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 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:

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

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.


. . . "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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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."


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."


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."


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.


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."


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


"What's that? A picture?"


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.


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."


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!


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.


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.


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 individuals whom they know or whose reputations have already been established, making it harder for new people to break into the system.6 Indeed, the basic process of peer review demands conformity of thinking and disdains a maverick's approach. "We can hardly expect a committee," said the biologist and historian of science, Garrett Hardin, "to acquiesce in the dethronement of tradition. Only an individual can do that."7 Young investigators get the message loud and clear: Do not challenge existing beliefs and practices.

So enmeshed in the conventional wisdoms of the day, so-called "peers" have again and again failed to appreciate major breakthroughs even when they were staring them in the face. This reality is evidenced by the fact that so many pioneering researchers were inappropriately scheduled to present their findings at undesirable times when few people were in the audience to hear about them.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 11, 2015

Solution to Problems of Retirement: Don't Retire

(p. A13) Unsurprisingly, one response to the retirement challenge is: Don't do it. Not, at least, until you really must. As Mr. Farrell argues (with plenty of supporting evidence), there is no magic element of personal doom attached to one's 65th birthday or whatever age is believed to separate honest labor from a twilight of idleness. If you like what you do well enough, can perform your tasks competently and could use the income, why not keep working? The satisfactions of work are too often unrecognized in the popular imagination. Without it, a lot people wouldn't know what to do.

And the longer you work, of course, the more money you will have when you eventually do retire, a strategy that works to the good of society too, since your paychecks will be contributing to FICA and will help keep the system running.

For the full review, see:

GEOFFREY NORMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Second Acts After 65; People who could be playing golf and doting on their grandchildren are starting businesses. One senior launched a coffee house in Detroit." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 24, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Unretirement' by Chris Farrell; People who could be playing golf and doting on their grandchildren are starting businesses. One senior launched a coffee house in Detroit.")

The book under review is:

Farrell, Chris. Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.

January 10, 2015

Inequality Much Less If You Count Government Transfers as Part of Income

Despite the gratuitous jab contained in the "fanciful assumptions" phrase, what is notable about the passages quoted below is that Porter is mainly, though grudgingly, granting Burkhauser's main point: including government transfers reduces allegedly high inequality.

(p. B1) Washington already redistributes income from the rich to the poor. Richard Burkhauser and Philip Armour from Cornell and Jeff Larrimore from the Joint Committee on Taxation have become heroes to the right by trying to establish that government redistribution has, in fact, erased the trend of increasing inequality.

While these claims rest on fanciful assumptions about what counts as income, their analysis of taxes and government programs does support the argument that the government does more than it has in a long time to protect lower-income Americans from the blows of the market economy.

. . .

(p. B5) "Substantial changes in tax and transfer policies during the Bush and Obama administrations have increased dramatically the resources available at the middle of the distribution and at the bottom more so," Professor Burkhauser told me.

. . .

Research by Leslie McCall of Northwestern University finds that . . . American voters remain lukewarm about government interventions to reduce income inequality, . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Seeking New Tools to Address a Wage Gap." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 5, 2014): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 4, 2014.)

The Burkhauser co-authored paper summarized above, is:

Armour, Philip, Richard V. Burkhauser, and Jeff Larrimore. "Levels and Trends in U.S. Income and Its Distribution: A Crosswalk from Market Income Towards a Comprehensive Haig-Simons Income Approach." Southern Economic Journal 81, no. 2 (Oct. 2014): 271-93.

I believe that the research being to referred to by McCall is in her book:

McCall, Leslie. The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries

(p. 303) When scientists were allowed to pursue whatever they found, serendipitous discovery flourished.

Today, targeted research is pretty much all there is. Yet, as Richard Feynman put it in his typical rough-hewn but insightful manner, giving more money "just increases the number of guys following the comet head."2 Money doesn't foster new ideas, ideas that drive science; it only fosters applications of old ideas, most often enabling improvements but not discoveries.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones

(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?

. . .

The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.

For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")

The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.

January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity

(p. 302) Inherent in the system is a mindset of conformity: one will tend to submit only proposals that are likely to be approved, which is to say, those that conform to the beliefs of most members on the committee of experts. Because of the intense competition for limited money, investigators are reluctant to submit novel or maverick proposals. Needless to say, this environment stifles the spirit of innovation. Taking risks, pioneering new paths, thwarting conventional wisdom--the very things one associates with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientists of the past--don't much enter into the picture nowadays.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

January 3, 2015

When Asked What He Took in College, Tackle Frank Hanley Replied: "Baths!"

(p. A9) College football fans have a tendency to view the unsavory aspects of the game as a modern phenomenon. Dave Revsine's "The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation" knocks this myth flat in its first few pages. The book is a stirring survey of malfeasance, meticulously documented and brought to life by Mr. Revsine, a former ESPN anchor who is now a host for the Big Ten Network. Excessive violence? Yup. Eligibility scams? Sure. Wanton profiteering? You bet.

. . .

In the fervent pursuit of ticket sales and publicity, schools routinely recruited players whom they made little pretense about educating. The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked by Harper's Weekly what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: "Baths!"

. . .

Yet for the devoted fan "The Opening Kickoff" is a first-class account of football's turbulent origins, one that helps explain how a collision sport became the most conspicuous part of American higher education and a de facto developmental league for the pros in which unpaid "student-athletes" generate billions of dollars of revenue.

The marriage of academics and athletics, Mr. Revsine ruefully reminds us, was never going to be especially innocent. As Harvard President Charles Eliot put it back in 1905, "Deaths and injuries are not the strongest argument against football. That cheating and brutality are profitable is the main evil."

For the full review, see:

STEVE ALMOND. "BOOKSHELF; Collegiate Collisions; The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: 'Baths!'." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 27, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 26, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Bookshelf: 'The Opening Kickoff' by Dave Revsine; The hulking Notre Dame tackle Frank Hanley, asked what he took at college, offered this cheerful rejoinder: 'Baths!'.")

The book under review is:

Revsine, Dave. The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2014.

December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity

(p. 301) Even in the early twentieth century, the climate was more conducive to serendipitous discovery. In the United States, for example, scientific research was funded by private foundations, notably the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York (established 1901) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1913). The Rockefeller Institute modeled itself on prestigious European organizations such as the Pasteur Institute in France and the Koch Institute in Germany, recruiting the world's best scientists and providing them with comfortable stipends, well-equipped laboratories, and freedom from teaching obligations and university politics, so that they could devote their energies to research. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the most expansive supporter of basic research, especially in biology, between the two world wars, relied on successful programs to seek promising scientists to identify and accelerate burgeoning fields of interest. In Britain, too, the Medical Research Council believed in "picking the man, not the project," and nurturing successful results with progressive grants.

After World War II, everything about scientific research changed. The U.S. government--which previously had had little to do with funding research except for some agricultural projects--took on a major role. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew out of feeble beginnings in 1930 but became foremost among the granting agencies in the early 1940s at around the time they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. The government then established the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 to promote progress in science and engineering. Research in the United States became centralized and therefore suffused with bureaucracy. The lone scientist working independently was now a rarity. Research came to be characterized by large teams drawing upon multiple scientific disciplines and using highly technical methods in an environment that promoted the not-very-creative phenomenon known as "groupthink." Under this new regime, the competition (p. 302) among researchers for grant approvals fostered a kind of conformity with existing dogma. As the bureaucracy of granting agencies expanded, planning and justification became the order of the day, thwarting the climate in which imaginative thought and creative ideas flourish.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 30, 2014

"Bad Ideas Die Hard, Especially Those that Flatter Our Vanity"

(p. C5) Mütter was one of the first plastic surgeons in America.

. . .

Mütter was also a pioneer of burn surgery.

. . .

Every hero needs a good antagonist and Mütter had a great one, a professor and blowhard named Charles D. Meigs who was as contrary as a Missouri mule. Meigs was a highly regarded obstetrician and one of Mütter's colleagues at Jefferson. He rejected Mütter's namby-pamby notions by reflex. Anesthesia? Pshaw! Men and women are put on earth to suffer. Handwashing? Humbug! The very idea that physicians could spread disease was preposterous. As Meigs wrote, "a gentleman's hands are clean." Unfortunately, bad ideas die hard, especially those that flatter our vanity. The fight to make medicine as humane as possible continues long after Mütter's premature death from tuberculosis in 1859.

For the full review, see:

JOHN ROSS. "The Doctor Will See You Now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.")

The book under review is:

Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. Dr. Müt­ters Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. New York: Gotham Books, 2014.

December 27, 2014

Eisenhower Warned that "a Government Contract Becomes Virtually a Substitute for Intellectual Curiosity"

(p. 300) In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the nation about the influence of the "military-industrial complex," coining a phrase that became part of the political vernacular. However, in the same speech, he presciently warned that scientific and academic research might become too dependent on, and thus shaped by, government grants. He foresaw a situation in which "a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 26, 2014

How "the Credentials Arms-Race" Now "Defines Young Adulthood"

(p. A11) . . . "Excellent Sheep" is a cri de coeur against the credentials arms-race that now defines young adulthood--and even childhood--for many Americans. But you don't have to take his word for it: The book features interviews and correspondence with students and recent graduates of elite institutions. Beyond their glowing transcripts and the fact that they have become "accomplished adult-wranglers," these students are anxious, depressed and searching for some deeper meaning in their lives. "For many students, rising to the absolute top means being consumed by the system. I've seen my peers sacrifice health, relationships, exploration, activities that can't be quantified and are essential for developing souls and hearts, for grades and resume building," one Stanford student told the author. A Yalie put it more succinctly: "I might be miserable, but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale."

For the full review, see:

EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH. "BOOKSHELF; The Credentials Arms-Race; Students sacrifice all to grades and resume building--'I might be miserable,' a Yalie noted, 'but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale.'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 21, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 20, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite' by William Deresiewicz; Students sacrifice all to grades and resume building--'I might be miserable,' a Yalie noted, 'but were I not miserable, I wouldn't be at Yale.'.")

The book under review is:

Deresiewicz, William. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. New York, NY: Free Press, 2014.

December 23, 2014

Loewi Proved a Slow Hunch after 17 Years

(p. 243) Loewi had long been interested in the problem of neurotransmission and believed that the agent was likely a chemical substance and not an electrical impulse, as previously thought, but he was unable to find a way to test the idea. It lay dormant in his mind for seventeen years. In a dream in 1921, on the night before Easter Sunday, he envisioned an experiment to prove this. Loewi awoke from the dream and, by his own account, "jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper." Upon awakening in the morning, he was terribly distressed: "I was unable to decipher the scrawl."

The next night, at three o'clock, the idea returned. This time he got up, dressed, and started a laboratory experiment.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 22, 2014

Charismatic Prophets of Technological and Organizational Innovation

(p. C7) Walter Isaacson's last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs --the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson's fine new book, "The Innovators," is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak --"forerunners" who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface.

. . .

Mr. Isaacson's heart is with the engineers: the wizards of coding, the artists in electrons, silicon, copper, networks and mice. But "The Innovators" also gives space to the revolutionary work done with men as well as mice: experiments in the organizational forms in which creativity might be encouraged and expressed; in the aesthetic design of personal computers, phones and graphical fonts; in predicting and creating what consumers did not yet know they wanted; and in the advertising and marketing campaigns that make them want those things. Not the least of the revolutionaries' inventions was their own role as our culture's charismatic prophets, uniquely positioned to pronounce on which way history was going and then to assemble the capital, the motivated workers and the cheering audiences that helped them make it go that way.

For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "The Best Way to Predict the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added. The first word of the title in the print version was "They." Above, I have corrected the typo.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Innovators' by Walter Isaacson.")

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

December 19, 2014

Much Knowledge Results from Mistaken Hypotheses

(p. 239) If we were to eliminate from science all the great discoveries that had come about as the result of mistaken hypotheses or fluky experimental data, we would be lacking half of what we now know (or think we know). --NATHAN KLINE, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST


Nathan Kline as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 16, 2014

"People Don't Like Open Plans"

(p. A1) Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing.

Few industries seem as uniquely ill suited to the concept. The process of acquiring, editing and publishing books is rife with moments requiring privacy and quiet concentration. There are the sensitive negotiations with agents; the wooing of prospective authors; the poring over of manuscripts.

. . .

(p. B6) Even as the walls of America's workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts -- like corporate law firms -- a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.

"The evidence against open-plan offices is mounting," said Nikil Saval, the author of "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." "The idea is that these offices encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters. But there's not a lot of evidence behind these claims. Whereas there is a lot of evidence that people don't like open plans."

The notion of cookie-cutter cubicles is especially anathema to a certain breed of editors who see themselves more as men and women of letters than they do as businesspeople.

"It's a world of words that we're working towards, not an intellectual sweatshop," said Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and an opponent of open-plan offices.

For book editors, offices provide more than just privacy. They like to fill the bookcases inside with titles that they've published, making for a kind of literary trophy case to impress visitors.

For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")

The Saval book is:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.

December 15, 2014

"The World Is Not Only Stranger than We Imagine, It Is Stranger than We Can Imagine"

(p. 238) The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once commented, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." This famous quote is often used to support the notion that the mysteries of the universe are beyond our understanding. Here is another way to interpret his insight: Because so much is out there that is beyond our imagination, it is likely that we will discover new truths only when we accidentally stumble upon them. Development can then proceed apace.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: I have corrected a typo in the Haldane quote. Meyers mistakenly has "that" for the second "than.")

December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"

(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"

For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)

The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.

December 11, 2014

Alertness to What Problem Can Be Solved with Unexpected Results

(p. 208) "Every scientist must occasionally turn around and ask not merely, 'How can I solve this problem?' but, 'Now that I have come to a result, what problem have I solved?" This use of reverse questions is of tremendous value precisely at the deepest parts of science."--NORBERT WIENER, INVENTION:THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IDEAS


Norbert Wiener as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 10, 2014

Churchill Was More than an Epiphenomenon

(p. C2) It is easy to see why so many historians and historiographers have taken the Tolstoyan line, that the story of humanity isn't the story of great people and shining deeds. It has been fashionable to say that those so-called great men and women are just epiphenomena, meretricious bubbles on the vast tides of social history. The real story, on this view, is about deep economic forces, technological advances, changes in the price of sorghum, the overwhelming weight of an infinite number of mundane human actions.

The story of Winston Churchill is a pretty withering retort to all that malarkey.

For the full essay, see:

BORIS JOHNSON. "He Still Stands Alone." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Churchill Still Stands Alone.")

The passage quoted above is related to Johnson's book:

Johnson, Boris. The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. New York: Riverhead, 2014.

December 7, 2014

Forssmann's Courage Rewarded with "Professional Criticism and Scorn"

(p. 197) Forssmann's report in the leading German medical journal garnered him not hosannas but instead fierce professional criticism and scorn. In response to a senior physician who claimed undocumented priority for the procedure, the twenty-five-year-old Forssmann was forced to provide an addendum to his publication one month later. Rigid dogmatism and an authoritarian hierarchy characterized the German medicine of that day. The human heart, as the center of life, was considered inviolable by instrumentation and surgery.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 6, 2014

Edison Claimed an Inventor Needs "a Logical Mind that Sees Analogies"

(p. C3) Thomas Edison famously said that genius requires "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Edison's third criterion for would-be innovators is less well-known but perhaps even more vital: "a logical mind that sees analogies."

. . .

The art of analogy flows from creative re-categorization and the information that we extract from surprising sources. Take the invention of the moving assembly line. Credit for this breakthrough typically goes to Henry Ford, but it was actually the brainchild of a young Ford mechanic named Bill Klann. After watching butchers at a meatpacking plant disassemble carcasses moving past them along an overhead trolley, Klann thought that auto workers could assemble cars through a similar process by adding pieces to a chassis moving along rails.

Overcoming significant management skepticism, Klann and his cohorts built a moving assembly line. Within four months, Ford's line had cut the time it took to build a Model T from 12 hours per vehicle to just 90 minutes. In short order, the moving assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and unlocked trillions of dollars in economic potential. And while in retrospect this innovation may seem like a simple, obvious step forward, it wasn't; the underlying analogy between moving disassembly and moving assembly had eluded everyone until Klann grasped its potential.

For the full essay, see:

JOHN POLLACK. "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Four Ways to Innovate through Analogies; Many of history's most important breakthroughs were made by seeing analogies--for example, how a plane is like a bike.")

The passages quoted above are related to Pollack's book:

Pollack, John. Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas. New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2014.

December 3, 2014

Denied Approval to Catheterize Hearts, Forssmann Catheterized His Own

(p. 195) Forssmann received his medical degree from the University of Berlin in 1929. That year, he interned at a small hospital northwest of Berlin, the Auguste-Viktoria-Heim in Eberswalde. He pleaded with his superiors for approval to try a new procedure--to inject drugs directly into the heart--but was unable to persuade them of his new concept's validity. Undaunted, Forssmann proceeded on his own. His goal was to improve upon the administration of drugs into the central circulation during emergency operations.

The circumstances of the incident on November 5, 1929, revealed by Forssmann in his autobiography, could hardly have been (p. 196) more dramatic. The account reflects Forssmann's dogged determination, willpower, and extraordinary courage. He gained the trust of the surgical nurse who provided access to the necessary instruments. So carried away by Forssmann's vision, she volunteered herself to undergo the experiment. Pretending to go along with her, Forssmann strapped her down to the table in a small operating room while his colleagues took their afternoon naps. When she wasn't looking, he anesthetized his own left elbow crease. Once the local anesthetic took effect, Forssmann quickly performed a surgical cutdown to expose his vein and boldly manipulated a flexible ureteral catheter 30 cm toward his heart. This thin sterile rubber tubing used by urologists to drain urine from the kidney was 65 cm long (about 26 inches). He then released the angry nurse.

They walked down two flights of stairs to the X-ray department, where he fearlessly advanced the catheter into the upper chamber (atrium) on the right side of his heart, following its course on a fluoroscopic screen with the aid of a mirror held by the nurse. (Fluoroscopy is an X-ray technique whereby movement of a body organ, an introduced dye, or a catheter within the body can be followed in real time.) He documented his experiment with an X-ray film. Forssmann was oblivious to the danger of abnormal, potentially fatal heart rhythms that can be provoked when anything touches the sensitive endocardium, the inside lining of the heart chambers.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

December 2, 2014

Lippmann Attacked FDR's Socialist National Industrial Recovery Act

(p. A13) . . . Duke economic historian Craufurd D. Goodwin employs the writings of the once-famous newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann to describe the fervid U.S. debates that began with the 1929 stock-market crash.

. . .

Lippmann established his intellectual credentials in the 1920s, writing several well-received books. They included "Public Opinion," which excoriated the press for sloppy coverage of government policies and actions. The book is often seen as a call for top-down rule by experts, but Mr. Goodwin argues that Lippmann had something else in mind--that he was eager for expert opinion and "reasoned study" to be widely disseminated so that self-government would be more fully informed and the citizenry less easily manipulated.

. . .

At first, Lippmann embraced the Keynesian argument that government could ameliorate downswings in business cycles through deficit spending, but he later had second thoughts about economic engineering and became more attuned to the free-market ideas of Friedrich Hayek, whom he knew and consulted.   . . .    Lippmann attacked as ill-conceived the most ambitious New Deal brainstorm, the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which attempted to organize all business and industry into cartels to boost prices.

For the full review, see:

GEORGE MELLOAN. "BOOKSHELF; The Umpire of American Public Debate; Certain that a return of investment confidence would restore prosperity, Lippmann criticized those that blamed Wall Street for the malaise." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 13, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Walter Lippmann: Umpire of American Public Debate; Certain that a return of investment confidence would restore prosperity, Lippmann criticized those that blamed Wall Street for the malaise.")

The book under review, is:

Goodwin, Craufurd D. Walter Lippmann: Public Economist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

November 25, 2014

Major Cancer Drugs Have Come from Unexpected Sources

(p. 182) Starting in the last decades of the twentieth century, last decades of the twentieth century, sophisticated genetics and molecular biology have been aimed toward a more precise understanding of the cell's mechanisms. Yet, even here, chance has continued to be a big factor. Surprising discoveries led to uncovering cancer-inducing genes (oncogenes) and tumor-suppressing genes, both of which are normal cellular genes that, when mutated, can induce a biological effect that predisposes the cell to cancer development. A search for blood substitutes led to anti-angiogenesis drugs. Veterinary medicine led to oncogenes and vaccine preparations to tumor-suppressor genes. In one of the greatest serendipitous discoveries of (p. 183) modern medicine, stem cells were stumbled upon during research on radiation effects on the blood.

Experience has clearly shown that major cancer drugs have been discovered by independent, thoughtful, and self-motivated researchers--the cancer war's "guerrillas," to use the reigning metaphor--from unexpected sources: from chemical warfare (nitrogen mustard), nutritional research (methotrexate), medicinal folklore (the vinca alkaloids), bacteriologic research (cisplatin), biochemistry research (sex hormones), blood storage research (angiogenic inhibitors), clinical observations (COX-2 inhibitors), and embryology (thalidomide).


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

November 24, 2014

Affordable Care Act Reduces GDP, Employment and Labor Income

(p. A17) Whether the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name depends on how, or whether, you consider its consequences for the wider economy.

. . .

I estimate that the ACA's long-term impact will include about 3% less weekly employment, 3% fewer aggregate work hours, 2% less GDP and 2% less labor income. These effects will be visible and obvious by 2017, if not before. The employment and hours estimates are based on the combined amount of the law's new taxes and disincentives and on historical research on the aggregate effects of each dollar of taxation. The GDP and income estimates reflect lower amounts of labor as well as the law's effects on the productivity of each hour of labor.

. . .

The Affordable Care Act is weakening the economy. And for the large number of families and individuals who continue to pay for their own health care, health care is now less affordable.

For the full commentary, see:

CASEY B. MULLIGAN. "OPINION; The Myth of ObamaCare's Affordability; The law's perverse incentives will have the nation working fewer hours, and working those hours less productively." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 9, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPTEMBER 8, 2014.)

Mulligan's research on the effects of Obamacare is detailed in his Kindle e-book:

Mulligan, Casey B. Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform. Flossmoor, IL: JMJ Economics, 2014.

November 20, 2014

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors' Prison

(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country's insolvency. He was bullish on America's future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures--a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land--that eventually landed him in debtors' prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in "Robert Morris's Folly."

For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. "Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Robert Morris's Folly' by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.")

The book being reviewed is:

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris's Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

November 16, 2014

Steelcase Designs Quiet Space for Introverts to Think

(p. D2) Introverts' nervous systems are more sensitive to stimulation than extroverts' are, according to Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking."

"When introverts get too much stimulation, they feel overwhelmed and jangled," she said.

With no privacy or way to shield themselves from the commotion, introverts, estimated to make up one-third to one-half of the population, can feel exposed in the modern workplace. Being on display is imposing and distracting to them, Cain said.

Office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. is trying to give the left-behind introverts some love. Its new set of "quiet spaces," designed in collaboration with Cain, aims to help introverts relax and focus away from the eyes of their coworkers.

. . .

Part of Steelcase's pitch to potential customers: this is a talent issue. Why spend so much time and money recruiting employees if they can't focus and work well in your space?

For the full story, see:

RACHEL FEINTZEIG. "How to Avoid that Sinking Feeling When in the Fish Bowl." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 3, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 2, 2014, and has the title "For Office Introverts, a Room of One's Own.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.

November 12, 2014

FDR Ruthlessly Manipulated Political Process

(p. D8) Michael C. Janeway, a former editor of The Boston Globe and executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly who wrote two books chronicling what he saw as the intertwined decline of democracy and journalism in the United States, died on Thursday [April 17, 2014] at his home in Lakeville, Conn.

. . .

The second book, "The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power From FDR to LBJ," published in 2004, measured some of the ideas in his first book against the history of the New Deal. It focused on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inner circle of advisers, a group of political operatives and thinkers often called Roosevelt's "brain trust," who helped conceive ideas like the minimum wage, Social Security and federal bank deposit insurance.

Mr. Janeway's father, Eliot Janeway, an economist, Democratic hand and columnist for Time magazine (a portfolio not unheard-of in those days), was a prominent member of that group.

Michael Janeway suggested that in undertaking the radical changes necessary to yank the "shattered American capitalist system into regulation and reform," Roosevelt and his team manipulated the political process with a level of ruthlessness that may have been justified by the perils of the times. But in the years that followed, he wrote, the habit of guile and highhandedness devolved into the kind of arrogance that defined -- and doomed -- the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, Roosevelt's last political heir.

For the full obituary, see:

PAUL VITELLO. "Michael Janeway, 73, Former Editor of The Boston Globe." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 19, 2014): D8.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has title "Michael Janeway, Former Editor of The Boston Globe, Dies at 73.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Janeway, Michael. The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power from FDR to LBJ, Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

November 8, 2014

Shetl Golden Age Ended When "Russia Repurposed Shtetl Jews as Scapegoats"

(p. 15) Smuggling looms large not only in the economy of Petrovsky-Shtern's shtetl but for its symbolism, too. The author is interested in the way aspects of one world slide inside another. His golden-age shtetl was born when Russia swallowed a giant slice of Poland at the end of the 18th century and went from having few Jews to overseeing vast numbers of them, many of whom lived in privately owned Polish towns.

These towns are the essential ingredients of the hybrid world Petrovsky-Shtern is celebrating. Polish nobles had permitted Jews to live there on the condition that they ran the outdoor markets, sold liquor and in general acted as engines of trade. When the towns fell under Russian rule, Jews retained many of their economic privileges while expanding their civil rights, especially after they displayed a willingness to inform on their erstwhile Polish overlords.

Shtetl dwellers became adept at playing the declining Polish nobility off against bribable Russian officials. The czar had not yet laid his heavy hand on the trade by which shtetl Jews powered the economic growth of western Russia. Neither had he made nationalism the supreme ideology and Eastern Orthodoxy synonymous with Russian nationalism.

That would come, and as the Russian treasury bought up more and more of the private towns and trade died, Russia repurposed shtetl Jews as scapegoats for a restive peasant population.

For the full review, see:

JONATHAN ROSEN. "World of Our Great-Grandfathers." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 27, 2014): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 25, 2014.)

The book under review is:

Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

November 5, 2014

"Folkman Persisted in His Genuinely Original Thinking"

(p. 141) As detailed by Robert Cooke in his 2001 book Dr. Folkman's War, the successful answers to these basic questions took Folkman through diligent investigations punctuated by an astonishing series of chance observations and circumstances. Over decades, Folkman persisted in his genuinely original thinking. His concept was far in advance of technological and other scientific advances that would provide the methodology and basic knowledge essential to its proof, forcing him to await verification and to withstand ridicule, scorn, and vicious competition for grants. Looking back three decades later, Folkman would ruefully reflect: "I was too young to realize how much trouble was in store for a theory that could not be tested immediately."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

November 4, 2014

Less than One Percent of Government Spending Is Cost Effective

(p. A3) . . . , most Americans don't think of their government as particularly successful. Only 19 percent say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to Gallup.

. . .

Of the 11 large programs for low- and moderate-income people that have been subject to rigorous, randomized evaluation, only one or two show strong evidence of improving most beneficiaries' lives.

"Less than 1 percent of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence of cost-effectiveness," writes Peter Schuck, a Yale law professor, in his new book, "Why Government Fails So Often," a sweeping history of policy disappointments.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "A Quiet Movement to Help Government Fail Less Often." The New York Times (Tues., July 15, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the last two paragraphs quoted above, were combined into one paragraph in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has title "The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often.")

The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Schuck, Peter. Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

November 2, 2014

Zambrano Was Cement Process Innovator

(p. A22) Beginning in 1992, Mr. Zambrano bought up far-flung producers to create the third-largest cement company in the world. He remade each new acquisition, introducing high technology and logistical efficiencies that made Cemex the subject of business school case studies at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From his own computer Mr. Zambrano could monitor any Cemex operation in more than 50 countries, said Rossana Fuentes-Berain, a Mexican journalist who wrote a 2007 book about Mr. Zambrano, "Grey Gold."

What distinguished him was "the technology, the management and the hunger to prove that you can be as good as anybody in the market," Ms. Fuentes-Berain said.

For the full obituary, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Lorenzo Zambrano, 70, Leader of Cemex, Dies." The New York Times (Thurs., May 15, 2014): A22.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 13, 2014, and has the title "Lorenzo H. Zambrano, Head of Cement Giant Cemex, Dies at 70.")

The biography mentioned above, as of this posting, is only available in Spanish:

Fuentes-Berain, Rossana. Oro Gris: Zambrano, La Gesta de Cemex y la Globalizacion en Mexico. Aguilar, 2007.

October 31, 2014

Declaration and Constitution Built Upon Philosophical Radicals Locke, Spinoza, Epicurus and Lucretius

(p. C7) In Mr. Stewart's telling, the central tenets of "philosophical radicalism" worked their way into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by a kind of ideological stealth. When, for example, Jefferson referred in the first paragraph of the Declaration to "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle" a nation, he wasn't just offering a palatable conception of deity to his religious or nominally religious readers. He was drawing on a radical tradition stretching back to John Locke and especially to the Dutch rationalist Baruch Spinoza, who himself had drawn on the ancient Greek philosophers Epicurus and Lucretius.

For the full review, see:

BARTON SWAIM. "How Radical Were the Founders?; Was America's revolution driven by political philosophers, or practical men reacting to events?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 26, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 25, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Nature's God' by Matthew Stewart & 'Independence' by Thomas P. Slaughter; Was America's revolution driven by political philosophers, or practical men reacting to events?")

The book discussed in the quoted passage is:

Stewart, Matthew. Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

October 29, 2014

Marxist Publisher Supports Justice of Intellectual Property Rights

(p. A1) The Marxist Internet Archive, a website devoted to radical writers and thinkers, recently received an email: It must take down hundreds of works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or face legal consequences.

The warning didn't come from a multinational media conglomerate but from a small, leftist publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, which asserted copyright ownership over the 50-volume, English-language edition of Marx's and Engels's writings.

To some, it was "uncomradely" that fellow radicals would deploy the capitalist tool of intellectual property law to keep Marx's and Engels's writings off the Internet. And it wasn't lost on the archive's supporters that the deadline for complying with the order came on the eve of May 1, International Workers' Day.

. . .

(p. A4) . . . the libertarian Cato Institute enjoyed teasing its ideological adversaries with an I-told-you-so blog post titled, "Because Property Rights Are Important."

. . .

The publisher . . . tried to turn the tables on its critics, questioning whether it was indeed radical to believe that there is no ownership of content produced through hard work, like the mammoth translation and annotation of Marx's and Engels's work, a project initially directed by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s that took some 30 years of collaboration among scholars across the world.

In a note on its site, Lawrence & Wishart said its critics were not carrying on the socialist and communist traditions, but reflecting a "consumer culture which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers, leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid, while the large publishing and other media conglomerates and aggregators continue to enrich themselves through advertising and data-mining revenues."

For the full story, see:

NOAM COHEN. "Claiming a Marx Copyright? How Uncomradely." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2014): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2014, and has the title "Claiming a Copyright on Marx? How Uncomradely.")

October 28, 2014

In Finding Cure for Ulcers, Marshall Was Not Constrained by the Need to Obtain Approval or Funding

(p. 113) Marshall was a youthful maverick, not bound by traditional theory and not professionally invested in a widely held set of beliefs. There is such a thing as being too much of an insider. Marshall viewed the problem with fresh eyes and was not constrained by the requirement to obtain approval or funding for his pursuits. It is also noteworthy that his work was accomplished not at a high-powered academic ivory tower with teams of investigators but instead far from the prestigious research centers in the Western Hemisphere.

The delay in acceptance of Marshall's revolutionary hypothesis reflects the tenacity with which long-held concepts are maintained. Vested interests--intellectual, financial, commercial, status--keep these entrenched. Dogmatic believers find themselves under siege by a new set of explanations.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

October 27, 2014

China May Have Higher Incomes, But India Has Freedom and Hope

(p. A11) The author remains generally optimistic about India's prospects. Economic reforms that began in 1991 have quickened growth. On average, GDP has grown nearly 7% a year since then. Thanks to a media revolution that began in the 1990s and has exploded over the past decade, a state-owned monopoly over television news has given way to upward of 450 raucous channels that make Fox News look staid by comparison. The author argues that together these two trends have sparked a kind of virtuous cycle: Better-educated and better-fed Indians are demanding more from their politicians. A take-no-prisoners media will keep them on their toes.

. . .

Educated Indians can't stop complaining about the politicians who lead them. Yet, echoing the historian Ramachandra Guha, Mr. Denyer argues that India's main success since its independence in 1947 has been political rather than economic. It has strengthened its democratic institutions and nurtured religious and cultural pluralism. Despite the fact that the average Indian earned $1,500 last year, less than a fourth of the average Chinese, it is in New Delhi, not Beijing, that you can afford to call the president (or prime minister) a blithering idiot without worrying about a midnight knock on the door.

For the full review, see:

SADANAND DHUME. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door.")

The book being reviewed is:

Denyer, Simon. Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India's Unruly Democracy. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.

October 24, 2014

Ideas Should Not Be Rejected Just Because They Disagree with Reigning Theory

(p. 107) . . . Claude Bernard, the nineteenth-century founder of experimental medicine, . . . famously said, "If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses added.)

October 23, 2014

The Invention of the Vacuum Tube as a Revolutionary Event

(p. A11) Mr. Bryce's engrossing survey has two purposes. The first is to refute pessimists who claim that technology-driven economic growth will burn through the planet's resources and lead to catastrophe. "We are living in a world equipped with physical-science capabilities that stagger the imagination," he writes. "If we want to bring more people out of poverty, we must embrace [technological innovation], not reject it." The book's other purpose is to persuade climate-change fundamentalists that they are standing on the wrong side of history. Instead of saving the planet by going backward to Don Quixote's windmills, they need to take a progressive approach to technology itself, he says, striving to make nuclear power safer, for instance, and using the hydrocarbon revolution sparked by fracking and deep-offshore exploration to bridge the way to the future.

. . .

Mr. Bryce focuses in particular on the vacuum tube, designed in 1906 by Lee de Forest, the man also credited with inventing the radio.

The discovery of the vacuum tube, Mr. Bryce says, was a revolutionary event. By trapping the energy generated from the free flow of electrons and directing it to boost a small AC current into a much larger one, de Forest created electric amplification--which the transistor and integrated circuit would multiply exponentially.

For the full review, see:

ARTHUR HERMAN. "BOOKSHELF; How to Defuse the Power Elite; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper' by Robert Bryce; To compel the switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar power is to consign billions of people to a life of poverty and darkness.")

The book being reviewed is:

Bryce, Robert. Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

October 20, 2014

Needed Revolutionary Ideas Often Come From Outsiders

(p. 103) . . . where knowledge is no longer growing and the field has been worked out, a revolutionary new approach is required and this is more likely to come from the outsider. The skepticism with which the experts nearly always greet these revolutionary ideas confirms that the available knowledge has been a handicap."


W. I. B. Beveridge as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 19, 2014

Fleck Made Two Versions of His Typhus Vaccine: A Worthless Version for the SS Troops and an Effective Version for His Fellow Buchenwald Inmates

(p. C7) Ludwik Fleck (1896-1961), who earned a doctorate at Lwów University while studying under Weigl, also became interested in typhus during World War I, when he too was drafted by Austria-Hungary. Fleck's specialty was immunology, and in 1919 he joined Weigl's institute. Somewhere between 1921 and 1923 he crafted a way to diagnose typhus, but despite this achievement, Polish anti-Semitism denied him the academic recognition that his talent merited. During this period, he would occupy government posts (until 1935, when anti-Semitic policies made it impossible for Jews to hold such positions) and, with his wife's dowry, opened his own laboratory.

By August 1942, Fleck, though confined to Lwów's Jewish ghetto, managed to create a vaccine from the urine of typhus patients. (Fleck's vaccine may have been easier to produce than Weigl's.) Six months later, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he worked in a bacteriological research unit and where he was treated somewhat better than most camp inmates. In December 1943, Fleck was dispatched to the Buchenwald concentration camp to work on a typhus vaccine.

The Germans wanted the Buchenwald typhus-vaccine prisoner unit--some were physicians and scientists, some weren't--to follow instructions for making a vaccine that had originated at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. It was a convoluted process that involved rabbit lungs and the organs of other animals. The unit's inmates, including Fleck, who understood immunology better than anyone else at Buchenwald, conspired to produce two kinds of vaccine: large quantities of worthless serum that were shipped to SS troops at the front; and much smaller doses of effective vaccine that were used to secretly immunize prisoners. Their daring sabotage could have led to their execution, of course, but their Nazi overseers in the camp were too medically ignorant to understand what was transpiring. If senior SS officials elsewhere became suspicious, the prisoners would supply the real vaccine for testing by the skeptical parties.

For the full review, see:

HOWARD SCHNEIDER. "The Fever that Gripped Europe." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl' by Arthur Allen; Two scientists who worked to beat typhus and sabotage the Nazis.")

The book being reviewed:

Allen, Arthur. The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl: How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

My dissertation adviser, Stephen Toulmin, recommended a philosophy of science book by Ludwig Fleck that I have owned for several decades, but never gotten around to reading. It is said to anticipate some of the issues discussed by Thomas Kuhn in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The Fleck book is:

Fleck, Ludwik. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. pb ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981 [first published in German in 1935].

October 16, 2014

Medical Innovator "Maintained a Healthy Skepticism Toward Accepted Wisdom"

(p. 103) Barry Marshall, a lanky twenty-nine-year-old resident in internal medicine at Warren's hospital, was assigned to was assigned to gastroenterology for six months as part of his training and was looking for a research project. The eldest son of a welder and a nurse, Marshall grew up in a remote area of Western Australia where self-sufficiency and common sense were essential characteristics. His personal qualities of intelligence, tenacity, open-mindedness, and self-confidence would serve him and Warren well in bringing about a conceptual revolution. Relatively new to gastroenterology, he did not hold a set of well-entrenched beliefs. Marshall could maintain a healthy skepticism toward accepted wisdom. Indeed, the concept that bacteria caused stomach inflammation, and even ulcers, was less alien to him than to most gastroenterologists.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

October 15, 2014

We Feel Safer When We Have More Personal Control

(p. C3) So how should we approach risk? The numbers can help, especially if we simplify them. For acute risks, a good measure is the MicroMort, devised by Stanford's Ronald A. Howard in the 1970s. One MicroMort (1 MM) is equal to a one-in-a-million chance of death.

. . .

In truth, "Don't do that, it's dangerous!" is about much more than the numbers. We must also reflect on the full basis for our preferences--such as, to take one small psychological characteristic among many, what we value in life, as well as what we fear.

. . .

In fact, the numbers tend to have the effect of highlighting the psychological factors. Take traveling. For 1 MM, you can drive 240 miles in the U.S., fly 7,500 miles in a commercial aircraft or fly just 12 miles in a light aircraft. We tend to feel safer if we feel more personal control, but we have no control whatsoever in a passenger jet, the safest of all (notwithstanding last week's terrible tragedy). You could take that as evidence of human irrationality. We take it as evidence that human motives matter more than the pure odds allow.

For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL BLASTLAND and DAVID SPIEGELHALTER. "Risk Is Never a Strict Numbers Game; We tell children to shun ecstasy but don't fret about horseback riding--and other foibles of our view of danger." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 18, 2014.)

The passages quoted above were from a commentary adapted from the book:

Blastland, Michael, and David Spiegelhalter. The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

October 12, 2014

"It Is Often Essential to Spot the Exceptions to the Rule"

Baruch Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976:

(p. 98) . . ., Blumberg learned an invaluable lesson: "In research, it is often essential to spot the exceptions to the rule--those cases that do not fit what you perceive as the emerging picture.... Frequently the most interesting findings grow out of the 'chance' or unanticipated results."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

October 11, 2014

Variable Gene Expression Gives Us "Surprising Resilience"

(p. 11) As a physician who researches and treats rare genetic disorders, Sharon Moalem, the author of "Inheritance," sees firsthand how sharply DNA can constrain our lives. Yet "our genes aren't as fixed and rigid as most of us have been led to believe," he says, for while genetic defects often create havoc, variable gene expression (our genes' capacity to respond to the environment with a flexibility only now being fully recognized) can give our bodies and minds surprising resilience. In his new book, Moalem describes riveting dramas emerging from both defective genes and reparative epigenetics.

. . .

Moalem's earthy, patient-focused account reminds us that whatever its promise, genetics yet stands at a humble place.

For the full review, see:

DAVID DOBBS. "The Fault in Our DNA." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 13, 2014): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 10, 2014.)

Book under review:

Moalem, Sharon. Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives--and Our Lives Change Our Genes. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014.

October 8, 2014

Why Did Waksman Not Pursue the Streptomycin Antibiotic?

What did Waksman lack to pursue the streptomycin antibiotic sooner? Enough independent funding? Alertness? Enough desire to make a ding in the universe? Enough unhappiness about unnecessary death? Willingness to embrace the hard work of embracing dissonant facts?

(p. 83) Waksman missed several opportunities to make the great discovery earlier in his career, but his single-mindedness did not allow for, in Salvador Luria's phrase, "the chance observation falling on the receptive eye." In 1975 Waksman recalled that he first brushed past an antibiotic as early as 1923 when he observed that "certain actinomycetes produce substances toxic to bacteria" since it can be noted at times that "around an actinomycetes colony upon a plate a zone is formed free from fungous and bacterial growth." In 1935 Chester Rhines, a graduate student of Waksman's, noticed that tubercle bacilli would not grow in the presence of a soil organism, but Waksman did not think that this lead was worth pursuing: "In the scientific climate of the time, the result did not suggest any practical application for treatment of tuberculosis." The same year, Waksman's friend Fred Beau-dette, the poultry pathologist at Rutgers, brought him an agar tube with a culture of tubercle bacilli killed by a contaminant fungus growing on top of them. Again, Waksman was not interested: "I was not moved to jump to the logical conclusion and direct my efforts accordingly.... My major interest at that time was the subject of organic matter decomposition and the interrelationships among soil micro-organisms responsible for this process."


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

October 7, 2014

Nader Enlists Mises, Hayek, Friedman and Stigler in Critique of Crony Capitalism

(p. A9) Mr. Nader, the consumer crusader who ran for president to the left of Al Gore, is perhaps the last person one would expect to admire a libertarian critique of the corporate state. But in "Unstoppable" he respectfully describes the views of Ludwig Von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, George Stigler and other free-market economists. He praises their distrust of politicians, lobbyists and businessmen who seek to put government power in the service of corporate profit.

Not that the Republican Party is always guided by such thinkers. Mr. Nader neatly describes how corporatist RINOs (Republican In Name Only) co-opt the party's anti-statist crusaders. "The corporatist Republicans," he writes, "let the libertarians and conservatives have the paper platforms . . . and then move into office, where they are quick to throw out a welcome mat for Big Business lobbyists with their slush funds." He cites Adam Smith's suspicion of regulations that benefit special interests: "Such restraints favor the privileged interests that want to entrench their economic advantages through the force of law."

These are profound observations and ones that I saw play out while editing the Americas column for this newspaper in the 1980s and '90s. Mercantilist Latin American businessmen who claimed to cheer market forces often thrived only because of their contacts in government. They reached out to the Journal's editorial page as allies but were more socialist in practice than some of their left-wing enemies. Little did I suspect that a similar form of mercantilism, or corporate statism, would take root in the U.S. It is a pleasure to see Mr. Nader doing battle against such cozy arrangements.

For the full review, see:

DAVID ASMAN. "BOOKSHELF; Let's Make a Deal; Ralph Nader's latest crusade is against the convergence of big business and government power. Let's hope he succeeds." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A9.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 17, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Unstoppable' by Ralph Nader; Ralph Nader's latest crusade is against the convergence of big business and government power. Let's hope he succeeds.")

Book under review:

Nader, Ralph. Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. New York: Nation Books, 2014.

October 3, 2014

China as Evil Empire

(p. C1) Mr. Eimer is a British correspondent who sometimes roamed around minority areas using a second passport with (p. C6) a tourist visa to avoid official restrictions that apply to journalists. What he found on his travels was a pattern of misrule and oppression on the part of the Han, as ethnic Chinese call themselves, and a mixture of resentment, despair, resignation and anomie among the subjugated peoples.

. . .

Because Mr. Eimer is not bound by diplomatic or journalistic niceties, he can be blunt in the terminology he uses. To him, China is not so much a state or a nation as a "huge, unwieldy and unstable empire," with the Han in the dominant position that the Austrians, Turks or English once enjoyed in empires now vanished.

. . .

"We say China is a country vast in territory, rich in resources and large in population," Mao Zedong said in a 1956 speech buried deep in the fifth volume of his selected works but cited by Mr. Eimer as a likely explanation for Chinese expansionism. "As a matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich."

As the Mao speech shows, Mr. Eimer is especially adept at ferreting out obscure historical facts and documents that put the lie to Beijing's claims that these outlying areas have always been part of China. To deal with neighbors who were then outside its borders, the Qing dynasty, he notes, "established a separate bureaucracy called the Lifan Yuan, or Court of Colonial Affairs," which "functioned much like the former Colonial Office in the U.K., which administered the British Empire."

Mr. Eimer's travels take him to all four quadrants of China's land border, the longest in the world. His method is to spend time with an ethnic minority living in Chinese territory, then cross over to a neighboring country to see how the same group is faring there -- almost always better than in China.

For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Antidote to Illusion, Examining Restive Borders." The New York Times (Mon., AUG. 4, 2014): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 3, 2014, and has the title "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Antidote to Illusion, Examining Restive Borders; 'The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China,' by David Eimer.")

The book being reviewed is:

Eimer, David. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014.

September 30, 2014

"Seeing What Everybody Has Seen and Thinking What Nobody Has Thought"

Szent-Györgyi is onto something important below. But I think it would be more accurate to say that we all experience dissonant events (but usually not the same dissonant events, as Szent-Györgyi implies), and that most of us let the events pass without noticing, or remembering, or making use of them. What is rare is to notice the events, remember them and make use of them. Those who carry around with them the burden of unsolved problems, and unfixed frustrations, are more likely to see in unexpected events solutions to those problems and fixes for the frustrations. This all takes the effort of our better self (what Kahneman calls our System 2). It takes effort to carry around the problems, to bear the dissonant observations, and to suffer the indifference of friends and the ridicule of experts. But it is through such effort that we better understand the world and, most importantly, that we improve the world.

(p. 12) "Discovery (p. 13) consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought," according to Nobelist Albert Szent-Györgyi.14

. . .

(p. 324) 14. Albert Szent-Györgyi, Bioenergetics (New York: Academic Press, 1957), 57.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 29, 2014

For Health Entrepreneurs "the Regulatory Burden in the U.S. Is So High"

(p. A11) Yo is a smartphone app. MelaFind is a medical device. Yo sends one meaningless message: "Yo!" MelaFind tells you: "biopsy this and don't biopsy that." MelaFind saves lives. Yo does not. Guess which firm found it easier to put their product in consumers hands?

. . .

In January 2010, Jeffrey Shuren, a veteran FDA official, was appointed director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the division responsible for evaluating MelaFind. Dr. Shuren, Dr. Gulfo writes, had "a reputation for being somewhat anti-industry" and "an aggressive agenda to completely revamp the device approval process." Thus in March MELA Sciences was issued something called a "Not Approvable letter" raising various questions about MelaFind.

. . .

The letter sent the author into survival mode. He battled the FDA, calmed investors, and defended against the lawsuit all while trying to keep the company afloat. Under stress, Dr. Gulfo's health began to decline: He lost 29 pounds, his hair began to fall out, and the pain in his gut became so intense he needed an endoscopy.

. . .

The climax to this medical thriller comes when, in "the greatest 15 minutes of [his] life," Dr. Gulfo delivers an impassioned speech, à la "Twelve Angry Men," to the FDA's advisory committee. The committee voted for approval, 8 to 7, and, perhaps with the congressional hearing in mind, the FDA approved MelaFind in September 2011.

It was a major triumph for the company, but Dr. Gulfo was beat. He retired from the company in June 2013-- . . .

. . .

Google's Sergey Brin recently said that he didn't want to be a health entrepreneur because "It's just a painful business to be in . . . the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs." Mr. Brin won't find anything in Dr. Gulfo's book to persuade him otherwise. Until we get our regulatory system in order, expect a lot more Yo's and not enough life-saving innovations.

For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; It's Broke. Fix It. MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 12, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the final paragraph, which is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Innovation Breakdown' by Joseph V. Gulfo; MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.")

The book under review is:

Gulfo, Joseph V. Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014.

September 26, 2014

Serendipitous Discoveries Are Made by "Accidents and Sagacity"

(p. 6) "Accident" is not really the best word to describe such fortuitous discoveries. Accident implies mindlessness. Christopher Columbus's discovery of the American continent was pure accident--he was looking for something else (the Orient) and stumbled upon this, and never knew, not even on his dying day, that he had discovered a new continent. A better name for the phenomenon we will be looking at in the pages to follow is "serendipity," a word that came into the English language in 1754 by way of the writer Horace Walpole. The key point of the phenomenon of serendipity is illustrated in Walpole's telling of an ancient Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (set in the land of Serendip, now known as Sri Lanka): "As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."

Accidents and sagacity. Sagacity--defined as penetrating intelligence, keen perception, and sound judgment--is essential to serendipity. The men and women who seized on lucky accidents that happened to them were anything but mindless. In fact, their minds typically had special qualities that enabled them to break out of established paradigms, imagine new possibilities, and see that they had found a solution, often to some problem other than the one they were working on. Accidental discoveries would be nothing without keen, creative minds knowing what to do with them.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 25, 2014

Insider Reports on Crony Journalism at CBS and ABC

You hear a lot these days about 'crony capitalism' which no-one, including me, much likes. (The version I like is entrepreneurial capitalism.) But we too often forget that adjective "crony" can modify other nouns besides "capitalism." Here are a couple of examples of crony journalism.

(p. A11) . . . skip to the second part, which is mostly a memoir and almost all about journalism. It includes one of the toughest critiques of television news ever written by an insider. From 1977 to 1989, Mr. Lewis worked for ABC News and then for CBS's news program "60 Minutes."

. . .

The most acute of Mr. Lewis's frustrations came when Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," refused to broadcast a Lewis report on former government officials profiting as U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests unless the name of Hewitt's good friend Pete Peterson, then chairman of the Blackstone Group, was excised from the script. In the story, a photograph showed five smiling Blackstone executives, all former federal appointees, in a Japanese newspaper advertisement seeking business for their lobbying efforts. Mr. Peterson was singled out by name in the voice-over narrative. Correspondent Mike Wallace, for whom Mr. Lewis worked directly, implored him in a shouting match to remove Mr. Peterson's name, to no avail. But Hewitt was more subtle, simply refusing to schedule the piece for airing. Mr. Lewis bitterly relented to Hewitt's implicit demand and quit the day after the story was broadcast.

As for ABC, Mr. Lewis reports that its legendary news chief Roone Arledge killed a tough story on tobacco at the request of "the Corporate guys," who were fearful that the network could complicate its position in a libel suit that Philip Morris had already filed against the broadcaster.

For the full review, see:

RICHARD J. TOFEL. "BOOKSHELF; Media Manipulation; At ABC News and CBS's '60 Minutes,' producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 16, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: '935 Lies' by Charles Lewis; At ABC News and CBS's '60 Minutes,' producers would regularly kill stories critical of the powerful and connected.")

The book being reviewed is:

Lewis, Charles. 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity. New York: PublicAffairs, 2014.

September 22, 2014

Funding Policies Constrain or Enable Serendipitous Discoveries

(p. xiv) Casting a critical eye on the way in which our society spends its research dollars, Happy Accidents offers new benchmarks for deciding how to spend future research funds. We as a society need to take steps to foster the kind of creative, curiosity-driven research that will certainly result in more lifesaving medical breakthroughs. Fostering an openness to serendipity has the potential to accelerate medical discovery as never before.


Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)

September 21, 2014

"A Small Masterpiece of Animal Literature"

(p. A13) In the annals of publishing, there may be a precedent or two for a venerable military historian setting aside his generals and artillery to evoke the love affair that consumed him as a younger man, but it's probably safe to say that in none of these memoirs is the object of adoration feathered, 10 inches tall and given to maniacally attacking the historian's shoelaces. Such is the case with Martin Windrow's "The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar." If the above description makes the book sound funny, touching and divertingly novel, so it is. But there's more to it than that. In relaxed yet lapidary prose, Mr. Windrow--best known for "The Last Valley," his 2004 account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu--has produced an homage to both a creature and its species that is almost Leonardo-like in its precision and spirit of curiosity. The result is nothing less than a small masterpiece of animal literature.

. . .

Mumble became his mate-equivalent, and he hers. With the restraint typical of an educated Englishman of his generation, he does not dilate on what she meant to him, but we feel it the more keenly for his reticence.

A paradoxical pitfall of animal literature is that it achieves its effects too easily: Consider how quick we are to laugh when a writer so much as mentions a monkey. The good stuff, however, stands out for its refusal to push buttons or indulge in glib anthropomorphism. In this perfect book, Mr. Windrow may compare Mumble to a samurai and think of her as hurling at pigeons the owlish equivalent of a certain Anglo-Saxon expletive, but he never loses sight of what she is: Strix aluco, a beautiful alien.

For the full review, see:

BEN DOWNING. "BOOKSHELF; Full Feather Jacket; A military historian and an owl make a home together in a London high-rise. Visitors are issued vintage helmets for protection." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 1, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar' by Martin Windrow; A military historian and an owl make a home together in a London high-rise. Visitors are issued vintage helmets for protection.")

The book being reviewed is:

Windrow, Martin. The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

September 19, 2014

Curing Cancer Requires Enabling Serendipity, Not a Centrally Planned War

Happy Accidents is a wonderful book on serendipitous discovery that I ran across serendipitously. I had never heard of the author, but was interested in serendipity, so I started to collect books that Amazon says have something to do with serendipity. I let Happy Accidents sit on my shelf for about four years before starting to read.

The author is a retired, distinguished physician. The book is mainly a compendium of cases where major medical advances resulted from chance discoveries. Of course, the discoveries usually required more than just good luck. They usually required that someone was alert to the unexpected, and was willing to work in order to turn the unexpected into a cure. Their efforts are often made all the harder because of resistance from powerful incumbent "experts" and institutions. Often the discoveries go against the current theory, and are discovered by underfunded marginal outsiders.

Meyers points out that the centrally planned War on Cancer has cost the taxpayer a lot of money, and has largely failed to achieve its intended and predicted results. The reason is that you cannot centrally plan serendipity.

During the next several weeks, I will be quoting some of Meyers' more revealing examples or thought-provoking comments.

Book discussed:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

September 14, 2014

Similarities Between Lucretius and Galileo

(p. 254) Like Lucretius, Galileo defended the oneness of the celestial and terrestrial world: there was no essential difference, he claimed, between the nature of the sun and the planets and the nature of the earth and its inhabitants. Like Lucretius, he believed that everything in the universe could be understood through the same disciplined use of observation and reason. Like Lucretius, he insisted on the testimony of the senses, against, if necessary, the orthodox claims of authority. Like Lucretius, he sought to work through this testimony toward a rational comprehension of the hidden structures of all things. And like Lucretius, he was convinced that these structures were by nature constituted by what he called "minims" or minimal particles, that is, constituted by a limited repertory of atoms combined in innumerable ways.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

September 13, 2014

Under Communism People Felt They Had No Control Over Their Lives

(p. C4) "When people have to talk about Communism," they tend to employ passive, impersonal constructions, as if they "had no influence on anything and were unwilling to take personal responsibility," he notes in one typically observant passage. "Thus, in a situation where someone ought to say: 'I was afraid to talk about it,' 'I hadn't the courage to ask about it,' or 'I had no idea about it,' they say: 'There was no talk about it.' 'Nothing was known about it.' 'That wasn't asked about.' "

For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Understanding the Land Where 'Kafkaesque' Was Born." The New York Times (Mon., June 23, 2014): C4.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 22, 2014.)

The book being reviewed is:

Szczygiel, Mariusz. Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2014.

September 10, 2014

Cardinal Explained to Emperor that It Is OK to Lie to Heretics

Notwithstanding the assurances that the pope, the council, and the emperor had given him, Hus was almost immediately vilified and denied the opportunity to speak in public. On November 28, barely three weeks after he arrived, he was arrested on order of the cardinals and taken to the prison of a Dominican monastery on the banks of the Rhine. There he was thrown into an underground cell through which all the filth of the monastery was discharged. When he fell seriously ill, he asked that an advocate be appointed to defend his cause, but he was told that, according to canon law, no one could plead the cause of a man charged with heresy. In the face of protests from Hus and his Bohemian supporters about the apparent violation of his safe-conduct, the emperor chose not to intervene. He was, it was said, uncomfortable about what seemed a violation of his word, but an English cardinal had reportedly reassured him that "no faith need be kept with heretics."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: this quote is from somewhere on pp. 167-168; I bought the Kindle version which does not give page numbers correctly and I can't recover pages on this one from Google books; I would guess it is all on p. 168.)

September 9, 2014

"Et La Liberté!"

(p. C7) [A] milestone in the diary comes in 1943 when [Guéhenno's] students are drafted into compulsory work service in Germany; many escape to Spain or join resistance groups. Nor was Guéhenno exempt from the repression. That same year he was demoted by the Vichy education minister to the rank of a beginning instructor, assigned to teach 17 hours of class a week rather than the usual six and faced with supervising hundreds of students. "Stammering with fatigue," he wondered how he would have time to keep his diary going. But he cheered up whenever he contemplated how many of the authors in his curriculum were bona fide revolutionaries: "Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Danton, Robespierre, Chénier, Hugo, Michelet ..., I have nothing to discuss but suspects." He liked to end his class sessions by shouting "Et la liberté!"

For the full review, see:

Alice Kaplan. "Shedding Light on Nazi-Occupied Paris." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 26, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis in original; words in brackets were added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 25, 2014.)

The book being reviewed is:

Guéhenno, Jean. Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris. Translated by David Ball. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

September 7, 2014

Conservatives Still Read Books, Despite Book Industry Slump

(p. B1) Of all the headaches of her current book tour -- the declining sales, the constant travel, the interviews that generated unkind headlines about her family's wealth -- this one may sting Hillary Rodham Clinton the most: Her memoir, "Hard Choices," has just been toppled from its spot on the best-seller list by a sensational Clinton account by her longtime antagonist Edward Klein.

. . .

. . . : the conservative book-buying public, . . . has continued to generate sales despite the industry's overall slump, . . .

For the full story, see:

AMY CHOZICK and ALEXANDRA ALTER. "A Provocateur's Book on Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales." The New York Times (Fri., July 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 10, 2014, and has the title "A Provocateur's Book on Hillary Clinton Overtakes Her Memoir in Sales.")

September 6, 2014

Future Pope Showed an Interest in the "Higher Forms of Piracy"

(p. 158) A decade older than his apostolic secretary Poggio, Baldassare Cossa had been born on the small volcanic island of Procida, near Naples. His noble family held the island as its personal possession, the hidden coves and well-defended fortress evidently well suited to the principal family occupation, piracy. The occupation was a dangerous one: two of his brothers were eventually captured and condemned to death. Their sentence was commuted, after much pulling of strings, to imprisonment. It was said by his enemies that the young Cossa participated in the family business, owed to it his lifelong habit of wakefulness at night, and learned from it his basic assumptions about the world.

Procida was far too small a stage for Baldassare's talents. Energetic and astute, he early displayed an interest in what we might call higher forms of piracy. He studied jurisprudence at the University of Bologna--in Italy it was legal studies rather than theology that best prepared one for a career in the Church--where he obtained doctorates in both civil and canon law. At his graduation ceremony, a colorful affair in which the successful candidate was conducted in triumph through the town, Cossa was asked what he was going to do now. He answered," To be Pope."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

September 4, 2014

Established Companies Are Not Structured for Exponential Growth

(p. A13) Why are large tech companies losing the ability to innovate? Entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail studies the new generation of "exponential corporations," enterprises that grow 10 times faster than the average rate. He believes that established companies simply aren't structured for this kind of speed. So their only choice is to buy those companies that can still innovate rapidly.

If Mr. Ismail is correct--and the current dynamic in Silicon Valley suggests that he may be--we're on the brink of a major restructuring of business strategy, venture capital and almost every part of the high-tech world. It may be time to stop waiting for famous tech companies to roll out the hottest new product and start investing in startups that can sell their innovations to big companies. Tech appears to be evolving into a different kind of field: one that is, paradoxically, more static at the top but also more dependent on entrepreneurship than ever before.

For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL S. MALONE. "An Innovation Slowdown at the Tech Giants; Seen anything new and big lately from Cisco, Yahoo or even Twitter?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 2, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 1, 2014.)

The Ismail research mentioned above, is discussed further in:

Ismail, Salim, Mike Malone, and Yuri van Geest. Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, Cheaper Than Yours (and What to Do About It). New York: Diversion Books, 2014.

September 2, 2014

Poggio Helped Invent Italics Script

(p. 115) What Poggio accomplished, in collaboration with a few others, remains startling. They took Carolingian minuscule--a scribal innovation of the ninth-century court of Charlemagne--and transformed it into the script they used for copying manuscripts and writing letters. This script in turn served as the basis for the development of italics. They were then in effect the inventors of the script we still think of as at once the clearest, the simplest, and the most elegant written representation of our words. It is difficult to take in the full effect without seeing it for oneself, for example, in the manuscripts preserved in the Laurentian Library in Florence: the smooth bound volumes of vellum, still creamy white after more than five hundred years, (p. 116) contain page after page of perfectly beautiful script, almost magical in its regularity and fineness.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

September 1, 2014

"The Metric System Can Be Our Operating System Without Being Our Interface"

(p. C6) The outcome was perhaps foreshadowed, as Mr. Marciano points out, when President Ford, using a customary unit, noted that American industries were "miles ahead" when it came to adopting the metric system.

Mr. Marciano tells his story more or less without editorializing, until the end. Surveying the centuries of fights over measurement, he finishes on a rather intriguing point: Standardization no longer matters that much.

. . .

. . . , with the computerization of life, we don't have to worry about converting from one measurement to another; our software does this for us. We can still speak in pounds or feet, even if everything in the world of manufacturing and technology is really, at bottom, done in the metric system. In the evocative terminology of Mr. Marciano, "the metric system can be our operating system without being our interface."

For the full review, see:

SAMUEL ARBESMAN. "Liters and Followers; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 2, 2014): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 1, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Whatever Happened to the Metric System?' by John Bemelmans Marciano; Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system." )

The book being reviewed is:

Marciano, John Bemelmans. Whatever Happened to the Metric System?: How America Kept Its Feet. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014.

August 29, 2014

Notaries Were Useful in a Contractual Society

(p. 111) Notaries were not figures of great dignity, but in a contractual and intensely litigious culture, they were legion. The Florentine notary Lapo Mazzei describes six or seven hundred of them crowded into (p. 112) the town hall, carrying under their arms bundles of documents, " each folder thick as half a bible." Their knowledge of the law enabled them to draw up local regulations, arrange village elections, compose letters of complaint. Town officials who were meant to administer justice often had no clue how to proceed; the notaries would whisper in their ears what they were meant to say and would write the necessary documents. They were useful people to have around.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 28, 2014

"A Few Really Good Artisanal Cheese Shops Is No Substitute for a Strong School System"

(p. 836) Moretti's writing on the "creative class" takes issue with policies associated with Richard Florida, who has exerted a considerable influence on local policymakers worldwide. Moretti uses the example of Berlin, which is a cool place full of creative types but still isn't much of an economic powerhouse, to make the case against Florida's recommendations.

. . .

A problem exists if city governments start thinking that their main job is to be hip rather than competent. Having a few really good artisanal cheese shops is no substitute for a strong school system. Local leaders would do well to remember that an externality-creating skilled resident is as likely to be a forty-two-year-old mother who works in (p. 837) a lab as a twenty-five-year-old looking for a good time. The forty-two-year-old's tastes in local amenities are likely to be quite different from those of the twenty-five-year-old. If Moretti's caution against creative class policies achieves that end, then it will have done something quite positive.

For the full review, see:

Glaeser, Edward. "A Review of Enrico Moretti's the New Geography of Jobs." Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 825-37.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review is:

Moretti, Enrico. The New Geography of Jobs. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2012.

August 25, 2014

Human Freedom and Dignity Lived in Florence

(p. 125) Ancona was, like Florence, an independent commune, and Salutati was urging its citizens to revolt against the papal government that had been imposed upon them: " Will you always stand in the darkness of slavery? Do you not consider, O best of men, how sweet liberty is? Our ancestors, indeed the whole Italian race, fought for five hundred years . . . so that liberty would not be lost ." The revolt he was trying to incite was, of course, in Florence's strategic interest, but in attempting to arouse a spirit of liberty, Salutati was not being merely cynical. He seems genuinely to have believed that Florence was the heir to the republicanism on which ancient Roman greatness had been founded. That greatness, the proud claim of human freedom and dignity, had all but vanished from the broken, dirty streets of Rome, the debased staging ground of sordid clerical intrigues, but it lived, in Salutati's view, in Florence. And he was its principal voice.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

August 24, 2014

U.S. Constitution Reflects Lockean Natural Rights

(p. A13) Over the past three decades, Richard A. Epstein has repeatedly argued--with analytical rigor and astonishing erudition--that governments govern best when they limit their actions to protecting liberty and property. He is perhaps best known for "Takings," his 1995 book on the losses that regulations impose on property owners. Of late, he has exposed the flaws of a government-administered health system.

In "The Classical Liberal Constitution," Mr. Epstein takes up the political logic of our fundamental law. The Constitution, he says, reflects above all John Locke's insistence on protecting natural rights--rights that we possess simply by virtue of our humanity. Their protection takes concrete form in the Constitution by restricting the federal government to specific, freedom-advancing and property-protecting tasks, such as establishing a procedurally fair justice system, minting money as a stable repository of value, preserving a national trade zone among the states, and, not least, guarding the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.

For the full review, see:

JOHN O. MCGINNIS. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 23, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 23, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Classical Liberal Constitution,' by Richard A. Epstein; Our understanding of the Constitution lost its way when we embraced the idea that rights are created by a benevolent state.")

The book under review is:

Epstein, Richard A. The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.

August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence

(p. 124) The independence of Florence--the fact that it was not a client of another state, that it was not dependent on the papacy, and that it was not ruled by a king, a tyrant, or a prelate but governed by a body of its own citizens--was for Salutati what most mattered in the world. His letters, dispatches, protocols, and manifestos, written on behalf of the ruling priors of Florence, are stirring documents, and they were read and copied throughout Italy.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 20, 2014

The Process Innovation Called "Fracking"

(p. B1) I have come to North Dakota to observe the fracking of the Irene Kovaloff 11-18H, a well on the southern edge of the Bakken Shale. It is one of one hundred wells that will be fracked in the U.S. on this particular day in October 2012, 10 in North Dakota alone.

. . .

(p. B2) The hydraulic heart of fracking is the liquid pumped into the well. Almost all of it is water: snowmelt from the upper Rockies. In the Bakken and elsewhere, companies transform the water into a viscous liquid designed to carry sand deep into the new fractures. As it heats up underground, the gel reverts to a watery state. This change allows the sand to drop out and remain in the fractures, holding them open like pillars in a coal mine. The water flows back out.

. . .

Water and guar make up about 99.1% of the liquid; the chemicals are the rest.

. . .

The next night, the 30th frack of the Irene Kovaloff is completed. It takes three hours longer than expected, but otherwise the well is a success. Soon came light, sweet Bakken crude mixed with the water. On its first full day, it produced 800 barrels of crude--a good, but not great, result. By early 2013, Marathon had pulled 20,000 barrels of crude from the well. Considering that the oil had been locked away until the frack, it was good enough.

For the full article, see:

RUSSELL GOLD. "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom.")

Gold's article was excerpted from his book:

Gold, Russell. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests

[p. 202] In their recent book, Leighton and López (2013) place special emphasis on political entrepreneurship in making policy reform possible. For new ideas to overcome vested interests, they write (p. 134), it must be the case that "entrepreneurs notice and exploit those loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives." They provide four case studies of this process: spectrum license auctions, airline deregulation, welfare reform, and housing finance. In their words (p. 178): "[T]he public face of political change may be that of a madman, an intellectual, or an academic scribbler. But whatever form these leaders may take, they are political entrepreneurs--people whose ideas and actions are focused on producing change." As these authors stress, political entrepreneurship can be socially harmful, as when the pursuit of individual rents comes at the expense of overall inefficiency. But the returns from shifting the political transformation frontier out can be very large as well.

. . .

(p. 206) I owe a special debt to the recent book by Edward López and Wayne Leighton (2012 sic) for stimulating me to put down on paper a number of ideas I had been mulling over for some time.


Rodrik, Dani. "When Ideas Trump Interests: Preferences, Worldviews, and Policy Innovations." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 189-208.

(Note: the bracketed page number refers to the Rodrik article; the page number in parentheses refers to the Leighton and López book; ellipsis added; italics, and the bracketed letter, in the original.)

The book Rodrik discusses is:

Leighton, Wayne A., and Edward J. López. Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

August 17, 2014

Salutati Imitated Antiquity "in Order to Produce Something New"

(p. 124) " I have always believed," Salutati wrote . . . , that "I must imitate antiquity not simply to reproduce it, but in order to produce something new. . . ."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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

August 16, 2014

Process Innovations, Allowed by Deregulation, Creatively Destroyed Railroads

(p. A11) In "American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century," transportation economists Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer provide a comprehensive account of both the decline and the revival.   . . .    They point to excessive government regulation of railroad rates and services as the catalyst for the industry's decay.

. . .

. . . deregulation, Mr. Gallamore and Meyer demonstrate, was a process of creative destruction. Conrail was created by the government in 1976 in a risky, last-ditch attempt to rescue Penn Central and other bankrupt Eastern railroads. It was quickly losing $1 million a day, and its plight helped make the case for the major revamp of railroad regulation that came in 1980. A wave of mergers followed, and the new companies slashed routes and employees on the way to profitability. The shrinking of the national rail system helped, too, as freight companies consolidated traffic on a smaller (and therefore cheaper) network. Freight-train crews were cut to two or three people from four or five. Cabooses were replaced by electronic gear at the end of freight trains.

For the full review, see:

DANIEL MACHALABA. "BOOKSHELF; Long Train Runnin'; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 9, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 8, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'American Railroads' by Robert E. Gallamore and John R. Meyer; Track conditions got so bad in the 1970s that stationary freight cars were falling off the rails thanks to rotting crossties.")

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.

August 13, 2014

"In the Name of God and of Profit"

Writing of the period of the mid to late 1300s in the area of Florence:

(p. 114) The surviving archive of a single great merchant of this period, Francesco di Marco Datini of nearby Prato--not, by any means, the greatest of these early capitalists--contains some 150,000 letters, along with 500 account books or ledgers, 300 deeds of partnership, 400 insurance policies, several thousand bills of lading, letters of advice, bills of exchange, and checks. On the first pages of Datini's ledgers were inscribed the words: "In the name of God and of profit."


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

August 12, 2014

The "Miasmic Smog" of Europe's Nostalgia "Stifled the Imaginations of Those Who Stayed"

(p. D12) Most people remember Mr. Drucker, a longtime contributor to the Journal who died in 2005, as the most influential management consultant of the 20th century. What they may not know is that, like Mr. Zweig, he was born in Austria and fled from the Nazis when Hitler came to power. What's more, Mr. Drucker's memories of prewar Vienna, which he compared in "Adventures of a Bystander" to Atlantis, Plato's imaginary island paradise that fell from favor with the gods and disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean, are no less richly evocative than those in "The World of Yesterday."

. . .

Born in 1909, three decades after Mr. Zweig, [Drucker] concluded as a young man that Europe's nostalgia for its prewar past was a "miasmic smog" that stifled the imaginations of those who stayed there. So he emigrated to the U.S., where he found an open society that was bumptiously naive but also vital and forward-looking: "Unlike Europe, where it was felt that 'the center cannot hold,' the 'center' held in America. Society and community were sound, hale, indeed triumphant." And whereas Mr. Zweig succumbed at last to despair, Mr. Drucker unhesitatingly embraced America's democratic culture and flourished, building a new career for himself.

For the full essay/review, see:

TERRY TEACHOUT. "SIGHTINGS; One War, Two Fates." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 6, 2014): D12.

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

(Note: the online version of the essay/review has the date June 5, 2014.)

The Drucker book discussed by Teachout is:

Drucker, Peter F. Adventures of a Bystander. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

August 10, 2014

McCloskey's "Great Fact" of "the Ice-Hockey Stick"


Source of image:

(p. 2) Economic history has looked like an ice-hockey stick lying on the ground. It had a long, long horizontal handle at $3 a day extending through the two-hundred-thousand-year history of Homo sapiens to 1800, with little bumps upward on the handle in ancient Rome and the early medieval Arab world and high medieval Europe, with regressions to $3 afterward--then a wholly unexpected blade, leaping up in the last two out of the two thousand centuries, to $30 a day and in many places well beyond.

. . .

(p. 48) The heart of the matter is sixteen. Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least. You, oh average participant in the British economy, go through at least sixteen times more food and clothing and housing and education in a day than an ancestor of yours did two or three centuries ago. Not sixteen percent more, but sixteen multiplied by the old standard of living. You in the American or the South Korean economy, compared to the wretchedness of former Smiths in 1653 or Kims in 1953, have done even better. And if such novelties as jet travel and vitamin pills and instant messaging are accounted at their proper value, the factor of material improvement climbs even higher than sixteen--to eighteen, or thirty, or far beyond. No previous episode of enrichment for the average person approaches it, not the China of the Song Dynasty or the Egypt of the New Kingdom, not the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome.

No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact.


McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 9, 2014

20 Years Before Fall of Rome, Ammianus Described "a World Exhausted by Crushing Taxes"

(p. 48) . . . ghosts surged up from the Roman past. An ancient literary critic who had flourished during Nero's reign and had written notes and glosses on classical authors; another critic who quoted extensively from lost epics written in imitation of (p. 49) Homer; a grammarian who wrote a treatise on spelling that Poggio knew his Latin-obsessed friends in Florence would find thrilling. Yet another manuscript was a discovery whose thrill might have been tinged for him with melancholy: a large fragment of a hitherto unknown history of the Roman Empire written by a high-ranking officer in the imperial army, Ammianus Marcellinus. The melancholy would have arisen not only from the fact that the first thirteen of the original thirty-one books were missing from the manuscript Poggio copied by hand--and these lost books have never been found--but also from the fact that the work was written on the eve of the empire's collapse. A clearheaded, thoughtful, and unusually impartial historian, Ammianus seems to have sensed the impending end. His description of a world exhausted by crushing taxes, the financial ruin of large segments of the population, and the dangerous decline in the army's morale vividly conjured up the conditions that made it possible, some twenty years after his death, for the Goths to sack Rome.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 8, 2014

Lack of Innovation, Not Globalization, Killed U.S. Furniture Industry

The following is from a review by Marc Levinson, one of our leading experts on process innovation. I'm guessing that there is more wisdom in the review than in the book being reviewed:

(p. C6) . . . it was not by chance that the U.S. furniture industry provided easy pickings for foreign manufacturers.

In the 1990s, U.S. furniture making was a backward industry. Its productivity--the efficiency with which capital and labor are put to use--grew only one-third as fast as in manufacturing overall. While firms in other industries were investing in laser cutters and five-axis milling machines, furniture makers were devoting only 2.6% of their revenue to capital investment. Instead, they relied heavily on cheap labor, paying their average worker 29% less than the average in all manufacturing.

Nor was there much innovation. When Ikea's flat-pack furniture, designed to minimize shipping costs and leave assembly to the purchaser, arrived in the United States in 1985, American manufacturers had nothing like it. Ms. Macy reports that Universal Furniture cut costs by designing for efficient production at high volume; U.S. manufacturers did not. Similarly, when JBIII countered the distant Chinese by guaranteeing that Vaughan-Bassett would deliver orders within a week, his own company's credit and delivery departments couldn't cope.

Globalization takes the blame for many ills these days. But the implosion that Ms. Macy chronicles owes less to import competition than to executives in a sheltered industry who failed to keep up with a changing world.

For the full, largely negative, review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Made in America; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Factory Man' by Beth Macy; It's not easy to copyright a furniture design--and somebody will always come along and make it for less.")

The book being mainly panned is:

Macy, Beth. Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

August 7, 2014

Nobel-Prize-Winner Views Success as Rigged (Except for Nobel Prizes)

(p. 245) . . . , Solow interprets the evidence on intergenerational mobility as showing that the economy is not very meritocratic. (Oddly, he exempts the economics profession. He seems to believe that lack of success is often the result of bad luck or a rigged system, unless you are an economist, in which case it's your own fault.) Although I noted in my article that those born into extreme poverty face particularly difficult obstacles, I view the rest of the economy as more meritocratic than Solow does. In addition to the Kaplan and Rauh study, I recommend a popular book called The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko 1996). Written by two marketing professors who extensively surveyed high net worth individuals, the book reports that the typical millionaire is not someone who was born into wealth but rather is someone who has worked hard and lived frugally.


Mankiw, N. Gregory. "Correspondence: Response from N. Gregory Mankiw." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 244-45.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

The Stanley and Danko book that Mankiw praises (and I use in my Economics of Entrepreneurship seminar) 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.

August 5, 2014

"A Unique Moment in History . . . When Man Stood Alone"

(p. 71) . . . , something noted in one of his letters by the French novelist Gustave Flaubert: "Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone." No doubt one could quibble with this claim. For many Romans at least, the gods had not actually ceased to be--even the Epicureans, sometimes reputed to be atheists, thought that gods existed, though at a far remove from the affairs of mortals--and the "unique moment" to which Flaubert gestures, from Cicero (106-43 BCE) to Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), may have been longer or shorter than the time frame he suggests. But the core perception is eloquently borne out by Cicero's dialogues and by the works found in the library of Herculaneum. Many of the early readers of those works evidently lacked a fixed repertory of beliefs and practices reinforced by what was said to be the divine will. They were men and women whose lives were unusually free of the dictates of the gods (or their priests). Standing alone, as Flaubert puts it, they found themselves in the peculiar position of choosing among sharply divergent visions of the nature of things and competing strategies for living.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

August 4, 2014

Did Intel Succeed in Spite of, or Because of, Tension Between Noyce and Grove?

(p. C5) . . . , much more so than in earlier books on Intel and its principals, the embedded thread of "The Intel Trinity" is the dirty little secret few people outside of Intel knew: Andy Grove really didn't like Bob Noyce.

. . .

(p. C6) . . . there's the argument that one thing a startup needs is an inspiring, swashbuckling boss who lights up a room when he enters it and has the confidence to make anything he's selling seem much bigger and more important than it actually is. And Mr. Malone makes a compelling case that Noyce was the right man for the job in this phase of the company. "Bob Noyce's greatest gift, even more than his talent as a technical visionary," Mr. Malone writes, "was his ability to inspire people to believe in his dreams, in their own abilities, and to follow him on the greatest adventure of their professional lives."

. . .

Noyce hid from Mr. Grove, who was in charge of operations, the fact that Intel had a secret skunk works developing a microprocessor, a single general-purpose chip that would perform multiple functions--logic, calculation, memory and power control. Noyce had the man who was running it report directly to him rather than to Mr. Grove, even though Mr. Grove was his boss on the organizational chart. When Mr. Grove learned what was going on, he became furious, but like the good soldier he was, he snapped to attention and helped recruit a young engineer from Fairchild to be in charge of the project, which ultimately redefined the company.

. . .

Remarkably, none of this discord seemed to have much effect on the company's day-to-day operations. Mr. Malone even suggests that the dysfunction empowered Intel's take-no-prisoners warrior culture.

. . .

So while the humble, self-effacing Mr. Moore, who had his own time in the CEO's chair from 1975 to 1987, played out his role as Intel's big thinker, the brilliant visionary "who could see into the technological future better than anyone alive," Mr. Grove was the kick-ass enforcer. No excuses. For anything.

For the full review, see:

STEWART PINKERTON. "Made in America; A Born Leader, a Frustrated Martinet Built One of Silicon Valley's Giants." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 19, 2014): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 18, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Intel Trinity' by Michael S. Malone; A born leader, an ethereal genius and a tough taskmaster built the most important company on the planet.")

The book under review is:

Malone, Michael S. The Intel Trinity: How Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove Built the World's Most Important Company. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

August 1, 2014

The Unintended Consequences of Requiring Monks to Read

(p. 28) The high walls that hedged about the mental life of the monks--the imposition of silence, the prohibition of questioning, the punishing of debate with slaps or blows of the whip--were all meant to affirm unambiguously that these pious communities were the opposite of the philosophical academies of Greece or Rome, places that had thrived upon the spirit of contradiction and cultivated a restless, wide-ranging curiosity.

All the same, monastic rules did require reading, and that was enough to set in motion an extraordinary chain of consequences. Reading was not optional or desirable or recommended; in a community that took its obligations with deadly seriousness, reading was obligatory. And reading required books. Books that were opened again and again eventually fell apart, however carefully they were handled. Therefore, almost inadvertently , monastic rules necessitated that monks repeatedly purchase or acquire books. In the course of the vicious Gothic Wars of the mid-sixth century and their still more miserable aftermath, the last commercial workshops of book production folded, and the vestiges of the book market fell apart. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks carefully preserve and copy those books that they already possessed.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

July 31, 2014

Early Cars Were Playthings of the Idle Rich


Source of book image:

(p. C14) Mr. Parissien writes that Frenchman Nicolas Cugnot may well have built the first mechanical vehicle in 1769, a two-ton, steam-driven colossus that reportedly went out of control and crashed into a wall. It wasn't until 1885 that Karl Benz, the acknowledged father of the automobile, debuted the first gasoline-powered motorcar, in Mannheim, Germany. It carried passengers just slightly quicker than they could walk.

With the arrival of that breakthrough, however, the race was on for who could come up with a sturdier, faster, more reliable motor car. Many of the innovators' names are still familiar: Renault, Bentley and Daimler among them. Even piano makers Steinway & Sons tried their hand at building cars. Other companies appeared for a time and then vanished--Durant, Lanchester, Panhard and De Dion-Bouton--victims of bad guesses or bad timing. Much of Mr. Parissien's story is devoted to the personalities, and eccentricities, of the men who created what for many years amounted to a plaything of the idle rich. Italian luxury builder Ettore Bugatti refused to sell one of his cars to King Zog of Albania because "the man's table manners are beyond belief."

It is the despotic Henry Ford who looms large in automotive history, not only for the introduction of his Model T but for his revolutionary system of shoveling raw materials in one end of his half-mile long Rouge River, Mich., factory complex and sending "Tin Lizzies" out the other end.

For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'The Life of the Automobile' by Steven Parissien; The history of cars, from playthings of the idle rich to emblems of the working man.")

The book under review is:

Parissien, Steven. The Life of the Automobile: The Complete History of the Motor Car. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.

July 28, 2014

Entrepreneur Gutenberg's Press Creatively Destroyed the Jobs of Scribes

(p. 32) Poggio possessed . . . [a] gift that set him apart from virtually all the other book-hunting humanists. He was a superbly well-trained scribe, with exceptionally fine handwriting, great powers of concentration, and a high degree of accuracy. It is difficult for us, at this distance, to take in the significance of such qualities: our technologies for producing transcriptions, facsimiles, and copies have almost entirely erased what was once an important personal achievement. That importance began to decline, though not at all precipitously, even in Poggio's own lifetime, for by the 1430s a German entrepreneur, Johann Gutenberg, began experimenting with a new invention, movable type, which would revolutionize the reproduction and transmission of texts. By the century's end printers, especially the great Aldus in Venice, would print Latin texts in a typeface whose clarity and elegance remain unrivalled after five centuries. That typeface was based on the beautiful handwriting of Poggio and his humanist friends. What Poggio did by hand to produce a single copy would soon be done mechanically to produce hundreds.


Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

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

July 27, 2014

New Details on Babylonian Version of Noah's Ark


Source of book image:

(p. C8) Mr. Finkel, a curator of cuneiform inscriptions at the British Museum, details his own long-standing fascination with the ark and that of his British Museum predecessors. First among these was George Smith, who in 1872, at age 32, deciphered a clay tablet that demonstrated that 1,000 years before the likely composition of the Book of Genesis, ancient Babylonians had been brooding over the same story of divine retribution that we find in the biblical account of Noah. So great was Smith's shock that, on confirmation, he began to run about the room tearing off his clothes.

. . .

The tablets containing what we now know as the Epic of Gilgamesh were unearthed in the ruins of Nineveh, capital of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, who was an avid collector of texts. His famous library was torched in 612 B.C., but, as Mr. Finkel points out, "fire to a clay librarian" is not the disaster it is to one who studies works on paper. Fired clay tablets endure, and nothing, Mr. Finkel assures us, can equal the thrill of digging one out from the earth like a potato.

But the most important tablet of Mr. Finkel's career didn't come from the ground. It was delivered to him in 1985 by a man named Douglas Simmonds, who brought in a number of cuneiform tablets collected by his father, a member of the Royal Air Force in the Middle East at the end of World War II. One of these--an iPhone-shaped tablet--had what was recognizably the first lines of a Babylonian flood narrative, but the rest was illegible at a superficial glance, and Simmonds was reluctant to leave the tablet at the museum for analysis. It wasn't until 2009 that Mr. Finkel was able to borrow this treasure and undertake a meticulous study, which revealed an "instruction manual for building an ark" in the tablet's 60 lines.

. . .

So then what was the Ark Tablet for? It is puzzling that it contains no narrative, listing rather shape, size, materials and their quantities. Attractive though it may be to think it was a hand-held guide for the boat builder, Mr. Finkel suggests instead that it served as an aide-mémoire for an itinerant storyteller. The detail is explained by audience demand: No one wants to be put on the spot with difficult "how" questions when facing an audience who knew all about building coracles. Ancient audiences, it seems, were as intrigued--and as skeptical--about the ark as we are.

For the full review, see:

JANET SOSKICE. "Make Yourself an Ark; A newly deciphered tablet suggests the best shape for an ark: not a wooden box but a circular coracle made of reeds." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 17, 2014): C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 16, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'The Ark Before Noah' by Irving Finkel; A newly deciphered tablet suggests the best shape for an ark: not a wooden box but a circular coracle made of reeds.")

The book under review is:

Finkel, Irving. The Ark before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 2014.

July 23, 2014

How Sega Came Out of Nowhere to Leapfrog Near-Monopolist Nintendo


Source of book image:

(p. C10) "Console Wars" tells how Sega, an unremarkable Japanese manufacturer of games played in arcades, came out of nowhere to challenge Nintendo for dominance of the videogame world in the first half of the 1990s. Nintendo, which had revived the stagnant home videogame category a few years earlier, had something close to a monopoly in 1990 and behaved accordingly, dictating terms to game developers and treating retailers as peons. Sega, in Mr. Harris's telling, was a disruptive force in a highly concentrated market, introducing more advanced gaming technology, toppling Nintendo from its perch and becoming the largest seller of home videogame hardware in the U.S. by late 1993.

Mr. Harris's hero is a former Mattel executive named Tom Kalinske, who became president of Sega of America, then a small subsidiary, in 1990. Mr. Kalinske assembled a team of crack marketers who would not have gone near Sega but for his reputation and persuasiveness. Within a year and a half, according to Mr. Harris, Mr. Kalinske's leadership, along with a new gaming system called Genesis and a marketing assist from a mascot named Sonic the Hedgehog, made Sega the U.S. market leader in videogames.

And then, after only three years at the top, Sega fell from its pedestal. Sega's management in Japan, suffering mightily from not-invented-here syndrome, rejected Mr. Kalinske's proposals to collaborate with Sony and Silicon Graphics on new gaming systems. Instead, over his objections, Sega pushed out its ill-conceived Saturn game console in 1995. While Saturn flopped, Sony struck gold with its PlayStation; Silicon Graphics sold its chip with amazing graphics capabilities to Nintendo; and the game, so to speak, was over.

. . .

The author admits he has taken liberties: "I have re-created the scenes in this book using the information uncovered from my interviews, facts gathered from supporting documents, and my best judgment as to what version most closely fits the historical record," he writes. The result is more a 558-page screenplay than a credible work of nonfiction.

For the full review, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "Sonic Boom; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 24, 2014): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 23, 2014, an has the title "Book Review: 'Console Wars' by Blake J. Harris; How a no-name company took on Nintendo, tied its fate to a hyperactive hedgehog, and--briefly--won.")

The book under review is:

J., Harris Blake. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

July 21, 2014

How De Rerum Natura Aided the Early Italian Renaissance

I am interested in how the dominant ideas in a culture change. Greenblatt's The Swerve discusses how some early Renaissance Italians sought lost and forgotten works from antiquity to broaden their ideas. In particular it emphasizes the rediscovery of Lucretius's De Rerum Natura.

I am not as unreservedly enthusiastic about Lucretius as Greenblatt is, but The Swerve includes much that is thought-provoking about a place and time that I need to better understand.

In the next few weeks I will quote a few of the passages that were especially memorable, important or amusing.

Book discussed:

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

July 20, 2014

Changes in

During my sabbatical for the 2014-2015 school year, and including this summer and next summer, I plan to throw myself into completion of my book Openness to Creative Destruction. To make more time for that overarching project, I intend to streamline my blogging. I still plan to have an entry posted every day, but will no longer routinely post photos and images, saving the time spent finding, formatting and filing photos and images.

The main goal of my blog is to make evidence and examples widely available, that are related to my core interests of innovation and entrepreneurship. Fewer photos and images may make the blog less visually appealing, but should not interfere with this main goal.

I also plan to increase the percentage of entries that are directly or indirectly relevant to my current and future book projects,

I hope my blog will continue to be of use to the "remnant" of those who share my core interests.

July 19, 2014

"Long, Lonely Odyssey "from Heresy to Orthodoxy""


Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.

(p. D5) As the Nobel committee put it in the 1997 citation for Dr. Prusiner's prize in physiology or medicine, he had established "a novel principle of infection" -- one so controversial that a few experts in the field still continue to search for that elusive virus. But as far as Dr. Prusiner is concerned, the Nobel confirmed that his long, lonely odyssey "from heresy to orthodoxy" was over.

The journey he details was full of hurdles. Some were of the kind likely to befall any researcher: insufficient laboratory space, poor correlation between needs and resources. (At one point, Dr. Prusiner calculated that for a single year's worth of experiments he would have to house and feed 72,000 mice, an impossible multimillion-dollar proposition.) He submitted a grant application that was not just rejected for funding but actually "disapproved," often the kiss of death for a train of scientific thought.

Some of his problems were a little darker but still universal -- graduate students captured by competing labs, data appropriated and misrepresented by erstwhile colleagues, bitter authorship battles.

Some of Dr. Prusiner's shoals, however, seem more particular to his personal operating style. As a teenager he was blessed with what he describes as indefatigable self-confidence, and this trait apparently endures, to the considerable irritation of others.

For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "Books; A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist." The New York Times (Sat., May 20, 2014): D5.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 19, 2014.)

The book under review is:

Prusiner, Stanley B. Madness and Memory: The Discovery of Prions--a New Biological Principle of Disease. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

July 17, 2014

Open Source Guru Admits to "Mismatched Incentives" and "Serious Trouble Down the Road"

RaymondEricOpenSourceElder2014-06-02.jpg "Eric S. Raymond said that the code-checking system had failed in the case of Heartbleed." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The Heartbleed bug that made news last week drew attention to one of the least understood elements of the Internet: Much of the invisible backbone of websites from Google to Amazon to the Federal Bureau of Investigation was built by volunteer programmers in what is known as the open-source community.

Heartbleed originated in this community, in which these volunteers, connected over the Internet, work together to build free software, to maintain and improve it and to look for bugs. Ideally, they check one another's work in a peer review system similar to that found in science, or at least on the nonprofit Wikipedia, where motivated volunteers regularly add new information and fix others' mistakes.

This process, advocates say, ensures trustworthy computer code.

But since the Heartbleed flaw got through, causing fears -- as yet unproved -- of widespread damage, members of that world are questioning whether the system is working the way it should.

"This bug was introduced two years ago, and yet nobody took the time to notice it," said Steven M. Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University. "Everybody's job is not anybody's job."

. . .

(p. B2) Unlike proprietary software, which is built and maintained by only a few employees, open-source code like OpenSSL can be vetted by programmers the world over, advocates say.

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" is how Eric S. Raymond, one of the elders of the open-source movement, put it in his 1997 book, "The Cathedral & the Bazaar," a kind of manifesto for open-source philosophy.

In the case of Heartbleed, though, "there weren't any eyeballs," Mr. Raymond said in an interview this week.

. . .

The problem, Mr. Raymond and other open-source advocates say, boils down to mismatched incentives. Mr. Raymond said firms don't maintain OpenSSL code because they don't profit directly from it, even though it is integrated into their products, and governments don't feel political pain when the code has problems.

With OpenSSL, by contrast, "for those that do work on this, there's no financial support, no salaries, no health insurance," Mr. Raymond said. "They either have to live like monks or work nights and weekends. That is a recipe for serious trouble down the road."

For the full story, see:

Perlroth, Nicole. "A Contradiction at the Heart of the Web." The New York Times (Sat., April 19, 2014): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated APRIL 18, 2014, and has the title "Heartbleed Highlights a Contradiction in the Web.")

Raymond's open source manifesto is:

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, Inc., 1999.

July 16, 2014

"The World's Greatest Inventor, World's Greatest Damn Fool"

(p. 290) One of his employees recalled walking past him one day as the inventor stepped briskly between buildings at the lab. He cheerfully greeted his employer: "Morning, Mr. Edison." Edison gave him a glance, raised his finger to show a major pronouncement would follow, and said, "The world's greatest inventor, world's greatest damn fool," then hurried on.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 15, 2014

Reigning Intellectual Orthodoxy on Race Is Wrong


Source of book image:

(p. C5) The reigning intellectual orthodoxy is that race is a "social construct," a cultural artifact without biological merit.

The orthodoxy's equivalent of the Nicene Creed has two scientific tenets. The first, promulgated by geneticist Richard Lewontin in "The Apportionment of Human Diversity" (1972), is that the races are so close to genetically identical that "racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance." The second, popularized by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that human evolution in everything but cosmetic differences stopped before humans left Africa, meaning that "human equality is a contingent fact of history," as he put it in an essay of that title in 1984.

Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, what is known by geneticists has increasingly diverged from this orthodoxy, even as social scientists and the mainstream press have steadfastly ignored the new research. Nicholas Wade, for more than 20 years a highly regarded science writer at the New York Times, has written a book that pulls back the curtain.

It is hard to convey how rich this book is. It could be the textbook for a semester's college course on human evolution, systematically surveying as it does the basics of genetics, evolutionary psychology, Homo sapiens's diaspora and the recent discoveries about the evolutionary adaptations that have occurred since then. The book is a delight to read--conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.

The title gives fair warning: "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History." At the heart of the book, stated quietly but with command of the technical literature, is a bombshell. It is now known with a high level of scientific confidence that both tenets of the orthodoxy are wrong.

For the full review, see:

CHARLES MURRAY. "The Diversity of Life; A scientific revolution is under way--upending one of our reigning orthodoxies." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C5 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'A Troublesome Inheritance' by Nicholas Wade; A scientific revolution is under way--upending one of our reigning orthodoxies.")

The book under review is:

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. New York: The Penguin Press, 2014.

July 12, 2014

They Begged for a Chance to Help Edison Create the Future

(p. 289) He, and anyone working for him, were perceived as standing at the very outer edge of the present, where it abuts the future. When a young John Lawson sought a position at Edison's lab and wrote in 1879 that he was "willing to do anything, dirty work--become anything, almost a slave, only give me a chance," he spoke with a fervency familiar to applicants knocking today on the door of the hot tech company du jour. In the age of the computer, different companies at different times--for example, Apple in the early 1980s, Microsoft in the early 1990s, Google in the first decade of the twenty-first century--inherited the temporary aura that once hovered over Edison's Menlo Park laboratory, attracting young talents who applied in impossibly large numbers, all seeking a role in the creation of the zeitgeist (and, like John Ott, at the same time open to a chance to become wealthy). The lucky ones got inside (Lawson got a position and worked on electric light).


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 11, 2014

Catholic Church Banned Infinitesimals from European Classrooms Taught by Jesuits


Source of book image:

(p. C9) Mr. Alexander's narrative opens in the early 17th century, when Catholic Church administrators in Rome, following a campaign by Euclidean stalwart Christopher Clavius, banned the infinitesimal from the classrooms of Jesuit schools throughout Europe. Instructors' teachings and writings were monitored to enforce strict adherence to the classical Euclidean geometrical tradition. Mr. Alexander portrays the church's reactionary stance not as a huff over mathematical philosophy but as a desperate counterattack against existential threats: Euclid's rules-based structure offered the church a model with which it hoped to rein in a restive flock, roiled by economic and political currents and by an ascendant Protestantism. Martial metaphors abound in the author's telling: "war against disorder," "enemies of the infinitely small," "forces of hierarchy and order." This was no friendly debate.

For the full review, see:

ALAN HIRSHFELD. "The Limit of Reason; In the 1700s, the idea of an infinitely tiny quantity was so unsettling that the Church banned it from classrooms." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Infinitesimal' by Amir Alexander; The idea of an infinitely tiny quantity--the foundation of calculus--was so unsettling that in the 17th century the Church banned it from classrooms.")

The book under review is:

Alexander, Amir. Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

July 8, 2014

We Were Right to Honor Edison

It is said that the long inventor is dead, and some go so far as to say that the lone inventor never was. They downplay Edison's role in bringing us the light. After all, we now use Tesla and Westinghouse's AC current, rather than Edison's DC.

But George Gilder is right when he emphasizes the importance of showing for the first time that something can be done--'proof of concept' matters, and clears the path for others to do the same, often in better ways.

In his Pearl Street plant, Edison proved that affordable, reliable, safe electric light was possible. The country was right to honor him before and after his death.

(p. 285) Making New Jersey's plan to turn off all lights a national one, President Hoover asked the country's citizens to mark their sorrow at Edison's death by turning off all electric lights simultaneously across the country on the evening of Edison's funeral, at ten o'clock eastern time. He had considered shutting down generators to effect a perfectly synchronized tribute but realized that it might lead to deaths; even this thought was put in service of a tribute to Edison, for the country's life-and-death dependence upon electricity, he said, "is in itself a monument to Mr. Edison's genius."

Edison really had been privileged to hear his own eulogy in advance: (p. 286) The one read at the Light's Golden Jubilee two years before was used again at his service. That night, the two radio networks, the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company, jointly broadcast an eight-minute tribute that ended on the hour, when listeners were asked to turn out the lights. The White House did so and much of the nation followed, more or less together, some a minute before the hour, others on the hour. On Broadway, about 75 percent of the electrified signs were turned off briefly. Movie theaters went dark for a moment. Traffic lights blinked out. Everything seemed connected to Edison: the indoor lights, the traffic lights, the electric advertising, everyone connected via radio, which Edison now received credit for helping "to perfect." In the simple narrative that provided inspiration for posterity, one man had done it all.


Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

July 7, 2014

Proof-of-Concept: Life Can Be Very Long

Eucalyptus13000YearsOld2014-06-04.jpg "Rare Eucalyptus (species redacted for protection) (13,000 years old; New South Wales, Australia). This critically endangered eucalyptus is around 13,000 years old, and one of fewer than five individuals of its kind left on the planet. The species name might hint too heavily at its location, so it has been redacted." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C12) Photographer Rachel Sussman has spent the past decade looking for the oldest things alive.   . . .    She documents 30 of those organisms in her new book, "The Oldest Living Things in the World" (University of Chicago Press, $45).

For the full, brief, review, see:

Alexandra Wolfe. "EXHIBIT; The 2,000-Year-Old Plant." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 26, 2014): C12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 25, 2014, and has the title "EXHIBIT; The 2,000-Year-Old Plant.")

The book under review is:

Sussman, Rachel. The Oldest Living Things in the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

"Bristlecone Pine (White Mountains, California). Bristlecone pines are the oldest unitary organisms in the world, known to surpass 5,000 years in age. In