagan, Brian. Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






October 15, 2017

Regulations Reduce Health Care Quality and Increase Health Care Cost



(p. A15) There are two million home health aides in the U.S. They spend more time with the elderly and disabled than anyone else, and their skills are essential to their clients' quality of life. Yet these aides are poorly trained, and their national median wage is only a smidgen more than $10 an hour.

The reason? State regulations--in particular, Nurse Practice Acts--require registered nurses to perform even routine home-care tasks like administering eyedrops. That duty might not require a nursing degree, but defenders of the current system say aides lack the proper training. "What if they put in the cat's eyedrops instead?" a health-care consultant asked me. In another conversation, the CEO of a managed-care insurance company wrote off home-care aides as "minimum wage people."

But aides could do more. With less regulation and better training, they could become as integral to health-care teams as doctors and nurses. That could improve the quality of care while saving buckets of money for everyone involved.


. . .


. . . the potential cost savings are considerable. There are 2.3 million Medicaid patients receiving long-term care at home. Imagine if even half of them replaced one hourlong nurse's visit a month with a stop by a trained aide. Assuming the nurse makes $35 an hour and the aide $15, that's an immediate savings of roughly $275 million a year.



For the full commentary, see:

Paul Osterman. "Why Home Care Costs Too Much; Regulations often require that nurses do simple tasks like administer eyedrops." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Osterman, Paul. Who Will Care for Us? Long-Term Care and the Long-Term Workforce. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2017.






October 7, 2017

Libertarian Lessons from the "Little House"



(p. C25) Nothing about Laura Ingalls's birth to a modest Wisconsin family on Feb. 7, 1867, suggested she would become one of the most significant voices in the canon of the American frontier. A century and a half later, the contribution Laura Ingalls Wilder made still seems astonishing -- a fact not lost on her publisher. As a new anniversary-themed batch of "Little House on the Prairie" books rolled in this fall -- with homespun-looking covers and introductions by luminaries including Laura Bush and Patricia MacLachlan (author of the gentle Newbery Medal-winning novel "Sarah, Plain and Tall") -- I found myself plunging back into the "Little House" world I'd loved as a child, with a strange feeling of urgency.


. . .


"Little House in the Big Woods" was published in 1932, when Laura was 65 and Rose, her only child, was long divorced, an accomplished, but increasingly broke journalist and author. Rose Wilder Lane had lost both her own money and money she invested for her parents in the 1929 stock market crash, and they were scrounging by, with Almanzo hauling loads and Laura selling eggs and apples and writing occasional pieces about farm life.

Out of desperation Rose suggested that her mother write down the stories of her pioneer childhood, heavily revised the resulting manuscript and found a publisher. In the rest of the books, as well, she provided substantial editing. Some historians insist that Rose -- who later became an outspoken antigovernment polemicist and is called one of the godmothers of the libertarian movement, along with Ayn Rand -- should be considered the books' ghostwriter. Christine Woodside's recent book, "Libertarians on the Prairie," makes this case, cataloging libertarian messages Rose embedded in the books. (Some are overt: "The politicians are a-swarming in already," says one character in "The Long Winter." "They'll tax the lining out'n a man's pockets," he cries. "I don't see nary use for a county, nohow.")



For the full commentary, see:

MARIA RUSSO. "READER'S NOTEBOOK; A 'Little House' Tinged with Red and Blue." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 10, 2017): C25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 7, 2017, and has the title "READER'S NOTEBOOK; Finding America, Both Red and Blue, in the 'Little House' Books.")


Woodside's book, mentioned above, is:

Woodside, Christine. Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2016.






October 3, 2017

The "Grit" of the Successful Consists of "Passion and Perseverance"



(p. A11) Most people would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including "The Cider House Rules" and "The World According to Garp." But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test. How, then, did he have such a remarkably successful career as a writer?

Angela Duckworth argues that the answer is "grit," which she defines as a combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal. The author, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent the past decade studying why some people have extraordinary success and others do not. "Grit" is a fascinating tour of the psychological research on success and also tells the stories of many gritty exemplars, . . .


. . .


Ms. Duckworth first realized the importance of grit as a teacher. Before she became an academic, she worked as a seventh-grade math teacher at a public school in New York. Some of her students were more inherently gifted with numbers than others. But not all of these capable students, to her surprise, got the best grades. Those who did weren't always "math people": For the most part, they were those who consistently invested more time and effort in their work.


Ms. Duckworth decided to become a research psychologist to figure out what explained their success. One of her first studies was of West Point cadets. Every year, West Point enrolls more than 1,000 students, but 20% of cadets drop out before graduation. Many quit in their first two months, during an intense training program known as Beast Barracks, or Beast. The most important factor in West Point admissions is the Whole Candidate Score, a composite measure of test scores, high-school rank, leadership potential and physical fitness. But Ms. Duckworth found that this score, which is essentially a measure of innate ability, did not predict who dropped out during Beast. She created her own "Grit Scale," scored using cadets' responses to statements like "I finish whatever I begin" or "New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones." Those who scored highest on the Grit Scale were the most likely to make it to the end of Beast.


. . .


Grit may be defined by strenuous effort, but what drives that work, Ms. Duckworth finds, is passion, and a great service of Ms. Duckworth's book is her down-to-earth definition of passion. To be gritty, an individual doesn't need to have an obsessive infatuation with a goal. Rather, he needs to show "consistency over time." The grittiest people have developed long-term goals and are constantly working toward them. "Enthusiasm is common," she writes. "Endurance is rare."



For the full review, see:


Emily Esfahani Smith. "BOOKSHELF; The Virtue of Hard Things; A study of Ivy League undergraduates showed that the smarter the students were, as measured by SAT scores, the less they persevered." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 3, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner, 2016.







September 29, 2017

When Istanbul Was "a Place of Tolerance and Enlightenment"



(p. C7) In vivid and readable prose, Ms. Hughes tells the story of the three cities that succeeded one another on the Golden Horn. First came ancient Byzantium, "the armpit of Greece," an "ethnically mongrel place" where Greek settlers mingled with native Thracians. Then there was Constantinople, the New Rome founded in 324 by the emperor Constantine, "a city with both Greek and Near Eastern genetic coding, strengthened by Roman muscle and sinew and wrapped in a Christian skin." And at last there was Istanbul, the "buzzing, polyglot" capital of the Ottoman Empire, transformed by the architect Sinan (perhaps the greatest genius of the European Renaissance) into "one of the world's most memorable and impressive urban environments."

One of the leitmotifs of Ms. Hughes's book is the cultural pluralism that has characterized Istanbul since earliest times. The 11th century saw the Viking Harald Hardrada and thousands of other "pugilistic opportunists" from the wild Baltic serving in the Byzantine emperor's Varangian guard. In 1492, Sultan Bayezid II welcomed thousands of Jewish refugees who had been expelled from Granada by Ferdinand II of Aragon, making early Ottoman Istanbul "the largest and most flourishing Jewish community in Europe." Although the Christian Greek population of the city has dropped from 240,000 in the mid-1920s to fewer than 1,000 today, Istanbul remains a true "global city." Leaving aside the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees eking out a miserable half-life "on the sides of inner-city roads and trunk-route intersections," perhaps 20% to 25% of the settled population of modern Istanbul is composed of Kurds from eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia, making Istanbul by far the largest Kurdish city in the world. Throughout its history, as Ms. Hughes writes, "Istanbul has been a city for the Cosmopolitan, for the World Citizen."


. . .


Ms. Hughes doesn't conceal the fact that Istanbul's history has often been a bloody one, from the vicious Nika riots of 532 (when the emperor Justinian butchered some 50,000 civilians) to the dark spring of 1915, when "hunched groups of Armenians could be seen being frog-marched to the city's police stations, and not coming home." But Istanbul has also been a place of tolerance and enlightenment, and when one compares its recent history with that of the other great multicultural cities of the Middle East--Aleppo, Baghdad, even Jerusalem--Istanbul can still fairly be called, as it was in Ottoman times, "the Abode of Happiness."



For the full review, see:

Peter Thonemann. "The Abode of Happiness." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 9, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 8, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Hughes, Bettany. Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2017.






September 21, 2017

Students Learn More in Charter Schools



(p. A17) On Sept. 8, 1992, the first charter school opened, in St. Paul, Minn. Twenty-five years later, some 7,000 of these schools serve about three million students around the U.S. Their growth has become controversial among those wedded to the status quo, but charters undeniably are effective, especially in urban areas. After four years in a charter, urban students learn about 50% more a year than demographically similar students in traditional public schools, according to a 2015 report from Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

The American cities that have most improved their schools are those that have embraced charters wholeheartedly. Their success suggests that policy makers should stop thinking of charters as an innovation around the edges of the public-school system--and realize that they simply are a better way to organize public education.

New Orleans, which will be 100% charters next year, is America's fastest-improving city when it comes to education. Test scores, graduation and dropout rates, college-going rates and independent studies all tell the same story: The city's schools have doubled or tripled their effectiveness in the decade since the state began turning them over to charter operators.


. . .


The teachers unions hate this model, because most charter schools are not unionized. But if someone discovered a vaccine to cure cancer, would anyone limit its use because hospitals and drug companies found it threatening?



For the full commentary, see:

David Osborne. "Charter Schools Are Flourishing on Their Silver Anniversary; The first one, in St. Paul, Minn., opened in 1992. Since then they've spread and proven their success." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 8, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to Osborne's book:

Osborne, David. Reinventing America's Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2017.






September 17, 2017

Courageous Grover Cleveland Belongs in "Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame"



(p. A11) Mr. Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, "The High Cost of Good Intentions," on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate "attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill" on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, "Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase," Mr. Cogan says. "When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was 'signed into law by President Richard Nixon.' "

The Nixon episode shows, says Mr. Cogan, that entitlements have been the main cause of America's rising national debt since the early 1970s. Mr. Trump's pact with the Democrats is part of a pattern: "The debt ceiling has to be raised this year because elected representatives have again failed to take action to control entitlement spending."


. . .


Mr. Cogan conceived the book about four years ago when, as part of his research into 19th-century spending patterns, he "saw this remarkable phenomenon of the growth in Civil War pensions. By the 1890s, 30 years after it had ended, pensions from the war accounted for 40% of all federal government spending." About a million people were getting Civil War pensions, he found, compared with 8,000 in 1873, eight years after the war. Mr. Cogan wondered what caused that "extraordinary growth" and whether it was unique.

When he went back to the stacks to look at pensions from the Revolutionary War, he saw "exactly the same pattern." It dawned on him, he says, that this matched "the evolutionary pattern of modern entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps."


. . .


Who would feature in an Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame? Mr. Cogan's blue eyes shine contentedly at this question, as he utters the two words he seems to love most: Grover Cleveland. "He was the very first president to take on an entitlement. He objected to the large Civil War program and thought it needed to be reformed." Cleveland was largely unsuccessful, but was a "remarkably courageous president." In his time, Congress had started passing private relief bills, giving out individual pensions "on a grand scale. They'd take 100 or 200 of these bills on a Friday afternoon and pass them with a single vote. Incredibly, 55% of all bills introduced in the Senate in its 1885 to 1887 session were such private pension bills.".



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with John F. Cogan; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . .." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 9, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in title, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 8, 2017, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . ..".)


The Cogan book, mentioned above, is:

Cogan, John F. The High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.






September 13, 2017

"We Liberals" Oppose Diversity of Ideas



(p. 11) We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological. Repeated studies have found that about 10 percent of professors in the social sciences or the humanities are Republicans.

We champion tolerance, except for conservatives and evangelical Christians. We want to be inclusive of people who don't look like us -- so long as they think like us.

I fear that liberal outrage at Trump's presidency will exacerbate the problem of liberal echo chambers, by creating a more hostile environment for conservatives and evangelicals. Already, the lack of ideological diversity on campuses is a disservice to the students and to liberalism itself, with liberalism collapsing on some campuses into self-parody.


. . .


Whatever our politics, inhabiting a bubble makes us more shrill. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard professor, conducted a fascinating study of how groupthink shapes federal judges when they are randomly assigned to three-judge panels.

When liberal judges happened to be temporarily put on a panel with other liberals, they usually swung leftward. Conversely, conservative judges usually moved rightward when randomly grouped with other conservatives.

It's the judicial equivalent of a mob mentality. And if this happens to judges, imagine what happens to you and me.

Sunstein, a liberal and a Democrat who worked in the Obama administration, concluded that the best judicial decisions arose from divided panels, where judges had to confront counterarguments.

Yet universities are often the equivalent of three-judge liberal panels, and the traditional Democratic dominance has greatly increased since the mid-1990s -- apparently because of a combination of discrimination and self-selection. Half of academics in some fields said in a survey that they would discriminate in hiring decisions against an evangelical.

The weakest argument against intellectual diversity is that conservatives or evangelicals have nothing to add to the conversation. "The idea that conservative ideas are dumb is so preposterous that you have to live in an echo chamber to think of it," Sunstein told me..



For the full commentary, see:

Kristof, Nicholas. "The Dangers of Echo Chambers on Campus." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 11, 2016): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 10, 2016.)


Cass Sunstein's research on the effect of political orientation on federal judges' decisions, mentioned above, was most fully reported in:

Sunstein, Cass R., David Schkade, Lisa M. Ellman, and Andres Sawicki. Are Judges Political?: An Empirical Analysis of the Federal Judiciary. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2006.







September 9, 2017

"Bankruptcies and Losses Concentrate the Mind on Prudent Behavior"



(p. A18) Allan H. Meltzer, an influential conservative economist who strongly opposed government bailouts and was credited with coining the anti-bailout slogan, "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin," died on Monday in Pittsburgh. He was 89.


. . .

In books like "Why Capitalism?" (2012), Dr. Meltzer promoted the view that countries and investors should suffer the consequences of their mistakes, whether flawed fiscal measures or bad lending decisions.

In coining the slogan "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin," he added another maxim: "Bankruptcies and losses concentrate the mind on prudent behavior."


. . .


In recent years Mr. Meltzer found a new interest in law and regulation. He and other scholars were working on a book, "Regulation and the Rule of Law."



For the full obituary, see:

ZACH WICHTER. "Allan H. Meltzer, Economist Averse to Bailouts, Dies at 89." The New York Times (Sat., MAY 13, 2017): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 12, 2017, and has the title "Allan H. Meltzer, Conservative Economist, Dies at 89.")


Meltzer's book on capitalism, mentioned above, is:

Meltzer, Allan H. Why Capitalism? New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.






September 5, 2017

"Many of Our Worst Behaviors Are in Retreat"



(p. A19) Mr. Sapolsky is one of those very few eminent scientists who are also eminent--or even coherent--when writing for the general public.


. . .


The author's comprehensive approach integrates controlled laboratory investigation with naturalistic observations and study. To his immense credit, he doesn't omit cultural norms, social learning, the role of peer pressure or historical tradition. He also has a delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor. Introducing a chapter titled "War and Peace," he summarizes the chapter's goals as: (a) to demonstrate that "many of our worst behaviors are in retreat, our best ones ascendant"; (b) to examine "ways to improve this further"; (c) to derive "emotional support for this venture" (d) and, "finally, to see if I can actually get away with calling this chapter 'War and Peace.' " Earlier, after an especially abstruse sentence, he adds a footnote: "I have no idea what it is that I just wrote."


. . .


It's no exaggeration to say that "Behave" is one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. .



For the full review, see:

David P. Barash. "BOOKSHELF; How the Brain Makes Us Do It; Biology can explain but not excuse our worst behavior; Testosterone may drive a vicious warlord, but social triggers shape his actions." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 2, 2017): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 1, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Sapolsky, Robert M. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. New York: Penguin Press 2017.






September 1, 2017

Inventor of Submarine "Was Shunted Aside"



(p. C6) There are very few wars in history that begin, dramatically, with a brand-new weapon displaying its transformative power, but one such case occurred in the southern North Sea in September 1914, when three large cruisers of the Royal Navy were torpedoed and swiftly sunk by a diminutive German U-boat, the U-9. At that moment, the age of the attack submarine was born, and the struggle for naval supremacy for a great part of both World War I and World War II was defined. The U-boat--shorthand for "Unterseeboot"--had come of age.

It is appropriate, then, that the historian Lawrence Goldstone begins "Going Deep" with a dramatic re-telling of the U-9's exploit. It should be said immediately that his chronicle doesn't present the whole history of submarine warfare but rather the story of the efforts of various American inventors and entrepreneurs--above all, an Irish-born engineer named John Philip Holland--to create a power-driven, human-directed and sub-marine vessel that could stalk and then, with its torpedoes, obliterate even the most powerful of surface warships.


. . .


"Going Deep" ends in 1914. By that time, the U.S. Navy was on its way to possessing some submarines--vessels equipped with torpedoes that were therefore capable, in theory, of sinking an enemy's warships or his merchant marine, although in fact these boats were aimed at only coastal defense. And by 1914 American industry could boast of a nascent submarine-building capacity, especially in the form of the Electric Boat Co., which was to survive the capriciousness of the Navy Department's "on-off" love affair with the submarine until World War II finally proved its undoubted power.

But these successes, limited though they were, were not John Philip Holland's. He had played a major role--really, the greatest role--in developing the early submarine, grasping that it could transform naval warfare. He had grappled with and overcome most of the daunting technological obstacles in the way of making his vision a reality. Mr. Goldstone is surely right to give him such prominence. But eventually Holland was shunted aside by more ruthless entrepreneurs, diddled by business partners and denied Navy contracts. He passed away on Aug. 12, 1914, just as World War I was beginning. By then, feeling beaten and having retired, he was a quiet churchman and amateur historian. This part of Mr. Goldstone's story is not a happy one.



For the full review, see:


Kennedy, Paul. "A Man Down Below; How an Irish-American engineer developed a Jules Verne-like wonder-weapon of the deep." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 16, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Goldstone, Lawrence. Going Deep: John Philip Holland and the Invention of the Attack Submarine. New York: Pegasus Books Ltd., 2017.






August 28, 2017

"Splendid Tutorial" of Bitcoin, Distributed Ledgers, and Smart Contracts



(p. A13) 'The future is already here--it's just not very evenly distributed." The aphorism coined by novelist William Gibson explains why Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson's tour of the technologies that are shaping the future of business, "Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future," contains sights that are already familiar and others that are not. This is a book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep--yet.


. . .


In the penultimate chapter, the authors present a splendid tutorial on things that are too new for most civilians to have gained a good understanding of--cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The authors present the theoretical possibility that conventional contracts and the human handling of disputes could be rendered obsolete by dense networks of sensors in the physical world and extremely detailed contracts anticipating all contingencies so that machines alone can handle enforcement. But they show that computing power, however much it grows, seems unlikely to replace the human component for dispute resolution.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; The Future On Fast Forward; GE used 'crowdfunding' to gauge interest in a new ice maker. McDonald's has begun adding self-service ordering in all its U.S. locations.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 6, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

McAfee, Andrew, and Erik Brynjolfsson. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






August 24, 2017

Who Was the Breakfast Cereal Innovator?



(p. A15) . . . , it turns out that the turn-of-the-last-century origin and evolution of the cereal industry was a very nasty and unpleasant bit of business, as Howard Markel chronicles in "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek."


. . .


The Kelloggs (and others) thought that an easily digestible corn cereal might solve all the problems. The birth of breakfast cereal is a tortured tale. Both Kellogg brothers would insist on having made the crucial innovations, as would others, including the most successful copycat, C.W. Post, who moved to Battle Creek to make his new Shredded Wheat. Shredded Wheat became a top seller after John failed to conclude a deal to buy Post's company and, worse, refused to aggressively sell the Kellogg cereal because he thought it unseemly for a medical doctor, and his increasingly famous sanitarium ("the San"), to sell a commercial product.

Through it all, John's younger brother, Will--a plump, colorless, diligent numbers man--served as his long-suffering factotum. "The doctor was the San's showman and carnival barker," Mr. Markel writes, "while Will kept the place running smoothly and served as a brake to his brother's tendency to make poor and costly business decisions." Mr. Markel's portrayal of the sibling dynamic edges a bit into a Scrooge-and-Cratchit stereotype, though it is amply backed up by anecdotes, such as the many times poor Will was obliged to take dictation while John sat on the toilet.

In 1905, after 25 years of this, Will said "enough." He made a deal with John to leave the San and start a cereal company of his own, which in time became a global conglomerate.



For the full review, see:

Bryan Burrough. "BOOKSHELF; The Battle of Battle Creek." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 14, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 13, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Birth of a Cereal Empire.")


The book under review, is:

Markel, Howard. The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek. New York: Pantheon, 2017.






August 20, 2017

Inventor Haber and Entrepreneur Bosch Created "an Inflection Point in History"



(p. C7) . . . , Mr. Kean's narrative of scientific discovery jumps back and forth. The first episode narrated in detail is Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch's conversion of nitrogen into ammonia, the crucial step in producing artificial fertilizer, which Mr. Kean characterizes as "an inflection point in history" that in the 20th century "transformed the very air into bread." The process consumes 1% of the global energy supply, producing 175 million tons of ammonia fertilizer a year and generating half the world's food. Haber and Bosch both won Nobel Prizes but were subsequently tainted by their involvement in developing chlorine gas for the German military.

The book's middle section turns back the clock to steam power, the technology that launched the Industrial Revolution. James Watt was its master craftsman, though Mr. Kean confesses that, as "a sucker for mechanical simplicity," he regards Watt's pioneering engine, with its separate condenser, as "a bunch of crap cobbled together." A more elegant application of gases was Henry Bessemer's process for making steel, which used blasts of compressed air to make obsolete the laborious and energy-hungry mixing of liquid cast iron and carbon.



For the full review, see:

Mike Jay. "Adventures in the Atmosphere." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Kean, Sam. Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.






August 16, 2017

"Shannon's Principles of Redundancy and Error Correction"



(p. C7) There were four essential prophets whose mathematics brought us into the Information Age: Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, Alan Turing and Claude Shannon. In "A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age," Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman make a convincing case for their subtitle while reminding us that Shannon never made this claim himself.


. . .


The only one of the four Information Age pioneers who was also an electrical engineer, Shannon was practical as well as brilliant.


. . .


Wiener's theory of information, drawing on his own background in thermodynamics, statistical mechanics and the study of random processes, was cloaked in opaque mathematics that was impenetrable to most working engineers.


. . .


"Before Shannon," Messrs. Soni and Goodman write, "information was a telegram, a photograph, a paragraph, a song. After Shannon, information was entirely abstracted." He derived explicit formulas for rates of transmission, the capacity of an ideal channel, ability to correct errors and coding efficiency that could be understood by anyone familiar with logarithms to the base 2.

Mathematicians use mathematics to understand things. Engineers use mathematics to build things. Engineers love logarithms as a carpenter loves a familiar tool. The electronic engineers who flooded into civilian life in the aftermath of World War II adopted Shannon's theory as passionately as they had avoided Wiener's, bringing us the age of digital machines.


. . .


Despite the progress of technology, we still have no clear understanding of how memories are stored in our own brains: Shannon's principles of redundancy and error correction are no doubt involved in preserving memory, but how does the process work and why does it sometimes fail? Shannon died of Alzheimer's disease in February 2001. The mind that gave us the collective memory we now so depend on had its own memory taken away.



For the full review, see:

George Dyson. "The Elegance of Ones and Zeroes." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 22, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Soni, Jimmy, and Rob Goodman. A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






August 12, 2017

Employment Grows as Productivity Rises



(p. C3) In a recent paper prepared for a European Central Bank conference, the economists David Autor of MIT and Anna Salomons of Utrecht University looked at data for 19 countries from 1970 to 2007. While acknowledging that advances in technology may hurt employment in some industries, they concluded that "country-level employment generally grows as aggregate productivity rises."

The historical record provides strong support for this view. After all, despite centuries of progress in automation and recurrent warnings of a jobless future, total employment has continued to increase relentlessly, even with bumps along the way.

More remarkable is the fact that today's most dire projections of jobs lost to automation fall short of historical norms. A recent analysis by Robert Atkinson and John Wu of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation quantified the rate of job destruction (and creation) in each decade since 1850, based on census data. They found that an incredible 57% of the jobs that workers did in 1960 no longer exist today (adjusted for the size of the workforce).

Workers suffering some of the largest losses included office clerks, secretaries and telephone operators. They found similar levels of displacement in the decades after the introduction of railroads and the automobile. Who is old enough to remember bowling alley pin-setters? Elevator operators? Gas jockeys? When was the last time you heard a manager say, "Take a memo"?


. . .


. . . , if artificial intelligence is getting so smart that it can recognize cats, drive cars, beat world-champion Go players, identify cancerous lesions and translate from one language to another, won't it soon be capable of doing just about anything a person can?

Not by a long shot. What all of these tasks have in common is that they involve finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning.


. . .


But it is misleading to characterize all of this as some extraordinary leap toward duplicating human intelligence. The selfie app in your phone that places bunny ears on your head doesn't "know" anything about you. For its purposes, your meticulously posed image is just a bundle of bits to be strained through an algorithm that determines where to place Snapchat face filters. These programs present no more of a threat to human primacy than did automatic looms, phonographs and calculators, all of which were greeted with astonishment and trepidation by the workers they replaced when first introduced.


. . .


The irony of the coming wave of artificial intelligence is that it may herald a golden age of personal service. If history is a guide, this remarkable technology won't spell the end of work as we know it. Instead, artificial intelligence will change the way that we live and work, improving our standard of living while shuffling jobs from one category to another in the familiar capitalist cycle of creation and destruction.



For the full commentary, see:

Kaplan, Jerry. "Don't Fear the Robots." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 22, 2017): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2017.)


The David Autor paper, mentioned above, is:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Does Productivity Growth Threaten Employment?" Working Paper. (June 19, 2017).



The Atkinson and Wu report, mentioned above, is:

Atkinson, Robert D., and John Wu. "False Alarmism: Technological Disruption and the U.S. Labor Market, 1850-2015." (May 8, 2017).


The author's earlier book, somewhat related to his commentary quoted above, is:

Kaplan, Jerry. Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






August 8, 2017

Disney Stories Give Happiness to the Poor



(p. 1B) If the arts community had been blossoming in north Omaha when Adrienne Brown-Norman was growing up there in the 1960s and '70s, she may never have moved to California and become a senior illustrator for Disney Publishing Worldwide.


. . .


"Of course, though, I would not ever have met Floyd."

That would be her husband, Floyd Norman, the now-legendary first African-American artist at Walt Disney Studios.

Floyd Norman, 82, began working for Disney in 1956 and was named a Disney Legend in 2007.


. . .


The Normans recently collaborated with legendary songwriter Richard Sherman ("Mary (p. 5B) Poppins") on a picture book called "A Kiss Goodnight."

The book tells the story of how the young Walt Disney was enchanted by fireworks and subsequently chose to send all of his Magic Kingdom guests home with a special kiss goodnight of skyrockets bursting overhead.


. . .


Walt Disney later picked Norman to join the team writing the script for "The Jungle Book." Disney had seen Norman's gags posted around the office and recognized a talented storyteller.

"I didn't think I was a writer, but the old man did," Norman said. "Then I realized that maybe I am good at this."

Norman named "The Jungle Book" as his favorite project, because he worked alongside Disney.


. . .


"What I learned from the old man was the technique of storytelling and what made a movie work," Norman said.

"I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the master. If you were in the room with Walt, it was for a reason. There are a lot of people who wanted to be in that room but didn't get an invitation."


. . .


One day at the studio the Normans recall pausing to watch the filming of "Saving Mr. Banks," the story of Disney's quest to acquire the rights to film "Mary Poppins." Norman had worked on the movie and was interested in seeing Tom Hanks' portrayal of his old boss.

"Tom Hanks rushed from his trailer in full costume to meet Floyd, shouting, 'Where is that famous animator?' " Brown-Norman said. "You don't expect a man like Tom Hanks to come running up. Then Tom wouldn't let us leave. He wanted to know more about Walt, and if he was getting it right."


. . .


"What I enjoy is the love of Disney that made so many people happy," [Floyd Norman] said. "Maybe they were poor. Maybe they were in a bad home, but they tell me Disney stories gave them an escape. They gave them happiness, and that's what I like."



For the full story, see:


Kevin Cole. "Legendary Animator Spread Love of Disney." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., Aug. 7, 2017): 1B & 5B.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "During Native Omaha Days, Disney's Floyd Norman and Adrienne Brown-Norman reflect on careers.")


The book mentioned above, co-authored by Sherman (and illustrated by the Normans), is:

Sherman, Richard, and Brittany Rubiano. A Kiss Goodnight. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2017.







August 4, 2017

Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Wage U.S. Workers



(p. C1) Research published a decade after the Mariel boatlift, as well as more recent analyses, concluded that the influx of Cuban migrants didn't significantly raise unemployment or lower wages for Miamians. Immigration advocates said the episode showed that the U.S. labor market could quickly absorb migrants at little cost to American workers.

But Harvard University's George Borjas, a Cuban-born specialist in immigration economics, reached very different conclusions. Looking at data for Miami after the boatlift, he concluded that the arrival of the Marielitos led to a large decline in wages for low-skilled local workers.


. . .


(p. C2) Dr. Borjas, who left Cuba in 1962, when he was 12 years old, has long challenged the idea that immigration has few downsides. One of his studies in the early 2000s analyzed decades of national data to conclude that immigrants generally do push down wages for native workers, particularly high-school dropouts.

One Sunday morning in 2015, while working on his book, Dr. Borjas recalls, he decided to revisit the Mariel boatlift. He focused on U.S.-born high-school dropouts and applied more sophisticated analytical methods than had been available to Dr. Card a quarter-century earlier.

Dr. Borjas found a steep decline in wages for low-skilled workers in Miami in the years after the boatlift--in the range of 10% to 30%. "Even the most cursory reexamination of some old data with some new ideas can reveal trends that radically change what we think we know," he wrote in his initial September 2015 paper.


. . .


Dr. Borjas has spent decades swimming against the tide in his profession by focusing on immigration's costs rather than its benefits. He said that he sees a parallel to the way many economists look at international trade. Long seen as a positive force for growth, trade is now drawing attention from some economists looking for its ill effects on factory towns. "I don't know why the profession has this huge lag and this emphasis on the benefits from globalization in general without looking at the other side," Dr. Borjas said.


. . .


Dr. Borjas's research, including his recent work on Mariel, has found fans on the other side of the debate. When he testified at a Senate hearing in March 2016, then-Sen. Sessions welcomed his rebuttal to Dr. Card's paper. "That study, I could never understand it because it goes against common sense of [the] free market: greater supply, lower costs," Mr. Sessions said. "That's just the way the world works."


. . .


Dr. Borjas welcomes what he calls a more realistic approach to immigration under the Trump administration. "If you knew what the options are, who gets hurt and who wins by each of these options, you can make a much more intelligent decision rather than relying on wishful thinking," he said. "Which is what a lot of immigration, trade debates tend to be about--that somehow this will all work out, and everybody will be happy."



For the full commentary, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "The Immigration Experiment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 16, 2017, and has the title "The Great Mariel Boatlift Debate: Does Immigration Lower Wages?")


The book by Borjas, mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.






July 31, 2017

We Are Happier When We Focus on the Future



(p. 1) What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it's also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we're evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation.


. . .


A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered -- rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we're prisoners of the past and the present.


. . .


(p. 6) The central role of prospection has emerged in recent studies of both conscious and unconscious mental processes, like one in Chicago that pinged nearly 500 adults during the day to record their immediate thoughts and moods. If traditional psychological theory had been correct, these people would have spent a lot of time ruminating. But they actually thought about the future three times more often than the past, and even those few thoughts about a past event typically involved consideration of its future implications.

When making plans, they reported higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress than at other times, presumably because planning turns a chaotic mass of concerns into an organized sequence. Although they sometimes feared what might go wrong, on average there were twice as many thoughts of what they hoped would happen.


. . .


Most prospection occurs at the unconscious level as the brain sifts information to generate predictions. Our systems of vision and hearing, like those of animals, would be overwhelmed if we had to process every pixel in a scene or every sound around us. Perception is manageable because the brain generates its own scene, so that the world remains stable even though your eyes move three times a second. This frees the perceptual system to heed features it didn't predict, which is why you're not aware of a ticking clock unless it stops.


. . .


, , , there's precious little evidence that people . . . spend much time outside the lab thinking about their deaths or managing their terror of mortality. It's certainly not what psychologists found in the study tracking Chicagoans' daily thoughts. Less than 1 percent of their thoughts involved death, and even those were typically about other people's deaths.

Homo prospectus is too pragmatic to obsess on death for the same reason that he doesn't dwell on the past: There's nothing he can do about it. He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future, and he is wise enough to keep looking straight ahead.



For the full commentary, see:

MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEY. "We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 21, 2017): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added. The word "central" in the first passage quoted from p. 6, appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 19, 2017.)


The Chicago studies mentioned above, are discussed in articles in a special issue on "The Science of Prospection" in the Review of General Psychology 20, no. 1 (March 2016).


The commentary quoted above, is based on the book:

Seligman, Martin E. P., Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada. Homo Prospectus. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.







July 27, 2017

Bill of Rights Is "Gutted" by Bureaucrats' Administrative Law



(p. A13) Unelected bureaucrats not only write their own laws, they also interpret these laws and enforce them in their own courts with their own judges. All this is in blatant violation of the Constitution, says Mr. Hamburger, 60, a constitutional scholar and winner of the Manhattan Institute's Hayek Prize last year for his scholarly 2014 book, "Is Administrative Law Unlawful?" (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

"Essentially, much of the Bill of Rights has been gutted," he says, sitting in his office at Columbia Law School. "The government can choose to proceed against you in a trial in court with constitutional processes, or it can use an administrative proceeding where you don't have the right to be heard by a real judge or a jury and you don't have the full due process of law. Our fundamental procedural freedoms, which once were guarantees, have become mere options."

​In volume and complexity, the edicts from federal agencies exceed the laws passed by Congress by orders of magnitude. "The administrative state has become the government's predominant mode of contact with citizens," Mr. Hamburger says. "Ultimately this is not about the politics of left or right. Unlawful government power should worry everybody."



For the full interview, see:


John Tierney, interviewer. "The Tyranny of the Administrative State." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 10, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 9, 2017.)


The book by Hamburger mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Hamburger, Philip. Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.






July 23, 2017

Human Species Is Highly Adaptable to Climate Variation



(p. A15) In "Evolution's Bite," paleoanthropologist Peter S. Ungar follows the stories encapsulated in our enamel-coated anatomy.

Mr. Ungar's story isn't so much about teeth themselves as about the sweeping tale of human evolution as seen through the mouth.


. . .


Unpredictability in climate and resources, Mr. Ungar emphasizes, has made us a species adapted to variation. Drawing from the work of researchers like Elisabeth Vrba and Rick Potts, he underscores how environmental shifts influence our evolution just as they have for other animals. The invention of culture did not somehow free us from nature. Our existence and continuing evolution are still influenced by shifts in climate and their effects. Humans didn't become locked into just one narrow mode of life but rather became a flexible species as comfortable above the Arctic Circle as on the equator. "Climate change," he writes, "drove human evolution, in large part by swapping out food options available on the biospheric buffet."

This new story--that humans became adapted to the variability of the world rather than any one set of conditions--hasn't had time to become pop-culture canon just yet. Images of Man the Hunter stepping out onto the savanna in search of big game still dominate. "The story used to be simpler," Mr. Ungar writes, when it seemed that "the spreading savanna coaxed our ancestors down from the trees, and the challenges it brought made them human." All the same, the mounting swell of research doesn't show a slow and steady transition from a chilly Ice Age world to the warmer one we know today. Instead, Mr. Ungar points out, temperatures dipped and spiked in a haphazard pattern prior to our influence on the climate, having an overall trajectory that we can detect now but that probably would have seemed simply chaotic to the people and creatures living through it.



For the full review, see:

Brian Switek. "BOOKSHELF; Chewing Over History." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 31, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 30, 2017, and the title "BOOKSHELF; Chewing Over Humanity's History.")


The book under review, is:

Ungar, Peter S. Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.






July 20, 2017

Deregulation Can Stimulate Dynamism and Economic Growth



(p. A15) Various estimates suggest that had U.S. productivity growth not slowed, GDP would be about $3 trillion higher than it is today.


. . .


Many economists contend that properly counting free digital services from companies like Google and Facebook would substantially boost productivity and GDP growth. One of the highest estimates, calculated by economists Austan Goolsbee and Peter Klenow, stands at $800 billion. That's a big number, but not big enough to fill a $3 trillion hole.


. . .


In his 2016 book, "The Rise and Fall of American Growth," Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon contends that the current economy fails to measure up to the great inventions of the past, and that innovation today is more incremental than transformative. He has argued vigorously that the transformative effects of technologies like electric lighting, indoor plumbing, elevators, autos, air travel and television are unlikely to be repeated. Technological innovation, he argues, will not be sufficiently robust to counter the headwinds of slowing population growth, rising inequality and exploding sovereign debt.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has resurrected Alvin Hansen's 1938 theory of secular stagnation. Morgan Stanley economist Ruchir Sharma has argued that a 2% economy is the new normal. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has repeatedly said that the growing share of social benefits and entitlements in GDP crowds out national savings and reduces investments required to boost productivity growth.

The growth dividends from disruptive technology often require time before they are widely diffused and used. To Mr. Gordon's point, economic historians respond that the Industrial Revolution did not improve British living standards for almost a century. Likewise the productivity boost spurred by the transformative innovations of the early 20th century took decades to kick in.

In the short term, as companies try to develop online capabilities while maintaining a physical presence, some costs are duplicated.


. . .


It's possible that economic dynamism and entrepreneurship are no longer driving the U.S. economy. Startups are being created at a slower pace. From 1996 to 2007 the ratio of new firms to the total number of firms oscillated between 9.6 and 11.2. Today it has dropped to 7.8. Existing firms do innovate and contribute to improved productivity, but the declining share of young firms suggests a less dynamic economy.

Concurrently, the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that churn in the U.S. labor market remains weak across industries, regions and age groups. People are simply not moving or changing jobs for better alternatives.


. . .


The real debate is about policies that favor productivity and GDP growth. Predicting future innovation is hazardous, but deregulation and streamlined licensing requirements will facilitate job mobility. Tax reform that encourages and rewards investment should stimulate capital investment.


. . .


These necessary policy changes provide options for improving productivity and GDP growth. Waiting for the data debate to resolve itself gets us nowhere.



For the full commentary, see:

Brian Switek. "The Great Productivity Slowdown; It began long before the financial crisis, and it has worsened markedly in the past six years." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 5, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 4, 2017.)


The Goolsbee and Klenow article mentioned above, is:

Goolsbee, Austan, and Peter J. Klenow. "Valuing Consumer Products by the Time Spent Using Them: An Application to the Internet." American Economic Review 96, no. 2 (May 2006): 108-13.






July 19, 2017

Socialized Medicine Seeks to Ensure "No One Does Anything New or Interesting"



(p. A15) Heart surgeons are among the superstars of the medical profession, possessing finely tuned skills and a combination of detachment and sheer guts that enables them to carve open fellow human beings and hold the most vital human organ in their hands. In "Open Heart," British cardiac surgeon Stephen Westaby shares often astonishing stories of his own operating-room experiences, illuminating the science and art of his specialty through the patients whose lives he has saved and, in some cases, lost.


. . .


One theme in "Open Heart" is Dr. Westaby's frustration with Britain's National Health Service, which, he says, values saving money over saving lives. He grows frustrated as he tries to get the reluctant government-run payer to cover the costs of advanced interventions. There are other problems too: Dire situations often get worse, he says, because of treatment delays and poor attention to best practices, like administering clot-busting drugs after a heart attack. Medical directors, he says, seem intent on ensuring that "no one does anything new or interesting."



For the full review, see:

Laura Landro. "BOOKSHELF; Priming the Pump; One procedure involved implanting a turbine heart-pumping device and screwing a titanium plug, Frankenstein-like, into the skull." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 14, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 13, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Westaby, Stephen. Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table. New York: Basic Books, 2017.






July 15, 2017

Geoengineering for the Timid



(p. A15) In 2012, a man named Russ George, working with the Haida people of British Columbia, tried an experiment. From the back of a rusty fishing vessel he spread 120 tons of iron-rich dust on the surface of the North Pacific Ocean. The result was a bloom of plankton, visible by satellite--and a quadrupling of the salmon catch along the coast of the Northeast Pacific. This may or may not have been a coincidence, but it was the intended result.


. . .


Far from being thanked, Mr. George was pilloried for failing to get permission for this rogue "geoengineering" gesture. A second experiment by German scientists in the Antarctic Ocean was stopped by the German government under pressure from environmentalists. A United Nations treaty--the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution--was changed to forbid "any activity undertaken by humans with the principal intention of stimulating primary productivity in the oceans." This seems a strangely defeatist prohibition, given that a more productive ocean would not only feed more people (and whales) but also sequester more carbon dioxide from the air, through photosynthesis by plankton, potentially providing a self-financing way to prevent possible future climate change.


. . .


. . . Mr. Biello is a writer from Scientific American and is impeccably sympathetic to the environmental movement. The result is a book that explores an intriguing topic but lacks a hard edge or even a clear message.


. . .


Just in the choice of stories to tell, though, the book leans toward the notion that the solution to our environmental challenges will come from technology, and in that sense it is most welcome. Technical fixes are anathema to many environmentalists, but it has been obvious for some time now that innovation and adaptation are the way we will reverse or cope with pollution, habitat loss and climate change. By contrast, a retreat to some golden age of simpler lives more dependent on organic and natural resources is neither possible nor likely to be good for nature: Seven billion people going back to nature would leave nature in a parlous state. The way we will save the planet is by high-tech invention and prosperity, not low-tech simplification and asceticism.



For the full review, see:

Matt Ridley. "BOOKSHELF; Ruling Over Our Dominion; We are living in the Anthropocene: an era when human beings have changed the planet in ways that will be obvious in the geological record." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Nov. 17, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 16, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Biello, David. The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. New York: Scribner, 2016.







July 11, 2017

"Unfettered Science, If We Have the Courage to Let It Unfold"



(p. 26) "How to Tame a Fox" sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? In the late 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Belyaev decided to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of replicating the domestication process in real time. He and his colleagues took silver foxes, widely bred in vast Siberian farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into friendly house pets. It was a deceptively simple process: Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat. Lyudmila Trut, the current lead researcher of the silver fox experiment, who began work as Belyaev's intern, along with Lee Alan Dugatkin, an American scientist and writer at the University of Louisville, documents their monumental effort in this sparkling new book.

Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date -- a far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred from the tamest members of their groups. Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike, with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur.


. . .


The book, . . . , is not only about dogs, or foxes, or even science under siege from political interests. . . . It may serve -- particularly now -- as a parable of the lessons that can emerge from unfettered science, if we have the courage to let it unfold.



For the full review, see:

MARLENE ZUK. "Fox and Friends." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 7, 2017): 26.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 5, 2017, and has the title "How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution.")


The book under review, is:

Dugatkin, Lee Alan, and Lyudmila Trut. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.






July 7, 2017

"The Data Run Counter to Your Anecdotes"



(p. A13) "Shattered," by campaign reporters Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, narrates the petty bickering, foolish reasoning and sheer arrogance of a campaign that was never the sure thing that its leader and top staffers assumed. The authors, in a mostly successful attempt to get their sources to talk candidly, promised them that they wouldn't be identified.


. . .


The juicy quotes would mean more if they were on the record, but mostly it works: You can't pinpoint the identity of any one "top aide" or "close Hillary ally," but the authors' language leads you to believe they include the most senior Clinton advisers--Mr. Podesta, longtime Clinton confidante Huma Abedin, campaign manager Robby Mook, speechwriter Dan Schwerin, policy adviser Jake Sullivan --and probably the candidate herself.


. . .


Successful politicians must have a tacit sense of what voters want to hear and how they might be persuaded. Mrs. Clinton--in stark contrast to her husband--was never interested in that component of campaigning. You got the feeling she didn't like people all that much.

Mr. Mook's scientific "model" of how the campaign should run emphasized demographics, constituents' voting histories, regional electoral patterns, and so on. When staffers objected to his directives, the authors record, the response was always the same: "The data," as Mr. Mook at one point put it to former President Bill Clinton, "run counter to your anecdotes."



For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. "BOOKSHELF; Hillary the Unready." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 18, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 17, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; How Hillary Lost the White House.")


The book under review, is:

Allen, Jonathan, and Amie Parnes. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. New York: Crown, 2017.






July 3, 2017

Mitch Daniels Attempts Disruptive Innovation in Higher Ed



(p. A17) Last month's announcement that Indiana's Purdue University would acquire the for-profit Kaplan University shocked the world of higher education. The Purdue faculty are up in arms. The merger faces a series of regulatory obstacles. And it's unclear whether the "New U," as the entity is temporarily named, can be operationally viable or financially successful.

But Purdue's president, Mitch Daniels, is willing to give it a shot.

The venture is unexpected, unconventional and smart. The nature of the partnership--in which Kaplan will transfer its assets to Purdue, a public university--is unprecedented. It's also a rare instance of attempted self-disruption.

There are lessons here from the business world. In the seminal 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," Harvard professor Clayton Christensen describes how leading companies can do everything "right" and still be thwarted by disruptive competitors. In an effort to appease stakeholders, leaders focus resources on activities that target current customers, promise higher profits, build prestige, and help them play in substantial markets. As Mr. Christensen observes, they play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Meanwhile, a disruptive innovation is changing all the rules.


. . .


The higher-education industry, full of brilliant and competent leaders, is ripe for disruption. Despite mounting political pressure--not to mention the struggles of indebted alumni--most college presidents believe that their institutions are providing students with good value. By and large, they remain comfortable making small, marginal tweaks to their business models. In the meantime, college becomes ever more expensive.

In contrast, Mr. Daniels has a long history of bold, innovative moves.


. . .


Mr. Daniels is setting Purdue on the right course, for good reasons, and he deserves a great deal of credit. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For Purdue, the next thousand miles will consist of navigating regulatory approvals, winning the support of stakeholders, and, not least, the hard work of building New U. We can be hopeful, on behalf of those left behind by today's higher education system, that Purdue treads a path that others can follow.



For the full commentary, see:

Alana Dunagan. "The Innovator's Dilemma Hits Higher Ed; Purdue's acquisition of Kaplan University is risky, unconventional, unexpected--and smart." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 16, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


Christensen books relevant to the passages quoted above, are:

Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. New York: NY: Harper Books, 2000.

Christensen, Clayton M., and Henry J. Eyring. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the inside Out. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.






June 29, 2017

Dynamism Dying from Bad Attitudes or Bad Policies?




I agree with Tyler that the U.S. is less dynamic than it once was. But I mainly blame our bad government policies, while he mainly blames our own bad attitudes.



(p. A15) Is the "land of opportunity," with dynamic labor markets and fresh sources of renewal, a thing of the past?

That's the fear of Tyler Cowen, who argues in "The Complacent Class" that America is increasingly defined by an aversion to risk as well as to anything that is unfamiliar or different. He sees a broad swath of the American population losing "the capacity to imagine or embrace a world where things do change rapidly for most if not all people." This mind-set, he says, has "sapped us of the pioneer spirit that made America the world's most productive and innovative economy."


. . .


To make his case, Mr. Cowen draws a contrast between the changes that Americans experienced in the first half of the 20th century and the changes of the past 50 years. The earlier period saw dramatic improvements in health and education as well as a proliferation of automobiles, airplanes and telephones. By comparison, the changes since 1965 have been modest. "A lot of our technological world seems to have stood pretty much still," he writes, "albeit with a variety of quality improvements along the way." He even notes that, while popular narcotics in the past were mind-altering (LSD) or activity-inciting (cocaine), today's drugs of choice, such as heroin and opioids, "induce a dreamlike stupor and passivity."


. . .


Given Mr. Cowen's own innovative thinking, it's disappointing that he does not focus more on potential remedies to the torpor he describes.



For the full review, see:


Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; How American Workers Got Lazy." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cowen, Tyler. The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.







June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"



(p. 13) In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers. The hope -- naturally -- was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California's electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or ­smartphone.

Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent dec­ades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.


. . .


As in the case of Zelenograd, hubs of genius do not arise from government planning or by acting on the observations of a traveler. They're happy accidents. To attempt to clone such things or pinpoint their characteristics is futile.



For the full review, see:

ASHLEE VANCE. "Smart Sites." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''The Geography of Genius,' by Eric Weiner.")


The book under review, is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.







June 21, 2017

FDR's Attorney General Warned Black Newspapers That He Would "Shut Them All Up"



(p. 12) . . . as the former Chicago Defender editor and reporter Ethan Michaeli shows in his extraordinary history, "The Defender," the Negro press barons attacked military segregation with a zeal that set Roosevelt's teeth on edge. The Negro press warned black men against Navy recruiters who would promise them training as radiomen, technicians or mechanics -- then put them to work serving food to white men. It made its readers understand that black men and women in uniform were treated worse in Southern towns than German prisoners of war and sometimes went hungry on troop trains because segregationists declined to feed them. It focused unflinchingly on the fistfights and gun battles that erupted between blacks and whites on military bases. And it reiterated the truth that no doubt cut Roosevelt the most deeply: His government's insistence on racial separation was of a piece with the "master race" theory put in play by Hitler in Europe.

This was not the first time The Defender and its sister papers had attacked institutional racism. That part of the story begins with Robert S. Abbott, the transplanted Southerner who created The Defender in 1905 and fashioned it into a potent weapon.


. . .


The black press was considerably more powerful and self-assured by 1940, when Abbott died and his nephew John H. Sengstacke succeeded him.


. . .


Things stood thus in 1942, when Sengstacke traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke found Biddle in a conference room, sitting at a table across which was spread copies of black newspapers that included The Defender, The Courier and The Afro-American. Biddle said that the black papers were flirting with sedition and threatened to "shut them all up."



For the full review, see:

BRENT STAPLES. "'A 'Most Dangerous' Newspaper." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 4, 2016, and has the title "''The Defender,' by Ethan Michaeli.")


The book under review, is:

Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






June 17, 2017

"20 Years in a Labor Camp for 'Practicing Capitalism'"



(p. 23) "Just talk to any Chinese who lived through that time," a middle-aged man whose father spent nearly 20 years in a labor camp for "practicing capitalism" tells the radio reporter Rob Schmitz, in "Street of Eternal Happiness," his new book about some of the ordinary people he encounters in his Shanghai neighborhood. "We all have the same stories."


For the full review, see:

ADAM ROSE. "'Shanghai Confidential." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 15, 2016): 23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 13, 2016, and has the title "'Street of Eternal Happiness,' by Rob Schmitz'.")


The book under review, is:

Schmitz, Rob. Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road. New York: Crown, 2016.






June 13, 2017

Banks Often Less Transparent and Less Flexible than Bank Alternatives



I saw a C-Span interview on their weekend Book TV today (3/16/17), with Professor Lisa Servon. She pointed out that many of the highly regulated, and much-criticized, alternative banking services, offer a more transparent, more flexible, and more friendly service environment than the incumbent banking industry. She even argues that for those with low-incomes, and low-education, the alternative services are often less expensive. This happens because those with low-incomes and low education are often those who by mistake or by difficult circumstance, incur high fees at banks.

She points out that many who are bankless, previously made use of bank services, but decided to go with the alternatives. She suggested that in a free market environment, some of the alternatives might creatively destroy the incumbent banks.

Servon is clearly no libertarian, but much of what she says is thought-provoking.


Servon's book is:

Servon, Lisa. The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2017.






June 9, 2017

"Death Has Never Made Any Sense to Me"



(p. 10) . . . , Kinsley is intent on being wryly realistic about coping with illness and the terminal prospects ahead. He makes fun of a fellow boomer, Larry Ellison, the C.E.O. of Oracle, who has spent millions in a quest for eternal life, and who was quoted as saying, "Death has never made any sense to me." Kinsley quips: "Actually the question is not whether death makes sense to Larry Ellison but whether Larry Ellison makes sense to death. And I'm afraid he does."


For the full review, see:

PHILLIP LOPATE. "Senior Moments'." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "Michael Kinsley's 'Old Age: A Beginner's Guide'.")


The book under review, is:

Kinsley, Michael. Old Age: A Beginner's Guide. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2016.






May 28, 2017

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits



(p. A17) The Soviet Union may have pioneered in space with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin, but today Russia has less than 1% of the world commercial market in space telecommunications, the most successful commercial product so far stemming from space exploration. Russians may have won Nobel Prizes for developing the laser, but Russia today is insignificant in the production of lasers for the world market. Russians may have developed the first digital computer in continental Europe, but who today buys a Russian computer? By missing out on the multi-billion-dollar markets for lasers, computers and space-based telecommunications, Russia has suffered a grievous economic loss.

Accompanying this technical and economic failure was a human tragedy. Russian achievements in science and technology occurred in an environment of political terror. The father of the Russian hydrogen bomb, Andrei Sakharov, wrote in his memoirs that the research facility in which he worked was built by political prisoners, and each morning he looked out the window of his office to see them marching under armed guard to their construction sites. The "chief designer" of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, was long a prisoner who worked in a special prison laboratory, or sharashka. The dean of Soviet airplane designers, A.N. Tupolev, also labored for years as a prisoner in a special laboratory. Three of the Soviet Union's Nobel Prize-winning physicists were arrested for alleged political disloyalty. Probably half of the engineers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s were eventually arrested. In 1928 alone 648 members of the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were purged.

When one looks at these statistics and at the genuine achievements of Soviet science, one is forced to ask basic questions about the relation of freedom to scientific progress.


. . .


Mr. Ings admirable effort to reach nonspecialized readers sometimes leads him to make exaggerated statements. He claims that we have "good agricultural and climate data for Russia going back over a thousand years" when in fact the data is incomplete and unreliable.


. . .


The claim that the Soviet Union was a scientific state brings Mr. Ings close, in his conclusion, to condemning science itself. He sees science and technology as causing a coming global ecological collapse, and he thinks that in some ways the demise of the Soviet Union was a preview of what we will all soon face. In one of his final sentences he says: "We are all little Stalinists now, convinced of the efficacy of science to bail us out of any and every crisis." "Stalin and the Scientists" deserves attention, but a very critical form of attention. It is based on an impressive amount of study, and most readers will learn a great deal. It is, however, incomplete and overdrawn.



For the full review, see:

LOREN GRAHAM. "BOOKSHELF; No Good Deed Went Unpunished." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 21, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 20, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Science Under Stalin.")


The book under review, is:

Ings, Simon. Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.







May 20, 2017

"The Powers of a Man's Mind Are Directly Proportioned to the Quantity of Coffee He Drinks"



(p. C9) . . . certain aspects of 18th-century Parisian life diluted the importance of sight. This was, after all, a time before widespread street lighting, and, as such, activities in markets (notably Les Halles) were guided as much by sound and touch as by eyes that struggled in the near dark conditions. Natural light governed the lives of working people, principally because candles were expensive. Night workers--such as baker boys known as "bats," who worked in cheerless basements--learned to rely on their other senses, most notably touch.


. . .


"For Enlightenment consumers, a delicious food or beverage had more than just the power of giving a person pleasure," writes Ms. Purnell; taste, it was held, could influence personality, emotions and intelligence. Take coffee, "the triumphant beverage of the Age of Enlightenm ent." Considered a "sober liquor," it stimulated creativity without courting the prospect of drunkenness. Sir James Mackintosh, the Scottish philosopher, believed that "the powers of a man's mind are directly proportioned to the quantity of coffee he drinks." Voltaire agreed and supposedly quaffed 40 cups of it every day. Taste was also gendered: Coffee was deemed too strong for women; drinking chocolate was thought more suitable.



For the full review, see:

MARK SMITH. "The Stench of Progress." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Purnell, Carolyn. The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.






May 16, 2017

Panopticon: "Bentham's Most Infamous Idea"



(p. C6) Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of the book, highlighting Mr. Crawford's ability to mix philosophy and reporting, is the one about the panopticon. The idea of an annular building with a central observation tower was conceived by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The utilitarian is known most superficially by students of and visitors to University College, London, as the eccentric who willed that, after his death, his body be preserved seated on a chair in a glass case.

Mr. Crawford fleshes out the story, noting that, in fact, the smartly dressed Bentham figure that sits inside a glass display case today is actually a skeleton of the man, his head a wax replica of the real one that did not survive the preservation process. When I was a regular at University College one summer, I was told that the cabinet holding the "Auto-Icon" (Bentham's term) was rolled over to the lecture hall on occasion, something that I don't recall witnessing.

The author's real purpose in discussing Bentham's most infamous idea is to describe the utopian--or dystopian, depending upon one's point of view--concept. In one embodiment, it took the form of a rimless wagon wheel, in which someone situated at the hub could oversee activities in all directions, making the layout ideal for insuring that workers in a factory did not take more breaks than allowed, inmates did not misbehave in a prison or students did not cheat on an exam.

Bentham's insight was that the mere fact that those being observed knew that they were being watched would cause them to alter their behavior for the better. Could Bentham have imagined that his idea would form the foundation of our surveillance society? Looking at our culture today--with its CCTV, smartphones and so on--to some it surely seems that we live in a permanent panopticon. "All this," Mr. Crawford writes, "from a 'simple idea in architecture.' "



For the full review, see:

HENRY PETROSKI. "What Goes Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017, and has the title "The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, James. Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings. New York: Picador, 2017.






May 13, 2017

Brits Saw America "as a Place to Dump Their Human Waste"



(p. 11) . . . , Isenberg -- a historian at Louisiana State University whose previous books include a ­biography of Aaron Burr -- provides a cultural ­history of changing concepts of class and inferiority. She argues that British colonizers saw their North American empire as a place to dump their human waste: the idle, indigent and criminal. Richard Hakluyt the younger, one of the many colorful characters who fill these pages, saw the continent as "one giant workhouse," in ­Isenberg's phrase, where the feckless poor could be turned into industrious drudges.


For the full review, see:

THOMAS J. SUGRUE. "'Hicks' and 'Hayseeds'." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JUNE 26, 2016): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 24, 2016, and has the title "A Look at America's Long and Troubled History of White Poverty.")


The book under review, is:

Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. New York: Viking, 2016.






May 12, 2017

Muzzled Chinese Historian Dares to Publish Truth of Cultural Revolution



(p. 7) BEIJING -- It seemed that China's censors had finally muzzled Yang Jisheng, the famed chronicler of the Mao era. Last year, he had finished writing a widely anticipated history of the Cultural Revolution. But officials warned him against publishing it and barred him from traveling to the United States, he has said, and he stayed muted through the 50th anniversary of the start of that bloody upheaval.

Now Mr. Yang has broken that silence with the publication of his history of the Cultural Revolution, "The World Turned Upside Down," a sequel to "Tombstone," his landmark study of the famine spawned by Mao's policies in the late 1950s. The 1,151-page book is the latest shot fired in China's war over remembering, or forgetting, the dark side of its Communist past, a struggle that has widened under the hard-line president, Xi Jinping.

"I wrote this book to expose lies and restore the truth," Mr. Yang writes in the book, which has been quietly published in Hong Kong, beyond the direct reach of Chinese censors. "This is an area that is extremely complicated and risky, but as soon as I entered it, I was filled with passion."

Since Mr. Xi took power in 2012, the Communist Party authorities have denounced historians who question the party's lionization of its past and exhume grim events like the Cultural Revolution, which Mao started in 1966, opening a decade of purges and bloodshed.

Tens of millions were persecuted and perhaps a million or more people were killed in that convulsive time. But officials say dwelling on such events is subversive "historical nihilism" aimed at corroding the party's authority.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "Historian's New Mao Book Turns Acclaim in China to Censure." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 22, 2017): 7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 21, 2017, and has the title "Historian's Latest Book on Mao Turns Acclaim in China to Censure.")


The English translation and condensation of Mr. Yang's earlier book, is:

Yang, Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962. Translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.







May 8, 2017

China's "Ruthless" One Child Policy Forced Some Women to Have Abortions



(p. 15) Deng Xiaoping, China's leader after 1978, had set a target of quadrupling the country's per capita national income by 2000. China's planners decided that they could achieve this goal only if, in addition to increasing the size of the pie, there were fewer people to share it.

So they determined, in their words, to "adjust women's average fertility rate in advance." The man who ran the program that treated women as if they were production functions was a rocket scientist, Song Jian, who had worked on ballistic missiles. Song went on to help manage the giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. His was a world in which unintended consequences were not important.

Population control was not unusual in the 1980s. India also had a fertility-­control program. The United Nations gave its first-ever population award to the Chinese minister for population planning in 1983 (along with Indira Gandhi). But China's application of population control was particularly ruthless.

In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a factory worker pregnant with her second child, was taken to a clinic, forced to sign a document consenting to an abortion and injected with an abortifacient. She was in her seventh month. Pictures of her lying next to her perfectly formed seven-month dead fetus went viral. But hers was hardly an unusual case. In the 1990s, population targets became a major criterion for judging the performance of officials. It is no surprise that they carried out the one-child policy ruthlessly. Reading this account, one wonders why rape as a weapon of war is (rightly) seen as a war crime, whereas the forcible violation of women's bodies in pursuit of government policy wins United Nations awards.



For the full review, see:

JOHN PARKER. "Little Emperors." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''One Child,' by Mei Fong.")


The book under review, is:

Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






May 4, 2017

Walt Disney "Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook"



(p. 4) Here is something that might surprise you: Walt Disney, that icon of American ingenuity, was in financial straits through most of his career. You probably thought he would have been a business genius -- a model for others to study. But Disney was an atrocious businessman, constantly running his company into the ground. At the same time, though, he was a corporate visionary whose aversion to typical business practices led to the colossus that the Walt Disney Company became.


. . .


Disney could have expanded the company steadily, building on the success of Mickey Mouse. Instead, he placed a huge and highly risky bet on feature animation. "Snow White" was four years in production and cost over $2 million ($33.5 million in today's dollars), most of it borrowed from Bank of America against the receipts of the cartoon shorts. The gamble paid off. "Snow White" earned nearly $7 million ($117 million today), most of which he immediately sank into a new studio headquarters in Burbank, Calif., and a slate of features.


. . .


He didn't care one whit about money. Even his wife, Lillian, complained that she didn't understand why he didn't have more of it. After all, she said, he was Walt Disney. Had he not been the studio's creative force, had the studio not been so closely identified with him, he almost certainly would have been ousted. As it was, both the bankers and his brother pressured him to rein in his ambitions and compromise on the quality of his films.


. . .


And though Disney's capriciousness and constant reinvention of his company drove his brother and others crazy, it also kept re-energizing the Disney studio and led, in 1955, to Disneyland -- a triumph that at last put the company on solid financial footing. Not incidentally, Disneyland sprang from another of Disney's beliefs: that it was hard to wring greatness from a bureaucracy. He and his team designed the park as a separate entity from the studio, WED Enterprises.

None of this would have been possible without Roy Disney's understanding that his primary job was to realize his brother's dreams. He was the businessman whom Disney needed to deal with other businessmen. Walt Disney, at his core, was an artist who tossed out the corporate playbook and operated, as artists usually do, by inspiration. In the end, the company flourished precisely because Disney was such an indifferent businessman.



For the full commentary, see:

NEAL GABLER. "A Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 13, 2015): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2015, and has the title "Walt Disney, a Visionary Who Was Crazy Like a Mouse.")


Some of what Gabler discusses in the commentary quoted above, is also discussed in his biography of Disney:

Gabler, Neal. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 1st ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.






April 30, 2017

Lenin Sought to Enserf the Soul



(p. B11) Mr. Navrozov's contempt for Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, and Stalin, his brutal successor, arose out of intellectual loathing, not of a personal history of exile or repression. In his book, "The Education of Lev Navrozov: A Life in the Enclosed World Once Called Russia" (1975), he described Lenin as a "barbarian" unworthy of his country's deification.

"He had to enserf every soul psychologically," he wrote. "He had to destroy inside every soul all the psychology of independence that had been accumulating throughout the history of Russia."

The book, which was partly autobiographical, was praised by the philosopher Sidney Hook and the historian Robert K. Massie.


. . .


. . . , Saul Bellow, in his novel "More Die of Heartbreak" (1987), placed Mr. Navrozov among the dissident writers Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Maximov and Andrei Sinyavsky as "commanding figures, men of genius, some of them."


. . .


. . . , [Navrozov] cautioned that the Affordable Care Act was reminiscent of Soviet-socialized medicine. "Obamacare will destroy the delicate fabric of existing free-market medical services," he wrote in 2012 on Newsmax.



For the full obituary, see:

RICHARD SANDOMIR. "Lev Navrozov, Literary Translator and Soviet Dissident, Dies at 88." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 14, 2017): B11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed word, added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date FEB. 9, 2017.)


The Navrozov book mentioned above, is:

Navrozov, Lev. The Education of Lev Navrozov: A Life in the Closed World Once Called Russia. New York: Harper's Magazine Press, 1975.






April 26, 2017

Wall Street Needs Return to Partnership Culture



(p. A17) Ever since the crisis of 2008, banks have been subject to ferocious attack and more regulation. In "Why Wall Street Matters," William Cohan, the author of earlier books on Goldman Sachs and Lazard Frères, mounts a defense of Wall Street banking institutions and argues that much of the regulation after 2008 has been counterproductive. In his view, the main culprit in the financial meltdown was Wall Street's compensation culture, and he presents some controversial proposals to reform it.


. . .


So what went wrong? Where did useful innovation morph into lunacy that almost brought down the whole system? The sea change began in 1969, Mr. Cohan says, when the first investment bank (Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette) sold equity to the public. Previously investment banks were partnerships whose capital came from the net worth of the individual partners, who would assume only the most modest risk since investment failure might endanger their life savings. But once a firm's capital could be increased by debt and equity financing--in essence, by other people's money--the calculus shifted.


. . .


Mr. Cohan's solution is to replace Wall Street's broken compensation system: the bonus culture that creates incentives to take big bets with other people's money while avoiding accountability when the bets go bad. He says that we need to "return to a compensation system that more closely resembles that of the partnership culture" of earlier times. Going well beyond calls for a claw-back of bonuses when trouble hits, Mr. Cohan proposes that the leaders of Wall Street firms be required to put their entire net worth on the line. Their co-op apartments, houses in the Hamptons, art collections and bank accounts would all be "fodder for the bank's creditors" if something goes wrong.



For the full review, see:

Burton G. Malkiel . "BOOKSHELF; Big Bonus, Big Problem; Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule address the wrong problems and did nothing to fix Wall Street's broken compensation culture." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 1, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb, 28, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Cohan, William D. Why Wall Street Matters. New York: Random House, 2017.







April 22, 2017

Entrepreneur Marconi Was Driven by Wireless Communication Project



(p. C5) Marconi is another example of the Victorian "self-made man," in this case a precocious youth fascinated by electricity and electrical wave pulses.


. . .


Sending the letter "S" in Morse code to his assistant, Mignani, on the far side of the meadow several hundred yards away was great, but not enough. What if, instead, Mignani took the receiver to the other side of the hill, out of sight of the house, and then fired a gunshot if the pulses got through? "I called my mother into the room to watch the momentous experiment. . . . I waited to give Mignani time to get to his place. Then breathlessly I tapped the key three times. . . . Then from the other side of the hill came the sound of a shot. . . . That was the moment when wireless was born."


. . .


A combination of technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen gave him, like Steve Jobs in the next century, his place in history. To the end of his life Marconi was driven by a vision of the whole world communicating through wireless waves in the air.


. . .


. . ., Mr. Raboy exhaustively if deftly tells the tale of the next few critical years: Marconi's long stay in England, the search for funding (without losing control), the critical establishment of patents, the embrace by officials in the British Post Office and Royal Navy, the ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship wireless transmissions. There's a fine chapter on the critical long-range, trans-Atlantic experiments in 1901. These were conducted in wintry, gusty Newfoundland, whose supportive provincial government grasped almost immediately what Marconi offered: instant and vastly less expensive communication to Canada, Boston and New York and, above all, to Britain and its empire. Little wonder that such powerful entities as the (state-subsidized) Anglo-American Telegraph Co. were alarmed at this interloper. . . .

In 1909, at the age of 35, the Italian entrepreneur would stand up proudly to receive the Nobel Prize in physics.



For the full review, see:

PAUL KENNEDY. "When the World Took to the Air; Like Steve Jobs, Marconi combined technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 10, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses internal to second quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 9, 2016, an has the title "The World's First Communications Giant; Like Steve Jobs, Marconi combined technological insight, organizational skill and business acumen.")


The book under review, is:

Raboy, Marc. Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






April 18, 2017

We Want Meaningful Work



(p. 1) HOW satisfied are we with our jobs?

Gallup regularly polls workers around the world to find out. Its survey last year found that almost 90 percent of workers were either "not engaged" with or "actively disengaged" from their jobs. Think about that: Nine out of 10 workers spend half their waking lives doing things they don't really want to do in places they don't particularly want to be.

Why? One possibility is that it's just human nature to dislike work. This was the view of Adam Smith, the father of industrial capitalism, who felt that people were naturally lazy and would work only for pay. "It is the interest of every man," he wrote in 1776 in "The Wealth of Nations," "to live as much at his ease as he can."

This idea has been enormously influential. About a century later, it helped shape the scientific management movement, which created systems of manufacture that minimized the need for skill and close attention -- things that lazy, pay-driven workers could not be expected to have.

Today, in factories, offices and other workplaces, the details may be different but the overall situation is the same: Work is structured on the assumption that we do it only because we have to. The call center employee is monitored to ensure that he ends each call quickly. The office worker's keystrokes are overseen to guarantee productivity.


. . .


(p. 4) To start with, I don't think most people recognize themselves in Adam Smith's description of wage-driven idlers. Of course, we care about our wages, and we wouldn't work without them. But we care about more than money. We want work that is challenging and engaging, that enables us to exercise some discretion and control over what we do, and that provides us opportunities to learn and grow. We want to work with colleagues we respect and with supervisors who respect us. Most of all, we want work that is meaningful -- that makes a difference to other people and thus ennobles us in at least some small way.


. . .


You enter an occupation with a variety of aspirations aside from receiving your pay. But then you discover that your work is structured so that most of those aspirations will be unmet. Maybe you're a call center employee who wants to help customers solve their problems -- but you find out that all that matters is how quickly you terminate each call. Or you're a teacher who wants to educate kids -- but you discover that only their test scores matter. Or you're a corporate lawyer who wants to serve his client with care and professionalism -- but you learn that racking up billable hours is all that really counts.

Pretty soon, you lose your lofty aspirations. And over time, later generations don't even develop the lofty aspirations in the first place. Compensation becomes the measure of all that is possible from work. When employees negotiate, they negotiate for improved compensation, since nothing else is on the table. And when this goes on long enough, we become just the kind of creatures that Adam Smith thought we always were.



For the full commentary, see:


BARRY SCHWARTZ. "Rethinking Work." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 30, 2015): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 28, 2015,)


The commentary is related to Schwartz's book:

Schwartz, Barry. Why We Work, Ted Books. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






April 14, 2017

Israelis Are Tenacious, Informal, Question Authority, and Tolerate Failure



(p. A15) Israel is a country of eight million people that at its narrowest point is 9 miles wide. It is surrounded on all sides by enemies who would like to see it wiped off the map: Hezbollah to the north, Hamas to the south, plus Bashar al-Assad's regime, Islamic State and Iran to the east. It wouldn't take a particularly pessimistic person to bet against this besieged slice of desert. Yet this tiny nation has also built an air force, anti-missile defense system and intelligence apparatus that is revered around the world--and relied on by the U.S. military, among many others. And it's done it with a minuscule fraction of the budget available to larger nations.

How has Israel pulled it off? In "The Weapon Wizards" Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot tell the story of how the Jewish state's military and defense sector became one of the most cutting-edge in the world. In chapters focused on particular technologies and weapons, such as drones, satellites and cyber warfare, the authors make the case that the same factors that have made Israel a tech giant have also allowed it to become a "high-tech military superpower." The country's military, its schools and its extracurricular institutions inculcate in its young people tenacity, insatiable questioning of authority, determined informality, cross-disciplinary creativity and tolerance of failure.


. . .


While "The Weapon Wizards" can be a bit technical for the lay reader, the authors have skillfully conveyed a key component of the dynamic innovation culture that has made the Jewish state one of the most important entrepreneurial and technology-driven economies in the world. Not bad for a country 9 miles wide.



For the full review, see:

DAN SENOR. "BOOKSHELF; Drafting Up Innovation." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 2, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 3 [sic], 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Katz, Yaakov, and Amir Bohbot. The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.






April 10, 2017

Founder-Led Firms Do Better



(p. A19) A study out earlier this year from Bain & Company, where we work, shows that over the past 15 years founder-led companies delivered shareholder returns that are three times higher than those of other S&P 500 companies.


. . .


Great founders imbue their companies with three measurable traits that make up what we dubbed "the founder's mentality."

The first is insurgency: The founding team declares war on its industry on behalf of underserved customers.


. . .


The second trait is an obsession with how customers are treated--an attention to detail that borders on compulsive.


. . .


Third, these companies are steeped in an owner's mind-set. Too often in business, the founder's vision becomes distorted.


Bain's research found that the best companies--the top 20% of performers, founder-led or not--exhibit the three traits we've described four or five times as often as the bottom performers. The bad news: Only about 7% of companies, founder-led or not, manage to maintain these traits as they grow to scale. Yet those that do create more than 50% of the net value in the stock market in any given year.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRIS ZOOK and JAMES ALLEN. The Company Founder's Special Sauce; No one leads a firm as effectively as the person who started it." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 19, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 18, 2016.)


The Bain research mentioned above, is:

Chris, Zook. "Founder-Led Companies Outperform the Rest -- Here's Why." Harvard Business Review Digital Articles (March 24, 2016): 2-5.


The passages quoted above are related to the authors' book:

Zook, Chris, and James Allen. The Founder's Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press Books, 2016.






April 6, 2017

Mokyr Credits the Great Enrichment to a Culture That Values Scientific Inquiry



(p. A13) Life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" Thomas Hobbes proclaimed in 1651, and it had been that way ever since humans had inhabited the Earth. At the time Hobbes wrote those words, life expectancy averaged about 30 years old in his native England and income per person typically was around $5 a day (in 2016 dollars). Thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Great Enrichment that followed, the typical subject of Queen Elizabeth II lives to almost 80 and has an income of over $100 a day. Perhaps more impressively, most people in the world today face the prospect of living at least that well within a generation or two.

What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it all start in England? Joel Mokyr, in his fine book, attributes it to the unique and productive culture that evolved there. It was a culture that welcomed change and favored scientific inquiry that spurred radical technological improvements.


. . .


According to Mr. Mokyr, three factors led to the ultimate triumph of the new modern search for scientific truth over the largely inaccurate "science" of the ancients. First, Europe's fractured political environment was a blessing: Scientists who were banned or ostracized in one political jurisdiction fled to other locales more tolerant of their views. The controversial Franciscan monk, Bernardino Ochino (1487-1564), for example, was often in trouble and moving to evade authorities, leading him to flee from Italy to Switzerland and later, England, Poland and Moravia. Second, the invention of Gutenberg's printing press around 1440 enormously lowered the cost of widely disseminating knowledge over large areas. Third, an extraordinary intellectual community evolved--Voltaire and others called the Republic of Letters--that made the dissemination of new information (through letters to fellow scientists) obligatory for anyone who wanted to gain respect in the growing international community of scientists.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD VEDDER. "BOOKSHELF; The Genesis of Prosperity; What brought about the Great Enrichment? And why did it start in England? It had a culture that embraced change and scientific inquiry." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Mokyr, Joel. A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy, Graz Schumpeter Lectures. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2016..






April 2, 2017

Christian Praise for Ayn Rand Novels



(p. A13) Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE restaurants and a practicing Roman Catholic, finds nothing worrisome in that fact: "I encouraged my six children to read both 'Fountainhead' and 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis," he told me. Each child later read "Atlas Shrugged." Mr. Puzder argued that "there's no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels."

Randall Wallace, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 1995's "Braveheart," and the director of 2014's "Heaven Is for Real," is such an admirer of Rand's work that he wrote a screen adaptation of "Atlas Shrugged." Mr. Wallace, a Southern Baptist, said, "My faith isn't contradicted by her beliefs. We live in a world of labels, but God surely cares less about the labels we give ourselves than about how we live because of them." Rand, Mr. Wallace feels, wrote fiercely and fearlessly about bold and brave characters. "I think it would contradictory to my own beliefs not to admire her."



For the full commentary, see:

JENNIFER ANJU GROSSMAN. "Can You Love God and Ayn Rand?; A friend claims the atheist philosopher at one point saw the appeal of spirituality." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 10, 2016.)


The Ayn Rand novels praised above, are:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.

Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943.






March 29, 2017

"Fear Moved Aside to Make Room for Hope"



(p. B11) Joyce Appleby, a distinguished historian and author who argued that ideas about capitalism and liberty were fundamental in shaping the identity of early Americans, died on Dec. 23 [2016] at her home in Taos, N.M.


. . .


Dr. Appleby, a former journalist who began her Ph.D. training at 32 while caring for three children, rose to the top ranks of the discipline, serving as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.


. . .


In books like "Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s" (1984) and "Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination" (1992). Dr. Appleby argued that the revolutionaries were more individualistic and optimistic than they had been given credit for.

John Locke and Adam Smith had as much influence on founders like Jefferson as the radical Whigs -- if not more, she said. In her view, the revolutionaries believed that the public good would arise out of the harmonious pursuit of private interests in a market economy.

"For me, liberalism had entered American consciousness as a potent brew blended from 17th-century entrepreneurial attitudes and the Enlightenment's endorsement of liberty and reason," Dr. Appleby said in the 2012 lecture. "Because nature had endowed human beings with the capacity to think for themselves and act on their own behalf, representative government seemed the perfect fit for them.

"Rather than classical republicanism's fixation on social traumas, liberalism was optimistic, moving forward with the rational, self-improving individual who was endowed with natural rights to be exercised in a widened ambit of freedom."

Or, as she put it in a 2007 essay on the intellectual underpinnings of American democracy, "Fear moved aside to make room for hope."



For the full obituary, see:

SEWELL CHAN. "Joyce Appleby, Scholar of Capitalism and American Identity." The New York Times (Fri., January 6, 2017): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 2 [sic], 2017, and has the title "Joyce Appleby, Historian of Capitalism and American Identity, Is Dead at 87.")


The Appleby books mentioned above, are:

Appleby, Joyce. Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s, Anson G. Phelps Lectureship on Early American History. New York: NYU Press, 1984.

Appleby, Joyce. Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.






March 25, 2017

In 1596 Luis de Carvajal Was Burned at the Stake for "Observing Jewish Practices"



(p. C1) It is perhaps the most significant artifact documenting the arrival of Jews in the New World: a small, tattered 16th-century manuscript written in an almost microscopic hand by Luis de Carvajal the Younger, the man whose life and pain it chronicled.

Until 1932, the 180-page booklet by de Carvajal, a secret Jew who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in Spain's colony of Mexico, resided in that country's National Archives.


. . .


(p. C6) De Carvajal was a Jew who posed as Catholic in New Spain, now Mexico, during a period when the Inquisition ruthlessly persecuted heretics and false converts with deportation, imprisonment, torture and grisly public executions.


. . .


In 1596, after having been found guilty again of observing Jewish practices, he was burned at the stake. He was 30.



For the full story, see:

JOSEPH BERGER. "A Jewish Treasure in Fine Print." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 4, 2017): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 1, 2017, and has the title "A Secret Jew, the New World, a Lost Book: Mystery Solved.")


Carvajal's writings were translated into English and published in:

Carvajal, Luis de. The Enlightened; the Writings of Luis De Carvajal, El Mozo. Translated by Seymour B. Liebman. Coral Gables, FL: University of Miami Press, 1967.






March 21, 2017

Robert Conquest Documented the Millions Killed by Stalin



(p. A7) Mr. Conquest's master work, "The Great Terror," was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939. He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions--a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust. Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims. When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics.


. . .


Though Mr. Conquest's body count was on the high end of estimates, he remained unwavering at the publication of "The Great Terror: A Reassessment," a 1990 revision of his masterwork. When Mr. Conquest was asked for a new title for the updated book, his friend, the writer Kingsley Amis, proposed, "I Told You So, You F--ing Fools."


. . .


He was also an enthusiastic crafter of limericks, a form in which his irreverence and flair for language flourished. One version of an often-quoted one reads:

There was a great Marxist named Lenin

Who did two or three million men in.

--That's a lot to have done in,

But where he did one in

That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.



For the full obituary, see:

BRENDA CRONIN and ALAN CULLISON. "Historian Exposed Stalin's Reign of Terror." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title "Robert Conquest, Seminal Historian of Soviet Misrule, Dies at 98.")


The revised edition of Conquest's master work, is:

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. 40th Anniversary ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2007.






March 13, 2017

Automation Raises Productivity, Consumer Spending, and Creates New Jobs



(p. B1) Since the 1970s, when automated teller machines arrived, the number of bank tellers in America has more than doubled. James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, points to that seeming paradox amid new concerns that automation is "stealing" human jobs. To the contrary, he says, jobs and automation often grow hand in hand.

Sometimes, of course, machines really do replace humans, as in agriculture and manufacturing, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology labor economist David Autor in a succinct and illuminating TED talk, which could have served as the headline for this column. Across an entire economy, however, Dr. Autor says that's never happened.


. . .


(p. B4) . . . a long trail of empirical evidence shows that the increased productivity brought about by automation and invention ultimately leads to more wealth, cheaper goods, increased consumer spending power and ultimately, more jobs.

In the case of bank tellers, the spread of ATMs meant bank branches could be smaller, and therefore, cheaper. Banks opened more branches, and in total employed more tellers, Mr. Bessen says.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Automation Actually Can Lead to More Job Creation." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 12, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2016, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs.")


Bessen more fully presents his ATM example in his book:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.







March 9, 2017

British Socialized Medicine Refused to Save Life of Critic Who Loved America



(p. A29) A. A. Gill, an essayist and cultural critic whose stylishly malicious restaurant reviews for The Sunday Times made him one of Britain's most celebrated journalists, died on Saturday [December 7, 2016] in London. He was 62.

Martin Ivens, the editor of The Sunday Times, announced the death, calling Mr. Gill "the heart and soul of the paper." The cause was lung cancer.


. . .


In a long article published Sunday [December 8, 2016], after his death, Mr. Gill wrote, without rancor, that Britain's National Health Service had refused to pay for immunotherapy that he said might have extended his life.


. . .


As a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he dismissed the pâté at the beloved Paris bistro L'Ami Louis as tasting like "pressed liposuction." The shrimp and foie gras dumplings at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Asian restaurant 66, in Manhattan, were "fishy liver-filled condoms," he wrote, "with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital."

Vituperation was not his only mode. He could praise. He could turn an elegant phrase and toss off a pithy bon mot. "America's genius has always been to take something old, familiar and wrinkled and repackage it as new, exciting and smooth," he wrote in "The Golden Door: Letters to America" (2012), published in the United States in 2013 as "To America With Love."


. . .


"When people fatuously ask me why I don't write constructive criticism, I tell them there is no such thing," he wrote in his memoir. "Critics do deconstructive criticism. If you want compliments, phone your mother."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "A. A. Gill Dies at 62; Skewered Britain's Restaurants." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 13, 2016): A29.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 12, 2016, and has the title "A. A. Gill, Who Gleefully Skewered Britain's Restaurants, Dies at 62.")


Gill's book praising America, is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






March 5, 2017

Hitler Could Not Face Reality (or His Conscience?) Without Opiates and Cocaine



(p. C1) Given the sheer tonnage of books already devoted to the Nazis and Hitler, you might assume that everything interesting, terrible and bizarre is already known about one of history's most notorious regimes and its genocidal leader. Then along comes Norman Ohler, a soft-spoken 46-year-old novelist from Berlin, who rummages through military archives and emerges with this startling fact: The Third Reich was on drugs.

All sorts of drugs, actually, and in stupefying quantities, as Mr. Ohler documents in "Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany," a best seller in Germany and Britain that will be published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April [2017]. He was in New York City last week and sat for an interview before giving a lecture to a salon in a loft in the East Village, near Cooper Union.


. . .


. . . the most vivid portrait of abuse and withdrawal in "Blitzed" is that of Hitler, who for years was regularly injected by his personal physician with powerful opiates, like Eukodal, a brand of oxycodone once praised by William S. Burroughs as "truly awful." For a few undoubtedly euphoric months, Hitler was also getting swabs of high-grade cocaine, a sedation and stimulation combo that Mr. Ohler likens to a "classic speedball."


. . .


(p. C4) "There are all these stories of party leaders coming to complain about their bombed-out cities," Mr. Ohler said, "and Hitler just says: 'We're going to win. These losses make us stronger.' And the leaders would say: 'He knows something we don't know. He probably has a miracle weapon.' He didn't have a miracle weapon. He had a miracle drug, to make everyone think he had a miracle weapon."

Lanky and angular, Mr. Ohler quietly conveys the mordant humor that occasionally surfaces in his book, which has a chapter titled "High Hitler."



For the full interview, see:

DAVID SEGAL. "How Hitler's Henchmen Were Kept Hopped Up." The New York Times (Fri., December 10, 2016): C1 & C4.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "High on Hitler and Meth: Book Says Nazis Were Fueled by Drugs.")


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.






March 1, 2017

Kahneman Was "Consumed with Despair" Over Writing "Thinking, Fast and Slow"



(p. C23) Mr. Lewis has always had a knack for identifying eccentrics and horde-defiers who somehow tell us a larger story, generally about an idea that violates our most basic intuition. In "Moneyball," he gave us Billy Beane, who rejected the wisdom of traditional baseball scouts and rehabilitated the Oakland A's through statistical reasoning. In "The Big Short," he gave us an assortment of jittery misfits who bet against the housing market.

In "The Undoing Project," Mr. Lewis has found the granddaddy of all stories about counterintuition, because Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Tversky did some of the most definitive research about just how majestically, fantastically unreliable our intuition can be. The biases they identified that distort our decision-making are now so well known -- like our outsize aversion to loss, for instance -- that we take them for granted. Together, you can safely say, these two men made possible the field of behavioral economics, which is predicated on the notion that humans do not always behave rationally.


. . .


In a remarkable note on his sources, Mr. Lewis reveals that for years he watched Dr. Kahneman agonize over his 2011 book, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," which became both a critical and a fan favorite. "Every few months he'd be consumed with despair, and announce that he was giving up writing altogether -- before he destroyed his own reputation," Mr. Lewis writes. "To forestall his book's publication he paid a friend to find people who might convince him not to publish it."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR . "Books of The Times; Two Men, Mismatched Yet Perfectly Paired." The New York Times (Fri., December 2, 2016): C21 & C23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 1, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Michael Lewis on Two Well Matched (but Finally Mismatched) Men.")


The book under review, is:

Lewis, Michael. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016.






February 25, 2017

Empathy Is "a Poor Moral Guide"



(p. C4) "Against Empathy" is an invigorating, relevant and often very funny re-evaluation of empathy, one of our culture's most ubiquitous sacred cows, which in Mr. Bloom's view should be gently led to the abattoir. He notes that there are no less than 1,500 books listed on Amazon with "empathy" in the title or subtitle. In politics, practically no higher value exists than being empathetic: Think of the words "I feel your pain" coming from Bill Clinton through a strategically gnawed lip.


. . .


Mr. Bloom, a psychology professor at Yale, is having none of it. Empathy, he argues, is "a poor moral guide" in almost all realms of life, whether it's public policy, private charity or interpersonal relationships. "Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism," he writes.


. . .


His point, . . . , is that empathy is untempered by reason, emanating from the murky bayou of the gut. He prefers a kind of rational compassion -- a mixture of caring and detached cost-benefit analysis. His book is a systematic attempt to show why this is so.

To those who say empathy is essential to morality, he'd reply that morality has many sources. "Many wrongs" -- like littering or cheating on your taxes -- "have no distinct victims to empathize with." Nor does it appear that the most empathetic people behave the most ethically. "There have been hundreds of studies, with children and adults," he writes, "and overall the results are: meh."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR . "Books of The Times; Have a Heart, but Be Careful Not to Lose Your Head." The New York Times (Weds., December 7, 2016): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 6, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Against Empathy,' or the Right Way to Feel Someone's Pain.")


The book under review, is:

Bloom, Paul. Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. New York: Ecco, 2016.






February 17, 2017

Complex Regulations Stifle Innovation



(p. A15) In "The Innovation Illusion" . . . [Fredrik Erixon and Björn Weigel] argue that "there is too little breakthrough innovation . . . and the capitalist system that used to promote eccentricity and embrace ingenuity all too often produces mediocrity."

The authors identify four factors that have made Western capitalism "dull and hidebound." The first is "gray capital," the money held by entities such as investment institutions, which are often just intermediaries for other investors. Their shareholders, say the authors, tend to focus on short-term outcomes, a perspective that makes company managers reluctant to invest in the research and development that is the lifeblood of the new. The authors' second villain is "corporate managerialism," which breeds a "custodian corporate culture" that searches for certainty and control instead of "fast and radical innovation."

A third villain is globalization, though the authors have a novel complaint: The global economy, they say, has given rise to large firms that are more interested in protecting their turf than pursuing path-breaking ideas. Finally, they decry "complex regulation" for injecting uncertainty into corporate investment and thus stifling the emergence of new ideas and new products.

Echoing the views of Northwestern economist Robert Gordon, Messrs. Erixon and Weigel lament the paucity of big-bang innovation, writing that "the advertised technologies for the future underwhelm." They wonder why there hasn't been more progress in all sorts of realms, from the engineering of flying cars to the curing of cancer. Responding to those who worry that robots will drive up unemployment, they say that the real concern should be "an innovation famine rather than an innovation feast."



For the full review, see:


MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; Bending the Arc of History." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 13, 2016): A15.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2016,)


The book under review, is:

Erixon, Fredrik, and Björn Weigel. The Innovation Illusion: How So Little Is Created by So Many Working So Hard. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 2016.






February 13, 2017

The Good Old Days Were Grim



(p. A15) In "Progress," the Swedish author Johan Norberg deploys reams of data to show just how much life has improved--especially over the past few decades but over the past couple of centuries as well. Each chapter is devoted to documenting progress in a single category, including food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy and equality.

In response to people who look fondly on the "good old days," Mr. Norberg underscores just how grim they could be. Rampant disease, famine and violence routinely killed off millions. In the 14th century, the so-called Black Death wiped out a third of Europe's population. Five hundred years later, cholera outbreaks throughout the world led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and even killed a U.S. president, James Polk.



For the full review, see:


MATTHEW REES. "BOOKSHELF; Bending the Arc of History." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 13, 2016): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 12, 2016,)


The book under review, is:

Norberg, Johan. Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. London, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2016.






February 9, 2017

The Octopus, Though Intelligent, Only Lives for Two Years



(p. C5) Around 600 million years ago there lived in the sea a small unprepossessing worm, virtually eyeless and brainless. For some reason this species split into two, thus seeding the vast zoological groupings of the vertebrates and the invertebrates. On one branch sit the mammals; on the other sit the molluscs (and many others). Among these two groups, two notable creatures eye each other warily: the human and the octopus. They have no common ancestor apart from that lowly worm, yet there is a strange affinity, a bond almost. For they are both evolutionary experiments in intelligence--pockets of genius in a vast ocean (sorry!) of biological mediocrity.

In "Other Minds," Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher at CUNY and an avid scuba diver, has given us a smoothly written and captivating account of the octopus and its brethren, as observed by humans. He celebrates the cephalopods: the octopus, the squid and the cuttlefish. He stresses their dissimilarity to us and other mammals, but he also wants us to appreciate what we have in common. Just as eyes have evolved independently in many lineages, so have intelligent minds. From those mindless worms, via two separate evolutionary paths, to the glories of consciousness and curiosity--we are brothers in big brains.


. . .


(p. C6) Mr. Godfrey-Smith mixes the scientific with the personal, giving us lively descriptions of his dives to "Octopolis," a site off the east coast of Australia at which octopuses gather. There they make their dens in piles of scallop shells. He also reproduces some excellent photographs of the octopuses and other cephalopods he has observed in his submerged city. It is with a jolt, then, that he announces the average life span of the cephalopod: one to two years. That's it: That marvelous complex body, the large brain, lively mind and amazing Technicolor skin--all over so quickly. There are boring little fish that live for 200 years, and the closely related nautilus can live for 20 years, but the octopus has only a year or two to enjoy its uniqueness. Mr. Godfrey-Smith speculates that the brevity results from a lifestyle that forces the animal to reach reproductive age as soon as possible, given the problem of predators such as whales or large fish.

Whatever the biological reason for such a brief life, it is a melancholy fact.


. . .


What is it like to be an octopus? It's not easy to say, but I speculate soft, malleable, brimming with sensation, vivid, expressive, exciting, complicated, tragic and determined. They make good, if brief, use of their portion of consciousness. They must live by the evolutionary laws that have created them, but there is an inner being that makes the best of its lot. Though it's easy to think of octopuses as alien, a better view is that they are our cousins in biological destiny--spirits in a material world.



For the full review, see:

COLIN MCGINN. "Experiments in Intelligence." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 3, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 4 [sic], 2016, and has the title "Our Noble Cousin: The Octopus.")


The book under review, is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.






February 6, 2017

One Way to Defend Free Trade (in Honor of Reagan's Birthday)



(p. A9) Baldrige also knew how to use humor to deflate tense moments, as when the U.S. toy balloon industry petitioned for protection against cheap Mexican imports. Baldrige was opposed, but after debate the entire cabinet favored sanctions. Sensing this was not where the president wanted to go, Baldrige pulled from his pocket a dozen toy balloons and tossed them on the cabinet table. As the room filled with laughter, he said, "This is what we are talking about." Reagan denied the sanctions.


For the full review, see:

CLARK S. JUDGE. "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy At Commerce; During tense talks over steel imports, Baldrige insisted the tired Europeans work through lunch. He'd hidden snacks for his team nearby." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 5, 2016): A9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 4, 2016, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy At Commerce; During tense talks over steel imports, Baldrige insisted the tired Europeans work through lunch. He'd hidden snacks for his team nearby.")


The book under review, is:

Black, Chris, and B. Jay Cooper. Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet. Lanham, MD: Lyons Press, 2015.






February 5, 2017

Innovation Brought Rise of Middle Class and Decline of Aristocracy



(p. C7) Mr. Evans claims that "master narratives" have fallen into disrepute, and he does not aspire to provide one. But he returns repeatedly to such themes as the growth of "public space" as Europe urbanized and communications improved. He likewise describes the "shifting contours of inequality" as the middle classes burgeoned and benefited from the hastening pace of scientific innovation while the aristocracy slowly declined in status (albeit not in creature comforts).

Similarly, Mr. Evans offers an interesting discussion of how various forms of serfdom disappeared, even as the essence of rural immiseration generally did not. He conveys the degradation of existence for the emergent working class of the cities with controlled pathos yet without acknowledging the improvements in living standards that took place in advanced countries during the last decades of the century. He adduces evidence to show that the benefits of improved sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition, consumer products and home conveniences, as well as longer life expectancy, went at first disproportionately to the urban middle and professional classes, strata that tripled as a fraction of the population in leading countries. Thus even in comparatively prosperous England, well-off adolescents at midcentury stood almost 9 inches taller than their proletarian contemporaries and by 1900 enjoyed a life expectancy 14 years longer.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN A. SCHUKER. "The European Century." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 3, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 2, 2016, and has the title "A Long Century of Peace.")


The book under review, is:

Evans, Richard J. The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914. New York: Viking, 2016.






February 1, 2017

Not All Old Ideas Should Be Recycled



(p. C16) "What is true in the consumer tech industry is true in science and other fields of thinking," Mr. Poole elaborates. "The story of human understanding is not a gradual, stately accumulation of facts" but rather "a wild roller-coaster ride full of loops and switchbacks."

Horses, for example, are once again being used in warfare in the Middle East. Vinyl records are back after losing out to digital CDs and internet streaming. Leeches, whose use was once considered a barbaric medieval practice, are now an FDA-approved "medical device" for cleaning wounds. Bicycles are making a comeback as a popular and efficient means of moving about in large, crowded cities. Blimps are starting to compete with helicopters for moving heavy cargo.


. . .


To understand this process of rediscovery--"old is the new new"--we need to abandon the myth of progress as something that results from a rejection of all that is old.

Still, not all old ideas will return reconfigured into new and useful ones, and it is here where readers may find room for disagreement, despite Mr. Poole's many caveats.


. . .


That there are many unsolved mysteries in science does not always mean that we should turn to the past for insight. Sometimes--usually, in fact--the bad ideas rejected by science belong in the graveyard. Phlogiston, miasma, spontaneous generation, the luminiferous aether--wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

Nevertheless, those notions--and many others that Mr. Poole surveys in this thought-provoking book--were wrong in ways that led scientists toward a better understanding, and the middle chapters of "Rethink" elegantly recount these stories. Going forward, Mr. Poole ends by suggesting that we adopt a "view from tomorrow" in which we "try to consider an idea free of the moral weight that attaches to it in particular historical circumstances" and that "we could try to get into the habit of deferring judgments about ideas more generally" in order to keep an open mind. On the flip side, skeptics should not rush to dismiss a consensus idea as wrong just because consensus science is not always right. Most of today's ideas gained consensus in the first place for a very good reason: evidence. Do you know what we call alternative science with evidence? Science.



For the full review, see:


MICHAEL SHERMER. "Everything Old Is New Again." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "Electric Cars Are Old News.")


The book under review, is:

Poole, Steven. Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas. New York: Scribner, 2016.






January 28, 2017

British Government Ignored Scurvy Cure



(p. C14) Scurvy, we know today, has a single and simple cause: lack of vitamin C. But between the years 1500 and 1800, when an estimated two million sailors died from the disease, it seemed to defy all logic.


. . .


The conventional medical narrative holds that the mystery was solved by James Lind's announcement, in his "Treatise of the Scurvy" (1753), that it could be cured by drinking lemon juice. But in "Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery," Jonathan Lamb, a professor at Vanderbilt University, shows that the story is nowhere near so simple and that scurvy was a much stranger condition than we imagine, with effects on the mind that neuroscience is only now beginning to elucidate. The result is a book that renders a familiar subject as exotic and uncanny as the tropical shores that confronted sailors in the grip of scurvy's delirium.

James Lind was not the first person to recommend the lemon-juice cure. Contemporaries of Francis Drake had discovered it 150 years before, but the secret was lost and found again many times over the centuries. Some citrus juices were much more effective than others, and their efficacy was reduced considerably when they were preserved by boiling. The British admiralty ignored Lind's researches, . . .



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "The Disease of the Enlightenment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "Scurvy: The Disease of the Enlightenment.")


The book under review, is:

Lamb, Jonathan. Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.






January 24, 2017

Reticent George Lucas Has Single-Minded Work Ethic



(p. C12) Although sometimes mocked by his contemporaries for his laborious approach to screenwriting (the script for "Star Wars" would evolve painfully over two years, as Mr. Jones describes in detail), Mr. Lucas developed for "Star Wars" a prodigious range of characters and settings. He had always loved make-believe, he recalled, "but it was the kind of make-believe that used all the technological toys I could come by, like model airplanes and cars." Mr. Lucas earned respect as a shrewd and unsentimental negotiator. "I don't borrow money," he would say flatly, and his work ethic was second to none. From the outset, he foresaw the potential of merchandising, and by the late 1970s virtually every child in America and around the world would cherish his or her "Star Wars" figurines. In 1975, he established Industrial Light & Magic, a company that has produced the special effects not just for Mr. Lucas's films but also for many Oscar-winning titles of the next 20 years, including "Jurassic Park." He believed in the potential of computer games and perhaps regretted having sold his brainchild Pixar to Steve Jobs in 1986, far too early. He embraced the digital era, even predicting the advent of pay-per-view and online streaming.

Mr. Jones returns time and again to Mr. Lucas's single-minded personality, in which work almost always took precedence. Fiercely independent, he was quite simply "the boss," refusing to compromise with studio demands. Mr. Jones notes that Mr. Lucas has had "an inherent ability to hire the right people, and a preternatural knack for asking the right questions." Diagnosed early on as a diabetic, Mr. Lucas has eschewed drugs and liquor. Reticent but not quite a recluse, devoted to his children, he hovers tantalizingly beyond the reach of the gossip columnists.



For the full review, see:

PETER COWIE. "A Death Star Is Born." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "George Lucas: The Edison of the Movie Industry.")


The book under review, is:

Jones, Brian Jay. George Lucas: A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.






January 20, 2017

When Winston Churchill Met Mark Twain



(p. C13) . . . [a] pleasant immersion in America's political history is Mark Zwonitzer's "The Statesman and the Storyteller: John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism." It is a story of a friendship that flourished in spite of differences about momentous issues of war, peace and national identity. All of Mr. Zwonitzer's pages are informative and entertaining, but none are more so than those recounting the meeting between the 65-year-old Twain and a 26-year-old British parliamentarian at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan in 1900. Suffice it to say that Twain and Winston Churchill differed vigorously about the Boer War.


For Will's full book recommendations, see:

George F. Will. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C13.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "George F. Will on Stalin's last spy.")


The book recommended, is:

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.






January 16, 2017

How Englishness Developed



(p. C12) . . . , "The English and Their History" by Robert Tombs, takes the reader through the entirety of English history--from the Angles and Saxons to the present day. Remarkably, Mr. Tombs limns over a millennia of history without putting you to sleep. And lurking throughout is a fascinating and timely concept: how Englishness as an identity developed through the centuries.


For Vance's full book recommendations, see:

J.D. Vance. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "J.D. Vance on an epic history of England.")


The book recommended, is:

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.






January 12, 2017

Greenspan "Implemented a Successful Rule-Based Monetary Policy"



(p. C12) Effective public policy requires getting good ideas and putting them into practice. There is no better account of the world where economic ideas emerge as economic policy than Sebastian Mallaby's thoroughly researched (there are 1,625 endnotes) "The Man Who Knew," which takes up Alan Greenspan's long career. Mr. Greenspan knew the ideas, Mr. Mallaby first argues, and then tells story after story of how the economist worked them into policy in Washington. Mr. Greenspan approved President Ford's questionable stimulus package in order to implement ideas on spending control; he skillfully drove reform ideas as chair of the Social Security commission; he implemented a successful rule-based monetary policy at the Fed with careful data analysis for many years, but ran into difficulties when the data gave mixed messages toward the end of his term.


For Taylor's full book recommendations, see:

John Taylor. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "John Taylor on Alan Greenspan.")


The book recommended, is:

Mallaby, Sebastian. The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.






January 8, 2017

Jane Jacobs Studied the "Mess of Everyday Life"



(p. C6) The decidedly unpredictable and unscientific mess of everyday life was the passion of the urban theorist Jane Jacobs. For her, studying the street and the city was the key to understanding how things work. Robert Kanigel's "Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs" has taken a place on my bookshelf right next to Robert Caro's landmark biography of her nemesis, Robert Moses.


For Bierut's full book recommendations, see:

Michael Bierut. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "Michael Bierut on Jane Jacobs.")


The book recommended, is:

Kanigel, Robert. Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.






January 7, 2017

Not All Secure Jobs Are Good Jobs



(p. C8) The village idiot of the shtetl of Frampol was given the job of waiting at the village gates for the arrival of the Messiah. The pay wasn't great, he was told, but the work was steady.


For Epstein's book recommendations, see:

Joseph Epstein. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'A Truck Full of Money' and a Thirst to Put It to Good Use.")







January 4, 2017

Best Entrepreneurs, and Managers, Help Workers Lead Meaningful Lives



(p. C6) In "Payoff," Dan Ariely makes the strong case that the best way to motivate people, including ourselves, is not through persuasive tactics, however subtle, but by providing the groundwork for meaning in people's lives.


For Altucher's full book recommendations, see:

James Altucher. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "James Altucher on con artists.")


The book recommended, is:

Ariely, Dan. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Ted Books. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2016.






December 31, 2016

Most Novels Portray Businessmen as Either Foolish or Evil



(p. 8) The last book that made you furious?

Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth." It uses all the tricks of a fire-and-brimstone preacher to sell a message of despair and pessimism based on a really shaky, selective and biased understanding of the science of climate change.

Your favorite antihero or villain?

Harry Potter's uncle, Vernon Dursley -- a much misunderstood man who stands for all the businessmen that novelists have denigrated, while living off the wealth they created. I am being a bit facetious, but I did use to enjoy pointing out to my children that businessmen only ever appear in fiction as foolish or evil or both, when clearly they generally do the world enormous good.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

The prime minister? "The Hockey Stick Illusion," by Andrew Montford. It's a great piece of detective work on a key scientific blunder, based around the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, and it forensically dismantles the mistakes that led to people believing they had at last found evidence that current climate change is unprecedented in rate or scale in this millennium. It may yet prove to be so in the future, but it is not so yet.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn't?

Easy. The Bible. Not even the fine translations of William Tyndale, largely adopted by King James's committee without sufficient acknowledgment, can conceal the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.



For the full interview, see:

SIMON PARKIN. "By the Book: Matt Ridley." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date OCT. 15, 2015, and has the title "Matt Ridley: By the Book." The online version has added questions and answers, that were left out of the published version. The passages quoted above, were in both versions, except for those on recommended presidential reading, which only appeared in the online version.)


Ridley has a courageous and illuminating discussion of environmental issues, in:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






December 27, 2016

Video Gamers Become "More Optimistic, Creative, Courageous and Determined"



(p. 10) The principles of game design, McGonigal argues, can be used to turn not only leisure into productivity, but also sickness into health. By reframing recuperative tasks such as going for a walk, reconnecting with a friend or writing a short story as gamelike quests, healing can be systematized. Moreover, when you begin to tackle these life quests (McGonigal provides nearly 100 examples) you will, she writes, enter a "gameful" state, becoming more optimistic, creative, courageous and determined. By applying the psychological attributes that games unlock to real-world scenarios, we become like Mario as he guzzles a power-up and transforms into Super Mario.

McGonigal's promises come thick and early, propped up by the results of two clinical studies. The 30-day program contained in the book will, she writes, "significantly" reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and decrease suffering. It will increase optimism, make you "more satisfied" and even lead, incredibly, to a life "free of regret." McGonigal claims that every day for more than five years she has heard from someone telling her that the program changed his or her life.



For the full review, see:

SIMON PARKIN. "Taking Games Seriously." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 12, 2015): 10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 12 [sic], 2015, and has the title "'SuperBetter' and 'The State of Play'.")


The book under review, is:

McGonigal, Jane. Superbetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient--Powered by the Science of Games. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.






December 23, 2016

Blockchain Can Cut Out Financial Middlemen



(p. A9) Blockchains are basically a much better way of managing information. They are distributed ledgers, run on multiple computers all over the world, for recording transactions in a way that is fast, limitless, secure and transparent. There is no central database overseen by a single institution responsible for auditing and recording what goes on. If you and I were to engage in a transaction, it would be executed, settled and recorded on the blockchain and evident for all to see, yet encrypted so as to be villain-proof. "The new platform enables a reconciliation of digital records regarding just about everything in real time," write the Tapscotts. No more waiting for that check to clear. It would all be done and recorded for eternity before you know it.

The digital currency bitcoin is currently the best-known blockchain technology. If I wanted to pay you using bitcoin, I would start with a bitcoin wallet on my computer or phone and buy bitcoins using dollars. I would then send you a message identifying the bitcoin I would like to send you and sign the transaction using a private key. The heavily encrypted reassignment of the bitcoin to your wallet is recorded and verified in the bitcoin ledger for all to see, and they are now yours to spend. The transaction is likely more secure and cheaper than a traditional bank transfer.


. . .


The layman, . . . , might want to wait for a more penetrable explanation of blockchains to come along--as one surely will if the authors' predictions are even one-zillionth right.​



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Bitcoin Is Just The Beginning; Imagine a personal-identity service that gives us control over selling our personal data. Right now, Google and Facebook reap the profit." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 27, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 26, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Tapscott, Don, and Alex Tapscott. Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World. New York: Portfolio, 2016.






December 19, 2016

Dignity and Equality Before the Law Unleashes Creativity in the Poor



(p. A23) We can improve the conditions of the working class. Raising low productivity by enabling human creativity is what has mainly worked. By contrast, taking from the rich and giving to the poor helps only a little -- and anyway expropriation is a one-time trick.


. . .


Look at the astonishing improvements in China since 1978 and in India since 1991. Between them, the countries are home to about four out of every 10 humans. Even in the United States, real wages have continued to grow -- if slowly -- in recent decades, contrary to what you might have heard. Donald Boudreaux, an economist at George Mason University, and others who have looked beyond the superficial have shown that real wages are continuing to rise, thanks largely to major improvements in the quality of goods and services, and to nonwage benefits. Real purchasing power is double what it was in the fondly remembered 1950s -- when many American children went to bed hungry.

What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?

Not exploitation of the poor, not investment, not existing institutions, but a mere idea, which the philosopher and economist Adam Smith called "the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice." In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.



For the full commentary, see:

DEIRDRE N. McCLOSKEY. "Economic View; Equality, Liberty, Justice and Wealth." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., SEPT. 4, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 2, 2016, and has the title "Economic View; The Formula for a Richer World? Equality, Liberty, Justice.")


McCloskey's commentary, quoted above, is related to her book:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






December 15, 2016

Intellectuals Embrace Despair



(p. A23) Public conversation is dominated by people's ahistorical insistence that this country is sliding toward decline. As Arthur Herman writes in his book "The Idea of Decline in Western History," "The sowing of despair and self-doubt has become so pervasive that we accept it as a normal intellectual stance -- even when it is directly contradicted by our own reality."


For the full commentary, see:

Brooks, David. "The Age of Reaction." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 27, 2016): A23.


The book quoted in the above passage from the Brooks commentary, is:

Herman, Arthur. The Idea of Decline in Western History. New York: Free Press, 1997.






December 11, 2016

Do Manic Spells Help or Hurt Entrepreneurial Boldness?



(p. C1) In an author's note, Mr. Kidder explains that "A Truck Full of Money" is a kind of sequel to "The Soul of a New Machine" (1981), his Pulitzer Prize-winner about the race to build a next-generation minicomputer. Fair enough: The writer is returning to his roots.

But a book about a software guy and software culture in 2016 isn't nearly as novel as a book about hardware guys and hardware culture in 1981, and Mr. Kidder is not in the same command of his material.


. . .


(p. C4) There is, however, an element of Mr. English's story that's quite striking, one that makes "A Truck Full of Money" feel very much like a Tracy Kidder book.

In his 20s, Mr. English was told he had bipolar disorder. For a long time, he kept his diagnosis a secret. But today, he is wonderfully open and courageous about it.

Many of Mr. Kidder's subjects are coiled with enough energy to launch a missile, of course, but Mr. English has a psychiatric diagnosis to go with it. The questions Mr. Kidder raises -- Are Mr. English's manic spells responsible for his entrepreneurial boldness? Or does he succeed in spite of them? -- are well worth probing, and Mr. Kidder's portrayal of living with manic depression is as nuanced and intimate as a reader might ever expect to get. On a good day, Mr. English's mind is gaily swarming with bumblebees. On a bad one, though, he's "Gulliver imprisoned by the tiny Lilliputians, laid out on his back, tied to the ground with a web of tiny ropes."

Many of the features of Mr. English's biography fit a familiar pattern. He was a low-achieving student with a high-watt intelligence. He discovered computer programming in middle school and was instantly smitten; today, he thinks fluently in layers of code -- "each hanging from the one above, like a Calder mobile" -- and his brain is a regular popcorn maker of ideas.


. . .


When he's "on fire" (his term), he grows irritable with the slow dial-up connection of other people's brains. He exaggerates. He slurs his words. His ideas range from extremely creative to flat-out wackadoo.


. . .


Over the years, Mr. English has tried a Lazy Susan of medications to subdue his highs and avert his lows. Many left him feeling listless and without affect. Being bipolar meant constantly weighing the merits of instability versus a denatured, drained sense of self.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; The Road from Mania to Wealth and Altruism." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 13, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 12, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'A Truck Full of Money' and a Thirst to Put It to Good Use.")


The book under review, is:

Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man's Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.


Kidder's wonderful early book, is:

Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. 1st ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1981.







December 7, 2016

"The Stone Age Did Not Come to an End Because We Ran Out of Stone"



(p. A11) Far from recovering a sense of hopefulness during the relative peace of the 21st century, gloominess has become the default position of the intellectual classes in the Western world.


. . .


Ronald Bailey begs to differ. As his book demonstrates, a careful examination of the evidence shows that, at least in material terms (which is not unimportant, particularly for the world's poor), life is getting better. The overriding reason for this, according to Mr. Bailey, is continuing technological progress, facilitated--and this is crucial--by the global triumph of market capitalism.

Among the scares examined by Mr. Bailey in "The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century" are overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources (particularly oil), the perils of biotechnology and genetic modification, and global warming.


. . .


No doubt the age of oil will one day come to an end. But as my old friend Saudi Arabia's Sheikh Yamani used to point out, the Stone Age did not come to an end because we ran out of stone.


. . .


"The End of Doom" is not quite in the same class as Matt Ridley's classic, "The Rational Optimist," but it is a good book and deserves to be widely read.



For the full review, see:

NIGEL LAWSON. "BOOKSHELF; Apocalypse Later; Despite an explosion in population greater than Malthus could have ever imagined, global living standards are higher than ever." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 27, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 27, 2015.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review, is:

Bailey, Ronald. The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2015.






December 3, 2016

Is Asperger's a Disease to Be Cured or "a Way of Being" to Be Celebrated?



(p. C1) . . . until eight years ago, Mr. Robison, who wrote the 2007 memoir "Look Me in the Eye," a touchstone in the literature of Asperger's syndrome, had never experienced the most obvious aspect of music that neurotypical people do: its simple emotional power.

That all changed, Mr. Robison explains in "Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening," when he participated in a pioneering Asperger's study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in 2008. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, doctors hoped to activate neurological pathways in his brain that would deepen his emotional intelligence.

Driving home after his first session, Mr. Robison cranked up a song he'd heard countless times before. Before he knew it, tears were streaming down his face.


. . .


(p. C6) "Switched On" is subversive in more ways than one. In this age of heightened sensitivity to neurodiversity, one of the most uncomfortable notions you can raise about Asperger's is that it can cruelly obscure the most basic elements of personality. The very idea is offensive and wounding to many people, because it frames a difference as a deficit; to wistfully suggest that a person with Asperger's might be someone else without Asperger's is to denature them completely, to wish their core identities into oblivion.

"Asperger's is not a disease," Mr. Robison wrote in "Look Me in the Eye." "It's a way of being. There is no cure, nor is there a need for one."

In "Switched On," Mr. Robison, 58, retains his Asperger's pride. Part of him even fears he'll lose his special gifts, on the (beguiling, I thought) theory that "perhaps the area that recognizes emotions in people was recognizing traits of machinery for me."

But he is also torn. He did not come of age when "neurodiversity" was part of our vocabulary of difference. He did not come of age when "Asperger's" was part of our vocabulary at all. He received his autism diagnosis at 40, and he has many memories of being bullied, losing jobs and mishandling social situations because of his inability to read others.


. . .


Mr. Robison still believes autism is not a disease. "But I also believed in being the best I could be," he writes, "particularly by addressing the social blindness that had caused me the most pain throughout my life."

But if the effects of Asperger's can be mitigated, what consequences will that have? And what does it mean for the future of the neurodiversity movement?



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; Tradeoffs to Easing Asperger's Strong Grip." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 21, 2016): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 20, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'Switched On,' John Elder Robison's Asperger's Brain Is Changed.")


The book under review, is:

Robison, John Elder. Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.






November 29, 2016

Many Great Inventors Grew Up Poor and Had Little Education



(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives--depending on which side of the gun you were on--because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. "If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?" he wrote. "War would be a thing of the past." And you wouldn't need the Gatling gun.

Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in "America the Ingenious" came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, "needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil." Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York's Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship--as American as apple pie." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 2016.






November 25, 2016

When People's Lives Stagnate They "Often Become Angry, Resentful"



(p. 3) Benjamin M. Friedman of Harvard University, in his book "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" (Knopf, 2005), said that at a deep level people make judgments about the economic progress that they see in their own lifetimes, and in comparison with the progress made by the previous generation, especially their own parents. Few people study economic growth statistics. But nearly everyone knows what they are being paid. If they realize that they are doing less well than their forebears, they become anxious. And if they can't see themselves and others in their cohort as progressing over a lifetime, their social interactions often become angry, resentful and even conspiratorial.


For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "Economic View; Weak Economies Foment Ethnic Nationalism." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., OCT. 16, 2016): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 14, 2016, and has the title "Economic View; What's Behind a Rise in Ethnic Nationalism? Maybe the Economy.")


The Benjamin Friedman book mentioned in the commentary above, is:

Friedman, Benjamin M. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. New York: Knopf, 2005.






November 21, 2016

Immigration Depresses Wages of Low-Wage Americans



(p. A11) Mr. Borjas is himself an immigrant, having at age 12 fled from Cuba to Miami with his widowed mother in 1962, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis shut down legal exits. As a labor economist, he has spent much of his academic career studying the effects of immigration on the American jobs market, often arguing that immigration depresses wages, or job opportunities, at the lower end of the scale. Here he notes that, on balance, the added production supplied by immigrants makes a modest contribution to U.S. economic growth. He generously provides readers with arguments on all sides, including Milton Friedman's wry observation that illegal immigrants are of more net benefit to the American economy than legals because they make less use of welfare-state services.


. . .


After totting up the pluses and minuses, Mr. Borjas concludes that immigration has very little effect on the lives of most Americans. He does worry, however, that some future wave might bring along with it the "institutional, cultural and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries" from which immigrants often come, and he sees a need for reforms.



For the full review, see:


GEORGE MELLOAN. "BOOKSHELF; The Immigration Debate We Need." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book under review, is:

Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.






November 17, 2016

Let Individual Indians Own Land on Reservations




Mortgaging homes is a common way for entrepreneurs to provide initial funds for their startups. So our keeping individual Indians from owning land on reservations, cuts off their access to funds for entrepreneurship.

The commentary quoted below is related to a book edited by Anderson and contributed to by Regan.



(p. A13) . . . , Native Americans showed a remarkable ability to adapt to new goods and technology. Italian trade beads became an integral part of American Indian decoration and art. The Spanish horse transformed Plains Indian hunting and warfare.

Over centuries, however, these adaptations and innovations have been replaced by subjugation by the U.S. government. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared the Cherokees to be a "domestic dependent nation" and characterized the relationship of tribes to the U.S. as resembling "that of a ward to his guardian." Marshall's words were entrenched when Congress became trustee of all Indian lands and resources under the Dawes Act of 1887.

In recent decades, the government has paid lip service to "tribal sovereignty," but in practice Native Americans have little autonomy. Tribes and individual Indians still cannot own their land on reservations. This means Native Americans cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans, thus allowing them little or no access to credit. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even when tribes try to engage in economic activity, the feds impose mountains of regulations, all in the name of looking after Indian affairs.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY L. ANDERSON and SHAWN REGAN. "It's Time for the Feds to Get Out of Indian Country; A permit to develop energy resources requires 49 steps on tribal lands and just four steps off reservations." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 7, 2016.)


The book mentioned at the top of this entry, is:

Anderson, Terry L., ed. Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2016.






November 13, 2016

Once Great A.&P. Was "Going Out of Business for a Long Time"



(p. 17) Linda Fisch stopped at the A.&P. on Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx on Thursday and bought eight prepackaged containers of cottage cheese and fruit. She did not realize the store had become a footnote to history.

That A.&P. is the last in New York City, where the once-mighty chain was born just before the Civil War. Now the company has filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in five years. Once its plan for liquidating is approved, the store's A.&P. signs will come down. And the A.&P. name will vanish from New York.


. . .


Once, A.&P. had no competition. It all but invented the grocery store in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, it reinvented itself as a low-price, cash-and-carry chain. Its thousands of stores were "so devoid of frills that they are simply machines for selling food," according to "The Great Merchants," a history of retailers and retailing published in 1974.

But it had been fading for years. In the mid-1980s, a former A.&P. executive published a book "The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company" even as A.&P. continued to expand, buying Waldbaum's and the Food Emporium chain in New York City and the Farmer Jack chain in the Midwest. A.&P. acquired Pathmark in 2007 for $679 million in a deal that involved significant debt. It also operated Super Fresh and Food Basics stores.


. . .


It began as a sideline for a hide and leather importer, George H. Gilman. "At some point around 1859 or 1860, there's no precise date, he started selling tea," said Marc Levinson, a historian and the author of "The Great A.&P. and the Struggle for Small Business in America." "In 1860 or 1861, he gave up on the leather business, gave it to his brother, and decided to go into business as a tea wholesaler. He leased a property on Front Street. It's the area where most of the ships carrying tea would come in."

Mr. Levinson said a Gilman employee, George Huntington Hartford, became involved in the new business. Some accounts say it was Hartford who proposed eliminating middlemen -- and cutting prices to consumers. From its earliest years, the little tea company promised in advertisements, it would "do away with various profits and brokerages, cartages, storages, cooperage and waste, with the exception of a small commission paid for purchasing to our correspondents in Japan and China."


. . .


"I grew up on Long Island and the A.&P. was the only supermarket in the town I grew up in, which was Lynbrook," said Ms. Fisch, 71. "Of course that's where we shopped. It was bright and it was clean, which is totally different from the one in Riverdale. It's like it's been going out of business for a long time."



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "A.& P. Bankruptcy Means New York, Chain's Birthplace, Will Lose Last Store." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 2, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 1, 2015.)


The first book mentioned above, is:

Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Updated and Enlarged ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.


The second book mentioned above, is:

Walsh, William I. The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Secaucas, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1986.


Levinson's great book, mentioned above, is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






November 9, 2016

Peter Thiel Asks "What Happened to the Future?"



(p. B4) Mr. Thiel has been an important player in Silicon Valley since the first dot-com boom, but he has recently taken on a much more public role. He was born in Germany and came to the United States as an infant when his father, a chemical engineer, found work here. He was raised in Silicon Valley and went to Stanford, where he developed the views in his first book, "The Diversity Myth," about the multiculturalism debate on campuses, written with the entrepreneur David O. Sacks.

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped found the online payments company PayPal, an immediate success. He was the first outside investor in Facebook. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.7 billion. Last year, he became a part-time partner at Y Combinator, a loosely defined advisory position.

A handful of others in Silicon Valley have similar investing track records. Where Mr. Thiel really separates himself from his peers is his skepticism that Silicon Valley is building a better world for all. His investment firm, Founders Fund, used to begin its online manifesto with the complaint, "We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. Now it says simply, "What happened to the future?"

San Francisco, Manhattan and Washington, D.C., are doing well, but the presidential campaign has laid bare the angst of many other places. Feelings of decline are rampant. "Most of the millennials have lower expectations than their baby boomer parents," Mr. Thiel said. "Where I differ from others in Silicon Valley is in thinking that you can't fence yourself off. If it continues, it will ultimately be bad for everybody."



For the full story, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Peter Thiel, Contrarian Tech Billionaire, Defends His Support of Trump." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 29, 2016, and has the title "Peter Thiel Defends His Most Contrarian Move Yet: Supporting Trump.")


The book mentioned above, that was co-authored by Thiel, is:

Sacks, David O., and Peter A. Thiel. The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 1995.






November 5, 2016

Breakthrough Surgeon "Defied Skepticism"



(p. D8) Dr. Johnson was a reluctant surgeon -- early on, he once recalled, "I disliked surgeons and their pompous attitudes" -- but he applied the crocheting skills he had learned from his mother, who was a home economics teacher, and the needlecraft he was taught in a seventh-grade sewing class (he got an A), to perform more than 8,500 heart bypass operations over four decades.


. . .


Doctors had experimented with coronary artery surgery since the 1950s, the goal being to remove accumulated plaque caused by cholesterol deposits, which can block blood flow and cause the stabbing pain of angina. One method was to remove the clogged portion of an artery and graft on a replacement patch of cardiac membrane or a segment of vein from a leg.

In 1968, Dr. Johnson and his team took another path, sewing segments of veins from multiple arteries end to end and stitching them directly into the aorta, the body's main artery, bypassing cardiac ducts where the flow of blood was impeded.

His breakthrough, reported the next year, defied skepticism within the medical profession and heralded a new era of successful double, triple and quadruple bypass surgeries.

"It was perhaps the presentation of Johnson in the spring of 1969 that had the greatest impact on the widespread use" of coronary artery bypass grafting, Dr. Eugene A. Hessel II wrote in "Cardiac Anesthesia: Principles and Clinical Practice," published in 2001.

To facilitate surgery, Dr. Johnson made another breakthrough by temporarily stopping the heart and slowing the body's metabolism by cooling and circulating the blood through a heart-lung machine.


. . .


Dr. Johnson's multiple bypass surgeries, which could take as long as nine hours and were often accompanied by classical music in the operating room, were credited with saving an untold number of lives.

But in an interview with Dr. William S. Stoney for "Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery" (2008), Dr. Johnson said "the single biggest thing I ever did to lower mortality" was to prescribe the drug allopurinol, which is ordinarily used to inhibit the production of uric acid (high levels of it can cause gout), but which has also been found to improve survival in cardiac patients by improving their capacity for exercise.


. . .


"The coronary artery bypass graft operation does nothing for the basic cause of the disease," Dr. Johnson said, adding, "Prevention is, of course, the ultimate answer."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Pioneer, Dies at 86." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 30, 2016, and has the title "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 86.")


Stoney's book mentioned above, is:

Stoney, William S. Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.






November 1, 2016

GE Shifts Away from Six Sigma and Toward Innovation



(p. B1) One of the biggest engineering projects under way at General Electric Co. these days isn't a turbine or locomotive. It is reinventing the way the company's employees are assessed, reviewed and even paid.

For decades, an ideal GE worker was one adept at squeezing out product defects and almost allergic to admitting uncertainty.

Now, as the 124-year-old company refocuses itself on industrial businesses, executives say top performers are those willing to take risks, test new ideas with customers and even make mistakes.

Leaders say GE's multiyear effort to remake itself into a leaner, innovation-driven company requires a nimble workforce that can develop products faster and more cheaply. The shift is significant for GE, whose corporate ethos had long been embodied by Six Sigma, a manufacturing system designed to eliminate error, enshrining certainty and consistency.


. . .


(p. B6) The new style of measuring employees has roots in FastWorks, a companywide initiative intended to hasten product development and ensure that customers want new products before GE spends millions building them. It is based on Lean Startup, a management system popularized by Eric Ries, a 37-year-old author and consultant GE brought in with the blessing of Chief Executive Jeff Immelt to help employees get comfortable with trial, error and experimentation.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "GE Tries to Reinvent the Employee Review, Encouraging Risks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 8, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices.")


Ries's Lean Startup management system is advocated in his book:

Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business, 2011.






October 28, 2016

Those Who See, and Fill, Big Unmet Needs Are Often "Weirdos"



(p. A11) . . . "A Truck Full of Money" provides a portrait of a strange, troubled man who happens to be one of the smartest minds in the Route 128 tech corridor.


. . .


The book is being marketed as inspirational, but I found it to be the opposite. No one could read it and become Paul English, or want to. Most tech startups think too small, but the few people with the vision to identify big unmet needs seem to be, for whatever reason, weirdos. The split-second fare comparison that Kayak did is something no human being could do--it requires super-computing--and it has an enormous value, since 8% of the U.S. economy is travel. But once you've solved a problem like that, what do you do next?

Paul English hasn't figured that out, so this book sort of peters out--he may do his once-in-a-lifetime charity project, or he may follow through on Blade--and he has retreated back into the familiar, running a company called Lola that is sort of the opposite of Kayak: It gives you live access to travel concierges. But how could Mr. Kidder's ending be anything but inconclusive? Mr. English is just 53. Undoubtedly he has another billion-dollar idea nestled in that overactive brainpan, but his investors have to make a leap of faith--that they've bet on the right weirdo. God bless these genius geeks, who make our economy leaner by constantly finding more efficient ways to do old things. And God bless the pharmaceutical industry, which protects and preserves them.​



For the full review, see:

JOHN BLOOM. "BOOKSHELF; The Man Who Built Kayak; During one episode of hypomania, Paul English bid $500,000 on an abandoned lighthouse. Recently, he decided to become an Uber driver." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 27, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 26, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man's Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.






October 27, 2016

Making Technologies Useful to End Users Can Be Hard



Sharma's theory sounds somewhat similar to that of Bhidé in his The Venturesome Economy.


(p. B4) Anshu​ Sharma,​ a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to. He calls his thesis the "stack fallacy," and though he sketched its outline in a recent essay, I found it so compelling that I thought it worth a more thorough exploration of the implications of his theory. What follows is the result of that conversation.

"Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours," Mr. Sharma wrote. And as someone who worked at both Oracle and Salesforce, his exhibit A is these two companies. To Oracle, which is primarily a database company, Salesforce is just a "hosted database app," he wrote. and yet despite spending millions on it, Oracle has been unable to beat Salesforce in Salesforce's core competency, notably customer-relations management software.

It helps to understand that in tech, the "stack" is the layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next, that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user. On the Internet, for example, there is a stack of technologies stretching from the server through the operating system running on it through a cloud abstraction layer and then the apps running atop that, until you reach the user. Even the electricity grid required to power the data center in which the server lives could be considered part of the technology "stack" of, say, your favorite email service.


. . .


The reason that companies fail when they try to move up the stack is simple, argues Mr. Sharma: They don't have firsthand empathy for what customers of the product one level above theirs in the stack actually want. Database engineers at Oracle don't know what supply-chain managers at Fortune 500 companies want out of an enterprise resource-planning system like SAP, but that hasn't stopped Oracle from trying to compete in that space.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "Why Companies Are Being Disrupted." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 25, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Big Companies Keep Getting Disrupted." The last sentence quoted above appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)


Sharma's blog essay mentioned above, is:

Sharma, Anshu. "Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy." On Crunch Network blog, Posted Jan. 18, 2016.


The Bhidé book that I mention way above, is:

Bhidé, Amar. The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.


A briefer version of Bhidé's theory can be found in:

Bhidé, Amar. "The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World." Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 21, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 8-23.






October 25, 2016

Modern Technology Adds to Knowledge of Culture and Religion



(p. A6) Nearly half a century ago, archaeologists found a charred ancient scroll in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

The lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read. Its curators did nothing but conserve it, hoping that new technology might one day emerge to make the scroll legible.

Just such a technology has now been perfected by computer scientists at the University of Kentucky. Working with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, they have used a computer to unfurl a digital image of the scroll.

It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.

The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll's blackened and beaten-up exterior. "Never in our wildest dreams did we think anything would come of it," said Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Scholars say this remarkable new technique may make it possible to read other scrolls too brittle to be unrolled.


. . .


The experts say this new method may make it possible to read other ancient scrolls, including several Dead Sea scrolls and about 300 carbonized ones from Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.


. . .


The feat of recovering the text was made possible by software programs developed by W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky. Inspired by the hope of reading the many charred and unopenable scrolls found at Herculaneum, near Pompeii in Italy, Dr. Seales has been working for the last 13 years on ways to read the text inside an ancient scroll.


. . .


He succeeded in 2009 in working out the physical structure of the ruffled layers of papyrus in a Herculaneum scroll.

He has since developed a method, called virtual unwrapping, to model the surface of an ancient scroll in the form of a mesh of tiny triangles. Each triangle can be resized by the computer until the virtual surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by the scanning method. The blobs of ink are assigned to their right place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the whole 3-D structure into a 2-D sheet.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Biblical Scroll." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 22, 2016): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 21, 2016, and has the title "Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll.")






October 24, 2016

"My Fate Lies with Me, Not with Heaven"



(p. A7) . . . Dr. Unschuld, who is as blunt as he is outspoken, stands at the center of a long and contentious debate in the West over Chinese medicine. For many, it is the ur-alternative to what they see as the industrialized and chemicalized medicine that dominates in the West. For others, it is little more than charlatanism, with its successes attributed to the placebo effect and the odd folk remedy.

Dr. Unschuld is a challenge to both ways of thinking. He has just finished a 28-year English translation of the three principal parts of the foundational work of Chinese medicine: the Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, published by the University of California Press. But unlike many of the textbooks used in Chinese medicine schools in the West, Dr. Unschuld's works are monuments to the art of serious translation; he avoids New Age jargon like "energy" or familiar Western medical terms like "pathogens," seeing both as unfair to the ancient writers and their worldviews.

But this reflects a deep respect for the ancient authors the detractors of Chinese medicine sometimes lack. Dr. Unschuld hunts down obscure terms and devises consistent terminologies that are sometimes not easy to read, but are faithful to the original text. Almost universally, his translations are regarded as trailblazing -- making available, for the first time in a Western language, the complete foundational works of Chinese medicine from up to 2,000 years ago.


. . .


. . . then there is the issue of efficacy. With his extremely dry humor, Dr. Unschuld likens Chinese medicine to the herbal formulas of the medieval Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen. If people want to try it, they should be free to do so, he said, but not at taxpayer expense. As for himself, Dr. Unschuld says he has never tried Chinese medicine.


. . .


His purely academic approach, . . . , makes him a difficult figure for China to embrace. While widely respected for his knowledge and translations, he has done little to advance the government's agenda of promoting Chinese medicine as soft power. Echoing other critics, he describes China's translations of the classics as "complete swindles," saying they are done with little care and only a political goal in mind.

For Dr. Unschuld, Chinese medicine is far more interesting as an allegory for China's mental state. His most famous book is a history of Chinese medical ideas, in which he sees classic figures, such as the Yellow Emperor, as a reflection of the Chinese people's deep-seated pragmatism. At a time when demons and ghosts were blamed for illness, these Chinese works from 2,000 years ago ascribed it to behavior or disease that could be corrected or cured.

"It is a metaphor for enlightenment," he says.

Especially striking, Dr. Unschuld says, is that the Chinese approach puts responsibility on the individual, as reflected in the statement "wo ming zai wo, bu zai tian" -- "my fate lies with me, not with heaven." This mentality was reflected on a national level in the 19th and 20th centuries, when China was being attacked by outsiders. The Chinese largely blamed themselves and sought concrete answers by studying foreign ideas, industrializing and building a modern economy.



For the full story, see:

IAN JOHNSON. "The Saturday Profile; An Expert on Chinese Medicine, but No New Age Healer." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 24, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2016, and has the title "Gandhi the Imperialist - Book Review.")


The recently finished book mentioned above, is:

Unschuld, Paul U. Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu: The Ancient Classic on Needle Therapy. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016.






October 16, 2016

Income Redistribution May Hurt Innovation



(p. A13) Edward Conard is on a dual crusade. First, he is out to prove that technological innovation is the major driver of the creation of wealth. Second, that government programs to redistribute income are at best futile and at worst the enemy of the middle class.


. . .


"The late Steve Jobs," Mr. Conard writes, "may have made huge profits from his innovations, but his wealth was small in comparison with the value of the iPhone and its imitators to their users."


. . .


"Redistribution--whether achieved through taxation, regulatory restrictions, or social norms--appears," he asserts, "to have large detrimental effects on risk-taking, innovation, productivity, and growth over the long run, especially in an economy where innovation produced by the entrepreneurial risk-taking of properly trained talent increasingly drives growth."



For the full review, see:

RICHARD EPSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 15, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 14, 2016, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users.")


The book under review, is:

Conard, Edward. The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class. New York: Portfolio, 2016.






October 12, 2016

"Giving Peas a Chance"



(p. C1) Thank heavens Gregor Mendel was a lousy priest. Had he shown even the faintest aptitude for oratory or ministering to the poor, he might never have determined the basic laws of heredity. But bumbling he was, and he made a rotten university student to boot; his failures drove him straight to his room, where he bred mice in secret. The experiment scandalized his superiors.

"A monk coaxing mice to (p. C4) mate to understand heredity was a little too risqué, even for the Augustinians," writes Siddhartha Mukherjee in "The Gene: An Intimate History." So Mendel switched -- auspiciously, historically -- to pea plants. The abbot in charge, writes the author, acquiesced this time, "giving peas a chance."

Love Dr. Mukherjee, love his puns. They're everywhere. I warn you now.


. . .


Many of the same qualities that made "The Emperor of All Maladies" so pleasurable are in full bloom in "The Gene." The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people.


. . .


But there are also crucial differences. Cancer is the troll that scratches and thumps beneath the floorboards of our consciousness, if it hasn't already beaten its way into the room. The subject immediately commands our attention; it's almost impossible to deny, and not to hear, the emotional clang of its appeal. In Dr. Mukherjee's skilled hands, the story of this frightening disease became a page-turner. He explained its history, politics and cunning biological underpinnings; he traced the evolving and often gruesome logic underlying cancer treatment.

And in the middle of it all, agonizing over treatment protocols and watching his patients struggle with tremendous existential and physical pain, was the author himself.

There are far fewer psychological stakes in reading about the history of genetics. "The Gene" is more pedagogical than dramatic; as often as not, the stars of this story are molecules, not humans.


. . .


But any book about the history of something as elemental and miraculous as the gene is bound, at least indirectly, to tell the story of innovation itself. "The Gene" is filled with scientists who dreamed in breathtakingly lateral leaps.

Erwin Schrödinger in particular was one visionary cat: In 1944, he hazarded a guess about the molecular nature of the gene and decided it had to be a strand of code scribbled along the chromosome -- which pretty much sums up the essence of DNA.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; In Molecular Pursuit of the Genetic Code." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 9, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: Siddhartha Mukherjee's 'The Gene,' a Molecular Pursuit of the Self.")


The book under review, is:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History. New York: Scribner, 2016.






October 8, 2016

The Internet Favors Creators in the Long Tail of Distribution



(p. A13) Does the internet pose a threat to established entertainment companies? Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang lead a class at Carnegie Mellon University in which a student recently put that question to a visiting executive. He pooh-poohed the idea: "The original players in this industry have been around for the last 100 years, and there's a reason for that." As co-heads of CMU's Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Messrs. Smith and Telang aim to counter this line of thought, and in "Streaming, Sharing, Stealing" they do just that, explaining gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.


. . .


Then there's the question of blockbusters vs. the long tail. In her book "Blockbusters" (2013), Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor, contended that digital markets, far from favoring the "long tail" of products that were mostly unavailable in physical stores or theaters, actually concentrate sales at the top even further. Messrs. Smith and Telang quietly but effectively demolish this argument, noting numerous instances in which the opposite happened. In the case of one large chain, the top 100 titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store--but when stores closed and customers were shifted to the Web, the most popular titles made up only 35% of the DVDs rented online.

The authors also note that, by making it easy for writers, musicians, and directors to work independently, digital technology has vastly increased the number of works available. Between 2000 and 2010, an explosion in self-publishing raised the number of new books issued per year to 3.1 million from 122,000.



For the full review, see:

FRANK ROSE. "BOOKSHELF; We're All Cord Cutters Now; At one chain, the top 100 movie titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store. But online, the top titles make up only 35% of rentals." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 7, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 6, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Smith, Michael D., and Rahul Telang. Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.






October 4, 2016

Chernow Is Consumed by His Work "in a Deep, Quiet, Rewarding Way"



(p. 12) I collect art, and the piece I adore most is an 1888 Winslow Homer etching called "Mending the Tears." It depicts two women seated along the shore of an English fishing village. One is mending a net; the other is darning socks. They are consumed by their work, but in a deep, quiet, rewarding way. That's how I feel when I write.


For the full commentary, see:

Ron Chernow (as told to Marc Myers). "HOUSE CALL; Ron Chernow; New York's 'Quietest' Home." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 26, 2016): M10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 23, 2016, and has the title "HOUSE CALL; Hamilton Biographer Ron Chernow Finds New York's 'Quietest' Home.")


I have learned a lot from these two books by Chernow:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






September 30, 2016

"Cognitive Flexibility" and "Openness to Experience" Promote Creativity



(p. C3) In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the "wrong" order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group--the ones engaged in a schema violation--consistently demonstrated more "cognitive flexibility," a prerequisite for creative thinking.


. . .


Exceptionally creative people such as Curie and Freud possess many traits, of course, but their "openness to experience" is the most important, says the cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. That seems to hold for entire societies as well.

Consider a country like Japan, which has historically been among the world's most closed societies. Examining the long stretch of time from 580 to 1939, Dean Simonton of the University of California, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared Japan's "extra cultural influx" (from immigration, travel abroad, etc.) in different eras with its output in such fields as medicine, philosophy, painting and literature. Dr. Simonton found a consistent correlation: the greater Japan's openness, the greater its achievements.

It isn't necessarily new ideas from the outside that directly drive innovation, Dr. Simonton argues. It's simply their presence as a goad. Some people start to see the arbitrary nature of many of their own cultural habits and open their minds to new possibilities. Once you recognize that there is another way of doing X or thinking about Y, all sorts of new channels open to you, he says. "The awareness of cultural variety helps set the mind free," he concludes.

History bears this out. In ancient Athens, foreigners known as metics (today we'd call them resident aliens) contributed mightily to the city-state's brilliance. Renaissance Florence recruited the best and brightest from the crumbling Byzantine Empire. Even when the "extra cultural influx" arrives uninvited, as it did in India during the British Raj, creativity sometimes results. The intermingling of cultures sparked the "Bengal Renaissance" of the late 19th century.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC WEINER. "The Secret of Immigrant Genius; Having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 16, 2016): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 15, 2016.)


The above commentary by Weiner is related to his book, which is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.


The paper mentioned above as co-authored by Ritter, is:

Ritter, Simone M., Rodica Ioana Damian, Dean Keith Simonton, Rick B. van Baaren, Madelijn Strick, Jeroen Derks, and Ap Dijksterhuis. "Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 961-64.


The paper mentioned above by Simonton on Japanese openness, is:

Simonton, Dean Keith. "Foreign Influence and National Achievement: The Impact of Open Milieus on Japanese Civilization." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 72, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 86-94.







September 26, 2016

Patent Holder of Piggly Wiggly Self-Service Method Sued Hoggly Woggly for Infringement



(p. A11) A typical U.S. supermarket carries 42,000 items: Grab a cart, stroll the aisles and help yourself to an extravagant assortment of goods. Today it's hard to imagine buying groceries any other way. But self-service was a game-changer when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., 100 years ago this month.

Before then a shopper would hand his grocery list to a clerk, who would fetch the merchandise while the customer lingered up front. That might sound appealing in this era of big-box stores with no help in sight, but at busy times the wait could stretch uncomfortably long.

Saunders, a school dropout who worked as a flour and grain salesman, had observed firsthand the inefficiencies of the rural grocers he supplied. Many of these stores, he became convinced, failed for two reasons: credit losses from customers' charge accounts (which were then customary), and labor costs from clerks and delivery boys.


. . .


Eager to protect his invention, Saunders applied for multiple patents. His first, for a "Self Serving Store," was granted in 1917. It wasn't long, though, before imitators like Handy Andy and Helpy Selfy made their debut. Saunders successfully sued an especially brash copycat, Hoggly Woggly, for infringement.


. . .


Saunders didn't integrate circuits or sequence the human genome. An observer once noted that coming up with a self-service grocery was "as simple as looking out the window or scratching your ear." Still, it was Saunders who gambled on the unconventional approach, doggedly spread self-service across the nation and shaped the grocery industry we know today.



For the full commentary, see:

JERRY CIANCIOLO. "The Man Who Invented the Grocery Store." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 8, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2016.)


The only book I could find about Clarence Saunders, is:

Freeman, Mike. Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly: The Rise & Fall of a Memphis Maverick. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.






September 25, 2016

Did Feds Try to Sully Sully's Reputation?



(p. B3) Even before this weekend's release of the Hollywood movie "Sully," about the pilot who safely landed a disabled US Airways airliner on the Hudson River on a frigid January day in 2009, a rebuttal campaign is already underway by some of the participants in the real-life story.

The federal investigators who conducted the inquiry into the flight contend that "Sully" tarnishes their reputation.


. . .


Allyn Stewart, a producer of the film, said it was not a case of taking creative license to ratchet up the drama. "The story is told through the experiences of Jeff and Sully, and so they felt under extreme scrutiny and they were," Ms. Stewart said.

Jeff is the co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, played in the film by Aaron Eckhart.

Captain Sullenberger, who retired from US Airways in 2010, said in an email that the tension in the film accurately reflected his state of mind at the time. "For those who are the focus of the investigation, the intensity of it is immense," he said, adding that the process was "inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance."



For the full story, see:

CHRISTINE NEGRONI. "Safety Agency Challenges True' Story told in the Film 'Sully'." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 10, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 9, 2016, and has the title "'Sully' Is Latest Historical Film to Prompt Off-Screen Drama.")


Sully's book, on which the movie is loosely based, is:

Sullenberger, Chesley B., III, and Jeffrey Zaslow. Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.






September 22, 2016

Sutter Headed BHAG Team that Created Boeing 747





Collins and Porras in Built to Last recommend the pursuit of Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A prime example is the Boeing 747.



(p. B9) Joe Sutter, whose team of 4,500 engineers took just 29 months to design and build the first jumbo Boeing 747 jetliner, creating a gleaming late-20th-century airborne answer to the luxury ocean liner, died on Tuesday [August 30, 2016] in Bremerton, Wash.


. . .


In less time than Magellan spent circumnavigating the globe, Boeing engineers transformed Mr. Sutter's napkin doodles into the humpbacked, wide-bodied behemoth passenger and cargo plane known as the 747. The plane would transform commercial aviation and shrink the world for millions of passengers by traveling faster and farther than other, conventional jetliners, without having to refuel.


. . .


"If ever a program seemed set up for failure, it was mine," Mr. Sutter said in his 2006 autobiography, "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation," written with Jay Spenser.


. . .


Adam Bruckner of the University of Washington's department of aeronautics and astronautics later described the 747 as "one of the great engineering wonders of the world, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower or the Panama Canal."


. . .


"Aviators were more than mere mortals to us," Mr. Sutter recalled in his autobiography. "They were a different breed, intrepid demigods in silk scarves, puttees and leather flying helmets with goggles."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Joe Sutter, 95, Is Dead; Guided the Development of Boeing's 747 Jetliner." The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): B9.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title "Joe Sutter, Who Led an Army in Building Boeing's Jumbo 747, Dies at 95.")


Sutter's autobiography, is:

Sutter, Joe, and Jay Spencer. 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.






September 18, 2016

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease



(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body's functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn't so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one's social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.

Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don't know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.


. . .


Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to "chronic arousal" (or stress).


. . .


Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.

These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress -- from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control -- was driving much of the difference in survival.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "When Blood Pressure Is Political." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)


The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar's book:

Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 14, 2016

Traveling Health Volunteers Often Do Harm



(p. D3) Tens of thousands of religious and secular institutions now send hundreds of thousands of health volunteers from the United States out into the world, generating close to an estimated $1 billion worth of unpaid labor. Volunteers include experienced medical professionals and individuals who can provide only elbow grease; between these extremes of competence are the hordes of students in the health professions, among whom global volunteering has become immensely popular.


. . .


Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.

Problems may lie with the structure of a program rather than the personnel. Volunteer projects may be choppy and discontinuous, one set of volunteers not knowing what the previous group was up to, and not able to leave suggestions for the next group. Medications may run out. Surgery may be performed with insufficient provisions for postoperative care.

Even well-organized programs may undermine hosting communities in unanticipated ways: For instance, a good volunteer-based clinic may sap confidence in local medical care and, providing free services, threaten to put local physicians out of business.


. . .


A few studies on the long-term effects of short-term good works are ongoing. In the meantime, "there is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised," Dr. Lasker finds.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "The Folly of the Well-Meaning Traveling Volunteer." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "Books; Book Review: 'Hoping to Help' Questions Value of Volunteers.")


The book under review, is:

Lasker, Judith N. Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.






September 10, 2016

"Practice Makes Perfect, but It Doesn't Make New"



(p. 12) Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted -- as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.


. . .


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet "only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators," laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. "Those who do must make a painful transition" to an adult who "ultimately remakes a domain."

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "How to Raise a Creative Child." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 31, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






September 6, 2016

American Indians Suffer from Lack of Property Rights



(p. A15) There are almost no private businesses or entrepreneurs on Indian reservations because there are no property rights. Reservation land is held in trust by the federal government and most is also owned communally by the tribe. It's almost impossible for tribe members to get a mortgage, let alone borrow against their property to start a business. The Bureau of Indian Affairs regulates just about every aspect of commerce on reservations.

Instead of giving Indians more control over their own land--allowing them to develop natural resources or use land as collateral to start businesses--the federal government has offered them what you might call a loophole economy. Washington carves out a sector of the economy, giving tribes a regulatory or tax advantage over non-Indians. But within a few years the government takes it away, in many cases leaving Indian tribes as impoverished and more disheartened than they were before.


. . .


What American Indians need first is less regulation. There is a reason that Native Americans say BIA, the initials for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, really stands for "Bossing Indians Around."



For the full commentary, see:

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY. "The Loophole Economy Is No Jackpot for Indians; Running casinos or selling tax-free cigarettes can't substitute for what tribes truly need: property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2016.)


The above commentary by Riley is related to her book, which is:

Riley, Naomi Schaefer. The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians. New York: Encounter Books, 2016.






September 2, 2016

Mather and Boylston Risked Much to Fight Smallpox




I enjoyed reading the book reviewed below. From the title, and from reviews, I had the impression that it would mostly be about the smallpox epidemic and the innoculation conflict. I was surprised that of equal, or greater, importance in the book is the role of James Franklin's newspaper in laying the intellectual groundwork for the American Revolution. I learned from that part of the book too, but some might feel misled from the title about what the book was mainly about. (I think "fever" in the title is intended as a double entendre, referring both to a fever from smallpox, and a fever from the ideas of liberty.)



(p. A11) Inoculation was proposed by Cotton Mather, a figure much diminished in the 30 years since Salem. He had suffered a terrible sequence of tragedies, losing his wife and 10 of his children to accidents and epidemic disease. He had also been marginalized within the religious community by quarrels and scandals. But he had become an assiduous student of science, corresponding with the Royal Society in London and learning from its "Transactions" that inoculation against smallpox had long been practiced in Constantinople. Mr. Coss shows how Mather's investigations led him to consult a source closer to home. His slave Onesimus, when asked whether he had ever had smallpox, replied "both Yes, and No": He had been inoculated as a child in Africa, receiving a mild infection and subsequent immunity.

Inoculation was commonplace across swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Mr. Coss explains, but this inclined the doctors of Enlightenment-era Europe to regard it as a primitive superstition. Such was the view of William Douglass, the only man in Boston with the letters "M.D." after his name, who was convinced that "infusing such malignant filth" in a healthy subject was lethal folly. The only person Mather could persuade to perform the operation was a surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston, whose frontier upbringing made him sympathetic to native medicine and who was already pockmarked from a near-fatal case of the disease.

"Given that attempting inoculation constituted an almost complete leap of faith for Boylston," Mr. Coss writes, "he spent surprisingly little time agonizing over it." He knew personally just how savage the toll could be. On June 26, 1721, just as the epidemic began to rage in earnest, Boyston filled a quill with the fluid from an infected blister and scratched it into the skin of two family slaves and his own young son.

News of the experiment was greeted with public fury and terror that it would spread the contagion. A town-hall meeting was convened, at Dr. Douglass's instigation, at which inoculation was condemned and banned. Mather's house was firebombed with an incendiary device to which a note was attached: "I will inoculate you with this."



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "'BOOKSHELF; An Ounce of Prevention; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 2, 2016, and has the title "'BOOKSHELF; When Ben Franklin Was Against Vaccines; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him.")


The book under review, is:

Coss, Stephen. The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.






August 29, 2016

"You Call It Procrastination, I Call It Thinking"



(p. 7) A few years ago, . . . , one of my most creative students, Jihae Shin, questioned my expeditious habits. She told me her most original ideas came to her after she procrastinated. I challenged her to prove it. She got access to a couple of companies, surveyed people on how often they procrastinated, and asked their supervisors to rate their creativity. Procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores than pre-crastinators like me.

I wasn't convinced. So Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative.

Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn't the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. My senior thesis in college ended up replicating a bunch of existing ideas instead of introducing new ones. When you procrastinate, you're more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. Nearly a century ago, the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people had a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it's in limbo, it stays active in our minds.

Begrudgingly, I acknowledged that procrastination might help with everyday creativity. But monumental achievements are a different story, right?

Wrong. Steve Jobs procrastinated constantly, several of his collaborators have told me. Bill Clinton has been described as a "chronic procrastinator" who waits until the last minute to revise his speeches. Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost a year procrastinating on a commission, to the point that his patron drove out and insisted that he produce a drawing on the spot. It became Fallingwater, his masterpiece. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind "Steve Jobs" and "The West Wing," is known to put off writing until the last minute. When Katie Couric asked him about it, he replied, "You call it procrastination, I call it thinking."



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "Step 1: Procrastinate." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 17, 2016): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






August 25, 2016

"Doctors Often Do Not 'Know' What They Are Doing"



(p. A11) Into the "swift currents and roiling waters of modern medicine" plunges Dr. Steven Hatch, whose informative "Snowball in a Blizzard" adds an important perspective. Dr. Hatch believes that our health-care system can "champion patient autonomy" and facilitate "more humane treatment, less anxiety, and better care" by revealing to patients the "great unspoken secret of medicine." What's the secret? Simply stated, "doctors often do not 'know' what they are doing." In Dr. Hatch's view, despite spectacular advances in biomedical science, modern "doctors simply cannot provide the kind of confident predictions that are often expected of them."


. . .


He begins where Donald Rumsfeld ended: There will always be "known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns" in medicine. Dr. Hatch illustrates this spectrum of uncertainty with engaging exposés of popular screening tests like mammograms (attempting to detect breast cancer is like "finding a snowball in a blizzard"); common drug treatments, like those used to lower serum cholesterol or blood-pressure levels (about which expert national guidelines seem to change almost yearly); and health-care coverage in the lay media (whose "breaking news" too often ignores the uncertainty of the news being broken). Throughout his book, Dr. Hatch's message is "caveat emptor," warning his readers to beware not only the pseudoscientists, flim-flammers, anti-vacciners and celebrity doctors but also the all-too-certain pronouncements of the medical establishment.



For the full review, see:

BRENDAN REILLY. "BOOKSHELF; Give It To Me Straight, Doc; Doctors can't really be certain if any treatment will help a particular person. But patients are looking for prescriptions, not probabilities." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 15, 2016): A11.

(Note: the ellipsis between paragraphs, and the first two in the final quoted paragraph, are added; the third ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Hatch, Steven. Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine. New York: Basic Books, 2016.






August 21, 2016

Brazilians See Government as a Father Who Should Hand Out Subsidies to His Favorites



(p. 9) . . . "Brazillionaires" offers more than a flat collection of billionaire tales. Cuadros shrewdly presents his collage of immense wealth against an underlying background of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, "more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world." And of course there are lavish campaign contributions, attached to the inevitable quid pro quos. JBS, which leveraged government loans to become the largest meatpacking company in the world, spent $180 million on the 2014 elections alone. "If every politician who had received JBS money formed a party," Cuadros writes, "it would be the largest in Congress."

In his telling, Brazilians seem to embrace the cozy relationship between business and government as a source of pride rather than a risk for conflicts of interest. In one passage, Cuadros underscores the contrast between Adam Smith and the 19th-century Brazilian thinker José da Silva Lisboa, viscount of Cairu. Lisboa's "Principios de Economía Politica" was meant to be an adaptation of Smith's "Wealth of Nations." But rather than present a paean to the invisible hand of the market, the viscount offered a rather paternalistic view of economic progress.

"The sovereign of each nation must be considered the chief or head of a vast family," he wrote, "and thus care for all those therein like his children, cooperating for the greater good." Swap "government" for "sovereign" and the passage still serves as an accurate guide to the Brazilian development strategy. It's just that some children -- the Marinhos, the Camargos -- are cared for better than ­others.


. . .


It would be wrong, . . . , to understand Brazil's plutocracy as the product of some unique outcrop of corruption. The hold on political power by the rich is hardly an exclusive feature of Brazil. ­Latin America has suffered for generations from the collusion between government and business. Where I grew up, in Mexico, it is the norm.



For the full review, see:

EDUARDO PORTER. "Real Rich." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 24, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title "Watching Brazil's Rich: A Full-Time Job.")


The book under review, is:

Cuadros, Alex. Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.






August 17, 2016

Creativity Is Correlated with "Openness to Experience"



(p. D3) "Insightful problem solving can't be boiled down to any single way of thinking," the authors say. Creative people have messy processes, and often messy minds, full of contradictions.

Contrary to the well-worn notion that creativity resides in the right side of the brain, research shows that creativity is a product of the whole brain, relying especially on what the authors call the "imagination network" -- circuits devoted to tasks like making personal meaning, creating mental simulations and taking perspective.

While creative people run the gamut of personalities, Dr. Kaufman's research has shown that openness to experience is more highly correlated to creative output than I.Q., divergent thinking or any other personality trait. This openness often yields a drive for exploration, which "may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement," the authors write.

These are people energized and motivated by the possibility of discovering new information: "It's the thrill of the knowledge chase that most excites them."

Once the idea is found, alas, the creative process begins to resemble something more like grinding execution. It's still creative, but it requires more focus and less daydreaming -- one reason highly creative people tend to exhibit mindfulness and mental wandering.

"Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature," the authors write. "It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play."



For the full review, see:

CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN. "Books; The Blessed Mess of Creativity." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 9, 2016): D3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 8, 2016, and has the title "Books; Review: 'Wired to Create' Shows the Science of a Messy Process.")


The book under review, is:

Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregoire. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2015.






August 15, 2016

"Hong Kongers Will Not Bow Down to Brute Force"



(p. A1) HONG KONG -- Blindfolded and handcuffed, the bookseller was abducted from Hong Kong's border with mainland China and taken to a cell, where he would spend five months in solitary confinement, watched 24 hours a day by a battery of Chinese guards.

Even the simple act of brushing his teeth was monitored by minders, who tied a string to his toothbrush for fear he might try to use it to harm himself. They wanted him to identify anonymous authors and turn over data on customers.

"I couldn't call my family," the man, Lam Wing-kee, said on Thursday. "I could only look up to the sky, all alone."

Months after he and four other booksellers disappeared from Hong Kong and Thailand, prompting international concern over what critics called a brazen act of extralegal abduction, Mr. Lam stood before a bank of television cameras in Hong Kong and revealed the harrowing details of his time in detention.

"It can happen to you, too," said Mr. Lam, 61, who was the manager of Causeway Bay Books, a store that sold juicy potboilers about the mainland's Communist Party leadership. "I want to tell the whole world: Hong Kongers will not bow down to brute force."


. . .


(p. A14) In the months since Mr. Lam and his colleagues disappeared, the industry has fallen on hard times. Causeway Bay Books has closed, and many Hong Kong bookstores have pulled titles about Chinese politics from their shelves.

The disappearances shocked people in Hong Kong and reverberated internationally. Many saw the episode as an expansion of China's authoritarian legal system beyond its borders, in clear violation of the "one country, two systems" framework that allows Hong Kong to maintain a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand the booksellers' release. Diplomats from Britain, the European Union and the United States also registered concern.



For the full story, see:

ALAN WONG, MICHAEL FORSYTHE and ANDREW JACOBS. "Defying China, Hong Kong Bookseller Describes Detention." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 17, 2016): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 16, 2016, and has the title "Defying China, Hong Kong Bookseller Describes Detention.")






August 13, 2016

Technology Platforms Will Create Decades of Gales of Creative Destruction



(p. A11) For traditional businesses, economies of scale are the key to competitive advantage: Larger firms have lower average costs. In the digital economy, network effects matter most. In "Matchmakers" (Harvard Business Review, 260 pages, $35), David S. Evans (a consultant) and Richard Schmalensee (a professor of management) highlight two particular forms.

Direct network effects occur when additional users make a service more valuable for everyone. If one's colleagues are all on, say, LinkedIn, it will be hard for another professional network to exert a strong appeal. Without the critical mass of LinkedIn, the alternative will have less utility even if its features are better. Indirect network effects arise from positive feedback loops between opposing sides of a market. The value of Rightmove, for instance, the leading online real-estate site in Britain, comes from a matching function: Since each home is unique, buyers prefer the site with the most properties, and real-estate agents favor the site with the most buyers. This virtuous cycle magnifies Rightmove's advantage even though participants on each side of the market compete with one another: More buyers increase competition for the same homes, and agents compete for buyers.


. . .


"Matchmakers" is . . . measured and analytical . . . . The authors fairly conclude that, while the telegraph was "a far more important multisided platform" than anything produced so far by the Internet, platforms are "behind the gales of creative destruction that . . . will sweep industries for decades to come."



For the full review, see:


JEREMY G. PHILIPS. "Why Facebook's Imitators Failed; If one's coworkers are all on the same platform, any alternative will have less utility--even if its features are better." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: the ellipsis between paragraphs, and the first two in the final quoted paragraph, are added; the third ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Evans, David S., and Richard Schmalensee. Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016.






August 9, 2016

In Cultural Revolution, Chinese "Tried to Turn Their Homes into Fragile Islands of Freedom"



(p. C8) Mr. Dikötter's greatest contribution with "The Cultural Revolution," which is the third in a trilogy on China during the Mao era, is his undermining of the conventional view of the period following Mao's death in 1976. The prevailing narrative, much encouraged by the Communist Party, is that the Chinese state began "lifting" hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through its sage adoption of capitalist-style policies officially called "reform and opening," beginning with an end to systemwide economic planning and the restoration of markets.

Drawing on a growing body of existing research, Mr. Dikötter argues that China's markets were not born of the official reforms of the late-1970s and early 1980s but rather got their start before the Cultural Revolution had ended in 1976. He writes of peasants and city dwellers who had completely lost faith in the system and began improvised acts of survival and resistance, like the private trading of goods and labor, which was banned, and even small-scale industrial output.

"Senseless and unpredictable purges were designed to cow the population and rip apart entire communities, producing docile, atomized individuals loyal to no one but the Chairman," Mr. Dikötter writes. The outcome, as with so many extreme, top-down uses of power, was almost the exact opposite. As surreptitious markets began to flourish in response to scarcity, "people from all walks of life tried to turn their homes into fragile islands of freedom."​



For the full review, see:

HOWARD W. FRENCH. "'Bombard the Headquarters'; The twin pillars of Mao's campaign were uprooting supposed reactionaries and the promotion of sycophancy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 28, 2016): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 27, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Dikötter, Frank. The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016.






August 5, 2016

Creative Destruction of Polaroid by Digital Photography



(p. A17) There aren't many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world. According to a legend that begins Peter Buse's welcome history of the Polaroid company, "The Camera Does the Rest," it was engineer Edwin Land's daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation in Santa Fe, N.M. Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.


. . .


"In 1974 alone there were about 1 billion Polaroid images made, and by 1976 . . . 15 billion in total," the author writes, "and this before the real explosion in Polaroid photography in the late 1970s and early 1980s." The party might have gone on forever had it not been for the same type of creative destruction that Polaroid itself had stirred up in the 1940s--this time brought about by the digital revolution.

By the time the company joined that revolution in the 1990s, it was too late. Their digital products were inferior to those being turned out by competing companies. Polaroid had always done well selling cameras, but the real money was in the film, the demand for which was falling precipitately. In July 1997, the company's stock price was $60.51. Four years later, as the company spiraled toward bankruptcy, it was $0.49. The author writes that Polaroid joined the "analog scrap heap" that included "vinyl turntables and the Sony Walkman."​



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Original Instagram; Purists grumbled that Polaroids were ephemeral, but Ansel Adams created some of his most enduring photographs using the camera." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 17, 2016): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 16, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Buse, Peter. The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






August 1, 2016

The Role of Steve Jobs in the Creation of Pixar



(p. B4) . . . [a] book that isn't out yet (until November [2016]): "To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History" by Lawrence Levy, the former chief financial officer of Pixar. What a delightful book about the creation of Pixar from the inside. I learned more about Mr. Jobs, Pixar and business in Silicon Valley than I have in quite some time. And like a good Pixar film, it'll put a smile on your face.


For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Levy, Lawrence. To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






July 31, 2016

Bourgeois Ideology Caused the Great Enrichment



(p. A13) What accounts for the wealth and prosperity of the developed nations of the world? How did we get so rich, and how might others join the fold?

Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economist and historian, has a clarion answer: ideas. It was ideas, she insists--about commerce, innovation and the virtues that support them--that account for the "Great Enrichment" that has transformed much of the world since 1800.


. . .


. . . , this monumental achievement was caused by a change in values, Ms. McCloskey says--the rise of what she calls, in a mocking nod to Marx, a "bourgeois ideology." It was far from an apology for greed, however. Anglo-Dutch in origin, the new ideology presented a deeply moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of work and innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity, and the liberty, dignity and equality of ordinary people. Preaching tolerance of difference and respect for the individual, it applauded those who sought to improve their lives (and the lives of others) through material betterment, scientific and technological inquiry, self-improvement, and honest work. Suspicious of hierarchy and stasis, proponents of bourgeois values attacked monopoly and privilege and extolled free trade and free lives while setting great store by prudence, enterprise, decency and hope.



For the full review, see:

DARRIN M. MCMAHON. "BOOKSHELF; The Morality of Prosperity; Grinding poverty was the norm for humanity until 1800. It changed with the rise of values like tolerance and respect for individual liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 13, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






July 28, 2016

Letter to a Crony Capitalist



(p. B4) . . . , an excellent read is "Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism," by Jeff Gramm, owner and manager of the Bandera Partners hedge fund and an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. This book explores the rise of activist investors like Carl C. Icahn and Daniel S. Loeb.

Mr. Gramm has collected a series of deliciously rich letters, many of which were never before published, sent to chief executives by investors by everyone from Warren Buffett to Ross Perot. They are eye-opening, often chilling and include fascinating lessons about business.

My personal favorite is this letter from Mr. Loeb to the chief executive of Star Gas Partners: "It seems that Star Gas can only serve as your personal 'honey pot' from which to extract salary for yourself and family members, fees for your cronies and to insulate you from the numerous lawsuits that you personally face due to your prior alleged fabrications, misstatements and broken promises. I have known you personally for many years and thus what I am about to say may seem harsh, but is said with some authority. It is time for you to step down from your role as C.E.O. and director so that you can do what you do best: retreat to your waterfront mansion in the Hamptons where you can play tennis and hobnob with your fellow socialites. The matter of repairing the mess you have created should be left to professional management and those that have an economic stake in the outcome."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Gramm, Jeff. Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism. New York: HarperBusiness, 2016.






July 20, 2016

The Lucky Success of the Half-Blind "Becomes the Inevitable Coup of the Assured Visionary"



(p. B1) The most fun business book I have read this year? "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley," by a former Facebook executive, Antonio García Martinez. I was sent a galley copy several months ago and picked it up with no intention of reading more than the first couple of pages. I don't think I looked up until about three hours later.

This is a tell-all of Mr. Martinez's experience in venture capital and later at Facebook, filled with insights about Silicon Valley -- what he calls "the tech whorehouse" -- mixed with score-settling anecdotes that will occasionally make you laugh out loud. Clearly there will be people who hate this book -- which is probably one of the things that makes it such a great read.

The dedication page includes this gem: "To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you." Mr. Martinez is particularly incisive when it comes to illustrating how failed ideas that happen to work are often spun into great successes: "What was an improbable bonanza at the hands of the flailing half-blind becomes the inevitable coup of the assured visionary," he writes. "The world crowns you a genius, and you start acting like one."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Martinez, Antonio Garcia. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. New York: Harper, 2016.






July 16, 2016

"Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments"



(p. A11) Adam Fifield's entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments--such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.


. . .


While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant's career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.


. . .


Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had--his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant's time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries--plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.






July 8, 2016

Franklin Was Appalled by the Boston Tea Party, But Was More Appalled by British Arrogance



(p. A13) When George III assumed the throne in 1760, Franklin was full of praise for his "virtue" and "steadiness." Many American associates considered him somewhat sycophantic.

Mr. Goodwin's assessment is gentler. "Franklin was a proud Briton, but he was not starry-eyed." By 1770 he was frustrated by Britain's "treatment of her American colonies as one giant farm and forest of raw materials." His relations with Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, became venomous. Lord North, the prime minister, icily ignored him. Franklin began to produce anonymous satires rebuking British attitudes toward America.

The nadir came in December 1773, when word reached London of the Boston Tea Party. Incensed, the king's Privy Council summoned Franklin to Westminster. He was already in bad odor for having leaked impolitic correspondence from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The Privy Council chamber was, on this occasion, packed with counselors and curious members of the public. Other than Edmund Burke, they were hostile. Franklin stood grimly motionless as the solicitor general pounded the table and subjected him to "an hour-long verbal assault." The council roared approval as he accused Franklin of acting for "the most malignant purposes." The American had "forfeited all the respect of societies and of men."

The humiliation of Benjamin Franklin gratified the grandees of George III's government, but the episode epitomized their arrogant maladministration. Franklin was hardly an anti-British zealot. He favored reconciliation and might have been an effective mediator had he been respected and trusted. Franklin was so appalled by the Boston Tea Party that he offered to personally repay the East India Co. That this rather Anglophilic colonial served as the Privy Council's whipping boy demonstrates how obdurate the government had become.

Franklin's revenge was served hot. He left England in March of 1775 under threat of arrest. Twenty months later he arrived in France, where his diplomacy would deliver a mortal blow to Britain's American empire.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Loyal to Britain; Franklin's years in France resulted in military aid and recognition of American independence. His time in London? Slightly less successful." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 30, 2016

David Sokol Worries that in Over-Regulated America, Free Enterprise Is Under Attack



(p. C1) David Sokol, once widely expected to succeed Mr. Buffett as chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has kept a fairly low profile since leaving the conglomerate amid a stock-trading controversy five years ago.


. . .


In addition to becoming a more-vocal investor, Mr. Sokol, 59 years old, is becoming increasingly vocal about politics. He is an avowed fan of "Atlas Shrugged," the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that made a moral case for capitalism and self interest. In public speeches and columns, Mr. Sokol has drawn comparisons between the dystopian, over-regulated America portrayed in the book and the present day, saying (p. C2) that free enterprise is increasingly under attack.



For the full story, see:

SERENA NG and ANUPREETA DAS. "From Buffett Protege to Activist." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 25, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2016, and has the title "Warren Buffett's Former Heir-Apparent Resurfaces as Activist Investor.")


The Ayn Rand novel that Sokol admires, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.






June 26, 2016

Rallying the Enlightenment Defense of Free Speech



(p. C1) OXFORD, England -- After the murders at Charlie Hebdo last year, the public intellectual Timothy Garton Ash -- once a dashing foreign correspondent, long since a scholar amid the spires of Oxford -- issued an appeal to news organizations: Publish the offending cartoons, all of you together, and in that way proclaim the vitality of free speech.

"Otherwise," he warned, "the assassin's veto will have prevailed."

By this reckoning, the assassins triumphed, for most publications ignored his entreaty, to protect their staffs from danger or to protect their readers from offense.


. . .


. . . , free speech is on the defensive, Mr. Garton Ash argues, and he is trying to rally the resistance.


(p. C4) . . . , he has written a scrupulously reasoned 491-page manifesto and user's guide, "Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World," due out in the United States on Tuesday [May 24, 2016] which includes his case for defying threats, his opposition to hate-speech laws and his view on whether another's religion deserves your respect.


. . .


"We as a society have to hold the line," he said in the interview. "There has to be less appeasement." For this, solidarity is required: Law-enforcement authorities must safeguard those who speak up, and taxpayers must be willing to pay the high costs this will incur. "Otherwise," he added, "yielding to violent intimidation is itself objectively a kind of incitement to violence, right? Because you encourage the next guys to have a go."


. . .


A vulnerability of Mr. Garton Ash's project is that his principles are so deeply rooted in Enlightenment ideals, which are not universally shared.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM RACHMAN. "A Manifesto Extolling Free Speech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 23, 2016): C1 & C4.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 22, 2016, and has the title "Timothy Garton Ash Puts Forth a Free-Speech Manifesto.")


Ash's manifesto in defense of free speech, is:

Ash, Timothy Garton. Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 22, 2016

Reforestation Can Absorb Much Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Energy



Matt Ridley has pointed out that agricultural innovations, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allow us to grow more food on less farmland, and thus return more farmland to forests.



(p. D6) A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide.")


An academic study mentioned above, is:

Chazdon, Robin L., Eben N. Broadbent, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano, T. Mitchell Aide, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Dylan Craven, Jarcilene S. Almeida-Cortez, George A. L. Cabral, Ben de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan M. Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mario M. Espírito-Santo, María C. Fandino, Ricardo G. César, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Paulo Massoca, Jorge A. Meave, Rita Mesquita, Francisco Mora, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Edith Orihuela-Belmonte, Marielos Peña-Claros, Eduardo A. Pérez-García, Daniel Piotto, Jennifer S. Powers, Jorge Rodríguez-Velazquez, Isabel Eunice Romero-Pérez, Jorge Ruíz, Juan G. Saldarriaga, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, Nathan G. Swenson, Maria Uriarte, Michiel van Breugel, Hans van der Wal, Maria D. M. Veloso, Hans Vester, Ima Celia G. Vieira, Tony Vizcarra Bentos, G. Bruce Williamson, and Lourens Poorter. "Carbon Sequestration Potential of Second-Growth Forest Regeneration in the Latin American Tropics." Science Advances 2, no. 5 (May 13, 2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639


The Ridley book mentioned way above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






June 18, 2016

Some "Rescue" Groups "Kidnap and Mutilate" Street Dogs



(p. D1) MONTAGUE, Mass. -- Think of all the dogs out there: labradors and poodles and labradoodles; huskies and westies and dogues de Bordeaux; pit bulls and spaniels and lovable mutts that go to doggy day care.

Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million.

But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don't have flea collars. And they certainly don't have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world.

In their new book, "What Is a Dog?," Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers -- the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago.


. . .


(p. D6) In 2001, their book "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution" challenged the way scientists thought about the beginnings of dogs.

They argued against the widely held view that one day a hunter-gatherer grabbed a wolf pup from a den and started a breeding program. Instead, they argued, dogs domesticated themselves.

Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.


. . .


Although the Coppingers recognize the social cost of animals that are unvaccinated and running free, they argue that killing the dogs, as some countries do during rabies epidemics, does not help. It's impossible to kill them all, and because they breed rapidly, the population quickly rebounds.

Nor do the Coppingers have any sympathy for rescue groups that, as Dr. Coppinger puts it, "kidnap and mutilate" street dogs from the Caribbean and elsewhere to bring them to American shelters to live as pets, "where they are made totally dependent and entirely restricted." This is supposed to benefit the dogs, but Dr. Coppinger argues that they are taken from a rich social environment, with many dogs, to lives of relative isolation.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Don't Call them Strays." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 19, 2016): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars.")


The dog books mentioned above, are:

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. What Is a Dog? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. New York: Scribner, 2001.






June 10, 2016

Imperial Passivity of the Holy Roman Empire Allowed Liberty and Diversity



(p. C7) On Aug. 6, 1806, an imperial herald decked out in full court regalia galloped purposefully through the streets of Vienna to a magnificent medieval church at the center of the city. Once there, he ascended to the balcony, blew his silver trumpet and declared that the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that had lasted for more than 1,000 years, was no more.


. . .


But because the empire never evolved into a viable nation-state, many scholars and politicians regarded it as a failure. The Germans in particular (including the great 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke) blamed the empire for the fact that Germany remained a "delayed nation" that was only unified (through Prussian machinations) in 1871.

Yet it was precisely this lack of political centralization, Mr. Wilson argues, that provided the empire with its greatest strength. Imperial passivity meant that individual rulers and states were largely left alone to govern as they wished. And all subjects had the right to appeal to the emperor if they believed their rights had been trammeled upon. Jews, for example, were given imperial protection as early as 1090; and though forced to live as second-class citizens during much of the empire's history, many viewed its dissolution as a catastrophe.

Political fragmentation also had cultural benefits. Unlike France and England, with their single capital and monarch, the Holy Roman Empire had numerous kings, courts and centers of patronage. The result was a remarkably wide distribution of educational and cultural institutions, one that is still observable in the former imperial lands. It was probably also no coincidence that both the printing press and Europe's first mail service were launched within the fragmented empire or that the imperial territories experienced higher levels of economic growth than regions of Europe with more centralized control.


. . .


Though far from perfect, the empire lasted for as long as it did because it strove to provide the two things most hoped for in a state: liberty and security.



For the full review, see:

MARK MOLESKY. "The Strength of a Weak State; In the Holy Roman Empire, individual rulers and states were largely left to govern as they wished." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Wilson, Peter H. Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016.






June 6, 2016

Plastic Buttons Replaced Seashell Buttons, but Technology Can Be Restored




In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly has made the point that most obsolete technologies remain available to satisfy nostalgia, or for more practical uses, if the need arises. Below is another example.



(p. C27) In a tan outbuilding overlooking a pond in northeastern Connecticut, equipment for turning seashells into buttons has lain fallow for nearly eight decades. The building's owner, Mark Masinda, a retired university administrator, is working to transform the site into a tourist attraction.

In the early 1900s, his grandfather William Masinda, a Czech immigrant, supervised a dozen button makers in the building, which is on a rural road in Willington. They cut, drilled and polished bits of shells imported from Africa and Australia to make "ocean pearl buttons" with two or four holes. The area's half-dozen button factories supplemented the incomes of families struggling to farm on rocky terrain.

The Masinda operation closed in 1938, as plastic flooded the market. "The equipment he had just couldn't make the transition," Mr. Masinda said.


. . .


Mr. Masinda is planning to reactivate the equipment and open the site for tours by . . . spring [2016].



For the full story, see:

EVE M. KAHN. "Antiques; Restoring a Button Factory." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): C27.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 3, 2015, and has the title "Antiques; Yale Buys Collection of Scattered Medieval Pages; Restoring a Button Factory.")


The Kelly book mentioned above, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 2, 2016

Neurosurgical Establishment Waited Decade to Adopt Jannetta's Cure



(p. C6) Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, a neurosurgeon who as a medical resident half a century ago developed an innovative procedure to relieve an especially devastating type of facial pain, died on Monday [April 1?, 2016] in Pittsburgh.


. . .


"This was a condition that had been documented for a thousand years: There are references in the ancient literature to what was originally called 'tic douloureux,' " Mark L. Shelton, the author of "Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon," a 1989 book about Dr. Jannetta, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "People knew of this unexplained, very intense, episodic facial pain but didn't know the cause of it."


. . .


In the mid-1960s, Dr. Jannetta made a striking discovery while he was a neurosurgical resident at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dissecting a set of cranial nerves for a class presentation, he noticed something amiss: a tiny blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve.

"It came to him as something of a flash of insight," Mr. Shelton said. "He saw this blood vessel literally impinging on the nerve so that there was actually a groove in the nerve where the vessel pressed."

What if, Dr. Jannetta wondered, this were the source of the nerve damage? Though his insight is universally accepted today, it was novel to the point of subversion in the 1960s.

"The idea that a very small blood vessel, the diameter of a mechanical pencil lead, could cause such outsize pain didn't resonate with people at the time," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


If the vessel was a vein, it could simply be cauterized and excised. If it was an artery, however -- a more essential structure -- it would, Dr. Jannetta realized, have to be gently nudged out of the way.

He created a means of doing so that involved slipping a tiny pad of soft Teflon, about the size of a pencil eraser, between the artery and the nerve.

Dr. Jannetta performed the first microvascular decompression operation in 1966. The patient, a 41-year-old man, was relieved of his pain.

It took about a decade for the procedure to win acceptance from the neurosurgical establishment, owing partly to Dr. Jannetta's youth and partly to the novelty of his idea.

"He convinced many, many skeptics -- and there were a lot of skeptics in the early years -- because it seemed so counterintuitive as to what caused neurological disease," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


His many laurels include the medal of honor from the World Federation of Neurological Societies; the Olivecrona Award, presented by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and the Horatio Alger Award, which honors perseverance in the face of adversity or opposition.



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Neurosurgeon and Pioneer on Facial Pain, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2016): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 14, 2016, and has the title "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Pioneering Neurosurgeon on Facial Pain, Dies at 84.")


The book about Jannetta, mentioned above, is:

Shelton, Mark. Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.






May 29, 2016

Scientific Knowledge Matters More than Myth Because of Its Practical Effectiveness



(p. C6) Stories matter; knowledge matters more.

"When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space," . . . [Carlo Rovelli] writes, "what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years." You might tell a great campfire story about an antelope, he comments. Knowing how to track and kill one is more relevant to survival.

"Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth," Mr. Rovelli says. "But the value of knowledge remains. If we can find the antelope, we can eat."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; A Vast Cosmos, Made Bite-Size and Delectable." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): C1 & C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Seven Brief Lessons on Physics' Is Long on Knowledge.")


The book under review, is:

Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.






May 25, 2016

Government: "One Vast Honey Pot with Thousands of Ants Lined Up Around the Rim"



(p. A21) Ms. Tolchin hit on the subject of patronage when Mr. Tolchin, then a reporter in the metropolitan news department of The New York Times, wrote a series of articles on the topic that several publishers urged him to turn into a book. Daunted, he turned to his wife for help.

"The political-science literature had an enormous hole on the subject," she told The Washingtonian in 2011. "It's such a critical part of the political process -- it was wonderful virgin territory."

Their combined efforts -- he provided the reporting, she provided the scholarship -- resulted in "To the Victor...: Political Patronage From the Clubhouse to the White House," published in 1971.

In lively fashion, the book surveyed the history and examined the mechanisms of a system the authors described as "one of the occupational hazards of democracy." They traced its influence, for good and ill, in city halls, statehouses, courthouses and, onward and upward, Congress and the White House.

The picture it painted was often bleak, presenting government at all levels as "one vast honey pot with thousands of ants lined up around the rim to get at the sweetener inside," according to a review in The Times.

It was a rich subject to which the authors returned in "Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism From the Clubhouse to the White House ... and Beyond," published in 2011. Patronage is "the major reason people go into politics," Ms. Tolchin told The Washingtonian."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Susan Tolchin, Scholar and Author, Is Dead at 75." The New York Times (Fri., May 20, 2016): A21.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "Susan Tolchin, Political Scientist Who Foresaw Voter Anger, Dies at 75.")


The two books on government patronage that are mentioned above, are:

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. To the Victor: Political Patronage from the Clubhouse to the White House. New York: Random House, 1971.

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism from the Clubhouse to the White House and Beyond. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011.






May 21, 2016

"Liberated People Are Ingenious"



(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.


. . .


(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England's impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is "liberty." Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther's reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England's turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came--slowly, imperfectly--was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled "French" in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, "Scottish," in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."



For the full commentary, see:


DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. "How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)


McCloskey's commentary is based on her "bourgeois" trilogy, the final volume of which is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






May 17, 2016

Black Conservative Disinvited to Speak at Virginia Tech




Jason Riley, who is quoted below, has published Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.



(p. A13) Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.


. . .


I've lost count of the times I've been approached by conservative students after a lecture to a mostly liberal audience and thanked, almost surreptitiously, for coming to speak. They often offer an explanation for their relative silence during question periods when liberal students and faculty are firing away. "Being too outspoken would just make it more difficult," a Wellesley student once told me. "You get to leave when you're done. We have to live with these people until we graduate."

In April [2016], I spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the college Republicans who invited me took the precaution of clearing my name with liberal student groups "to make sure they wouldn't be upset."

We've reached a point where conservatives must have their campus speakers preapproved by left-wing pressure groups. If progressives aren't already in absolute control of academia, they're pretty close.



For the full commentary, see:


JASON L. RILEY. "I Was Disinvited on Campus; The anti-free speech takeover is so complete that now the fear of stirring a protest can determine what ideas students will hear." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A13.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2016.)


The Riley book that I mentioned at the top, is:

Riley, Jason L. Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.







May 13, 2016

Which Moment of Flux Do the Environmentalists Want to Preserve?




At the APEE meetings in early April, I heard a lecture by Shawn Regan in which he praised a book by Daniel Botkin. The point that Regan was making was that a key difficult issue in environmentalism is to decide, when you want to preserve and protect the environment, which moment of the environment's constantly changing flux, do you want to preserve? With, or without, us, the natural state of the environment is constant change, not stasis.



A recent book by Botkin that makes this point, is:

Botkin, Daniel B. The Moon in the Nautilus Shell: Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.






May 9, 2016

"Progressive" Eugenicists Attacked Free Enterprise




At the APEE meetings in early April, I heard a lecture by Jayme Lemke in which she praised a promising-sounding book by Thomas Leonard. I looked the book up on Amazon and found that it describes how many of the "progressives" who advocated increasing government control of the economy, were also among the advocates of the now-discredited eugenics movement.

The book is now on my "to-read" list and I will report more when it hits the top of the list (say, in about 2020 ;).



The book praised by Jayme, is:

Leonard, Thomas C. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.






May 5, 2016

Forrest McDonald Defended Founders and Entrepreneurs




Forrest McDonald wrote one of the first detailed accounts of the life of Samuel Insull, an entrepreneur who helped to develop electric utility systems in the United States, and who was persecuted by the FDR administration.



(p. 20) Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday [January 19, 2016] in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


. . .


As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. ("I'd move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia," he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.


. . .


In "Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution" (1985), which was one of three finalists for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in history, he pronounced the founding fathers as singularly qualified to draft the framework of federalism. He reiterated that point when he delivered the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecture in Washington in 1987.

"To put it bluntly," Dr. McDonald said then, "it would be impossible in America today to assemble a group of people with anything near the combined experience, learning and wisdom that the 55 authors of the Constitution took with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787."


. . .


Dr. McDonald wrote more than a dozen books, including biographies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-Span's "Booknotes" in 1994, Dr. McDonald revealed that he typically wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad and in the nude. ("We've got wonderful isolation," he said, "and it's warm most of the year in Alabama, and why wear clothes?")



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Forrest McDonald, 89, Critic of Liberal Views of History." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 24, 2016): 20.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 22, 2016, and has the title "Forrest McDonald, Historian Who Punctured Liberal Notions, Dies at 89.")


The McDonald book mentioned by me way above, is:

McDonald, Forrest. Insull. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.






April 27, 2016

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Predicts "Green Bubble"



(p. R5) Sustainable investing and clean energy are hot topics, but one Danish financier is warning that people might be getting carried away.

Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the founder of Wimmer Financial LLP, a London-based corporate-advisory firm specializing in natural resources, foresees a "green bubble" that could have similar consequences to the dot-com and housing bubbles.


. . .


WSJ: What are the main issues behind the so-called bubble you see forming in green energy?

MR. WIMMER: Very simply put, for green energy to be truly sustainable, it must be commercially sustainable. The reality today is that when it comes to politicians allocating subsidies, it seems like they are being allocated almost religiously across the board. As long as there is a green element, then [politicians believe] it is fine and deserves funding from tax dollars. I argue that is a little unsophisticated.

We have got to look at supporting and subsidizing the technologies that stand a chance at becoming commercially independent from subsidies within a reasonable time period--about seven to 10 years.


. . .


WSJ: In your book "The Green Bubble," you highlight infrastructure problems involved in large-scale green-energy projects in the U.S. Tell us about those.

MR. WIMMER: There are a number of challenges that green energy faces, and one [involves] infrastructure, meaning that if you were to target, say, 20% green energy including wind farms in the U.S., you would have to build an awful lot of transmission grid, which is quite expensive.

Somebody is going to have to pay for it--the taxpayer, perhaps?



For the full interview, see:

TANZEEL AKHTAR. "Renewable Energy Is a 'Bubble,' Says Financier." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 11, 2016): R5.

(Note: bold and italics, in original; ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12 [sic], 2016,)


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Wimmer, Per. The Green Bubble: Our Future Energy Needs and Why Alternative Energy Is Not the Answer. London, UK: Lid Publishing, 2015.






April 23, 2016

Welfare System Hurts Those It Is Intended to Help




I saw part of a C-SPAN 2 presentation, originally broadcast on 3/28/16, of a new book by Harvey and Conyers that appears to argue persuasively that the current American welfare system makes it harder for welfare recipients to transition to employment. It further argues that work is an important part of the good life, usually an important contributor to happiness. As a result, the current welfare system hurts the very people that it is intended to help.


The book discussed above, is:

Harvey, Phil, and Lisa Conyers. The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.






April 19, 2016

College Students Have Been Raised to Be Fragile




In the passage quoted below, John Leo interviews John Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU.



(p. A9) Haidt: . . . Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently--protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb's concept of anti-fragility.

Leo: What's the theory?

Haidt: That children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I'm not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we're going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.



Source of the Haidt interview passage quote:

"Notable & Quotable: 'Anti-Fragility in Children." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 23, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the quotes from the interview with Haidt has the date Feb. 22, 2016, and has the title "Notable & Quotable: Our Weak, Fragile Millennials.")


For John Leo's full interview with Jonathan Haidt, see:

http://www.mindingthecampus.org/2016/02/a-conversation-with-jonathan-haidt/


The Taleb book referred to, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House, 2012.






April 3, 2016

New Libertarian Consensus?



(p. A17) In "Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order," Mr. Piereson argues that America has undergone three earthquakes in its history: the Jeffersonian revolution, which ushered in a long period of dominance of a new anti-Federalist party; the Civil War, which vanquished slavery and set off the ascendancy of northern Republicanism; and the New Deal, which dramatically expanded the size and intrusiveness of the federal government in Americans' lives. "In each period, an old order collapsed and a new one emerged . . . the resolution of the crisis opened up new possibilities for growth and reform," he writes. Looking out at our paralyzed and polarized polity, he argues that we are on the brink of yet another collapse--but this one might not have a happy ending.

Mr. Piereson, a hero of philanthropy who faithfully spent the Olin Foundation out of business after supporting the work of think tanks, small magazines and groundbreaking scholars like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, views the Obama presidency as the beginning of the collapse of an 80-year consensus, forged in the post-World War II years. That consensus "assigned the national government responsibility for maintaining full employment and for policing the world in the interests of democracy, trade, and national security." Such a consensus, which "is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges," Mr. Piereson argues, ". . . no longer exists in the United States. That being so, the problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a 'fourth revolution' or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental agreement."


. . .


A system failure is only a matter of time. At some point, what Democrat Erskine Bowles has aptly labeled "the most predictable crisis in American history" will be upon us, as the federal government defaults by one means or another on its unpayable promises. A revolt of the betrayed elderly, or of the plundered young, could be the catalyst for Mr. Piereson's revolution. Perhaps even sooner, one state rendered destitute by reckless government spending and public pensions will attempt to dump its hopeless debt problem on the rest of the union. Which of these scenarios is most likely? Which most dangerous? Could the fourth revolution manifest itself in a separatist movement by states where majorities feel culturally estranged and disinclined to pick up the tab for the extravagance of less responsible states? Could the growing number of citizens professing economic conservatism coupled with libertarian social views be the front edge of a new consensus?



For the full review, see:

MITCH DANIELS. "BOOKSHELF; America's Next Revolution; The U.S. has experienced three earthquakes: the Jeffersonian revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal. Are we on the brink of another?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses within paragraphs, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 14, 2015,)


The book discussed in the review, is:

Piereson, James. Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order. New York: Encounter Books, 2015.






March 30, 2016

Slower World of Narrative Leads to Analogies, Comparisons and Understanding



(p. A25) As the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield writes in her book "Mind Change," expert online gamers have a great capacity for short-term memory, to process multiple objects simultaneously, to switch flexibly between tasks and to quickly process rapidly presented information.


. . .


Research at the University of Oslo and elsewhere suggests that people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more linear, more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for keywords.

The slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each individual piece of data. You're more concerned with how different pieces of data fit together. How does this relate to that? You're concerned with the narrative shape, the synthesizing theory or the overall context. You have time to see how one thing layers onto another, producing mixed emotions, ironies and paradoxes. You have time to lose yourself in another's complex environment.

As Greenfield puts it, "by observing what happens, by following the linear path of a story, we can convert information into knowledge in a way that emphasizing fast response and constant stimulation cannot. As I see it, the key issue is narrative."

When people in this slower world gather to try to understand connections and context, they gravitate toward a different set of questions. These questions are less about sensation than about meaning. They argue about how events unfold and how context influences behavior. They are more likely to make moral evaluations. They want to know where it is all headed and what are the ultimate ends.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory. It is the ability to make analogies and comparisons about things you have studied before. Crystallized intelligence accumulates over the years and leads ultimately to understanding and wisdom.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "Building Attention Span." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book discussed in the commentary, is:

Greenfield, Susan. Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains. New York: Random House, 2015.






March 26, 2016

The Value of Longer Life



(p. C6) With the seeker's restlessness that seems not to have left him until his last breath, . . . [Dr. Paul Kalanthi accrued] two B.A.s and an M.A. in literature at Stanford, then a Master of Philosophy at Cambridge, before graduating cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for a residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. His training was almost complete when the bad diagnosis hit.


. . .


And then everything changes. In a single moment of recognition, everything Dr. Kalanithi has imagined for himself and his wife evaporates, and a new future has to be imagined.
. . . A job at Stanford for which he was the prime candidate? Not happening. Another good job that would require the Kalanithis to move to Wisconsin? Too far from his oncologist. Long-term plans of any kind? Well, what does long-term mean now? Does he have a day, a month, a year, six years, what? He's heard the advice about living one day at a time, but what's he supposed to do with that day when he doesn't know how many others remain?



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Singularly Striving Until Life Steps In."The New York Times (Tues., July 7, 2015): C1 & C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'When Breath Becomes Air,' Dr. Paul Kalanithi Confronts an Early Death.")


The book under review, is:

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016.






March 22, 2016

Greek Corruption, Fraud, Evasion and Public Worker Job Security



(p. A11) Mr. Angelos, a former Journal correspondent, travels through Greece as a journalist first, and a native son second, to conduct a mostly unpleasant archaeology. By way of background, however, he first tackles the pervasive issues of disability and pension fraud, rampant tax evasion, and public worker job protections. These are the very problems that Greece's European lenders sought to remedy through a series of supposedly helpful but also punitive and ineptly administered reforms. Mr. Angelos dismantles the facile narrative accepted by many in the eurozone, in which hardworking Germans must clean up a mess made by their lazy and "Oriental" southern neighbors. But he is equally tenacious when it comes to exposing the misconduct of Greek politicians, not to mention the country's corrupt system of career tenure and its, well, truly Byzantine bureaucracy.

Mr. Angelos's book allows us to see how these problems play out, sometimes farcically, in the lives of actual people. There's a cranky grandmother on the island of Zakynthos who receives generous blindness benefits even though she can see perfectly well. There's the arrogant former prime minister who accepted millions of euros in bribes to buy useless submarines on behalf of the Greek government.


. . .


. . . the book's single most flattering portrait is of Yiannis Boutaris, the tattooed, wine-making, freethinking mayor of Thessaloniki, who courts Turkish tourism, refuses to kowtow to the church and publicly acknowledges the crucial role of Jews in the city's history.



For the full review, see:


CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN. "BOOKSHELF; How Greece Got to 'No'; On the island of Zakynthos, a grandmother receives generous blindness benefits--even though she can see perfectly well."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 7, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.






March 18, 2016

"Ordinary People Should Have a Go"



(p. A11) The classical archaeologist and now big-picture historian Ian Morris, whose last book argued that war is good for you, now explains why coal is too. In "Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels," Mr. Morris puts "energy capture" at the center of human values since the Ice Age, through three eras: the Foragers to begin with; the Farmers after about 8,000 B.C.; and, in the past few centuries, the Fossil Fuelers.


. . .


A culture favorable to liberty and dignity for commoners came out of the Reformation and 16th-century Holland, spread to Britain and Britain's colonies in the 18th century, and resulted after 1800 in an explosion of ingenuity.

This Great Enrichment, which Mr. Morris acknowledges but does not explain, increased income per head not by the 100% or 200% of earlier efflorescences but by anything from 2,000% to 10,000%. Routine materialism of Mr. Morris's sort can't explain the most important secular event in human history. He wants to pin it all on energy capture. The correct story is one of ideas of human equality changing, starting with a conviction novel in the 17th century in northwestern Europe that ordinary people should have a go. This led to massive innovation, among which was energy capture. We do not have a fossil-fuel civilization. We have a free and ingenious one.



For the full review, see:

DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY. "BOOKSHELF; Oil on Troubled Waters; In this telling, progress is explained by the rising use of fossil fuels. Yet the Industrial Revolution was powered by water, not coal.."The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 6, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Morris, Ian. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, The University Center for Human Values Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.






March 10, 2016

Serendipity May Be Source of 50% of Patents



(p. 1) A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, (p. 4) X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the "wrong" information.


. . .


(p. 5) So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project -- and often when they weren't even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough.


. . .


A number of pioneering scholars have already begun this work, but they seem to be doing so in their own silos and without much cross-talk. In a 2005 paper ("Serendipitous Insights Involving Nonhuman Primates"), two experts from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle cataloged the chance encounters that yielded new insights from creatures like the pigtail macaque. Meanwhile, the authors of a paper titled "On the Exploitation of Serendipity in Drug Discovery" puzzled over the reasons the 1950s and '60s saw a bonanza of breakthroughs in psychiatric medication, and why that run of serendipity ended.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "Cultivating the Art of Serendipity.")


Pagan's commentary is based on her book:

Kennedy, Pagan. Inventology: How We Dream up Things That Change the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2016.






March 6, 2016

In India's Public Education System, Teachers Are Often Truant



Matt Ridley has a chapter in his recent The Evolution of Everything, where he cites evidence the low quality of public education in much of the less-developed world. The quality is so low that many poor parents scrimp to pull together modest funds to send their children to modest private schools where the teachers actually show up.



(p. A1) DEORIA, India -- The young man, having skipped school, was there to plead his case, but Manoj Mishra was having none of it. When the truant offered a letter from a relative of a government minister pleading for leniency, Mr. Mishra grabbed it and, with a frown, tore it in half and dropped it to the floor.

Similar scenes played out repeatedly in Mr. Mishra's fluorescent-lit office recently, as one truant after another appeared before him, trying to explain an absence from school.

But these were not students who had been pulled in for truancy. They were teachers.

Mr. Mishra, a district education officer in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is fighting one of the biggest obstacles to improving the largest primary school system in the world: absent teachers. His tough punishments and refusal to back down, chronicled in the local newspapers, have turned him into a folk hero. As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours' drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.

When Mr. Mishra arrived in Deoria in 2014, 40 percent of the district's teachers were absent on any given day from its 2,700 schools, he said in a recent interview. Nationwide, nearly 24 percent of rural Indian teachers were absent during random visits for a recent study led by Kar-(p. A6)thik Muralidharan at the University of California, San Diego. Teacher absences run as high as 46 percent in some states.


. . .


With the largest population in the world under the age of 35, India is trying to grow by leveraging what is often called the "demographic dividend." To prepare more than 200 million primary school children for jobs in a modern work force, India passed legislation a decade ago that more than doubled education spending, increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.

But children's already low performance has fallen. Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts an annual household survey, reported that in 2005 about 60 percent of fifth graders in rural India -- where most people live -- could read at a minimum second-grade level, but that in 2014 less than 50 percent could.

Teacher truancy is among the more prominent causes of that failure, experts say. Teaching jobs pay well and are sometimes obtained through political connections. But those who get them often do not want to travel to the remote areas where many schools are. In areas with weak local governance, not showing up has become the norm, and people feel powerless to complain.



For the full story, see:

GEETA ANAND. "Saturday Profile; Truant India Teachers, Meet Your Nightmare." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016, and has the title "The Saturday Profile; Fighting Truancy Among India's Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.")


The Ridley book mentioned above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. New York: Harper, 2015.






March 2, 2016

George Washington as Entrepreneur



(p. C7) While Washington was only an adequate battlefield general, Edward G. Lengel, who oversees George Washington's papers at the University of Virginia, makes a strong case in "First Entrepreneur" that he was a superb military administrator--skills he learned as a young man serving in the French and Indian War as an aide-de-camp for commanding officers. By carefully monitoring all aspects of the complex business of running a military operation, he held his ragtag army together despite a frequent lack of money, clothing, weapons and food. Without Washington's management, the Continental Army would likely have disintegrated and the Revolution fizzled out. Mr. Lengel brings needed attention to this vital and neglected aspect of Washington's generalship.

Washington was also a superb administrator of his own assets. Born to modest wealth, he married into much more and worked hard and creatively to maximize his return on investment. By the end of his life he was one of the new country's richest men.

Tobacco, the cash crop that had brought prosperity to Virginia, was declining in profitability by the mid-18th century. It exhausted the soil, and prices had been falling on the British market. Washington began to rotate and diversify his crops, import better seed, and exploit Mount Vernon's other assets, such as the springtime fish runs up the Potomac.

By the end of his life, Washington was not only growing new crops but manufacturing as well, turning his wheat production into both whiskey and flour. When the American inventor Oliver Evans developed a new, more productive type of flour mill, Washington quickly installed one. When the king of Spain sent him a donkey, named Royal Gift, Washington put him to work fathering mules, which were more efficient than horses at farm work. As Mr. Lengel makes clear, Washington was always a bottom-line man, a fact that makes this often remote figure more human.



For the full review, see:


JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Washington Discovers America; Washington traveled through all 13 states to promote the newborn federal government." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 13, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2016.






February 27, 2016

Bernanke's "Astonishing" Admission that He Tried, and Failed, to Save Lehman



(p. B1) It is astonishing to hear a former Federal Reserve chairman acknowledge that he may have misled the public as part of an agreement with another senior government official about one of the most crucial moments in recent financial history -- and that he now questions whether he should have "been more forthcoming." But that is what Ben S. Bernanke says in his new memoir, "The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath."

That crucial moment? The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Mr. Bernanke, in perhaps the most candid explanation of Lehman's 2008 collapse, writes that he and Henry M. Paulson, then the treasury secretary, purposely obfuscated when asked about Lehman's demise early on, allowing a narrative to develop that the government had purposely let the firm fail.

"In congressional testimony immediately after Lehman's collapse, Paulson and I were deliberately quite vague when discussing whether we could have saved Lehman," Mr. Bernanke writes. "But we had agreed in advance to be vague because we were intensely concerned that acknowledging our inability to save Lehman would hurt market confidence and increase pressure on other vulnerable firms."


. . .


(p. B4) He writes that it was simply impossible to save Lehman, pointing to the nearly $200 billion of losses that Lehman's creditors have since suffered. No one has come forward on the record, nor has any contemporaneous document been produced in the past seven years that said the government had found a way to save the company and specifically chose not to do so for political reasons, a point Mr. Bernanke alludes to in his book. "I do not want the notion that Lehman's failure could have been avoided, and that its failure was consequently a policy choice, to become the received wisdom, for the simple reason that it is not true," he writes. "We did everything we could think of to avoid it."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "In Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "In Ben Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman Brothers' Collapse.")


The Bernanke memoir is:

Bernanke, Ben S. The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2015.






February 23, 2016

"Minds Feel More Crimped, Fear More Pervasive, Possibility More Limited"



Maybe to lead happy or satisfying lives, we need more adventure, or more projects (hard and important ones) to commit ourselves to?



(p. 19) Freedom is still out there. We all have our idea of it, the deferred dream. Your psyche builds layers of protection around your most vulnerable traits, which may be closely linked to that precious essence in which freedom resides. Freedom is inseparable from risk.


. . .


I don't know if the world is freer than a half-century ago. On paper, it is. The totalitarian Soviet Imperium is gone. The generals who bossed Latin America are gone, generally. Asia has unshackled itself and claims this century as its own. Media has opened out, gone social.

Yet minds feel more crimped, fear more pervasive, possibility more limited, adventure more choreographed, politics more stale, economics more skewed, pressure more crushing, escape more elusive.


. . .


Which brings me to Finnegan's wonderful book, a kind of hymn to freedom and passion. Freedom is inside you. It's the thing that cannot be denied. For Finnegan, that's surfing and writing. "How could you know your limits unless you tested them?" he asks -- a question as true before the ferocious energy of the wave as before the infinite possibilities of the written form.



For the full commentary, see:

Cohen, Roger. "Ways to Be Free." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 23, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 21, 2016.)


The Finnegan book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Finnegan, William. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.







February 22, 2016

Gladwell Gladly Blurbs Good Books



(p. D10) When Malcolm Gladwell was asked to write a blurb for the 2005 book "Freakonomics, " he did not explain that it explored the dynamics of the Ku Klux Klan or the impact of naming a child "Loser." Instead, the New Yorker writer and best-selling author of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" simply wrote, "Prepare to be dazzled."

"Freakonomics" became a best seller.


. . .


According to Mr. Gladwell, his sausage is simple: He writes blurbs because people ask him to, and he does not overthink what to say. "People will show you a book and you think, 'It's cool,'" he said. "You want people to read it. I feel like we have to promote ourselves."

For the paperback version of "Stumbling on Happiness," a book about imagination and happiness written by his professional acquaintance, the Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Mr. Gladwell raved, imploring readers: "Trust me." He also wrote a guest review on Amazon.

And he tweets recommendations freely to his 336,000 followers, as he did for the release of Fareed Zakaria's new book, "In Defense of a Liberal Education" in April. "Fareed Zakaria's new book is brilliant!" he wrote, adding a handy link to Amazon.


. . .


He is nothing if not loyal. Last July [2015], the authors of "Freakonomics" released the paperback edition of their latest book, "Think Like A Freak." Malcolm Gladwell was on the cover again, this time saying, "Utterly captivating."



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Master of the Compelling, Captivating, Dazzling Blurb." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 17, 2015): D10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2015, and has the title "Malcolm Gladwell Hands Out Book Blurbs Like Santa Does Presents.")






February 19, 2016

Federal Government "Deputized" the Ku Klux Klan to Enforce Prohibition Against "Immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans"



(p. C4) . . . in her new book, "The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State" (W. W. Norton), the historian Lisa McGirr tells anything but a nostalgic story. The 18th Amendment, she argues, didn't just give rise to vibrant night life and colorful, Hollywood-ready characters, like Isidor Einstein, New York's celebrated "Prohibition Agent No. 1." More enduringly, and tragically, it also radically expanded the federal government's role in law enforcement, with consequences that can be seen in the crowded prisons of today.

In The New York Times Book Review, James A. Morone writes that the book "could have a major impact on how we read American political history." In a recent email interview, Ms. McGirr, a professor at Harvard, discussed Prohibition's political legacy, the surprising enforcement role of the Ku Klux Klan and the character from her story she'd most like to have a drink with. Below are excerpts from the conversation.


. . .


Q. You argue that Prohibition gave rise to today's "penal state." How did that happen?

A. By birthing a new national obsession with crime, Prohibition -- and the violence that came with it -- pushed the federal government in the direction of policing and surveillance. This was the moment that saw the first national crime commission, the birth of the Uniform Crime Reports, an expanded prison system and the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The F.B.I. also won expanded authority.


. . .


Q. You describe how the Ku Klux Klan helped enforce Prohibition in places like Williamson County, Ill., where federal authorities deputized its members to conduct sometimes deadly raids on distilleries, bars and private homes -- taking particular aim at Italian immigrants. What made the Klan such an ally in the war on alcohol?

A. The Klan sold itself to white Protestant evangelicals as a law enforcement organization, winning droves of recruits with its promise to clamp down on bootlegging. There were plenty of Klansmen who imbibed, but that did not stop them from leveraging the law to target the drinking of the presumed enemies of white Protestant nationalism: immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans.



For the full interview, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, interviewer. "A Word with Lisa McGirr; Throwing a Cold Splash on Prohibition Nostalgia." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 31, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 30, 2015, and has the title "Lisa McGirr Discusses 'The War on Alcohol' and the Legacy of Prohibition.")



The book under discussion, is:

McGirr, Lisa. The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2015.






February 15, 2016

"Gleefully" Using Climate Change "as an Opportunity to Put an End to Capitalism"



(p. B9) . . . , Peter Victor of York University in Canada published a study titled "Growth, degrowth and climate change: A scenario analysis," in which he compared Canadian carbon emissions under three economic paths to the year 2035.

Limiting growth to zero, he found, had a modest impact on carbon spewed into the air. Only the "de-growth" situation -- in which Canadians' income per person shrank to its level in 1976 and the average working hours of employed Canadians declined by 75 percent -- managed to slash emissions in a big way.


. . .


Let's examine what our fossil-fueled growth has provided us. It has delivered gains in living standards in even the poorest regions of the world.

But that's only the beginning. Economic development was indispensable to end slavery. It was a critical precondition for the empowerment of women.

Indeed, democracy would not have survived without it. As Martin Wolf, the Financial Times commentator has noted, the option for everybody to become better off -- where one person's gain needn't require another's loss -- was critical for the development and spread of the consensual politics that underpin democratic rule.

Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one's neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade.

The Oxford economist Max Roser has some revealing charts that show the deadliness of war across the ages. It was a real killer in the era of no growth. Up to half of all deaths among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and other ancient cultures were caused by conflict.


. . .


Naomi Klein, a champion of the leftward fringe newly converted to the environmental cause, gleefully proposes climate change as an opportunity to put an end to capitalism. Were she right, I doubt it would bring about the workers' utopia she appears to yearn for. In a world economy that does not grow, the powerless and vulnerable are the most likely to lose. Imagine "Blade Runner," "Mad Max" and "The Hunger Games" brought to real life.



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "Economic Scene; No Growth, No World? Think About It." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 2, 2015): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 1, 2015, and has the title "Economic Scene; Imagining a World Without Growth.")



The Victor paper mentioned above, is:

Victor, Peter A. "Growth, Degrowth and Climate Change: A Scenario Analysis." Ecological Economics 84, no. 1 (Dec. 2012): 206-12.


The Roser charts, mentioned above, can be found at:

Roser, Max. Ethnographic and Archaeological Evidence on Violent Deaths 2015 [accessed Fri., Jan. 22, 2016]. Available from http://ourworldindata.org/data/violence-rights/ethnographic-and-archaeological-evidence-on-violent-deaths/.


The Klein book seeking to end capitalism, is:

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The (sic) Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






February 11, 2016

Those on the Scene Matter for Outcome of Crisis



Amanda Ripley has argued that in many disasters, it is not the well-trained "first responders" who matter most for the outcome, but those who happen to be close to the scene. The problem is that often the "first responders" do not arrive soon enough to save lives or head off the crisis. The story sketched in the passages quoted below, seems to be another example for her thesis.



(p. B1) "We had a one-minute warning," recalled Dr. Lax, a mathematician who was the director of the university's computer center at the time. "The son of a friend ran in" and shouted that the demonstrators were coming for the computer, he said. "It was too late to call the police and fortify."


. . .


Jürgen Moser, a mathematician who was the director of the Courant Institute, the university's prestigious math research center, tried to stop the demonstrators when they swarmed into Warren Weaver Hall. According to a chapter in a biography of Dr. Lax by Reuben Hersh, Dr. Moser, who died in 1999, said he was "pushed and shoved around, and was unable to deter them."


. . .


After a two-day occupation, the protesters decided to end the takeover. But they did not carry out everything they had taken in, as two assistant professors, Frederick P. Greenleaf and Emile C. Chi, discovered when they ran in.

"We thought, 'Let's go take a look before the place gets locked down,' " Dr. Greenleaf recalled last week. "They had knocked the doorknobs off the door so you couldn't open it."

But there was a small window, high up in the door, and they peered in. "We could see there was an improvised toilet paper fuse," he said. "It was slowly burning its way to a bunch of containers, bigger than gallon jugs. They were sitting on the top of the computer."


. . .


Already, he said, smoke was curling under the door.

He and Professor Chi grabbed a fire extinguisher in the stairwell.

The only way to douse the fuse was to aim the fire extinguisher under the door. The only way to know where to aim it was to look through the window in the door, which was too high for whoever was operating the fire extinguisher to look through and aim at the same time.

So one functioned as the eyes for the pair, sighting through the window and directing the other to point the fire extinguisher up or down or left or right. "In a minute, we had managed to spritz the fuse," Dr. Greenleaf said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Saved a Kidnapped N.Y.U. Computer." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 7, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2015, and has the title "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Ended the Kidnapping of an N.Y.U. Computer.")


The Ripley book mentioned above, is:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.






January 26, 2016

Open Offices Are "an Absurd Attack on Concentration"



(p. A11) Mr. Newport acknowledges the good intentions behind open offices: They are meant to encourage serendipity and teamwork. But he argues that burdening workers with perpetual distractions constitutes "an absurd attack on concentration" that creates "an environment that thwarts attempts to think seriously." Sure, there's collaboration--not least the unspoken camaraderie among coworkers who have shared in the cringe-inducing experience of hearing a colleague castigate her spouse over the phone.

Mr. Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, is the unusual academic who will sully himself with matters as practical as: How can a talented employee rack up the rarefied and acute skills--writing, coding, scouring the latest mergers and acquisitions--that make someone indispensable? His answer? Expanding your capacity for "deep work," ruthlessly weeding out distractions and regularly carving out stretches of time to sharpen abilities. Mr. Newport explains why honing an ability to concentrate can yield enormous professional payouts. Then he lays out rules for becoming one such rare bird.

Most corporate workers, Mr. Newport argues, don't have clear feedback about how to spend their time. As a result, employees use "busyness as a proxy for productivity," which Mr. Newport describes aptly as "doing lots of stuff in a visible manner"--blasting out emails, for instance, or holding meetings on superficial progress on some project.


. . .


The book's best example is the Pulitzer Prize winning Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro, known for working on a meticulous schedule in his Manhattan office dressed in a coat and tie "so that he never forgets when he sits down with his research that he is going to work," as one profile of Mr. Caro put it.



For the full review, see:

KATE BACHELDER. "BOOKSHELF; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; Yes, open offices cultivate camaraderie--among coworkers who all cringe as a colleague shouts at her soon-to-be ex-husband over the phone." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 20, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 19, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.






January 22, 2016

Regulations Slow Eradication of Cancer



(p. D3) . . . the triumph of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's and then for many other tumors opened an interlocking series of dilemmas. In the clinic and the hospital, the new protocols demanded that doctors muster the courage to make their patients very sick in order to make them well. But how sick was too sick? The risks and benefits of the powerful treatments now needed careful, deliberate assessment at every stage of the disease.

Similar questions dogged those who developed, evaluated and regulated the drugs. How poisonous could these agents safely be? How assiduously should desperate patients be saved by their government from pharmaceutical risk?

Dr. DeVita stands firmly among those affirming cancer patients' right to aggressive treatment. One particular exchange summarizes his philosophy: "Do your patients speak to you after you do this to them?" one skeptic asked him early on. "The answer is yes," he replied, "and for a lot longer."

The regulatory caution of the Food and Drug Administration has been a thorn in his side for decades: "I'd like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not." In fact, he writes, "the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in."



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "An Unbowed Warrior." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Review: Science and Politics Collide in 'The Death of Cancer'.")


The book under review, is:

DeVita, Vincent T., and Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable--and How We Can Get There. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.






January 18, 2016

Madison Revised Notes to Aid Jefferson's Attack on Hamilton



C-SPAN Book TV today played an extended interview with Mary Sarah Bilder about her book on James Madison's notes on the constitutional convention. Madison revised his notes to share with Jefferson, who had not been present during the convention. Chernow, in his biography of Hamilton, reports how Jefferson criticized Hamilton for aristocratic tendencies. What is most surprising about Bilder's comments is that Madison had made comments at the convention similar to Hamilton's discussing whether there might be merits to monarchy. But in his revision of the notes, he deleted those comments before passing the notes to Jefferson, presumably as part of his desire to ally himself more closely with Jefferson and to join in Jefferson's vilification of Hamilton.

This is not an earth-shattering finding, but it adds support to Chernow's defense of Hamilton. Jefferson was the slave-holding aristocrat in practice, while Hamilton opposed slavery, and Hamilton's intellectual speculations on the best form of government were not notably monarchist within the context of the time.

The book discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.


The Chernow book I mention above, is:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






January 6, 2016

Was "the Naturally Aloof" Washington, an Introvert?



(p. C6) In "The Washingtons," an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.


. . .


Her social graces, . . . , served the naturally aloof George well during his eight increasingly trying years as president. Martha had a way of keeping conversation flowing around her, Ms. Fraser says, while George's "silences could unnerve the most confident." An official dinner with the Washingtons could be an ordeal, since George was a terrible conversationalist and was known to sit silently tapping his spoon against the table, obviously impatient for the evening to end.



For the full review, see:

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH. "Domestic Tranquility; Martha kept conversation flowing at dinner; George's silences 'could unnerve the most confident.'" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Flora. The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love". New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






January 2, 2016

Key Roman Institution Was Citizenship for All



(p. C5) . . . , early in the fourth century B.C., everything changes. Somehow Rome's wars began to escalate in scale, their victories turned into conquests, their victims into allies, and Roman expansion became a bow wave rolling across Italy. Exactly how this "great leap forward" was achieved remains unclear. There are fragments of laws, a tradition of civil conflict leading to political reform, and the tombs of the first generation of great military leaders. But, as Ms. Beard says, "the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle become hard to fit together."

The best we can say is that, sometime in the early fourth century, consuls, senators and people emerge rapidly from the shadows, carrying all before them. By the time this was noticed by the other great powers of the day--Phoenician Carthage in what is now Tunisia and the Macedonian kings who had ruled everything east of the Adriatic since Alexander the Great--it was too late to stop Rome. Roman institutions did not drive this expansion, as Polybius had thought. In fact they played desperate catch-up for the rest of the Republic, trying to create ways of governing an empire that was not exactly accidental but certainly not planned. The one institution that Ms. Beard leaves in place as a motor of expansion rather than a response to it was Rome's unusual capacity to absorb the defeated and redirect their arms and resources to its own ends. "SPQR" ends with the logical culmination of that process, the extension of full citizenship to almost every one of Rome's 60 million subjects in A.D. 212.



For the full review, see:

GREG WOOLF. "Dawn of the Eternal City." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






December 29, 2015

FDA Forces Child to Go to London to Get Drug to Fight His Cancer



(p. A15) How far would you go to get a drug that could save your child's life? Across an ocean? That is exactly what the federal government is forcing some American families with dying children to do.

In 2012, when Diego Morris was 11 years old, he was diagnosed with a deadly cancer in his leg called osteosarcoma. Doctors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., removed the tumor, but the prognosis was poor. There was a significant risk that even extensive chemotherapy after surgery would not prevent the cancer from returning.

Fortunately, a team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City had developed a revolutionary new drug, mifamurtide (MTP), that can prevent osteosarcoma from coming back. A study by Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman of MD Anderson and Dr. Paul Meyers of Sloan Kettering showed the drug resulted in a 30% reduction in the osteosarcoma mortality rate at eight years after diagnosis.

The drug was approved in 2009 by the European Medicines Agency and is currently the standard of care in Europe, Israel and many other countries. In 2012 it received the prestigious Prix Galien Award, the gold medal for pharmaceutical research and development in the United Kingdom.

MPT was exactly what Diego needed. But there was one problem: The drug was not available in America because the Food and Drug Administration had rejected it, demanding additional studies. That meant that Diego had to travel from Phoenix to London to get the drug he needed to save his life--a drug that was available in almost every industrialized nation and should have been available in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:


DARCY OLSEN. "Winning the Right to Save Your Own Life; As the FDA dawdles, 24 states pass 'right-to-try' laws giving terminally ill patients access to drugs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 26, 2015.)


Olsen's commentary is related to her book:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 25, 2015

Hawaiian Culture Changed Swiftly in Century After 1777



(p. C1 & C6) It's startling just how swiftly change came to Hawaii after Capt. James Cook first sighted the island of Kauai in 1777: In little more than a century, Ms. Moore writes, "a closed and isolated culture, bound by superstition and religious ritual, with no understanding of individual freedom or private property," had been transformed into "a society of thriving capitalism, Protestant values, and democratic institutions."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "Hard Truths in the Past of a Tropical Eden." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPT. 22, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 21, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Paradise of the Pacific,' the Hard Truths of Hawaii's History.")


The book under review, is:

Moore, Susanna. Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






December 22, 2015

FDA Has No Right to Stop the Terminally Ill from Seeking Cures



(p. C4) Ms. Olsen notes that "today, about 40 percent of cancer patients attempt to enroll in clinical trials, but only about 3 percent end up participating. That means that the vast majority don't make the cut, whether because they fail to meet the strict criteria, or a trial is thousands of miles from their home." Many of those who don't get these experimental drugs are the sickest patients because they are deemed "too sick to be useful for the study."

Ms. Olsen argues that terminally ill patients should be able to access such drugs--at their own risk and outside the context of FDA-required studies--if the companies are willing to provide them, and the book's title alludes to her proposed remedy: the state-by-state campaign the Goldwater Institute is leading to pass "Right to Try" legislation. The bills would allow terminally ill patients who have "exhausted all conventional treatment options" to access an experimental treatment if their doctors believe it is "the best medical option to extend or save the patients' life" and "the treatment has successfully completed basic safety testing and is part of the FDA's ongoing evaluation and approval process." Insurers, critically, would not be required to cover the treatment--a significant hurdle, largely unexplored here, since such costs could be significant.

The think tank's campaign has been incredibly successful, with 24 states passing Right to Try laws to date. Still, Ms. Olsen doesn't present such laws as a panacea. She doesn't expect experimental treatments to always--or even often--work for terminally ill patients. But she believes that some chance is better than the alternative. "If you have the Right to Die, you have the Right to Try," Ms. Olsen writes. "And you don't have to wait on Washington to secure it."

Yet therein lies the book's main shortcoming. Washington, it turns out, has a fair bit of say here. Courts have found that the FDA's powers to regulate drug development are extraordinarily broad. Many changes Ms. Olsen champions won't be possible without congressional action to revamp the FDA's drug development process and find new ways of paying for experimental drugs that would make widespread access sustainable for patients, companies and insurers. These issues, though touched on, are not grappled with in detail.



For the full review, see:

PAUL HOWARD. "BOOKSHELF; Hail Mary Medicine; Patients spend their last days pleading with reluctant drug companies and the FDA to get access to treatments that could save their lives." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 13, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 21, 2015

Top College Football Programs "Do a Little Education on the Side"



(p. C7) When it is reported that the University of Alabama pays its head coach an annual salary of $6.5 million a year, or that the University of Oregon erected a $42 million academic support center for it players, or that the University of Texas assesses its fans as much as $20,000 in the form of "seat donations" for preferred locations, it is clear that college football is no longer just a game.

Gilbert M. Gaul contends precisely that in his persuasive new book, "Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football." . . . the elite college football programs have become a (sic) "giant entertainment businesses that happened to do a little education on the side," . . .


. . .


Given the revenue streams that winning programs generate year in and year out, it is easy to see why college administrators are drawn in by the siren call of football. But Mr. Gaul leads the chorus of those who are beyond dismayed by this juxtaposition of priorities. In the more than a decade that has passed since Mr. Gaul, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, began collecting data on the economics of college football as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he asserts that the staggering revenues of the 10 largest football programs has come largely at the expense of the academic mission.

At Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, Louisiana State University and Arkansas, revenues have increased to $762 million from $229 million from 1999 to 2012. That is a whopping 233 percent increase. Mr. Gaul observes that during this period "profit margins had ballooned to hedge-fund levels," generated by television broadcast rights, luxury suites, seat donations and corporate advertising. Mr. Gaul reports that the big universities "have netted 90 percent of all the new money that has flowed into college football the last decade or two."



For the full review, see:

MARK KRAM Jr. "Books of The Times; A Sport's Most Alluring Statistic Is Found on the Balance Sheet." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 26, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on AUG. 25, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Billion-Dollar Ball' Explores the Economics of College Football's Top Programs.")


The book under review, is:

Gaul, Gilbert M. Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey through the Big-Money Culture of College Football. New York: Viking, 2015.






December 17, 2015

Do Entrepreneurial Results Excuse Entrepreneurial Arrogance?



(p. A1) Robert Whaley is a professor of finance at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management and the developer of the two major so-called fear indices -- the VIX and VXN on the Chicago Board Options Exchange -- that are used to make bets on market volatility.

READING Right now it's "Becoming Steve Jobs," by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It has a somewhat different take than Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs." I felt Isaacson's version was a little negative. But what the books have in common is that Jobs was sheer genius. So what if he was arrogant? Consider what he's done. We wouldn't have iPhones and iPads if it wasn't for his vision. I absolutely think that excuses his behavior. If everyone just wanted for people to look back and say you were kind, how would we move forward?



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Download: Robert Whaley." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 2.

(Note: the bold above is in the original. The first paragraph quoted above was written by the interviewer Kate Murphy. The paragraph following the word "Reading" is the response by the interviewee Robert Whaley.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The Steve Jobs books mentioned by Whaley, are:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Schlender, Brent, and Rick Tetzeli. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






December 13, 2015

Quiet Author Founds Start-Up to Help Introverts



(p. 10) Last month, 50 executives from General Electric gathered on the fourth floor of a SoHo office building for a "fireside chat" with Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," which has sold two million copies worldwide.


. . .


A talk about "Quiet" she gave at a 2012 TED conference has been viewed more than 11.6 million times online. And she has delivered more than 100 speeches since then, sometimes commanding five figures for an appearance. (She also does pro bono work, she stressed.)


. . .

"Writing a book is rewarding," Mr. Godin said he told her. "But it doesn't change most people's lives."

And so Ms. Cain, who has been coached in public speaking, is now promoting Quiet Revolution, a for-profit company she has started that is focused on the work, education and lifestyle of introverts, which she defines roughly as people who get their psychic energy from quiet reflection and solitude (not to be confused with people who are shy and become anxious in unfamiliar social situations). Extroverts, by contrast, thrive in crowds and have long been prized in society for their ability to command attention. Many people share attributes of both, she said.

Ms. Cain and Paul Scibetta, a former senior executive at J. P. Morgan Chase whom she met when they both worked at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the 1990s, have set up a Quiet Leadership Institute, working with executives at organizations like NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric to help them better understand the strengths of their introverted employees.


. . .


Mike Erwin, a former professor of leadership and psychology at West Point who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, invited Ms. Cain to speak to cadets in 2012 after he finished reading "Quiet." He didn't understand students who were reticent to talk in class or who wanted to explore every risk before jumping into a task. "I'm an extrovert," he said. "And, as I look back at my career, I wrote off a lot of people who didn't speak up or want to be in charge."

In May, he was appointed chief executive of the Quiet Leadership Institute, where he is helping project managers at NASA learn how to lead teams populated with introverts (a common personality type in science). At Procter & Gamble, Mr. Erwin said, executives in research and development are exploring, among other things, how to help introverts become more confident leaders.



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Instigating a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JULY 26, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 25, 2015, and has the title "Susan Cain Instigates a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts.")


The Cain book mentioned above, is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.






December 9, 2015

Producer of "The Godfather" to Make Six Hour TV Version of Atlas Shrugged



(p. D1) LOS ANGELES -- It took a while -- more than 40 years, actually.

But Albert S. Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand's Objectivist bible.

Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as "The Godfather" and "The Cannonball Run," almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.

But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. "Then I'll put in my will, the one person who can't get it is you," Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.


. . .


The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand's insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.

"When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he's not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars," Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Film Producer Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 2, 2015): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2015, and has the title "Producer of 'The Godfather' Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel.")






December 5, 2015

"Racist" Woodrow Wilson Adopted "White Supremacy as Government Policy"



(p. A25) In 1882, soon after graduating from high school, the young John Davis secured a job at the Government Printing Office.

Over a long career, he rose through the ranks from laborer to a position in midlevel management. He supervised an office in which many of his employees were white men. He had a farm in Virginia and a home in Washington. By 1908, he was earning the considerable salary -- for an African-American -- of $1,400 per year.

But only months after Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as president in 1913, my grandfather was demoted. He was shuttled from department to department in various menial jobs, and eventually became a messenger in the War Department, where he made only $720 a year.

By April 1914, the family farm was auctioned off. John Davis, a self-made black man of achievement and stature in his community at the turn of the 20th century, was, by the end of Wilson's first term, a broken man. He died in 1928.

Many black men and women suffered similar fates under Wilson. As the historian Eric S. Yellin of the University of Richmond documents in his powerful book "Racism in the Nation's Service," my grandfather's demotion was part of a systematic purge of the federal government; with Wilson's approval, in a few short years virtually all blacks had been removed from management responsibilities, moved to menial jobs or simply dismissed.

My grandfather died before I was born, but I have learned much about his struggle -- and that of other black civil servants in the federal government -- from his personnel file.


. . .


Consider a letter he wrote on May 16, 1913, barely a month after his demotion. "The reputation which I have been able to acquire and maintain at considerable sacrifice," he wrote, "is to me (foolish as it may appear to those in higher stations of life) a source of personal pride, a possession of which I am very jealous and which is possessed at a value in my estimation ranking above the loss of salary -- though the last, to a man having a family of small children to rear, is serious enough."

And the reply he received? His supervisor said, simply, that my grandfather was unable to "properly perform the duties required (he is too slow)." Yet there had never been any indication of this in his personnel file.

Wilson was not just a racist. He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African-Americans and their families.



For the full commentary, see:

GORDON J. DAVIS. "Wilson, Princeton and Race." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 24, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather.")


The Yellin book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Yellin, Eric S. Racism in the Nation's Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.


See also:

Patler, Nicholas. Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration: Protesting Federal Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2004.






December 1, 2015

Only 5% of Gender Pay Differential Is Likely Due to Discrimination



(p. A17) Full-time employment is technically defined as more than 35 hours. This raises an obvious problem: A simple side-by-side comparison of all men and all women includes people who work 35 hours a week, and others who work 45. Men are significantly more likely than women to work longer hours, according to the BLS. And if we compare only people who work 40 hours a week, BLS data show that women then earn on average 90 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Career choice is another factor. Research in 2013 by Anthony Carnevale, a Georgetown University economist, shows that women flock to college majors that lead to lower-paying careers. Of the 10 lowest-paying majors--such as "drama and theater arts" and "counseling psychology"--only one, "theology and religious vocations," is majority male.

Conversely, of the 10 highest-paying majors--including "mathematics and computer science" and "petroleum engineering"--only one, "pharmacy sciences and administration," is majority female. Eight of the remaining nine are more than 70% male.

Other factors that account for earnings differences include marriage and children, both of which cause many women to leave the workforce for years. June O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded in a 2005 study that "there is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles."


. . .


Ms. O'Neill and her husband concluded in their 2012 book, "The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market," that once all these factors are taken into account, very little of the pay differential between men and women is due to actual discrimination, which is "unlikely to account for a differential of more than 5 percent but may not be present at all."



For the full commentary, see:

SARAH KETTERER. "The 'Wage Gap' Myth That Won't Die; You have to ignore many variables to think women are paid less than men. California is happy to try." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 1, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Sept. 30, 2015.)


The O'Neill book mentioned above, is:

O'Neill, June E., and Dave M. O'Neill. The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market: The Role of Employment Discrimination Policies. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2012.






November 27, 2015

What If Steve Jobs Ran the I.C.U.?




We'd like to think that medical intensity and competence in the real world mirror the intensity and competence of television shows like ER and House. But too often it is like the horrible surreal story told below. What if we deregulated medicine to open it to the product and process innovations of intense innovative entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton?



(p. 7) Omaha -- I've been watching the monitor for hours. Natalie's asleep now and I'm worried about her pulse. It's edging above 140 beats per minute again and her blood oxygen saturation is becoming dangerously low. I'm convinced that she's slipping into shock. She needs more fluids. I ring for the nurse.

I know about stuff like septic shock because for more than 20 years I was a transplant surgeon, and some of our patients got incredibly sick after surgery. So when I'm sitting in an I.C.U. in Omaha terrified that Natalie, my 17-year-old daughter, might die, I know what I'm talking about. I tell the nurse that Natalie needs to get another slug of intravenous fluids, and fast.

The nurse says she'll call the doctor. Fifteen minutes later I find her in the lounge at a computer, and over her shoulder I see a screen full of makeup products. When I ask if we can get that fluid going, I startle her. She says she called the resident and told him the vital signs, but that he thought things were stable.

"He said to hold off for now," she says.

"Get me two bags of saline. Now," I tell her.

She says, "I'm calling my supervisor," and she runs out of the lounge.


. . .


I know I shouldn't be my daughter's doctor. They taught us the problems with that during my first week in medical school.


. . .


But right now, I don't care about any of that. I'm the one with experience taking care of really sick patients, and if I know she needs more fluids, she's going to get them.

I break into the crash cart, a box on wheels full of stuff they use to resuscitate patients. I pull out two liters of saline solution and run both into Natalie's IV in less than 20 minutes. Natalie's pulse slows and her blood pressure rises. An hour later, after the nursing supervisor and on-call resident finally arrive, I've finished infusing a third liter. Natalie finally looks better.

This wasn't the first time during Natalie's illness eight years ago that I broke my promise to just be her dad. It started a week earlier when she came into the den and showed me the blood she'd coughed up. I suspect a father without my experience might have chalked it up to flu. Maybe because I was a transplant surgeon, and always considered the worst possible cause whenever a patient had a hiccup, I took her to the hospital. I was worried the blood meant she had a bacterial pneumonia, a bad one. And it did.

On the way to the hospital, Natalie took a deep breath and looked at me. "Am I going to die?" she asked. I'm convinced that she would have been dead before morning had I not been a doctor, and one who could recognize septic shock when it affected a normal teenager.



For the full commentary, see:

BUD SHAW. "A Doctor at His Daughter's Hospital Bed." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is adapted from the book:

Shaw, Bud. Last Night in the Or: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey. New York: Plume, 2015.






November 23, 2015

Give Entrepreneurs "the Solitude They Need to Think Creatively"



(p. R1) . . . , numerous entrepreneurs and CEOs are either self-admitted introverts or have so many introvert qualities that they are widely thought to be introverts. These include Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo, and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

As entrepreneurs, introverts succeed because they "create and lead companies from a very focused place," says Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and founder of Quiet Revolution, a website for introverts.


. . .


Many people believe that introverts, by definition, are shy and extroverts are outgoing. This is incorrect. Introverts, whom experts say comprise about a third of the population, get their energy and process information internally. Some may be shy and some may be outgoing, but they all prefer to spend time alone or in small groups, and often feel drained by a lot of social interaction or large groups.


. . .


Introverts not only have the stamina to spend long periods alone--they love it. "Good entrepreneurs are able to give themselves the solitude they need to think creatively and originally--to create something where there once was nothing," says Ms. Cain. "And this is just how introverts are wired."


. . .


While extroverts are networking, promoting or celebrating success, introverts have their "butt on the seat," says Laurie Helgoe, author of "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength" and assistant professor in the department of psychology and human services at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. "An introvert on his (p. R2) or her own is going to enjoy digging in and doing research--and be able to sustain him- or herself in that lonely place of forging your own way."

They don't need external affirmation

Another important characteristic of introverts is that they tend to rely on their own inner compass--not external signals--to know that they're making the right move or doing a good job. That can give them an edge in several ways.

For instance, they generally don't look for people to tell them whether an idea is worth pursuing. They tend to think it through before speaking about it to anybody, and rely on their own judgment about whether it's worth pursuing.

With extroverts, the need for social stimulation, for getting the idea in front of other people, can make them leap before they've thought something out, Ms. Buelow says. "It's very important for them to get outside feedback and motivation." Feedback is great, of course. But at a certain point a leader needs to decide on a plan and execute it.

Following their own compass also helps introverts stay focused on a venture. Extroverts can get sidetracked by seeking external validation, such as awards or media attention for a project, which can divert them from their main goals. While introverts welcome external validation, they won't let it define them or distract them. "It's about keeping the long-haul perspective," Ms. Buelow says.

What's more, because introverts aren't looking for outside events to validate their plans--or themselves--they don't take setbacks as personally as extroverts. Somebody who relies on external affirmation tends to take setbacks personally and may get dispirited if the company hits a rough patch.


. . .


. . . , in a 2009 study looking at how introverts and extroverts approached an "effortful task," Maya Tamir, director of the Emotion and Self-Regulation Laboratory at Boston College and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, found that extroverts sought a happy state while completing the task, while introverts preferred to maintain a neutral emotional state.

"The introverts' happy space is a quieter space with less interruptions," says Ms. Buelow. "They won't have that overstimulation."



For the full commentary, see:

ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN. "The Case for the Introverted Entrepreneur; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 24, 2015): R1-R2.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons.")


The Cain book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.


The Helgoe book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Helgoe, Laurie. Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2013.


The Maya Tamir article mentioned above, is:

Tamir, Maya. "Differential Preferences for Happiness: Extraversion and Trait-Consistent Emotion Regulation." Journal of Personality 77, no. 2 (April 2009): 447-70.






November 19, 2015

Scientific Insight Requires Hard Work More than Easy Epiphany



(p. A21) The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin's success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.

The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.

Of the tale of Newton and the apple, the historian Richard S. Westfall wrote, "The story vulgarizes universal gravitation by treating it as a bright idea ... A bright idea cannot shape a scientific tradition." Science is just not that simple and it is not that easy.


. . .


Even if we are not scientists, every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn't require such hard work.

But even beyond issues of science, there is a broader lesson to learn, . . . . We all run into difficult problems in life, and we will be happier and more successful if we appreciate that the answers often aren't quick, or easy.



For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD MLODINOW. "It Is, in Fact, Rocket Science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on MAY 15, 2015.)


Mlodinow's book, related to the commentary quoted above, is:

Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. New York: Pantheon Books, 2015.






November 15, 2015

Dogged Dreamers Developed Deadly Dirigibles



(p. C7) "Dirigibility" means the ability to navigate through the air by engine power, unlike balloon flight, which is captive to the wind. Beginning and ending with the Hindenburg vignette, C. Michael Hiam gives in "Dirigible Dreams" a concise but comprehensive history of the airship and its evolution. With style and some flair, Mr. Hiam introduces a cast of dogged visionaries, starting with Albert Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian whose exploits from 1901 onward usually culminated in our hero dangling from a tree or a high building, shredded gas bags draped around him like a shroud. For all of these pioneers, problems queued up from the outset: Insurance companies, for example, refused to quote a rate for aerial liability. (Try asking your broker today.) And to inflate the craft the engineers were stuck with hydrogen, since non-flammable helium was too scarce and hot air has insufficient lifting force.


. . .


In 1929, British engineers pioneered a giant dirigible--at 133 feet in diameter, Mr. Hiam notes, it was "the largest object ever flown"--powered by six Rolls-Royce Condor engines. But too many died as the still-flimsy crafts plunged to the ground in flames. His Majesty's secretary of state for air perished in a luxurious airship cabin on the way to visit the king's subjects in India. One by one, nations gave up their dirigible dreams, especially after 35 souls burned to death on the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, N.J., one of the first transport disasters recorded on film. After that tragedy, commercial passengers never flew in an airship again, and by the start of World War II just two years later "the airship had become entirely extinct."



For the full review, see:

SARA WHEELER. "Inflated Hopes; Early airship experimenters found that insurance companies refused to quote rates for aerial liability." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 18, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on Oct. 23, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Hiam, C. Michael. Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2014.






November 11, 2015

In 13th Century England, William Marshal Defended Property and Brokered Magna Carta



(p. C7) On Saturday, May 20, 1217, two armies gathered outside Lincoln, a walled cathedral town in the northeast Midlands of England. One was a party of barons loyal to the French prince Louis the Lion, who had come to batter down the walls of the town's large stone castle. The second party was there to relieve the siege. It was led by an energetic 70-year-old: William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, the most famous knight of his time and one of the most storied men in Christendom. Marshal was the official guardian of the 9-year-old English king Henry III, whom Louis was aiming to replace. Lincoln was one of the most important strategic military bases in England, controlling the major roads between London, York and the southwest. The fate of a kingdom really did rest in William Marshal's hands.

According to a 19,000-line verse biography, written in old French during the 1220s and commissioned by Marshal's son, the aged hero prepared his men for a battle with a barnstorming speech. "Those men have seized and taken by force / our lands and our possessions," he cried. "Shame upon the man who does not strive, this very day, to put up a challenge / . . . if we beat them, it is no lie to say / that we will have won eternal glory / . . . I can tell you that they will come to a sticky end / as they descend into Hell." Then Marshal was astride his horse and at the front of the charge. He was so excited that he nearly rode off to fight without his helmet on.


. . .


Marshal was one of the few loyal men left at the end of John's reign, and in June 1215 he helped broker Magna Carta, the document that (temporarily) mollified the king's opponents by granting them a long list of legal rights and privileges. John died the next year, and the now-elderly Marshal was appointed as guardian to Henry III. He reissued Magna Carta as a political manifesto, rather than a peace treaty, which helped to begin the charter's long and legendary afterlife. He won the battle of Lincoln, and then he died. His corpse was wrapped in silk that he had brought home from a journey to the Holy Land.



For the full review, see:

DAN JONES. "The Servant of Five Kings; One of the few men who remained loyal to King John, William Marshal helped broker Magna Carta." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 10, 2015): C7.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones. New York: Ecco, 2014.






November 7, 2015

Biography of Muhammad Documents Oldest and Youngest of His 12 Wives



(p. C6) The Prophet Muhammad might justly be described as the Jekyll and Hyde of historical biography. For centuries, he has been "alternately revered and reviled," as Kecia Ali, an associate professor of religion at Boston University, notes in her excellent overview of the abundant literature. As a result, Muhammad presents two violently incompatible faces to the historian. For devout Muslims, relying both on the Quran and the vast corpus of sacred traditions, the hadith, he serves as the unimpeachable model for human behavior, not only in matters of faith and ritual but in the most humdrum aspects of daily life, from marital and business relations to personal hygiene, including even the proper use of the toothpick. For non-Muslims, drawing on the same sources, he has been viewed from the earliest times as lustful and barbarous, as a raving impostor aping the ancient prophets; nowadays he is further charged with misogyny and pedophilia. The contrast is so stark as to appear irreconcilable.


. . .


Two of the book's best chapters deal with the most prominent of Muhammad's 12 or so wives: the saintly Khadija, a Meccan businesswoman 15 years older than he; and the more spirited--and controversial--Aisha, the child-bride who became Muhammad's "favorite wife" in later years. For both Muslim and non-Muslim biographers, Khadija represents a model wife. She is Muhammad's comforter in moments of doubt or distress--an "angel of mercy," according to the modern Egyptian biographer Muhammad Husayn Haykal--and their household is an abode of domestic felicity. Much is made of the fact that Muhammad took other wives only after Khadija's death.

His marriage to Aisha is another matter altogether. She was only 6 years old when she became engaged to Muhammad, but he considerately postponed consummation of the marriage until she was 9. Though earlier critics said surprisingly little about this marriage--they seemed not even to note the anomaly of the couple's ages--modern commentators have denounced it roundly, accusing Muhammad of pedophilia. Muslim biographers squirm to defend it, and some quibble over whether the bride was in fact only 9 when she was ushered into the marriage bed (to which she also brought her childhood toys, according to traditional accounts). A recent biography by one Abdul Hameed Siddiqui even goes so far as to praise the union with the fatuous remark that by marrying an older man, "the bride is immediately introduced and accustomed to moderate sexual intercourse." For pious Muslims, the marriage raises a painful dilemma. For non-Muslim polemicists, Ms. Ali says, the marriage and its presumed consummation are reasons to vilify Islam generally--to believe that "all of Islam and every Muslim is tainted."



For the full review, see:

ERIC ORMSBY. "Ways of Looking at the Prophet; Devout Muslims see him as the model for human behavior. Non-Muslims have seen him as lustful, barbarous or worse." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 10, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ali, Kecia. The Lives of Muhammad. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.






November 3, 2015

Top-Down Aid "Hasn't Worked in Africa"



(p. 2) John Mackey is the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, the nation's largest chain of natural foods supermarkets.

READING . . .

. . . "The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty," by Nina Munk. Sachs is an economist and I'm sure he doesn't like the book because it points out that his top-down aid type of approach hasn't worked in Africa. A more bottom-up approach through entrepreneurship and boot strapping seems to be more effective, which is the approach we take at our Whole Planet Foundation.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "Download; John Mackey." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 23, 2014): 2.

(Note: bold in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 22, 2014.)


The book praised in the interview is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.






October 30, 2015

Exponential Entrepreneurs Get Rich by Innovating (and Fleecing?)




The reviewer's concern about technology platforms fleecing the masses is shared by Jaron Lanier who describes, and tries to solve it, in a thought-provoking book called Who Owns the Future? (Hint: his solution involves an extension of property rights.)



(p. A9) The exponential entrepreneurs are "paving the way for a new world of abundance" by finding big problems and exploiting the "Six D's": digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, democratization.

Take the case of Kodak and photography. First came the technology that allowed photographs to be taken and stored digitally rather than on film--digitization. But it seemed too trivial for a giant like Kodak to worry about--an act of self-deception. Then came disruption, when digital photography grew from a tiny niche into a big business and then surpassed print photography. People no longer needed to pay to store or share their photographs because free digital services had sprung up. Kodak found itself demonetized. Then photography was dematerialized, as cameras were built into phones and the physical materials of the darkroom were replaced by digital tools. Finally, the entire process was democratized, since anyone with a phone can (at no additional cost) take pictures, edit them and share them.

In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time. Instagram was the definition of an exponential organization, one "whose impact (or output)--because of its use of networks or automation and/or its leveraging of the crowd--is disproportionally large compared to its number of employees." The Six D's, the authors make clear, are leaving the poor executives who think in linear rather than exponential fashion in a state of three D's: "distraught, depressed and departed."


. . .


The great lie about so much technology is that it has enabled a more sharing, more democratic age. But too much of the "sharing" that happens online seems to involve people abandoning their livelihoods to the owners of "platforms"--letting the masses be demonetized and dematerialized for the enrichment of a few. Too much of the "democracy" feels like voyeurism or surveillance. The crowd is not just sourcing and funding this new economy; it's also getting fleeced.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Big Or Go Home." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2015.)


The book discussed in the review is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.


The book mentioned by Lanier is:

Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? pb ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






October 26, 2015

"Plunged Back into a Pre-Industrial Hell"



(p. B1) If you drive a car, or use modern medicine, or believe in man's right to economic progress, then according to Alex Epstein you should be grateful--more than grateful. In "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels" the author, an energy advocate and founder of a for-profit think tank called the Center for Industrial Progress, suggests that if all you had to rely on were the good intentions of environmentalists, you would be soon plunged back into a pre-industrial hell. Life expectancy would plummet, climate-related deaths would soar, and the only way that Timberland and Whole Foods could ship their environmentally friendly clothing and food would be by mule. "Being forced to rely on solar, wind, and biofuels would be a horror beyond anything we can imagine," writes Mr. Epstein, "as a civilization that runs on cheap, plentiful, reliable energy would see its machines dead, its productivity destroyed, its resources disappearing."


For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Ahead, Fill 'Er Up; Renouncing oil and its byproducts would plunge civilization into a pre-industrial hell--a fact developing countries keenly realize." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Dec. 2, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 1, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Making 'The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels'; Renouncing oil and its byproducts would plunge civilization into a pre-industrial hell--a fact developing countries keenly realize.")


The book praised in the review is:

Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. New York: Portfolio, 2014.






October 22, 2015

"Bring Prosperity to Billions of People"



(p. B1) If you're feeling down about the world, the book, "Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century," is an antidote. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Heck outline how emerging advances -- among them 3-D printing, autonomous vehicles, modular construction systems and home automation -- might in time alter some of the world's largest industries and (p. B7) bring prosperity to billions of people.

They put forward a rigorous argument bolstered by mountains of data and recent case studies. And once you start looking at Silicon Valley their way, your mind reels at the far-reaching potential of the innovations now spreading through society.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; The Future Could Work, if We Let It." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 28, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 27, 2014.)


The book praised in the commentary is:

Heck, Stefan, and Matt Rogers. Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century. New York: Melcher Media, 2014.






October 18, 2015

Stress Can Help Us Do Well



(p. C3) "We're bombarded with information about how bad stress is," says Jeremy Jamieson, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who specializes in stress. But the conventional view, he says, fails to appreciate the many ways in which physical and psychological tension can help us to perform better.

In research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2010, Prof. Jamieson tested his theory with college students who were preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination, which is used for admission to Ph.D. programs. He invited 60 students to take a practice GRE and collected saliva samples from them beforehand to get baseline measures of their levels of alpha-amylase, a hormonal indicator of stress. He told them that the goal of the study was to examine how the physiological stress response affects performance.

He then gave half the students a brief pep talk to help them rethink their pre-exam nervousness. "People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly," he told them. "However, recent research suggests that stress doesn't hurt performance on these tests and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.... If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your stress could be helping you do well."

It worked: Students who received the mind-set intervention scored higher on the practice exam than those in the control group. Nor could the difference in GRE scores be attributed to differences in ability: Students had been randomly assigned to the two groups and didn't differ, on average, in their SAT scores or college GPAs.



For the full commentary, see:

KELLY MCGONIGAL. "Stressed Out? Embrace It; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 16, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2015, and has the title "Use Stress to Your Advantage; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down.")


McGonigal's book, related to her commentary quoted above, is:

McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. New York: Avery, 2015.


The research article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Jamieson, Jeremy P., Wendy Berry Mendes, Erin Blackstock, and Toni Schmader. "Turning the Knots in Your Stomach into Bows: Reappraising Arousal Improves Performance on the GRE." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 208-12.






October 14, 2015

John Paul Stapp Thumbed His Nose at the Precautionary Principle



(p. C7) In the early 19th century, a science professor in London named Dionysus Lardner rejected the future of high-speed train travel because, he said, "passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." A contemporary, the famed engineer Thomas Tredgold, agreed, noting "that any general system of conveying passengers . . . [traveling] at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable."

The current land speed for a human being is 763 miles an hour, or thereabouts, thanks in large part to the brilliance, bravery and dedication of a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel named John Paul Stapp, a wonderfully iconoclastic medical doctor, innovator and renegade consumer activist who repeatedly put his own life in peril in search of the line beyond which human survival at speed really was "extremely improbable."


. . .


Initial tests were carried out on a crash-test dummy named Oscar Eightball, then chimpanzees and pigs. There was plenty of trial and error--the term "Murphy's Law" was coined during the Gee Whiz experiments--until Stapp couldn't resist strapping himself into the Gee Whiz to experience firsthand what the cold data could never reveal: what it felt like. On May 5, 1948, for example, he "took a peak deceleration of an astounding twenty-four times the force of gravity," the author writes. "This was the equivalent of a full stop from 75 miles per hour in just seven feet or, in other words, freeway speed to zero in the length of a very tall man."

Stapp endured a total of 26 rides on the Gee Whiz over the course of 50 months, measuring an array of physiological factors as well as testing prototype helmets and safety belts. Along the way he suffered a broken wrist, torn rib cartilage, a bruised collarbone, a fractured coccyx, busted capillaries in both eyes and six cracked dental fillings. Colleagues became increasingly concerned for his health every time he staggered, gamely, off the sled, but, according to Mr. Ryan, he never lost his sense of humor, nor did these ordeals stop Dr. Stapp from voluntarily making house calls at night for families stationed on the desolate air base.


. . .


After 29 harrowing trips down the track, Stapp prepared for one grand finale, what he called the "Big Run," hoping to achieve 600 miles per hour, the speed beyond which many scientists suspected that human survivability was--really, this time--highly improbable. On Dec. 10, 1954, Sonic Wind marked a speed of 639 miles per hour, faster than a .45 caliber bullet shot from a pistol. Film footage of the test shows the sled rocketing past an overhead jet plane that was filming the event. The Big Run temporarily blinded Stapp, and he turned blue for a few days, but the experiment landed him on the cover of Time magazine as the fastest man on earth. The record stood for the next 30 years.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet--Really." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 22, 2015): C7.

(Note: first ellipsis, and bracketed word, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ryan, Craig. Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






October 10, 2015

"You Can Recognize the People Who Live for Others by the Haunted Look on the Faces of the Others"



(p. C21) In her first book, "Strangers Drowning," Larissa MacFarquhar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reports . . . about extreme do-gooders, people whose self-sacrifice and ethical commitment are far outside what we think of as the normal range.


. . .


A line from Clive James's memoir "North Face of Soho" comes to mind. He quotes the journalist Katherine Whitehorn: "You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others."


. . .


(p. C26) It was Kant who observed that, as the author writes, "it was fortunate that so few men acted according to moral principle, because it was so easy to get principles wrong, and a determined person acting on mistaken principles could really do some damage."


. . .


Charity begins at home, most of us would agree. Not for many of the people in "Strangers Drowning." In their moral calculus, the goal is to help the most people, even if that means neglecting those close by, even spouses or children.

One of the interesting threads Ms. MacFarquhar picks up is the notion that, for extreme altruists, the best way to help relieve suffering may not be to travel to Africa, let's say, to open a clinic or help build a dam. It is far more noble and effective -- though less morally swashbuckling -- simply to find the highest-paying job you can and give away most of your salary. She finds people who live this way.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; Samaritans and Other Troublemakers." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 25, 2015): C21 & C26.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 24, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Strangers Drowning' Examines Extreme Do-Gooders.")


The book under review, is:

MacFarquhar, Larissa. Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.






October 6, 2015

"Words Can Obscure Rather than Illuminate"



(p. C6) In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell shows how language is a tool of political control, how words can obscure rather than illuminate. Mr. Swaim explains how that applies to Mr. Sanford's office. At one point, constituents start writing in to ask whether the governor plans to run for president. While Mr. Swaim is expected to answer the letters, he is also expected to deploy a whole lot of "platitudinous observations" and "superfluous phrases" to say, basically, nothing.

"The trick was to use the maximum number of words with the maximum number of legitimate interpretations," he writes. "Words are useful, but often their meanings are not. Sometimes what you want is feeling rather than meaning, warmth rather than content. And that takes verbiage."



For the full review, see:

SARAH LYALL. "Pumpting Up Hot Air to the Governor's Level." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 30, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 29, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'The Speechwriter,' Barton Swaim Shares Tales of Working for Mark Sanford.")


The book under review, is:

Swaim, Barton. The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






October 2, 2015

Experts Are Paid "to Sound Cocksure" Even When They Do Not Know



(p. B1) I think Philip Tetlock's "Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction," co-written with the journalist Dan Gardner, is the most important book on decision making since Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow." (I helped write and edit the Kahneman book but receive no royalties from it.) Prof. Kahneman agrees. "It's a manual to systematic thinking in the real world," he told me. "This book shows that under the right conditions regular people are capable of improving their judgment enough to beat the professionals at their own game."

The book is so powerful because Prof. Tetlock, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, has a remarkable trove of data. He has just concluded the first stage of what he calls the Good Judgment Project, which pitted some 20,000 amateur forecasters against some of the most knowledgeable experts in the world.

The amateurs won--hands down.


. . .


(p. B7) The most careful, curious, open-minded, persistent and self-critical--as measured by a battery of psychological tests--did the best.


. . .


Most experts--like most people--"are too quick to make up their minds and too slow to change them," he says. And experts are paid not just to be right, but to sound right: cocksure even when the evidence is sparse or ambiguous.



For the full review, see:

JASON ZWEIG. "The Trick to Making Better Forecasts." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 26, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 25, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Tetlock, Philip E., and Dan Gardner. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. New York: Crown, 2015.






September 28, 2015

Autism Is "Inseparably Tied to Innovation"



(p. 11) "NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.


For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "'Skewed Diagnosis; A Science Journalist's Reading of Medical History Suggests that the 'Autism Pandemic' Is an Optical Illusion." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 17, 2015, and has the title "'NeuroTribes,' by Steve Silberman.")


The book under review, is:

Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin Random House, 2015.






September 24, 2015

Antiquated Education Needs Reform to Encourage Entrepreneurship



(p. 22) . . . "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era," by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith -- argues that the only way to ensure any kind of future security for our children is to totally upend the education system and rethink what school is for.

"Disrupt" is a buzz word these tech-world gurus use sparingly, but that's what they mean. Wagner works at Harvard's Innovation Lab, Dintersmith in venture capital, funding education and tech start-ups. . . . Their argument is this: Public education in America is based on antiquated late-19th-century priorities, on the need "to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy." Most of the stuff children are forced to know, and on which our culture's sense of achievement is based, is unnecessary in the age of Google. But tests and test-makers still run the show, and kids are required to "jump through hoops" and drill and drill to assimilate reams of facts ("content") instead of learning the skills that will keep them employed and employable for years to come -- which is to say, the skills to be entrepreneurs.


. . . .


. . . the assumption that undergirds this whole tract: that every person can -- or should -- be molded into an entrepreneur.



For the full review, see:

LISA MILLER. "Raise Them Up; A Vision of Education for an Entrepreneurial America." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 22.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "'Most Likely to Succeed,' by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.")


The book under review, is:

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.






September 20, 2015

"A Collective Thumbing of the Nose at" Burma's Dictatorship



(p. A9) For a young man born in a premodern dictatorship, Nway appeared to have it all. The son of a physician, he grew up in the town of Twantay, Burma, with the comforts typically reserved for the country's military elite. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and raising a family of his own.

That all changed one night after the abortive elections of 1990, when Nway's father, a supporter of the democracy movement, was arrested on unnamed charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison. There, he was kept in solitary confinement and endured routine beatings, interrogations and mock suffocations until he died of "complications of the liver" in October 1996.

Nway's father was gone but not forgotten: His awza, or influence, lives on. Inspired by his father's legacy, Nway dropped out of medical school and devoted his life to bringing liberal democracy to Burma.


. . .


At one point in the book, Nway is pursued by the "dogs" of Burma's security forces and happens upon some old acquaintances at a beer den. The friends swallow their fear and summon passersby to help protect him. They sit down, building "a fort around Nway" in "a collective thumbing of the nose at the Special Branch police" until he is able to slip away on a motorbike.

For Ms. Schrank, this anecdote embodies the philosophy that ultimately makes the dissidents' appeal to the people of Burma successful. In her final chapter she notes that it has now become "cool" to tie across your forehead a strip of cloth with the sign of the NLD and support the party "that only months before had belonged to the underground students and come most often with a one-way ticket to prison."



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS DESATNICK. "BOOKSHELF; Freedom Fighters; To understand how Burma's military junta began coming apart at the seams, you need to meet this band of 'oddballs and dreamers.'" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Schrank, Delphine. The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma. New York: Nation Books, 2015.






September 16, 2015

Should We Have a Right to the Silence that "Contributes to Creativity and Innovation"?



(p. D5) The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.


. . .


Or do we? Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. . . .


. . .


To engage in inventive thinking during those idle hours spent at an airport requires silence.


. . .


I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD. "OPINION; The Cost of Paying Attention." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 8, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 7, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is related to the author's book:

Crawford, Matthew B. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






September 12, 2015

Too Much Positive Thinking Creates Relaxed Complacency



(p. D5) In her smart, lucid book, "Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation," Dr. Oettingen critically re-examines positive thinking and give readers a more nuanced -- and useful -- understanding of motivation based on solid empirical evidence.

Conventional wisdom has it that dreams are supposed to excite us and inspire us to act. Putting this to the test, Dr. Oettingen recruits a group of undergraduate college students and randomly assigns them to two groups. She instructs the first group to fantasize that the coming week will be a knockout: good grades, great parties and the like; students in the second group are asked to record all their thoughts and daydreams about the coming week, good and bad.

Strikingly, the students who were told to think positively felt far less energized and accomplished than those who were instructed to have a neutral fantasy. Blind optimism, it turns out, does not motivate people; instead, as Dr. Oettingen shows in a series of clever experiments, it creates a sense of relaxation complacency. It is as if in dreaming or fantasizing about something we want, our minds are tricked into believing we have attained the desired goal.

There appears to be a physiological basis for this effect: Studies show that just fantasizing about a wish lowers blood pressure, while thinking of that same wish -- and considering not getting it -- raises blood pressure. It may feel better to daydream, but it leaves you less energized and less prepared for action.


. . .


In one study, she taught a group of third graders a mental-contrast exercise: They were told to imagine a candy prize they would receive if they finished a language assignment, and then to imagine several of their own behaviors that could prevent them from winning. A second group of students was instructed only to fantasize about winning the prize. The students who did the mental contrast outperformed those who just dreamed.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. "Books; Dare to Dream of Falling Short." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D5.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 22, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. New York: Current, 2014.






September 8, 2015

"The Countryside Was Romantic Only to People Who Didn't Have to Live There"



(p. C4) Mr. Meyer's motivation for writing his book is simple and straightforward. "Since 2000, a quarter of China's villages had died out, victims of migration or the redrawing of municipal borders," as the country urbanizes, he notes early on, adding: "Before it vanished I wanted to experience a life that tourists, foreign students, and journalists (I had been, in order, all three) only viewed in passing."

"In Manchuria" shifts back and forth among various genres. It is part travelogue, part sociological study, part reportage and part memoir, but it is also a love offering to Mr. Meyer's wife, Frances, who grew up in the unfortunately named Wasteland, the village that Mr. Meyer chooses as his base near the start of this decade, and to the unborn son she is carrying by the time "In Manchuria" ends.


. . .


After a year in Wasteland, Mr. Meyer was ready to move on, and he now divides his time between Singapore and Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing. But his interlude in Manchuria clearly taught him many lessons, perhaps the most fundamental being this: "The countryside was romantic only to people who didn't have to live there."



For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "A Vanishing Way of Life for Peasants in China." The New York Times Book Review (Mon., MARCH 8, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 8, 2015, and has the title "Review: Michael Meyer's 'In Manchuria' Documents a Changing Rural China.")


The book under review, is:

Meyer, Michael. In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






September 4, 2015

Most Early Christians Blended in as Ordinary Romans



(p. C9)The earliest Christian building excavated anywhere in the Roman Empire, the famous house-church of Dura-Europos (now under the enlightened protection of Islamic State), dates to the mid-third century. Literary sources, both Christian and non-Christian, make it abundantly clear that Christian communities grew up everywhere in the Mediterranean in the 150 years after Jesus' death: Think of the famous congregations of Corinth, Colossae and Ephesus, vividly evoked in Paul's letters. But to the archaeologist these communities are completely invisible. Where are they?

In his lively new book, "Coming Out Christian in the Roman World," Douglas Boin offers an answer. Early Christian writers like St. John of Patmos or Tertullian of Carthage rejected any hint of compromise with the Roman imperial state or with their non-Christian neighbors: "No man," warned Tertullian grimly, "can serve two masters." But there is no particular reason to think that Tertullian's views were widely accepted at the time. Fundamentalist zealots often have the loudest voices. In fact, it seems, most early Christians were quite happy to rub along quietly with the Roman world as they found it. They served in the Roman army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual. Their archaeological invisibility is easy to explain: Aside from their personal convictions (revealed every now and then in their choice of graffiti), most early Christians were just ordinary Romans.



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Rome at the Crossroads; Apart from their convictions, most early Christians were just ordinary Romans. They served in the army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Boin, Douglas Ryan. Coming out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar's Empire. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






August 31, 2015

Marie Curie Opposed Patents Because Women Could Not Own Property in France



(p. C6) Ms. Wirtén, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden, pays special attention to the decision not to patent and how it was treated in the founding texts of the Curie legend: Curie's 1923 biography of her husband, "Pierre Curie," and their daughter Eve's 1937 biography of her mother, "Madame Curie." The books each recount a conversation in which husband and wife agree that patenting their radium method would be contrary to the spirit of science.

It is not quite that simple. As Ms. Wirtén points out, the Curies derived a significant portion of their income from Pierre's patents on instruments. Various factors besides beneficence could have affected their decision not to extend this approach to their radium process. Intriguingly, the author suggests that the ineligibility of women to own property under French law might have shaped Curie's perspective. "Because the law excluded her from the status of person upon which these intellectual property rights depend," Ms. Wirtén writes, "the 'property' road was closed to Marie Curie. The persona road was not."



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Scientific Saint; After scandals in France, Curie was embraced by American women as an intellectual icon." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Wirtén, Eva Hemmungs. Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






August 27, 2015

Homo Sapiens Made Eye Contact with Dogs to Dominate Neanderthals



(p. C6) In the space of just a few thousand years, as we spread through the region, we killed off the apex predators: first the Neanderthals and then, over time, cave bears, cave hyenas, lesser scimitar cats, dholes, mammoths and woolly rhinos, among other animals. How did we manage this? According to Ms. Shipman, we enlisted the help of dogs.


. . .


Ms. Shipman devotes the final third of her book to exploring a fascinating range of evidence--genetic, archaeological, anthropological--that provides substantial support for this theory. She never proposes that the alliance of humans and dogs alone led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. In all likelihood, she writes, the mere presence of humans, a competitive new predator in the Eurasian ecosystem, was an important stressor, as were climate change and perhaps even infectious diseases brought by humans from Africa. But the domestication of dogs, she suggests, significantly tipped the balance: "The unprecedented alliance of humans with another top predator (wolf-dogs or a kind of wolf) may have been the final stress that pushed Neanderthals and many other species down the slippery slope toward extinction."

So how did humans manage to domesticate wolves while their Neanderthal cousins, so similar in so many ways, did not? Here Ms. Shipman gets imaginative. Modern humans, she writes, have recently been shown to be the only extant primates whose irises are surrounded by white scleras--the whites of our eyes. We're also the only primate to have eyelids that expose much of our scleras. What evolutionary advantage could this have possibly given us? "The white scleras and open eyelids," she proposes, "make the direction of a person's gaze highly visible from a distance." Having white scleras allowed us to communicate subtly at a distance among ourselves and with our new best friend, dogs, a biological advantage that may have made all the difference as we competed for prey with Neanderthals--who, if they were like every other primate we know of today, had dark scleras.

Most animals, including apes and wolves, don't make eye contact with humans; nor do they gaze at faces for long. Dogs, on the contrary, are excellent gaze-followers, a trait that scientists believe we selectively bred into them during their domestication. Once we had teamed up with dogs, we were unstoppable.



For the full review, see:

TOBY LESTER. "The Slippery Slope to Extinction." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Shipman, Pat. The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2015.






August 23, 2015

Starting in Late Middle Ages the State Tried "to Control, Delineate, and Restrict Human Thought and Action"



(p. C6) . . . transregional organizations like Viking armies or the Hanseatic League mattered more than kings and courts. It was a world, as Mr. Pye says, in which "you went where you were known, where you could do the things you wanted to do, and where someone would protect you from being jailed, hanged, or broken on the wheel for doing them."


. . .


This is a world in which money rules, but money is increasingly an abstraction, based on insider information, on speculation (the Bourse or stock market itself is a regional invention) and on the ability to apply mathematics: What was bought or sold was increasingly the relationships between prices in different locations rather than the goods themselves.

What happened to bring this powerful, creative pattern to a close? The author credits first the reaction to the Black Death of the mid-14th century, when fear of contamination (perhaps similar to our modern fear of terrorism) justified laws that limited travel and kept people in their place. Religious and sectarian strife further limited the free flow of ideas and people, forcing people to choose one identity to the exclusion of others or else to attempt to disappear into the underground of clandestine and subversive activities. And behind both of these was the rise of the state, a modern invention that attempted to control, delineate, and restrict human thought and action.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK J. GEARY. "Lighting Up the Dark Ages." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Pye, Michael. The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. New York: Pegasus Books LLC, 2014.






August 19, 2015

McCulloch Endorses Strunk and White's "Revise and Rewrite" and "Be Clear"



(p. 10) When you wrote your first book, on the Johnstown flood, did you have a model in mind, a kind of storytelling you admired?

Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," about the sinking of the Titanic, was the best book about a disaster I had ever read. But in an odd way I think I was more influenced at the time by the novels of Conrad Richter, and particularly his Ohio trilogy, "The Trees," "The Fields" and "The Town," in the extremely skillful way he evoked a sense of place.


. . .


If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

"The Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. I read it first nearly 50 years ago and still turn to it as an ever reliable aid-to-navigation, and particularly White's last chapter, with its reminders to "Revise and Rewrite" and "Be Clear."



For the full interview, see:

"By the Book: David McCullough." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 31, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added, bold in original. The bold questions are from an anonymous New York Times interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "David McCullough: By the Book.")


A wonderful book by McCullough, is:

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.







August 15, 2015

Spread of Robots Creates New and Better Human Jobs



(p. A11) The issues at the heart of "Learning by Doing" come into sharp relief when James Bessen visits a retail distribution center near Boston that was featured on "60 Minutes" two years ago. The TV segment, titled "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?," combined gotcha reporting with vintage movie clips--scary-looking Hollywood robots--to tell a chilling tale of human displacement and runaway job loss.

Mr. Bessen isn't buying it. Although robots at the distribution center have eliminated some jobs, he says, they have created others--for production workers, technicians and managers. The problem at automated workplaces isn't the robots. It's the lack of qualified workers. New jobs "require specialized skills," Mr. Bessen writes, but workers with these skills "are in short supply."

It is a deeply contrarian view. The conventional wisdom about robots and other new workplace technology is that they do more harm than good, destroying jobs and hollowing out the middle class. MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee made the case in their best-selling 2014 book, "The Second Machine Age." They describe a future in which software-driven machines will take over not just routine jobs--replacing clerks, cashiers and warehouse workers--but also tasks done by nurses, doctors, lawyers and stock traders. Mr. Bessen sets out to refute the arguments of such techno-pessimists, relying on economic analysis and on a fresh reading of history.



For the full review, see:

TAMAR JACOBY. "BOOKSHELF; Technology Isn't a Job Killer; Many predicted ATMs would eliminate bank tellers, but the number of tellers in the U.S. has risen since the machines were introduced." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.






August 8, 2015

Authentic Happiness Requires Engagement and Meaning



(p. 278) Recent research into what happiness is and what makes people happy sheds some contemporary light on the connection Aristotle claimed between wisdom and happiness. Students of the "science of happiness" try to measure happiness, identify its components, determine its causes, and specify its consequences. This work doesn't tell us what should make people happy. It aims to tell us what does make people happy.

Ed Diener is perhaps the world's leading researcher on happiness. His recent book, written in collaboration with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener, confirms some things we might expect. The major determinants (p. 279) of happiness (or "well-being," as it is sometimes called) include material wealth (though much less than most people think, especially when their standard of living is above subsistence), physical health, freedom, political democracy, and physical, material, and psychological security. None of these determinants of happiness seems to have much to do with practical wisdom. But two other factors, each of them extremely important, do. Well-being depends critically on being part of a network of close connections to others. And well-being is enhanced when we are engaged in our work and find meaning in it.

The work of Martin Seligman, a distinguished psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, points in the same direction. Seligman launched a whole new discipline-- dubbed "positive" psychology-- in the 1990s, when he was president of the American Psychological Association. We've talked to Seligman often about his work. He had long been concerned that psychologists focused too exclusively on curing the problems of their patients (he himself was an expert on depression) and spent too little time investigating those things that would positively promote their well-being. He kick-started positive psychology with his book Authentic Happiness.

The word authentic is there to distinguish what Seligman is talking about from what many of us sometimes casually take happiness to be-- feeling good. Feeling good-- experiencing positive emotion-- is certainly important. But just as important are engagement and meaning. Engagement is about throwing yourself into the activities of your life. And meaning is about connecting what you do to the lives of others-- knowing that what you do makes the lives of others better. Authentic happiness, says Seligman, is a combination of engagement, meaning, and positive emotion. Seligman collected a massive amount of data from research on people all over the world. He found that people who considered themselves happy had certain character strengths and virtues. He further found that in each individual, some of these strengths were more prominent than others. Seligman concluded that promoting a person's particular (p. 280) strengths-- he dubbed these a person's "signature strengths"-- promoted authentic happiness.

The twenty-four character strengths Seligman identified include things like curiosity, open-mindedness, perspective, kindness and generosity, loyalty, duty, fairness, leadership, self-control, caution, humility, bravery, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, optimism, and zest. He organized these strengths into six virtues: courage, humanity and love, justice, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom and knowledge. Aristotle would have recognized many of these strengths as the kind of "excellences" or virtues he considered necessary for eudaimonia, a flourishing or happy life.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






August 7, 2015

Steven Johnson Is Advocate of Collaboration in Innovation



(p. A13) Theories of innovation and entrepreneurship have always yo-yoed between two basic ideas. First, that it's all about the single brilliant individual and his eureka moment that changes the world. Second, that it's about networks, collaboration and context. The truth, as in all such philosophical dogfights, is somewhere in between. But that does not stop the bickering. This controversy blew up in a political context during the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama used an ill-chosen set of words ("you didn't build that") to suggest that government and society had a role in creating the setting for entrepreneurs to flourish, and Republicans berated him for denigrating the rugged individualists of American enterprise.

Through a series of elegant books about the history of technological innovation, Steven Johnson has become one of the most persuasive advocates for the role of collaboration in innovation. His latest, "How We Got to Now," accompanies a PBS series on what he calls the "six innovations that made the modern world." The six are detailed in chapters titled "Glass," "Cold," "Sound," "Clean," "Time" and "Light." Mr. Johnson's method is to start with a single innovation and then hopscotch through history to illuminate its vast and often unintended consequences.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Unintended Consequences; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 30, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 29, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'How We Got to Now' by Steven Johnson; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." )


The book under review, is:

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.






August 4, 2015

A Critical Mass Need to Be Motivated by the Telos of a Practice



(p. 227) The fact that some people are led into a practice in pursuit of goals that are external to the practice-- money, fame, or what have you-- need pose no threat to the integrity of the practice itself. So long as those goals do not penetrate the practice at all levels, those in pursuit of external goals will eventually drop out or be left behind or change their goals or be discredited by those in pursuit of a practice's proper goals. However, if external goals do penetrate the practice at all levels, it becomes vulnerable to corruption. Practices are always developing and changing, and the direction that development takes will be determined by participants in the practice. Good practices encourage wise practitioners who in turn will care for the future of the practice.


Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.


A somewhat similar point is made in:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "How Institutional Incentives and Constraints Affect the Progress of Science." Prometheus 26, no. 3 (Sept. 2008): 231-239.






August 3, 2015

Tesla Cars Are Built on Government Subsidies



(p. A13) Nowhere in Mr. Vance's book, . . . , does the figure $7,500 appear--the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk's car. You wouldn't know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway--though Tesla's own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore "what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles," which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California "for free," via a "string of fortunate turns" that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance's book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was.

The fact is, Mr. Musk has yet to show that Tesla's stock market value (currently $32 billion) is anything but a modest fraction of the discounted value of its expected future subsidies. In 2017, he plans to introduce his Model 3, a $35,000 car for the middle class. He expects to sell hundreds of thousands a year. Somehow we doubt he intends to make it easy for politicians to whip away the $7,500 tax credit just when somebody besides the rich can benefit from it--in which case the annual gift from taxpayers will quickly mount to several billion dollars each year.

Mother Jones, in a long piece about what Mr. Musk owes the taxpayer, suggested the wunderkind could be a "bit more grateful, a bit more humble." Unmentioned was the shaky underpinning of this largess. Even today's politicized climate modeling allows the possibility that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is far less than would justify incurring major expense to change the energy infrastructure of the world (and you certainly wouldn't begin with luxury cars). Were this understanding to become widespread, the subliminal hum of government favoritism could overnight become Tesla's biggest liability.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The Savior Elon Musk; Tesla's impresario is right about one thing: Humanity's preservation is a legitimate government interest." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book discussed in the commentary is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.


The Mother Jones article discussing government subsidies for Musk's Tesla, is:

Harkinson, Josh. "Free Ride." Mother Jones 38, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 20-25.






July 31, 2015

George Bailey Wanted to Make Money, But He Wanted to Do More than Just Make Money



(p. 219) Actually, it's not so strange. The norm for bankers was never just moneymaking, any more than it was for doctors or lawyers. Bankers made a livelihood, often quite a good one, by serving their clients-- the depositors and borrowers-- and the communities in which they worked. But traditionally, the aim of banking-- even if sometimes honored only in the breach-- was service, not just moneymaking.

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart plays George Bailey, a small-town banker faced with a run on the bank-- a liquidity crisis. When the townspeople rush into the bank to withdraw their money, Bailey tells them, "You're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here." He goes on. "Your money's in Joe's house. Right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Backlin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and they're going to pay you back, as best they can.... What are you going to do, foreclose on them?"

No, says George Bailey, "we've got to stick together. We've got to have faith in one another." Fail to stick together, and the community will be ruined. Bailey took all the money he could get his hands on and gave it to his depositors to help see them through the crisis. Of course, George Bailey was interested in making money, but money was not the only point of what Bailey did.

Relying on a Hollywood script to provide evidence of good bankers is at some level absurd, but it does indicate something valuable about society's expectations regarding the role of bankers. The norm for a "good banker" throughout most of the twentieth century was in fact someone who was trustworthy and who served the community, who was responsible to clients, and who took an interest in them.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 30, 2015

Institutional Improvements Can Sometimes Be Designed, Rather than Only Spontaneous



A distinguished school of libertarian and neo-Austrian economic thought argues, following F.A. Hayek, that institutional improvements only arise from spontaneous order, and never from conscious design. There is something to their argument, but the designs of Alvin Roth provide counter-examples.


(p. A13) Mr. Roth's work has been to discover the most efficient and equitable methods of matching and implement them in the world. He writes with verve and style, describing many market malfunctions--from aboriginal tribes in Australia arranging marriages for children not yet born to judges bending every rule in the book to hire law clerks years before they have graduated from law school--and how we ought to think about them.

Mr. Roth's approach contrasts with standard debates over free markets versus government regulation. We want markets to be thick, quick, timely and trustworthy, but without careful design markets can become thin, slow, ill-timed and dangerous for the honest. The solution to these problems is unlikely to be regulation legislated from on high. Instead what Mr. Roth practices is nuanced market design created mostly by market participants. Mr. Roth found, for example, that even though the problems in the market for gastroenterologists and law clerks looked the same (hiring started years before schooling ended), the solutions had to be subtly different because of differences in culture, history and norms.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; The Designer of Markets; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Matchmaker, Make Me a Market; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first.")


The book under review is:

Roth, Alvin E. Who Gets What -- and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2015.






July 27, 2015

To Maintain Enrollments Professors Are Often Pressured to Inflate Grades



(p. 198) Dedicated college professors demand that students do the difficult reading and writing necessary to become skillful in understanding the complexities of the world. But the university distributes resources like research funds and new faculty positions based in part on how many students populate classes and how positively students evaluate courses. How much do you simplify to keep up enrollment and keep resources flowing into your department?


Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 26, 2015

"Nimble" Account of the Creative Destruction of the Music Industry



(p. C1) Stephen Witt's nimble new book, "How Music Got Free," is the richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored. It's a story you may think you know, but Mr. Witt brings fresh reporting to bear, and complicates things in terrific ways.

He pushes past Napster (Sean Fanning, dorm room, lawsuits) and goes deep on the German audio engineers who, drawing on decades of research into how the ear works, spent years developing the MP3 only to almost see it nearly become the Betamax to another group's VHS.


. . .


(p. C6) Even better, he has found the man -- a manager at a CD factory in small-town North Carolina -- who over eight years leaked nearly 2,000 albums before their release, including some of the best-known rap albums of all time. He smuggled most of them out behind an oversized belt buckle before ripping them and putting them online.

Mr. Witt refers to this winsome if somewhat hapless manager, Dell Glover, as "the most fearsome digital pirate of them all."


. . .


Into these two narratives Mr. Witt inserts a third, the story of Doug Morris, who ran the Universal Music Group from 1995 to 2011. At some points you wonder if Mr. Morris has been introduced just so the author can have sick fun with him.

The German inventors and Mr. Glover operate as if they unwittingly have voodoo dolls of this man. Every time they make an advance, and prick the music industry, there's a jump to Mr. Morris for a reaction shot, screaming in his corner office.


. . .


Mr. Witt covers a lot of terrain in "How Music Got Free" without ever becoming bogged down in one place for long. He is knowledgeable about intellectual property issues. In finding his reporting threads, he doesn't miss the big picture: He gives us a loge seat to the entire digital music revolution.

He is especially good on the arrival of iTunes and the iPod.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; That Download Has a Back Story." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'How Music Got Free,' Stephen Witt Details an Industry Sea Change.")


The book under review is:

Witt, Stephen. How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy. New York: Viking, 2015.






July 23, 2015

Some Learn in Order to Gain Competence, Others Learn to Gain Direct Rewards



(p. 184) Think about two different tennis pros giving you tennis lessons. The first pro says things like "good shot" and "good swing" all the time, to encourage you. The second one says "good swing" only when you make a good swing. If hearing "good swing" gives you a hedonic charge, then you will prefer the first instructor to the second (more gold stars, more encouragement). But if what gives you the charge is getting better at tennis, you will prefer the second instructor to the first. That's because the second instructor's feedback to you is much more informative than the first one's. You're not after "good swing" gold stars; you're after a better tennis game. So feedback is essential to the development of a complex skill-- whether it be empathy or a strong forehand. But he-(p. 185)donic feedback, in the form of incentives, is not. It may even be counterproductive, as in the case of instructor number one.

In schools, tests provide an extremely important source of feedback-- of information-- to the teacher and the student-- about how things are going. Tests, or something like them, often offer the best way to diagnose problems and correct them. So tests as a source of information are good and important. The problem is that in addition to providing information, tests provide outcomes that students, and their parents, and their teachers, want and like-- outcomes like approval, prizes, awards, honors, special privileges, and school ratings. The hedonic character of these outcomes is what gets students and teachers to orient their work to passing the tests, and to regard what they do in the classroom as merely instrumental, as merely a means to various rewarding ends.

There are important differences between children oriented to getting A's and children oriented to learning from their mistakes. Psychologist Carol Dweck and her associates have spent thirty years studying the incentive systems that govern the learning of children throughout the educational process. They have uncovered two fundamentally different approaches to learning in kids that can often lead to profound differences in how well kids learn. One group of kids has what Dweck has called performance goals; the other group has what she has called mastery goals. Children with performance goals are primarily interested in gaining favorable judgments of their competence. They want to do well on tests. They want social approval. They want awards. Children with mastery goals are primarily interested in increasing their competence rather than in demonstrating it. They want to encounter things that they can't do and to learn from their failures. As Dweck puts it, performance-oriented children want to prove their ability, while mastery-oriented children want to improve their ability. Children with performance goals avoid challenges. They prefer tasks that are well within the range of their ability. Children with mastery goals seek challenges. They prefer tasks that strain the limits of their ability. Children with performance goals respond to failure by giving up. Children (p. 186) with mastery goals respond to failure by working harder. Children with performance goals take failure as a sign of their inadequacy and come to view the tasks at which they fail with a mixture of anxiety, boredom, and anger. Children with mastery goals take failure as a sign that their efforts, and not they, are inadequate, and they often come to view the tasks at which they fail with the kind of relish that comes when you encounter a worthy challenge.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 22, 2015

Woodrow Wilson Violated Free Speech



I viewed part of a CSPAN presentation on June 27, 2015 by Margaret MacMillan, based on her book The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. (It was probably a rebroadcast.) The presentation seemed serious, well-informed, and judicious in trying to be fair and balanced to Woodrow Wilson. MacMillan is more sympathetic to Wilson than I am, but she made it quite clear that he enacted serious violations of free speech.


MacMillan's book is:

MacMillan, Margaret. The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. New York: Random House, 2013.






July 19, 2015

Should Students Read to Learn, or to Get Gold Stars?



(p. 181) When a consultant tells teachers to concentrate on the bubble kids and ignore the kids who are most in need of help, something has gone wrong. And if gold stars turn reading from an adventure into a job, something has gone wrong. But what? The typical response to examples like these is not to blame incentives but to blame "dumb" incentives. The presumption is that "smart" incentives, or at least "smarter" incentives, will do the job.

This is a mistake. In many situations, for many activities, no incentives are smart enough. Teachers like Deborah Ball and Mrs. Dewey spend their day figuring out how much time to spend with each student and how to tailor what they teach to each student's particular strengths and weaknesses. They are continually balancing conflicting aims-- to treat all students equally, to give the struggling students more time, to energize and inspire the gifted students. Along comes the incentive to bring up the school's test scores, and all the nuance and subtlety of Mrs. Dewey's moment-by-moment decisions go out the window. And what "smarter" incentive is going to replace judgment in making sensitive choices in a complex and changing context like a classroom?

Or what, exactly, would you incentivize to encourage hospital custodian Luke to seek the kind and empathetic response to the distraught father who wanted his son's room cleaned? Incentives are always based on meeting some specific, measurable criterion: read more books; raise more test scores; wash more floors. Left to his own devices, Luke asks himself, "What can I do to be caring?" and because he has moral skill, he comes up with a good answer. With "caring" incentivized, Luke (p. 182) might ask, "What do I have to do to get a raise or a bonus?" "Reclean the room" might be a right answer. "Look sympathetic" might be a right answer. "Be caring" surely is not. Aristotle thought that good
people do the right thing because it is the right thing. Doing the right thing because it's the right thing unleashes the nuance, flexibility, and improvisation that moral challenges demand and moral skill enables. Doing the right thing for pay shuts down the nuance and flexibility.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 18, 2015

Conflict-of-Interest Politics Reduces Medical Collaboration with Industry and Slows Down Cures



(p. A15) The reality of modern medicine, Dr. Stossel argues, is that private industry is the engine of innovation, with productivity and new advances dependent on relationships between commercial interests and academic and research medicine. Companies, not universities or research with federal funding, run 85% of the medical-products pipeline. "We all inevitably have conflicts all the time. You only stop having conflicts when you're dead. The only conflict-free situation is the grave," he says.

The pursuit of the illusion "to be pure, to be priestly, to be supposedly uncorrupted by the profit motive," Dr. Stossel says, often has the effect of banishing or else discounting the expertise of the people who know the most but whose integrity and objectivity are allegedly compromised by industry ties. What ought to matter more, he adds, is simply "Results. Competence. LeBron James--it's putting the ball in the basket."


. . .


Zero-tolerance conflict-of-interest editorial policies, Dr. Stossel says, suppress and distort debate by withholding positions of authority. "If you have an industry connection, if you really understand the topic, you can't say anything," he notes. "If you're an editor, and you have an ideological predilection, you have all this power and you can say anything you want."

Dr. Stossel is equally scorching about the drug and device companies and their trade organizations, which he says drift around like Rodney Dangerfield, complaining they don't get no respect. They prefer not to be confrontational, they rarely fight back against the conflict-of-interest scolds. "They're laying responsibility by default to the patients, the people who actually have a first-hand connection to whatever the disease is: 'Goddammit, I want a cure.' "

Which is the larger point: The to-and-fro between publications not meant for lay readers can seem arcane, but the product of conflict-of-interest politics is fewer cures and new therapies. The predisposition against selling out to industry is pervasive, while reputations can be ruined overnight when researchers find themselves in a page-one exposé or hauled before Congress, even if there is no evidence of misconduct or bias.

Better, then, to conform in the cloisters than risk offending the conflict-of-interest orthodoxy--or translating some basic-research insight into a new treatment for patients. Dr. Rosenbaum reports: "The result is a stifling of honest discourse and potential discouragement of productive collaborations. . . . More strikingly, some of the young, talented physician-investigators I spoke with expressed worry about how any industry relationship would affect their careers."


. . .


'Pharmaphobia"--part polemic, part analytic investigation, a history of medicine and a memoir--deserves a wide readership. . . . "I'd rather get a conversation started with people who are smarter than I am about how complicated and granular and nuanced and unpredictable discovery is. Let's not slow it down."



For the full interview, see:

JOSEPH RAGO. "The Weekend Interview with Tom Stossel; A Cure for 'Conflict of Interest' Mania; A crusading physician says medical progress is hampered by a holier-than-thou 'moralistic bullying.'." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2015, and has the title "A Cure for 'Conflict of Interest' Mania; A crusading physician says medical progress is hampered by a holier-than-thou 'moralistic bullying.'.")


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Stossel, Thomas P. Pharmaphobia: How the Conflict of Interest Myth Undermines American Medical Innovation. Lanham, MS: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015.






July 14, 2015

Intel Entrepreneur Gordon Moore Was "Introverted"



(p. A11) "In the world of the silicon microchip," [Thackray, Brock and Jones] write, "Moore was a master strategist and risk taker. Even so, he was not especially a self-starter." Mr. Moore possesses many of the stereotypical character traits of an introverted Ph.D. chemist: working for hours on his own, avoiding small talk and favoring laconic statements. Indeed, as a manager he often avoided conflict, even when a colleague's errors persisted in plain sight.


. . .


After two leadership changes at Fairchild in 1967 and 1968, which unsettled its talented employees, Mr. Moore departed to help found a new firm, Intel, with a fellow Fairchild engineer, the charming and brilliant Robert Noyce (another of the "traitorous eight"). They also brought along a younger colleague, the confrontational and hyper-energetic Andy Grove. Each one of the famous triumvirate would serve as CEO at some point over the next three decades.



For the full review, see:

SHANE GREENSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; Silicon Valley's Lawmaker; What became Moore's law first emerged in a 1965 article modestly titled 'Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 26, 2015): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Thackray, Arnold, David C. Brock, and Rachel Jones. Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






July 11, 2015

Canny Outlaws in Education and at Hogwarts



(p. 174) Interestingly, the union members in some of the schools run by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school group with a solid educational track record, did not boycott the benchmark tests. The reason that they refused is revealing. Green Dot's exams are created by a panel of teachers from its schools and are regularly reviewed for effectiveness and modified by the teachers. The tests have more credibility with the teachers than the tests for the rest of the district's schools, which are written by an outside company, imposed from above, and don't mesh with year-round schedules.

The quiet resistance of canny outlaws and the vocal protests of others are signs that teachers dedicated to preserving and encouraging discretion and wise judgment are not going quietly into the night. These teachers are not people who simply rebel at rules or who are just committed to their own ways of doing things. They are committed to the aims of teaching, a practice whose purpose is to educate students to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, reasonable, reflective, and humane. And they are brave enough to act on these commitments, taking the risks necessary to find ways around the rules. We suspect that many of our readers are canny outlaws themselves or know people who are: practitioners who have the know-how and courage to bend or sidestep for-(p. 175)mulaic procedures or rigid scripts or bureaucratic requirements in order to accomplish the aims of their practice. We admire canny outlaws in the stories we tell ourselves about such people and even in some of our children's stories. We read the Harry Potter tales to them because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are canny outlaws who gain the guts and skill to break school rules and stand up to illegitimate power in order to do the right thing to achieve the aims of wizardry, indeed to save the practice itself.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 10, 2015

Insights More Likely When Mood Is Positive and Distractions Few




If insights are more likely in the absence of distractions, then why are business executives so universally gung-ho on imposing on their workers the open office space layouts that are guaranteed to maximize distractions?



(p. C7) We can't put a mathematician inside an fMRI machine and demand that she have a breakthrough over the course of 20 minutes or even an hour. These kinds of breakthroughs are too mercurial and rare to be subjected to experimentation.

We are, however, able to study the phenomenon more generally. Enter John Kounios and Mark Beeman, two cognitive neuroscientists and the authors of the "The Eureka Factor." Messrs. Kounios and Beeman focus their book on the science behind insights and how to cultivate them.

As Mr. Irvine recognizes, studying insights in the lab is difficult. But it's not impossible. Scientists have devised experiments that can provoke in subjects these kinds of insights, ones that feel genuine but occur on a much smaller scale.


. . .


The book includes some practical takeaways of how to improve our odds of getting insights as well. Blocking out distractions can create an environment conducive to insights. So can having a positive mood. While many of the suggestions contain caveats, as befits the delicate nature of creativity, ultimately it seems that there are ways to be more open to these moments of insight.



For the full review, see:

SAMUEL ARBESMAN. "Every Man an Archimedes; Insights can seem to appear spontaneously, but fully formed. No wonder the ancients spoke of muses." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 23, 2015): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 22, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Kounios, John, and Mark Beeman. The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain. New York: Random House, 2015.






July 7, 2015

Too Many Rules Results in "Adherence Instead of Audacity"



(p. 159) . . . Wong found a distinct downside to this division of labor. "Put all the directed requirements together and the life of a company commander is spent executing somebody else's good ideas." Too many rules and requirements "removes all discretion" and stifles the development of flexible officers, resulting in "reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity." These are not the kinds of officers the army needs in unpredictable and quickly changing situations where specific orders are absent and military protocol is unclear. The army is creating cooks, says Wong, leaders who are "quite adept at carrying out a recipe," rather than chefs who can "look at the ingredients available to them and create a meal." Wong found a number of top brass who agreed. Retired General Wesley Clark observed that senior army leaders have "gone too far in over-planning, over-prescribing, and over-controlling." The consequence, according to retired General Frederick Kroesen, is that "initiative is stymied, and decision making is replaced by waiting to be told.... There is no more effective way to destroy the leadership potential of young officers and noncommissioned officers than to deny them opportunities to make decisions appropriate for their assignments."

The same thing can be said about public school teachers.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second in original.)






July 3, 2015

Officers Used to Learn from Trial and Error in Training Their Units



(p. 156) In the army, wartime experience is considered the best possible teacher, at least for those who survive the first weeks. Wong found another good one--the practice junior officers get while training their units. The decisions these officers have to make as teachers help develop the capacity for the judgment they will need on the battlefield. But Wong discovered that in the 1980s, the army had begun to restructure training in ways that had the opposite results.

Traditionally, company commanders had the opportunity to plan, (p. 157) execute, and assess the training they gave their units. "Innovation," Wong explained, "develops when an officer is given a minimal number of parameters (e.g., task, condition, and standards) and the requisite time to plan and execute the training. Giving the commanders time to create their own training develops confidence in operating within the boundaries of a higher commander's intent without constant supervision." The junior officers develop practical wisdom through their teaching of trainees, but only if their teaching allows them discretion and flexibility. Just as psychologist Karl Weick found studying firefighters, experience applying a limited number of guidelines teaches soldiers how to improvise in dangerous situations.

Wong's research showed that the responsibility for training at the company level was being taken away from junior officers. First, the time they needed was being eaten away by "cascading requirements" placed on company commanders from above. There was, Wong explained, such a "rush by higher headquarters to incorporate every good idea into training" that "the total number of training days required by all mandatory training directives literally exceeds the number of training days available to company commanders. Company commanders somehow have to fit 297 days of mandatory requirements into 256 available training days." On top of this, there were administrative requirements to track data on as many as 125 items, including sexual responsibility training, family care packets, community volunteer hours, and even soldiers who had vehicles with Firestone tires.

Second, headquarters increasingly dictated what would be trained and how it would be trained, essentially requiring commanders "to follow a script." Commanders lost the opportunity to analyze their units' weaknesses and plan the training accordingly. Worse, headquarters took away the "assessment function" from battalion commanders. Certifying units as "ready" was now done from the top.

The learning through trial and error that taught officers how to improvise, Wong found, happens when officers try to plan an action, (p. 158) then actually execute it and reflect on what worked and what didn't. Officers who did not have to adhere to strict training protocols were in an excellent position to learn because they could immediately see results, make adjustments, and assess how well their training regimens were working. And most important, it was this kind of experience that taught the commanders how to improvise, which helped them learn to be flexible, adaptive, and creative on the battlefield. Wong was concerned about changes in the training program because they squeezed out these learning experiences; they prevented officers from experiencing the wisdom-nurturing cycle of planning, executing the plan, assessing what worked and didn't, reevaluating the original plan, and trying again.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 2, 2015

Video Games Tap into an Ancient Way to Process the World



(p. 30) "What looks like escapist fun is actually deep concentration," [Greg Toppo] says of the increasingly sophisticated video games that now occupy a major role in popular culture. "What looks like a 21st-century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore and understand the world."


. . .


As the parent of a young child, I began "The Game Believes in You" thinking of video games as a kind of menace. I finished it believing that games are one of the most promising opportunities to liberate children from the damaging effects of schools that are hostile to fun.



For the full review, see:

KEVIN CAREY. "THE SHORTLIST; Education." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 19, 2015): 30.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 17, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Toppo, Greg. The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015.






June 29, 2015

Common Sense "Rules" Often Contradict Each Other



(p. 43) The world we face is too complex and varied to be handled by rules, and wise people understand this. Yet there is a strange and troubling disconnect between the way we make our moral decisions and the way we talk about them.

From ethics textbooks to professional association codes to our everyday life, any discussion of moral choices is dominated by Rules Talk. If we're asked to explain why we decided to tell the painful, unvarnished truth to a friend, we might say, "Honesty is the best policy." But if we're asked why we decided to shade the truth we might say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." It's clearly not a rule that is telling us what to do. Both maxims are good rules of thumb, but we don't talk about why we picked one and not the other in any particular case. "Better safe than sorry." But "He who hesitates is lost." "A penny saved is a penny earned." But "Don't be penny wise and pound foolish." When we hear the maxim, we nod. End of story. It's as if stating the rule is sufficient to explain why we did what we did.


Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






June 28, 2015

The Bureaucratic Absurdities of Socialized Medicine



(p. 13) Reading "Do No Harm," Henry Marsh's frank and absorbing narrative of his life in neurosurgery, it was easy to imagine him at the table. The men, and increasingly women, who slice back the scalp, open the skull and enter the brain to extract tumors, clip aneurysms and liberate nerves, share a certain ego required for such work. They typically are bold and blunt, viewing themselves as emperors of the clinical world. Marsh adds irony to this characterization, made clear in the opening line of the book, "I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing."


. . .


Britain's National Health Service is a socialized system, and Marsh chafes at new rigid rules imposed by its administrators. He is particularly incensed by a mandatory dress code: Neurosurgeons are subject to disciplinary action for wearing a wristwatch. There is scant evidence that this item contributes to hospital infections, but he is shadowed on ward rounds by a bureaucrat who takes notes on his dress and behavior. The reign of the emperor is ending, but Marsh refuses to comply and serve as a myrmidon.

Clinical practice is becoming a theater of the absurd for patients as well. Hospital charts are filled with N.H.S. forms detailing irrelevant aspects of care. Searching for a patient's operative note, Marsh finds documentation she passed a "Type 4 turd." He shows her an elaborate stool chart "colored a somber and appropriate brown, each sheet with a graphically illustrated guide to the seven different types of turd. . . . She looked at the document with disbelief and burst out laughing."



For the full review, see:

JEROME GROOPMAN. "Consider the Comma." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 21, 2015, and has the title "'Do No Harm,' by Henry Marsh.")





(p. C6) Amid the life-or-death dramas of neurosurgery in this book are some blackly comic scenes recounting the absurdities of hospital bureaucracy in the National Health Service: not just chronic bed shortages (which mean long waits and frantic juggling of surgery schedules), but also what Dr. Marsh calls a "loss of regimental spirit" and ridiculous meetings, like a slide presentation from "a young man with a background in catering telling me I should develop empathy, keep focused and stay calm."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "From a Surgeon, Exhilarations and Regrets." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 19, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 18, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'Do No Harm,' a Brain Surgeon Tells All.")




The book under review, in both reviews, is:

Marsh, Henry. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2015.







June 25, 2015

More Detailed Rules Reduce Ability to Improvise, and Result in More Deaths



(p. 41) How do wildland firefighters make decisions in life-threatening situations when, for instance, a fire explodes and threatens to engulf the crew? They are confronted with endless variables, the most intense, high-stakes atmosphere imaginable, and the need to make instant decisions. Psychologist Karl Weick found that traditionally, successful firefighters kept four simple survival guidelines in mind:

1. Build a backfire if you have time.
2. Get to the top of the ridge where the fuel is thinner, where there are stretches of rock and shale, and where winds usually fluctuate.
3. Turn into the fire and try to work through it by piecing together burned-out stretches.
4. Do not allow the fire to pick the spot where it hits you, because it will hit you where it is burning fiercest and fastest.

But starting in the mid-1950s, this short list of survival rules was gradually replaced by much longer and more detailed ones. The current lists, which came to exceed forty-eight items, were designed to specify in greater detail what to do to survive in each particular circumstance (e.g., fires at the urban-wildland interface).

Weick reports that teaching the firefighters these detailed lists was a factor in decreasing the survival rates. The original short list was a general guide. The firefighters could easily remember it, but they knew it needed to be interpreted, modified, and embellished based on (p. 42) circumstance. And they knew that experience would teach them how to do the modifying and embellishing. As a result, they were open to being taught by experience. The very shortness of the list gave the firefighters tacit permission-- even encouragement-- to improvise in the face of unexpected events. Weick found that the longer the checklists for the wildland firefighters became, the more improvisation was shut down. Rules are aids, allies, guides, and checks. But too much reliance on rules can squeeze out the judgment that is necessary to do our work well. When general principles morph into detailed instructions, formulas, unbending commands-- wisdom substitutes-- the important nuances of context are squeezed out. Better to minimize the number of rules, give up trying to cover every particular circumstance, and instead do more training to encourage skill at practical reasoning and intuition.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






June 24, 2015

Why I Will Never Write for the New Yorker



(p. 18) Norris is a master storyteller and serves up plenty of inside stuff. When Mark Singer wrote an article about the cost of going to the movies and buying refreshments, the editors cut his reference to Junior Mints. As one editor intoned, "A New Yorker writer should not be eating Junior Mints."


For the full review, see:

PATRICIA T. O'CONNER. "Consider the Comma." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 19, 2015): 18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 14, 2015, and has the title "'Between You & Me,' by Mary Norris.")


The book under review, is:

Norris, Mary. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.






June 21, 2015

Empathy for the Absent



In Practical Wisdom the authors argue for empathy and against rules. There is something to be said for their argument.

But we tend to empathize with those who are present and not those we do not see or even know.

For example in academic tenure and promotion decisions, slack is often cut for colleagues who already have their foot in the door. We know them, their troubles and challenges. So they are tenured and promoted and given salary increases and perks even though there are others outside the door who may have greater productivity and even greater troubles and challenges.

Charlie Munger in an interview at the University of Michigan spoke of how hard it is for physicians to hold their peers responsible when they are incompetent or negligent. They have empathy for their peers, knowing their troubles and challenges. And Munger also says few physicians are willing to suffer the long-lasting "ill will" from their peers who have been held accountable. They do not know so well the patients who suffer, and one way or another, the patients are soon out of sight.

Just as in academics we do not know so well the students who suffer; or the able scholars who suffer, standing outside the door.

Following rules seems unsympathetic and lacking in empathy. But it may be the best way to show empathy for the absent.


The book mentioned is:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.


The interview with Munger is:

Quick, Rebecca (interviewer). "A Conversation with Charlie Munger." University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Sept. 14, 2010.






June 20, 2015

Early Standard Oil Executive Preserved Shakespeare First Folios



(p. 17) "The Millionaire and the Bard," by Andrea Mays, is an American love story. It is the engaging chronicle of a sober, hard-working, respectably married industrialist of the Gilded Age who became obsessed with the object of his desire. Though generally frugal and self-­disciplined, he was willing to pay extraordinary sums in order to put his hands on his mistress, to gaze at her lovingly and longingly, to caress her. To possess her only once was not enough for him; he craved the experience again and again, without limit.


. . .


I am, as readers have probably surmised, speaking of the peculiar passion of book collecting. The lover in question was Henry Clay Folger, who made his fortune as one of the presidents and, by 1923, the chairman of the board of Standard Oil of New York. And the beloved, which he pursued with unflagging ardor, was a single book: "Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, Published according to the True Originall Copies." Printed in London in 1623, seven years after the author's death, it is the book known to all lovers of Shakespeare simply as the First Folio.


. . .


Andrea Mays is a professor of economics, and the great strength of her book is an unflagging interest in exactly how Folger played the game.


. . .


Rarely has a mad passion brought forth such a splendid and enduring fruit.



For the full review, see:

STEPHEN GREENBLATT. "In Love with Shakespeare." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 22, 2015, and has the title "'The Millionaire and the Bard,' by Andrea E. Mays.")


The book under review, is:

Mays, Andrea E. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






June 18, 2015

Under Perverse Institutions, It Takes "Canny Outlaws" to Do What Is Right



Practical Wisdom is a hard book to categorize. It is part philosophy, and one of the co-authors is an academic philosopher. But most of the book consists of often fascinating, concrete examples. The examples are usually of perverse institutions and policies that create incentives and constraints that reward those who do bad and punish those who do good. The authors' main lesson is that we all should become stoical "canny outlaws" by finding crafty ways to do what is right, while trying to avoid or survive the perverse incentives and constraints.

Maybe--for me the main lesson is that we all should get busy reforming the institutions and policies. But whether their lesson or my lesson is the best lesson, their book is still filled with many great examples that are worth pondering.

In the next few weeks, I will be quoting several of the more useful, or thought-provoking passages.


The book discussed, is:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






June 16, 2015

Genius Physicist Dyson: Global Warming Is a Religion Where Belief Is Strong, Evidence Weak



(p. 8) On to controversial topics: What books would you recommend on climate science? On the relationship between science and religion?

On climate science, I recommend "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming," by Bjorn Lomborg. On science and religion, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," by William James. Lomborg is an economist, and James was a psychologist. Both books were written by skeptics, with understanding and respect for the beliefs that they were questioning. The reason why climate science is controversial is that it is both a science and a religion. Belief is strong, even when scientific evidence is weak.



For the full interview, see:

"Freeman Dyson: By the Book." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., April 16, 2015): 8.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 19, 2015.)


The Lomborg book recommended by Dyson, is:

Lomborg, Bjørn. Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.






June 13, 2015

Ed Telling's Band of Irregulars Had the Freedom to Perform



(p. 482) . . . Bill Sanders, Charlie Bacon's replacement as the head of corporate personnel, . . . had once served Telling in the East despite having hair that flowed far below his ears. Sanders had grown his hair out in order to irritate an old-school store manager who exercised his sovereign rights by refusing to hire any man not sporting a crew cut. The fact that Telling never told Sanders to cut his hair was an early indication to others in the East that Ed Telling was much more interested in people who could do the job and who exhibited a healthy contempt for the status quo than he was in appearances.


. . .


(p. 492) It was more than dumb luck that his band of loyalists happened to include several supersensitive and insecure men, some deeply religious men, some obsessively ambitious men, several quite short men, and others, from secretaries to former window-dressers, who never fit into the status quo until Ed Telling discovered them and helped them flourish among his private band of irregulars. Along the way, the Eastern Territory troupe was joined by others. Whether they were bright-button kids from Utah itching to accomplish an act that truly counted on a large scale, or frustrated wordsmiths so enamored of the metaphors of power that the practice of management appeared to them in Biblical panoramas, they all had a part. All irregulars were welcome, and in his quiet way Ed Telling played them all. Telling could sense through instinct which people were willing to submit and which ones were willing to fight. Far from being unaware of his motivational skills, Telling would on occasion call Pat Jamieson into his office after one of his managers left, then convey to Pat the elliptical words he'd uttered to the manager, and predict the number of days it would take the officer to come back with the problem ironed out. He was rarely off by more than twenty-four hours. He said his management style involved giving subordinates a great deal of freedom, "the freedom," he called it, "to perform."



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 12, 2015

Constitutional Superheroes Created the American Nation



(p. 12) When and how did the United States ­become a nation? This question is the core of "The Quartet." In his customary graceful prose, Joseph J. Ellis, the author of such works of popular history as the prizewinning "Founding Brothers," argues that the United States did not become a nation with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Rather, he says, American nationhood resulted from the creation, adoption and effectuation of the United States ­Constitution.

Ellis declares, "Four men made the ­transition from confederation to nation ­happen. . . . George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison" (along with three supporting players: Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson). He writes that "this political quartet diagnosed the systemic dysfunctions under the Articles, manipulated the political process to force a calling of the Constitutional Convention, collaborated to set the agenda in Philadelphia, attempted somewhat successfully to orchestrate the debates in the state ratifying conventions, then drafted the Bill of Rights as an insurance policy to ensure state compliance with the constitutional settlement. If I am right, this was arguably the most creative and consequential act of political leadership in American history."


. . .


Ellis's "quartet" are constitutional superheroes, the Fantastic Four of American nationalism.



For the full review, see:

R. B. BERNSTEIN. "Gang of Four." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 12.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 5, 2015, and has the title "''The Quartet,' by Joseph J. Ellis.")


The book under review, is:

Ellis, Joseph J. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






June 11, 2015

Having Your Intellectual Property Stolen, Modifies Your Views on Piracy



(p. C18) Dear Dan,

My nephew has been downloading music and movies illegally from the Internet. Without sounding self-righteous, how can I get him to respect intellectual-property rights?

--Patricia

My own view on illegal downloads was deeply modified the day that my book on dishonesty was published--when I learned that it had been illegally downloaded more than 20,000 times from one overseas website. (The irony did not escape me.) My advice? Get your nephew to create something and then, without his knowing, put it online and download it many, many times. I suspect that will make it much harder for him to keep up his blithe attitude toward piracy.



For the full advice column by Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke , see:

DAN ARIELY. "ASK ARIELY; It's Risky to Rely on Retirement Questionnaires." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 23, 2015): C18.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the advice column has the date May 22, 2015.)






June 9, 2015

Sears Democratized the Washing Machine



(p. 301) The pieces of a new dream had finally been drawn in--big, diverse businesses that could combine as a sum greater than the proverbial parts. Now Sears could continue to "democratize" products that were previously too expensive or sophisticated for everyday people.

The automatic washing machine was an artifact owned only by the rich until Sears democratized the machine in 1942: $37.95--three bucks down and four more a month on time. The process was at the core of the entire industrial revolution-the humbling of products: buckles, buttons, and beer--and the efficient distribution of previously unattainable things to the huge pools of human desire called markets. Now the possibility stood before them of starting the cycle all over again.

Sears could spin a grand, gilded net for the people that included housing, mortgages, all manner of insurance, variations on banking sources, investment services, and, of course, consumer goods. People could get a house from Sears again. When the system was up and running, they could even get the money to buy the house; get the stuff that goes in the house; and the services that ensure the sustenance of the house if something unforeseen happens.



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






June 8, 2015

"The Most Astonishing Feat Mankind Has Ever Accomplished"



(p. 11) It's been nearly half a century since David McCullough published "The Johns­town Flood," which initiated his career as our matchless master of popular history. His 10th book, "The Wright Brothers," has neither the heft of his earlier volumes nor, in its intense focus on a short period in its subjects' lives, the grandness of vision that made those works as ambitious as they were compelling. Yet this is nonetheless unmistakably McCullough: a story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency.


. . .


David McCullough is interested in only one thing, namely how it was possible that two autodidacts from Ohio managed to satisfy a longing that the species had harbored for centuries. "The Wright Brothers" is merely this: a story, well told, about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished. As the comic Louis C.K. has said, reprovingly, to those who complain about the inconveniences and insults of modern air travel: "You're sitting. In a chair. In the SKY!!"

Which is saying a lot. On its own terms, "The Wright Brothers" soars.



For the full review, see:

DANIEL OKRENT. "'The Aviators." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 11.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 4, 2015, and has the title "'The Wright Brothers,' by David McCullough.")


The book under review, is:

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






June 5, 2015

"The General" at Sears Hated Bureaucracies that Restricted Individual Human Will



(p. 12) Though for fifty-four years he was known throughout the country as "the General," Wood actually quit the Army in 1915 at the age of thirty-six. The son of a Civil War hero, he had graduated from West Point in the class of 1900 and had served for ten years as right-hand man to the famously hard-driving General George Goethals while they built the apparently unbuildable Panama Canal. After he left the service, Wood did agree to come back as acting Quartermaster General during World War I, but in truth he never much cared for the Army. It always seemed such a top-heavy thing, and so restrictive of human will.

The General hated bureaucracies. Aside from his desire to personally raise the standard of living of an entire nation, he dreamed of creating an institution that could accomplish large works without restricting the individuality of the people within it. He said he wanted to make an American corporation that had a soul.



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






June 4, 2015

Entrepreneur Elon Musk Is Determined and Works Intensely



(p. C7) "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future" isn't the first biography we've had of Mr. Musk, nor will it be the last. But it is easily the richest to date. It's also the first one Mr. Musk has cooperated with, though he had no control, the author says, over its contents. Mr. Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek. He won over Mr. Musk, who initially declined to be interviewed, impressing him with his diligence after he had interviewed some 200 people.

The result is a book that is smart, light on its feet and possesses a crunchy thoroughness. Mr. Vance can occasionally veer toward hagiography and the diction of news releases. After noting that Mr. Musk's grand vision is to colonize Mars, for example, Mr. Vance writes:

"He's the possessed genius on the grandest quest anyone has ever concocted. He's less a C.E.O. chasing riches than a general marshaling troops to secure victory. Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to ... well ... save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation."


. . .


The best thing Mr. Vance does in this book, though, is tell Mr. Musk's story simply and well. It's the story of an intelligent man, for sure. But more so it is the story of a determined one. Mr. Musk's work ethic has always been intense. One observer says about him early on, "We all worked 20 hour days, and he worked 23 hours."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; For Industrialist, Sky Is No Limit." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 13, 2015): C1 & C7.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 12, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; 'Elon Musk,' a Biography by Ashlee Vance, Paints a Driven Portrait.")


The book under review, is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.






June 1, 2015

Ed Telling's Nimble, Intuitive Labor Decisions at Sears



(p. 49) Telling rarely gave a direct order, so the Searsmen near him knew they had to listen hard and learn to read his arcane signals. You had to understand his gnomic comments and apparent throwaway lines, for you would only hear what Telling thought about something twice. The requirement made people scared, because the third time he spoke you were gone. "No need to beat a horse if he's not able to pull," he'd say. "Let's get another horse."

He had a habit he said he couldn't do anything about of judging the utility and character of a man the first time he looked into his eyes. Quick-draw decisions like this were a part of the general managerial ethos at Sears. The practice might have descended from the store master's knack for spotting at fifteen paces a shopper in the mood to spend freely.



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 31, 2015

Justice Kagan Cites Dr. Seuss to Show Fish Are Tangible



(p. A16) In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the real issue in the case, Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, was that the law is too harsh. It is, she wrote, "too broad and undifferentiated, with too-high maximum penalties, which give prosecutors too much leverage and sentencers too much discretion."

She added, "And I'd go further: In those ways," the law "is unfortunately not an outlier, but an emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code."

Still, she said, "this court does not get to rewrite the law." She said it was "broad but clear."

"A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form," Justice Kagan wrote, citing as authority the Dr. Seuss classic "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."

It does not matter, she said, that what Mr. Yates destroyed was not a document.

"A person who hides a murder victim's body is no less culpable than one who burns the victim's diary," she wrote. "A fisherman, like John Yates, who dumps undersized fish to avoid a fine is no less blameworthy than one who shreds his vessel's catch log for the same reason."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Kagan's dissenting opinion.



For the full story, see:

ADAM LIPTAK. "In Overturning Conviction, Supreme Court Says Fish Are Not Always Tangible." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 26, 2015): A16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 25, 2015.)


The book discussed above is:

Seuss, Dr. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. New York: Random House, 1960.






May 28, 2015

Ed Telling Centralized as He Talked of Decentralization



(p. 491) Like de Gaulle, Telling talked of decentralization as he centralized all things beneath him. He pulled the authority of individual stores into the purview of the retail groups, then the power of the groups into the territory, and then the awesome power of the territories up into the Tower--with an assist to Ed Brennan at the end. The killing off of layers of management in many large companies causes the authority to fall down as if by gravity, but Telling pulled it back up manually. Every retirement caused former authority to come up to him.


Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 27, 2015

Books that Paved Way to Darwinian Evolution



(p. C6) "Visions of Science" is, as Mr. Secord acknowledges, "a book about books." We learn more about typeface size, bindery material, print runs and sales figures of the books than about the authors. We would not glean from this account, for example, how intertwined their lives were: They attended the same parties, discussed science together and reviewed one another's works. Taken together, the books Mr. Secord features tell a fascinating story, and they paved the way to another that is not featured in Mr. Secord's account but hovers over the others like Davy's spirit guide.

In "Origin of Species" (1859), Charles Darwin took the central ideas in these books--that there is a connection between the sciences, that the Earth is much older than previously thought, that God created the world to work by uniform natural law, and that He built lawful change into his original creation--and used them to frame his theory of evolution by natural selection in terms his readers could accept. The success of Darwin--and the books that influenced him--is evidenced by the fact that within two decades of its publication most British scientists and much of the public accepted that species evolved.



For the full review, see:

LAURA J. SNYDER. "Reading from the Book of Life; Darwin's radical ideas were accepted surprisingly quickly by an English public already steeped in science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 11, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 10, 2015, and has the title "Science Books That Made Modernity; Darwin's radical ideas were accepted surprisingly quickly by an English public already steeped in science.")


The book under review is:

Secord, James A. Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






May 24, 2015

Sears CEO Ed Telling Opposed the "Sloppiness" of Across-the-Board Layoffs



(p. 46) It was never that layoffs were anathema to Telling as such; he just resented the sloppiness of a 10-percent across-the-board layoff when some areas of the company should have been cut by 40 percent and some built up by half.


Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 23, 2015

Henry Paulson Fears Chinese Economy "Will Face a Reckoning"



(p. B1) About 340 pages into Henry M. Paulson's new book on China, a sentence comes almost out of nowhere that stops readers in their tracks.

"Frankly, it's not a question of if, but when, China's financial system," he writes, "will face a reckoning and have to contend with a wave of credit losses and debt restructurings."


. . .


(p. B2) Like the United States crisis in 2008, Mr. Paulson worries that in China "the trigger would be a collapse in the real estate market," and he declared in an interview that China is experiencing a real estate bubble. He noted that debt as a percentage of gross domestic product in China rose to 204 percent in June 2014 from 130 percent in 2008.

"Slowing economic growth and rapidly rising debt levels are rarely a happy combination, and China's borrowing spree seems certain to lead to trouble," he wrote.

Mr. Paulson's analysis in his book, "Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower," is all the more remarkable because he has long been a bull on China and has deep friendships with its senior leaders, who could frown upon his straightforward comments.



For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Crisis Tells China to Be Wary." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 21, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 20, 2015, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Financial Crisis Tells China to Be Wary.")


The book discussed above is:

Paulson, Henry M. Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower. New York: Twelve, 2015.






May 20, 2015

Sears CEO Ed Telling Had an Introverted Fury




Writing of Ed Telling, the eventual entrepreneurial CEO of Sears:



(p. 488) Slowly, the introverted Field soldier from Danville moved up through the organization. He eventually managed the same Midwestern zone he was once made to ride. He found himself in the decadent city-state called the New York group, and it was there, in the strangely methodical fury with which he fell upon the corruption of the group and the profligacy of powerful store jockeys, that certain individuals around him began to feel inspired by his quiet power, as if he'd touched some inverted desire in each of them to do justice at his beckoning and to even numerous scores. He was possessed of a determination to promulgate change such as none of them had ever seen before, and certain hard-bitten bitten veterans like Bill Bass found themselves strangely moved.



Source:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 19, 2015

Technicolor Entrepreneur Kalmus Was Visionary, Stubborn and "in It for the Long Haul"



(p. C15) Judy Garland opening a door from black-and-white Kansas into Technicolor Oz is one of the most enchanting effects in all of movies. But as film historians James Layton and David Pierce relate in "The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935," the technology that made "The Wizard of Oz" possible came from people who were looking to start a business, not to make art.

The creators of Technicolor--engineer W. Burton Wescott and MIT graduates Daniel Comstock and Herbert T. Kalmus--were visionary, though stubborn is just as accurate.


. . .


In 1934 Fortune magazine wrote, "Businessmen regard Dr. Kalmus as a scientist, and scientists regard him as a businessman." Comstock and Westcott eventually left the company in the mid-1920s, but Kalmus was in it for the long haul. . . .

Once perfected, Technicolor had a virtual monopoly on color Hollywood productions, and it did indeed make Kalmus and his investors rich. But it took steel nerves to put money into the unprofitable, ever-tinkering Technicolor of the early days.



For the full review, see:

FARRAN SMITH NEHME. "The Very Thought of Hue; Early color films gave viewers headaches. It took decades to develop a process that didn't simply look odd." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 11, 2015): C15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 10, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Layton, James, and David Pierce. The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935. Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 2015.






May 17, 2015

The Process Innovations of Ed Telling at Sears



There are a fair number of case studies and biographies of important new product innovations. Rarer are the case studies of process innovations. Two great exceptions are Marc Levinson's The Box and The Great A&P. I have recently read another exception, this one by Donald Katz, about how Ed Telling brought process innovations to Sears from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.

In the next few weeks, I will be quoting several of the more useful, or thought-provoking passages.


The book discussed, is:

Katz, Donald R. The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears. New York: Viking Adult, 1987.






May 15, 2015

Some Immigrate to West for "Peace and Dignity"



(p. A13) There are some words that, through a sort of onomatopoeia, seem fated to be the worst epithets. In Russian, zhid is one of those. Ask any Soviet Jew who grew up in that now extinct empire what it felt like to be on the receiving end of the slur, whose English approximation is "kike," and they will mention the sound: a sinister hiss ending with a snap of the tongue against the back of the teeth.

For Lev Golinkin, the author of a new memoir about his family's immigration from Soviet Ukraine to the West, that sibilant sound dominates most of his memories of life before 1989.


. . .


All their fears--of a government that sought to both erase their Jewish identity and discriminate against them for it, as well as of the unknown ahead--reached their apogee at their moment of immigration: Mr. Golinkin's father, in a desperate attempt to save his life's work, had hidden microfilm of all his patents in his underwear. When he saw how vigorously the border police were searching people, he took the rolls of microfilm to the bathroom and threw them out the window, into a fire blazing inside a steel drum just outside the border post. Once in the West, this man of incredible will achieved the rare feat of rebuilding his career from scratch.

Things didn't work out as well for Mr. Golinkin's mother: She found work only as a security guard.

At one point, a grown Mr. Golinkin confronts her about failing to foresee how difficult re-establishing herself would be, even calling her dreams of America "naïve and ridiculous." She answers that she didn't want to be afraid of her government anymore. She didn't want to tell her son why "he should prepare for a long and painful life." The sacrifice she made, he realizes, was for "peace and dignity, not a paycheck"--and, of course, for him.



For the full review, see:

GAL BECKERMAN. "BOOKSHELF; The Sinister Hiss; The author's father, a successful engineer, hid microfilm of his patents in his underwear in a desperate attempt to save his life's work." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Dec. 19, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Marshmallow Test' by Walter Mischel; To resist the tempting treat, kids looked away, squirmed, sang or simply pretended to take a bite.")


The book under review is:

Golinkin, Lev. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir. New York: Doubleday, 2014.






May 12, 2015

Aaron Burr Gave Jeremy Bentham a Copy of The Federalist Papers




(p. 720) For four years, the disgraced Burr traveled in Europe, resorting occasionally to the pseudonym H. E. Edwards to keep creditors at bay. Sometimes he lived in opulence with fancy friends and at other times languished in drab single rooms. This aging roué sampled opium and seduced willing noblewomen and chambermaids with a fine impartiality. All the while, he cultivated self-pity. "I find that among the great number of Americans here and there all are hostile to A.B.-- All-- What a lot of rascals they must be to make war on one whom they do not know, on one who never did harm or wished harm to a human being," he recorded in his diary. He befriended the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham and spoke to him with remarkable candor. "He really meant to make himself emperor of Mexico," Bentham recalled. "He told me I should be the legislator and he would send a ship of war for me. He gave me an account of his duel with Hamilton. He was sure of being able to kill him, so I thought it little better than murder." Always capable of irreverent surprises, Burr gave Bentham a copy of The Federalist. The shade of Alexander Hamilton rose up to haunt Burr at unexpected moments. In Paris, he called upon Talleyrand, who instructed his secretary to deliver this message to the uninvited caller: "I shall be glad to see Colonel Burr, but please tell him that a portrait of Alexander Hamilton always hangs in my study where all may see it." Burr got the message and left.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 11, 2015

"Animals Have Complex Minds and Rich Emotional Lives"



(p. D6) We now know that species from magpies to elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror, which some scientists consider a sign of self-awareness. Rats emit a form of laughter when they're tickled. And dolphins, parrots and dogs show clear signs of distress when their companions die. Together, these and many other findings demonstrate what any devoted pet owner has probably already concluded: that animals have complex minds and rich emotional lives.


For the full review, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Books; Does That Cat Have O.C.D.?." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 8, 2014): D6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 7, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Braitman, Laurel. Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






May 8, 2015

Self-Made, Abolitionist, Meritocratic Hamilton Viewed as Elitest



(p. 627) To Jefferson we owe the self-congratulatory language of Fourth of July oratory, the evangelical conviction that America serves as a beacon to all humanity. Jefferson told John Dickinson, "Our revolution and its consequences will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe." At least on paper, Jefferson possessed a more all-embracing view of democracy than Hamilton, who was always frightened by a sense of the fickle and fallible nature of the masses.

Having said that, one must add that the celebration of the 1800 election as the simple triumph of "progressive" Jeffersonians over "reactionary" Hamiltonians greatly overstates the case. The three terms of Federalist rule had been full of daz-(p. 628)zling accomplishments that Republicans, with their extreme apprehension of federal power, could never have achieved. Under the tutelage of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, the Federalists had bequeathed to American history a sound federal government with a central bank, a funded debt, a high credit rating, a tax system, a customs service, a coast guard, a navy, and many other institutions that would guarantee the strength to preserve liberty. They activated critical constitutional doctrines that gave the American charter flexibility, forged the bonds of nationhood, and lent an energetic tone to the executive branch in foreign and domestic policy. Hamilton, in particular, bound the nation through his fiscal programs in a way that no Republican could have matched. He helped to establish the rule of law and the culture of capitalism at a time when a revolutionary utopianism and a flirtation with the French Revolution still prevailed among too many Jeffersonians. With their reverence for states' rights, abhorrence of central authority, and cramped interpretation of the Constitution, Republicans would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these historic feats.

Hamilton had promoted a forward-looking agenda of a modern nation-state with a market economy and an affirmative view of central government. His meritocratic vision allowed greater scope in the economic sphere for the individual liberties that Jefferson defended so eloquently in the political sphere. It was no coincidence that the allegedly aristocratic and reactionary Federalists contained the overwhelming majority of active abolitionists of the period. Elitists they might be, but they were an open, fluid elite, based on merit and money, not on birth and breeding--the antithesis of the southern plantation system. It was the northern economic system that embodied the mix of democracy and capitalism that was to constitute the essence of America in the long run. By no means did the 1800 election represent the unalloyed triumph of good over evil or of commoners over the wellborn.

The 1800 triumph of Republicanism also meant the ascendancy of the slaveholding south. Three Virginia slaveholders--Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe--were to control the White House for the next twenty-four years. These aristocratic exponents of"democracy" not only owned hundreds of human beings but profited from the Constitution's least democratic features: the legality of slavery and the ability of southern states to count three-fifths of their captive populations in calculating their electoral votes. (Without this so-called federal ratio, John Adams would have defeated Thomas Jefferson in 1800.) The Constitution did more than just tolerate slavery: it actively rewarded it. Timothy Pickering was to inveigh against "Negro presidents and Negro congresses"-- that is, presidents and congresses who owed their power to the three-fifths rule. This bias inflated southern power (p. 629) against the north and disfigured the democracy so proudly proclaimed by the Jeffersonians. Slaveholding presidents from the south occupied the presidency for approximately fifty of the seventy-two years following Washington's first inauguration. Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






May 7, 2015

Frugal Entrepreneurs May Be Able to Self-Finance Their Innovations




In my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar we spend part of an evening reading the summary chapter of The Millionaire Next Door, discussed in the tribute below. In the seminar I suggest that at key early moments, innovative entrepreneurs may need to self-finance their innovations. They will be more likely to be able to do so if they have followed Stanley and Danko's advice on how to live frugally.


(p. B1) . . . the enduring lesson of the classic personal finance book, "The Millionaire Next Door," is this: Most of the rich grow wealthy because of modesty, thrift and prudence. They live happily in starter homes. They don't subsidize irresponsible adult children. They have an allergy to luxury automobiles.


. . .


The book, which has sold more than three million copies since its publication in 1996, made its co-author, William D. Danko, a millionaire himself and helped Mr. Stanley achieve similar security and leave academia for research and writing.


. . .


(p. B2) . . . even Mr. Danko, who ought to know better, has not always been able to resist the siren call of the Germans and their advertising. He bought one older Mercedes from a widowed friend, but his other one came new. "I was planning on buying a used one again, but the salesman was very good, and I was weak," he said. "These luxury cars are clearly overrated when you have to get your oil changed, and it costs $200."


. . .


. . . I was curious that Mr. Stanley died behind the wheel of a 2013 Corvette, rammed by another driver who might soon face charges in the accident. Mr. Stanley too, it turns out, couldn't help but have a taste for the finer things in life.

So does that make him a hypocrite? Or just a human being? All the best research tells us that we get much more joy out of doing things than having things, and a weekend drive in a car that goes really fast probably falls into both categories. But he earned that drive -- and that car -- by putting untold numbers of readers in a position where they'd be lucky enough to have that same choice themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

RON LIEBER. "YOUR MONEY; A Tribute to the 'Millionaire Next Door'." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 7, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2015, and has the title "YOUR MONEY; Paying Tribute to Thomas Stanley and His 'Millionaire Next Door'.")


The book under discussion is:

Stanley, Thomas J., and William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. First ed. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1996.






May 4, 2015

Hamilton's SEUM at Paterson Was an Early Failure of Centrally Planned Industrial Policy



(p. 384) The 1792 financial panic came on the heels of the two great projects by which Hamilton hoped to excite the public with the shimmering prospects for American manufacturing: the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and submission of his Report on Manufactures. The outlook for both was badly damaged by the panic. Even a short list of the worst offenders in the share mania--William Duer, Alexander Macomb, New York broker John Dewhurst, Royal Flint--included so many SEUM directors that it almost sounded like a company venture. Duer's notoriety was especially detrimental since he had been SEUM governor, its largest shareholder, and its chief salesman in hawking securities.


. . .


(p. 385) How exactly would the SEUM, its coffers cleaned out by Duer, pay for its property on the Passaic River? Hamilton privately approached William Seton at the Bank of New York and arranged a five-thousand-dollar loan at a reduced 5 percent interest rate. He cited high-minded reasons, including the public interest and the advantage to New York City of having a manufacturing town across the Hudson, but more than the public interest was at stake: "To you, my dear Sir, I will not scruple to say in confidence that the Bank of New York shall suffer no diminution of its pecuniary faculties from any accommodations it may afford to the Society in question. I feel my reputation concerned in its welfare." The SEUM's collapse, Hamilton knew, could jeopardize his own career. In promising Seton that he would see to it as treasury secretary that the Bank of New York was fully compensated for any financial sacrifice entailed by the SEUM loan, Hamilton mingled too freely his public and private roles.

(p. 386) For several days in early July 1792, Hamilton huddled with the society directors to hammer out a new program. "Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation," he was to lecture one superintendent, with what could almost have been his personal motto. Rewarding his efforts, the society approved wide-ranging operations: a cotton mill, a textile printing plant, a spinning and weaving operation, and housing for fifty workers on quarter-acre plots. Never timid about his own expertise, Hamilton pinpointed the precise spot for the factory at the foot of the waterfalls that had so impressed him with their strength and beauty during the Revolutionary War.

It was an index of the hope generated by Hamilton that the SEUM, at his suggestion, hired Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the architect who had just laid out plans for the new federal city on the Potomac River, to supervise construction of the society's buildings and plan the futuristic town of Paterson. At the same time, it was an index of Hamilton's persistent anxiety that he dipped into managerial minutiae befitting a factory foreman rather than an overworked treasury secretary. For instance, he instructed the directors to draw up an inventory of tools possessed by each worker and stated that, if any were broken, the parts should be returned and "a report made to the storekeeper and noted in some proper column." With his reputation at stake, Hamilton even subsidized the venture with his own limited funds, advancing $1,800 to the mechanics. Despite the Duer fiasco, the SEUM commenced operations in spinning, weaving, and calico printing.

The subsequent society records make for pretty dismal reading, as Hamilton was beset by unending troubles. L'Enfant was the wrong man for the job. Instead of trying to conserve money for the cash-strapped society, he contrived extravagant plans for a seven-mile-long stone aqueduct to carry water. He was enthralled by the idea of creating a grand industrial city on the pattern of the nascent Washington, D.C., with long radiating avenues, rather than with building a simple factory. By early 1794, L'Enfant shucked the project and spirited off the blueprints into the bargain. To find qualified textile workers, the society sent scouts to Scotland and paid for the laborers' passage to America. Even the managers clamored for better pay, and SEUM minutes show that some disgruntled artisans personally hired by Hamilton began to sabotage the operation by stealing machinery. One of the saddest parts of the story relates to the employment of children. Whatever hopeful vision Hamilton may have had of children performing useful labor and being educated simultaneously, they had neither the time nor the money to attend school. To remedy the problem, the board hired a schoolmaster to instruct the factory children on Sundays--which, as Hamilton must have known, was scarcely a satisfactory solution.

By early 1796, with Hamilton still on the board, the society abandoned its final (p. 387) lines of business, discontinued work at the factory, and put the cotton mill up for sale. Hamilton's fertile dream left behind only a set of derelict buildings by the river. At first, it looked as if the venture had completely backfired. During the next two years, not a single manufacturing society received a charter in the United States. Hamilton's faith in textile manufacturing in Paterson was eventually vindicated in the early 1800s as a "raceway" system of canals powered textile mills and other forms of manufacturing, still visible today in the Great Falls Historic District. The city that Hamilton helped to found did achieve fame for extensive manufacturing operations, including foundries, textile mills, silk mills , locomotive factories, and the Colt Gun works. Hamilton had chosen the wrong sponsors at the wrong time. In recruiting Duer and L'Enfant, he had exercised poor judgment. He was launching too many initiatives, crowded too close together, as if he wanted to remake the entire country in a flash.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 3, 2015

Social Security "Produces Inequality Systematically"



(p. B5) Mr. Kotlikoff, 64, did not set out to become Dr. Social Security. Two decades ago, he and a colleague were studying the adequacy of life insurance. To do so, you need to know something about Social Security. Soon, Mr. Kotlikoff was developing a computer model for various payouts from the government program and realized that consumers might actually pay to use it.

From that instinct, a service called Maximize My Social Security was born, though it wasn't easy to do and get it right. "We had to develop very detailed code, and the whole Social Security rule book is written in geek," he said. "It's impossible to understand."

Because of that, most people filing for benefits have to get lucky enough to encounter a true expert in their social circle, at a Social Security office or on its hotline. They are rare, and this information dissymmetry offends Mr. Kotlikoff. "We have a system that produces inequality systematically," he said. It's not because of what the beneficiaries earned, either; it's simply based on their (perhaps random) access to those who have a deep understanding of the rules.


. . .


"Get What's Yours" is a useful book. Indeed, we all need better instruction guides for the many parts of our financial lives that only grow more complex over time.



For the full commentary, see:

RON LIEBER. "YOUR MONEY; The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)


The book under discussion is:

Kotlikoff, Laurence J., Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing out Your Social Security. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






April 30, 2015

Hamilton Fostered the Preconditions for Capitalism




(p. 345) In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. His own life offered an extraordinary object lesson in social mobility, and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people's minds and bodies. As treasury secretary, he wanted to make room for entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America's special genius for business: "As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element."

Hamilton did not create America's market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. A capitalist society requires certain preconditions. Among other things, it must establish a rule of law through enforceable contracts; respect private property; create a trustworthy bureaucracy to arbitrate legal disputes; and offer patents and other protections to promote invention. The abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide such an atmosphere was one of Hamilton's principal motives for promoting the Constitution. "It is known," he wrote, "that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption." He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses--the necessary-and-proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause--making them the basis for government activism in economics.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 29, 2015

Our Personal Projects Can Create Compelling Idiogenic Motives




Brian Little, the author of the book mentioned below, was persuasively praised in Quiet, a book I liked a lot. (I have not yet read Little's book.)



(p. 7) When we're in danger of exhausting ourselves by exercising free traits that go against the grain of our fixed traits, he recommends the use of "restorative niches" in which to recover. After a morning of acting as a pseudo-extrovert on the lecture stage, Little confides, he restores his introverted nature by spending time alone in the men's room. Alas, on one occasion an opposing personality came along to spoil his solitude. Little describes his biogenic fixed-trait response to the intruder: "I could feel my autonomic nervous system kicking in. He sat down in the cubicle next to me. I then heard various evacuatory noises -- very loud, utterly unmuffled. We introverts really don't do this; in fact, many of us flush during as well as after. Finally I heard a gruff, gravelly voice call out, 'Hey, is that Dr. Little?' He was an extravert -- he wanted to chat!"


. . .


"Me, Myself, and Us" is most insightful when Little goes beyond polarized divisions -- to explore, for example, the effects on our personalities of what he calls our "personal projects." "Beyond the influence of the biogenic and sociogenic sources of motivation, there is another compelling influence on our daily behavior that I call idiogenic motives. They represent the plans, aspirations, commitments and personal projects that we pursue in the course of daily life."



For the full review, see:

ANNIE MURPHY PAUL. "'Who Do You Think You Are?" The New York Times Book Review (Sun., DEC. 28, 2014): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 26, 2014, and has the title "'Me, Myself, and Us,' by Brian R. Little.")


The book under review is:

Little, Brian R. Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






April 26, 2015

Hamilton "Was the Clear-Eyed Apostle of America's Economic Future"




(p. 344) The American Revolution and its aftermath coincided with two great transformations in the late eighteenth century. In the political sphere, there had been a repudiation of royal rule, fired by a new respect for individual freedom, majority rule, and limited government. If Hamilton made distinguished contributions in this sphere, so did Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. In contrast, when it came to the parallel economic upheavals of the period--the industrial revolution, the expansion of global trade, the growth of banks and stock exchanges--Hamilton was an American prophet without peer. No other founding father straddled both of these revolutions--only Franklin even came close--and therein lay Hamilton's novelty and greatness. He was the clear-eyed apostle of America's economic future, setting forth a vision that many found enthralling, others unsettling, but that would ultimately prevail. He stood squarely on the modern side of a historical divide that seemed to separate him from other founders. Small wonder he aroused such fear and confusion.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 25, 2015

Lincoln Defended Innovative Rail Against Incumbent Steam



(p. A15) "Lincoln's Greatest Case" convincingly shows that 1857 was a watershed year for the moral and political questions surrounding slavery's expansion to the west, something that Jefferson Davis's preferred railroad route would have facilitated. Mr. McGinty's discussion of Lincoln's philosophy and the career-making speeches he would develop in the late 1850s allows us to see the transportation disputes in light of the political and cultural dynamics that would lead to the Civil War. The book is also a case study of discomfort with new technology--and the futility of using a tort suit to prevent the adoption of inevitable innovation.

The book ends on an elegiac note, with steamboats making their inevitable passage into the mists of history. The rails, which could operate year-round through paths determined by man, not nature, would reign supreme, thanks in part to the efforts of a technophile future president.



For the full review, see:

MARGARET A. LITTLE. "BOOKSHELF; When Steam Was King; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 22, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Technology's Great Liberator; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail.")


The book under review is:

McGinty, Brian. Lincoln's Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






April 21, 2015

Homer Spoke from a "Vengeful, Frighteningly Violent Time"



(p. 17) The Homeric epics are long, contradictory, repetitive, composite works, riddled with anachronisms, archaic vocabulary, metric filler and exceedingly graphic brutality. Over the millenniums, Nicolson asserts, they have been cleaned, scrubbed and sanitized by generations of translators, editors, librarians and scholars, in order to protect readers from the dangers of the atavistic world lurking just below the surface of the words. He writes that everyone from the editors at the Ptolemaic library in Alexandria to the great 18th-century poet Alexander Pope wished to civilize or tame the poems, "wanted to make Homer proper, to pasteurize him and transform him into something acceptable for a well-­governed city." Part of Nicolson's objective is to follow the poems back to the vengeful, frighteningly violent time and culture from which they came, and to restore some of their rawness.


For the full review, see:

BRYAN DOERRIES. "Songs of the Sirens." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., DEC. 28, 2014): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 26, 2014, and has the title "'Why Homer Matters,' by Adam Nicolson.")


The book under review is:

Nicolson, Adam. Why Homer Matters. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.






April 18, 2015

In American Political System "It Will Be far More Difficult to Undo than to Do"




(p. 330) Jefferson traced the formation of the two main parties--to be known as Republicans and Federalists--to Hamilton's victory over assumption. For Jefferson, this event split Congress into pure, virtuous republicans and a "mercenary phalanx," "monarchists in principle," who "adhered to Hamilton of course as their leader in that principle."

Why did Jefferson retrospectively try to downplay his part in passing Hamilton's assumption scheme? While he understood the plan at the time better than he admitted, he probably did not see as clearly as Hamilton that the scheme created an unshakable foundation for federal power in America. The federal government had captured forever the bulk of American taxing power. In comparison, the location of the national capital seemed a secondary matter. It wasn't that Jefferson had been duped by Hamilton; Hamilton had explained his views at dizzying length. It was simply that he had been outsmarted by Hamilton, who had embedded an enduring political system in the details of the funding scheme. In an unsigned newspaper article that September, entitled "Address to the Public Creditors," Hamilton gave away the secret of his statecraft that so infuriated Jefferson: "Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 17, 2015

Disclosure Regulations Often Have Unintended Consequences



(p. B5) . . . , some disclosure works. Professor Levitin cites two examples. The first is an olfactory disclosure. Methane doesn't have any scent, but a foul smell is added to alert people to a gas leak. The second is A.T.M. fees. A study in Australia showed that once fees were disclosed, people avoided the high-fee machines and took out more when they had to go to them.

But to Omri Ben-Shahar, co-author of a recent book, "More Than You Wanted To Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure," these are cherry-picked examples in a world awash in useless disclosures. Of course, information is valuable. But disclosure as a regulatory mechanism doesn't work nearly well enough, he argues.

First, it really works only when things are simple. As soon as transactions become complex, disclosure starts to stumble. Buying a car, for instance, turns out to be several transactions: the purchase itself, the financing, maybe the trade-in of old car and various insurance and warranty decisions. These are all subject to various disclosure rules, but making the choices clear and useful has proved nigh impossible.

In complex transactions, we then must rely on intermediaries to give us advice. Because they are often conflicted, they, too, become subject to disclosure obligations. Ah, even more boilerplate to puzzle over!

And then there's the harm. Over the years, banks that sold complex securities often stuck impossible-to-understand clauses deep in prospectuses that "disclosed" what was really going on. When the securities blew up, as they often did, banks then fended off lawsuits by arguing they had done everything the law required and were therefore not liable.

"That's the harm of disclosure," Professor Ben-Shahar said. "It provides a safe harbor for practices that smell bad. It sanitizes every bad practice."



For the full review, see:

JESSE EISINGER. "In an Era of Disclosure, an Excess of Sunshine but a Paucity of Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., FEBRUARY 12, 2015): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEBRUARY 11, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Ben-Shahar, Omri, and Carl E. Schneider. More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.






April 14, 2015

"The Most Celebrated Meal in American History"




(p. 328) If we are to credit Jefferson's story, the dinner held at his lodgings on Maiden Lane on June 20, 1790, fixed the future site of the capital. It is perhaps the most celebrated meal in American history, the guests including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and perhaps one or two others. For more than a month, Jefferson had been bedeviled by a migraine headache, yet he presided with commendable civility. Despite his dislike of assumption, he knew that the stalemate over the funding scheme could shatter the union, and, as secretary of state, he also feared the repercussions for American credit abroad.

Madison restated his familiar argument that assumption punished Virginia and other states that had duly settled their debts. But he agreed to support assumption--or at least not oppose it--if something was granted in exchange. Jefferson recalled, "It was observed... that as the pill would be a bitter one to the southern states, something should be done to soothe them." The sedative measure was that Philadelphia would be the temporary capital for ten years, followed by a permanent move to a Potomac site. In a lucrative concession for his home state, Madison also seems to have extracted favorable treatment for Virginia in a final debt settlement with the central government. In return, Hamilton agreed to exert his utmost efforts (p. 329) to get the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to accept Philadelphia as the provisional capital and a Potomac site as its permanent successor.

The dinner consecrated a deal that was probably already close to achievement. The sad irony was that Hamilton, the quintessential New Yorker, bargained away the city's chance to be another London or Paris, the political as well as financial and cultural capital of the country. His difficult compromise testified to the transcendent value he placed on assumption. The decision did not sit well with many New Yorkers. Senator Rufus King was enraged when Hamilton told him that he "had made up his mind" to jettison the capital to save his funding system. For King, Hamilton's move had been high-handed and secretive, and he ranted privately that "great and good schemes ought to succeed not by intrigue or the establishment of bad measures."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 13, 2015

Italian Traditional Family Stunts Individual Enterprise



(p. 15) Hooper's book, both sweeping in scope and generous with detail, makes persuasive arguments for how geography, history and tradition have shaped Italy and its citizens, for better and sometimes for worse. Roman Catholicism, for example, has indelibly conditioned Italian society, even as the Vatican's restrictions are widely ignored. Catholicism's great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It's a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.


. . .


There's . . . mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings. But while "the traditional family has been at the root of much of what Italy has achieved," Hooper writes, dependence on the family can infantilize, and lack of individual enterprise has held the country back. Indeed, various sections of Hooper's book return to Italy's economic decline and its underlying causes.

He notes that the paperwork and formalities of Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy rob the average Italian of 20 days a year. And he wonders what other country could ever have had a Minister for Simplification to deal with its plethora of often conflicting laws and regulations.

Circumventing some of that bureaucracy partly answers another common question: Why is Italy so prone to corruption? After all, Italians are masters at sidestepping regulations, or, as the saying goes, "Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno" ("Make the law, then find a way around it"). It's no wonder foreign investment in Italy is so low.



For the full review, see:

LISABETTA POVOLEDO. "Under the Italian Sun." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 1, 2015): 15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "'The Italians,' by John Hooper.")


The book under review is:

Hooper, John. The Italians. New York: Viking, 2015.






April 10, 2015

In Hamilton's Financial System the "Cogs and Wheels Meshed Perfectly Together"




(p. 302) Much later, Daniel Webster rhapsodized about Hamilton's report as follows: "The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton." This was the long view of history and of many contemporaries, but detractors were immediately vocal. They were befuddled by the complexity of Hamilton's plan and its array of options for creditors. Opponents sensed that he was moving too fast, on too many fronts, for them to grasp all his intentions. He had devised his economic machinery so cunningly that its cogs and wheels meshed perfectly together. One could not tamper with the parts without destroying the whole. Hamilton later said of this ingenious structure, "Credit is an entire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part. Wound one limb and the whole tree shrinks and decays."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 9, 2015

Federal Government Main Cause of 2008 Financial Crisis



(p. A11) How much did the federal government contribute to the financial crisis? The question is quantitative, and the answer requires the kind of number crunching and careful thinking than cannot fit into an op-ed or television interview. Peter J. Wallison 's "Hidden in Plain Sight," is the book that answers the question most meticulously of any written since 2008.

At this point, seven years on, most readers of this newspaper will recognize that the federal government's role has been to force American taxpayers to subsidize trillions of dollars of risky lending. But each reader of Mr. Wallison's book will come away a bit embarrassed at having neglected or forgot about one or more of Washington's many contributions to the financial crisis.


. . .


In my opinion, a financial crisis is not only a likely consequence of implicit subsidies for risky lending but a necessary one because that is when implicit guarantees ultimately become real-life bailouts and trigger the taxpayer payments necessary to fund Washington's longstanding lending goals. Mr. Wallison gives taxpayers the inside story of how housing policy was like a siphon hidden inside their wallets--and why it hurt so much.



For the full review, see:

CASEY B. MULLIGAN. "BOOKSHELF; Capitol Hill Pickpockets; Risky loans made by Fannie and Freddie were the biggest factor that led to the financial crisis--and the direct result of federal policy." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 25, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 24, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Wallison, Peter J. Hidden in Plain Sight: What Really Caused the World's Worst Financial Crisis and Why It Could Happen Again. New York: Encounter Books, 2015.






April 6, 2015

"He Used the Rich for a Purpose that Was Greater than Their Riches"




(p. 299) Hamilton's interest was not in enriching creditors or cultivating the privileged class so much as in insuring the government's stability and survival. Walter Lippmann later said of Hamilton, "He used the rich for a purpose that was greater than their riches."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 5, 2015

Railroad Regulation Helped Kill Passenger Service



(p. 1179) By 1970, passenger service was a not only losing money, but had deteriorated to such an extent that it was no more the elegant transportation mode as it once was. No more were the Hollywood stars long distance rail passengers. No more movies like "North by Northwest," which featured the New York Central's Twentieth Century Limited service from New York to Chicago. The book highlights the factors causing the decline of private rail passenger service and the creation of AMTRAK. The authors cite ICC regulation, the growth in alternative modes, which were heavily subsidized, the mix of freight and passenger service on the same lines, and public policy, which favored the airline industry.


. . .

One public policy that government got right is deregulation. This started with the 3R Act, then the 4R Act and then the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which had a massive impact on the industry. Deregulation culminated in the ICC Elimination Act, in which the ICC was replaced by the Surface Transportation Board--or STB--with substantially diminished regulatory power. Gallamore worked in government when much of this legislation was passed and gives a firsthand account of the debates that took place in Congressional (p. 1180) hearings and the discussions in and out of government on the merits of deregulation.

In the concluding chapter of the over 500-page book, entitled "Decline and Renaissance of American Railroads in the Twentieth Century" the authors provide a summary of the history of the railroads and the lessons for public policy in the future. This chapter is such a great summary, that the reader may be best off starting with it, before reading the book. But don't forget the afterword, which provides the authors' recommendations for future U.S. policies for the railroads. It is a very insightful chapter.


. . .


American Railroads should be on the reading list of economists interested in transportation and logistics, economic historians, government officials, and rail fans who would like to know more about the history of the railroads in the twentieth century, and are interested in understanding the economics of the industry and the problems of government regulation. Gallamore and Meyer, at the end of the book, sum up why it should be read:

This book's authors love railroads because they have a great history, fascinating operations, intriguing technology and untold opportunity for the future, but we also love them because no other enterprises illustrate elegant economic principles quite so well (p. 435).


For the full review, see:

Pagano, Anthony M. "American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century." Journal of Economic Literature 52, no. 4 (Dec. 2014): 1178-80.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Gallamore, Robert E., and John R. Meyer. American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.






April 2, 2015

Hamilton Thought "Contracts Formed the Basis of Public and Private Morality"




(p. 297) Hamilton argued that the security of liberty and property were inseparable and that governments should honor their debts because contracts formed the basis of public and private morality: "States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct." The proper handling of government debt would permit America to borrow at affordable interest rates and would also act as a tonic to the economy. Used as loan collateral, government bonds could function as money--and it was the scarcity of money, Hamilton observed, that had crippled the economy and resulted in severe deflation in the value of land. America was a young country rich in opportunity. It lacked only liquid capital, and government debt could supply that gaping deficiency.

The secret of managing government debt was to fund it properly by setting aside revenues at regular intervals to service interest and pay off principal. Hamilton refuted charges that his funding scheme would feed speculation. Quite the contrary: if investors knew for sure that government bonds would be paid off, the prices would not fluctuate wildly, depriving speculators of opportunities to exploit. What mattered was that people trusted the government to make good on repayment: "In nothing are appearances of greater moment than in whatever regards credit. Opinion is the soul of it and this is affected by appearances as well as realities." Hamilton intuited that public relations and confidence building were to be the special burdens of every future treasury secretary.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 1, 2015

Is There "a Fortune to Be Made" in Selling to the Poor?



(p. B1) For years, multinational companies had little interest in lower-end consumers, figuring no money was to be made. Now, they are increasingly attractive to all types of industries, from consumer product makers to technology businesses. Google just announced plans to sell a stripped-down, cheaper version of its Android phone in India.

A decade ago, C. K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan business professor, in his book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid," detailed the potential, contending that such households were every bit as discriminating and aspirational as their counterparts at the other end of the income spectrum.

Mr. Prahalad, now dead, estimated there were four billion such consumers in a market worth $13 trillion. "People were saying, 'There's a fortune to be made. Let's go,' " said Mark B. Milstein, director of the Cen-(p. B6)ter for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University.

But many of the first efforts failed. "There was not much thinking about what those consumers needed or wanted or how they might be different from consumers with more disposable income," Mr. Milstein said.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Billions of Buyers." The New York Times (Thurs., Sept. 18, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 17, 2014, and has the title "Multinational Companies Court Lower-Income Consumers.")


The book highlighted in the passage quoted is:

Prahalad, C. K. Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Revised ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton School Publishing, 2009.






March 29, 2015

Rich Slaveholders "Posed as Plucky Populists"



(p. 267) As Hamilton tangled with Lansing, neither knew that Virginia had on June 25 become the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. Like their New York counterparts, antifederalists there posed as plucky populists, even though their ranks included many rich slaveholders. Patrick Henry, the leading antifederalist, warned delegates who supported the Constitution, "They'll free your niggers." George Washington noted the hypocrisy of the many slaveholding antifederalists: "It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.







March 28, 2015

Most of Benefits of Minimum Wage Increases Do Not Go to the Poor



(p. A11) A higher minimum wage raises wages of low-wage workers, and even though most evidence points to job losses from higher minimum wages, the evidence doesn't point to widespread employment declines. Thus, consistent with a recent Congressional Budget Office report, many more low-wage workers will get a raise than will lose their jobs. But that argument is about low-wage workers, not low-income families. Minimum wages are ineffective at helping poor families because such a small share of the benefits flow to them.

One might think that low-wage workers and low-income families are the same. But data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that there is only a weak relationship between being a low-wage worker and being poor, for three reasons.

First, many low-wage workers are in higher-income families--workers who are not the primary breadwinners and often contribute a small share of their family's income. Second, some workers in poor families earn higher wages but don't work enough hours. And third, about half of poor families have no workers, in which case a higher minimum wage does no good. This is simple descriptive evidence and is not disputed by economists.

A historical perspective is instructive. Assembling Census Bureau data over nearly seven decades, Richard Burkhauser and Joseph Sabia have shown that in 1939, just after the federal minimum wage was established, 85% of low-wage workers (those earning less than one-half the private-sector wage) were in poor families. Such a high percentage implies that, in that year, the new minimum wage targeted poor families well. However, as the public safety net expanded, family structure changed and more people in families began working, this percentage fell sharply over time--to around 17% by the early 2000s.

In contrast, as of the early 2000s 34% of low-wage workers were in families that were far from poor, with incomes more than three times the poverty line. In other words, for every poor minimum-wage worker who might directly benefit from the minimum wage, two workers in families with incomes more than three times the poverty line would benefit.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID NEUMARK. "Who Really Gets the Minimum Wage; Obama's $10.10 target would steer only 18% of the benefits to poor families; 29% would go to families with incomes three times the poverty level." The New York Times (Mon., July 7, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 6, 2014.)


For more of Neumark on minimum wages, see:

Neumark, David, and William L. Wascher. Minimum Wages. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.






March 25, 2015

Few Founding Fathers Toiled Harder Against Slavery than Hamilton



(p. 211) The magnitude of southern slavery was to have far-reaching repercussions in Hamilton's career. The most damning and hypocritical critiques of his allegedly aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton. As will be seen, the national consensus that the slavery issue should be tabled to preserve the union meant that the southern plantation economy was effectively ruled off-limits to political discussion, while Hamilton's system, by default, underwent the most searching scrutiny.

Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently or toiled (p. 212) harder to eradicate it than Hamilton--a fact that belies the historical stereotype that he cared only for the rich and privileged.


. . .


(p. 213) The issue surged to the fore with the peace treaty that ended the Revolution. At the prompting of Henry Laurens, article 7 placed a ban on the British "carrying away any Negroes or other property" after the war. This nebulous phrase was construed by slaveholders to mean that the British should return runaway slaves who had defected to the British lines or else pay compensation. The British, in turn, claimed that the former slaves had been freed when they crossed behind British lines. Conceding that Britain may have violated article 7 on technical grounds, Hamilton nevertheless refused to stand up for the slaveholders and invoked a higher moral authority:

In the interpretation of treaties, things odious or immoral are not to be presumed. The abandonment of negroes, who had been induced to quit their masters on the faith of official proclamations, promising them liberty, to fall again under the yoke of their masters and into slavery is as odious and immoral a thing as can be conceived. It is odious not only as it imposes an act of perfidy on one of the contracting parties, but as it tends to bring back to servitude men once made free.

This fierce defender of private property--this man for whom contracts were to be sacred covenants--expressly denied the sanctity of any agreement that stripped people of their freedom.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






March 24, 2015

The Underground Railroad Was No Myth



(p. C7) The first scholarly study of the Underground Railroad, published by Wilbur Siebert in 1898, named some 3,200 "agents," virtually all of them white men, who presided over an elaborate network of fixed routes, illustrated with maps that looked much like those of an ordinary railroad.

That view largely held among scholars until 1961, when the historian Larry Gara published "The Liberty Line," a slashing revisionist study that dismissed the Underground Railroad as a myth and argued that most fugitive slaves escaped at their own initiative, with little help from organized abolitionists. Scholarship on the topic all but dried up, as historians more generally emphasized the agency of African-Americans in claiming their own freedom.

But over the past 15 years, aided by newly digitized records of obscure abolitionist newspapers and local archives, scholars have constructed a new picture of the Underground Railroad as a collection of loosely interlocking local networks of activists, both black and white, that waxed and waned over time but nevertheless helped a significant number reach freedom.


. . .


In "Gateway to Freedom," Mr. Foner ties much of that work together, while uncovering the history of the eastern corridor's key gateway, New York City.

"This book is a capstone," said Matthew Pinsker, a historian at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., who will be teaching it to K-12 educators at a workshop this summer. "The Underground Railroad was real, and Foner will help ordinary people understand that in a way that doesn't rely on fiction or quilt stories, but on actual documents and records."



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER. "Words From the Past Illuminate a Station on the Way to Freedom." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 15, 2015): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 14, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.






March 21, 2015

Cornwalis Betrayed the Slaves Who Had Helped Him




(p.161) Dug in on high ground, Cornwallis had been throwing up earthwork redoubts since early August, employing thousands of slaves who had defected to the British lines in expectation of earning their freedom.


. . .


(p. 164) Cornwallis had grown so desperate that he infected blacks with smallpox and forced them to wander toward enemy lines in an attempt to sicken the opposing forces.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 20, 2015

Moral Progress Accelerated in the 18th Century



(p. A11) For hundreds of years, people flocked to public hangings as a form of entertainment. Onlookers crowded into town squares and brought their families, reveling in the carnival atmosphere. Today most people are sickened at the idea of merriment at an execution. (Many are disturbed that executions take place at all.) We recoil from other once-common practices, too: slavery, the mistreatment of children, animal cruelty. Such shifts in attitude or belief surely constitute a form of moral progress and suggest, for once, that civilization is advancing and not receding.


. . .


Mr. Shermer defines moral progress as an "increase in the survival and flourishing of sentient beings," which he illustrates with graphs and charts that reveal, among other things, a decline in war-related deaths, the expansion of the food supply, the reduction in major epidemics, the growth of world GDP and the spread of democracy.

Humanitarian achievements in the West, Mr. Shermer notes, began in earnest [in] the 18th century. Yet the ability to reason ethically is not a product of the Enlightenment. A moral instinct seems to be present at birth: Even infants possess innate intuitions about fairness and reciprocity, as Mr. Shermer explains. All societies punish free riders. The Golden Rule and Babylon's Code of Hammurabi (advocating proportionate punishment) predate the ancient Greeks. So why did we need an Enlightenment to jump-start our moral progress?



For the full review, see:

SALLY SATEL. "BOOKSHELF; Getting Better All the Time; Crowds once flocked to watch executions. Now we recoil at the idea. What causes such transformations of ethical standards?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 20, 2015): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 19, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Shermer, Michael. The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2015.






March 17, 2015

Wealth Can Be Used for Self-Improvement, Not Just Trivial Pursuits




Hamilton, in a letter to his future wife:


(p. 145) I do not, my love, affect modesty. I am conscious of [the] advantages I possess. I know I have talents and a good heart, but why am I not handsome ? Why have I not every acquirement that can embellish human nature? Why have I not fortune, that I might hereafter have more leisure than I shall have to cultivate those improvements for which I am not entirely unfit?


Source:

Alexander Hamilton as quoted in Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: bracketed word in original]






March 16, 2015

Fishing with Mosquito Nets, Where Food Is the Binding Constraint



(p. 1) BANGWEULU WETLANDS, Zambia -- Out here on the endless swamps, a harsh truth has been passed down from generation to generation: There is no fear but the fear of hunger.

With that always weighing on his mind, Mwewa Ndefi gets up at dawn, just as the first orange rays of sun are beginning to spear through the papyrus reeds, and starts to unclump a mosquito net.

Nets like his are widely considered a magic bullet against malaria -- one of the cheapest and most effective ways to stop a disease that kills at least half a million Africans each year. But Mr. Ndefi and countless others are not using their mosquito nets as global health experts have intended.

Nobody in his hut, including his seven children, sleeps under a net at night. Instead, Mr. Ndefi has taken his family's supply of anti-malaria nets and sewn them together into a gigantic sieve that he uses to drag the bottom of the swamp ponds, sweeping up all sorts of life: baby catfish, banded tilapia, tiny mouthbrooders, orange fish eggs, water bugs and the occasional green frog.

"I know it's not right," Mr. Ndefi said, "but without these nets, we wouldn't eat."

Across Africa, from the mud flats of Nigeria to the coral reefs off Mozambique, mosquito-net fishing is a growing problem, an unintended consequence of one of the biggest and most celebrated public health campaigns in recent years.

The nets have helped save millions of lives, but scientists worry about the collateral damage: Africa's fish.


. . .


"The nets go straight out of the bag into the sea," said Isabel Marques da Silva, a marine biologist at Universidade Lúrio in Mozambique. "That's why the inci-(p. 10)dence for malaria here is so high. The people don't use the mosquito nets for mosquitoes. They use them to fish."

But the unsparing mesh, with holes smaller than mosquitoes, traps much more life than traditional fishing nets do. Scientists say that could imperil already stressed fish populations, a critical food source for millions of the world's poorest people.


. . .


In many places, fish are dried for hours in direct sunlight on treated mosquito nets. Direct sunlight can break down the insecticide coating. Anthony Hay, an associate professor of environmental toxicology at Cornell University, said fish could absorb some of the toxins, leaving people to ingest them when they eat the fish.

"It's just another one of these 'white man's burdens,' " Mr. Hay said, referring to William Easterly's well-known book critical of foreign aid by the West. "We think we have a solution to everybody's problems, and here's an example of where we're creating a new problem."


. . .


For Mr. Ndefi, it is a simple, if painful, matter of choice. He knows all too well the dangers of malaria. His own toddler son, Junior, died of the disease four years ago. Junior used to always be there, standing outside his hut, when Mr. Ndefi came home from fishing.

Mr. Ndefi hopes his family can survive future bouts of the disease. But he knows his loved ones will not last long without food.



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "Meant to Keep Mosquitos Out, Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 25, 2015): 1 & 10.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 24, 2015, and has the title "Meant to Keep Malaria Out, Mosquito Nets Are Used to Haul Fish In.")


The book referenced by Professor Hay, is:

Easterly, William. The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. New York: The Penguin Press, 2006.






March 13, 2015

"Hamilton Constantly Educated Himself"



(p. 110) During the winter encampments, Hamilton constantly educated himself, as if equipping his mind for the larger tasks ahead. "Force of intellect and force of will were the sources of his success," Henry Cabot Lodge later wrote. From his days as an artillery captain, Hamilton had kept a pay book with blank pages in the back; while on Washington's staff, he filled up 112 pages with notes from his extracurricular reading. Hamilton fit the type of the self-improving autodidact, employing all his spare time to better himself. He aspired to the eighteenth-century aristocratic ideal of the versatile man conversant in every area of knowledge. Thanks to his pay book we know that he read a considerable amount of philosophy, including Bacon, Hobbes, Montaigne, and Cicero. He also perused histories of Greece, Prussia, and France.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 12, 2015

Machiavelli Experienced "Flow" Writing The Prince



(p. 8) "Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are," Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince."


. . .


After the reveling, back in his study at a heavy desk much like the one in Palazzo Vecchio, he would spend the evening on the work that would come to define him. "For four hours," he wrote, "I feel no boredom, I forget every worry, I don't dread poverty, nor has death any terrors for me."



For the full story, see:

ONDINE COHANE. "Footsteps; Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2014, and has the title "Footsteps; In Tuscany, Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli.".)


Machiavelli's classic is:

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992 (based on a translation first published in 1910).






March 9, 2015

George Washington's "Entrepreneurial Bent"



(p. 87) Washington proved an excellent businessman, first as a canny speculator in western lands, then as lord of Mount Vernon. Sometimes buying human cargo directly from the holds of slave ships, he came to own more than one hundred slaves by the Revolution and expanded his estate until it encompassed thirteen square miles. An innovative farmer, he invented a plough and presided over a small industrial village at Mount Vernon that included a flour mill and a shop for manufacturing cloth, an entrepreneurial bent that appealed to Hamilton.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 8, 2015

Progress Depends on Removing Barriers to Innovation




In the quotation below, Bill Gates is referring to the late, and way-under-appreciated, economist Julian Simon.



(p. A3) ". . . Simon's view was that humans would have to change to innovate," Mr. Gates said. Innovation, in other words, is not preordained. Indeed, it's happened much more in some societies than in others. And it has happened, Mr. Gates was arguing, because people and institutions took steps to remove the barriers to progress.


. . .


. . . , much of the world is enjoying one of history's most rapid increases in prosperity. Life expectancy has risen more than six years just since 1990. The world, to quote the title of a book by the economist Charles Kenny, is "Getting Better." As Mr. Gates says: "The world is actually improving a lot. We're trying to deliver both the good news on the progress and the possibility to do more."



For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "Africa's Economy Is Rising, and Focus Turns to Food." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 22, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Africa's Economy Is Rising. Now What Happens to Its Food?")


The book mentioned by Charles Kenny is:

Kenny, Charles. Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--and How We Can Improve the World Even More. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books, 2011.


One of the great books by Julian Simon is:

Moore, Stephen, and Julian L. Simon. It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2000.






March 5, 2015

Hamilton Was an Autodidact




Others who might be considered autodidacts include Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Guglielomo Marconi. When the self-taught can achieve so much, it raises the question of whether we over-emphasize formal education? (Chernow also mentions Hamilton being an autodidact on pages 110, 206, and 682.)


(p. 42) Hamilton's early itinerary in America closely mirrored the connections of Hugh Knox. Through Knox, he came to know two of New York's most eminent Presbyterian clergymen: Knox's old mentor, Dr. John Rodgers-- an imposing figure who strutted grandly down Wall Street en route to church, grasping a gold-headed cane and nodding to well-wishers--and the Reverend John M. Mason, whose son would end up attempting an authorized biography of Hamilton. Through another batch of Knox introductory letters, Hamilton ended up studying at a well-regarded preparatory school across the Hudson River, the Elizabethtown Academy. Like all autodidacts, Hamilton had some glaring deficiencies to correct and required cram courses in Latin, Greek, and advanced math to qualify for college.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 4, 2015

Depression of 1920-21 Ended Quickly, Without Government Stimulus or Bailouts



(p. C3) Beginning in January 1920, something much worse than a recession blighted the world. The U.S. suffered the steepest plunge in wholesale prices in its history (not even eclipsed by the Great Depression), as well as a 31.6% drop in industrial production and a 46.6% fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Unemployment spiked, and corporate profits plunged.


. . .


In the absence of anything resembling government stimulus, a modern economist may wonder how the depression of 1920-21 ever ended. Oddly enough, deflation turned out to be a tonic. Prices--and, critically, wages too--were allowed to fall, and they fell far enough to entice consumers, employers and investors to part with their money. Europeans, noticing that America was on the bargain counter, shipped their gold across the Atlantic, where it swelled the depression-shrunken U.S. money supply. Shares of profitable and well-financed American companies changed hands at giveaway valuations.

Of course, the year-and-a-half depression must have seemed interminable for all who were jobless or destitute. It was, however, a great deal shorter than the 43 months of the Great Depression of 1929-33. Then too, the 1922 recovery would bring tears of envy to today's central bankers and policy makers: Passenger-car production shot up by 63%, for instance, and the Dow jumped by 21.5%. "From practically all angles," this newspaper judged in a New Year's Day 1923 retrospective, "1922 can be recorded as the renaissance of prosperity."

In 2008, as Lehman Brothers toppled, the Great Depression monopolized the market on historical analogies. To avoid a recurrence of the 1930s, officials declared, the U.S. had to knock down interest rates, manipulate stock prices to go higher, repave the highways and trade in the clunkers.

The forgotten depression teaches a very different lesson. Sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES GRANT. "The Depression Fixed by Doing Nothing; The agonizing but often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 3, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 2, 2015, and has the title "The Depression That Was Fixed by Doing Nothing; The often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.")


Grant's commentary is elaborated on in his book:

Grant, James. The Forgotten Depression: 1921, the Crash That Cured Itself. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






March 1, 2015

Probate Court Kept Hamilton Waiting for a Year



(p. 25) For a year after his mother's death, Alexander was held in painful suspense by the probate court and perhaps absorbed the useful lesson that people who manipulate the law wield the real power in society.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






February 28, 2015

Stalin Showed that a Single Individual's Decisions Can Matter



(p. C29) . . . , [Stephen Kotkin] is not shy about assailing what he regards as false interpretations by other historians. His Stalin is not a disciple who deviates from Lenin; he is Lenin's true disciple, in pitiless class warfare, in the inability to compromise, and, above all, in unshakable ideological conviction.


. . .


There is little equivocation in Mr. Kotkin's judgments. Scholars who argue collectivization was necessary to force Russian peasants into a modern state are "dead wrong." The conclusion by the British historian E. H. Carr that Stalin was a product of circumstances, and not the other way around, is "utterly, eternally wrong." On the contrary, it is one of Mr. Kotkin's major theses that Stalin "reveals how, on extremely rare occasions, a single individual's decisions can radically transform an entire country's political and socioeconomic structures, with global repercussions." Or, as he puts it in a more graphic passage: "The Bolshevik putsch could have been prevented by a pair of bullets" -- one for Lenin and one for Stalin.


. . .


This reader, for one, still hopes for more evidence that Stalin was indeed singular, a historical malignancy, and not a product of circumstances of the kind that might already be shaping the next chapter of Russian history. And that only whets the appetite for the next installment, in which Stalin decides to starve Russia almost to death to bring peasants under state control. That, Mr. Kotkin has already declared, was an assault on the peasantry for which there was no political or social logic, and that only Stalin could have done. It is a testament to Mr. Kotkin's skill that even after almost a thousand pages, one wants more.



For the full review, see:

SERGE SCHMEMANN. "From Czarist Rubble, a Russian Autocrat Rises." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 8, 2015): C29.

(Note: ellipses, and book author's name in brackets, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.






February 26, 2015

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson



One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn't perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow's book.

PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow's Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.


Main book discussed:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.


Other book, briefly mentioned:

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






February 24, 2015

In Defense of the "Degar-Andish"



(p. C9) "The Lonely War" begins by retelling a lesson from Ms. Fathi's mother, imparted on the first day of third grade. "If anyone asks you whether your parents support the revolution, you must say, 'Yes, they do.'"


. . .


As the Islamic dress code became obligatory, Ms. Fathi and her sister, Goli, faced the tyranny of a "morality" teacher at school who tried to mold them into ideal Muslim girls.

The author remained steadfastly critical through it all. "To feel human," she writes, "we needed to retake control of our minds as well as our bodies. We waged the war on both fronts."


. . .


Defying a ban on covering the protests any further, Ms. Fathi was under surveillance at her home and tailed by government agents; her life was threatened. She, her husband and two children left Iran in June 2009.


. . .


Her portraits of the women's rights activists Faezeh Hashemi and Shahla Sherkat make for fascinating reading. So do her accounts of other courageous Iranian women like the lawyers Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi (the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2003), who made legal challenges against discriminatory laws against women, and publishers like Shahla Lahiji who dared to print the work of those branded as "degar-andish," literally, "those who think differently."



For the full review, see:

NAHID MOZAFFARI. "Books of The Times; Portrait of Iran, Where Revolution Is Ideological and the Costs Are Human." The New York Times (Thurs., Jan. 1, 2015): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 31, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Fathi, Nazila. The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. New York: Basic Books, 2014.






February 21, 2015

"In Nebraska, You Don't Have to Die to Go to Hell"




A 1939 entry from Don Hartwell's diary:


(p. 300) July 10

The same clear, glaring sky & vicious blazing killing sun. Cane is about dead, corn is being damaged; it will soon be destroyed. Those who coined the phrase 'There's no place like Nebraska' wrote better than they thought. In Nebraska, you don't have to die to go to hell.



Source:

As quoted in: Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 20, 2015

High Costs of Public Sector Unions



(p. A11) . . . the costs of public-sector unions are great. "The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste," the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city's$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.

There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. "The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service," a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "BOOKSHELF; Public Unions vs. the Public; Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2015.)


The book under review is:

DiSalvo, Daniel. Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.






February 17, 2015

Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain



(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called "Dry-Henceforth."

Government-sponsored failure didn't stop others from trying. A man who called himself "the moisture accelerator," Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 16, 2015

Smart Phones Bring Power to the Patient



(p. A11) We instinctively reach for our smartphones when we need to take pictures, get directions, deposit checks or reserve a table. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and digital pioneer, thinks that they are ready to perform at least one more task: revolutionize health care. In "The Patient Will See You Now," he argues that smartphones will democratize medicine by bringing data and control directly to the people.

The power of doctors, says Dr. Topol, "can be likened to that of religious leaders and nobility" in centuries past, when knowledge and authority belonged to a small elite. He notes that we've never seen "a discrete challenge to the medical profession" akin to Luther 's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church or democracy's challenge to monarchy and despotism. "But we've not had the platform or landscape for that to be accomplished. Until now." Smartphones, he says, enable a range of medical applications to move from the hospital to the home, and they shift medicine's locus of control from doctor to patient.



For the full review, see:

DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. "BOOKSHELF; Doctor Android; In the same way that Luther challenged the Catholic Church, smartphones are poised to upend the medical profession." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 13, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Topol, Eric. The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 13, 2015

The Federal Government's "Arrogance on a Grand Scale" Encouraged the Dust Bowl



(p. 126) In the last years of the wheat boom, Bennett had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge. He went directly after his old employer, the Department of Agriculture, for misleading people. Farmers on the Great Plains were working against nature, he thundered in speeches across the country; they were asking for trouble. Even in the late 1920s, before anyone else sounded an alarm, Bennett said people had sown the seeds of an epic disaster. The government continued to insist, through official bulletins , that soil was the one "resource that cannot be exhausted." To Bennett, it was arrogance on a grand scale.

"I didn't know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence," he said.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 12, 2015

Former Nebraskan Writes that Football Breaks the Soul



(p. C1) The poet Erin Belieu was born in Nebraska. It's a place where, she once wrote,

football is to life what sleep deprivation is

to Amnesty International, that is,

the best researched and the most effective method

of breaking a soul.

Ms. Belieu got out, soul entirely unbroken. She's spent the past two decades composing smart and nettling books of poems, beginning with "Infanta" (1995), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Hayden Carruth. I've admired her three previous books, but her new one, "Slant Six," seems to me better by an order of magnitude. It's got more smoke, more confidence, more wit and less tolerance for obscurity. Her crisp free verse has as many subcurrents as a magnetic field.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "From a Slim Book, Many Observations." The New York Times Book Review (Weds., DEC. 10, 2014): C1 & C4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 9, 2014, and has the title "From a Slim Book, Many Observations." The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)


The book under review is:

Belieu, Erin. Slant Six. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2014.






February 9, 2015

The "Miracle Machines" of Farming



(p. 75) Nobody had washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or incandescent light bulbs. But the farmers did have their miracle machines. In fifteen years, the Lucas family had gone from a walking plow pulled along behind a mule, to a riding plow, in which horses carried the blade through the soil, to a fine-tuned internal combustion plow.

"Machinery is the new Messiah," said Henry Ford, and though that sounded blasphemous to a devout sodbuster, there was something to it. Every ten seconds a new car came off Ford's factory line, and some of them were now parked next to dugouts in No Man's Land.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 8, 2015

Balducci Wants a Sequel Where Winston Smith "Actually Triumphs Over Big Brother"



(p. 10) The author, most recently, of "The Escape" was a library rat growing up: "Libraries are the mainstays of democracy. The first thing dictators do when taking over a country is close all the libraries, because libraries are full of ideas."


. . .


What's the one book you wish someone else would write?

A sequel to "1984" where Winston Smith regains his senses and his independence and actually triumphs over Big Brother. Right now we could all use a little more hope about the world.



For the full interview, see:

"By the Book: David Baldacci." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., NOV. 30, 2014): 10.

(Note: italics, and bold, in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 26, 2014, and has the title "David Baldacci: By the Book." The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)


The book for which Balducci wishes a sequel is:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].






February 5, 2015

Justice on the Plains



(p. 71) "What are you doing here?" the judge asked again.

"I cannot talk," Ehrlich answered, in his hybrid English-German. "This guard will stab my heart out."

"You talk to me," Judge Alexander told him. "Now what are you people here for? It's the middle of the night."

"Pit-schur."

"What's that? A picture?"

"Yah."

An officer produced the picture that Ehrlich kept in his house--Kaiser Wilhelm and his family in formal pose.

"That's a beautiful picture," the judge said, then turned to the police. "Is that all you got against these people?"

"They're pro-German. They're hurting the war effort. Spies, for all we know."

The judge turned to the Germans from the Volga. "How many of you are supporting America in the war?" All hands went up.

Ehrlich reached into his pocket and produced two hundred dollars' worth of government stamps issued to support the war effort . A friend produced war bonds. The judge looked at the sheriff and asked him how many of his officers had war bonds or stamps. None.

(p. 72) "Take these people home," the judge said. "If anything happens to them, I'll hold you responsible ." They drove back in the freezing predawn darkness and released the men to their families at sunrise. A daylong party followed.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 4, 2015

Václav Havel Viewed America as the Natural Foe of Evil in the World



(p. C7) Havel's personal and political philosophy can be summed up in a phrase from his 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless": "living within the truth." The world imposes great burdens on men, Havel argued, the first of which is a collective responsibility to be honest about the society they inhabit. In Havel's political context, "living within the truth" meant speaking plainly about an inhuman political system--communism--and the lies and humiliating routines it forced its subjects to tell and endure. The bravest testament to this credo was Charter 77, a public appeal to the regime to respect the human rights it claimed to uphold. Havel was one of several co-authors and its main spokesman.

What drove Havel and others to sign the document was the persecution of a rock band, the Plastic People of the Universe, whose members were accused of "disturbing the peace." Havel, who would cheekily adopt that malediction as the title for one of his books, soon followed the band to jail for similar offenses against the state. Imprisoned from 1979 to 1983, Havel was denied medical attention and endured great physical pain for his thought crimes. But the communists could not break him, and he refused an offer of early release in exchange for leaving the country. The greatest anguish the future president suffered at the hands of the sclerotic regime, which, in Mr. Zantovsky's apt phrasing, "elevated oblivion to a method," was the suppression of his ability to publish and speak freely.


. . .


As Czech president, Havel was a supporter of Western military intervention both in the Balkans and then, more controversially, against Saddam Hussein in 2003. At home and abroad, Havel was moved by the same humanitarian impulse: "Our indifference toward others can after all result in only one thing: the indifference of others towards us," he said in 1993. This is what Mr. Zantovsky dubs the "Havel Doctrine" and it is rooted in Czechoslovakia's history of being the victim of foreign invasion and occupation. "Our own historical experience," Havel said in 1999 on the eve of NATO intervention in Kosovo, "has taught us that evil must be confronted rather than appeased." The author hesitates to label Havel's worldview "neoconservative," and, at least as far as domestic politics are concerned, he is right: On most social and economic issues Havel was decidedly left of center. But Havel personally understood the role of evil in international relations and looked to America as its natural foe.



For the full review, see:

JAMES KIRCHICK. "Disturber of the Peace; Havel wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 5, 2014, and has the title "Václav Havel: Disturber of the Peace; The dissident wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation.")


The book under review is:

Zantovsky, Michael. Havel: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 2014.






February 1, 2015

How the Federal Government Caused the High Plains Dust Bowl



(p. 50) People were pouring into town, taking up rooms at the Crystal Hotel-- suitcase farmers who had no intention of ever settling there. They wanted only to rent out a tractor and a piece of ground for a few days, drop some winter wheat into the fresh-turned fold, and come back next summer for the payoff. It was a game of chance called "trying to hit a crop." One suitcase farmer broke thirty-two thousand acres in southeast Kansas in 1921. Four years later, he plowed twice that amount. The banks seldom said no. After Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916, every town with a well and a sheriff had itself a farmland bank -- an institution! -- offering forty-year loans at six percent interest. Borrow five thousand dollars and payments were less than thirty-five dollars a month. Any man with a John Deere and a half-section could cover that nut. If it was hubris, or "tempting fate" as some of the church ladies said, well, the United (p. 51) States government did not see it that way. The government had already issued its official view of the rapid churning of ancient prairie sod.

"The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses," the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed as the grasslands were transformed. "It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted, that cannot be used up."



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 31, 2015

Ezra Pound, a Major Literary Figure of the 20th Century, "Loved the Movies of Walt Disney"



(p. C5) "Mussolini asked," in A. David Moody 's retelling, "what was his aim in writing The Cantos, and Pound replied, 'to put my ideas in order'; and Mussolini said, 'What do you want to do that for?' " When the poet turned from this dismissal to economic policy, which had lately become the central obsession of his life, the dictator was unimpressed by Pound's list of 18 proposals, alighting particularly on his assertion that "in the Fascist state taxes were no longer necessary": "Have to think about THAT," Mussolini said and ended the interview. To the fascist dictator, Pound, by any measure one of the 20th century's major literary figures, merited hardly more bother than a fly.


. . .


(p. C7) . . . he was not always an elitist. He loved the movies of Walt Disney, . . .



For the full review, see:

DAVID MASON. "The Makers of Modernism; Pound's generous spirit looms over 20th-century literature, and in the early years his megalomania seemed harmless." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014): C5 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 5, 2014, and has the title "The Tragic Hero of Literary Modernism; Ezra Pound's generous spirit looms over 20th-century literature, and in the early years his megalomania seemed harmless." The first part of the title in the print version was intended to cover both the review of the Pound biography and an accompanying review of a biography of the writer and publisher James Laughlin.)


The book under review is:

Moody, A. David. Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume II: The Epic Years. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014.






January 29, 2015

Government Encouraged the Dust Bowl of the 1930s



Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time helps us to understand the motives and struggles of those who suffered in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains of the United States. Sometimes he also illuminates the role that the government had in encouraging ordinary people to move to a place that would soon be hell on earth.

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most thought-provoking passages of Egan's book.


Book discussed:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 27, 2015

Stalin Was "a People Person"



(p. 12) In "Stalin. Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928," a masterly account that is the first of a projected three-volume study, Kotkin paints a portrait of an autodidact, an astute thinker, "a people person" with "surpassing organizational abilities; a mammoth appetite for work; a strategic mind and an unscrupulousness that recalled his master teacher, Lenin."


For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SIEGEL. "'Stalin,' by Stephen Kotkin." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., NOV. 30, 2014): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 26, 2014, and has the title "'Stalin,' by Stephen Kotkin.")


The book under review is:

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.






January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"



(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






January 20, 2015

Outsiders Persevere to Pursue Breakthroughs



(p. 315) Despite all the examples given, mainstream medical research stubbornly continues to assume that new drugs and other advances will follow exclusively from a predetermined research path. Many, in fact, will. Others, if history is any indication, will not. They will come not from a committee or a research team but from an individual, a maverick who views a problem with fresh eyes. Serendipity will strike and be seized upon by a well-trained scientist or clinician who also dares to rely upon intuition, imagination, and creativity. Unbound by traditional theory, willing to suspend the usual set of beliefs, unconstrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his or her pursuits, this outsider will persevere and lead the way to a dazzling breakthrough. Eventually, once the breakthrough becomes part of accepted medical wisdom, the insiders will pretend that the outsider was one of them all along.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 19, 2015

Leading Computability Expert Says Humans Can Do What Computers Cannot



(p. B4) What does Turing's research tell us?

"There is some scientific basis for the view that humans are doing something that a machine isn't doing--and that we don't even want our machine to do," says S. Barry Cooper, a mathematician at Leeds and the foremost scholar of Turing's work.

The math behind this is deep, but here's the short version: Humans seem to be able to decide the validity of statements that should stump us, were we strictly computers as Turing described them. And since all modern computers are of the sort Turing described, well, it seems that we've won the race against the machines before it's even begun.


. . .


The future of technology isn't about replacing humans with machines, says Prof. Cooper--it's about figuring out the most productive way for the two to collaborate. In a real and inescapable way, our machines need us just as much as we need them.



For the full commentary, see:

Mims, Christopher. "KEYWORDS; Why Humans Needn't Fear the Machines All Around Us; Turing's Heirs Realize a Basic Truth: The Machines We Create Are Not, Indeed Cannot Be, Replacements for Humans." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DEC. 1, 2014): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 30, 2014, and has the title "KEYWORDS; Why We Needn't Fear the Machines; A Basic Truth: Computers Can't Be Replacements for Humans.")



One of the major books by the Turing and computability expert quoted in the passages above, is:

Cooper, S. Barry. Computability Theory, Chapman Hall/CRC Mathematics Series. Boca Raton, Florida: Chapman and Hall/CRC Mathematics, 2003.






January 16, 2015

Successful Discoverers "Follow the Evidence Wherever It Leads"



(p. 314) Why are particular people able to seize on such opportunities and say, "I've stumbled upon a solution. What's the problem?" Typically, such people are not constrained by an overly focused or dogmatic mindset. In contrast, those with a firmly held set of preconceptions are less likely to be distracted by an unexpected or contradictory observation, and yet it is exactly such things that lead to the blessing of serendipitous discovery.

Serendipitous discoverers have certain traits in common. They have a passionate intensity. They insist on trying to see beyond their own and others' expectations and resist any pressure that would close off investigation. Successful medical discoverers let nothing stand in their way. They break through, sidestep, or ignore any obstacle or objection to their chosen course, which is simply to follow the evidence wherever it leads. They have no patience with dogma of any kind.

The only things successful discoverers do not dismiss out of hand are contradictory--and perhaps serendipitously valuable--facts. They painstakingly examine every aspect of uncomfortable facts until they understand how they fit with other facts. Far from being cavalier about method, serendipitous discoverers subject their evidence and suppositions to the most rigorous methods they can find. They do not run from uncertainty, but see it as the raw material from which new scientific and medical certainties can be wrought.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 15, 2015

Resilience of Ordinary People Matters Most in Early Stages of Crisis



(p. A11) Throughout "The Resilience Dividend," Ms. Rodin pays particular attention to the influence that ordinary people can have in a crisis, especially in the early stages, when it may not be clear what has happened and the professionals haven't had time to put a plan into place. In the minutes after Boston Marathon bombing last year, citizens rushed forward to help the injured. In New York City on 9/11, hundreds of privately owned boats carried thousands of stranded commuters off the island of Manhattan and across the Hudson River to New Jersey.


For the full review, see:

MELANIE KIRKPATRICK. "BOOKSHELF; Never Waste a Crisis; How was the city of Medellín transformed from the murder capital of South America into a thriving urban center? Escalators." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 20, 2014.)


The book being reviewed is:

Rodin, Judith. The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.






January 14, 2015

Bezos Devices Aim to Create a Virtuous Cycle 'Flywheel'



(p. B1) Amazon now makes four different kinds of devices. There are dedicated e-readers, multipurpose tablets and, starting this year, a TV streaming device and a smartphone, the Fire Phone. Just this week, Amazon introduced another streaming machine, the Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that is the size of a USB stick and promises to turn your television into an Amazon-powered video service.


. . .


(p. B9) What is Amazon's endgame with all these devices? Mr. Bezos has always said that his mission, with hardware, is to delight users with devices that are priced fairly. The devices also contribute to Mr. Bezos's famous "flywheel," the virtuous cycle by which greater customer satisfaction leads to more sellers in his store, which leads to more products, greater efficiencies, lower prices and, in turn, more customers.

"Everything is about getting that flywheel spinning, and it isn't necessarily about building a big and successful tablet business of their own," said Benedict Evans, an analyst who works at the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz and has studied Amazon closely. "Whether they actually drive meaningful commerce isn't entirely clear, but Amazon is rigorously focused on data, so if they're doing it, you can trust that there must be data that justifies it."

And if this year's devices don't take off, you can bet that Mr. Bezos will try a slightly different tack next year.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design for Devices." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 30, 2014): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 29, 2014, and has the title "STATE OF THE ART; Amazon's Grand Design in Devices.")


Bezos's enthusiasm for Jim Collins's "flywheel" idea is discussed in:

Stone, Brad. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






January 12, 2015

"Peer Review Institutionalizes Dogmatism by Promoting Orthodoxy"



(p. 305) Peer review institutionalizes dogmatism by promoting orthodoxy. Reviewers prefer applications that mesh with their own perspective on how an issue should be conceptualized, and they favor individ