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December 13, 2018

"Outsider Status" of Surgeons "Permitted Greater Risks and Leaps of Faith"



(p. A19) . . . as Arnold van de Laar reminds us in "Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations," a collection of hypervivid anecdotes and oddities, it was only recently that surgeons were considered the equals of what we would now call internists--doctors who diagnose, prescribe medicine and prognosticate.


. . .


. . . , it has been both the bane and the secret glory of surgery as a vocation that it was relegated for so long to the margins of "decent" intellectual or professional life. Its dodgy, outsider status perhaps permitted greater risks and leaps of faith than were available to nonsurgical physicians, who still found themselves making inchworm progress from the dictates of Hippocrates and Galen. Surgeons worked fast to beat pain and gangrene (so fast that in one case, Scottish surgeon Robert Liston cut off a man's testicles in a rush to amputate his leg). They used whatever materials seemed to make sense--in some cases gold thread, costly but long-lasting; in other cases branding irons.



For the full review, see:

Laura Kolbe. "The Kindest Cuts." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, November 15, 2018): A19.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Under the Knife' Review: The Kindest Cuts.")


The book under review, is:

van de Laar, Arnold. Under the Knife: A History of Surgery in 28 Remarkable Operations. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018.






December 5, 2018

Rage at Malfunction Led to Invention



(p. B15) A business contemporary of Raymond A. Kroc, who built the McDonald's chain into the industry leader, Mr. Edgerton started Burger King with $12,000 after managing Howard Johnson's restaurants in Miami and Orlando, Fla.


. . .


In a 1998 memoir, "The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire," Mr. McLamore described Mr. Edgerton as a creative conceptual thinker but also as someone who "never focused very much on details, particularly those concerning financial matters."

Early on, Mr. Edgerton estimated that profits were running at an eye-popping 28 percent of sales. But the "books" he was looking at turned out to be an assortment of papers stuffed into a peach basket showing that Insta Burger had actually lost money in its first few months.

It was hard for the partners at first. "We were losing our butts," Mr. Edgerton said in a 2014 interview for this obituary. Paying himself $50 a week, he added, "We starved together."

A major problem was the frequent breakdowns of the Rube Goldberg-like Insta broiler they had inherited. One day, Mr. McLamore wrote, "the machine began to malfunction just at the moment Dave was standing in front of it," and the grinding of its metal parts sent him into a rage.

By Mr. McLamore's account, Mr. Edgerton "reached into his toolbox and grabbed a hatchet" and sank it into the stainless steel mechanism, destroying it. He then shouted, red-faced, "I can build a better machine than this pile of junk!"

Three weeks later, Mr. Edgerton and a mechanic who ran a machine shop had produced a continuous-chain broiler, which would set a standard for all Burger King broilers and become a model for equipment in the industry.


. . .


The business took off, and by 1967 it had more than 400 units in about 20 states, particularly in the East and California, as well as in a few other countries. Its success drew an offer from the Pillsbury Company to buy Burger King.

"I really didn't want to sell out," Mr. Edgerton said, but he went along because he had found Mr. McLamore to be "a golfer first and foremost" who wanted more time to indulge his passion and who had no real need to keep working, being married to a woman of wealth.


. . .


He complained that the company, which had a series of jolting ups and downs over subsequent decades, let its menu get too big, and that its plethora of chief executives -- "bookkeepers," he called them -- had rarely had experience in the restaurant business.

Asked in the 2014 interview if he regretted walking away from an industry on the verge of a boom that could have made him a billionaire, he pondered the question for a moment and then said, "That's hindsight."



For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. "David Edgerton, 90, a Burger King Founder Who Sold His Stake for a Bargain, Dies." The New York Times (Tuesday, April 17, 2018): B15.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 16, 2018, and has the title "David Edgerton, a Founder of Burger King, Is Dead at 90.")


The memoir mentioned above, is:

McLamore, James W. The Burger King: Jim McLamore and the Building of an Empire. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.






November 27, 2018

Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism



My book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in June 2019.

The book shows how life has improved through innovation, how innovation has occurred through the efforts of inventors and innovative entrepreneurs, how workers on balance benefit from a system of innovative dynamism, and how policies can be crafted to encourage the innovative entrepreneur to bring us more innovations.

A PDF of a handout that includes the current draft of the Table of Contents of my book can be found on the first page of artdiamond.com.

Several scholars have graciously looked at an advance copy of my book, and offered me early praise for it. During the next several weeks I occasionally will present some of their comments. (These will be presented roughly in the order in which I received them.)






November 23, 2018

"The Ultimate Resource" Is the Human Mind



(p. A13) Fifty years ago this month, Mr. Ehrlich published "The Population Bomb." In it he portended global cataclysm--unless the world could be persuaded to stop producing so many . . . well . . . people. The book sketched out possible scenarios of the hell Mr. Ehrlich believed imminent: hundreds of millions dying from starvation, England disappearing by the year 2000, India doomed, the average American's lifespan falling to 42 by 1980, and so on.

Mr. Ehrlich's book sold three million copies, and his crabbed worldview became an unquestioned orthodoxy for the technocratic class that seems to welcome such scares as an opportunity to boss everyone else around.


. . .


Enter Julian Lincoln Simon.

Simon was a professor of business and economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1981, when this columnist first met him, Julian would smile and say the doom-and-gloomers had a false understanding of scarcity that led them to believe resources are fixed and limited.


. . .


In 1981 he put his findings together in a book called "The Ultimate Resource." It took straight aim at Mr. Ehrlich. In contrast to the misanthropic tone of "The Population Bomb" (its opening sentence reads, "The battle to feed all humanity is over"), Julian was optimistic, recognizing that human beings are more than just mouths to be fed. They also come with minds.


. . .


. . . , human beings constantly find new and creative ways to take from the earth, increase the bounty for everyone and expand the number of seats at the table of plenty. Which is one reason Paul Ehrlich is himself better off today than he was when he wrote his awful book--notwithstanding all those hundreds of millions of babies born in places like China and India against his wishes.



For the full commentary, see:

William McGurn. "MAIN STREET; The Population Bomb Was a Dud; Paul Ehrlich got it wrong because he never understood human potential." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 1, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses in first quoted paragraph, in original; ellipses in rest of quotes, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 30, 2018.)


The Julian Simon book, mentioned above, is:

Simon, Julian L. The Ultimate Resource. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.






November 19, 2018

Some Brain Traits Ease Music Learning



(p. C2) A study published in Cerebral Cortex in July [2015] shows that unusual activity in specific neural areas can predict how easily musicians learn their chops.


. . .


The data . . . point to a distinct starting advantage in some people--and where that advantage might reside in the brain. A retroactive examination of the first fMRI images predicted who would be the best learners.

Those with a hyperactive Heschl's gyrus (part of the cerebral cortex that is associated with musical pitch) and with lots of reactivity in their right hippocampus (an area linked to auditory memory) turned out to be more likely to remember tunes they had heard before and, after some practice, play them well.

The "kicker," said Dr. Zatorre, was finding that neural head start. "That gives you an advantage when you're learning music, and it's a completely different system from the parts of the brain that show learning has taken place. It speaks to the idea of 10,000 hours." In his book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell called 10,000 hours of practice "the magic number of greatness." Dr. Zatorre disagrees, saying, "Is it really fair to say that everyone's brain is structured the same way, and that if you practice, you will accomplish the same thing?"



For the full commentary, see:

Susan Pinker. "Practice Makes Some Perfect, Others Maybe Not." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015): C2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 26, 2015.)


The print version of the Cerebral Cortex article discussed above, is:

Herholz, Sibylle C., Emily B. J. Coffey, Christo Pantev, and Robert J. Zatorre. "Dissociation of Neural Networks for Predisposition and for Training-Related Plasticity in Auditory-Motor Learning." Cerebral Cortex 26, no. 7 (July 1, 2016): 3125-34.


The Gladwell book mentioned above, is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.






November 15, 2018

Tusk Helped Startups Enter by Mobilizing Consumers Who Would Benefit



(p. C6) In August [2018], Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of bills capping the number of cars driving in New York City for companies like Uber and Lyft and setting minimum pay for drivers. The mayor had long wanted such restrictions, but for years Uber had successfully pushed back, thanks in large part to strategist and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk.

"The problem is not only did this happen in New York, but now it's going to happen everywhere," laments Mr. Tusk, who worked as a consultant for Uber Technologies from 2010 to 2015, earning equity that was eventually worth around $100 million. Under his guidance, Uber mobilized its users to lobby against the legislation and made the case that its service provided transportation to people in the outer boroughs and jobs to immigrants and minorities.


. . .


Since working for Uber, Mr. Tusk has helped other tech companies in similar political battles. As he sees it, politicians too often sacrifice their constituents' economic interests for their own political gain. "What's good for politician X isn't necessarily good for the businesses in his or her district," he says. "Without at least some people like us, innovation gets crushed by politics and corruption and that's really bad for the economy and for society."


. . .


After serving as campaign manager of Mr. Bloomberg's reelection effort, in 2010 Mr. Tusk founded Tusk Strategies with the goal of running campaigns for companies and institutions rather than politicians. At the time, Walmart was looking for a way to enter markets without pushback from powerful unions. Mr. Tusk urged city councils, including New York's, to stop blocking its entry by polling customers, launching television ads and mobilizing constituents who wanted the choice of shopping at Walmart.

Then one of Mr. Bloomberg's former deputy mayors called him with a proposition: "There's this guy with a small transportation startup. He's having some regulatory problems. Would you mind talking to him?" It was Uber. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission had sent Uber a cease and desist letter, and its then-CEO Travis Kalanick needed someone who understood New York politics. Mr. Tusk mounted successful campaigns on behalf of the company in New York and other cities, including Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.


. . .


Does he see himself as an example of the revolving door between politics and business? "I'm absolutely using the savvy I learned in the political world--just in a different way than most," he says. But he has no intentions of ever returning to government. "I felt like I could force more change on the system from the outside," he says. "Not only am I not doing politics, but most of my work is making politicians crazy."



For the full interview, see:

Alexandra Wolfe, interviewer. ""WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Bradley Tusk from Political Insider to 'Fixer' for Tech." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018): C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Aug. 31, 2018, and the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; How Bradley Tusk Went from Political Insider to 'Making Politicians Crazy'.")


The book under discussion above, is:

Tusk, Bradley. The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics. New York: Portfolio, 2018.






November 11, 2018

New York Critic: "I Simply Don't Care a Damn What Happens in Nebraska"



(p. C14) 'I simply don't care a damn what happens in Nebraska," ranted a New York critic, "no matter who writes about it."

Or so Willa Cather claimed. In the long leisure of the grave, the alleged scoffer may ponder how it is that a century after its September 1918 publication, Cather's "My Ántonia," its every page rooted in Nebraska, remains very much alive and in print--while he is neither.



For the full review, see:

Robert Garnett. "MASTERPIECE; Rooted in America's Heartland." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018): C14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 14, 2018.)


The book mentioned above, is:

Cather, Willa. My Antonia. New York: Collins Classics, 2019 [1st published 1918].






November 7, 2018

Entrepreneur Carr's Philanthropy Harmed Mozambique



(p. C6) It is an old, old story. A wealthy man comes to town, promising change and a brighter future. He's the expert. He knows best. Inevitably, it doesn't exactly work out that way.

Stephanie Hanes, an American correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, spent three years watching one particular version of that fairy tale unfold in central Mozambique.

The wealthy man was Greg Carr. An Idahoan, Mr. Carr had made millions first by selling voice-mail systems and then by running Prodigy, an early internet service provider. At age 40, he turned to philanthropy . . .


. . .


In "White Man's Game," Ms. Hanes outlines, in a nonpolemical way, the long history of Western involvement in Africa's wilderness.


. . .


Turning to the present day, Ms. Hanes takes World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy and other Western groups--known as Big Green--to task for their conservation colonialism.


. . .


She . . . points out that they are a bit cynical. "The conservation industry mirrors the humanitarian assistance industry," she writes, "with alarmist pledge drives, heart-stirring photos and admonitions to 'act now!'--all to be repeated for the next grant cycle."


. . .


It is clear from Ms. Hanes's account that a complex interplay of social, political and economic matters affected Gorongosa, not just one man's ambition. The imported elephants inevitably roamed outside the park and into nearby towns, damaging crops and perhaps killing a villager. Mr. Carr's tree planting, a laudable goal on the surface, was seen negatively by the people there because, culturally, tree planting was a way of marking one's territory. When visiting a prominent local leader, Mr. Carr arrived in a red helicopter, oblivious to the fact that, in Gorongosi culture, red is the color of violence. For locals, Mr. Carr was the latest in a long line of outsiders invading their land. He destabilized rather than restored.

In the West, Mr. Carr's work catalyzed praise: a glossy piece on Gorongosa in National Geographic by the noted biologist E.O. Wilson, a profile in the New Yorker. But the reality on the ground was different. Few tourists came to Gorongosa, and a flare-up of civil-war tensions led to violence. Overall the 150,000 Mozambicans who lived in the district, according to Ms. Hanes, saw little measurable improvement in their lives. Park staff even tortured suspected poachers.

In the most powerful scene in the book Ms. Hanes observes Mr. Carr and his associates staring at a map of Mozambique and contemplating expanding the park borders to incorporate a vast swath of land so that animals could migrate again. They wanted to rewild central Mozambique. It was just another example of the "generations of white man standing around maps," observes Ms. Hanes. They never mentioned the millions of people who lived in those lands.



For the full review, see:

James Zug. "The Do-Gooders' Playground." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Hanes, Stephanie. White Man's Game: Saving Animals, Rebuilding Eden, and Other Myths of Conservation in Africa. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017.






November 3, 2018

Origin of "Round Up the Usual Suspects!" at End of Casablanca



(p. C5) David Thomson's "Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio" is the latest in the exemplary Yale Jewish Lives series, which now stretches from Jacob the Patriarch to Jacob Wonskolasor, known to the world as Jack L. Warner (1892-1978).


. . .


Jack told Julie Garfinkle that "people are gonna find out you're a Jew sooner or later, but better later." Julie became John Garfield. I can't resist adding that Jack approached Phil and Julie Epstein with the same advice. After turning him down they snuck into his office and stole a piece of stationery. To the newly arrived Don Taylor, a fellow Nittany Lion, they wrote, "All of us at Warner Bros are looking forward to your great career as an actor and to a long and fruitful relationship with you under your new name of Hyman Rabinowitz. Sincerely, Jack L. Warner."


. . .


(p. C6) As this fine book progresses, Mr. Thomson turns his attention away from the brothers and their studio and onto individual actors and films. These form a remarkable series of critiques and vignettes--cranky, idiosyncratic, sometimes improbable, but always ingenious, and now and then inspiring.


. . .


Of course he has the most to say about "Casablanca," much of it insightful and cogent. On the one hand, it's an "adroit masquerade," yet also part of what it was, and no less is, to be American: "Wry, fond of sentiment yet hardboiled, as if to say we're Americans, we can take it and dish it out, we're the best, tough and soft at the same time." Thus did the qualities of this film, and others, pass "into the nervous system of the country," making it what it remains to this day.

I am in a position to point out one of the few outright mistakes, not of judgment but of facts, in this book. Mr. Thomson naively accepts screenwriter Casey Robinson's claim that he created the ending of "Casablanca." The truth is that the ending was thought up at a red light on the corner of Sunset and Beverly Glen, when Phil and Julie turned to each other, as identical twins will, and cried out, "Round up the usual suspects!" By the time they reached Doheny they knew Maj. Strasser had to be shot and by the time they reached Burbank they knew who was going to get on the plane with whom.



For the full review, see:

Leslie Epstein. "The House That Jack Built; Warner Bros was the smartest, toughest studio, and Jack L. Warner its smart, tough driving wheel." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Thomson, David. Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






October 30, 2018

Disneyland Opened in "Confusion," "Disorder," and "Chaos"



(p. B11) On the mid-July day in 1955 when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., confusion reigned. More people stormed its grounds than expected, rides broke down, food and beverage supplies ran short, and a plumbers' strike limited the number of working water fountains.

Out in the park that afternoon, amid the disorder, was Marty Sklar, a 21-year-old college junior who was editing the theme park's 10-cent newspaper. At one point Fess Parker, in full costume as Disney's television and big-screen Davy Crockett, complete with coonskin cap, approached him on horseback.

Spotting Mr. Sklar's name tag, Mr. Parker called out for help.

"Marty," he said, "get me out of here before this horse hurts someone!"

Disneyland recovered well from the early chaos. And Mr. Sklar went on to spend more than a half-century at the Walt Disney Company, as a close aide to Walt Disney himself and eventually as the principal creative executive of the company's Imagineering unit, made up of the innovators who blend their imaginations and their technical expertise in devising every element of the company's theme parks.


. . .


He soon became Mr. Disney's chief ghostwriter for publicity materials, dedications, souvenir guides, speeches, slogans, presentations and short films, like the one that helped the company win approval to build Walt Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. He also collaborated with Walt and his brother, Roy, on Disney's annual reports.

"It was pretty heady stuff for someone just closing in on his 30th birthday and only six or seven years out of college," Mr. Sklar wrote in his autobiography, "Dream It! Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms" (2013).



For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. "Marty Sklar Dies at 83; Became Trusted Aide And Executive at Disney." The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title "Marty Sklar, Longtime Disney Aide and Executive, Dies at 83.")


Sklar's autobiography, mentioned above, is:

Sklar, Martin. Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney's Magic Kingdoms. Glendale, CA: Disney Editions, 2013.






October 22, 2018

Origin of False Memories



(p. A19) Memories are subject to serious flaws, given the limitations and imperfections of the biological and psychological processes of recording, retaining and recalling them. Memories aren't computer files with exacting recall and retrieval functions. They are often disassembled and stored in "packets" in multiple brain locations. People don't store the fine details of all daily experiences, because of neuron capacity limitations. Even important details can be missed or lost.

Hence the brain must be selective in which memories it stores and must condense them so that many details are left out. Many eyewitnesses and even victims of crimes don't take note of the facial features of gun-toting assailants or the make and color of getaway cars.


. . .


My colleague Elizabeth Loftus was able to "implant" false memories in a significant subset of laboratory subjects by showing them an official-looking poster of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Many subjects later remembered meeting Bugs Bunny on a childhood trip to Disneyland. Some of them even reported that Bugs had touched them inappropriately.

That was impossible. Bugs Bunny isn't a Disney character.



For the full commentary, see:

Richard B. McKenzie. "A Stumble Down Memory Lane; Like Kavanaugh's latest accuser, people often have 'gaps.' They don't always fill them with truth.." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, September 25, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 24, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above is partly based on McKenzie's book:

McKenzie, Richard B. A Brain-Focused Foundation for Economic Science: A Proposed Reconciliation between Neoclassical and Behavioral Economics. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018..






October 18, 2018

Visionary Manifesto for Driverless Cars



(p. A13) Not surprisingly, optimism leaps off the pages of Lawrence D. Burns's "Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car--and How It Will Reshape Our World," a combination of memoir and visionary manifesto. In contrast to "the personally owned, gasoline-powered, human-driven vehicles that have dominated the last century," Mr. Burns writes, "we're transitioning to mobility services based on electric-powered and driverless vehicles, paid for by trip or through subscriptions." These services, he says, will get us around "safely and conveniently." Meanwhile, we will avoid the "hassles of car ownership" and the time lost in parking and pumping gas, not to mention the costs that having a car entails.


. . .


After leaving GM during its 2009 bankruptcy, Mr. Burns became an ever-more emphatic advocate for the reinvention of the automobile, soon teaming up with Mr. Urmson and other technology pioneers at Google. This front-row seat at the project that popularized autonomous cars informs some of the most lively parts of "Autonomy." At one point, a milestone goal is thought to be needed, with a payout bonus, so when Larry Page (Google's co-founder) says, "I want this thing on any street in California to drive one hundred percent autonomous," the Larry1K challenge is launched. The development of Waymo's "Firefly" low-speed driverless car takes longer than expected and teaches the Silicon Valley team a new respect for Detroit's skills. In turned out that "designing a vehicle was comparatively easy," Mr. Burns writes. What was difficult was " 'hardening' the vehicle's various components"--making every part work under every driving condition. This was "the process at which Detroit engineering talent excelled." A deal with Ford Motor Co. fails, but an investment banker and analyst, inspired by one of Mr. Burns's visionary papers, does join Ford on a driverless-car project. As Mr. Burns recounts, personality clashes eventually blew up Google's dream team and led to a lawsuit over intellectual-property theft against Uber, which had bought a driverless-trucking company founded by a Waymo veteran.



For the full review, see:

Edward Niedermeyer. "BOOKSHELF; Fast-Tracking A Driverless Car." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, August 28, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Autonomy' Review: Fast-Tracking a Driverless Car; A period of remarkable progress seems to be giving way to a host of challenges that can't be solved with engineering talent alone.")


The book under review, is:

Burns, Lawrence D., and Christopher Shulgan. Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car--and How It Will Reshape Our World. New York: Ecco, 2018.






October 14, 2018

"I'm Alive and That's an Extremely Good Thing"



(p. A4) HONG KONG -- When Bill Jaynes realized water was rushing into the plane, he started to panic.

Mr. Jaynes, a Micronesian journalist, was aboard a plane set to land on Weno, the tiny Pacific island that is part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

"I thought we landed hard until I looked over and saw a hole in the side of the plane and water was coming in," he said in a Facebook video, describing the landing of a Boeing 737-800 flown by Air Niugini at Chuuk International Airport on Friday morning [September 28, 2018]. "And I thought, well, this is not, like, the way it's supposed to happen."

But then help suddenly arrived -- from a flotilla of local boats that rushed to the plane, which landed short of the runway in the Chuuk lagoon, and all 47 passengers aboard the aircraft were evacuated, according to early statement from the airline.

"It's just surreal," said Mr. Jaynes, managing editor of The Kaselehlie Press, a newspaper on Pohnpei, another Micronesian island.

Matthew Colson, a Baptist missionary who lives on Weno, recorded the rescue effort and posted his interview with Mr. Jaynes on Facebook. He said the locals who rushed their boats to the scene were fisherman and construction workers, all locals.


. . .


Mr. Jaynes, reflecting on the experience, said, "I'm alive and that's an extremely good thing."



For the full story, see:

Austin Ramzy. "When a Plane Crashed in the Pacific, Fishing Boats Came to the Rescue." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 28, 2018): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2018, and has the title "'Their Plane Was Set to Land. The Water Rushed In. Then, the Boats Came.")


The passages quoted above, provide one more example of one of the main messages of:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.






October 10, 2018

"Wishing Only for More Time"



(p. A20) Walter Mischel, whose studies of delayed gratification in young children clarified the importance of self-control in human development, and whose work led to a broad reconsideration of how personality is understood, died on Wednesday [September 12, 2018] at his home in Manhattan.


. . .


In a series of experiments at Stanford University beginning in the 1960s, he led a research team that presented preschool-age children with treats -- pretzels, cookies, a marshmallow -- and instructed them to wait before indulging themselves. Some of the children received strategies from the researchers, like covering their eyes or reimagining the treat as something else; others were left to their own devices.

The studies found that in all conditions, some youngsters were far better than others at deploying the strategies -- or devising their own -- and that this ability seemed to persist at later ages. And context mattered: Children given reason to distrust the researchers tended to grab the treats earlier.


. . .


For the wider public, it would be the marshmallow test. In the late 1980s, decades after the first experiments were done, Dr. Mischel and two co-authors followed up with about 100 parents whose children had participated in the original studies. They found a striking, if preliminary, correlation: The preschoolers who could put off eating the treat tended to have higher SAT scores, and were better adjusted emotionally on some measures, than those who had given in quickly to temptation.

The paper was cautious in its conclusions, and acknowledged numerous flaws, including a small sample size. No matter. It was widely reported, and a staple of popular psychology writing was born: If Junior can hold off eating a marshmallow for 15 minutes in preschool, then he or she is headed for the dean's list.


. . .


In 2014, Dr. Mischel published his own account of the experiment and its reception, "The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control."

In at least one serious replication attempt, scientists failed to find the same results. Still, there is general agreement that self-discipline, persistence, grit -- call it what you like -- is a good predictor of success in many areas of life.


. . .


"I am glad that at the choice point at 18 I resisted going into my uncle's umbrella business," he wrote in the autobiographical essay. "The route I did choose, or stumbled into, still leaves me eager early each morning to get to work in directions I could not have imagined at the start, wishing only for more time, and not wanting to spend too much of it looking back."



For the full obituary, see:


Benedict Carey. "Walter Mischel, 88, Marshmallow Test Creator, Dies." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018): A20.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 14, 2018, and has the title "Walter Mischel, 88, Psychologist Famed for Marshmallow Test, Dies'.")


Mischel's book on delayed gratification, is:

Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.






October 6, 2018

Hershey Gave the World Chocolate Candy and a Single, Very Rich, Residential School



(p. A19) In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.--a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed "sweetest place on earth." He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.


. . .


Other early-20th-century philanthropists, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, left behind massive general-purpose foundations that underwrote experiments in medicine, science and higher education, Mr. Kurie observes, while Hershey "gave us chocolate candy and a single residential school in south-central Pennsylvania that remains little known outside the region."


. . .


. . . , [Mr. Kurie] suggests that the trust can be viewed as a model of philanthropic responsibility, even by institutions without a devoutly local focus. Mr. Kurie's most significant contribution here is to draw attention to philanthropy's "external stakeholders," those people and organizations "who are neither agents nor subjects of philanthropy but who are, for better or worse, caught up in its activities." He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder's vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.



For the full review, see:

Benjamin Soskis. BOOKSHELF; A Man, a Brand, a School, a Town." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 26, 2018): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 25, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'In Chocolate We Trust' Review: A Man, a Brand, a School, a Town.")


The book under review, is:

Kurie, Peter. In Chocolate We Trust: The Hershey Company Town Unwrapped. Philadelphai, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.






October 2, 2018

If She Could Choose Her Father, Lisa Brennan-Jobs Would Choose Steve Jobs



(p. A13) The house that Steve Jobs built had many mansions. One of them was a vast Spanish-style confection with soaring white arches. Majestic and crumbling, it sat on seven acres in the town of Woodside near Palo Alto, Calif. Inside there was an elevator, a ballroom and a church organ. Otherwise it was mostly empty. Jobs's daughter Lisa was 9 when she began to spend overnights with him there on Wednesdays in the mid-1980s while her mother went to art school in Oakland.

Both the mansion and her father, whom the little girl barely knew, were scary and awe-inspiring, filling her with "a kind of ecstatic expectation," as Lisa Brennan-Jobs writes in her memoir "Small Fry."


. . .


For all the emotional injury Ms. Brennan-Jobs describes in her book, there are no villains. She portrays her father as a damaged person who in turn inflicted suffering on others. "There was a thin line between civility and cruelty in him, between what did and what did not set him off," she writes. When he was not belittling her as if she were a delinquent employee, he could be spontaneously tender. "Hey, Small Fry, let's blast," Jobs would say as he arrived to take her roller skating on random weekends. "We're livin' on borrowed time." She learned to navigate around his poisonous moods and not to trust too much in his moments of grace.

Nor are there any heroes here, though there are acts of heroism. Chrisann Brennan's dedication to Lisa's care was ironclad over the years as she struggled to support them both. Mona Simpson made helpful interventions on Lisa's behalf, and Laurene Powell, who married Jobs in 1991, did what she could to include the child in her household. Lisa's longtime psychiatrist became a trustworthy father figure, as did a sympathetic neighbor. Painful though this childhood was, it was not without a stumbling kind of love. Ms. Brennan-Jobs knows this, and works to forgive. About her parents she admits that, given the opportunity, "I would choose them again."



For the full review, see:

Donna Rifkind. "BOOKSHELF; Coming of Age in Silicon Valley." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 7, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 6, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Small Fry' Review: Coming of Age in Silicon Valley.")


The book under review, is:

Brennan-Jobs, Lisa. Small Fry: A Memoir. New York: Grove Press, 2018.






September 28, 2018

Dr. Charles Wilson Had Surgical Intuition, "Sort of an Invisible Hand"



(p. A19) Dr. Wilson sometimes worked in three operating rooms simultaneously: Residents would surgically open and prepare patients for his arrival, and he would then enter to seal an aneurysm or remove a tumor before moving on to the next case.

"He never spent much more than 30 or 60 minutes on each case, and we were left to close the case and make sure everything was O.K.," Dr. Mitchel Berger, a former resident who is chairman of U.C.S.F.'s neurosurgical department, said in an interview. "It was unorthodox, but it worked. He demanded excellence and we gave him excellence."

They also gave him silence. He allowed no music, no ringing phones and no idle chatter. Scrub nurses were expected to anticipate his requests.

"He would manage any break of silence with a stern look," said Dr. Brian Andrews, a neurosurgeon who was one of Dr. Wilson's residents and also his biographer, with the book "Cherokee Surgeon" (2011). (Dr. Wilson was one-eighth Cherokee.)

Dr. Wilson became world renowned for excising pituitary tumors through the sinus in a surgery called transsphenoidal resection.


. . .


The writer Malcolm Gladwell, in a profile of Dr. Wilson in The New Yorker in 1999, described one of those pituitary cancer surgeries. Looking at a tumor through a surgical microscope, Dr. Wilson used an instrument called a ring curette to peel the tumor from the gland.

"It was, he would say later, like running a squeegee across a windshield," Mr. Gladwell wrote, "except that in this case, the windshield was a surgical field one centimeter in diameter, flanked on either side by the carotid arteries, the principal sources of blood to the brain."

A wrong move could nick an artery or damage a nerve, endangering the patient's vision or his life.

When Dr. Wilson saw bleeding from one side of the gland, he realized that he had not gotten all of the tumor. He found it and removed it. The surgery took only 25 minutes.

Dr. Wilson performed the surgery more than 3,300 times.

He told Mr. Gladwell that he had a special feel for surgery that he could not entirely explain.

"It's sort of an invisible hand," he said. "It begins almost to seem mystical. Sometimes a resident asks, 'Why did you do that?' " His response, he told Mr. Gladwell, was to shrug and say, "Well, it just seemed like the right thing."



For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. "'Charles Wilson, 88, Lauded For Excising Brain Tumors, Sometimes Several in a Day." The New York Times (Monday, March 5, 2018): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date March 2, 2018, and has the title "'Charles Wilson, Top Brain Surgeon and Researcher, Dies at 88.")


The biography of Wilson, mentioned above, is:

Andrews, Brian T. Cherokee Neurosurgeon: A Biography of Charles Byron Wilson, M.D. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.







September 27, 2018

German Bookstore Thrives Selling Bread and Sausage



(p. A7) BAD SOODEN-ALLENDORF, Germany -- At five minutes after seven on a Saturday morning, the bookstore in this idyllic town was not yet officially open -- that happens at 7:30 a.m. -- but Susanne Frühauf had already rung up the first three customers of the day. At a shelf in the corner, behind a rack of discount paperbacks, her husband Wolfgang was working as quickly as he could.

"They're like moths," said Mr. Frühauf, genially, of his customers. "As soon as the lights go on, they come."

With that, he got back to work, stacking not books, but rows of freshly baked bread rolls sprinkled with poppy, pumpkin, flax, sesame or sunflower seeds that have brought townspeople flocking. Next to him stood a small refrigerator hung with "ahle wurst" -- a delicious air-dried, salami-like pork sausage that is one of the region's culinary specialties -- while in the center aisle, organic tomatoes and cucumbers vied with crime novels for table space.


. . .


Mr. Frühauf's grandfather founded a bookbindery nearly a century ago, right here on the ground floor of the family house on the market square; Mr. Frühauf grew up above the bookstore, which his parents and uncle ran together. Five years ago, when he saw the numbers, Mr. Frühauf -- who still lives upstairs, with his mother and his wife -- said the situation was clear: "We had to do something."

At the same time, news came that the town's last two bakeries were closing. For residents like Mr. Frühauf, who remember when half a dozen local bakers strove to make the town's best cream-covered plum cake, cumin roll or pumpernickel loaf, this blow was followed by hopeful news: Norbert Schill, who had lost his storefront lease, wanted to keep baking.

"I said, 'before there's no fresh bakery, I'll clear a shelf, and we can sell the bread here,'" Mr. Frühauf said. Mr. Schill agreed to give it a try.

The experiment was a success. Mr. Frühauf began keeping baker's hours, and Mr. Schill's former customers started coming to the bookstore to buy their daily bread. Some, like Norbert Bergmann, a retired Catholic priest, got into the habit of picking up a book or TV guide, too.

Some of Mr. Frühauf's regular customers found the idea strange at first, but they came around quickly. "It's fun to eat breakfast again," said Regina Kistner, who raised her family here, and had been making do with the processed rolls sold at the supermarket. "These taste good," she added, leaving the store with two rolls (one rye and one sesame), a tabloid paper (for her neighbor) and the British romance novel "A Summer at Sea."

Mr. Schill, the baker, said he for one was very happy to have found such an open-minded partner in the bookseller. "There's a saying, I remember learning as a child, from the old people. 'Go with the times, or with time, you'll go.'"


. . .


Locking up after a long, warm morning, Mr. Frühauf paused. He took a look around at the 17th century building that houses his eclectic store, and said he enjoys being at the center of a new network of butchers, bakers and beekeepers. "In Germany, I think there's a tendency now, to be very backward-looking, to say, 'everything used to be better,'" said Mr. Frühauf. "But all you really need are some new ideas."



For the full story, see:

Sally McGrane. "'To Stay Afloat After 100 Years, a German Bookstore Sells Sausage." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "'Would You Like Some Sausage With Your Novel?")






September 20, 2018

"Machines Are Not Capable of Creativity"



(p. A11) New York

"I rarely have an urge to whisper," says George Gilder--loudly--as he settles onto a divan by the window of his Times Square hotel room. I'd asked him to speak as audibly as possible into my recording device, and his response, while literal, could also serve as a metaphor: Nothing Mr. Gilder says or writes is ever delivered at anything less than the fullest philosophical decibel.


. . .


Citing Claude Shannon, the American mathematician acknowledged as the father of information theory, Mr. Gilder says that "information is surprise. Creativity always comes as a surprise to us. If it wasn't surprising, we wouldn't need it." However useful they may be, "machines are not capable of creativity." Human minds can generate counterfactuals, imaginative flights, dreams. By contrast, "a surprise in a machine is a breakdown. You don't want your machines to have surprising outcomes!"

The narrative of human obsolescence, Mr. Gilder says, is giving rise to a belief that the only way forward is to provide redundant citizens with some sort of "guaranteed annual income," which would mean the end of the market economy: . . .


. . .


For all the gloom about Silicon Valley that appears to suffuse his new book, Mr. Gilder insists that he's not a tech-pessimist. "I think technology has fabulous promise," he says, as he describes blockchain and cryptocurrency as "a new technological revolution that is rising up as we speak." He says it has generated "a huge efflorescence of peer-to-peer technology and creativity, and new companies." The decline of initial public offerings in the U.S., he adds, has been "redressed already by the rise of the ICO, the 'initial coin offering,' which has raised some $12 billion for several thousand companies in the last year."

It is clear that Mr. Gilder is smitten with what he calls "this cryptographic revolution," and believes that it will heal some of the damage to humanity that has been inflicted by the "machine obsessed" denizens of Silicon Valley. Blockchain "endows individuals with control of their data, their identity, the truths that they want to assert, their transactions, their visions, their content and their security." Here Mr. Gilder sounds less like a tech guru than a poet, and his words tumble out in a romantic cascade.



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan, interviewer. "Sage Against the Machine; A leading Google critic on why he thinks the era of 'big data' is done, why he opposes Trump's talk of regulation, and the promise of blockchain." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Aug. 31, 2018.)


The "new book" by Gilder, mentioned above, is:

Gilder, George. Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 2018.






September 16, 2018

Alibaba's Jack Ma Retires Early as Chinese Communists Intervene in Ventures



(p. B1) HONG KONG -- Alibaba's co-founder and executive chairman, Jack Ma, said he planned to step down from the Chinese e-commerce giant on Monday to pursue philanthropy in education, a changing of the guard for the $420 billion internet company.

A former English teacher, Mr. Ma started Alibaba in 1999 and built it into one of the world's most consequential e-commerce and digital payments companies, transforming how Chinese people shop and pay for things. That fueled his net worth to more than $40 billion, making him China's richest man. He is revered by many Chinese, some of whom have put his portrait in their homes to worship in the same way that they worship the God of Wealth.

Mr. Ma is retiring as China's business environment has soured, with Beijing and state-owned enterprises increasingly playing more interventionist roles with companies. Under President Xi Jinping, China's internet industry has grown and become more important, prompting the government to tighten its leash. The Chinese economy is also facing slowing growth and increasing debt, and the country is embroiled in an escalating trade war with the United States.

"He's a symbol of the health of China's private sector and how high they can fly whether he likes it or not," Duncan Clark, author of the book "Alibaba: The House Jack Ma Built," said of Mr. Ma. "His retirement will be interpreted as frustration or concern whether he likes it or not."

In an interview, Mr. Ma said his retirement is not the end of an era but "the beginning of an era." He said he would be spending more of his time and fortune focused on education. "I love education," he said.

Mr. Ma will remain on Alibaba's board of directors and continue to mentor the company's management. Mr. Ma turns 54 on Monday, which is also a holiday in China known as Teacher's Day.

The retirement makes Mr. Ma one of the first founders among a generation of prominent Chinese internet entrepreneurs to step down from their companies. Firms including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com have flourished in recent years, growing to nearly rival American internet behemoths like Amazon and Google in their size, scope and ambition. For Chinese tycoons to step aside in their 50s is rare; they usually remain at the top of their organizations for many years.



For the full story, see:


Li Yuan. "Founder Sees A 'Beginning' As He Retires From Alibaba." The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 7, 2018, and has the title "Alibaba's Jack Ma, China's Richest Man, to Retire From Company He Co-Founded.")


The book by Duncan Clark, that is mentioned above, is:

Clark, Duncan. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2016.






September 8, 2018

Uncredentialed Entrepreneur Innovated to Save Babies



(p. 1A) He showed up in Omaha 120 summers ago, another unknown showman hoping to make a name for himself at this city's biggest-ever event, its world's fair.

He gave his name as Martin Couney, or sometimes Martin Coney. It wasn't, at least not yet.

He said he was a doctor, a European doctor, a protégé of the world's finest doctors. He was none of these things.

And yet in Omaha, Dr. Couney set up shop in a little white building on the east midway, not far from the Wild West Show, the Middle Eastern dancers, the roaming fortune tellers and the Indian Congress starring a Native American chief named Geronimo.

The fair, officially known as the Trans-Mississippi and International (p. 2A) Exposition, showcased all manner of things seen as strange, exotic and otherworldly to the 2 million Nebraskans and visitors paying the 50-cent admission to have their minds blown in the summer of 1898.

Couney thought he had just the thing to blow their minds.

"Infant Incubators with Living Infants" read the sign above the entrance.

"A Wonderful Invention ... Live Babies" said another.


. . .


Usually the experts are right. That's why they are experts," says Dawn Raffel, author of the "The Strange Case of Dr. Couney," a new biography seeking to save this once-famed faux doctor from history's trash bin. "But occasionally you get an outlier like this. Someone who is extraordinarily inventive. Who brings us something incredible."

What Dr. Couney gave us, through decades of work and tireless promotion, was an understanding that we could save babies that since the beginning of time had died before they crawled. We could save them using a piece of equipment designed by a French engineer who realized that if an egg could be nurtured in an incubator, then so could a newborn.


. . .


Newspapers, including The World-Herald, largely ignored the exhibit, Raffel says. The public didn't seem particularly bothered that a "doctor" had decided to house anonymous newborns on the fairgrounds and put them on public display.

They also didn't seem particularly interested, either.


. . .


Raffel estimates that Couney and his doctors and nurses saved between 6,500 and 7,000 premature babies all on their own during decades of midway work. But they saved countless thousands more by raising the profile of premature babies. By raising the hope that they could grow into healthy, happy adults.


. . .


"I find him fascinating because he was such a complicated man," Raffel says. "He deserves more credit."



For the full story, see:

Hansen, Matthew. "Tech Costs Force Honda To Let Go of Engineering Legacy." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, Aug. 3, 2018): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to sentence, in original.)


The Raffel book on which the passages quoted are partially based, is:

Raffel, Dawn. The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2018.






September 4, 2018

Americans Today "Are Far Less Likely" to Trust the Government than 40 Years Ago



(p. A16) . . . Suzanne Mettler, a political scientist at Cornell University [was] perplexed by the trends that Americans have come to dislike government more and more, even as they have increasingly relied on its assistance through programs other than welfare. Americans are far less likely today than 40 years ago to say in surveys that they trust the government to do what is right or to look out for people like them.


. . .


People who strongly dislike welfare were significantly less likely to feel government had provided them with opportunities, or to feel government officials cared what they thought, . . .

"Their attitudes about welfare end up being a microcosm for them of government," Ms. Mettler said. "They look at how they think welfare operates, and if they see that as unfair, they think: 'This is basically what government is. Government does favors for undeserving people, and it doesn't help people like me who are working hard and playing by the rules.' "



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "The Outsize Hold Of the Word 'Welfare' On the Public's Mind." The New York Times (Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018): A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 6, 2018, and has the title "The Outsize Hold of the Word 'Welfare' on the Public Imagination." The page of my National Edition was A16; the online edition says the page of the New York Edition was A14.)


Mettler's research is more fully described in:

Mettler, Suzanne. The Government-Citizen Disconnect. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2018.






August 19, 2018

A Dinner to Remember



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


. . .


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

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



For the full interview, see:


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

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

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


Moyo's book, mentioned above, is:

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






August 15, 2018

"Books Were Systematically Burned"



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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

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

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


The book under review, is:

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







August 11, 2018

How Precision Metalwork Was Required for Industrial Revolution



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 7, 2018

Rupert Murdoch's Journalism Praised in New York Times



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



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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 3, 2018

History of Energy Shows Power of Human Ingenuity to Solve Problems



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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






July 30, 2018

Public Housing Segregated Blacks and Created Disincentives for Marriage and Work



(p. 21) Public housing in America was a New Deal innovation, intended not for the poor, but rather for working-class families, those who could afford to pay modest rent if the government provided them with the homes that private builders didn't during the Depression. The Public Works Administration then built separate projects for white and black tenants.


. . .


With public housing racially isolated, other policies -- some misguided but well intentioned, others indefensible -- exacerbated the dysfunction. Austen notes that long waiting lists for relatively few units left poor applicants without other options for safe lodging. Compassionate officials addressed the predicament by lowering the income cutoff to qualify for public housing. The Chicago Housing Authority then made space for the poor by evicting working-class families for whom the projects were initially designed. The authority's executive director told them, "Be proud to move out, so that a lower-income family can have the advantage that you have had." Public housing's opponents also demanded the evictions, insisting that those able to afford private accommodations should be barred from public support.

As Austen observes, the policy created a disincentive to marry, because a husband's wages might render a family ineligible to remain in its home. The result was the segregation of projects by race and by income, concentrating fatherless young men who not only had little access to legitimate employment but lacked working-class role models who knew how to search for it. In the early 1950s, the median income of Chicago's public housing residents was nearly two-thirds of the citywide average. By 1970, it was barely one-third.

Initially, Cabrini-Green hired residents as maintenance workers. But perversely, when income cutoffs were lowered, holding such jobs made tenants ineligible to remain. With residents themselves no longer responsible for maintenance, projects deteriorated. And with projects now filled with the politically powerless, and with revenue from rent payments falling, government slashed maintenance budgets and turned high rises into slums. In 1977, Cabrini-Green had 19 maintenance workers; two years later, there were six. Nearly half its units were unoccupied because of insufficient staff. Yet for most who remained in the projects, conditions were still superior to those in the overcrowded dwellings from which they had come.


. . .


In an otherwise nuanced book, Austen labels the social workers and officials who vowed to clear slums and house the poor as "do-gooders." Implicit in his scorn is a hindsight appreciation that, for the poor to thrive, their communities must include working- and even middle-class families. The urbanist Jane Jacobs knew as much, but her "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was published in 1961, after evictions of working-class public housing residents were already well underway. Until the sociologist William Julius Wilson published "The Truly Disadvantaged," in 1987, few comprehended the terrible consequences of cleansing urban neighborhoods of the stably employed. In 2018, Ben Austen has illustrated these repercussions; we can now better consider remedies by contemplating the lessons "High-Risers" offers.



For the full review, see:

Richard Rothstein. "Bleak Housing." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 15, 2018): 21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 13, 2018, and has the title "A New Look at the New Deal's Legacy of Public Housing.")


The book under review, is:

Austen, Ben. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. New York: Harper, 2018.






July 26, 2018

"NASA as a Bloated and Unimaginative Bureaucracy"



(p. 10) "The Space Barons," by Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, is an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport's access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling.


. . .


One of the first private pioneers was Burt Rutan, a mutton-chopped aircraft designer who regarded NASA as a bloated and unimaginative bureaucracy and in 1982 founded a company called Scaled Composites that designed aircraft so innovative that, as Davenport writes, "it was as if his inspiration came not just from the laws of aerodynamics but from Picasso." One of his ideas was for a manned aircraft that could reach the edge of space and then fold its wings upward to act as a feather allowing the craft to re-enter the earth's atmosphere, land on a runway, and be reused. It would become his entry in the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million for the first private company that could launch a reusable vehicle to space twice within two weeks.

Rutan attracted two billionaire partners. The first was the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who as a schoolboy in Seattle yearned to become an astronaut but, being nearsighted, realized that was impossible so spent his time coding in the school's computer room with his friend Bill Gates. Rutan's second partner was the toothy goldilocked Richard Branson, a thrill-addicted serial adventurer and entrepreneur who was as enthusiastic about publicity as Allen was averse to it. Branson's personal motto for his company, Virgin, was "Screw it, let's do it," which was no longer a guiding principle at NASA, and he created Virgin Galactic with the goal of taking tourists into space. "Paul, isn't this better than the best sex you ever had?" Branson asked Allen during one test flight as the spaceship climbed higher.

In 2004, Rutan's craft (with a Virgin logo on its tail) flew twice to space and back to win the X Prize. At the celebration, Rutan took a shot at NASA. "I was thinking a little bit about that other space agency, the big guys," he said. "I think they're looking at each other now and saying, 'We're screwed.'"


. . .


At the end of 2015, within a month of each other, Musk and Bezos both launched rockets that returned safely to earth and were reusable. For the moment, Musk the hare had darted ahead: His powerful Falcon 9 rocket had lifted a payload into orbit, whereas Bezos' smaller New Shepard craft had merely gone up into the edge of space and returned. But as happens with scrappy entrepreneurial business competitors, in contrast to government bureaucracies, Bezos and Musk were goading each other on. And unlike the race between the tortoise and the hare, they can both triumph -- as can, one hopes, Richard Branson and others.



For the full review, see:

Walter Isaacson. "The Right Stuff." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 29, 2018): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 24, 2018, and has the title "In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There.")


The book under review, is:

Davenport, Christian. The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






July 22, 2018

"A Big Step Toward Regenerative Medicine"



(p. C9) Mr. Zimmer, a New York Times science columnist and author, is careful and well-informed. So when he says that research is overturning things you were taught in biology classes, he's worth heeding. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward.


. . .


The bigger breakthroughs are more fundamental. One is the development of induced pluripotent stem cells. By adding four proteins to adult cells, scientists have learned how to make them embryonic--"turning back developmental time," as Mr. Zimmer puts it. This is a big step toward regenerative medicine, which can grow spare parts customized for your body. It also creates new ways of making babies.


. . .


Another breakthrough is gene editing. Through a process called Crispr, which tags DNA segments for deletion, we're learning how to program cells to make specific changes to their genomes. We're also learning how to program organisms to pass down these editing instructions to their progeny. Experiments have shown that this technology could, at some point, cure hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In addition, scientists think it could wipe out destructive rodents and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.



For the full review, see:

William Saletan. "'Biology's Strange New World. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward. And monsters are real." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 30, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 28, 2018, and has the title "''She Has Her Mother's Laugh' Review: Biology's Strange New World. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward. And monsters are real.")


The book under review, is:

Zimmer, Carl. She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. New York: Dutton, 2018.






July 18, 2018

Entrepreneur Mackay Deserved to Be Dealt Four Aces



(p. C9) One evening sometime in the 1850s, John Mackay, a prospector, was playing poker with his fellow silver miners in Virginia City, Nev. The wagering was furious, and Mackay was playing well. In one hand, he was dealt an improbable three aces. The man next to him was "betting like a cyclone," when Mackay drew the astonishing fourth ace, whereupon he laid down his cards and walked away without picking up the pot. "Leave me out, boys," he said. He didn't need it. At this point in his life, he had more money than he could ever spend.


. . .


With not a cent to his name, Mackay began swinging a pick ax for subsistence wages on other peoples' claims, eventually working his way up to mine supervisor. "Mackay tried to cast his imagination into the rock," Mr. Crouch says, "looking for clues that would lead him to a greater understanding of what wealth lay underground." By 1865 he had acquired enough cash to buy a stake in a promising mine called the Kentuck. At first the investment looked to be another bust, but it suddenly hit big, paying out $1.6 million of the "precious needful," as miners called valuable ore, over the next two years.


. . .


The author saves for last an account of the delicious comeuppance Mackay delivered to the American businessman Jay Gould --"the most hated man of the age." Gould had secured a monopoly on trans-Atlantic telegraphy. Without competition, he gouged users, prompting Mackay, a believer in private enterprise, to lay his own undersea cable, thus breaking Gould's stranglehold and winning public admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Crouch clearly admires his protagonist, at times nearly to distraction. He portrays Mackay throughout this well-written and worthwhile book as a man of high principle--kind, charitable and fair, dependably doing the noble thing. Strong and silent, he is the Gary Cooper of the sagebrush set. It ever so lightly strains credulity, however, to believe that Mackay didn't harbor a little larceny in his heart, like nearly everybody on the Comstock during the mad rush. But readers may well want to take the author's word that a man of such humility and generosity was exactly that. Nowhere will you read John Mackay's name among the robber barons of his era. Some men who are dealt four aces in life deserve them.



For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "'The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 7, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2018, and has the title "'The Bonanza King' Review: The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode.")


The book under review, is:

Crouch, Gregory. The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West. New York: Scribner, 2018.






July 14, 2018

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size



(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s--inaccurately, as it turned out--that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.

A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.


. . .


Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.


. . .


Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?



For the full commentary, see:

Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. "Stop Propping Up Small Business." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Atkinson,‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.


The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.






July 6, 2018

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators



(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were "inevitable." But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.

We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers--or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.

These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.

Defenders of the current system often say that we don't give away our personal data for free. Rather, we're paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here's my data. What are you willing to pay for it?

An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand--into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses--they will need vast amounts of data to function.

And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.



For the full commentary, see:

Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. "Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






July 2, 2018

Lenin "Sought to Destroy" Russian Peasants



(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in "Russia Under the Old Regime," abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.

One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia's woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.

With "The Russian Revolution" (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph "To the victims," took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.

Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.

"I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences," Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. "Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism."


. . .


In "The Russian Revolution," he wrote:

"The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment."



For the full obituary, see:

William Grimes. "Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94." The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.")


The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].


The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.






June 28, 2018

We Underestimate How Entrepreneurial the Americans Were in the 1800s



(p. C6) Jim DeFelice's "West Like Lightning," a history of the Pony Express, begins with an anxious young rider waiting to take the news to California that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president. The delivery service lasted only about 18 months, but its revolutionary speed left an indelible mark on the country. Many, including Mark Twain, marveled at riders' courage and the spectacle of their switching horses every 10 miles or so for a fresh burst of speed.


. . .


In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

Historians, God bless them, they do a lot of debunking of legends. They can sometimes come off as schoolmarms. The reality is, those legends are fun. They're the exciting part. I separate fact and fiction, but I love those stories -- and underneath them, there's a much deeper truth. There's a reason we value these 19- and 20-year-old kids pushing themselves against the elements.

I knew there would be some debunking involved. What I didn't know was how true a lot of those stories turned out to be. If I were a Pony Express rider, I'd be bragging about how fast I made it. These guys didn't brag about that -- they bragged about how far they went. They were bragging about endurance and dealing with the elements. That impressed me, the resilience.

I also think sometimes we underestimate -- and I'm guilty of this -- just how entrepreneurial and into technology people were in the past. We think we're cool because we can fly somewhere and be there tomorrow. But for these guys, 10 days was huge. If you gave them something in downtown New York, it would be in San Francisco two weeks later. At the time, that would be like going from dial-up to the fastest speeds we have today.



For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer, " Making Good Time and Even Better Tales." The New York Times (Monday, May 21, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 20, 2018, and has the title "Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: Making Good Time With the Pony Express." The first paragraph and the bold question are John Williams. The paragraphs following the bold question, are Jim DeFelice's answer.)


The book discussed in the interview quoted above, is:

DeFelice, Jim. West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express. New York: William Morrow, 2018.






June 20, 2018

"The Future Is Rich in Opportunity"



(p. A13) Ken Langone, 82, investor, philanthropist and founder of Home Depot, has written an autobiography that actually conveys the excitement of business--of starting an enterprise that creates a job that creates a family, of the joy of the deal and the place of imagination in the making of a career. Its hokey and ebullient name is "I Love Capitalism" which I think makes his stand clear.


. . .


Can capitalism win the future? "Yes, but we have to be more emphatic and forthright about what it is and its benefits. A rising tide does lift boats."

Home Depot has changed lives. "We have 400,000 people who work there, and we've never once paid anybody minimum wage." Three thousand employees "came to work for us fresh out of high school, didn't go to college, pushing carts in the parking lot. All 3,000 are multimillionaires. Salary, stock, a stock savings plan."

Mr. Langone came up in the middle of the 20th century--the golden age of American capitalism. Does his example still pertain to the 21st? Yes, he says emphatically: "The future is rich in opportunity." To see it, look for it. For instance: "Look, people are living longer. They're living more vibrant lives, more productive. This is an opportunity to accommodate the needs of older people. Better products, cheaper prices--help them get what they need!"

Mr. Langone grew up in blue-collar Long Island, N.Y. Neither parent finished high school. His father was a plumber who was poor at business; his mother worked in the school cafeteria. They lived paycheck to paycheck. He was a lousy student but he had one big thing going for him: "I loved making money." He got his first job at 11 and often worked two at a time--paperboy, butcher-shop boy, caddie, lawn work, Bohack grocery clerk. He didn't mind: "I wanted to be rich."



For the full commentary, see:

Peggy Noonan. "DECLARATIONS; Wisdom of a Non-Idiot Billionaire." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 12, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 10, 2018.)


The book mentioned in the commentary, is:

Langone, Ken. I Love Capitalism!: An American Story. New York: Portfolio, 2018.






June 16, 2018

"Politicians Use Economics the Way a Drunk Uses a Lamppost"



(p. A13) Mr. Blinder cites what he calls the Lamppost Theory: "Politicians use economics the way a drunk uses a lamppost--for support, not for illumination."


For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. "BOOKSHELF; What They Don't Teach in Econ 101." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 17, 2018): A13.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 18, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Advice and Dissent' Review: What They Don't Teach in Econ 101.")


The book under review, is:

Blinder, Alan S. Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






June 12, 2018

The Diversity That Matters Most Is Diversity of Thought



(p. A15) If you want anyone to pay attention to you in meetings, don't ever preface your opposition to a proposal by saying: "Just to play devil's advocate . . ." If you disagree with something, just say it and hold your ground until you're convinced otherwise. There are many such useful ideas in Charlan Nemeth's "In Defense of Troublemakers," her study of dissent in life and the workplace. But if this one alone takes hold, it could transform millions of meetings, doing away with all those mushy, consensus-driven hours wasted by people too scared of disagreement or power to speak truth to gibberish. Not only would better decisions get made, but the process of making them would vastly improve.


. . .


In the latter part of her book, Ms. Nemeth explores in more detail how dissent improves the way in which groups think. She is ruthless toward conventional "brainstorming," which tends toward the uncritical accumulation of bad ideas rather than the argumentative heat that forges better ideas. It's only through criticism that concepts receive proper scrutiny. "Repeatedly we find that dissent has value, even when it is wrong, even when we don't like the dissenter, and even when we are not convinced of his position," she writes. "Dissent . . . enables us to think more independently" and "also stimulates thought that is open, divergent, flexible, and original."


. . .


Ms. Nemeth's punchy book also has an invaluable section on diversity in groups. All too often, she writes, in pursuit of diversity we focus on everything but the way people think. We look at a group's gender, color or experience, and once the palette looks right declare it diverse. But you can have all of that and still have a group that thinks the same and reinforces a wrong-headed consensus.

By contrast, you can have a group that is demographically homogeneous yet violently heterogeneous in the way it thinks. The kind of diversity that leads to well-informed decisions is not necessarily the kind of diversity that gives the appearance of social justice. That will be a hard message for many organizations to swallow. But as with many of the arguments that Ms. Nemeth makes in her book, it is one that she gamely delivers and that all managers interested in the quality and integrity of their decision-making would do well to heed.



For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. "BOOKSHELF; Rocking The Boat." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 9, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis internal to a paragraph, in original; ellipses between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 10, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'In Defense of Troublemakers' Review: Rocking the Boat.")


The book under review, is:

Nemeth, Charlan. In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






June 4, 2018

Robots Free Humans for More and Better Jobs



(p. A8) For companies, choosing the appropriate tasks to automate is important. Auto maker BMW AG automated some of the physical labor at the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina while retaining tasks involving judgment and quality control for workers.

Robots fit black, soundproofing rubber tubes to the inner rim of car doors, a task once done entirely by hand, on the more than 5,000 or so car doors that pass through the production line each day. Human workers do final checks on the tube's placement. The division of labor speeds up the process.

Since BMW introduced this and other automated processes over the past decade, it has more than doubled its annual car production at Spartanburg to more than 400,000. The workforce has risen from 4,200 workers to 10,000, and they handle vastly more complex autos--cars that once had 3,000 parts now have 15,000.

Being spared strenuous activities gives workers the time and energy to tackle more demanding and creative tasks, BMW said in a statement.

James Bessen, an economist who teaches at Boston University School of Law, said automation like that at the Spartanburg plant has enabled a huge increase in the quality and variety of products, which help spur consumer demand. BMW's share of luxury-car sales in the U.S. has risen sharply, with over 300,000 cars sold last year compared with just over 120,000 in 1997, company figures show.

Tesla Inc., by contrast, has struggled with production of the Model 3 car at its Fremont, Calif., plant after its use of robots got out of balance. Undetected errors in parts built by robots caused bottlenecks in production, meaning it could build only 2,020 cars a week compared with the 5,000 it originally promised, according to the company.

Analysts at investment research firm Bernstein said Tesla automated welding, paint and body work processes, as other manufacturers have done, but also automated final assembly work, in which parts, seats and the engine are installed in the car's painted shell. Errors in this work caused production bottlenecks. "Automation in final assembly doesn't work," said analyst Max Warburton.

"Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake...Humans are underrated," wrote Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a tweet last month.


. . .


At an aggregate level, however, the jobs created by automation outnumber those that are being destroyed, according to analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's David Autor and Utrecht University's Anna Salomons.



For the full story, see:

William Wilkes. "Big Companies Fine-Tune The Robot Revolution." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 15, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 14, 2018, and has the title "How the World's Biggest Companies Are Fine-Tuning the Robot Revolution.")


More of James Bessen's views on these issues, can be found in his discussion of ATMs in:

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


The analysis by Autor and Salomons, mentioned above, appears in:

Autor, David, and Anna Salomons. "Is Automation Labor-Displacing? Productivity Growth, Employment, and the Labor Share." In Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Feb. 27, 2018.






May 31, 2018

Philosopher Argued Artificial Intelligence Would Never Reach Human Intelligence



(p. A28) Professor Dreyfus became interested in artificial intelligence in the late 1950s, when he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He often brushed shoulders with scientists trying to turn computers into reasoning machines.


. . .


Inevitably, he said, artificial intelligence ran up against something called the common-knowledge problem: the vast repository of facts and information that ordinary people possess as though by inheritance, and can draw on to make inferences and navigate their way through the world.

"Current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers intelligent are like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon," he wrote in "Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer" (1985), a book he collaborated on with his younger brother Stuart, a professor of industrial engineering at Berkeley.

His criticisms were greeted with intense hostility in the world of artificial intelligence researchers, who remained confident that success lay within reach as computers grew more powerful.

When that did not happen, Professor Dreyfus found himself vindicated, doubly so when research in the field began incorporating his arguments, expanded upon in a second edition of "What Computers Can't Do" in 1979 and "What Computers Still Can't Do" in 1992.


. . .


For his 2006 book "Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions," Nicholas Fearn broached the topic of artificial intelligence in an interview with Professor Dreyfus, who told him: "I don't think about computers anymore. I figure I won and it's over: They've given up."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Hubert L. Dreyfus, Who Put Computing In Its Place, Dies at 87." The New York Times (Wednesday, May 3, 2017): A28.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 2, 2017, and has the title "Hubert L. Dreyfus, Philosopher of the Limits of Computers, Dies at 87.")


Dreyfus's last book on the limits of artificial intelligence, was:

Dreyfus, Hubert L. What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.






May 27, 2018

Mark Twain's "Desperately Striving Entrepreneurship"



(p. A13) For a novelist with such a tart view of human character, Twain's gullibility is hard to fathom. No matter his dismal track record, he always appraised the next opportunity as a sure thing. The two fields he knew about, books and newspapers, caused him more grief than any other. He had success with Charles L. Webster & Co., the publisher he founded, which issued the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. But after that runaway hit, he published a string of lemons.

Even worse was his decade-long investment in a typesetting machine, the Paige Compositor, which, Twain noted, would be faster than a human typesetter and "does not get drunk" and "does not join the Printer's Union." But its inventor proved to be a hopeless perfectionist, his machine with its thousands of parts a tribute to complexity gone mad. Ultimately, Twain invested $175,000--an immense sum. With the mogul Rogers guiding him, the author transferred his assets to his wife and put his publishing company into bankruptcy. Only by embarking on a world-wide speaking tour was he able to pay his debts.

Mr. Crawford doesn't seem curious about whether Twain's financial capers informed his writing. He has nothing notable to say, for instance, on "The Prince and the Pauper," a wry commentary on the sort of class envy to which Twain himself was susceptible. Nor does Mr. Crawford attempt to reconcile the conventional view of Twain as a folksy raconteur with the evidence of his desperately striving entrepreneurship.



For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. "BOOKSHELF; A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist's tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, Alan Pell. How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.






May 15, 2018

Brain as Computer "Is a Bad Metaphor"



(p. A13) In "The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are," Mr. Jasanoff, the director of the MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering, presents a lucid primer on current brain science that takes the form of a passionate warning about its limitations. He argues that the age of popular neurohype has persuaded many of us to identify completely with our brains and to misunderstand the true nature of these marvelous organs.

We hear constantly, for example, that the brain is a computer. This is a bad metaphor, Mr. Jasanoff insists. Computers run on electricity, so we concentrate on the electrical activity within the brain; yet there is also chemical and hormonal signaling, for which there are no good computing analogies.



For the full review, see:

Steven Poole. ""BOOKSHELF; Identify Your Self." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'The Biological Mind' Review: Identify Your Self.")


The book under review, is:

Jasanoff, Alan. The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are. New York: Basic Books, 2018.






May 11, 2018

"Science Didn't Lie"



(p. 22) In the words of The Saturday Evening Post: "If America doesn't keep out the queer, alien, mongrelized people of Southern and Eastern Europe, her crop of citizens will eventually be dwarfed and mongrelized in turn."

According to Thomas C. Leonard, who teaches at Princeton, the driving force behind this and other such laws came from progressives in the halls of academia -- people who combined "extravagant faith in science and the state with an outsized confidence in their own expertise." "Illiberal Reformers" is the perfect title for this slim but vital account of the perils of intellectual arrogance in dealing with explosive social issues. Put simply, Leonard says, elite progressives gave respectable cover to the worst prejudices of the era -- not to rabble-rouse, but because they believed them to be true. Science didn't lie.

But barring undesirables was only half the battle; the herd also had to be culled from within. In 1907, Indiana became the first state to legalize forced sterilization, starting a landslide endorsed by progressive icons like Theodore Roosevelt and the birth control champion Margaret Sanger.



For the full review, see:

DAVID OSHINSKY. "No Justice for the Weak." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2018): 1 & 22-23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2018, and has the title "'Imbeciles' and 'Illiberal Reformers'.")


The book under review, is:

Leonard, Thomas C. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.






May 7, 2018

The Role of Progressives in the Forced Sterilization of Thousands



(p. 22) Progressivism was always more than a single cause, however. Attracting reformers of all stripes, it aimed to fix the ills of society through increased government action -- the "administrative state." Progressives pushed measures ranging from immigration restriction to eugenics in a grotesque attempt to protect the nation's gene pool by keeping the "lesser classes" from reproducing. If one part of progressivism emphasized fairness and compassion, the other reeked of bigotry and coercion.

"Imbeciles," by Adam Cohen, the author of "Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America," examines one of the darkest chapters of progressive reform: the case of Buck v. Bell. It's the story of an assault upon thousands of defenseless people seen through the lens of a young woman, Carrie Buck, locked away in a Virginia state asylum. In meticulously tracing her ordeal, Cohen provides a superb history of eugenics in America, from its beginnings as an offshoot of social Darwinism -- ­human survival of the fittest -- to its rise as a popular movement, advocating the state-sponsored sterilization of "feeble­minded, insane, epileptic, inebriate, criminalistic and other degenerate persons."



For the full review, see:

DAVID OSHINSKY. "No Justice for the Weak." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 20, 2018): 1 & 22-23.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2018, and has the title "'Imbeciles' and 'Illiberal Reformers'.")


The book under review, is:

Cohen, Adam. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.






May 3, 2018

"Searing Portrait" of Uber Entrepreneur Travis Kalanick



(p. B3) Mr. Lashinsky's book gives readers an inside view of the ride-hailing giant's creation and what created the broken corporate culture that yielded so many negative news stories this year.

"Wild Ride" offers a searing portrait of Uber's former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, whom Mr. Lashinsky shows to be both a genius and wildly headstrong (and not in a good way). Because of when it was published, the book does not include many of the episodes that consumed Uber in 2017, including Susan Fowler's viral blog post about the company's misogynistic culture and the ouster of Mr. Kalanick. But until that book is written -- and it surely will be -- "Wild Ride" is a good primer.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Lashinsky book mentioned above, is:

Lashinsky, Adam. Wild Ride: Inside Uber's Quest for World Domination. New York: Portfolio, 2017.






April 29, 2018

Case Study of Effects of Closing a Factory



(p. B1) Perhaps the most illuminating business book of the year, for me, is Amy Goldstein's "Janesville: An American Story." If you really want to understand what's going on in today's real economy -- beyond the headlines about new stock-market highs, tax policy or the latest list of billionaires -- spend some time with this true tale of what happened in the middle-class town of Janesville, Wis., after General Motors closed a factory there.

Ms. Goldstein admirably shows all sides of this story, capturing in microcosm all of the issues that so many communities across the United States are facing. You will probably be left doing some hard thinking about what is driving the politics of the moment, although Ms. Goldstein brilliantly, and respectfully, paints the book's characters with such nuance that readers from across the ideological spectrum are likely to arrive at different conclusions about heroes and villains.

In crafting this deeply reported and riveting read, Ms. Goldstein spent considerable time in Janesville. As a result, you get a palpable sense of what life is like there; of the financial and psychological impact that a major plant closing has; and of the knock-on effects such an event has on other businesses and institutions. She paints vivid portraits of characters who include laid-off workers seeking retraining, union officials and local politicians, Speaker Paul D. Ryan among them. If you liked "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," J. D. Vance's best-seller about growing up in Ohio and the decline of the industrial Midwest, I think you'll find that "Janesville" makes these issues real in a new and compelling way.



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look." The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title "DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.")


The Goldstein book mentioned above, is:

Goldstein, Amy. Janesville: An American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






April 25, 2018

Mackenzie Was Wrong in Thinking He Was a Failure, but Was Right About the Northwest Passage



(p. 10) In the summer of 1789, a young fur trader named Alexander Mackenzie led an expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. He and his voyageurs and Chipewyan guides were attempting, 14 years before Lewis and Clark, to cross North America, paddling birch bark canoes down a river they hoped would pierce the Rocky Mountains. Mackenzie was a businessman who wanted to speed the pace of trade by connecting New York and China via an interior passage through the continent. He did find such a route, without knowing it. Mackenzie died thinking he was a failure, when he was really just 200 years early.

Some ideas are fantastically ahead of their time. In 1636, René Descartes created contact lenses, using glass tubes filled with water; unfortunately, the wearer was unable to blink. Charles Babbage invented digital "difference engines" -- essentially modern programmable computers but powered by steam -- in the 1820s. And Kodak developed digital cameras in 1974 but discarded the product idea because it thought no one wanted to look at photos on televisions.

In a particularly ill-timed episode, Giovanni Caselli invented the fax machine in 1856. Letter writers could scribble a message onto electrically charged foil, and the portions covered by ink would block the flow of current. The stylus of Caselli's device then scanned each line of text, transmitting the signal via telegraph lines to a second machine, which would scrawl out a "fac simile" of the letter.

To be practical, the system required a coordinated investment throughout a region, and Napoleon III had plans to modernize all of France with Caselli's pantelegraph, more than a decade before Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. But before it could be installed, Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War, his government fell, and Paris descended into the brutal anarchy of the Commune. Caselli faded into obscurity, and his technology was forgotten for a century.

Like the fax machine and computer, Alexander Mackenzie's Northwest Passage was too forward-looking to be practical or useful. Today the melting Northwest Passage -- along the North Slope of Alaska, through the maze of Canadian Arctic islands, then back down along Greenland's west coast, to the Atlantic -- is regularly in the news. A holy grail for generations of explorers is now finally open, because of climate change. Giant cargo and oil tankers regularly ply those seas, and even the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, with 1,700 people onboard (many in black tie), has made the journey the past two summers.


. . .


Ideas do not exist only on their own merits. Timing matters.



For the full commentary, see:

Brian Castner. "The Northwest Passage That Might Have Been." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2018.)


Castner's commentary is related to his book:

Castner, Brian. Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage. New York: Doubleday, 2018.






April 21, 2018

Chinese Economy "on the Brink of a Precipitous Downturn?"



(p. A15) Reporters in China often run up against Potemkin projects--gleaming science parks sitting half empty, new districts with eerily few residents, solar-powered cities where most of the panels are disconnected. These wasteful investments, designed to fulfill local-government ambitions to boost construction and drive short-term growth, can be a nuisance when researching stories about innovation or environmental foresight. But what if such projects are not a distraction but the story itself? What if China's economy is, in fact, on the brink of a precipitous downturn? That is the question Dinny McMahon asks in "China's Great Wall of Debt."

Mr. McMahon, a former Beijing-based correspondent for this newspaper, suggests that China has powered ahead for as long as it has not because it is immune to crises but because its government has so far managed to intervene to stave them off. When China's stock market plunged in 2015, the central government directed fund managers to buy instead of sell and pressured journalists to write only optimistic reports. One reporter who strayed from the official line was trotted out on state television to apologize.

Such intervention has created a false sense of confidence, Mr. McMahon argues, which in turn has led to a bad case of economic bloating.



For the full review, see:

Mara Hvistendahl. ""BOOKSHELF; The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country's pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 14, 2018): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 13, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'China's Great Wall of Debt' Review: The Chinese Growth Charade; Ghost cities, shadow banks, white-elephant state projects: The country's pursuit of growth at all costs may come at a high price.")


The book under review, is:

McMahon, Dinny. China's Great Wall of Debt: Shadow Banks, Ghost Cities, Massive Loans and the End of the Chinese Miracle. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.






April 17, 2018

Early Industrial Workers' Living Standards Improved Over Their Lifetimes



(p. C6) Historians have long debated whether the Industrial Revolution was a net benefit to those who labored in the mills. The first generation of workers generally enjoyed higher wages and liberation from the confines of rural life. Yes, there was child labor, but one girl who entered a New England mill at age 11 recalled: "It was paradise here because you got your money, and you did whatever you wanted to with it." In her book "Liberty's Dawn" (2013), Emma Griffin studied those early industrial workers longitudinally and found that their living standards improved markedly over a lifetime.


. . .


William Blake's "dark Satanic Mills" are now brightly lit in China, but are they still infernal? Today, Mr. Freeman reports, Foxconn offers "a library, bookstores, a variety of cafeterias and restaurants, supermarkets, . . . swimming pools, basketball courts, soccer fields, and a stadium, a movie theater, electronic game rooms, cybercafés, a wedding-dress shop, banks, ATMs, two hospitals, a fire station, a post office, and huge LED screens that show announcements and cartoons." But Chinese worker dormitories impose a positively Victorian regime of moral supervision: no drinking, gambling or visiting the opposite sex. Work rules are draconian. And surveillance cameras are everywhere (though, come to think of it, we have plenty of those in the West).

Ultimately, Mr. Freeman can't decide whether industrialism represents progress or dystopia, and that ambivalence reflects his clear eyes and fair-mindedness. He often lets workers speak for themselves, and they don't always agree. Xu Lizhi, one of those Foxconn employees who killed himself, was also a poet: "They've trained me to become docile / Don't know how to shout or rebel / How to complain or denounce / Only how to silently suffer exhaustion." But another worker from a small Hunan village was amazed by his company dormitory: "I had never lived in a multi-story building, so it felt exciting to climb stairs and be upstairs." Mr. Freeman reminds us that, benevolent or tyrannical, the factory was an exponential leap in the human experience.



For the full review, see:

Rose, Jonathan. "The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers' paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018): C6.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 23, 2018, and has the title "Review: The Very Symbol of Modern Times; Workers' paradise or soul-deadening dystopia? Why society remains of two minds about the factory.")


The book under review, is:

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.


The book by Emma Griffin, mentioned above, is:

Griffin, Emma. Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.







April 13, 2018

Upward Mobility from Moving to the Robust Redundant Labor Markets of Open Boomtowns



(p. B3) Chicago in 1850 was a muddy frontier town of barely 30,000 people. Within two decades, it was 10 times that size. Within another two decades, that number had tripled. By 1910, Chicago -- hog butcher for the world, headquarters of Montgomery Ward, the nerve center of the nation's rail network -- had more than two million residents.

"You see these numbers, and they just look fake," said David Schleicher, a law professor at Yale who writes on urban development and land use. Chicago heading into the 20th century was the fastest-growing city America has ever seen. It was a classic metropolitan magnet, attracting anyone in need of a job or a raise.

But while other cities have played this role through history -- enabling people who were geographically mobile to become economically mobile, too -- migration patterns like the one that fed Chicago have broken down in today's America. Interstate mobility nationwide has slowed over the last 30 years. But, more specifically and of greater concern, migration has stalled in the very places with the most opportunity.

As Mr. Schleicher puts it, local economic booms no longer create boomtowns in America.


. . .


Some people aren't moving into wealthy regions because they're stuck in struggling ones. They have houses they can't sell or government benefits they don't want to lose. But the larger problem is that they're blocked from moving to prosperous places by the shortage and cost of housing there. And that's a deliberate decision these wealthy regions have made in opposing more housing construction, a prerequisite to make room for more people.

Compare that with most of American history. The country's economic growth has long "gone hand in hand with enormous reallocation of population," write the economists Kyle Herkenhoff, Lee Ohanian and Edward Prescott in a recent study of what's hobbling similar population flows now.


. . .


Were it not for all the restrictions on housing in the most productive places -- if workers were able to more freely migrate to them -- Mr. Herkenhoff and his co-authors and the economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh have estimated that the nation's G.D.P. would be substantially higher. By their calculations, there are millions of workers missing from the Bay Area and metropolitan New York today.


The population growth that is occurring in these metro areas is fueled almost entirely by immigration, as Ryan Avent points out in "The Gated City," where he makes a similar argument to Mr. Schleicher. If we consider only domestic moves, about 900,000 more people have moved away from New York than to it since 2010. On net, about 47,000 have left both San Jose and Washington, D.C., while Boston has lost a net 36,000.



For the full commentary, see:

Emily Badger. "Why New York and the Bay Area Are Missing Millions of Workers." The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 8, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 6, 2017, and has the title "What Happened to the American Boomtown?")


The Herkenhoff et al. paper mentioned above, is:

Herkenhoff, Kyle F., Lee E. Ohanian, and Edward C. Prescott. "Tarnishing the Golden and Empire States: Land-Use Restrictions and the U.S. Economic Slowdown." Journal of Monetary Economics 93 (Jan. 2018): 89-109.


The Moretti and Hsieh paper mentioned above, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation." Working paper, May 18, 2017.


The book by Ryan Avent, mentioned above, is:

Avent, Ryan. The Gated City. Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2011.






April 9, 2018

By Many Metrics, Life Is Better Than Ever



(p. A15) . . . , Mr. Easterbrook argues, "at no juncture in American history were people better off than they were in 2016: living standards, per-capita income, buying power, health, safety, liberty, and longevity were at their highest."

A potent counter to today's unwarranted pessimism, the author claims, is not just the evidence that can be seen (rising employment, wages, wealth, health, lifespans and so on) but what has not been seen. Granaries, for instance, are not empty: The many predictions made since the 1960s that billions would die of starvation have not come true. "Instead, by 2015, the United Nations reported global malnutrition had declined to the lowest level in history. Nearly all malnutrition that persists is caused by distribution failures or by government corruption, not by lack of supply." In fact, obesity is rapidly becoming a global problem.

Similarly, even though there are occasional panics, "resources have not been depleted despite the incredible proliferation of people, vehicles, aircraft, and construction." Instead of oil and gas running out by the year 2000, as some in the 1970s predicted, both "are in worldwide oversupply" along with minerals and ores.


. . .


Data supporting this author's optimistic observations are presented throughout "It's Better Than It Looks." Similar catalogues can be found in books like Steven Pinker's "Enlightenment Now" (2018), Johan Norberg's "Progress" (2016), Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's "Abundance" (2012) and Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" (2010). I even touched on some of the same points in my own "The Moral Arc" (2015). Apparently, though, this chorus is not loud enough, since pessimism remains as prominent as it ever was.



For the full review, see:

Michael Shermer. "BOOKSHELF; Why Things Are Looking Up; Though declinists in both parties may bemoan our miserable lives, Americans are healthier, wealthier, safer and living longer than ever." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 27, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'It's Better Than It Looks' Review: Why Things Are Looking Up; Though declinists in both parties may bemoan our miserable lives, Americans are healthier, wealthier, safer and living longer than ever.")


The book under review, is:

Easterbrook, Gregg. It's Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






April 5, 2018

Independent Snapchat Entrepreneurs Turned Down Facebook's Three Billion Dollars



(p. A17) Snap Inc. provides a remarkable story, not only because it has accumulated so many users so rapidly but also because it has remained an independent company in the shadow of Facebook, which in 2012 acquired Instagram, also photo-centered, for $1 billion. A year later, noticing Snapchat's power to attract young users, Facebook offered Snap's founders $3 billion for the company, a figure that the book's publisher has rounded down for the title. Mr. Spiegel, the chief executive, said "no," and Snap's current market capitalization, around $23 billion, would seem to be sweet vindication. But Snap has yet to figure out how to convert its many users into net profits, and Instagram has shown no compunction about copying Snapchat features and has grown even faster.


. . .


In Mr. Spiegel's view, sharing snaps--of anything--was enjoyable because the images were ephemeral and didn't have to be composed for posterity. "It seems odd that at the beginning of the internet everyone decided everything should stick around forever," he said.



For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. "BOOKSHELF; A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 12, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 11, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: A Startup in Focus; Snapchat was born when casual photos replaced text messages among Stanford students. It now boasts 187 million daily users.")


The book under review, is:

Gallagher, Billy. How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018.






April 1, 2018

Victorian Britain Was "the Most Innovative, Advanced, Sophisticated and Prosperous Economy on the Planet"



(p. A19) Britain rose to global power over a long 18th century that began in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution and closed at Waterloo in 1815. Decline marked the 20th century, especially with the loss of both empire and commercial dynamism under the strain of two world wars. David Cannadine's "Victorious Century" charts the period between--one in which Britain could be seen as the most innovative, advanced, sophisticated and prosperous economy on the planet.


. . .


Mr. Cannadine presents the liberal spirit of progress as the hero of his tale. It guided Britain through conflicts, social disparities and political transitions while pointing toward a better society.



For the full review, see:

William Anthony Hay. "BOOKSHELF; The Spirit of Progress; Britain managed to balance change and continuity as turmoil and revolution overtook the Continent. Still, the change proved decisive." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 19, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The U.K.'s 'Victorious Century'; Britain managed to balance change and continuity as turmoil and revolution overtook the Continent. Still, the change proved decisive.")


The book under review, is:

Cannadine, David. Victorious Century: The United Kingdom, 1800-1906, The Penguin History of Britain. New York: Viking, 2017.






March 28, 2018

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The autobiography of Kamprad, mentioned above, is:

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






March 24, 2018

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



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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






March 16, 2018

Serial Breakthrough Innovators Have "Almost Maniacal Focus"



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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


Schilling's commentary is related to his book:

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






March 12, 2018

Mars Is Humanity's "Backup Plan"



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

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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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


Kaku's commentary is related to his book:

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






March 8, 2018

Politicians Build Costly Megaprojects to Burnish Their Legacy



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The Petroski book under review, is:

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






February 20, 2018

Audacious Heart Surgery During WW II Was Proof of Concept



(p. C9) The battle to operate meaningfully within the heart was a source of wonder and inspiration. Innovative in the extreme, brave to the point of recklessness, only exceptional characters could succeed. Some people claimed that only psychopaths could thrive in this environment. They were correct. More sensitive souls, like John Gibbon, who launched open-heart surgery in 1953, gave up after a spate of child deaths.

Thomas Morris tells this history well. "The Matter of the Heart" provides a thoroughly researched and detailed account of the major advances in cardiac surgery as derived from surgical literature, media reports and textbooks.


. . .


On Feb. 19, 1945, the courageous U.S. military surgeon Dwight Harken was attempting to remove bullets and shrapnel from in and around wounded soldiers' hearts as a group of senior British surgeons looked on. His operating theater consisted of a ramshackle hut with corrugated iron roof in the English Cotswolds. "Working as quickly as he could, Harken now made a small incision in the heart wall and inserted a pair of forceps to widen the opening," Mr. Morris recounts. "Through this aperture he introduced a clamp and fastened it around the elusive piece of metal. For a moment all was quiet. And then . . . 'suddenly, with a pop as if a champagne cork had been drawn, the fragment jumped out of the ventricle, forced by the pressure within the chamber. Blood poured out in a torrent.' . . . Harken put a finger over it, and picking up a needle started to sew it shut. . . . He discovered that he had sewn his glove to the wall of the heart. Finally his assistant cut him loose, and the job was done. Opening the heart, removing the shell fragment and repairing the incision had taken three minutes. His distinguished guests were deeply impressed: this was surgery of a sophistication and audacity which none had seen before." This was the case that persuaded the English and American allies that heart surgery was indeed a possibility.



For the full review, see:

Stephen Westaby. "How the Beat Goes On; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipses internal two second quoted paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 26, 2018, and has the title "Review: How the Beat Goes On in 'The Matter of the Heart'; A daring attempt to pick shrapnel from a soldier's heart opened the door to cardiac surgery.")


The book under review, is:

Morris, Thomas. The Matter of the Heart: A History of the Heart in Eleven Operations. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.






February 16, 2018

Child Prodigies Seldom Excel as Adults



(p. 15) Child prodigies are exotic creatures, each unique and inexplicable. But they have a couple of things in common, as Ann Hulbert's meticulous new book, "Off the Charts," makes clear: First, most wunderkinds eventually experience some kind of schism with a devoted and sometimes domineering parent. "After all, no matter how richly collaborative a bond children forge with grown-up guides, some version of divorce is inevitable," Hulbert writes. "It's what modern experts would call developmentally appropriate." Second, most prodigies grow up to be thoroughly unremarkable on paper. They do not, by and large, sustain their genius into adulthood.


. . .


The very traits that make prodigies so successful in one arena -- their obsessiveness, a stubborn refusal to conform, a blistering drive to win -- can make them pariahs in the rest of life. Whatever else they may say, most teachers do not in fact appreciate creativity and critical thinking in their own students. "Off the Charts" is jammed with stories of small geniuses being kicked out of places of learning. Matt Savage spent two days in a Boston-area Montessori preschool before being expelled. Thanks to parents who had the financial and emotional resources to help him find his way, he is now, at age 25, a renowned jazz musician.



For the full review, see:

AMANDA RIPLEY. "Gifted and Talented and Complicated." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, January 21, 2018): 15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 17, 2018.)


The book under review, is:

Hulbert, Ann. Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.






February 12, 2018

Value of Higher Education Is in the Signaling, Not the Learning



(p. A13) Mr. Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, argues that most of the value of education--especially higher education--comes from "signaling," not from the content of learning. As a result, Americans are "overeducated," and it's time to stop spending so much money (both private and public) on schools.


. . .


After surveying the research on the "transfer of learning," Mr. Caplan concludes: "Students learn only the material you specifically teach them . . . if you're lucky." Generally, they don't know how to transfer their reasoning from one topic to a related one. As to informal reasoning--the ability to come up with arguments for or against a particular proposition--education's effect, he says, has been "tiny." He similarly dispenses with the claim that schools teach common values or civic education. As college attendance has skyrocketed, he notes, voter turnout has declined.



For the full review, see:

Naomi Schaefer Riley. "BOOKSHELF; Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?" The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018): A13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to second paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Deciding Against the Paper Chase; High costs, indifferent teachers, hours devoted to subjects that have little to do with earning a living in the real world: Is it all worth it?")


The book under review, is:

Caplan, Bryan. The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






February 8, 2018

Innovation Skeptics Fail to See Its Broad Benefits



(p. B11) Professor Juma died on Dec. 15 [2017] at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64. His wife said the cause was cancer. At his death he was widely credited as having been an important force in ensuring that biotechnology would play a critical role in improving economic life in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. "So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change."

Professor Juma's latest book, "Innovation and Its Enemies" (2016), described how technological change is often greeted with public skepticism. Beneath such opposition, he argued, is the belief that only a small segment of society will benefit from potential progress, while the much broader society bears the greatest risk.


. . .


Professor Juma could be lighthearted in the classroom or in public in order to make his points. With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, he shared with them cartoons that teased skeptics of science and innovation. One of his last posts featured a game show called "Facts Don't Matter." In it, a contestant is told: "I'm sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points."



For the full obituary, see:

ADEEL HASSAN. "Calestous Juma, 64, Advocate of African Progress, Dies." The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): B11.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title "Calestous Juma, 64, Dies; Sought Innovation in African Agriculture.")


The most recent book by Juma, mentioned above, is:

Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.






February 4, 2018

Cognitive Abilities Highest After Waking in Morning



(p. A15) A raft of studies in disciplines ranging from medicine to economics have yielded all sorts of data on the science of timing. Daniel Pink, an author who regularly applies behavioral science to the realm of work, has handily distilled the findings in "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing."


. . .


For a slim book, "When" brims with a surprising amount of insight and practical advice. In amiable, TED-talk-ready prose, Mr. Pink offers scheduling tips for everything from workouts to weddings. Exercise, for example, is best done in the morning for those who hope to lose weight, build strength and boost their mood through the day.


. . .


Moods are not the only things that shift every 24 hours. Our cognitive abilities also morph in foreseeable ways. We are often sharpest in the hours after waking up, which makes morning the best time to take exams or answer logic problems. Researchers analyzing four years of test results for two million Danish schoolchildren found that students consistently scored higher in mornings than afternoons.



For the full review, see:

Emily Bobrow. "BOOKSHELF; Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon." The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: Hacking The Clock; Exercise in the morning if you want to lose weight. But if you want to perform at your physical peak, plan a workout for the afternoon."


The book under review, is:

Pink, Daniel H. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2018.






January 31, 2018

"The Establishment Drew Its Knives" Against Lister's Handwashing



(p. C5) Lindsey Fitzharris's slim, atmospheric "The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine" has its share of resplendent gore. . . . The book is an imperfect first effort, stronger at the beginning than at the end, and a bit workaday when it isn't freaky -- it floats less on narrative momentum than on an armada of curious details. But the story it tells is one of abiding fascination, in part because it involves a paradigm shift so basic, so seemingly obvious, that one can scarcely believe the paradigm needed shifting in the first place.


. . .


The real drama in Lister's story comes from the resistance he faced to his theories. After he published the last article in a five-part series in the medical journal The Lancet, carefully outlining his system for killing "septic germs," the establishment drew its knives. The inventor of chloroform wrote under a pseudonym to complain that Lister was taking credit for having discovered the miracles of carbolic acid. (He wasn't.) Others accused him of fearmongering, dismissing Pasteur's germ theory as pure hooey. The editor of The Lancet himself refused to use the word "germ."

"It was difficult for many surgeons at the height of their careers," Fitzharris writes, "to face the fact that for the past 15 or 20 years they might have been inadvertently killing patients by allowing wounds to become infected with tiny, invisible creatures."


. . .


There were, after all, others -- most famously the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847, he hypothesized that puerperal fever was spread by doctors carrying "cadaverous particles" from the deadhouse to the obstetrics ward at Vienna's General Hospital. When he set up a basin filled with chlorinated water and enjoined his colleagues to do something radical after autopsies -- wash their hands -- mortality rates plummeted.

The establishment still rejected Semmelweis's hypothesis when he published it. Over the years, Fitzharris writes, his behavior grew increasingly erratic. He was eventually committed to an asylum.

Lister, meanwhile, lived to a ripe old age and got a mouthwash named after him. Timing, personality and geopolitics always help determine who earns the garlands for innovation. But it's sad to think that Semmelweis never lived to see the vindication of his theory. He died in that asylum, possibly from an infection, believing that his contribution had been bleached from the record.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR . "Books of The Times; Wash Up, Doc: How Hospitals Became Clean." The New York Times (Thursday, November 30, 2017): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 29, 2017, and has the title "Books of The Times; The Story of How Surgeons Cleaned Up Their Act.")


The book under review, is:

Fitzharris, Lindsey. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.






January 23, 2018

Britain's Peaceful Ceding of Global Dominance Was a "Shining Exception"



(p. A13) At Harvard, the scholar Graham Allison, with a research team, has studied the historical precedents for power transitions, and his findings are not encouraging. In almost every case, he discovered, conflict was the result. The perennial danger, he explained in "Destined for War," published earlier this year, is that the weakening greater power will force a confrontation with its growing rival in order to stem its own decline, as Athens did with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The results can be disastrous, as they were for Athens.

The shining exception to the pattern is the peaceful shift in global dominance between 1870 and 1945. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, tackles this subject in "Safe Passage: The Transition From British to American Hegemony," a remarkable and timely chronicle--living history of the best sort.


. . .


In the 1840s, the two powers clashed over the Oregon Territory. Britain, though stronger militarily, accepted a compromise that endures to this day in the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel. Then, during the Civil War, London resisted the temptation to halt the rise of a competitor-power by supporting the Confederacy--say, by breaking the Union blockade. Britain's reasoning, in this case, rested on the self-interested desire to maintain the integrity of the blockade weapon for its own use and, in part, on a growing abhorrence of slavery.

As a result of such decisions, a peaceful transition--a "safe passage"--became possible. Its core logic, in Ms. Schake's view, was a mutuality of ideological and geopolitical interests, a realistic grasp of shifting military and economic power, and a kind of political cross-pollination: The United States, to paraphrase Ms. Schake's formulation, became more imperial as Britain became more democratic.



For the full review, see:

Brendan Simms. "BOOKSHELF; Make Way for the New Boss; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?" The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The 'Safe Passage' From British to American Hegemony; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?")


The book under review, is:

Schake, Kori. Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.






January 15, 2018

Revival of the Resilient Brer Rabbit



(p. C23) When Robert Weil, the editor in chief and publishing director of Liveright, approached Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar with the idea of putting together "The Annotated African American Folktales," the two Harvard professors responded with a mix of excitement and trepidation.


. . .


"The Annotated African American Folktales," which came out in November [2017], contains more than 100 African and African-American folk tales as well as introductory essays and commentary to provide historical context. It draws from the rich, undersung work of folklorists from West Africa to the Deep South.


. . .


Professors Gates and Tatar . . . tackle controversial parts of folklore history, dedicating a chapter to the work of Joel Chandler Harris.


. . .


The decision to include Harris's work in this collection produced lively discussions between Mr. Gates and Ms. Tatar. "I felt uncomfortable with it," Ms. Tatar said. But Mr. Gates disagreed. The exchange proved to be a key moment of collaboration.

"In my house, growing up in Piedmont, West Virginia, we collected Mother Goose and Joel Chandler Harris," he said. "My father used to tell Brer Rabbit stories to my brother and me all the time."


. . .


In the late 19th century and early 20th century, African-Americans debated whether these folk tales were worth preserving. Some people considered the stories remnants of slavery rather than evidence of ingenuity.

The novelist Toni Morrison, however, has played an important role in validating these stories by integrating them into her writing, Ms. Tatar said.

While Ms. Morrison's novels contain traces of innovative uses of folklore, "Tar Baby" is the most obvious and the one Mr. Gates was particularly eager to include in this collection. Not only is it one of his favorite stories but he also finds the appearance of the tar baby in many cultures "haunting." The original folk tale is the story of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Angry that Brer Rabbit is always stealing from his garden, Brer Fox makes a tar baby. Brer Rabbit comes across the figure and tries to start a conversation. He grows frustrated by the lack of response and hits the tar baby, only to find his paw stuck in what is a doll made of tar and turpentine.


. . .


Folk tales give us "ancestral wisdom," they teach children lessons about compassion, forgiveness and respect, said Ms. Tatar. They take us "back to the people who lived before us." They help us "navigate the future."

Mr. Gates couldn't agree more. He has dedicated this labor of love to his 3-year-old granddaughter. He wants the book to be not just for her and black children of her generation, but for all American children.



For the full commentary, see:

LOVIA GYARKYE. "Folklore Reclaimed From History's Dustbin." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 15, 2017): C23.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title "From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next Generation.")


The book by Gates and Tatar, is:

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Maria ‎Tatar, eds. The Annotated African American Folktales. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2017.


The book by Joel Chandler Harris, is:

Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895.






January 11, 2018

Will Ending Firm Hierarchy Create "a Blissful Business Utopia"?



(p. 18) "The Kingdom of Happiness" doesn't take place in Silicon Valley per se, but it is definitively about tech culture. Groth follows Tony Hsieh, the creator of Zappos, as he pours $350 million of his personal wealth into downtown Las Vegas with the goal of reinventing the area as . I won't be giving away the story by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Hsieh, . . ."


. . .


When she's sober, Groth documents Hsieh's attempt to integrate "holacracy" into his organizations, a term that rids a company of hierarchy and titles, and instead creates an all-for-one do-what-you-want mentality. (No, I'm not kidding.) It gave me a panic attack just thinking of working in a place like that.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Groth, Aimee. The Kingdom of Happiness: Inside Tony Hsieh's Zapponian Utopia. New York: Touchstone, 2017.






January 7, 2018

Kid Paid $100,000 to Skip College and Mine Asteroids



(p. 18) As I sat down for lunch at a restaurant in Los Angeles, I placed a copy of "Valley of the Gods," by Alexandra Wolfe, on the table, and a waitress walking by stopped to peer at the cover. . . .

"It's about Silicon Valley," I began. "It follows this young kid, John Burnham, who gets paid $100,000 by this weird billionaire guy, Peter Thiel, whom you've probably heard of; he's a big Trump supporter and spoke at the Republican National Convention?" -- a blank stare from the waitress. "Anyway, Thiel pays him (and a bunch of other kids) to forgo college so Burnham can mine asteroids, but he doesn't actually end up mining the asteroids and. . . ."


. . .


The book begins with the protagonist, Burnham (or antagonist, depending whose side you're on), who isn't old enough to drink yet but is debating dropping out of college to follow the Pied Piper of libertarian and contrarian thinking, Peter Thiel, to Silicon Valley. As Wolfe chronicles, Thiel, who has a degree from Stanford University and largely credits where he is today (a billionaire) to his time at that school, started the Thiel Fellowship, in 2011, which awards $100,000 to 20 people under 20 years old to say no to M.I.T., Stanford or, in Burnham's case, the University of Massachusetts, to pursue an Ayn Randian dream of disrupting archetypal norms.

It won't be giving away the ending by pointing out that it doesn't end well for Burnham.



For the full review, see:

NICK BILTON. "Denting the Universe." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, FEB. 19, 2017): 18.

(Note: ellipsis at end of second paragraph, in original; other two, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Pet Projects of the New Billionaires.")


The book under review, is:

Wolfe, Alexandria. Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






January 3, 2018

Enforcing New Blood Pressure Guidelines May Lead to Serious Falls



(p. A23) "Under New Guidelines, Millions More Americans Will Need to Lower Blood Pressure." This is the type of headline that raises my blood pressure to dangerously high levels.


. . .


The new recommendation is principally in response to the results of a large, federally funded study called Sprint that was published in 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine.


. . .


A blood pressure of 130 in the Sprint study may be equivalent to a blood pressure of 140, even 150, in a busy clinic. A national goal of 130 as measured in actual practice may lead many to be overmedicated -- making their blood pressures too low.


. . .


Serious falls are common among older adults. In the real world, will a nationwide target of 130, and the side effects of medication lowering blood pressure, lead to more hip fractures? Ask your doctors. See what they think.


. . .


I suspect many primary-care practitioners will want to ignore this new target. They understand the downsides of the relentless expansion of medical care into the lives of more people. At the same time, I fear many will be coerced into compliance as the health care industry's middle management translates the 130 target into a measure of physician performance. That will push doctors to meet the target using whatever means necessary -- and that usually means more medications.

So focusing on the number 130 not only will involve millions of people but also will involve millions of new prescriptions and millions of dollars. And it will further distract doctors and their patients from activities that aren't easily measured by numbers, yet are more important to health -- real food, regular movement and finding meaning in life. These matter whatever your blood pressure is.



For the full commentary, see:

H. GILBERT WELCH. "Rethinking Blood Pressure Advice." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 16, 2017): A23.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 15, 2017, and has the title "Don't Let New Blood Pressure Guidelines Raise Yours.")


Welch has a book that makes a similar point, though more broadly, to that made in the passages quoted above:

Welch, H. Gilbert. Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2015.






December 30, 2017

For Jane Jacobs, "Self-Certainty" Was Better than a Doctorate



(p. 17) Like the critic Pauline Kael and the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, Jane Jacobs arrived to churn the fertile soil of American cultural ideology in the 1960s, brandishing a disciplined populist intellect and a comfort with courting enmity. All three were middle-aged mothers by the time they would shake things up. That Jacobs, nee Butzner in 1916, would force a reconsideration of the nature and purpose of cities was an outcome her young adulthood would have hardly suggested. An unexceptional student at Central High in Scranton, Pa., she later studied at Columbia before failing to gain formal admission to Barnard and abandoning the pursuit of a degree entirely. These experiences, Robert Kanigel maintains in his biography "Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs," left her with a distaste for the academy that she carried throughout her career.

Where others had doctorates, Jacobs had a self-certainty that was manifest early on. In a chronicling of her childhood so thorough it includes the number of times she was late for homeroom during her first semester of high school (seven), Kanigel recounts an incident in which Jane was expelled from third grade for urging her classmates to dismiss the entreaties of a hygiene instructor, who asked them to pledge to brush their teeth twice a day for the rest of their lives. In Jane's view, the promise would be impossible to keep, making the request absurd.



For the full review, see:

GINIA BELLAFANTE. "Fighting the Power Broker." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, OCT. 9, 2016): 17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 7, 2016, and has the title "Two New Books About Jane Jacobs, Urban Visionary.")


The book under review, is:

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






December 26, 2017

Sapolsky Wrong to Dismiss Hunter-Gatherer Violence



(p. 15) Sapolsky proposes 10 strategies for reducing violence, all reasonable but none that justify the notion that science is the basis for societal advances toward less violence and higher morality.


. . .


In this section Sapolsky becomes a partisan critic, including presenting a skeptical view about the supposed long-term decline of human violence claimed by Steven Pinker in "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined." Sapolsky asserts that Pinker's calculations include elementary errors, and that low rates of violence among contemporary hunter-gatherers mean that warfare did not predate agriculture. His arguments here are unbalanced. He fails to note that data on hunter-gatherer violence is relevant only where they are neighbored by other hunter-gatherers, rather than by militarily superior farmers.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD WRANGHAM. "Brain Teasers." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, JULY 9, 2017): 15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 5, 2017, and has the title "Insights Into the Brain, in a Book You'll Wish You Had in College.")


The book under review, is:

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






December 22, 2017

The System Is "Rigged" by the "Unelected Permanent Governing Class"



(p. 10) With its broad historical scope, Eisinger's book lacks the juicy, infuriating details of "Chain of Title," David Dayen's chronicle of foreclosure fraud -- another instance of white-collar crime that went largely unpunished. With its emphasis on institutions and incentives, it doesn't serve up the red meat of Matt Taibbi's "The Divide," a stinging indictment of the justice system's unequal treatment of corporate executives and street-level drug offenders. But for someone familiar with the political landscape of the contemporary United States, Eisinger's account has the ring of truth.

After decades in which Wall Street masters of the universe were lionized in the media and popular culture, star investment bankers -- rich, usually white men in nice suits -- just don't match the popular image of criminals. Democrats as well as Republicans cozied up to big business, outsourcing the Treasury Department to Wall Street and the Justice Department to corporate law firms. Even after the financial system collapsed, the Obama administration's priority was to bail out the megabanks -- to "foam the runway," in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's words. The Justice Department became increasingly staffed by intelligent, status-seeking, conformist graduates of the nation's top law schools -- all of whom had friends on Wall Street and in the defense bar. In that environment, the easy choice was to play along, strike a deal with an impressive-sounding fine (to be absorbed by shareholders) that held no one responsible, and avoid risking an acquittal or a hung jury. (The book's title comes from then-U.S. Attorney James Comey's name for prosecutors who had never lost a trial.) Corruption can take many forms -- not just bags of cash under the table, but a creeping rot that saps our collective motivation to pursue the cause of justice. As Upton Sinclair might have written were he alive today: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his résumé depends upon his not understanding it.

There's just one problem. While the "unelected permanent governing class" may have been willing to look the other way when highly paid bankers wrecked the economy, many of the workers who lost their jobs and families who lost their homes were not. Outside the Beltway, the fact that the Wall Street titans who blew up the financial system suffered little more than slight reductions in their bonuses only reinforced the perception that the "system" is "rigged" -- with the consequences we know only too well. Many people simply want to live in a world that is fair. As Eisinger shows, this one isn't.



For the full review, see:

JAMES KWAK. "Getting Away With It." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, JULY 9, 2017): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 5, 2017, and has the title "America's Top Prosecutors Used to Go After Top Executives. What Changed?")


The book under review, is:

Eisinger, Jesse. The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






December 18, 2017

For an Autistic Boy, Siri's Patience Is "the Gift of Common Courtesy"



(p. C6) Late in the book, as a girl in Gus's school takes him under her affectionate wing, the reader watches it all through Newman's trepidation, followed by the dawning recognition that her son is someone "who may never be able to be responsible for another life, but who is nevertheless capable of deep affection, caring and considering. Sure, those emotions started with machinery and electronics -- trains, buses, iPods, computers -- and, particularly with Siri, a loving friend who never would hurt him."

Hence, the title - drawn directly from a New York Times article Newman wrote in 2014, about Gus's bond with Siri, Apple's "intelligent personal assistant," who could endlessly answer his questions, keep her son company and express -- in that flat, sweet Siri voice -- the gift of common courtesy. It went viral and led to this book. Why? Because the autistic boy displayed the dream/nightmare of this era: humans bonding with machines to get what they're not getting from flesh-and-blood interactions. In this chapter, late in the book, Newman gallops through all the continuing experiments that use technology to lift and unleash the autistic (including my own effort to build augmentative technologies).

This is fertile terrain, born of the gradual recognition that technology's great promise may in fact be to summon, capture and display our most human qualities, both the darkness and the light, to pave avenues of deepened connection with others. Here's where the autistic, with their search for alternatives to traditional human connection, are actually innovators.

Does it dehumanize us if tenderness is tried out first with a machine? While his hyper-aware twin is showing standard bright-future achievements, Gus tentatively feels his way through life. But make no mistake. Gus's deft fingers -- rendered with unsentimental affection by his mom -- are feeling things others will miss.

At one point, Gus says, "Good night, Siri, will you sleep well tonight?" Siri replies: "I don't need much sleep, but it's nice of you to ask."

Newman's response could speak for the entire book: "Very nice."



For the full review, see:

RON SUSKIND. "A Character Among Characters." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017): 13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 16, 2017, and has the title "A Family Memoir Makes the Case That Autism Is Different, Not Less.")


The book under review, is:

Newman, Judith. To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines. New York: HarperCollins, 2017.






December 14, 2017

Record High Temperatures in London



(p. C6) During London's long summer of 1858, the sweltering temperatures spawned squalor. With a population of more than 2 million, London had outgrown its medieval waste-removal systems, turning Spenser's "sweet Thames" into an open sewer. Epidemics such as cholera and diphtheria ravaged the poor and rich alike. The stench, as we now know, was a symptom of a bacterial problem. But at the time it was believed to be, in itself, the cause of disease. The dominant medical notion of miasmas held that "noxious and morbific" contagion was carried through the air.

The heat of 1858 made the problem of London's effluvia unignorable. At the end of May, Rosemary Ashton notes in "One Hot Summer," the temperature was 84 degrees in the shade; there followed three months of hot days, with record highs in the 90s for the shade and well over 110 degrees in the sun.


. . .


The Great Stink, as the noisome ordeal came to be called, is a terrific subject for Ms. Ashton, the noted scholar of George Eliot, George Henry Lewes and literary London. She excels at unearthing and explaining the daily distractions of the nose-holding populace over the course of the summer: horse races, art shows, murder and divorce trials, even the breezes that, as Darwin noted, wafted thistle seeds across the English Channel from France. Ms. Ashton also convincingly uses the Great Stink as a backdrop to crisis points in the lives of three great figures of the day whose biographies rarely overlap: Darwin, Disraeli and Charles Dickens.



For the full review, see:


Alexandra Mullen. "The Stink That Sank London; As highs climbed toward 100 degrees, raw sewage roasting on the Thames created the 'Great Stink'." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 20, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Ashton, Rosemary. One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.






December 10, 2017

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



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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 2, 2017

FCC Spectrum Regulations Drive Innovators to Bankruptcy



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

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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






November 28, 2017

"The Tabula Rasa of the American Dream"



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






November 24, 2017

Monkeys Want More Information



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






November 20, 2017

Those with Full Bladders Are More Financially Prudent



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






November 16, 2017

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



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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The Dalio book, discussed above, is:

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






November 12, 2017

Gig Workers Have More Control Over Retirement Savings



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

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


. . .


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

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

This all comes as the economy has fundamentally changed.

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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The Mulcahy book, mentioned above, is:

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







November 8, 2017

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





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



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


For the full commentary, see:

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

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


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

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






November 4, 2017

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



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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 31, 2017

The Theologian Who Challenged Papal Infallibility



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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 27, 2017

Brooklyn Reinvented Through Creative Destruction



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

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


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



For the full review, see:


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

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 23, 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 19, 2017

Rise of Civilization Made Possible by Fish



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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:


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

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


The book under review, is:

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






October 15, 2017

Regulations Reduce Health Care Quality and Increase Health Care Cost



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






October 7, 2017

Libertarian Lessons from the "Little House"



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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


Woodside's book, mentioned above, is:

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






October 3, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







September 29, 2017

When Istanbul Was "a Place of Tolerance and Enlightenment"



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






September 21, 2017

Students Learn More in Charter Schools



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

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

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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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






September 17, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full interview, see:

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

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

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


The Cogan book, mentioned above, is:

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






September 13, 2017

"We Liberals" Oppose Diversity of Ideas



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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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

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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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







September 9, 2017

"Bankruptcies and Losses Concentrate the Mind on Prudent Behavior"



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


. . .

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

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


. . .


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



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






September 5, 2017

"Many of Our Worst Behaviors Are in Retreat"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






September 1, 2017

Inventor of Submarine "Was Shunted Aside"



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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 28, 2017

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



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 24, 2017

Who Was the Breakfast Cereal Innovator?



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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 20, 2017

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



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 16, 2017

"Shannon's Principles of Redundancy and Error Correction"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






August 12, 2017

Employment Grows as Productivity Rises



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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The David Autor paper, mentioned above, is:

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



The Atkinson and Wu report, mentioned above, is:

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


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

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






August 8, 2017

Disney Stories Give Happiness to the Poor



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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:


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

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

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


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

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







August 4, 2017

Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Wage U.S. Workers



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

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


. . .


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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






July 31, 2017

We Are Happier When We Focus on the Future



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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

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


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


The commentary quoted above, is based on the book:

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







July 27, 2017

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



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

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

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



For the full interview, see:


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

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


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

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






July 23, 2017

Human Species Is Highly Adaptable to Climate Variation



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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






July 20, 2017

Deregulation Can Stimulate Dynamism and Economic Growth



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Goolsbee and Klenow article mentioned above, is:

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






July 19, 2017

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



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






July 15, 2017

Geoengineering for the Timid



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







July 11, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






July 7, 2017

"The Data Run Counter to Your Anecdotes"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






July 3, 2017

Mitch Daniels Attempts Disruptive Innovation in Higher Ed



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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


Christensen books relevant to the passages quoted above, are:

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

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

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






June 29, 2017

Dynamism Dying from Bad Attitudes or Bad Policies?




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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







June 21, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






June 17, 2017

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



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


For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






June 13, 2017

Banks Often Less Transparent and Less Flexible than Bank Alternatives



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

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

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


Servon's book is:

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






June 9, 2017

"Death Has Never Made Any Sense to Me"



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


For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






May 28, 2017

Under Communism Inventiveness Did Not Yield Economic Benefits



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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







May 20, 2017

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



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






May 16, 2017

Panopticon: "Bentham's Most Infamous Idea"



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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






May 13, 2017

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



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


For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






May 12, 2017

Muzzled Chinese Historian Dares to Publish Truth of Cultural Revolution



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

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

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

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

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



For the full story, see:

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

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


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

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







May 8, 2017

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



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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






May 4, 2017

Walt Disney "Tossed Out the Corporate Playbook"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






April 30, 2017

Lenin Sought to Enserf the Soul



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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full obituary, see:

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

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

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


The Navrozov book mentioned above, is:

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






April 26, 2017

Wall Street Needs Return to Partnership Culture



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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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







April 22, 2017

Entrepreneur Marconi Was Driven by Wireless Communication Project



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






April 18, 2017

We Want Meaningful Work



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

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

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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:


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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The commentary is related to Schwartz's book:

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






April 14, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






April 10, 2017

Founder-Led Firms Do Better



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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Bain research mentioned above, is:

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


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

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






April 6, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






April 2, 2017

Christian Praise for Ayn Rand Novels



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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

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


The Ayn Rand novels praised above, are:

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

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






March 29, 2017

"Fear Moved Aside to Make Room for Hope"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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

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

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

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



For the full obituary, see:

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

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

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


The Appleby books mentioned above, are:

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

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






March 25, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


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

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






March 21, 2017

Robert Conquest Documented the Millions Killed by Stalin



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

There was a great Marxist named Lenin

Who did two or three million men in.

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

But where he did one in

That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.



For the full obituary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

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


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

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






March 13, 2017

Automation Raises Productivity, Consumer Spending, and Creates New Jobs



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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


Bessen more fully presents his ATM example in his book:

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







March 9, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full obituary, see:

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

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

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


Gill's book praising America, is:

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






March 5, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full interview, see:

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

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

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


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

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






March 1, 2017

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



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 25, 2017

Empathy Is "a Poor Moral Guide"



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 17, 2017

Complex Regulations Stifle Innovation



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

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

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

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



For the full review, see:


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

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 13, 2017

The Good Old Days Were Grim



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

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



For the full review, see:


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

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 9, 2017

The Octopus, Though Intelligent, Only Lives for Two Years



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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 6, 2017

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



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


For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 5, 2017

Innovation Brought Rise of Middle Class and Decline of Aristocracy



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 1, 2017

Not All Old Ideas Should Be Recycled



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

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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






January 28, 2017

British Government Ignored Scurvy Cure



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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






January 24, 2017

Reticent George Lucas Has Single-Minded Work Ethic



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






January 20, 2017

When Winston Churchill Met Mark Twain



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


For Will's full book recommendations, see:

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

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

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


The book recommended, is:

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






January 16, 2017

How Englishness Developed



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


For Vance's full book recommendations, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book recommended, is:

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






January 12, 2017

Greenspan "Implemented a Successful Rule-Based Monetary Policy"



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


For Taylor's full book recommendations, see:

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

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


The book recommended, is:

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






January 8, 2017

Jane Jacobs Studied the "Mess of Everyday Life"



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


For Bierut's full book recommendations, see:

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

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


The book recommended, is:

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






January 7, 2017

Not All Secure Jobs Are Good Jobs



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


For Epstein's book recommendations, see:

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

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







January 4, 2017

Best Entrepreneurs, and Managers, Help Workers Lead Meaningful Lives



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


For Altucher's full book recommendations, see:

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

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


The book recommended, is:

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






December 31, 2016

Most Novels Portray Businessmen as Either Foolish or Evil



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

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

Your favorite antihero or villain?

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

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

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

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

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



For the full interview, see:

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

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


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

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






December 27, 2016

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



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 23, 2016

Blockchain Can Cut Out Financial Middlemen



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 19, 2016

Dignity and Equality Before the Law Unleashes Creativity in the Poor



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


. . .


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

What, then, caused this Great Enrichment?

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


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

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






December 15, 2016

Intellectuals Embrace Despair



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


For the full commentary, see:

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


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

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






December 11, 2016

Do Manic Spells Help or Hurt Entrepreneurial Boldness?



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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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


Kidder's wonderful early book, is:

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







December 7, 2016

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



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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

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

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review, is:

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






December 3, 2016

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



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

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

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


. . .


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

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

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

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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






November 29, 2016

Many Great Inventors Grew Up Poor and Had Little Education



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






November 25, 2016

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



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


For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. SHILLER. "Economic View; Weak Economies Foment Ethnic Nationalism." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., OCT. 16, 2016): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 14, 2016, and has the title "Economic View; What's Behind a Rise in Ethnic Nationalism? Maybe the Economy.")


The Benjamin Friedman book mentioned in the commentary above, is:

Friedman, Benjamin M. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. New York: Knopf, 2005.






November 21, 2016

Immigration Depresses Wages of Low-Wage Americans



(p. A11) Mr. Borjas is himself an immigrant, having at age 12 fled from Cuba to Miami with his widowed mother in 1962, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis shut down legal exits. As a labor economist, he has spent much of his academic career studying the effects of immigration on the American jobs market, often arguing that immigration depresses wages, or job opportunities, at the lower end of the scale. Here he notes that, on balance, the added production supplied by immigrants makes a modest contribution to U.S. economic growth. He generously provides readers with arguments on all sides, including Milton Friedman's wry observation that illegal immigrants are of more net benefit to the American economy than legals because they make less use of welfare-state services.


. . .


After totting up the pluses and minuses, Mr. Borjas concludes that immigration has very little effect on the lives of most Americans. He does worry, however, that some future wave might bring along with it the "institutional, cultural and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries" from which immigrants often come, and he sees a need for reforms.



For the full review, see:


GEORGE MELLOAN. "BOOKSHELF; The Immigration Debate We Need." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book under review, is:

Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.






November 17, 2016

Let Individual Indians Own Land on Reservations




Mortgaging homes is a common way for entrepreneurs to provide initial funds for their startups. So our keeping individual Indians from owning land on reservations, cuts off their access to funds for entrepreneurship.

The commentary quoted below is related to a book edited by Anderson and contributed to by Regan.



(p. A13) . . . , Native Americans showed a remarkable ability to adapt to new goods and technology. Italian trade beads became an integral part of American Indian decoration and art. The Spanish horse transformed Plains Indian hunting and warfare.

Over centuries, however, these adaptations and innovations have been replaced by subjugation by the U.S. government. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared the Cherokees to be a "domestic dependent nation" and characterized the relationship of tribes to the U.S. as resembling "that of a ward to his guardian." Marshall's words were entrenched when Congress became trustee of all Indian lands and resources under the Dawes Act of 1887.

In recent decades, the government has paid lip service to "tribal sovereignty," but in practice Native Americans have little autonomy. Tribes and individual Indians still cannot own their land on reservations. This means Native Americans cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans, thus allowing them little or no access to credit. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even when tribes try to engage in economic activity, the feds impose mountains of regulations, all in the name of looking after Indian affairs.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY L. ANDERSON and SHAWN REGAN. "It's Time for the Feds to Get Out of Indian Country; A permit to develop energy resources requires 49 steps on tribal lands and just four steps off reservations." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 7, 2016.)


The book mentioned at the top of this entry, is:

Anderson, Terry L., ed. Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2016.






November 13, 2016

Once Great A.&P. Was "Going Out of Business for a Long Time"



(p. 17) Linda Fisch stopped at the A.&P. on Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx on Thursday and bought eight prepackaged containers of cottage cheese and fruit. She did not realize the store had become a footnote to history.

That A.&P. is the last in New York City, where the once-mighty chain was born just before the Civil War. Now the company has filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in five years. Once its plan for liquidating is approved, the store's A.&P. signs will come down. And the A.&P. name will vanish from New York.


. . .


Once, A.&P. had no competition. It all but invented the grocery store in the 19th century, and in the 20th century, it reinvented itself as a low-price, cash-and-carry chain. Its thousands of stores were "so devoid of frills that they are simply machines for selling food," according to "The Great Merchants," a history of retailers and retailing published in 1974.

But it had been fading for years. In the mid-1980s, a former A.&P. executive published a book "The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company" even as A.&P. continued to expand, buying Waldbaum's and the Food Emporium chain in New York City and the Farmer Jack chain in the Midwest. A.&P. acquired Pathmark in 2007 for $679 million in a deal that involved significant debt. It also operated Super Fresh and Food Basics stores.


. . .


It began as a sideline for a hide and leather importer, George H. Gilman. "At some point around 1859 or 1860, there's no precise date, he started selling tea," said Marc Levinson, a historian and the author of "The Great A.&P. and the Struggle for Small Business in America." "In 1860 or 1861, he gave up on the leather business, gave it to his brother, and decided to go into business as a tea wholesaler. He leased a property on Front Street. It's the area where most of the ships carrying tea would come in."

Mr. Levinson said a Gilman employee, George Huntington Hartford, became involved in the new business. Some accounts say it was Hartford who proposed eliminating middlemen -- and cutting prices to consumers. From its earliest years, the little tea company promised in advertisements, it would "do away with various profits and brokerages, cartages, storages, cooperage and waste, with the exception of a small commission paid for purchasing to our correspondents in Japan and China."


. . .


"I grew up on Long Island and the A.&P. was the only supermarket in the town I grew up in, which was Lynbrook," said Ms. Fisch, 71. "Of course that's where we shopped. It was bright and it was clean, which is totally different from the one in Riverdale. It's like it's been going out of business for a long time."



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "A.& P. Bankruptcy Means New York, Chain's Birthplace, Will Lose Last Store." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 2, 2015): 17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 1, 2015.)


The first book mentioned above, is:

Mahoney, Tom, and Leonard Sloane. The Great Merchants: America's Foremost Retail Institutions and the People Who Made Them Great. Updated and Enlarged ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.


The second book mentioned above, is:

Walsh, William I. The Rise and Decline of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Secaucas, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1986.


Levinson's great book, mentioned above, is:

Levinson, Marc. The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.






November 9, 2016

Peter Thiel Asks "What Happened to the Future?"



(p. B4) Mr. Thiel has been an important player in Silicon Valley since the first dot-com boom, but he has recently taken on a much more public role. He was born in Germany and came to the United States as an infant when his father, a chemical engineer, found work here. He was raised in Silicon Valley and went to Stanford, where he developed the views in his first book, "The Diversity Myth," about the multiculturalism debate on campuses, written with the entrepreneur David O. Sacks.

In 1998, Mr. Thiel helped found the online payments company PayPal, an immediate success. He was the first outside investor in Facebook. Forbes estimates his net worth at $2.7 billion. Last year, he became a part-time partner at Y Combinator, a loosely defined advisory position.

A handful of others in Silicon Valley have similar investing track records. Where Mr. Thiel really separates himself from his peers is his skepticism that Silicon Valley is building a better world for all. His investment firm, Founders Fund, used to begin its online manifesto with the complaint, "We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. Now it says simply, "What happened to the future?"

San Francisco, Manhattan and Washington, D.C., are doing well, but the presidential campaign has laid bare the angst of many other places. Feelings of decline are rampant. "Most of the millennials have lower expectations than their baby boomer parents," Mr. Thiel said. "Where I differ from others in Silicon Valley is in thinking that you can't fence yourself off. If it continues, it will ultimately be bad for everybody."



For the full story, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Peter Thiel, Contrarian Tech Billionaire, Defends His Support of Trump." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 29, 2016, and has the title "Peter Thiel Defends His Most Contrarian Move Yet: Supporting Trump.")


The book mentioned above, that was co-authored by Thiel, is:

Sacks, David O., and Peter A. Thiel. The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford. Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, 1995.






November 5, 2016

Breakthrough Surgeon "Defied Skepticism"



(p. D8) Dr. Johnson was a reluctant surgeon -- early on, he once recalled, "I disliked surgeons and their pompous attitudes" -- but he applied the crocheting skills he had learned from his mother, who was a home economics teacher, and the needlecraft he was taught in a seventh-grade sewing class (he got an A), to perform more than 8,500 heart bypass operations over four decades.


. . .


Doctors had experimented with coronary artery surgery since the 1950s, the goal being to remove accumulated plaque caused by cholesterol deposits, which can block blood flow and cause the stabbing pain of angina. One method was to remove the clogged portion of an artery and graft on a replacement patch of cardiac membrane or a segment of vein from a leg.

In 1968, Dr. Johnson and his team took another path, sewing segments of veins from multiple arteries end to end and stitching them directly into the aorta, the body's main artery, bypassing cardiac ducts where the flow of blood was impeded.

His breakthrough, reported the next year, defied skepticism within the medical profession and heralded a new era of successful double, triple and quadruple bypass surgeries.

"It was perhaps the presentation of Johnson in the spring of 1969 that had the greatest impact on the widespread use" of coronary artery bypass grafting, Dr. Eugene A. Hessel II wrote in "Cardiac Anesthesia: Principles and Clinical Practice," published in 2001.

To facilitate surgery, Dr. Johnson made another breakthrough by temporarily stopping the heart and slowing the body's metabolism by cooling and circulating the blood through a heart-lung machine.


. . .


Dr. Johnson's multiple bypass surgeries, which could take as long as nine hours and were often accompanied by classical music in the operating room, were credited with saving an untold number of lives.

But in an interview with Dr. William S. Stoney for "Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery" (2008), Dr. Johnson said "the single biggest thing I ever did to lower mortality" was to prescribe the drug allopurinol, which is ordinarily used to inhibit the production of uric acid (high levels of it can cause gout), but which has also been found to improve survival in cardiac patients by improving their capacity for exercise.


. . .


"The coronary artery bypass graft operation does nothing for the basic cause of the disease," Dr. Johnson said, adding, "Prevention is, of course, the ultimate answer."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Pioneer, Dies at 86." The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 31, 2016): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 30, 2016, and has the title "W. Dudley Johnson, Heart Bypass Surgery Pioneer, Dies at 86.")


Stoney's book mentioned above, is:

Stoney, William S. Pioneers of Cardiac Surgery. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008.






November 1, 2016

GE Shifts Away from Six Sigma and Toward Innovation



(p. B1) One of the biggest engineering projects under way at General Electric Co. these days isn't a turbine or locomotive. It is reinventing the way the company's employees are assessed, reviewed and even paid.

For decades, an ideal GE worker was one adept at squeezing out product defects and almost allergic to admitting uncertainty.

Now, as the 124-year-old company refocuses itself on industrial businesses, executives say top performers are those willing to take risks, test new ideas with customers and even make mistakes.

Leaders say GE's multiyear effort to remake itself into a leaner, innovation-driven company requires a nimble workforce that can develop products faster and more cheaply. The shift is significant for GE, whose corporate ethos had long been embodied by Six Sigma, a manufacturing system designed to eliminate error, enshrining certainty and consistency.


. . .


(p. B6) The new style of measuring employees has roots in FastWorks, a companywide initiative intended to hasten product development and ensure that customers want new products before GE spends millions building them. It is based on Lean Startup, a management system popularized by Eric Ries, a 37-year-old author and consultant GE brought in with the blessing of Chief Executive Jeff Immelt to help employees get comfortable with trial, error and experimentation.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN. "GE Tries to Reinvent the Employee Review, Encouraging Risks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 8, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices.")


Ries's Lean Startup management system is advocated in his book:

Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business, 2011.






October 28, 2016

Those Who See, and Fill, Big Unmet Needs Are Often "Weirdos"



(p. A11) . . . "A Truck Full of Money" provides a portrait of a strange, troubled man who happens to be one of the smartest minds in the Route 128 tech corridor.


. . .


The book is being marketed as inspirational, but I found it to be the opposite. No one could read it and become Paul English, or want to. Most tech startups think too small, but the few people with the vision to identify big unmet needs seem to be, for whatever reason, weirdos. The split-second fare comparison that Kayak did is something no human being could do--it requires super-computing--and it has an enormous value, since 8% of the U.S. economy is travel. But once you've solved a problem like that, what do you do next?

Paul English hasn't figured that out, so this book sort of peters out--he may do his once-in-a-lifetime charity project, or he may follow through on Blade--and he has retreated back into the familiar, running a company called Lola that is sort of the opposite of Kayak: It gives you live access to travel concierges. But how could Mr. Kidder's ending be anything but inconclusive? Mr. English is just 53. Undoubtedly he has another billion-dollar idea nestled in that overactive brainpan, but his investors have to make a leap of faith--that they've bet on the right weirdo. God bless these genius geeks, who make our economy leaner by constantly finding more efficient ways to do old things. And God bless the pharmaceutical industry, which protects and preserves them.​



For the full review, see:

JOHN BLOOM. "BOOKSHELF; The Man Who Built Kayak; During one episode of hypomania, Paul English bid $500,000 on an abandoned lighthouse. Recently, he decided to become an Uber driver." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 27, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 26, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Kidder, Tracy. A Truck Full of Money: One Man's Quest to Recover from Great Success. New York: Random House, 2016.






October 27, 2016

Making Technologies Useful to End Users Can Be Hard



Sharma's theory sounds somewhat similar to that of Bhidé in his The Venturesome Economy.


(p. B4) Anshu​ Sharma,​ a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to. He calls his thesis the "stack fallacy," and though he sketched its outline in a recent essay, I found it so compelling that I thought it worth a more thorough exploration of the implications of his theory. What follows is the result of that conversation.

"Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layer above yours," Mr. Sharma wrote. And as someone who worked at both Oracle and Salesforce, his exhibit A is these two companies. To Oracle, which is primarily a database company, Salesforce is just a "hosted database app," he wrote. and yet despite spending millions on it, Oracle has been unable to beat Salesforce in Salesforce's core competency, notably customer-relations management software.

It helps to understand that in tech, the "stack" is the layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next, that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user. On the Internet, for example, there is a stack of technologies stretching from the server through the operating system running on it through a cloud abstraction layer and then the apps running atop that, until you reach the user. Even the electricity grid required to power the data center in which the server lives could be considered part of the technology "stack" of, say, your favorite email service.


. . .


The reason that companies fail when they try to move up the stack is simple, argues Mr. Sharma: They don't have firsthand empathy for what customers of the product one level above theirs in the stack actually want. Database engineers at Oracle don't know what supply-chain managers at Fortune 500 companies want out of an enterprise resource-planning system like SAP, but that hasn't stopped Oracle from trying to compete in that space.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "Why Companies Are Being Disrupted." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 25, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Big Companies Keep Getting Disrupted." The last sentence quoted above appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)


Sharma's blog essay mentioned above, is:

Sharma, Anshu. "Why Big Companies Keep Failing: The Stack Fallacy." On Crunch Network blog, Posted Jan. 18, 2016.


The Bhidé book that I mention way above, is:

Bhidé, Amar. The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.


A briefer version of Bhidé's theory can be found in:

Bhidé, Amar. "The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World." Journal of Applied Corporate Finance 21, no. 1 (Winter 2009): 8-23.






October 25, 2016

Modern Technology Adds to Knowledge of Culture and Religion



(p. A6) Nearly half a century ago, archaeologists found a charred ancient scroll in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

The lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read. Its curators did nothing but conserve it, hoping that new technology might one day emerge to make the scroll legible.

Just such a technology has now been perfected by computer scientists at the University of Kentucky. Working with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, they have used a computer to unfurl a digital image of the scroll.

It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.

The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll's blackened and beaten-up exterior. "Never in our wildest dreams did we think anything would come of it," said Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Scholars say this remarkable new technique may make it possible to read other scrolls too brittle to be unrolled.


. . .


The experts say this new method may make it possible to read other ancient scrolls, including several Dead Sea scrolls and about 300 carbonized ones from Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.


. . .


The feat of recovering the text was made possible by software programs developed by W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky. Inspired by the hope of reading the many charred and unopenable scrolls found at Herculaneum, near Pompeii in Italy, Dr. Seales has been working for the last 13 years on ways to read the text inside an ancient scroll.


. . .


He succeeded in 2009 in working out the physical structure of the ruffled layers of papyrus in a Herculaneum scroll.

He has since developed a method, called virtual unwrapping, to model the surface of an ancient scroll in the form of a mesh of tiny triangles. Each triangle can be resized by the computer until the virtual surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by the scanning method. The blobs of ink are assigned to their right place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the whole 3-D structure into a 2-D sheet.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Biblical Scroll." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPT. 22, 2016): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 21, 2016, and has the title "Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll.")






October 24, 2016

"My Fate Lies with Me, Not with Heaven"



(p. A7) . . . Dr. Unschuld, who is as blunt as he is outspoken, stands at the center of a long and contentious debate in the West over Chinese medicine. For many, it is the ur-alternative to what they see as the industrialized and chemicalized medicine that dominates in the West. For others, it is little more than charlatanism, with its successes attributed to the placebo effect and the odd folk remedy.

Dr. Unschuld is a challenge to both ways of thinking. He has just finished a 28-year English translation of the three principal parts of the foundational work of Chinese medicine: the Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, published by the University of California Press. But unlike many of the textbooks used in Chinese medicine schools in the West, Dr. Unschuld's works are monuments to the art of serious translation; he avoids New Age jargon like "energy" or familiar Western medical terms like "pathogens," seeing both as unfair to the ancient writers and their worldviews.

But this reflects a deep respect for the ancient authors the detractors of Chinese medicine sometimes lack. Dr. Unschuld hunts down obscure terms and devises consistent terminologies that are sometimes not easy to read, but are faithful to the original text. Almost universally, his translations are regarded as trailblazing -- making available, for the first time in a Western language, the complete foundational works of Chinese medicine from up to 2,000 years ago.


. . .


. . . then there is the issue of efficacy. With his extremely dry humor, Dr. Unschuld likens Chinese medicine to the herbal formulas of the medieval Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen. If people want to try it, they should be free to do so, he said, but not at taxpayer expense. As for himself, Dr. Unschuld says he has never tried Chinese medicine.


. . .


His purely academic approach, . . . , makes him a difficult figure for China to embrace. While widely respected for his knowledge and translations, he has done little to advance the government's agenda of promoting Chinese medicine as soft power. Echoing other critics, he describes China's translations of the classics as "complete swindles," saying they are done with little care and only a political goal in mind.

For Dr. Unschuld, Chinese medicine is far more interesting as an allegory for China's mental state. His most famous book is a history of Chinese medical ideas, in which he sees classic figures, such as the Yellow Emperor, as a reflection of the Chinese people's deep-seated pragmatism. At a time when demons and ghosts were blamed for illness, these Chinese works from 2,000 years ago ascribed it to behavior or disease that could be corrected or cured.

"It is a metaphor for enlightenment," he says.

Especially striking, Dr. Unschuld says, is that the Chinese approach puts responsibility on the individual, as reflected in the statement "wo ming zai wo, bu zai tian" -- "my fate lies with me, not with heaven." This mentality was reflected on a national level in the 19th and 20th centuries, when China was being attacked by outsiders. The Chinese largely blamed themselves and sought concrete answers by studying foreign ideas, industrializing and building a modern economy.



For the full story, see:

IAN JOHNSON. "The Saturday Profile; An Expert on Chinese Medicine, but No New Age Healer." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 24, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2016, and has the title "Gandhi the Imperialist - Book Review.")


The recently finished book mentioned above, is:

Unschuld, Paul U. Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu: The Ancient Classic on Needle Therapy. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016.






October 16, 2016

Income Redistribution May Hurt Innovation



(p. A13) Edward Conard is on a dual crusade. First, he is out to prove that technological innovation is the major driver of the creation of wealth. Second, that government programs to redistribute income are at best futile and at worst the enemy of the middle class.


. . .


"The late Steve Jobs," Mr. Conard writes, "may have made huge profits from his innovations, but his wealth was small in comparison with the value of the iPhone and its imitators to their users."


. . .


"Redistribution--whether achieved through taxation, regulatory restrictions, or social norms--appears," he asserts, "to have large detrimental effects on risk-taking, innovation, productivity, and growth over the long run, especially in an economy where innovation produced by the entrepreneurial risk-taking of properly trained talent increasingly drives growth."



For the full review, see:

RICHARD EPSTEIN. "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 15, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 14, 2016, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Necessity of the Rich; Steve Jobs may have earned huge profits from his innovations, but they pale in comparison with the value of the iPhone to its users.")


The book under review, is:

Conard, Edward. The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class. New York: Portfolio, 2016.






October 12, 2016

"Giving Peas a Chance"



(p. C1) Thank heavens Gregor Mendel was a lousy priest. Had he shown even the faintest aptitude for oratory or ministering to the poor, he might never have determined the basic laws of heredity. But bumbling he was, and he made a rotten university student to boot; his failures drove him straight to his room, where he bred mice in secret. The experiment scandalized his superiors.

"A monk coaxing mice to (p. C4) mate to understand heredity was a little too risqué, even for the Augustinians," writes Siddhartha Mukherjee in "The Gene: An Intimate History." So Mendel switched -- auspiciously, historically -- to pea plants. The abbot in charge, writes the author, acquiesced this time, "giving peas a chance."

Love Dr. Mukherjee, love his puns. They're everywhere. I warn you now.


. . .


Many of the same qualities that made "The Emperor of All Maladies" so pleasurable are in full bloom in "The Gene." The book is compassionate, tautly synthesized, packed with unfamiliar details about familiar people.


. . .


But there are also crucial differences. Cancer is the troll that scratches and thumps beneath the floorboards of our consciousness, if it hasn't already beaten its way into the room. The subject immediately commands our attention; it's almost impossible to deny, and not to hear, the emotional clang of its appeal. In Dr. Mukherjee's skilled hands, the story of this frightening disease became a page-turner. He explained its history, politics and cunning biological underpinnings; he traced the evolving and often gruesome logic underlying cancer treatment.

And in the middle of it all, agonizing over treatment protocols and watching his patients struggle with tremendous existential and physical pain, was the author himself.

There are far fewer psychological stakes in reading about the history of genetics. "The Gene" is more pedagogical than dramatic; as often as not, the stars of this story are molecules, not humans.


. . .


But any book about the history of something as elemental and miraculous as the gene is bound, at least indirectly, to tell the story of innovation itself. "The Gene" is filled with scientists who dreamed in breathtakingly lateral leaps.

Erwin Schrödinger in particular was one visionary cat: In 1944, he hazarded a guess about the molecular nature of the gene and decided it had to be a strand of code scribbled along the chromosome -- which pretty much sums up the essence of DNA.



For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "Books of The Times; In Molecular Pursuit of the Genetic Code." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 9, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: Siddhartha Mukherjee's 'The Gene,' a Molecular Pursuit of the Self.")


The book under review, is:

Mukherjee, Siddhartha. The Gene: An Intimate History. New York: Scribner, 2016.






October 8, 2016

The Internet Favors Creators in the Long Tail of Distribution



(p. A13) Does the internet pose a threat to established entertainment companies? Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang lead a class at Carnegie Mellon University in which a student recently put that question to a visiting executive. He pooh-poohed the idea: "The original players in this industry have been around for the last 100 years, and there's a reason for that." As co-heads of CMU's Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Messrs. Smith and Telang aim to counter this line of thought, and in "Streaming, Sharing, Stealing" they do just that, explaining gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.


. . .


Then there's the question of blockbusters vs. the long tail. In her book "Blockbusters" (2013), Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School professor, contended that digital markets, far from favoring the "long tail" of products that were mostly unavailable in physical stores or theaters, actually concentrate sales at the top even further. Messrs. Smith and Telang quietly but effectively demolish this argument, noting numerous instances in which the opposite happened. In the case of one large chain, the top 100 titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store--but when stores closed and customers were shifted to the Web, the most popular titles made up only 35% of the DVDs rented online.

The authors also note that, by making it easy for writers, musicians, and directors to work independently, digital technology has vastly increased the number of works available. Between 2000 and 2010, an explosion in self-publishing raised the number of new books issued per year to 3.1 million from 122,000.



For the full review, see:

FRANK ROSE. "BOOKSHELF; We're All Cord Cutters Now; At one chain, the top 100 movie titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store. But online, the top titles make up only 35% of rentals." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 7, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 6, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Smith, Michael D., and Rahul Telang. Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016.






October 4, 2016

Chernow Is Consumed by His Work "in a Deep, Quiet, Rewarding Way"



(p. 12) I collect art, and the piece I adore most is an 1888 Winslow Homer etching called "Mending the Tears." It depicts two women seated along the shore of an English fishing village. One is mending a net; the other is darning socks. They are consumed by their work, but in a deep, quiet, rewarding way. That's how I feel when I write.


For the full commentary, see:

Ron Chernow (as told to Marc Myers). "HOUSE CALL; Ron Chernow; New York's 'Quietest' Home." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 26, 2016): M10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 23, 2016, and has the title "HOUSE CALL; Hamilton Biographer Ron Chernow Finds New York's 'Quietest' Home.")


I have learned a lot from these two books by Chernow:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






September 30, 2016

"Cognitive Flexibility" and "Openness to Experience" Promote Creativity



(p. C3) In a 2011 study led by the Dutch psychologist Simone Ritter and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers asked some subjects to make breakfast in the "wrong" order and others to perform the task in the conventional manner. Those in the first group--the ones engaged in a schema violation--consistently demonstrated more "cognitive flexibility," a prerequisite for creative thinking.


. . .


Exceptionally creative people such as Curie and Freud possess many traits, of course, but their "openness to experience" is the most important, says the cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman of the University of Pennsylvania. That seems to hold for entire societies as well.

Consider a country like Japan, which has historically been among the world's most closed societies. Examining the long stretch of time from 580 to 1939, Dean Simonton of the University of California, writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, compared Japan's "extra cultural influx" (from immigration, travel abroad, etc.) in different eras with its output in such fields as medicine, philosophy, painting and literature. Dr. Simonton found a consistent correlation: the greater Japan's openness, the greater its achievements.

It isn't necessarily new ideas from the outside that directly drive innovation, Dr. Simonton argues. It's simply their presence as a goad. Some people start to see the arbitrary nature of many of their own cultural habits and open their minds to new possibilities. Once you recognize that there is another way of doing X or thinking about Y, all sorts of new channels open to you, he says. "The awareness of cultural variety helps set the mind free," he concludes.

History bears this out. In ancient Athens, foreigners known as metics (today we'd call them resident aliens) contributed mightily to the city-state's brilliance. Renaissance Florence recruited the best and brightest from the crumbling Byzantine Empire. Even when the "extra cultural influx" arrives uninvited, as it did in India during the British Raj, creativity sometimes results. The intermingling of cultures sparked the "Bengal Renaissance" of the late 19th century.



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC WEINER. "The Secret of Immigrant Genius; Having your world turned upside down sparks creative thinking." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 16, 2016): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 15, 2016.)


The above commentary by Weiner is related to his book, which is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.


The paper mentioned above as co-authored by Ritter, is:

Ritter, Simone M., Rodica Ioana Damian, Dean Keith Simonton, Rick B. van Baaren, Madelijn Strick, Jeroen Derks, and Ap Dijksterhuis. "Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48, no. 4 (July 2012): 961-64.


The paper mentioned above by Simonton on Japanese openness, is:

Simonton, Dean Keith. "Foreign Influence and National Achievement: The Impact of Open Milieus on Japanese Civilization." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 72, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 86-94.







September 26, 2016

Patent Holder of Piggly Wiggly Self-Service Method Sued Hoggly Woggly for Infringement



(p. A11) A typical U.S. supermarket carries 42,000 items: Grab a cart, stroll the aisles and help yourself to an extravagant assortment of goods. Today it's hard to imagine buying groceries any other way. But self-service was a game-changer when Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly in Memphis, Tenn., 100 years ago this month.

Before then a shopper would hand his grocery list to a clerk, who would fetch the merchandise while the customer lingered up front. That might sound appealing in this era of big-box stores with no help in sight, but at busy times the wait could stretch uncomfortably long.

Saunders, a school dropout who worked as a flour and grain salesman, had observed firsthand the inefficiencies of the rural grocers he supplied. Many of these stores, he became convinced, failed for two reasons: credit losses from customers' charge accounts (which were then customary), and labor costs from clerks and delivery boys.


. . .


Eager to protect his invention, Saunders applied for multiple patents. His first, for a "Self Serving Store," was granted in 1917. It wasn't long, though, before imitators like Handy Andy and Helpy Selfy made their debut. Saunders successfully sued an especially brash copycat, Hoggly Woggly, for infringement.


. . .


Saunders didn't integrate circuits or sequence the human genome. An observer once noted that coming up with a self-service grocery was "as simple as looking out the window or scratching your ear." Still, it was Saunders who gambled on the unconventional approach, doggedly spread self-service across the nation and shaped the grocery industry we know today.



For the full commentary, see:

JERRY CIANCIOLO. "The Man Who Invented the Grocery Store." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 8, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2016.)


The only book I could find about Clarence Saunders, is:

Freeman, Mike. Clarence Saunders and the Founding of Piggly Wiggly: The Rise & Fall of a Memphis Maverick. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011.






September 25, 2016

Did Feds Try to Sully Sully's Reputation?



(p. B3) Even before this weekend's release of the Hollywood movie "Sully," about the pilot who safely landed a disabled US Airways airliner on the Hudson River on a frigid January day in 2009, a rebuttal campaign is already underway by some of the participants in the real-life story.

The federal investigators who conducted the inquiry into the flight contend that "Sully" tarnishes their reputation.


. . .


Allyn Stewart, a producer of the film, said it was not a case of taking creative license to ratchet up the drama. "The story is told through the experiences of Jeff and Sully, and so they felt under extreme scrutiny and they were," Ms. Stewart said.

Jeff is the co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, played in the film by Aaron Eckhart.

Captain Sullenberger, who retired from US Airways in 2010, said in an email that the tension in the film accurately reflected his state of mind at the time. "For those who are the focus of the investigation, the intensity of it is immense," he said, adding that the process was "inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance."



For the full story, see:

CHRISTINE NEGRONI. "Safety Agency Challenges True' Story told in the Film 'Sully'." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 10, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 9, 2016, and has the title "'Sully' Is Latest Historical Film to Prompt Off-Screen Drama.")


Sully's book, on which the movie is loosely based, is:

Sullenberger, Chesley B., III, and Jeffrey Zaslow. Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.






September 22, 2016

Sutter Headed BHAG Team that Created Boeing 747





Collins and Porras in Built to Last recommend the pursuit of Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs). A prime example is the Boeing 747.



(p. B9) Joe Sutter, whose team of 4,500 engineers took just 29 months to design and build the first jumbo Boeing 747 jetliner, creating a gleaming late-20th-century airborne answer to the luxury ocean liner, died on Tuesday [August 30, 2016] in Bremerton, Wash.


. . .


In less time than Magellan spent circumnavigating the globe, Boeing engineers transformed Mr. Sutter's napkin doodles into the humpbacked, wide-bodied behemoth passenger and cargo plane known as the 747. The plane would transform commercial aviation and shrink the world for millions of passengers by traveling faster and farther than other, conventional jetliners, without having to refuel.


. . .


"If ever a program seemed set up for failure, it was mine," Mr. Sutter said in his 2006 autobiography, "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation," written with Jay Spenser.


. . .


Adam Bruckner of the University of Washington's department of aeronautics and astronautics later described the 747 as "one of the great engineering wonders of the world, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower or the Panama Canal."


. . .


"Aviators were more than mere mortals to us," Mr. Sutter recalled in his autobiography. "They were a different breed, intrepid demigods in silk scarves, puttees and leather flying helmets with goggles."



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Joe Sutter, 95, Is Dead; Guided the Development of Boeing's 747 Jetliner." The New York Times (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): B9.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and has the title "Joe Sutter, Who Led an Army in Building Boeing's Jumbo 747, Dies at 95.")


Sutter's autobiography, is:

Sutter, Joe, and Jay Spencer. 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.






September 18, 2016

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease



(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body's functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn't so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one's social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.

Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don't know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.


. . .


Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to "chronic arousal" (or stress).


. . .


Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.

These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress -- from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control -- was driving much of the difference in survival.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "When Blood Pressure Is Political." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)


The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar's book:

Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 14, 2016

Traveling Health Volunteers Often Do Harm



(p. D3) Tens of thousands of religious and secular institutions now send hundreds of thousands of health volunteers from the United States out into the world, generating close to an estimated $1 billion worth of unpaid labor. Volunteers include experienced medical professionals and individuals who can provide only elbow grease; between these extremes of competence are the hordes of students in the health professions, among whom global volunteering has become immensely popular.


. . .


Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.

Problems may lie with the structure of a program rather than the personnel. Volunteer projects may be choppy and discontinuous, one set of volunteers not knowing what the previous group was up to, and not able to leave suggestions for the next group. Medications may run out. Surgery may be performed with insufficient provisions for postoperative care.

Even well-organized programs may undermine hosting communities in unanticipated ways: For instance, a good volunteer-based clinic may sap confidence in local medical care and, providing free services, threaten to put local physicians out of business.


. . .


A few studies on the long-term effects of short-term good works are ongoing. In the meantime, "there is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised," Dr. Lasker finds.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "The Folly of the Well-Meaning Traveling Volunteer." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "Books; Book Review: 'Hoping to Help' Questions Value of Volunteers.")


The book under review, is:

Lasker, Judith N. Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.






September 10, 2016

"Practice Makes Perfect, but It Doesn't Make New"



(p. 12) Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted -- as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.


. . .


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet "only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators," laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. "Those who do must make a painful transition" to an adult who "ultimately remakes a domain."

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "How to Raise a Creative Child." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 31, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






September 6, 2016

American Indians Suffer from Lack of Property Rights



(p. A15) There are almost no private businesses or entrepreneurs on Indian reservations because there are no property rights. Reservation land is held in trust by the federal government and most is also owned communally by the tribe. It's almost impossible for tribe members to get a mortgage, let alone borrow against their property to start a business. The Bureau of Indian Affairs regulates just about every aspect of commerce on reservations.

Instead of giving Indians more control over their own land--allowing them to develop natural resources or use land as collateral to start businesses--the federal government has offered them what you might call a loophole economy. Washington carves out a sector of the economy, giving tribes a regulatory or tax advantage over non-Indians. But within a few years the government takes it away, in many cases leaving Indian tribes as impoverished and more disheartened than they were before.


. . .


What American Indians need first is less regulation. There is a reason that Native Americans say BIA, the initials for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, really stands for "Bossing Indians Around."



For the full commentary, see:

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY. "The Loophole Economy Is No Jackpot for Indians; Running casinos or selling tax-free cigarettes can't substitute for what tribes truly need: property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2016.)


The above commentary by Riley is related to her book, which is:

Riley, Naomi Schaefer. The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians. New York: Encounter Books, 2016.






September 2, 2016

Mather and Boylston Risked Much to Fight Smallpox




I enjoyed reading the book reviewed below. From the title, and from reviews, I had the impression that it would mostly be about the smallpox epidemic and the innoculation conflict. I was surprised that of equal, or greater, importance in the book is the role of James Franklin's newspaper in laying the intellectual groundwork for the American Revolution. I learned from that part of the book too, but some might feel misled from the title about what the book was mainly about. (I think "fever" in the title is intended as a double entendre, referring both to a fever from smallpox, and a fever from the ideas of liberty.)



(p. A11) Inoculation was proposed by Cotton Mather, a figure much diminished in the 30 years since Salem. He had suffered a terrible sequence of tragedies, losing his wife and 10 of his children to accidents and epidemic disease. He had also been marginalized within the religious community by quarrels and scandals. But he had become an assiduous student of science, corresponding with the Royal Society in London and learning from its "Transactions" that inoculation against smallpox had long been practiced in Constantinople. Mr. Coss shows how Mather's investigations led him to consult a source closer to home. His slave Onesimus, when asked whether he had ever had smallpox, replied "both Yes, and No": He had been inoculated as a child in Africa, receiving a mild infection and subsequent immunity.

Inoculation was commonplace across swaths of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, Mr. Coss explains, but this inclined the doctors of Enlightenment-era Europe to regard it as a primitive superstition. Such was the view of William Douglass, the only man in Boston with the letters "M.D." after his name, who was convinced that "infusing such malignant filth" in a healthy subject was lethal folly. The only person Mather could persuade to perform the operation was a surgeon, Zabdiel Boylston, whose frontier upbringing made him sympathetic to native medicine and who was already pockmarked from a near-fatal case of the disease.

"Given that attempting inoculation constituted an almost complete leap of faith for Boylston," Mr. Coss writes, "he spent surprisingly little time agonizing over it." He knew personally just how savage the toll could be. On June 26, 1721, just as the epidemic began to rage in earnest, Boyston filled a quill with the fluid from an infected blister and scratched it into the skin of two family slaves and his own young son.

News of the experiment was greeted with public fury and terror that it would spread the contagion. A town-hall meeting was convened, at Dr. Douglass's instigation, at which inoculation was condemned and banned. Mather's house was firebombed with an incendiary device to which a note was attached: "I will inoculate you with this."



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "'BOOKSHELF; An Ounce of Prevention; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 3, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 2, 2016, and has the title "'BOOKSHELF; When Ben Franklin Was Against Vaccines; When Cotton Mather advocated inoculation during a smallpox outbreak, young Benjamin Franklin helped foment outrage against him.")


The book under review, is:

Coss, Stephen. The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.






August 29, 2016

"You Call It Procrastination, I Call It Thinking"



(p. 7) A few years ago, . . . , one of my most creative students, Jihae Shin, questioned my expeditious habits. She told me her most original ideas came to her after she procrastinated. I challenged her to prove it. She got access to a couple of companies, surveyed people on how often they procrastinated, and asked their supervisors to rate their creativity. Procrastinators earned significantly higher creativity scores than pre-crastinators like me.

I wasn't convinced. So Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators' ideas were 28 percent more creative.

Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn't the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. My senior thesis in college ended up replicating a bunch of existing ideas instead of introducing new ones. When you procrastinate, you're more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. Nearly a century ago, the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people had a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it's in limbo, it stays active in our minds.

Begrudgingly, I acknowledged that procrastination might help with everyday creativity. But monumental achievements are a different story, right?

Wrong. Steve Jobs procrastinated constantly, several of his collaborators have told me. Bill Clinton has been described as a "chronic procrastinator" who waits until the last minute to revise his speeches. Frank Lloyd Wright spent almost a year procrastinating on a commission, to the point that his patron drove out and insisted that he produce a drawing on the spot. It became Fallingwater, his masterpiece. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter behind "Steve Jobs" and "The West Wing," is known to put off writing until the last minute. When Katie Couric asked him about it, he replied, "You call it procrastination, I call it thinking."



For the full commentary, see:

Grant, Adam. "Step 1: Procrastinate." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 17, 2016): 1 & 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title "Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate.")


Grant's commentary is related to his book:

Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.






August 25, 2016

"Doctors Often Do Not 'Know' What They Are Doing"



(p. A11) Into the "swift currents and roiling waters of modern medicine" plunges Dr. Steven Hatch, whose informative "Snowball in a Blizzard" adds an important perspective. Dr. Hatch believes that our health-care system can "champion patient autonomy" and facilitate "more humane treatment, less anxiety, and better care" by revealing to patients the "great unspoken secret of medicine." What's the secret? Simply stated, "doctors often do not 'know' what they are doing." In Dr. Hatch's view, despite spectacular advances in biomedical science, modern "doctors simply cannot provide the kind of confident predictions that are often expected of them."


. . .


He begins where Donald Rumsfeld ended: There will always be "known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns" in medicine. Dr. Hatch illustrates this spectrum of uncertainty with engaging exposés of popular screening tests like mammograms (attempting to detect breast cancer is like "finding a snowball in a blizzard"); common drug treatments, like those used to lower serum cholesterol or blood-pressure levels (about which expert national guidelines seem to change almost yearly); and health-care coverage in the lay media (whose "breaking news" too often ignores the uncertainty of the news being broken). Throughout his book, Dr. Hatch's message is "caveat emptor," warning his readers to beware not only the pseudoscientists, flim-flammers, anti-vacciners and celebrity doctors but also the all-too-certain pronouncements of the medical establishment.



For the full review, see:

BRENDAN REILLY. "BOOKSHELF; Give It To Me Straight, Doc; Doctors can't really be certain if any treatment will help a particular person. But patients are looking for prescriptions, not probabilities." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 15, 2016): A11.

(Note: the ellipsis between paragraphs, and the first two in the final quoted paragraph, are added; the third ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Hatch, Steven. Snowball in a Blizzard: A Physician's Notes on Uncertainty in Medicine. New York: Basic Books, 2016.






August 21, 2016

Brazilians See Government as a Father Who Should Hand Out Subsidies to His Favorites



(p. 9) . . . "Brazillionaires" offers more than a flat collection of billionaire tales. Cuadros shrewdly presents his collage of immense wealth against an underlying background of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, "more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world." And of course there are lavish campaign contributions, attached to the inevitable quid pro quos. JBS, which leveraged government loans to become the largest meatpacking company in the world, spent $180 million on the 2014 elections alone. "If every politician who had received JBS money formed a party," Cuadros writes, "it would be the largest in Congress."

In his telling, Brazilians seem to embrace the cozy relationship between business and government as a source of pride rather than a risk for conflicts of interest. In one passage, Cuadros underscores the contrast between Adam Smith and the 19th-century Brazilian thinker José da Silva Lisboa, viscount of Cairu. Lisboa's "Principios de Economía Politica" was meant to be an adaptation of Smith's "Wealth of Nations." But rather than present a paean to the invisible hand of the market, the viscount offered a rather paternalistic view of economic progress.

"The sovereign of each nation must be considered the chief or head of a vast family," he wrote, "and thus care for all those therein like his children, cooperating for the greater good." Swap "government" for "sovereign" and the passage still serves as an accurate guide to the Brazilian development strategy. It's just that some children -- the Marinhos, the Camargos -- are cared for better than ­others.


. . .


It would be wrong, . . . , to understand Brazil's plutocracy as the product of some unique outcrop of corruption. The hold on political power by the rich is hardly an exclusive feature of Brazil. ­Latin America has suffered for generations from the collusion between government and business. Where I grew up, in Mexico, it is the norm.



For the full review, see:

EDUARDO PORTER. "Real Rich." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 24, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title "Watching Brazil's Rich: A Full-Time Job.")


The book under review, is:

Cuadros, Alex. Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.






August 17, 2016

Creativity Is Correlated with "Openness to Experience"



(p. D3) "Insightful problem solving can't be boiled down to any single way of thinking," the authors say. Creative people have messy processes, and often messy minds, full of contradictions.

Contrary to the well-worn notion that creativity resides in the right side of the brain, research shows that creativity is a product of the whole brain, relying especially on what the authors call the "imagination network" -- circuits devoted to tasks like making personal meaning, creating mental simulations and taking perspective.

While creative people run the gamut of personalities, Dr. Kaufman's research has shown that openness to experience is more highly correlated to creative output than I.Q., divergent thinking or any other personality trait. This openness often yields a drive for exploration, which "may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement," the authors write.

These are people energized and motivated by the possibility of discovering new information: "It's the thrill of the knowledge chase that most excites them."

Once the idea is found, alas, the creative process begins to resemble something more like grinding execution. It's still creative, but it requires more focus and less daydreaming -- one reason highly creative people tend to exhibit mindfulness and mental wandering.

"Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature," the authors write. "It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play."



For the full review, see:

CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN. "Books; The Blessed Mess of Creativity." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 9, 2016): D3.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 8, 2016, and has the title "Books; Review: 'Wired to Create' Shows the Science of a Messy Process.")


The book under review, is:

Kaufman, Scott Barry, and Carolyn Gregoire. Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2015.






August 15, 2016

"Hong Kongers Will Not Bow Down to Brute Force"



(p. A1) HONG KONG -- Blindfolded and handcuffed, the bookseller was abducted from Hong Kong's border with mainland China and taken to a cell, where he would spend five months in solitary confinement, watched 24 hours a day by a battery of Chinese guards.

Even the simple act of brushing his teeth was monitored by minders, who tied a string to his toothbrush for fear he might try to use it to harm himself. They wanted him to identify anonymous authors and turn over data on customers.

"I couldn't call my family," the man, Lam Wing-kee, said on Thursday. "I could only look up to the sky, all alone."

Months after he and four other booksellers disappeared from Hong Kong and Thailand, prompting international concern over what critics called a brazen act of extralegal abduction, Mr. Lam stood before a bank of television cameras in Hong Kong and revealed the harrowing details of his time in detention.

"It can happen to you, too," said Mr. Lam, 61, who was the manager of Causeway Bay Books, a store that sold juicy potboilers about the mainland's Communist Party leadership. "I want to tell the whole world: Hong Kongers will not bow down to brute force."


. . .


(p. A14) In the months since Mr. Lam and his colleagues disappeared, the industry has fallen on hard times. Causeway Bay Books has closed, and many Hong Kong bookstores have pulled titles about Chinese politics from their shelves.

The disappearances shocked people in Hong Kong and reverberated internationally. Many saw the episode as an expansion of China's authoritarian legal system beyond its borders, in clear violation of the "one country, two systems" framework that allows Hong Kong to maintain a high degree of autonomy from Beijing.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand the booksellers' release. Diplomats from Britain, the European Union and the United States also registered concern.



For the full story, see:

ALAN WONG, MICHAEL FORSYTHE and ANDREW JACOBS. "Defying China, Hong Kong Bookseller Describes Detention." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 17, 2016): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 16, 2016, and has the title "Defying China, Hong Kong Bookseller Describes Detention.")






August 13, 2016

Technology Platforms Will Create Decades of Gales of Creative Destruction



(p. A11) For traditional businesses, economies of scale are the key to competitive advantage: Larger firms have lower average costs. In the digital economy, network effects matter most. In "Matchmakers" (Harvard Business Review, 260 pages, $35), David S. Evans (a consultant) and Richard Schmalensee (a professor of management) highlight two particular forms.

Direct network effects occur when additional users make a service more valuable for everyone. If one's colleagues are all on, say, LinkedIn, it will be hard for another professional network to exert a strong appeal. Without the critical mass of LinkedIn, the alternative will have less utility even if its features are better. Indirect network effects arise from positive feedback loops between opposing sides of a market. The value of Rightmove, for instance, the leading online real-estate site in Britain, comes from a matching function: Since each home is unique, buyers prefer the site with the most properties, and real-estate agents favor the site with the most buyers. This virtuous cycle magnifies Rightmove's advantage even though participants on each side of the market compete with one another: More buyers increase competition for the same homes, and agents compete for buyers.


. . .


"Matchmakers" is . . . measured and analytical . . . . The authors fairly conclude that, while the telegraph was "a far more important multisided platform" than anything produced so far by the Internet, platforms are "behind the gales of creative destruction that . . . will sweep industries for decades to come."



For the full review, see:


JEREMY G. PHILIPS. "Why Facebook's Imitators Failed; If one's coworkers are all on the same platform, any alternative will have less utility--even if its features are better." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: the ellipsis between paragraphs, and the first two in the final quoted paragraph, are added; the third ellipsis in the final paragraph is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Evans, David S., and Richard Schmalensee. Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016.






August 9, 2016

In Cultural Revolution, Chinese "Tried to Turn Their Homes into Fragile Islands of Freedom"



(p. C8) Mr. Dikötter's greatest contribution with "The Cultural Revolution," which is the third in a trilogy on China during the Mao era, is his undermining of the conventional view of the period following Mao's death in 1976. The prevailing narrative, much encouraged by the Communist Party, is that the Chinese state began "lifting" hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through its sage adoption of capitalist-style policies officially called "reform and opening," beginning with an end to systemwide economic planning and the restoration of markets.

Drawing on a growing body of existing research, Mr. Dikötter argues that China's markets were not born of the official reforms of the late-1970s and early 1980s but rather got their start before the Cultural Revolution had ended in 1976. He writes of peasants and city dwellers who had completely lost faith in the system and began improvised acts of survival and resistance, like the private trading of goods and labor, which was banned, and even small-scale industrial output.

"Senseless and unpredictable purges were designed to cow the population and rip apart entire communities, producing docile, atomized individuals loyal to no one but the Chairman," Mr. Dikötter writes. The outcome, as with so many extreme, top-down uses of power, was almost the exact opposite. As surreptitious markets began to flourish in response to scarcity, "people from all walks of life tried to turn their homes into fragile islands of freedom."​



For the full review, see:

HOWARD W. FRENCH. "'Bombard the Headquarters'; The twin pillars of Mao's campaign were uprooting supposed reactionaries and the promotion of sycophancy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 28, 2016): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 27, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Dikötter, Frank. The Cultural Revolution: A People's History, 1962-1976. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2016.






August 5, 2016

Creative Destruction of Polaroid by Digital Photography



(p. A17) There aren't many 3-year-olds who can take credit for inspiring a revolution in the way millions of people view the world. According to a legend that begins Peter Buse's welcome history of the Polaroid company, "The Camera Does the Rest," it was engineer Edwin Land's daughter, Jennifer, who asked one evening in 1943 why it took so long to view the photographs that the family had shot while on vacation in Santa Fe, N.M. Land set out on a walk to ponder that question and, so the story goes, returned six hours later with an answer that would transform the hidebound practice of photography: the instant snapshot.


. . .


"In 1974 alone there were about 1 billion Polaroid images made, and by 1976 . . . 15 billion in total," the author writes, "and this before the real explosion in Polaroid photography in the late 1970s and early 1980s." The party might have gone on forever had it not been for the same type of creative destruction that Polaroid itself had stirred up in the 1940s--this time brought about by the digital revolution.

By the time the company joined that revolution in the 1990s, it was too late. Their digital products were inferior to those being turned out by competing companies. Polaroid had always done well selling cameras, but the real money was in the film, the demand for which was falling precipitately. In July 1997, the company's stock price was $60.51. Four years later, as the company spiraled toward bankruptcy, it was $0.49. The author writes that Polaroid joined the "analog scrap heap" that included "vinyl turntables and the Sony Walkman."​



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "BOOKSHELF; The Original Instagram; Purists grumbled that Polaroids were ephemeral, but Ansel Adams created some of his most enduring photographs using the camera." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 17, 2016): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 16, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Buse, Peter. The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






August 1, 2016

The Role of Steve Jobs in the Creation of Pixar



(p. B4) . . . [a] book that isn't out yet (until November [2016]): "To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History" by Lawrence Levy, the former chief financial officer of Pixar. What a delightful book about the creation of Pixar from the inside. I learned more about Mr. Jobs, Pixar and business in Silicon Valley than I have in quite some time. And like a good Pixar film, it'll put a smile on your face.


For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed word and year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Levy, Lawrence. To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






July 31, 2016

Bourgeois Ideology Caused the Great Enrichment



(p. A13) What accounts for the wealth and prosperity of the developed nations of the world? How did we get so rich, and how might others join the fold?

Deirdre McCloskey, a distinguished economist and historian, has a clarion answer: ideas. It was ideas, she insists--about commerce, innovation and the virtues that support them--that account for the "Great Enrichment" that has transformed much of the world since 1800.


. . .


. . . , this monumental achievement was caused by a change in values, Ms. McCloskey says--the rise of what she calls, in a mocking nod to Marx, a "bourgeois ideology." It was far from an apology for greed, however. Anglo-Dutch in origin, the new ideology presented a deeply moral vision of the world that vaunted the value of work and innovation, earthly happiness and prosperity, and the liberty, dignity and equality of ordinary people. Preaching tolerance of difference and respect for the individual, it applauded those who sought to improve their lives (and the lives of others) through material betterment, scientific and technological inquiry, self-improvement, and honest work. Suspicious of hierarchy and stasis, proponents of bourgeois values attacked monopoly and privilege and extolled free trade and free lives while setting great store by prudence, enterprise, decency and hope.



For the full review, see:

DARRIN M. MCMAHON. "BOOKSHELF; The Morality of Prosperity; Grinding poverty was the norm for humanity until 1800. It changed with the rise of values like tolerance and respect for individual liberty." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 13, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






July 28, 2016

Letter to a Crony Capitalist



(p. B4) . . . , an excellent read is "Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism," by Jeff Gramm, owner and manager of the Bandera Partners hedge fund and an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School. This book explores the rise of activist investors like Carl C. Icahn and Daniel S. Loeb.

Mr. Gramm has collected a series of deliciously rich letters, many of which were never before published, sent to chief executives by investors by everyone from Warren Buffett to Ross Perot. They are eye-opening, often chilling and include fascinating lessons about business.

My personal favorite is this letter from Mr. Loeb to the chief executive of Star Gas Partners: "It seems that Star Gas can only serve as your personal 'honey pot' from which to extract salary for yourself and family members, fees for your cronies and to insulate you from the numerous lawsuits that you personally face due to your prior alleged fabrications, misstatements and broken promises. I have known you personally for many years and thus what I am about to say may seem harsh, but is said with some authority. It is time for you to step down from your role as C.E.O. and director so that you can do what you do best: retreat to your waterfront mansion in the Hamptons where you can play tennis and hobnob with your fellow socialites. The matter of repairing the mess you have created should be left to professional management and those that have an economic stake in the outcome."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Gramm, Jeff. Dear Chairman: Boardroom Battles and the Rise of Shareholder Activism. New York: HarperBusiness, 2016.






July 20, 2016

The Lucky Success of the Half-Blind "Becomes the Inevitable Coup of the Assured Visionary"



(p. B1) The most fun business book I have read this year? "Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley," by a former Facebook executive, Antonio García Martinez. I was sent a galley copy several months ago and picked it up with no intention of reading more than the first couple of pages. I don't think I looked up until about three hours later.

This is a tell-all of Mr. Martinez's experience in venture capital and later at Facebook, filled with insights about Silicon Valley -- what he calls "the tech whorehouse" -- mixed with score-settling anecdotes that will occasionally make you laugh out loud. Clearly there will be people who hate this book -- which is probably one of the things that makes it such a great read.

The dedication page includes this gem: "To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you." Mr. Martinez is particularly incisive when it comes to illustrating how failed ideas that happen to work are often spun into great successes: "What was an improbable bonanza at the hands of the flailing half-blind becomes the inevitable coup of the assured visionary," he writes. "The world crowns you a genius, and you start acting like one."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales." The New York Times (Tues., JULY 5, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JULY 4, 2016, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Reading List of Tell-Alls, Strategic Plans and Cautionary Tales in Finance.")


The book praised by Sorkin in the passage quoted above, is:

Martinez, Antonio Garcia. Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. New York: Harper, 2016.






July 16, 2016

"Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments"



(p. A11) Adam Fifield's entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments--such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.


. . .


While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant's career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.


. . .


Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had--his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant's time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries--plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.






July 8, 2016

Franklin Was Appalled by the Boston Tea Party, But Was More Appalled by British Arrogance



(p. A13) When George III assumed the throne in 1760, Franklin was full of praise for his "virtue" and "steadiness." Many American associates considered him somewhat sycophantic.

Mr. Goodwin's assessment is gentler. "Franklin was a proud Briton, but he was not starry-eyed." By 1770 he was frustrated by Britain's "treatment of her American colonies as one giant farm and forest of raw materials." His relations with Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, became venomous. Lord North, the prime minister, icily ignored him. Franklin began to produce anonymous satires rebuking British attitudes toward America.

The nadir came in December 1773, when word reached London of the Boston Tea Party. Incensed, the king's Privy Council summoned Franklin to Westminster. He was already in bad odor for having leaked impolitic correspondence from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The Privy Council chamber was, on this occasion, packed with counselors and curious members of the public. Other than Edmund Burke, they were hostile. Franklin stood grimly motionless as the solicitor general pounded the table and subjected him to "an hour-long verbal assault." The council roared approval as he accused Franklin of acting for "the most malignant purposes." The American had "forfeited all the respect of societies and of men."

The humiliation of Benjamin Franklin gratified the grandees of George III's government, but the episode epitomized their arrogant maladministration. Franklin was hardly an anti-British zealot. He favored reconciliation and might have been an effective mediator had he been respected and trusted. Franklin was so appalled by the Boston Tea Party that he offered to personally repay the East India Co. That this rather Anglophilic colonial served as the Privy Council's whipping boy demonstrates how obdurate the government had become.

Franklin's revenge was served hot. He left England in March of 1775 under threat of arrest. Twenty months later he arrived in France, where his diplomacy would deliver a mortal blow to Britain's American empire.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Loyal to Britain; Franklin's years in France resulted in military aid and recognition of American independence. His time in London? Slightly less successful." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 30, 2016

David Sokol Worries that in Over-Regulated America, Free Enterprise Is Under Attack



(p. C1) David Sokol, once widely expected to succeed Mr. Buffett as chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has kept a fairly low profile since leaving the conglomerate amid a stock-trading controversy five years ago.


. . .


In addition to becoming a more-vocal investor, Mr. Sokol, 59 years old, is becoming increasingly vocal about politics. He is an avowed fan of "Atlas Shrugged," the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that made a moral case for capitalism and self interest. In public speeches and columns, Mr. Sokol has drawn comparisons between the dystopian, over-regulated America portrayed in the book and the present day, saying (p. C2) that free enterprise is increasingly under attack.



For the full story, see:

SERENA NG and ANUPREETA DAS. "From Buffett Protege to Activist." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 25, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2016, and has the title "Warren Buffett's Former Heir-Apparent Resurfaces as Activist Investor.")


The Ayn Rand novel that Sokol admires, is:

Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.






June 26, 2016

Rallying the Enlightenment Defense of Free Speech



(p. C1) OXFORD, England -- After the murders at Charlie Hebdo last year, the public intellectual Timothy Garton Ash -- once a dashing foreign correspondent, long since a scholar amid the spires of Oxford -- issued an appeal to news organizations: Publish the offending cartoons, all of you together, and in that way proclaim the vitality of free speech.

"Otherwise," he warned, "the assassin's veto will have prevailed."

By this reckoning, the assassins triumphed, for most publications ignored his entreaty, to protect their staffs from danger or to protect their readers from offense.


. . .


. . . , free speech is on the defensive, Mr. Garton Ash argues, and he is trying to rally the resistance.


(p. C4) . . . , he has written a scrupulously reasoned 491-page manifesto and user's guide, "Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World," due out in the United States on Tuesday [May 24, 2016] which includes his case for defying threats, his opposition to hate-speech laws and his view on whether another's religion deserves your respect.


. . .


"We as a society have to hold the line," he said in the interview. "There has to be less appeasement." For this, solidarity is required: Law-enforcement authorities must safeguard those who speak up, and taxpayers must be willing to pay the high costs this will incur. "Otherwise," he added, "yielding to violent intimidation is itself objectively a kind of incitement to violence, right? Because you encourage the next guys to have a go."


. . .


A vulnerability of Mr. Garton Ash's project is that his principles are so deeply rooted in Enlightenment ideals, which are not universally shared.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM RACHMAN. "A Manifesto Extolling Free Speech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 23, 2016): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipses,and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MAY 22, 2016, and has the title "Timothy Garton Ash Puts Forth a Free-Speech Manifesto.")


Ash's manifesto in defense of free speech, is:

Ash, Timothy Garton. Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 22, 2016

Reforestation Can Absorb Much Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Energy



Matt Ridley has pointed out that agricultural innovations, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allow us to grow more food on less farmland, and thus return more farmland to forests.



(p. D6) A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide.")


An academic study mentioned above, is:

Chazdon, Robin L., Eben N. Broadbent, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano, T. Mitchell Aide, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Dylan Craven, Jarcilene S. Almeida-Cortez, George A. L. Cabral, Ben de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan M. Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mario M. Espírito-Santo, María C. Fandino, Ricardo G. César, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Paulo Massoca, Jorge A. Meave, Rita Mesquita, Francisco Mora, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Edith Orihuela-Belmonte, Marielos Peña-Claros, Eduardo A. Pérez-García, Daniel Piotto, Jennifer S. Powers, Jorge Rodríguez-Velazquez, Isabel Eunice Romero-Pérez, Jorge Ruíz, Juan G. Saldarriaga, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, Nathan G. Swenson, Maria Uriarte, Michiel van Breugel, Hans van der Wal, Maria D. M. Veloso, Hans Vester, Ima Celia G. Vieira, Tony Vizcarra Bentos, G. Bruce Williamson, and Lourens Poorter. "Carbon Sequestration Potential of Second-Growth Forest Regeneration in the Latin American Tropics." Science Advances 2, no. 5 (May 13, 2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639


The Ridley book mentioned way above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






June 18, 2016

Some "Rescue" Groups "Kidnap and Mutilate" Street Dogs



(p. D1) MONTAGUE, Mass. -- Think of all the dogs out there: labradors and poodles and labradoodles; huskies and westies and dogues de Bordeaux; pit bulls and spaniels and lovable mutts that go to doggy day care.

Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million.

But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don't have flea collars. And they certainly don't have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world.

In their new book, "What Is a Dog?," Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers -- the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago.


. . .


(p. D6) In 2001, their book "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution" challenged the way scientists thought about the beginnings of dogs.

They argued against the widely held view that one day a hunter-gatherer grabbed a wolf pup from a den and started a breeding program. Instead, they argued, dogs domesticated themselves.

Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.


. . .


Although the Coppingers recognize the social cost of animals that are unvaccinated and running free, they argue that killing the dogs, as some countries do during rabies epidemics, does not help. It's impossible to kill them all, and because they breed rapidly, the population quickly rebounds.

Nor do the Coppingers have any sympathy for rescue groups that, as Dr. Coppinger puts it, "kidnap and mutilate" street dogs from the Caribbean and elsewhere to bring them to American shelters to live as pets, "where they are made totally dependent and entirely restricted." This is supposed to benefit the dogs, but Dr. Coppinger argues that they are taken from a rich social environment, with many dogs, to lives of relative isolation.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Don't Call them Strays." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 19, 2016): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars.")


The dog books mentioned above, are:

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. What Is a Dog? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. New York: Scribner, 2001.






June 10, 2016

Imperial Passivity of the Holy Roman Empire Allowed Liberty and Diversity



(p. C7) On Aug. 6, 1806, an imperial herald decked out in full court regalia galloped purposefully through the streets of Vienna to a magnificent medieval church at the center of the city. Once there, he ascended to the balcony, blew his silver trumpet and declared that the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that had lasted for more than 1,000 years, was no more.


. . .


But because the empire never evolved into a viable nation-state, many scholars and politicians regarded it as a failure. The Germans in particular (including the great 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke) blamed the empire for the fact that Germany remained a "delayed nation" that was only unified (through Prussian machinations) in 1871.

Yet it was precisely this lack of political centralization, Mr. Wilson argues, that provided the empire with its greatest strength. Imperial passivity meant that individual rulers and states were largely left alone to govern as they wished. And all subjects had the right to appeal to the emperor if they believed their rights had been trammeled upon. Jews, for example, were given imperial protection as early as 1090; and though forced to live as second-class citizens during much of the empire's history, many viewed its dissolution as a catastrophe.

Political fragmentation also had cultural benefits. Unlike France and England, with their single capital and monarch, the Holy Roman Empire had numerous kings, courts and centers of patronage. The result was a remarkably wide distribution of educational and cultural institutions, one that is still observable in the former imperial lands. It was probably also no coincidence that both the printing press and Europe's first mail service were launched within the fragmented empire or that the imperial territories experienced higher levels of economic growth than regions of Europe with more centralized control.


. . .


Though far from perfect, the empire lasted for as long as it did because it strove to provide the two things most hoped for in a state: liberty and security.



For the full review, see:

MARK MOLESKY. "The Strength of a Weak State; In the Holy Roman Empire, individual rulers and states were largely left to govern as they wished." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Wilson, Peter H. Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016.






June 6, 2016

Plastic Buttons Replaced Seashell Buttons, but Technology Can Be Restored




In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly has made the point that most obsolete technologies remain available to satisfy nostalgia, or for more practical uses, if the need arises. Below is another example.



(p. C27) In a tan outbuilding overlooking a pond in northeastern Connecticut, equipment for turning seashells into buttons has lain fallow for nearly eight decades. The building's owner, Mark Masinda, a retired university administrator, is working to transform the site into a tourist attraction.

In the early 1900s, his grandfather William Masinda, a Czech immigrant, supervised a dozen button makers in the building, which is on a rural road in Willington. They cut, drilled and polished bits of shells imported from Africa and Australia to make "ocean pearl buttons" with two or four holes. The area's half-dozen button factories supplemented the incomes of families struggling to farm on rocky terrain.

The Masinda operation closed in 1938, as plastic flooded the market. "The equipment he had just couldn't make the transition," Mr. Masinda said.


. . .


Mr. Masinda is planning to reactivate the equipment and open the site for tours by . . . spring [2016].



For the full story, see:

EVE M. KAHN. "Antiques; Restoring a Button Factory." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 3, 2015): C27.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 3, 2015, and has the title "Antiques; Yale Buys Collection of Scattered Medieval Pages; Restoring a Button Factory.")


The Kelly book mentioned above, is:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






June 2, 2016

Neurosurgical Establishment Waited Decade to Adopt Jannetta's Cure



(p. C6) Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, a neurosurgeon who as a medical resident half a century ago developed an innovative procedure to relieve an especially devastating type of facial pain, died on Monday [April 1?, 2016] in Pittsburgh.


. . .


"This was a condition that had been documented for a thousand years: There are references in the ancient literature to what was originally called 'tic douloureux,' " Mark L. Shelton, the author of "Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon," a 1989 book about Dr. Jannetta, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "People knew of this unexplained, very intense, episodic facial pain but didn't know the cause of it."


. . .


In the mid-1960s, Dr. Jannetta made a striking discovery while he was a neurosurgical resident at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dissecting a set of cranial nerves for a class presentation, he noticed something amiss: a tiny blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve.

"It came to him as something of a flash of insight," Mr. Shelton said. "He saw this blood vessel literally impinging on the nerve so that there was actually a groove in the nerve where the vessel pressed."

What if, Dr. Jannetta wondered, this were the source of the nerve damage? Though his insight is universally accepted today, it was novel to the point of subversion in the 1960s.

"The idea that a very small blood vessel, the diameter of a mechanical pencil lead, could cause such outsize pain didn't resonate with people at the time," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


If the vessel was a vein, it could simply be cauterized and excised. If it was an artery, however -- a more essential structure -- it would, Dr. Jannetta realized, have to be gently nudged out of the way.

He created a means of doing so that involved slipping a tiny pad of soft Teflon, about the size of a pencil eraser, between the artery and the nerve.

Dr. Jannetta performed the first microvascular decompression operation in 1966. The patient, a 41-year-old man, was relieved of his pain.

It took about a decade for the procedure to win acceptance from the neurosurgical establishment, owing partly to Dr. Jannetta's youth and partly to the novelty of his idea.

"He convinced many, many skeptics -- and there were a lot of skeptics in the early years -- because it seemed so counterintuitive as to what caused neurological disease," Mr. Shelton said.


. . .


His many laurels include the medal of honor from the World Federation of Neurological Societies; the Olivecrona Award, presented by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and the Horatio Alger Award, which honors perseverance in the face of adversity or opposition.



For the full obituary, see:

MARGALIT FOX. "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Neurosurgeon and Pioneer on Facial Pain, Dies at 84." The New York Times (Fri., APRIL 15, 2016): A22.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 14, 2016, and has the title "Dr. Peter J. Jannetta, Pioneering Neurosurgeon on Facial Pain, Dies at 84.")


The book about Jannetta, mentioned above, is:

Shelton, Mark. Working in a Very Small Place: The Making of a Neurosurgeon. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.






May 29, 2016

Scientific Knowledge Matters More than Myth Because of Its Practical Effectiveness



(p. C6) Stories matter; knowledge matters more.

"When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space," . . . [Carlo Rovelli] writes, "what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years." You might tell a great campfire story about an antelope, he comments. Knowing how to track and kill one is more relevant to survival.

"Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth," Mr. Rovelli says. "But the value of knowledge remains. If we can find the antelope, we can eat."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; A Vast Cosmos, Made Bite-Size and Delectable." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed name, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Seven Brief Lessons on Physics' Is Long on Knowledge.")


The book under review, is:

Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.






May 25, 2016

Government: "One Vast Honey Pot with Thousands of Ants Lined Up Around the Rim"



(p. A21) Ms. Tolchin hit on the subject of patronage when Mr. Tolchin, then a reporter in the metropolitan news department of The New York Times, wrote a series of articles on the topic that several publishers urged him to turn into a book. Daunted, he turned to his wife for help.

"The political-science literature had an enormous hole on the subject," she told The Washingtonian in 2011. "It's such a critical part of the political process -- it was wonderful virgin territory."

Their combined efforts -- he provided the reporting, she provided the scholarship -- resulted in "To the Victor...: Political Patronage From the Clubhouse to the White House," published in 1971.

In lively fashion, the book surveyed the history and examined the mechanisms of a system the authors described as "one of the occupational hazards of democracy." They traced its influence, for good and ill, in city halls, statehouses, courthouses and, onward and upward, Congress and the White House.

The picture it painted was often bleak, presenting government at all levels as "one vast honey pot with thousands of ants lined up around the rim to get at the sweetener inside," according to a review in The Times.

It was a rich subject to which the authors returned in "Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism From the Clubhouse to the White House ... and Beyond," published in 2011. Patronage is "the major reason people go into politics," Ms. Tolchin told The Washingtonian."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Susan Tolchin, Scholar and Author, Is Dead at 75." The New York Times (Fri., May 20, 2016): A21.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "Susan Tolchin, Political Scientist Who Foresaw Voter Anger, Dies at 75.")


The two books on government patronage that are mentioned above, are:

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. To the Victor: Political Patronage from the Clubhouse to the White House. New York: Random House, 1971.

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism from the Clubhouse to the White House and Beyond. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011.






May 21, 2016

"Liberated People Are Ingenious"



(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.


. . .


(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England's impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is "liberty." Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther's reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England's turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came--slowly, imperfectly--was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled "French" in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, "Scottish," in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."



For the full commentary, see:


DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. "How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)


McCloskey's commentary is based on her "bourgeois" trilogy, the final volume of which is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






May 17, 2016

Black Conservative Disinvited to Speak at Virginia Tech




Jason Riley, who is quoted below, has published Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.



(p. A13) Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.


. . .


I've lost count of the times I've been approached by conservative students after a lecture to a mostly liberal audience and thanked, almost surreptitiously, for coming to speak. They often offer an explanation for their relative silence during question periods when liberal students and faculty are firing away. "Being too outspoken would just make it more difficult," a Wellesley student once told me. "You get to leave when you're done. We have to live with these people until we graduate."

In April [2016], I spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the college Republicans who invited me took the precaution of clearing my name with liberal student groups "to make sure they wouldn't be upset."

We've reached a point where conservatives must have their campus speakers preapproved by left-wing pressure groups. If progressives aren't already in absolute control of academia, they're pretty close.



For the full commentary, see:


JASON L. RILEY. "I Was Disinvited on Campus; The anti-free speech takeover is so complete that now the fear of stirring a protest can determine what ideas students will hear." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2016.)


The Riley book that I mentioned at the top, is:

Riley, Jason L. Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.







May 13, 2016

Which Moment of Flux Do the Environmentalists Want to Preserve?




At the APEE meetings in early April, I heard a lecture by Shawn Regan in which he praised a book by Daniel Botkin. The point that Regan was making was that a key difficult issue in environmentalism is to decide, when you want to preserve and protect the environment, which moment of the environment's constantly changing flux, do you want to preserve? With, or without, us, the natural state of the environment is constant change, not stasis.



A recent book by Botkin that makes this point, is:

Botkin, Daniel B. The Moon in the Nautilus Shell: Discordant Harmonies Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.






May 9, 2016

"Progressive" Eugenicists Attacked Free Enterprise




At the APEE meetings in early April, I heard a lecture by Jayme Lemke in which she praised a promising-sounding book by Thomas Leonard. I looked the book up on Amazon and found that it describes how many of the "progressives" who advocated increasing government control of the economy, were also among the advocates of the now-discredited eugenics movement.

The book is now on my "to-read" list and I will report more when it hits the top of the list (say, in about 2020 ;).



The book praised by Jayme, is:

Leonard, Thomas C. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.






May 5, 2016

Forrest McDonald Defended Founders and Entrepreneurs




Forrest McDonald wrote one of the first detailed accounts of the life of Samuel Insull, an entrepreneur who helped to develop electric utility systems in the United States, and who was persecuted by the FDR administration.



(p. 20) Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday [January 19, 2016] in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


. . .


As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. ("I'd move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia," he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.


. . .


In "Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution" (1985), which was one of three finalists for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in history, he pronounced the founding fathers as singularly qualified to draft the framework of federalism. He reiterated that point when he delivered the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecture in Washington in 1987.

"To put it bluntly," Dr. McDonald said then, "it would be impossible in America today to assemble a group of people with anything near the combined experience, learning and wisdom that the 55 authors of the Constitution took with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787."


. . .


Dr. McDonald wrote more than a dozen books, including biographies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-Span's "Booknotes" in 1994, Dr. McDonald revealed that he typically wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad and in the nude. ("We've got wonderful isolation," he said, "and it's warm most of the year in Alabama, and why wear clothes?")



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Forrest McDonald, 89, Critic of Liberal Views of History." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 24, 2016): 20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 22, 2016, and has the title "Forrest McDonald, Historian Who Punctured Liberal Notions, Dies at 89.")


The McDonald book mentioned by me way above, is:

McDonald, Forrest. Insull. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.






April 27, 2016

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Predicts "Green Bubble"



(p. R5) Sustainable investing and clean energy are hot topics, but one Danish financier is warning that people might be getting carried away.

Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the founder of Wimmer Financial LLP, a London-based corporate-advisory firm specializing in natural resources, foresees a "green bubble" that could have similar consequences to the dot-com and housing bubbles.


. . .


WSJ: What are the main issues behind the so-called bubble you see forming in green energy?

MR. WIMMER: Very simply put, for green energy to be truly sustainable, it must be commercially sustainable. The reality today is that when it comes to politicians allocating subsidies, it seems like they are being allocated almost religiously across the board. As long as there is a green element, then [politicians believe] it is fine and deserves funding from tax dollars. I argue that is a little unsophisticated.

We have got to look at supporting and subsidizing the technologies that stand a chance at becoming commercially independent from subsidies within a reasonable time period--about seven to 10 years.


. . .


WSJ: In your book "The Green Bubble," you highlight infrastructure problems involved in large-scale green-energy projects in the U.S. Tell us about those.

MR. WIMMER: There are a number of challenges that green energy faces, and one [involves] infrastructure, meaning that if you were to target, say, 20% green energy including wind farms in the U.S., you would have to build an awful lot of transmission grid, which is quite expensive.

Somebody is going to have to pay for it--the taxpayer, perhaps?



For the full interview, see:

TANZEEL AKHTAR. "Renewable Energy Is a 'Bubble,' Says Financier." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 11, 2016): R5.

(Note: bold and italics, in original; ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12 [sic], 2016,)


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Wimmer, Per. The Green Bubble: Our Future Energy Needs and Why Alternative Energy Is Not the Answer. London, UK: Lid Publishing, 2015.






April 23, 2016

Welfare System Hurts Those It Is Intended to Help




I saw part of a C-SPAN 2 presentation, originally broadcast on 3/28/16, of a new book by Harvey and Conyers that appears to argue persuasively that the current American welfare system makes it harder for welfare recipients to transition to employment. It further argues that work is an important part of the good life, usually an important contributor to happiness. As a result, the current welfare system hurts the very people that it is intended to help.


The book discussed above, is:

Harvey, Phil, and Lisa Conyers. The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.






April 19, 2016

College Students Have Been Raised to Be Fragile




In the passage quoted below, John Leo interviews John Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU.



(p. A9) Haidt: . . . Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently--protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb's concept of anti-fragility.

Leo: What's the theory?

Haidt: That children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I'm not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we're going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.



Source of the Haidt interview passage quote:

"Notable & Quotable: 'Anti-Fragility in Children." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 23, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the quotes from the interview with Haidt has the date Feb. 22, 2016, and has the title "Notable & Quotable: Our Weak, Fragile Millennials.")


For John Leo's full interview with Jonathan Haidt, see:

http://www.mindingthecampus.org/2016/02/a-conversation-with-jonathan-haidt/


The Taleb book referred to, is:

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. New York: Random House, 2012.






April 3, 2016

New Libertarian Consensus?



(p. A17) In "Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order," Mr. Piereson argues that America has undergone three earthquakes in its history: the Jeffersonian revolution, which ushered in a long period of dominance of a new anti-Federalist party; the Civil War, which vanquished slavery and set off the ascendancy of northern Republicanism; and the New Deal, which dramatically expanded the size and intrusiveness of the federal government in Americans' lives. "In each period, an old order collapsed and a new one emerged . . . the resolution of the crisis opened up new possibilities for growth and reform," he writes. Looking out at our paralyzed and polarized polity, he argues that we are on the brink of yet another collapse--but this one might not have a happy ending.

Mr. Piereson, a hero of philanthropy who faithfully spent the Olin Foundation out of business after supporting the work of think tanks, small magazines and groundbreaking scholars like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, views the Obama presidency as the beginning of the collapse of an 80-year consensus, forged in the post-World War II years. That consensus "assigned the national government responsibility for maintaining full employment and for policing the world in the interests of democracy, trade, and national security." Such a consensus, which "is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges," Mr. Piereson argues, ". . . no longer exists in the United States. That being so, the problems will mount to a point where either they will be addressed through a 'fourth revolution' or the polity will begin to disintegrate for lack of fundamental agreement."


. . .


A system failure is only a matter of time. At some point, what Democrat Erskine Bowles has aptly labeled "the most predictable crisis in American history" will be upon us, as the federal government defaults by one means or another on its unpayable promises. A revolt of the betrayed elderly, or of the plundered young, could be the catalyst for Mr. Piereson's revolution. Perhaps even sooner, one state rendered destitute by reckless government spending and public pensions will attempt to dump its hopeless debt problem on the rest of the union. Which of these scenarios is most likely? Which most dangerous? Could the fourth revolution manifest itself in a separatist movement by states where majorities feel culturally estranged and disinclined to pick up the tab for the extravagance of less responsible states? Could the growing number of citizens professing economic conservatism coupled with libertarian social views be the front edge of a new consensus?



For the full review, see:

MITCH DANIELS. "BOOKSHELF; America's Next Revolution; The U.S. has experienced three earthquakes: the Jeffersonian revolution, the Civil War and the New Deal. Are we on the brink of another?" The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses within paragraphs, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 14, 2015,)


The book discussed in the review, is:

Piereson, James. Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order. New York: Encounter Books, 2015.






March 30, 2016

Slower World of Narrative Leads to Analogies, Comparisons and Understanding



(p. A25) As the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield writes in her book "Mind Change," expert online gamers have a great capacity for short-term memory, to process multiple objects simultaneously, to switch flexibly between tasks and to quickly process rapidly presented information.


. . .


Research at the University of Oslo and elsewhere suggests that people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more linear, more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for keywords.

The slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each individual piece of data. You're more concerned with how different pieces of data fit together. How does this relate to that? You're concerned with the narrative shape, the synthesizing theory or the overall context. You have time to see how one thing layers onto another, producing mixed emotions, ironies and paradoxes. You have time to lose yourself in another's complex environment.

As Greenfield puts it, "by observing what happens, by following the linear path of a story, we can convert information into knowledge in a way that emphasizing fast response and constant stimulation cannot. As I see it, the key issue is narrative."

When people in this slower world gather to try to understand connections and context, they gravitate toward a different set of questions. These questions are less about sensation than about meaning. They argue about how events unfold and how context influences behavior. They are more likely to make moral evaluations. They want to know where it is all headed and what are the ultimate ends.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory. It is the ability to make analogies and comparisons about things you have studied before. Crystallized intelligence accumulates over the years and leads ultimately to understanding and wisdom.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "Building Attention Span." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book discussed in the commentary, is:

Greenfield, Susan. Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains. New York: Random House, 2015.






March 26, 2016

The Value of Longer Life



(p. C6) With the seeker's restlessness that seems not to have left him until his last breath, . . . [Dr. Paul Kalanthi accrued] two B.A.s and an M.A. in literature at Stanford, then a Master of Philosophy at Cambridge, before graduating cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for a residency in neurological surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. His training was almost complete when the bad diagnosis hit.


. . .


And then everything changes. In a single moment of recognition, everything Dr. Kalanithi has imagined for himself and his wife evaporates, and a new future has to be imagined.
. . . A job at Stanford for which he was the prime candidate? Not happening. Another good job that would require the Kalanithis to move to Wisconsin? Too far from his oncologist. Long-term plans of any kind? Well, what does long-term mean now? Does he have a day, a month, a year, six years, what? He's heard the advice about living one day at a time, but what's he supposed to do with that day when he doesn't know how many others remain?



For the full review, see:

JANET MASLIN. "Books of The Times; Singularly Striving Until Life Steps In."The New York Times (Tues., July 7, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'When Breath Becomes Air,' Dr. Paul Kalanithi Confronts an Early Death.")


The book under review, is:

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016.






March 22, 2016

Greek Corruption, Fraud, Evasion and Public Worker Job Security



(p. A11) Mr. Angelos, a former Journal correspondent, travels through Greece as a journalist first, and a native son second, to conduct a mostly unpleasant archaeology. By way of background, however, he first tackles the pervasive issues of disability and pension fraud, rampant tax evasion, and public worker job protections. These are the very problems that Greece's European lenders sought to remedy through a series of supposedly helpful but also punitive and ineptly administered reforms. Mr. Angelos dismantles the facile narrative accepted by many in the eurozone, in which hardworking Germans must clean up a mess made by their lazy and "Oriental" southern neighbors. But he is equally tenacious when it comes to exposing the misconduct of Greek politicians, not to mention the country's corrupt system of career tenure and its, well, truly Byzantine bureaucracy.

Mr. Angelos's book allows us to see how these problems play out, sometimes farcically, in the lives of actual people. There's a cranky grandmother on the island of Zakynthos who receives generous blindness benefits even though she can see perfectly well. There's the arrogant former prime minister who accepted millions of euros in bribes to buy useless submarines on behalf of the Greek government.


. . .


. . . the book's single most flattering portrait is of Yiannis Boutaris, the tattooed, wine-making, freethinking mayor of Thessaloniki, who courts Turkish tourism, refuses to kowtow to the church and publicly acknowledges the crucial role of Jews in the city's history.



For the full review, see:


CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN. "BOOKSHELF; How Greece Got to 'No'; On the island of Zakynthos, a grandmother receives generous blindness benefits--even though she can see perfectly well."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 7, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.






March 18, 2016

"Ordinary People Should Have a Go"



(p. A11) The classical archaeologist and now big-picture historian Ian Morris, whose last book argued that war is good for you, now explains why coal is too. In "Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels," Mr. Morris puts "energy capture" at the center of human values since the Ice Age, through three eras: the Foragers to begin with; the Farmers after about 8,000 B.C.; and, in the past few centuries, the Fossil Fuelers.


. . .


A culture favorable to liberty and dignity for commoners came out of the Reformation and 16th-century Holland, spread to Britain and Britain's colonies in the 18th century, and resulted after 1800 in an explosion of ingenuity.

This Great Enrichment, which Mr. Morris acknowledges but does not explain, increased income per head not by the 100% or 200% of earlier efflorescences but by anything from 2,000% to 10,000%. Routine materialism of Mr. Morris's sort can't explain the most important secular event in human history. He wants to pin it all on energy capture. The correct story is one of ideas of human equality changing, starting with a conviction novel in the 17th century in northwestern Europe that ordinary people should have a go. This led to massive innovation, among which was energy capture. We do not have a fossil-fuel civilization. We have a free and ingenious one.



For the full review, see:

DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY. "BOOKSHELF; Oil on Troubled Waters; In this telling, progress is explained by the rising use of fossil fuels. Yet the Industrial Revolution was powered by water, not coal.."The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 6, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Morris, Ian. Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, The University Center for Human Values Series. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.






March 10, 2016

Serendipity May Be Source of 50% of Patents



(p. 1) A surprising number of the conveniences of modern life were invented when someone stumbled upon a discovery or capitalized on an accident: the microwave oven, safety glass, smoke detectors, artificial sweeteners, (p. 4) X-ray imaging. Many blockbuster drugs of the 20th century emerged because a lab worker picked up on the "wrong" information.


. . .


(p. 5) So how many big ideas emerge from spills, crashes, failed experiments and blind stabs? One survey of patent holders (the PatVal study of European inventors, published in 2005) found that an incredible 50 percent of patents resulted from what could be described as a serendipitous process. Thousands of survey respondents reported that their idea evolved when they were working on an unrelated project -- and often when they weren't even trying to invent anything. This is why we need to know far more about the habits that transform a mistake into a breakthrough.


. . .


A number of pioneering scholars have already begun this work, but they seem to be doing so in their own silos and without much cross-talk. In a 2005 paper ("Serendipitous Insights Involving Nonhuman Primates"), two experts from the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle cataloged the chance encounters that yielded new insights from creatures like the pigtail macaque. Meanwhile, the authors of a paper titled "On the Exploitation of Serendipity in Drug Discovery" puzzled over the reasons the 1950s and '60s saw a bonanza of breakthroughs in psychiatric medication, and why that run of serendipity ended.



For the full commentary, see:

PAGAN KENNEDY. "How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "Cultivating the Art of Serendipity.")


Pagan's commentary is based on her book:

Kennedy, Pagan. Inventology: How We Dream up Things That Change the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2016.






March 6, 2016

In India's Public Education System, Teachers Are Often Truant



Matt Ridley has a chapter in his recent The Evolution of Everything, where he cites evidence the low quality of public education in much of the less-developed world. The quality is so low that many poor parents scrimp to pull together modest funds to send their children to modest private schools where the teachers actually show up.



(p. A1) DEORIA, India -- The young man, having skipped school, was there to plead his case, but Manoj Mishra was having none of it. When the truant offered a letter from a relative of a government minister pleading for leniency, Mr. Mishra grabbed it and, with a frown, tore it in half and dropped it to the floor.

Similar scenes played out repeatedly in Mr. Mishra's fluorescent-lit office recently, as one truant after another appeared before him, trying to explain an absence from school.

But these were not students who had been pulled in for truancy. They were teachers.

Mr. Mishra, a district education officer in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is fighting one of the biggest obstacles to improving the largest primary school system in the world: absent teachers. His tough punishments and refusal to back down, chronicled in the local newspapers, have turned him into a folk hero. As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours' drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.

When Mr. Mishra arrived in Deoria in 2014, 40 percent of the district's teachers were absent on any given day from its 2,700 schools, he said in a recent interview. Nationwide, nearly 24 percent of rural Indian teachers were absent during random visits for a recent study led by Kar-(p. A6)thik Muralidharan at the University of California, San Diego. Teacher absences run as high as 46 percent in some states.


. . .


With the largest population in the world under the age of 35, India is trying to grow by leveraging what is often called the "demographic dividend." To prepare more than 200 million primary school children for jobs in a modern work force, India passed legislation a decade ago that more than doubled education spending, increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.

But children's already low performance has fallen. Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts an annual household survey, reported that in 2005 about 60 percent of fifth graders in rural India -- where most people live -- could read at a minimum second-grade level, but that in 2014 less than 50 percent could.

Teacher truancy is among the more prominent causes of that failure, experts say. Teaching jobs pay well and are sometimes obtained through political connections. But those who get them often do not want to travel to the remote areas where many schools are. In areas with weak local governance, not showing up has become the norm, and people feel powerless to complain.



For the full story, see:

GEETA ANAND. "Saturday Profile; Truant India Teachers, Meet Your Nightmare." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016, and has the title "The Saturday Profile; Fighting Truancy Among India's Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.")


The Ridley book mentioned above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. New York: Harper, 2015.






March 2, 2016

George Washington as Entrepreneur



(p. C7) While Washington was only an adequate battlefield general, Edward G. Lengel, who oversees George Washington's papers at the University of Virginia, makes a strong case in "First Entrepreneur" that he was a superb military administrator--skills he learned as a young man serving in the French and Indian War as an aide-de-camp for commanding officers. By carefully monitoring all aspects of the complex business of running a military operation, he held his ragtag army together despite a frequent lack of money, clothing, weapons and food. Without Washington's management, the Continental Army would likely have disintegrated and the Revolution fizzled out. Mr. Lengel brings needed attention to this vital and neglected aspect of Washington's generalship.

Washington was also a superb administrator of his own assets. Born to modest wealth, he married into much more and worked hard and creatively to maximize his return on investment. By the end of his life he was one of the new country's richest men.

Tobacco, the cash crop that had brought prosperity to Virginia, was declining in profitability by the mid-18th century. It exhausted the soil, and prices had been falling on the British market. Washington began to rotate and diversify his crops, import better seed, and exploit Mount Vernon's other assets, such as the springtime fish runs up the Potomac.

By the end of his life, Washington was not only growing new crops but manufacturing as well, turning his wheat production into both whiskey and flour. When the American inventor Oliver Evans developed a new, more productive type of flour mill, Washington quickly installed one. When the king of Spain sent him a donkey, named Royal Gift, Washington put him to work fathering mules, which were more efficient than horses at farm work. As Mr. Lengel makes clear, Washington was always a bottom-line man, a fact that makes this often remote figure more human.



For the full review, see:


JOHN STEELE GORDON. "Washington Discovers America; Washington traveled through all 13 states to promote the newborn federal government." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Feb. 13, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2016.






February 27, 2016

Bernanke's "Astonishing" Admission that He Tried, and Failed, to Save Lehman



(p. B1) It is astonishing to hear a former Federal Reserve chairman acknowledge that he may have misled the public as part of an agreement with another senior government official about one of the most crucial moments in recent financial history -- and that he now questions whether he should have "been more forthcoming." But that is what Ben S. Bernanke says in his new memoir, "The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath."

That crucial moment? The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Mr. Bernanke, in perhaps the most candid explanation of Lehman's 2008 collapse, writes that he and Henry M. Paulson, then the treasury secretary, purposely obfuscated when asked about Lehman's demise early on, allowing a narrative to develop that the government had purposely let the firm fail.

"In congressional testimony immediately after Lehman's collapse, Paulson and I were deliberately quite vague when discussing whether we could have saved Lehman," Mr. Bernanke writes. "But we had agreed in advance to be vague because we were intensely concerned that acknowledging our inability to save Lehman would hurt market confidence and increase pressure on other vulnerable firms."


. . .


(p. B4) He writes that it was simply impossible to save Lehman, pointing to the nearly $200 billion of losses that Lehman's creditors have since suffered. No one has come forward on the record, nor has any contemporaneous document been produced in the past seven years that said the government had found a way to save the company and specifically chose not to do so for political reasons, a point Mr. Bernanke alludes to in his book. "I do not want the notion that Lehman's failure could have been avoided, and that its failure was consequently a policy choice, to become the received wisdom, for the simple reason that it is not true," he writes. "We did everything we could think of to avoid it."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "In Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "In Ben Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman Brothers' Collapse.")


The Bernanke memoir is:

Bernanke, Ben S. The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2015.






February 23, 2016

"Minds Feel More Crimped, Fear More Pervasive, Possibility More Limited"



Maybe to lead happy or satisfying lives, we need more adventure, or more projects (hard and important ones) to commit ourselves to?



(p. 19) Freedom is still out there. We all have our idea of it, the deferred dream. Your psyche builds layers of protection around your most vulnerable traits, which may be closely linked to that precious essence in which freedom resides. Freedom is inseparable from risk.


. . .


I don't know if the world is freer than a half-century ago. On paper, it is. The totalitarian Soviet Imperium is gone. The generals who bossed Latin America are gone, generally. Asia has unshackled itself and claims this century as its own. Media has opened out, gone social.

Yet minds feel more crimped, fear more pervasive, possibility more limited, adventure more choreographed, politics more stale, economics more skewed, pressure more crushing, escape more elusive.


. . .


Which brings me to Finnegan's wonderful book, a kind of hymn to freedom and passion. Freedom is inside you. It's the thing that cannot be denied. For Finnegan, that's surfing and writing. "How could you know your limits unless you tested them?" he asks -- a question as true before the ferocious energy of the wave as before the infinite possibilities of the written form.



For the full commentary, see:

Cohen, Roger. "Ways to Be Free." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 23, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 21, 2016.)


The Finnegan book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Finnegan, William. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.







February 22, 2016

Gladwell Gladly Blurbs Good Books



(p. D10) When Malcolm Gladwell was asked to write a blurb for the 2005 book "Freakonomics, " he did not explain that it explored the dynamics of the Ku Klux Klan or the impact of naming a child "Loser." Instead, the New Yorker writer and best-selling author of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" simply wrote, "Prepare to be dazzled."

"Freakonomics" became a best seller.


. . .


According to Mr. Gladwell, his sausage is simple: He writes blurbs because people ask him to, and he does not overthink what to say. "People will show you a book and you think, 'It's cool,'" he said. "You want people to read it. I feel like we have to promote ourselves."

For the paperback version of "Stumbling on Happiness," a book about imagination and happiness written by his professional acquaintance, the Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, Mr. Gladwell raved, imploring readers: "Trust me." He also wrote a guest review on Amazon.

And he tweets recommendations freely to his 336,000 followers, as he did for the release of Fareed Zakaria's new book, "In Defense of a Liberal Education" in April. "Fareed Zakaria's new book is brilliant!" he wrote, adding a handy link to Amazon.


. . .


He is nothing if not loyal. Last July [2015], the authors of "Freakonomics" released the paperback edition of their latest book, "Think Like A Freak." Malcolm Gladwell was on the cover again, this time saying, "Utterly captivating."



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Master of the Compelling, Captivating, Dazzling Blurb." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 17, 2015): D10.

(Note: elipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2015, and has the title "Malcolm Gladwell Hands Out Book Blurbs Like Santa Does Presents.")






February 19, 2016

Federal Government "Deputized" the Ku Klux Klan to Enforce Prohibition Against "Immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans"



(p. C4) . . . in her new book, "The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State" (W. W. Norton), the historian Lisa McGirr tells anything but a nostalgic story. The 18th Amendment, she argues, didn't just give rise to vibrant night life and colorful, Hollywood-ready characters, like Isidor Einstein, New York's celebrated "Prohibition Agent No. 1." More enduringly, and tragically, it also radically expanded the federal government's role in law enforcement, with consequences that can be seen in the crowded prisons of today.

In The New York Times Book Review, James A. Morone writes that the book "could have a major impact on how we read American political history." In a recent email interview, Ms. McGirr, a professor at Harvard, discussed Prohibition's political legacy, the surprising enforcement role of the Ku Klux Klan and the character from her story she'd most like to have a drink with. Below are excerpts from the conversation.


. . .


Q. You argue that Prohibition gave rise to today's "penal state." How did that happen?

A. By birthing a new national obsession with crime, Prohibition -- and the violence that came with it -- pushed the federal government in the direction of policing and surveillance. This was the moment that saw the first national crime commission, the birth of the Uniform Crime Reports, an expanded prison system and the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The F.B.I. also won expanded authority.


. . .


Q. You describe how the Ku Klux Klan helped enforce Prohibition in places like Williamson County, Ill., where federal authorities deputized its members to conduct sometimes deadly raids on distilleries, bars and private homes -- taking particular aim at Italian immigrants. What made the Klan such an ally in the war on alcohol?

A. The Klan sold itself to white Protestant evangelicals as a law enforcement organization, winning droves of recruits with its promise to clamp down on bootlegging. There were plenty of Klansmen who imbibed, but that did not stop them from leveraging the law to target the drinking of the presumed enemies of white Protestant nationalism: immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans.



For the full interview, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, interviewer. "A Word with Lisa McGirr; Throwing a Cold Splash on Prohibition Nostalgia." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 31, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 30, 2015, and has the title "Lisa McGirr Discusses 'The War on Alcohol' and the Legacy of Prohibition.")



The book under discussion, is:

McGirr, Lisa. The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2015.






February 15, 2016

"Gleefully" Using Climate Change "as an Opportunity to Put an End to Capitalism"



(p. B9) . . . , Peter Victor of York University in Canada published a study titled "Growth, degrowth and climate change: A scenario analysis," in which he compared Canadian carbon emissions under three economic paths to the year 2035.

Limiting growth to zero, he found, had a modest impact on carbon spewed into the air. Only the "de-growth" situation -- in which Canadians' income per person shrank to its level in 1976 and the average working hours of employed Canadians declined by 75 percent -- managed to slash emissions in a big way.


. . .


Let's examine what our fossil-fueled growth has provided us. It has delivered gains in living standards in even the poorest regions of the world.

But that's only the beginning. Economic development was indispensable to end slavery. It was a critical precondition for the empowerment of women.

Indeed, democracy would not have survived without it. As Martin Wolf, the Financial Times commentator has noted, the option for everybody to become better off -- where one person's gain needn't require another's loss -- was critical for the development and spread of the consensual politics that underpin democratic rule.

Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one's neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade.

The Oxford economist Max Roser has some revealing charts that show the deadliness of war across the ages. It was a real killer in the era of no growth. Up to half of all deaths among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and other ancient cultures were caused by conflict.


. . .


Naomi Klein, a champion of the leftward fringe newly converted to the environmental cause, gleefully proposes climate change as an opportunity to put an end to capitalism. Were she right, I doubt it would bring about the workers' utopia she appears to yearn for. In a world economy that does not grow, the powerless and vulnerable are the most likely to lose. Imagine "Blade Runner," "Mad Max" and "The Hunger Games" brought to real life.



For the full commentary, see:

Porter, Eduardo. "Economic Scene; No Growth, No World? Think About It." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 2, 2015): B1 & B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 1, 2015, and has the title "Economic Scene; Imagining a World Without Growth.")



The Victor paper mentioned above, is:

Victor, Peter A. "Growth, Degrowth and Climate Change: A Scenario Analysis." Ecological Economics 84, no. 1 (Dec. 2012): 206-12.


The Roser charts, mentioned above, can be found at:

Roser, Max. Ethnographic and Archaeological Evidence on Violent Deaths 2015 [accessed Fri., Jan. 22, 2016]. Available from http://ourworldindata.org/data/violence-rights/ethnographic-and-archaeological-evidence-on-violent-deaths/.


The Klein book seeking to end capitalism, is:

Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The (sic) Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






February 11, 2016

Those on the Scene Matter for Outcome of Crisis



Amanda Ripley has argued that in many disasters, it is not the well-trained "first responders" who matter most for the outcome, but those who happen to be close to the scene. The problem is that often the "first responders" do not arrive soon enough to save lives or head off the crisis. The story sketched in the passages quoted below, seems to be another example for her thesis.



(p. B1) "We had a one-minute warning," recalled Dr. Lax, a mathematician who was the director of the university's computer center at the time. "The son of a friend ran in" and shouted that the demonstrators were coming for the computer, he said. "It was too late to call the police and fortify."


. . .


Jürgen Moser, a mathematician who was the director of the Courant Institute, the university's prestigious math research center, tried to stop the demonstrators when they swarmed into Warren Weaver Hall. According to a chapter in a biography of Dr. Lax by Reuben Hersh, Dr. Moser, who died in 1999, said he was "pushed and shoved around, and was unable to deter them."


. . .


After a two-day occupation, the protesters decided to end the takeover. But they did not carry out everything they had taken in, as two assistant professors, Frederick P. Greenleaf and Emile C. Chi, discovered when they ran in.

"We thought, 'Let's go take a look before the place gets locked down,' " Dr. Greenleaf recalled last week. "They had knocked the doorknobs off the door so you couldn't open it."

But there was a small window, high up in the door, and they peered in. "We could see there was an improvised toilet paper fuse," he said. "It was slowly burning its way to a bunch of containers, bigger than gallon jugs. They were sitting on the top of the computer."


. . .


Already, he said, smoke was curling under the door.

He and Professor Chi grabbed a fire extinguisher in the stairwell.

The only way to douse the fuse was to aim the fire extinguisher under the door. The only way to know where to aim it was to look through the window in the door, which was too high for whoever was operating the fire extinguisher to look through and aim at the same time.

So one functioned as the eyes for the pair, sighting through the window and directing the other to point the fire extinguisher up or down or left or right. "In a minute, we had managed to spritz the fuse," Dr. Greenleaf said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Saved a Kidnapped N.Y.U. Computer." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 7, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2015, and has the title "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Ended the Kidnapping of an N.Y.U. Computer.")


The Ripley book mentioned above, is:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.






January 26, 2016

Open Offices Are "an Absurd Attack on Concentration"



(p. A11) Mr. Newport acknowledges the good intentions behind open offices: They are meant to encourage serendipity and teamwork. But he argues that burdening workers with perpetual distractions constitutes "an absurd attack on concentration" that creates "an environment that thwarts attempts to think seriously." Sure, there's collaboration--not least the unspoken camaraderie among coworkers who have shared in the cringe-inducing experience of hearing a colleague castigate her spouse over the phone.

Mr. Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, is the unusual academic who will sully himself with matters as practical as: How can a talented employee rack up the rarefied and acute skills--writing, coding, scouring the latest mergers and acquisitions--that make someone indispensable? His answer? Expanding your capacity for "deep work," ruthlessly weeding out distractions and regularly carving out stretches of time to sharpen abilities. Mr. Newport explains why honing an ability to concentrate can yield enormous professional payouts. Then he lays out rules for becoming one such rare bird.

Most corporate workers, Mr. Newport argues, don't have clear feedback about how to spend their time. As a result, employees use "busyness as a proxy for productivity," which Mr. Newport describes aptly as "doing lots of stuff in a visible manner"--blasting out emails, for instance, or holding meetings on superficial progress on some project.


. . .


The book's best example is the Pulitzer Prize winning Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro, known for working on a meticulous schedule in his Manhattan office dressed in a coat and tie "so that he never forgets when he sits down with his research that he is going to work," as one profile of Mr. Caro put it.



For the full review, see:

KATE BACHELDER. "BOOKSHELF; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?; Yes, open offices cultivate camaraderie--among coworkers who all cringe as a colleague shouts at her soon-to-be ex-husband over the phone." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 20, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 19, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Newport, Cal. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.






January 22, 2016

Regulations Slow Eradication of Cancer



(p. D3) . . . the triumph of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's and then for many other tumors opened an interlocking series of dilemmas. In the clinic and the hospital, the new protocols demanded that doctors muster the courage to make their patients very sick in order to make them well. But how sick was too sick? The risks and benefits of the powerful treatments now needed careful, deliberate assessment at every stage of the disease.

Similar questions dogged those who developed, evaluated and regulated the drugs. How poisonous could these agents safely be? How assiduously should desperate patients be saved by their government from pharmaceutical risk?

Dr. DeVita stands firmly among those affirming cancer patients' right to aggressive treatment. One particular exchange summarizes his philosophy: "Do your patients speak to you after you do this to them?" one skeptic asked him early on. "The answer is yes," he replied, "and for a lot longer."

The regulatory caution of the Food and Drug Administration has been a thorn in his side for decades: "I'd like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not." In fact, he writes, "the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in."



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. "An Unbowed Warrior." The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title "Review: Science and Politics Collide in 'The Death of Cancer'.")


The book under review, is:

DeVita, Vincent T., and Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable--and How We Can Get There. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.






January 18, 2016

Madison Revised Notes to Aid Jefferson's Attack on Hamilton



C-SPAN Book TV today played an extended interview with Mary Sarah Bilder about her book on James Madison's notes on the constitutional convention. Madison revised his notes to share with Jefferson, who had not been present during the convention. Chernow, in his biography of Hamilton, reports how Jefferson criticized Hamilton for aristocratic tendencies. What is most surprising about Bilder's comments is that Madison had made comments at the convention similar to Hamilton's discussing whether there might be merits to monarchy. But in his revision of the notes, he deleted those comments before passing the notes to Jefferson, presumably as part of his desire to ally himself more closely with Jefferson and to join in Jefferson's vilification of Hamilton.

This is not an earth-shattering finding, but it adds support to Chernow's defense of Hamilton. Jefferson was the slave-holding aristocrat in practice, while Hamilton opposed slavery, and Hamilton's intellectual speculations on the best form of government were not notably monarchist within the context of the time.

The book discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.


The Chernow book I mention above, is:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






January 6, 2016

Was "the Naturally Aloof" Washington, an Introvert?



(p. C6) In "The Washingtons," an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.


. . .


Her social graces, . . . , served the naturally aloof George well during his eight increasingly trying years as president. Martha had a way of keeping conversation flowing around her, Ms. Fraser says, while George's "silences could unnerve the most confident." An official dinner with the Washingtons could be an ordeal, since George was a terrible conversationalist and was known to sit silently tapping his spoon against the table, obviously impatient for the evening to end.



For the full review, see:

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH. "Domestic Tranquility; Martha kept conversation flowing at dinner; George's silences 'could unnerve the most confident.'" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Flora. The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love". New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






January 2, 2016

Key Roman Institution Was Citizenship for All



(p. C5) . . . , early in the fourth century B.C., everything changes. Somehow Rome's wars began to escalate in scale, their victories turned into conquests, their victims into allies, and Roman expansion became a bow wave rolling across Italy. Exactly how this "great leap forward" was achieved remains unclear. There are fragments of laws, a tradition of civil conflict leading to political reform, and the tombs of the first generation of great military leaders. But, as Ms. Beard says, "the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle become hard to fit together."

The best we can say is that, sometime in the early fourth century, consuls, senators and people emerge rapidly from the shadows, carrying all before them. By the time this was noticed by the other great powers of the day--Phoenician Carthage in what is now Tunisia and the Macedonian kings who had ruled everything east of the Adriatic since Alexander the Great--it was too late to stop Rome. Roman institutions did not drive this expansion, as Polybius had thought. In fact they played desperate catch-up for the rest of the Republic, trying to create ways of governing an empire that was not exactly accidental but certainly not planned. The one institution that Ms. Beard leaves in place as a motor of expansion rather than a response to it was Rome's unusual capacity to absorb the defeated and redirect their arms and resources to its own ends. "SPQR" ends with the logical culmination of that process, the extension of full citizenship to almost every one of Rome's 60 million subjects in A.D. 212.



For the full review, see:

GREG WOOLF. "Dawn of the Eternal City." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






December 29, 2015

FDA Forces Child to Go to London to Get Drug to Fight His Cancer



(p. A15) How far would you go to get a drug that could save your child's life? Across an ocean? That is exactly what the federal government is forcing some American families with dying children to do.

In 2012, when Diego Morris was 11 years old, he was diagnosed with a deadly cancer in his leg called osteosarcoma. Doctors at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., removed the tumor, but the prognosis was poor. There was a significant risk that even extensive chemotherapy after surgery would not prevent the cancer from returning.

Fortunately, a team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City had developed a revolutionary new drug, mifamurtide (MTP), that can prevent osteosarcoma from coming back. A study by Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman of MD Anderson and Dr. Paul Meyers of Sloan Kettering showed the drug resulted in a 30% reduction in the osteosarcoma mortality rate at eight years after diagnosis.

The drug was approved in 2009 by the European Medicines Agency and is currently the standard of care in Europe, Israel and many other countries. In 2012 it received the prestigious Prix Galien Award, the gold medal for pharmaceutical research and development in the United Kingdom.

MPT was exactly what Diego needed. But there was one problem: The drug was not available in America because the Food and Drug Administration had rejected it, demanding additional studies. That meant that Diego had to travel from Phoenix to London to get the drug he needed to save his life--a drug that was available in almost every industrialized nation and should have been available in the U.S.



For the full commentary, see:


DARCY OLSEN. "Winning the Right to Save Your Own Life; As the FDA dawdles, 24 states pass 'right-to-try' laws giving terminally ill patients access to drugs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 26, 2015.)


Olsen's commentary is related to her book:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 25, 2015

Hawaiian Culture Changed Swiftly in Century After 1777



(p. C1 & C6) It's startling just how swiftly change came to Hawaii after Capt. James Cook first sighted the island of Kauai in 1777: In little more than a century, Ms. Moore writes, "a closed and isolated culture, bound by superstition and religious ritual, with no understanding of individual freedom or private property," had been transformed into "a society of thriving capitalism, Protestant values, and democratic institutions."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "Hard Truths in the Past of a Tropical Eden." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPT. 22, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 21, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Paradise of the Pacific,' the Hard Truths of Hawaii's History.")


The book under review, is:

Moore, Susanna. Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






December 22, 2015

FDA Has No Right to Stop the Terminally Ill from Seeking Cures



(p. C4) Ms. Olsen notes that "today, about 40 percent of cancer patients attempt to enroll in clinical trials, but only about 3 percent end up participating. That means that the vast majority don't make the cut, whether because they fail to meet the strict criteria, or a trial is thousands of miles from their home." Many of those who don't get these experimental drugs are the sickest patients because they are deemed "too sick to be useful for the study."

Ms. Olsen argues that terminally ill patients should be able to access such drugs--at their own risk and outside the context of FDA-required studies--if the companies are willing to provide them, and the book's title alludes to her proposed remedy: the state-by-state campaign the Goldwater Institute is leading to pass "Right to Try" legislation. The bills would allow terminally ill patients who have "exhausted all conventional treatment options" to access an experimental treatment if their doctors believe it is "the best medical option to extend or save the patients' life" and "the treatment has successfully completed basic safety testing and is part of the FDA's ongoing evaluation and approval process." Insurers, critically, would not be required to cover the treatment--a significant hurdle, largely unexplored here, since such costs could be significant.

The think tank's campaign has been incredibly successful, with 24 states passing Right to Try laws to date. Still, Ms. Olsen doesn't present such laws as a panacea. She doesn't expect experimental treatments to always--or even often--work for terminally ill patients. But she believes that some chance is better than the alternative. "If you have the Right to Die, you have the Right to Try," Ms. Olsen writes. "And you don't have to wait on Washington to secure it."

Yet therein lies the book's main shortcoming. Washington, it turns out, has a fair bit of say here. Courts have found that the FDA's powers to regulate drug development are extraordinarily broad. Many changes Ms. Olsen champions won't be possible without congressional action to revamp the FDA's drug development process and find new ways of paying for experimental drugs that would make widespread access sustainable for patients, companies and insurers. These issues, though touched on, are not grappled with in detail.



For the full review, see:

PAUL HOWARD. "BOOKSHELF; Hail Mary Medicine; Patients spend their last days pleading with reluctant drug companies and the FDA to get access to treatments that could save their lives." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 13, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 21, 2015

Top College Football Programs "Do a Little Education on the Side"



(p. C7) When it is reported that the University of Alabama pays its head coach an annual salary of $6.5 million a year, or that the University of Oregon erected a $42 million academic support center for it players, or that the University of Texas assesses its fans as much as $20,000 in the form of "seat donations" for preferred locations, it is clear that college football is no longer just a game.

Gilbert M. Gaul contends precisely that in his persuasive new book, "Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football." . . . the elite college football programs have become a (sic) "giant entertainment businesses that happened to do a little education on the side," . . .


. . .


Given the revenue streams that winning programs generate year in and year out, it is easy to see why college administrators are drawn in by the siren call of football. But Mr. Gaul leads the chorus of those who are beyond dismayed by this juxtaposition of priorities. In the more than a decade that has passed since Mr. Gaul, who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, began collecting data on the economics of college football as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he asserts that the staggering revenues of the 10 largest football programs has come largely at the expense of the academic mission.

At Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Penn State, Notre Dame, Louisiana State University and Arkansas, revenues have increased to $762 million from $229 million from 1999 to 2012. That is a whopping 233 percent increase. Mr. Gaul observes that during this period "profit margins had ballooned to hedge-fund levels," generated by television broadcast rights, luxury suites, seat donations and corporate advertising. Mr. Gaul reports that the big universities "have netted 90 percent of all the new money that has flowed into college football the last decade or two."



For the full review, see:

MARK KRAM Jr. "Books of The Times; A Sport's Most Alluring Statistic Is Found on the Balance Sheet." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 26, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on AUG. 25, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: 'Billion-Dollar Ball' Explores the Economics of College Football's Top Programs.")


The book under review, is:

Gaul, Gilbert M. Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey through the Big-Money Culture of College Football. New York: Viking, 2015.






December 17, 2015

Do Entrepreneurial Results Excuse Entrepreneurial Arrogance?



(p. A1) Robert Whaley is a professor of finance at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management and the developer of the two major so-called fear indices -- the VIX and VXN on the Chicago Board Options Exchange -- that are used to make bets on market volatility.

READING Right now it's "Becoming Steve Jobs," by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It has a somewhat different take than Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs." I felt Isaacson's version was a little negative. But what the books have in common is that Jobs was sheer genius. So what if he was arrogant? Consider what he's done. We wouldn't have iPhones and iPads if it wasn't for his vision. I absolutely think that excuses his behavior. If everyone just wanted for people to look back and say you were kind, how would we move forward?



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY. "Download: Robert Whaley." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 2.

(Note: the bold above is in the original. The first paragraph quoted above was written by the interviewer Kate Murphy. The paragraph following the word "Reading" is the response by the interviewee Robert Whaley.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The Steve Jobs books mentioned by Whaley, are:

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Schlender, Brent, and Rick Tetzeli. Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. New York: Crown Business, 2015.






December 13, 2015

Quiet Author Founds Start-Up to Help Introverts



(p. 10) Last month, 50 executives from General Electric gathered on the fourth floor of a SoHo office building for a "fireside chat" with Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," which has sold two million copies worldwide.


. . .


A talk about "Quiet" she gave at a 2012 TED conference has been viewed more than 11.6 million times online. And she has delivered more than 100 speeches since then, sometimes commanding five figures for an appearance. (She also does pro bono work, she stressed.)


. . .

"Writing a book is rewarding," Mr. Godin said he told her. "But it doesn't change most people's lives."

And so Ms. Cain, who has been coached in public speaking, is now promoting Quiet Revolution, a for-profit company she has started that is focused on the work, education and lifestyle of introverts, which she defines roughly as people who get their psychic energy from quiet reflection and solitude (not to be confused with people who are shy and become anxious in unfamiliar social situations). Extroverts, by contrast, thrive in crowds and have long been prized in society for their ability to command attention. Many people share attributes of both, she said.

Ms. Cain and Paul Scibetta, a former senior executive at J. P. Morgan Chase whom she met when they both worked at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the 1990s, have set up a Quiet Leadership Institute, working with executives at organizations like NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric to help them better understand the strengths of their introverted employees.


. . .


Mike Erwin, a former professor of leadership and psychology at West Point who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, invited Ms. Cain to speak to cadets in 2012 after he finished reading "Quiet." He didn't understand students who were reticent to talk in class or who wanted to explore every risk before jumping into a task. "I'm an extrovert," he said. "And, as I look back at my career, I wrote off a lot of people who didn't speak up or want to be in charge."

In May, he was appointed chief executive of the Quiet Leadership Institute, where he is helping project managers at NASA learn how to lead teams populated with introverts (a common personality type in science). At Procter & Gamble, Mr. Erwin said, executives in research and development are exploring, among other things, how to help introverts become more confident leaders.



For the full story, see:

LAURA M. HOLSON. "Instigating a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JULY 26, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 25, 2015, and has the title "Susan Cain Instigates a 'Quiet Revolution' of Introverts.")


The Cain book mentioned above, is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.






December 9, 2015

Producer of "The Godfather" to Make Six Hour TV Version of Atlas Shrugged



(p. D1) LOS ANGELES -- It took a while -- more than 40 years, actually.

But Albert S. Ruddy, a movie and television producer who does not like to quit, has landed rights to make his passion project: a screen version of "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand's Objectivist bible.

Mr. Ruddy, whose canon includes films as varied as "The Godfather" and "The Cannonball Run," almost had a deal back in the early 1970s, when he wooed Ms. Rand personally while sitting on a small couch in New York.

But Ms. Rand, who had left the Soviet Union in the 1920s and feared the Russians might acquire Paramount Pictures to subvert the project, wanted script approval; Mr. Ruddy, as adamant as she was, declined. "Then I'll put in my will, the one person who can't get it is you," Mr. Ruddy recalls being told by Ms. Rand, who died in 1982.


. . .


The main thing, Mr. Ruddy said, is to honor Ms. Rand's insistence on making a film for the future. That means redrawing its capitalists and creators, who go on strike against creeping collectivism, as figures more familiar than the railroad heiress and industrial titans who figured in a book that was first published in 1957.

"When you look at guys like Jeff Bezos, he's not only doing Amazon, he wants to colonize Mars," Mr. Ruddy said. He spoke by telephone last week of his plan for a mini-series in which an Internet blackout led by Bezos-like figures might shut down cellphones, banks and almost everything else.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL CIEPLY. "Film Producer Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 2, 2015): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2015, and has the title "Producer of 'The Godfather' Lands Rights to 'Atlas Shrugged' Novel.")






December 5, 2015

"Racist" Woodrow Wilson Adopted "White Supremacy as Government Policy"



(p. A25) In 1882, soon after graduating from high school, the young John Davis secured a job at the Government Printing Office.

Over a long career, he rose through the ranks from laborer to a position in midlevel management. He supervised an office in which many of his employees were white men. He had a farm in Virginia and a home in Washington. By 1908, he was earning the considerable salary -- for an African-American -- of $1,400 per year.

But only months after Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as president in 1913, my grandfather was demoted. He was shuttled from department to department in various menial jobs, and eventually became a messenger in the War Department, where he made only $720 a year.

By April 1914, the family farm was auctioned off. John Davis, a self-made black man of achievement and stature in his community at the turn of the 20th century, was, by the end of Wilson's first term, a broken man. He died in 1928.

Many black men and women suffered similar fates under Wilson. As the historian Eric S. Yellin of the University of Richmond documents in his powerful book "Racism in the Nation's Service," my grandfather's demotion was part of a systematic purge of the federal government; with Wilson's approval, in a few short years virtually all blacks had been removed from management responsibilities, moved to menial jobs or simply dismissed.

My grandfather died before I was born, but I have learned much about his struggle -- and that of other black civil servants in the federal government -- from his personnel file.


. . .


Consider a letter he wrote on May 16, 1913, barely a month after his demotion. "The reputation which I have been able to acquire and maintain at considerable sacrifice," he wrote, "is to me (foolish as it may appear to those in higher stations of life) a source of personal pride, a possession of which I am very jealous and which is possessed at a value in my estimation ranking above the loss of salary -- though the last, to a man having a family of small children to rear, is serious enough."

And the reply he received? His supervisor said, simply, that my grandfather was unable to "properly perform the duties required (he is too slow)." Yet there had never been any indication of this in his personnel file.

Wilson was not just a racist. He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African-Americans and their families.



For the full commentary, see:

GORDON J. DAVIS. "Wilson, Princeton and Race." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 24, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather.")


The Yellin book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Yellin, Eric S. Racism in the Nation's Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.


See also:

Patler, Nicholas. Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration: Protesting Federal Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2004.






December 1, 2015

Only 5% of Gender Pay Differential Is Likely Due to Discrimination



(p. A17) Full-time employment is technically defined as more than 35 hours. This raises an obvious problem: A simple side-by-side comparison of all men and all women includes people who work 35 hours a week, and others who work 45. Men are significantly more likely than women to work longer hours, according to the BLS. And if we compare only people who work 40 hours a week, BLS data show that women then earn on average 90 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Career choice is another factor. Research in 2013 by Anthony Carnevale, a Georgetown University economist, shows that women flock to college majors that lead to lower-paying careers. Of the 10 lowest-paying majors--such as "drama and theater arts" and "counseling psychology"--only one, "theology and religious vocations," is majority male.

Conversely, of the 10 highest-paying majors--including "mathematics and computer science" and "petroleum engineering"--only one, "pharmacy sciences and administration," is majority female. Eight of the remaining nine are more than 70% male.

Other factors that account for earnings differences include marriage and children, both of which cause many women to leave the workforce for years. June O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, concluded in a 2005 study that "there is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles."


. . .


Ms. O'Neill and her husband concluded in their 2012 book, "The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market," that once all these factors are taken into account, very little of the pay differential between men and women is due to actual discrimination, which is "unlikely to account for a differential of more than 5 percent but may not be present at all."



For the full commentary, see:

SARAH KETTERER. "The 'Wage Gap' Myth That Won't Die; You have to ignore many variables to think women are paid less than men. California is happy to try." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 1, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Sept. 30, 2015.)


The O'Neill book mentioned above, is:

O'Neill, June E., and Dave M. O'Neill. The Declining Importance of Race and Gender in the Labor Market: The Role of Employment Discrimination Policies. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2012.






November 27, 2015

What If Steve Jobs Ran the I.C.U.?




We'd like to think that medical intensity and competence in the real world mirror the intensity and competence of television shows like ER and House. But too often it is like the horrible surreal story told below. What if we deregulated medicine to open it to the product and process innovations of intense innovative entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Sam Walton?



(p. 7) Omaha -- I've been watching the monitor for hours. Natalie's asleep now and I'm worried about her pulse. It's edging above 140 beats per minute again and her blood oxygen saturation is becoming dangerously low. I'm convinced that she's slipping into shock. She needs more fluids. I ring for the nurse.

I know about stuff like septic shock because for more than 20 years I was a transplant surgeon, and some of our patients got incredibly sick after surgery. So when I'm sitting in an I.C.U. in Omaha terrified that Natalie, my 17-year-old daughter, might die, I know what I'm talking about. I tell the nurse that Natalie needs to get another slug of intravenous fluids, and fast.

The nurse says she'll call the doctor. Fifteen minutes later I find her in the lounge at a computer, and over her shoulder I see a screen full of makeup products. When I ask if we can get that fluid going, I startle her. She says she called the resident and told him the vital signs, but that he thought things were stable.

"He said to hold off for now," she says.

"Get me two bags of saline. Now," I tell her.

She says, "I'm calling my supervisor," and she runs out of the lounge.


. . .


I know I shouldn't be my daughter's doctor. They taught us the problems with that during my first week in medical school.


. . .


But right now, I don't care about any of that. I'm the one with experience taking care of really sick patients, and if I know she needs more fluids, she's going to get them.

I break into the crash cart, a box on wheels full of stuff they use to resuscitate patients. I pull out two liters of saline solution and run both into Natalie's IV in less than 20 minutes. Natalie's pulse slows and her blood pressure rises. An hour later, after the nursing supervisor and on-call resident finally arrive, I've finished infusing a third liter. Natalie finally looks better.

This wasn't the first time during Natalie's illness eight years ago that I broke my promise to just be her dad. It started a week earlier when she came into the den and showed me the blood she'd coughed up. I suspect a father without my experience might have chalked it up to flu. Maybe because I was a transplant surgeon, and always considered the worst possible cause whenever a patient had a hiccup, I took her to the hospital. I was worried the blood meant she had a bacterial pneumonia, a bad one. And it did.

On the way to the hospital, Natalie took a deep breath and looked at me. "Am I going to die?" she asked. I'm convinced that she would have been dead before morning had I not been a doctor, and one who could recognize septic shock when it affected a normal teenager.



For the full commentary, see:

BUD SHAW. "A Doctor at His Daughter's Hospital Bed." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., SEPT. 6, 2015): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 5, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is adapted from the book:

Shaw, Bud. Last Night in the Or: A Transplant Surgeon's Odyssey. New York: Plume, 2015.






November 23, 2015

Give Entrepreneurs "the Solitude They Need to Think Creatively"



(p. R1) . . . , numerous entrepreneurs and CEOs are either self-admitted introverts or have so many introvert qualities that they are widely thought to be introverts. These include Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo, and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

As entrepreneurs, introverts succeed because they "create and lead companies from a very focused place," says Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" and founder of Quiet Revolution, a website for introverts.


. . .


Many people believe that introverts, by definition, are shy and extroverts are outgoing. This is incorrect. Introverts, whom experts say comprise about a third of the population, get their energy and process information internally. Some may be shy and some may be outgoing, but they all prefer to spend time alone or in small groups, and often feel drained by a lot of social interaction or large groups.


. . .


Introverts not only have the stamina to spend long periods alone--they love it. "Good entrepreneurs are able to give themselves the solitude they need to think creatively and originally--to create something where there once was nothing," says Ms. Cain. "And this is just how introverts are wired."


. . .


While extroverts are networking, promoting or celebrating success, introverts have their "butt on the seat," says Laurie Helgoe, author of "Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength" and assistant professor in the department of psychology and human services at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va. "An introvert on his (p. R2) or her own is going to enjoy digging in and doing research--and be able to sustain him- or herself in that lonely place of forging your own way."

They don't need external affirmation

Another important characteristic of introverts is that they tend to rely on their own inner compass--not external signals--to know that they're making the right move or doing a good job. That can give them an edge in several ways.

For instance, they generally don't look for people to tell them whether an idea is worth pursuing. They tend to think it through before speaking about it to anybody, and rely on their own judgment about whether it's worth pursuing.

With extroverts, the need for social stimulation, for getting the idea in front of other people, can make them leap before they've thought something out, Ms. Buelow says. "It's very important for them to get outside feedback and motivation." Feedback is great, of course. But at a certain point a leader needs to decide on a plan and execute it.

Following their own compass also helps introverts stay focused on a venture. Extroverts can get sidetracked by seeking external validation, such as awards or media attention for a project, which can divert them from their main goals. While introverts welcome external validation, they won't let it define them or distract them. "It's about keeping the long-haul perspective," Ms. Buelow says.

What's more, because introverts aren't looking for outside events to validate their plans--or themselves--they don't take setbacks as personally as extroverts. Somebody who relies on external affirmation tends to take setbacks personally and may get dispirited if the company hits a rough patch.


. . .


. . . , in a 2009 study looking at how introverts and extroverts approached an "effortful task," Maya Tamir, director of the Emotion and Self-Regulation Laboratory at Boston College and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, found that extroverts sought a happy state while completing the task, while introverts preferred to maintain a neutral emotional state.

"The introverts' happy space is a quieter space with less interruptions," says Ms. Buelow. "They won't have that overstimulation."



For the full commentary, see:

ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN. "The Case for the Introverted Entrepreneur; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 24, 2015): R1-R2.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs; Conventional wisdom says you need to be an extrovert to start a successful business. That's wrong for all sorts of reasons.")


The Cain book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.


The Helgoe book mentioned in the commentary quoted above is:

Helgoe, Laurie. Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2013.


The Maya Tamir article mentioned above, is:

Tamir, Maya. "Differential Preferences for Happiness: Extraversion and Trait-Consistent Emotion Regulation." Journal of Personality 77, no. 2 (April 2009): 447-70.






November 19, 2015

Scientific Insight Requires Hard Work More than Easy Epiphany



(p. A21) The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin's success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.

The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.

Of the tale of Newton and the apple, the historian Richard S. Westfall wrote, "The story vulgarizes universal gravitation by treating it as a bright idea ... A bright idea cannot shape a scientific tradition." Science is just not that simple and it is not that easy.


. . .


Even if we are not scientists, every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn't require such hard work.

But even beyond issues of science, there is a broader lesson to learn, . . . . We all run into difficult problems in life, and we will be happier and more successful if we appreciate that the answers often aren't quick, or easy.



For the full commentary, see:

LEONARD MLODINOW. "It Is, in Fact, Rocket Science." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipsis internal to third quoted paragraph, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on MAY 15, 2015.)


Mlodinow's book, related to the commentary quoted above, is:

Mlodinow, Leonard. The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos. New York: Pantheon Books, 2015.






November 15, 2015

Dogged Dreamers Developed Deadly Dirigibles



(p. C7) "Dirigibility" means the ability to navigate through the air by engine power, unlike balloon flight, which is captive to the wind. Beginning and ending with the Hindenburg vignette, C. Michael Hiam gives in "Dirigible Dreams" a concise but comprehensive history of the airship and its evolution. With style and some flair, Mr. Hiam introduces a cast of dogged visionaries, starting with Albert Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian whose exploits from 1901 onward usually culminated in our hero dangling from a tree or a high building, shredded gas bags draped around him like a shroud. For all of these pioneers, problems queued up from the outset: Insurance companies, for example, refused to quote a rate for aerial liability. (Try asking your broker today.) And to inflate the craft the engineers were stuck with hydrogen, since non-flammable helium was too scarce and hot air has insufficient lifting force.


. . .


In 1929, British engineers pioneered a giant dirigible--at 133 feet in diameter, Mr. Hiam notes, it was "the largest object ever flown"--powered by six Rolls-Royce Condor engines. But too many died as the still-flimsy crafts plunged to the ground in flames. His Majesty's secretary of state for air perished in a luxurious airship cabin on the way to visit the king's subjects in India. One by one, nations gave up their dirigible dreams, especially after 35 souls burned to death on the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, N.J., one of the first transport disasters recorded on film. After that tragedy, commercial passengers never flew in an airship again, and by the start of World War II just two years later "the airship had become entirely extinct."



For the full review, see:

SARA WHEELER. "Inflated Hopes; Early airship experimenters found that insurance companies refused to quote rates for aerial liability." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 18, 2014): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on Oct. 23, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Hiam, C. Michael. Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2014.






November 11, 2015

In 13th Century England, William Marshal Defended Property and Brokered Magna Carta



(p. C7) On Saturday, May 20, 1217, two armies gathered outside Lincoln, a walled cathedral town in the northeast Midlands of England. One was a party of barons loyal to the French prince Louis the Lion, who had come to batter down the walls of the town's large stone castle. The second party was there to relieve the siege. It was led by an energetic 70-year-old: William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, the most famous knight of his time and one of the most storied men in Christendom. Marshal was the official guardian of the 9-year-old English king Henry III, whom Louis was aiming to replace. Lincoln was one of the most important strategic military bases in England, controlling the major roads between London, York and the southwest. The fate of a kingdom really did rest in William Marshal's hands.

According to a 19,000-line verse biography, written in old French during the 1220s and commissioned by Marshal's son, the aged hero prepared his men for a battle with a barnstorming speech. "Those men have seized and taken by force / our lands and our possessions," he cried. "Shame upon the man who does not strive, this very day, to put up a challenge / . . . if we beat them, it is no lie to say / that we will have won eternal glory / . . . I can tell you that they will come to a sticky end / as they descend into Hell." Then Marshal was astride his horse and at the front of the charge. He was so excited that he nearly rode off to fight without his helmet on.


. . .


Marshal was one of the few loyal men left at the end of John's reign, and in June 1215 he helped broker Magna Carta, the document that (temporarily) mollified the king's opponents by granting them a long list of legal rights and privileges. John died the next year, and the now-elderly Marshal was appointed as guardian to Henry III. He reissued Magna Carta as a political manifesto, rather than a peace treaty, which helped to begin the charter's long and legendary afterlife. He won the battle of Lincoln, and then he died. His corpse was wrapped in silk that he had brought home from a journey to the Holy Land.



For the full review, see:

DAN JONES. "The Servant of Five Kings; One of the few men who remained loyal to King John, William Marshal helped broker Magna Carta." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 10, 2015): C7.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipses internal to paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Asbridge, Thomas. The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones. New York: Ecco, 2014.






November 7, 2015

Biography of Muhammad Documents Oldest and Youngest of His 12 Wives



(p. C6) The Prophet Muhammad might justly be described as the Jekyll and Hyde of historical biography. For centuries, he has been "alternately revered and reviled," as Kecia Ali, an associate professor of religion at Boston University, notes in her excellent overview of the abundant literature. As a result, Muhammad presents two violently incompatible faces to the historian. For devout Muslims, relying both on the Quran and the vast corpus of sacred traditions, the hadith, he serves as the unimpeachable model for human behavior, not only in matters of faith and ritual but in the most humdrum aspects of daily life, from marital and business relations to personal hygiene, including even the proper use of the toothpick. For non-Muslims, drawing on the same sources, he has been viewed from the earliest times as lustful and barbarous, as a raving impostor aping the ancient prophets; nowadays he is further charged with misogyny and pedophilia. The contrast is so stark as to appear irreconcilable.


. . .


Two of the book's best chapters deal with the most prominent of Muhammad's 12 or so wives: the saintly Khadija, a Meccan businesswoman 15 years older than he; and the more spirited--and controversial--Aisha, the child-bride who became Muhammad's "favorite wife" in later years. For both Muslim and non-Muslim biographers, Khadija represents a model wife. She is Muhammad's comforter in moments of doubt or distress--an "angel of mercy," according to the modern Egyptian biographer Muhammad Husayn Haykal--and their household is an abode of domestic felicity. Much is made of the fact that Muhammad took other wives only after Khadija's death.

His marriage to Aisha is another matter altogether. She was only 6 years old when she became engaged to Muhammad, but he considerately postponed consummation of the marriage until she was 9. Though earlier critics said surprisingly little about this marriage--they seemed not even to note the anomaly of the couple's ages--modern commentators have denounced it roundly, accusing Muhammad of pedophilia. Muslim biographers squirm to defend it, and some quibble over whether the bride was in fact only 9 when she was ushered into the marriage bed (to which she also brought her childhood toys, according to traditional accounts). A recent biography by one Abdul Hameed Siddiqui even goes so far as to praise the union with the fatuous remark that by marrying an older man, "the bride is immediately introduced and accustomed to moderate sexual intercourse." For pious Muslims, the marriage raises a painful dilemma. For non-Muslim polemicists, Ms. Ali says, the marriage and its presumed consummation are reasons to vilify Islam generally--to believe that "all of Islam and every Muslim is tainted."



For the full review, see:

ERIC ORMSBY. "Ways of Looking at the Prophet; Devout Muslims see him as the model for human behavior. Non-Muslims have seen him as lustful, barbarous or worse." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 10, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 9, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ali, Kecia. The Lives of Muhammad. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.






November 3, 2015

Top-Down Aid "Hasn't Worked in Africa"



(p. 2) John Mackey is the co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, the nation's largest chain of natural foods supermarkets.

READING . . .

. . . "The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty," by Nina Munk. Sachs is an economist and I'm sure he doesn't like the book because it points out that his top-down aid type of approach hasn't worked in Africa. A more bottom-up approach through entrepreneurship and boot strapping seems to be more effective, which is the approach we take at our Whole Planet Foundation.



For the full interview, see:

KATE MURPHY, interviewer. "Download; John Mackey." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 23, 2014): 2.

(Note: bold in original; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 22, 2014.)


The book praised in the interview is:

Munk, Nina. The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. New York: Doubleday, 2013.






October 30, 2015

Exponential Entrepreneurs Get Rich by Innovating (and Fleecing?)




The reviewer's concern about technology platforms fleecing the masses is shared by Jaron Lanier who describes, and tries to solve it, in a thought-provoking book called Who Owns the Future? (Hint: his solution involves an extension of property rights.)



(p. A9) The exponential entrepreneurs are "paving the way for a new world of abundance" by finding big problems and exploiting the "Six D's": digitalization, deception, disruption, demonetization, dematerialization, democratization.

Take the case of Kodak and photography. First came the technology that allowed photographs to be taken and stored digitally rather than on film--digitization. But it seemed too trivial for a giant like Kodak to worry about--an act of self-deception. Then came disruption, when digital photography grew from a tiny niche into a big business and then surpassed print photography. People no longer needed to pay to store or share their photographs because free digital services had sprung up. Kodak found itself demonetized. Then photography was dematerialized, as cameras were built into phones and the physical materials of the darkroom were replaced by digital tools. Finally, the entire process was democratized, since anyone with a phone can (at no additional cost) take pictures, edit them and share them.

In 1996 Kodak employed 140,000 people and had a market value of $28 billion. In January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Instagram was founded in October 2010 and was bought by Facebook in April 2012 for $1 billion. It had 13 employees at the time. Instagram was the definition of an exponential organization, one "whose impact (or output)--because of its use of networks or automation and/or its leveraging of the crowd--is disproportionally large compared to its number of employees." The Six D's, the authors make clear, are leaving the poor executives who think in linear rather than exponential fashion in a state of three D's: "distraught, depressed and departed."


. . .


The great lie about so much technology is that it has enabled a more sharing, more democratic age. But too much of the "sharing" that happens online seems to involve people abandoning their livelihoods to the owners of "platforms"--letting the masses be demonetized and dematerialized for the enrichment of a few. Too much of the "democracy" feels like voyeurism or surveillance. The crowd is not just sourcing and funding this new economy; it's also getting fleeced.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Big Or Go Home." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 17, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2015.)


The book discussed in the review is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.


The book mentioned by Lanier is:

Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? pb ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






October 26, 2015

"Plunged Back into a Pre-Industrial Hell"



(p. B1) If you drive a car, or use modern medicine, or believe in man's right to economic progress, then according to Alex Epstein you should be grateful--more than grateful. In "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels" the author, an energy advocate and founder of a for-profit think tank called the Center for Industrial Progress, suggests that if all you had to rely on were the good intentions of environmentalists, you would be soon plunged back into a pre-industrial hell. Life expectancy would plummet, climate-related deaths would soar, and the only way that Timberland and Whole Foods could ship their environmentally friendly clothing and food would be by mule. "Being forced to rely on solar, wind, and biofuels would be a horror beyond anything we can imagine," writes Mr. Epstein, "as a civilization that runs on cheap, plentiful, reliable energy would see its machines dead, its productivity destroyed, its resources disappearing."


For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Go Ahead, Fill 'Er Up; Renouncing oil and its byproducts would plunge civilization into a pre-industrial hell--a fact developing countries keenly realize." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Dec. 2, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 1, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Making 'The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels'; Renouncing oil and its byproducts would plunge civilization into a pre-industrial hell--a fact developing countries keenly realize.")


The book praised in the review is:

Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. New York: Portfolio, 2014.






October 22, 2015

"Bring Prosperity to Billions of People"



(p. B1) If you're feeling down about the world, the book, "Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century," is an antidote. Mr. Rogers and Mr. Heck outline how emerging advances -- among them 3-D printing, autonomous vehicles, modular construction systems and home automation -- might in time alter some of the world's largest industries and (p. B7) bring prosperity to billions of people.

They put forward a rigorous argument bolstered by mountains of data and recent case studies. And once you start looking at Silicon Valley their way, your mind reels at the far-reaching potential of the innovations now spreading through society.



For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo. "STATE OF THE ART; The Future Could Work, if We Let It." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 28, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 27, 2014.)


The book praised in the commentary is:

Heck, Stefan, and Matt Rogers. Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century. New York: Melcher Media, 2014.






October 18, 2015

Stress Can Help Us Do Well



(p. C3) "We're bombarded with information about how bad stress is," says Jeremy Jamieson, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who specializes in stress. But the conventional view, he says, fails to appreciate the many ways in which physical and psychological tension can help us to perform better.

In research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2010, Prof. Jamieson tested his theory with college students who were preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination, which is used for admission to Ph.D. programs. He invited 60 students to take a practice GRE and collected saliva samples from them beforehand to get baseline measures of their levels of alpha-amylase, a hormonal indicator of stress. He told them that the goal of the study was to examine how the physiological stress response affects performance.

He then gave half the students a brief pep talk to help them rethink their pre-exam nervousness. "People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly," he told them. "However, recent research suggests that stress doesn't hurt performance on these tests and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better.... If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your stress could be helping you do well."

It worked: Students who received the mind-set intervention scored higher on the practice exam than those in the control group. Nor could the difference in GRE scores be attributed to differences in ability: Students had been randomly assigned to the two groups and didn't differ, on average, in their SAT scores or college GPAs.



For the full commentary, see:

KELLY MCGONIGAL. "Stressed Out? Embrace It; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 16, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2015, and has the title "Use Stress to Your Advantage; To perform under pressure, research finds that welcoming anxiety is more helpful than calming down.")


McGonigal's book, related to her commentary quoted above, is:

McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. New York: Avery, 2015.


The research article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Jamieson, Jeremy P., Wendy Berry Mendes, Erin Blackstock, and Toni Schmader. "Turning the Knots in Your Stomach into Bows: Reappraising Arousal Improves Performance on the GRE." Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46, no. 1 (Jan. 2010): 208-12.






October 14, 2015

John Paul Stapp Thumbed His Nose at the Precautionary Principle



(p. C7) In the early 19th century, a science professor in London named Dionysus Lardner rejected the future of high-speed train travel because, he said, "passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." A contemporary, the famed engineer Thomas Tredgold, agreed, noting "that any general system of conveying passengers . . . [traveling] at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable."

The current land speed for a human being is 763 miles an hour, or thereabouts, thanks in large part to the brilliance, bravery and dedication of a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel named John Paul Stapp, a wonderfully iconoclastic medical doctor, innovator and renegade consumer activist who repeatedly put his own life in peril in search of the line beyond which human survival at speed really was "extremely improbable."


. . .


Initial tests were carried out on a crash-test dummy named Oscar Eightball, then chimpanzees and pigs. There was plenty of trial and error--the term "Murphy's Law" was coined during the Gee Whiz experiments--until Stapp couldn't resist strapping himself into the Gee Whiz to experience firsthand what the cold data could never reveal: what it felt like. On May 5, 1948, for example, he "took a peak deceleration of an astounding twenty-four times the force of gravity," the author writes. "This was the equivalent of a full stop from 75 miles per hour in just seven feet or, in other words, freeway speed to zero in the length of a very tall man."

Stapp endured a total of 26 rides on the Gee Whiz over the course of 50 months, measuring an array of physiological factors as well as testing prototype helmets and safety belts. Along the way he suffered a broken wrist, torn rib cartilage, a bruised collarbone, a fractured coccyx, busted capillaries in both eyes and six cracked dental fillings. Colleagues became increasingly concerned for his health every time he staggered, gamely, off the sled, but, according to Mr. Ryan, he never lost his sense of humor, nor did these ordeals stop Dr. Stapp from voluntarily making house calls at night for families stationed on the desolate air base.


. . .


After 29 harrowing trips down the track, Stapp prepared for one grand finale, what he called the "Big Run," hoping to achieve 600 miles per hour, the speed beyond which many scientists suspected that human survivability was--really, this time--highly improbable. On Dec. 10, 1954, Sonic Wind marked a speed of 639 miles per hour, faster than a .45 caliber bullet shot from a pistol. Film footage of the test shows the sled rocketing past an overhead jet plane that was filming the event. The Big Run temporarily blinded Stapp, and he turned blue for a few days, but the experiment landed him on the cover of Time magazine as the fastest man on earth. The record stood for the next 30 years.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet--Really." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 22, 2015): C7.

(Note: first ellipsis, and bracketed word, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ryan, Craig. Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






October 10, 2015

"You Can Recognize the People Who Live for Others by the Haunted Look on the Faces of the Others"



(p. C21) In her first book, "Strangers Drowning," Larissa MacFarquhar, a staff writer for The New Yorker, reports . . . about extreme do-gooders, people whose self-sacrifice and ethical commitment are far outside what we think of as the normal range.


. . .


A line from Clive James's memoir "North Face of Soho" comes to mind. He quotes the journalist Katherine Whitehorn: "You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others."


. . .


(p. C26) It was Kant who observed that, as the author writes, "it was fortunate that so few men acted according to moral principle, because it was so easy to get principles wrong, and a determined person acting on mistaken principles could really do some damage."


. . .


Charity begins at home, most of us would agree. Not for many of the people in "Strangers Drowning." In their moral calculus, the goal is to help the most people, even if that means neglecting those close by, even spouses or children.

One of the interesting threads Ms. MacFarquhar picks up is the notion that, for extreme altruists, the best way to help relieve suffering may not be to travel to Africa, let's say, to open a clinic or help build a dam. It is far more noble and effective -- though less morally swashbuckling -- simply to find the highest-paying job you can and give away most of your salary. She finds people who live this way.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; Samaritans and Other Troublemakers." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 25, 2015): C21 & C26.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 24, 2015, and has the title "Review: 'Strangers Drowning' Examines Extreme Do-Gooders.")


The book under review, is:

MacFarquhar, Larissa. Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.






October 6, 2015

"Words Can Obscure Rather than Illuminate"



(p. C6) In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell shows how language is a tool of political control, how words can obscure rather than illuminate. Mr. Swaim explains how that applies to Mr. Sanford's office. At one point, constituents start writing in to ask whether the governor plans to run for president. While Mr. Swaim is expected to answer the letters, he is also expected to deploy a whole lot of "platitudinous observations" and "superfluous phrases" to say, basically, nothing.

"The trick was to use the maximum number of words with the maximum number of legitimate interpretations," he writes. "Words are useful, but often their meanings are not. Sometimes what you want is feeling rather than meaning, warmth rather than content. And that takes verbiage."



For the full review, see:

SARAH LYALL. "Pumpting Up Hot Air to the Governor's Level." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 30, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 29, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'The Speechwriter,' Barton Swaim Shares Tales of Working for Mark Sanford.")


The book under review, is:

Swaim, Barton. The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






October 2, 2015

Experts Are Paid "to Sound Cocksure" Even When They Do Not Know



(p. B1) I think Philip Tetlock's "Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction," co-written with the journalist Dan Gardner, is the most important book on decision making since Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow." (I helped write and edit the Kahneman book but receive no royalties from it.) Prof. Kahneman agrees. "It's a manual to systematic thinking in the real world," he told me. "This book shows that under the right conditions regular people are capable of improving their judgment enough to beat the professionals at their own game."

The book is so powerful because Prof. Tetlock, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, has a remarkable trove of data. He has just concluded the first stage of what he calls the Good Judgment Project, which pitted some 20,000 amateur forecasters against some of the most knowledgeable experts in the world.

The amateurs won--hands down.


. . .


(p. B7) The most careful, curious, open-minded, persistent and self-critical--as measured by a battery of psychological tests--did the best.


. . .


Most experts--like most people--"are too quick to make up their minds and too slow to change them," he says. And experts are paid not just to be right, but to sound right: cocksure even when the evidence is sparse or ambiguous.



For the full review, see:

JASON ZWEIG. "The Trick to Making Better Forecasts." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 26, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 25, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Tetlock, Philip E., and Dan Gardner. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. New York: Crown, 2015.






September 28, 2015

Autism Is "Inseparably Tied to Innovation"



(p. 11) "NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.


For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "'Skewed Diagnosis; A Science Journalist's Reading of Medical History Suggests that the 'Autism Pandemic' Is an Optical Illusion." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 17, 2015, and has the title "'NeuroTribes,' by Steve Silberman.")


The book under review, is:

Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin Random House, 2015.






September 24, 2015

Antiquated Education Needs Reform to Encourage Entrepreneurship



(p. 22) . . . "Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era," by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith -- argues that the only way to ensure any kind of future security for our children is to totally upend the education system and rethink what school is for.

"Disrupt" is a buzz word these tech-world gurus use sparingly, but that's what they mean. Wagner works at Harvard's Innovation Lab, Dintersmith in venture capital, funding education and tech start-ups. . . . Their argument is this: Public education in America is based on antiquated late-19th-century priorities, on the need "to educate large numbers of immigrants and refugees from farms for basic citizenship and for jobs in a growing industrial economy." Most of the stuff children are forced to know, and on which our culture's sense of achievement is based, is unnecessary in the age of Google. But tests and test-makers still run the show, and kids are required to "jump through hoops" and drill and drill to assimilate reams of facts ("content") instead of learning the skills that will keep them employed and employable for years to come -- which is to say, the skills to be entrepreneurs.


. . . .


. . . the assumption that undergirds this whole tract: that every person can -- or should -- be molded into an entrepreneur.



For the full review, see:

LISA MILLER. "Raise Them Up; A Vision of Education for an Entrepreneurial America." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 22.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "'Most Likely to Succeed,' by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith.")


The book under review, is:

Wagner, Tony, and Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. New York: Scribner, 2015.






September 20, 2015

"A Collective Thumbing of the Nose at" Burma's Dictatorship



(p. A9) For a young man born in a premodern dictatorship, Nway appeared to have it all. The son of a physician, he grew up in the town of Twantay, Burma, with the comforts typically reserved for the country's military elite. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and raising a family of his own.

That all changed one night after the abortive elections of 1990, when Nway's father, a supporter of the democracy movement, was arrested on unnamed charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison. There, he was kept in solitary confinement and endured routine beatings, interrogations and mock suffocations until he died of "complications of the liver" in October 1996.

Nway's father was gone but not forgotten: His awza, or influence, lives on. Inspired by his father's legacy, Nway dropped out of medical school and devoted his life to bringing liberal democracy to Burma.


. . .


At one point in the book, Nway is pursued by the "dogs" of Burma's security forces and happens upon some old acquaintances at a beer den. The friends swallow their fear and summon passersby to help protect him. They sit down, building "a fort around Nway" in "a collective thumbing of the nose at the Special Branch police" until he is able to slip away on a motorbike.

For Ms. Schrank, this anecdote embodies the philosophy that ultimately makes the dissidents' appeal to the people of Burma successful. In her final chapter she notes that it has now become "cool" to tie across your forehead a strip of cloth with the sign of the NLD and support the party "that only months before had belonged to the underground students and come most often with a one-way ticket to prison."



For the full review, see:

NICHOLAS DESATNICK. "BOOKSHELF; Freedom Fighters; To understand how Burma's military junta began coming apart at the seams, you need to meet this band of 'oddballs and dreamers.'" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Schrank, Delphine. The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma. New York: Nation Books, 2015.






September 16, 2015

Should We Have a Right to the Silence that "Contributes to Creativity and Innovation"?



(p. D5) The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.


. . .


Or do we? Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted.

Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. . . .


. . .


To engage in inventive thinking during those idle hours spent at an airport requires silence.


. . .


I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW B. CRAWFORD. "OPINION; The Cost of Paying Attention." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MARCH 8, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 7, 2015.)


The commentary quoted above is related to the author's book:

Crawford, Matthew B. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.






September 12, 2015

Too Much Positive Thinking Creates Relaxed Complacency



(p. D5) In her smart, lucid book, "Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation," Dr. Oettingen critically re-examines positive thinking and give readers a more nuanced -- and useful -- understanding of motivation based on solid empirical evidence.

Conventional wisdom has it that dreams are supposed to excite us and inspire us to act. Putting this to the test, Dr. Oettingen recruits a group of undergraduate college students and randomly assigns them to two groups. She instructs the first group to fantasize that the coming week will be a knockout: good grades, great parties and the like; students in the second group are asked to record all their thoughts and daydreams about the coming week, good and bad.

Strikingly, the students who were told to think positively felt far less energized and accomplished than those who were instructed to have a neutral fantasy. Blind optimism, it turns out, does not motivate people; instead, as Dr. Oettingen shows in a series of clever experiments, it creates a sense of relaxation complacency. It is as if in dreaming or fantasizing about something we want, our minds are tricked into believing we have attained the desired goal.

There appears to be a physiological basis for this effect: Studies show that just fantasizing about a wish lowers blood pressure, while thinking of that same wish -- and considering not getting it -- raises blood pressure. It may feel better to daydream, but it leaves you less energized and less prepared for action.


. . .


In one study, she taught a group of third graders a mental-contrast exercise: They were told to imagine a candy prize they would receive if they finished a language assignment, and then to imagine several of their own behaviors that could prevent them from winning. A second group of students was instructed only to fantasize about winning the prize. The students who did the mental contrast outperformed those who just dreamed.



For the full review, see:

RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. "Books; Dare to Dream of Falling Short." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D5.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 22, 2014.)


The book under review, is:

Oettingen, Gabriele. Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. New York: Current, 2014.






September 8, 2015

"The Countryside Was Romantic Only to People Who Didn't Have to Live There"



(p. C4) Mr. Meyer's motivation for writing his book is simple and straightforward. "Since 2000, a quarter of China's villages had died out, victims of migration or the redrawing of municipal borders," as the country urbanizes, he notes early on, adding: "Before it vanished I wanted to experience a life that tourists, foreign students, and journalists (I had been, in order, all three) only viewed in passing."

"In Manchuria" shifts back and forth among various genres. It is part travelogue, part sociological study, part reportage and part memoir, but it is also a love offering to Mr. Meyer's wife, Frances, who grew up in the unfortunately named Wasteland, the village that Mr. Meyer chooses as his base near the start of this decade, and to the unborn son she is carrying by the time "In Manchuria" ends.


. . .


After a year in Wasteland, Mr. Meyer was ready to move on, and he now divides his time between Singapore and Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing. But his interlude in Manchuria clearly taught him many lessons, perhaps the most fundamental being this: "The countryside was romantic only to people who didn't have to live there."



For the full review, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "A Vanishing Way of Life for Peasants in China." The New York Times Book Review (Mon., MARCH 8, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 8, 2015, and has the title "Review: Michael Meyer's 'In Manchuria' Documents a Changing Rural China.")


The book under review, is:

Meyer, Michael. In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






September 4, 2015

Most Early Christians Blended in as Ordinary Romans



(p. C9)The earliest Christian building excavated anywhere in the Roman Empire, the famous house-church of Dura-Europos (now under the enlightened protection of Islamic State), dates to the mid-third century. Literary sources, both Christian and non-Christian, make it abundantly clear that Christian communities grew up everywhere in the Mediterranean in the 150 years after Jesus' death: Think of the famous congregations of Corinth, Colossae and Ephesus, vividly evoked in Paul's letters. But to the archaeologist these communities are completely invisible. Where are they?

In his lively new book, "Coming Out Christian in the Roman World," Douglas Boin offers an answer. Early Christian writers like St. John of Patmos or Tertullian of Carthage rejected any hint of compromise with the Roman imperial state or with their non-Christian neighbors: "No man," warned Tertullian grimly, "can serve two masters." But there is no particular reason to think that Tertullian's views were widely accepted at the time. Fundamentalist zealots often have the loudest voices. In fact, it seems, most early Christians were quite happy to rub along quietly with the Roman world as they found it. They served in the Roman army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual. Their archaeological invisibility is easy to explain: Aside from their personal convictions (revealed every now and then in their choice of graffiti), most early Christians were just ordinary Romans.



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Rome at the Crossroads; Apart from their convictions, most early Christians were just ordinary Romans. They served in the army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Boin, Douglas Ryan. Coming out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar's Empire. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






August 31, 2015

Marie Curie Opposed Patents Because Women Could Not Own Property in France



(p. C6) Ms. Wirtén, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden, pays special attention to the decision not to patent and how it was treated in the founding texts of the Curie legend: Curie's 1923 biography of her husband, "Pierre Curie," and their daughter Eve's 1937 biography of her mother, "Madame Curie." The books each recount a conversation in which husband and wife agree that patenting their radium method would be contrary to the spirit of science.

It is not quite that simple. As Ms. Wirtén points out, the Curies derived a significant portion of their income from Pierre's patents on instruments. Various factors besides beneficence could have affected their decision not to extend this approach to their radium process. Intriguingly, the author suggests that the ineligibility of women to own property under French law might have shaped Curie's perspective. "Because the law excluded her from the status of person upon which these intellectual property rights depend," Ms. Wirtén writes, "the 'property' road was closed to Marie Curie. The persona road was not."



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Scientific Saint; After scandals in France, Curie was embraced by American women as an intellectual icon." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Wirtén, Eva Hemmungs. Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.






August 27, 2015

Homo Sapiens Made Eye Contact with Dogs to Dominate Neanderthals



(p. C6) In the space of just a few thousand years, as we spread through the region, we killed off the apex predators: first the Neanderthals and then, over time, cave bears, cave hyenas, lesser scimitar cats, dholes, mammoths and woolly rhinos, among other animals. How did we manage this? According to Ms. Shipman, we enlisted the help of dogs.


. . .


Ms. Shipman devotes the final third of her book to exploring a fascinating range of evidence--genetic, archaeological, anthropological--that provides substantial support for this theory. She never proposes that the alliance of humans and dogs alone led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. In all likelihood, she writes, the mere presence of humans, a competitive new predator in the Eurasian ecosystem, was an important stressor, as were climate change and perhaps even infectious diseases brought by humans from Africa. But the domestication of dogs, she suggests, significantly tipped the balance: "The unprecedented alliance of humans with another top predator (wolf-dogs or a kind of wolf) may have been the final stress that pushed Neanderthals and many other species down the slippery slope toward extinction."

So how did humans manage to domesticate wolves while their Neanderthal cousins, so similar in so many ways, did not? Here Ms. Shipman gets imaginative. Modern humans, she writes, have recently been shown to be the only extant primates whose irises are surrounded by white scleras--the whites of our eyes. We're also the only primate to have eyelids that expose much of our scleras. What evolutionary advantage could this have possibly given us? "The white scleras and open eyelids," she proposes, "make the direction of a person's gaze highly visible from a distance." Having white scleras allowed us to communicate subtly at a distance among ourselves and with our new best friend, dogs, a biological advantage that may have made all the difference as we competed for prey with Neanderthals--who, if they were like every other primate we know of today, had dark scleras.

Most animals, including apes and wolves, don't make eye contact with humans; nor do they gaze at faces for long. Dogs, on the contrary, are excellent gaze-followers, a trait that scientists believe we selectively bred into them during their domestication. Once we had teamed up with dogs, we were unstoppable.



For the full review, see:

TOBY LESTER. "The Slippery Slope to Extinction." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Shipman, Pat. The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2015.






August 23, 2015

Starting in Late Middle Ages the State Tried "to Control, Delineate, and Restrict Human Thought and Action"



(p. C6) . . . transregional organizations like Viking armies or the Hanseatic League mattered more than kings and courts. It was a world, as Mr. Pye says, in which "you went where you were known, where you could do the things you wanted to do, and where someone would protect you from being jailed, hanged, or broken on the wheel for doing them."


. . .


This is a world in which money rules, but money is increasingly an abstraction, based on insider information, on speculation (the Bourse or stock market itself is a regional invention) and on the ability to apply mathematics: What was bought or sold was increasingly the relationships between prices in different locations rather than the goods themselves.

What happened to bring this powerful, creative pattern to a close? The author credits first the reaction to the Black Death of the mid-14th century, when fear of contamination (perhaps similar to our modern fear of terrorism) justified laws that limited travel and kept people in their place. Religious and sectarian strife further limited the free flow of ideas and people, forcing people to choose one identity to the exclusion of others or else to attempt to disappear into the underground of clandestine and subversive activities. And behind both of these was the rise of the state, a modern invention that attempted to control, delineate, and restrict human thought and action.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK J. GEARY. "Lighting Up the Dark Ages." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Pye, Michael. The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. New York: Pegasus Books LLC, 2014.






August 19, 2015

McCulloch Endorses Strunk and White's "Revise and Rewrite" and "Be Clear"



(p. 10) When you wrote your first book, on the Johnstown flood, did you have a model in mind, a kind of storytelling you admired?

Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember," about the sinking of the Titanic, was the best book about a disaster I had ever read. But in an odd way I think I was more influenced at the time by the novels of Conrad Richter, and particularly his Ohio trilogy, "The Trees," "The Fields" and "The Town," in the extremely skillful way he evoked a sense of place.


. . .


If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

"The Elements of Style," by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. I read it first nearly 50 years ago and still turn to it as an ever reliable aid-to-navigation, and particularly White's last chapter, with its reminders to "Revise and Rewrite" and "Be Clear."



For the full interview, see:

"By the Book: David McCullough." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 31, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added, bold in original. The bold questions are from an anonymous New York Times interviewer.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "David McCullough: By the Book.")


A wonderful book by McCullough, is:

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.







August 15, 2015

Spread of Robots Creates New and Better Human Jobs



(p. A11) The issues at the heart of "Learning by Doing" come into sharp relief when James Bessen visits a retail distribution center near Boston that was featured on "60 Minutes" two years ago. The TV segment, titled "Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?," combined gotcha reporting with vintage movie clips--scary-looking Hollywood robots--to tell a chilling tale of human displacement and runaway job loss.

Mr. Bessen isn't buying it. Although robots at the distribution center have eliminated some jobs, he says, they have created others--for production workers, technicians and managers. The problem at automated workplaces isn't the robots. It's the lack of qualified workers. New jobs "require specialized skills," Mr. Bessen writes, but workers with these skills "are in short supply."

It is a deeply contrarian view. The conventional wisdom about robots and other new workplace technology is that they do more harm than good, destroying jobs and hollowing out the middle class. MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee made the case in their best-selling 2014 book, "The Second Machine Age." They describe a future in which software-driven machines will take over not just routine jobs--replacing clerks, cashiers and warehouse workers--but also tasks done by nurses, doctors, lawyers and stock traders. Mr. Bessen sets out to refute the arguments of such techno-pessimists, relying on economic analysis and on a fresh reading of history.



For the full review, see:

TAMAR JACOBY. "BOOKSHELF; Technology Isn't a Job Killer; Many predicted ATMs would eliminate bank tellers, but the number of tellers in the U.S. has risen since the machines were introduced." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Bessen, James. Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.






August 8, 2015

Authentic Happiness Requires Engagement and Meaning



(p. 278) Recent research into what happiness is and what makes people happy sheds some contemporary light on the connection Aristotle claimed between wisdom and happiness. Students of the "science of happiness" try to measure happiness, identify its components, determine its causes, and specify its consequences. This work doesn't tell us what should make people happy. It aims to tell us what does make people happy.

Ed Diener is perhaps the world's leading researcher on happiness. His recent book, written in collaboration with his son, Robert Biswas-Diener, confirms some things we might expect. The major determinants (p. 279) of happiness (or "well-being," as it is sometimes called) include material wealth (though much less than most people think, especially when their standard of living is above subsistence), physical health, freedom, political democracy, and physical, material, and psychological security. None of these determinants of happiness seems to have much to do with practical wisdom. But two other factors, each of them extremely important, do. Well-being depends critically on being part of a network of close connections to others. And well-being is enhanced when we are engaged in our work and find meaning in it.

The work of Martin Seligman, a distinguished psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, points in the same direction. Seligman launched a whole new discipline-- dubbed "positive" psychology-- in the 1990s, when he was president of the American Psychological Association. We've talked to Seligman often about his work. He had long been concerned that psychologists focused too exclusively on curing the problems of their patients (he himself was an expert on depression) and spent too little time investigating those things that would positively promote their well-being. He kick-started positive psychology with his book Authentic Happiness.

The word authentic is there to distinguish what Seligman is talking about from what many of us sometimes casually take happiness to be-- feeling good. Feeling good-- experiencing positive emotion-- is certainly important. But just as important are engagement and meaning. Engagement is about throwing yourself into the activities of your life. And meaning is about connecting what you do to the lives of others-- knowing that what you do makes the lives of others better. Authentic happiness, says Seligman, is a combination of engagement, meaning, and positive emotion. Seligman collected a massive amount of data from research on people all over the world. He found that people who considered themselves happy had certain character strengths and virtues. He further found that in each individual, some of these strengths were more prominent than others. Seligman concluded that promoting a person's particular (p. 280) strengths-- he dubbed these a person's "signature strengths"-- promoted authentic happiness.

The twenty-four character strengths Seligman identified include things like curiosity, open-mindedness, perspective, kindness and generosity, loyalty, duty, fairness, leadership, self-control, caution, humility, bravery, perseverance, honesty, gratitude, optimism, and zest. He organized these strengths into six virtues: courage, humanity and love, justice, temperance, transcendence, and wisdom and knowledge. Aristotle would have recognized many of these strengths as the kind of "excellences" or virtues he considered necessary for eudaimonia, a flourishing or happy life.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






August 7, 2015

Steven Johnson Is Advocate of Collaboration in Innovation



(p. A13) Theories of innovation and entrepreneurship have always yo-yoed between two basic ideas. First, that it's all about the single brilliant individual and his eureka moment that changes the world. Second, that it's about networks, collaboration and context. The truth, as in all such philosophical dogfights, is somewhere in between. But that does not stop the bickering. This controversy blew up in a political context during the 2012 presidential election, when President Obama used an ill-chosen set of words ("you didn't build that") to suggest that government and society had a role in creating the setting for entrepreneurs to flourish, and Republicans berated him for denigrating the rugged individualists of American enterprise.

Through a series of elegant books about the history of technological innovation, Steven Johnson has become one of the most persuasive advocates for the role of collaboration in innovation. His latest, "How We Got to Now," accompanies a PBS series on what he calls the "six innovations that made the modern world." The six are detailed in chapters titled "Glass," "Cold," "Sound," "Clean," "Time" and "Light." Mr. Johnson's method is to start with a single innovation and then hopscotch through history to illuminate its vast and often unintended consequences.



For the full review, see:

PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. "BOOKSHELF; Unintended Consequences; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 30, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 29, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'How We Got to Now' by Steven Johnson; Gutenberg's printing press sparked a revolution in lens-making, which led to eyeglasses, microscopes and, yes, the selfie." )


The book under review, is:

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.






August 4, 2015

A Critical Mass Need to Be Motivated by the Telos of a Practice



(p. 227) The fact that some people are led into a practice in pursuit of goals that are external to the practice-- money, fame, or what have you-- need pose no threat to the integrity of the practice itself. So long as those goals do not penetrate the practice at all levels, those in pursuit of external goals will eventually drop out or be left behind or change their goals or be discredited by those in pursuit of a practice's proper goals. However, if external goals do penetrate the practice at all levels, it becomes vulnerable to corruption. Practices are always developing and changing, and the direction that development takes will be determined by participants in the practice. Good practices encourage wise practitioners who in turn will care for the future of the practice.


Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.


A somewhat similar point is made in:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "How Institutional Incentives and Constraints Affect the Progress of Science." Prometheus 26, no. 3 (Sept. 2008): 231-239.






August 3, 2015

Tesla Cars Are Built on Government Subsidies



(p. A13) Nowhere in Mr. Vance's book, . . . , does the figure $7,500 appear--the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk's car. You wouldn't know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway--though Tesla's own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore "what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles," which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California "for free," via a "string of fortunate turns" that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance's book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was.

The fact is, Mr. Musk has yet to show that Tesla's stock market value (currently $32 billion) is anything but a modest fraction of the discounted value of its expected future subsidies. In 2017, he plans to introduce his Model 3, a $35,000 car for the middle class. He expects to sell hundreds of thousands a year. Somehow we doubt he intends to make it easy for politicians to whip away the $7,500 tax credit just when somebody besides the rich can benefit from it--in which case the annual gift from taxpayers will quickly mount to several billion dollars each year.

Mother Jones, in a long piece about what Mr. Musk owes the taxpayer, suggested the wunderkind could be a "bit more grateful, a bit more humble." Unmentioned was the shaky underpinning of this largess. Even today's politicized climate modeling allows the possibility that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is far less than would justify incurring major expense to change the energy infrastructure of the world (and you certainly wouldn't begin with luxury cars). Were this understanding to become widespread, the subliminal hum of government favoritism could overnight become Tesla's biggest liability.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The Savior Elon Musk; Tesla's impresario is right about one thing: Humanity's preservation is a legitimate government interest." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book discussed in the commentary is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.


The Mother Jones article discussing government subsidies for Musk's Tesla, is:

Harkinson, Josh. "Free Ride." Mother Jones 38, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 20-25.






July 31, 2015

George Bailey Wanted to Make Money, But He Wanted to Do More than Just Make Money



(p. 219) Actually, it's not so strange. The norm for bankers was never just moneymaking, any more than it was for doctors or lawyers. Bankers made a livelihood, often quite a good one, by serving their clients-- the depositors and borrowers-- and the communities in which they worked. But traditionally, the aim of banking-- even if sometimes honored only in the breach-- was service, not just moneymaking.

In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, James Stewart plays George Bailey, a small-town banker faced with a run on the bank-- a liquidity crisis. When the townspeople rush into the bank to withdraw their money, Bailey tells them, "You're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money's not here." He goes on. "Your money's in Joe's house. Right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Backlin's house, and a hundred others. Why, you're lending them the money to build, and they're going to pay you back, as best they can.... What are you going to do, foreclose on them?"

No, says George Bailey, "we've got to stick together. We've got to have faith in one another." Fail to stick together, and the community will be ruined. Bailey took all the money he could get his hands on and gave it to his depositors to help see them through the crisis. Of course, George Bailey was interested in making money, but money was not the only point of what Bailey did.

Relying on a Hollywood script to provide evidence of good bankers is at some level absurd, but it does indicate something valuable about society's expectations regarding the role of bankers. The norm for a "good banker" throughout most of the twentieth century was in fact someone who was trustworthy and who served the community, who was responsible to clients, and who took an interest in them.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 30, 2015

Institutional Improvements Can Sometimes Be Designed, Rather than Only Spontaneous



A distinguished school of libertarian and neo-Austrian economic thought argues, following F.A. Hayek, that institutional improvements only arise from spontaneous order, and never from conscious design. There is something to their argument, but the designs of Alvin Roth provide counter-examples.


(p. A13) Mr. Roth's work has been to discover the most efficient and equitable methods of matching and implement them in the world. He writes with verve and style, describing many market malfunctions--from aboriginal tribes in Australia arranging marriages for children not yet born to judges bending every rule in the book to hire law clerks years before they have graduated from law school--and how we ought to think about them.

Mr. Roth's approach contrasts with standard debates over free markets versus government regulation. We want markets to be thick, quick, timely and trustworthy, but without careful design markets can become thin, slow, ill-timed and dangerous for the honest. The solution to these problems is unlikely to be regulation legislated from on high. Instead what Mr. Roth practices is nuanced market design created mostly by market participants. Mr. Roth found, for example, that even though the problems in the market for gastroenterologists and law clerks looked the same (hiring started years before schooling ended), the solutions had to be subtly different because of differences in culture, history and norms.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; The Designer of Markets; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Matchmaker, Make Me a Market; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first.")


The book under review is:

Roth, Alvin E. Who Gets What -- and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2015.






July 27, 2015

To Maintain Enrollments Professors Are Often Pressured to Inflate Grades



(p. 198) Dedicated college professors demand that students do the difficult reading and writing necessary to become skillful in understanding the complexities of the world. But the university distributes resources like research funds and new faculty positions based in part on how many students populate classes and how positively students evaluate courses. How much do you simplify to keep up enrollment and keep resources flowing into your department?


Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 26, 2015

"Nimble" Account of the Creative Destruction of the Music Industry



(p. C1) Stephen Witt's nimble new book, "How Music Got Free," is the richest explanation to date about how the arrival of the MP3 upended almost everything about how music is distributed, consumed and stored. It's a story you may think you know, but Mr. Witt brings fresh reporting to bear, and complicates things in terrific ways.

He pushes past Napster (Sean Fanning, dorm room, lawsuits) and goes deep on the German audio engineers who, drawing on decades of research into how the ear works, spent years developing the MP3 only to almost see it nearly become the Betamax to another group's VHS.


. . .


(p. C6) Even better, he has found the man -- a manager at a CD factory in small-town North Carolina -- who over eight years leaked nearly 2,000 albums before their release, including some of the best-known rap albums of all time. He smuggled most of them out behind an oversized belt buckle before ripping them and putting them online.

Mr. Witt refers to this winsome if somewhat hapless manager, Dell Glover, as "the most fearsome digital pirate of them all."


. . .


Into these two narratives Mr. Witt inserts a third, the story of Doug Morris, who ran the Universal Music Group from 1995 to 2011. At some points you wonder if Mr. Morris has been introduced just so the author can have sick fun with him.

The German inventors and Mr. Glover operate as if they unwittingly have voodoo dolls of this man. Every time they make an advance, and prick the music industry, there's a jump to Mr. Morris for a reaction shot, screaming in his corner office.


. . .


Mr. Witt covers a lot of terrain in "How Music Got Free" without ever becoming bogged down in one place for long. He is knowledgeable about intellectual property issues. In finding his reporting threads, he doesn't miss the big picture: He gives us a loge seat to the entire digital music revolution.

He is especially good on the arrival of iTunes and the iPod.



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; That Download Has a Back Story." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'How Music Got Free,' Stephen Witt Details an Industry Sea Change.")


The book under review is:

Witt, Stephen. How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy. New York: Viking, 2015.






July 23, 2015

Some Learn in Order to Gain Competence, Others Learn to Gain Direct Rewards



(p. 184) Think about two different tennis pros giving you tennis lessons. The first pro says things like "good shot" and "good swing" all the time, to encourage you. The second one says "good swing" only when you make a good swing. If hearing "good swing" gives you a hedonic charge, then you will prefer the first instructor to the second (more gold stars, more encouragement). But if what gives you the charge is getting better at tennis, you will prefer the second instructor to the first. That's because the second instructor's feedback to you is much more informative than the first one's. You're not after "good swing" gold stars; you're after a better tennis game. So feedback is essential to the development of a complex skill-- whether it be empathy or a strong forehand. But he-(p. 185)donic feedback, in the form of incentives, is not. It may even be counterproductive, as in the case of instructor number one.

In schools, tests provide an extremely important source of feedback-- of information-- to the teacher and the student-- about how things are going. Tests, or something like them, often offer the best way to diagnose problems and correct them. So tests as a source of information are good and important. The problem is that in addition to providing information, tests provide outcomes that students, and their parents, and their teachers, want and like-- outcomes like approval, prizes, awards, honors, special privileges, and school ratings. The hedonic character of these outcomes is what gets students and teachers to orient their work to passing the tests, and to regard what they do in the classroom as merely instrumental, as merely a means to various rewarding ends.

There are important differences between children oriented to getting A's and children oriented to learning from their mistakes. Psychologist Carol Dweck and her associates have spent thirty years studying the incentive systems that govern the learning of children throughout the educational process. They have uncovered two fundamentally different approaches to learning in kids that can often lead to profound differences in how well kids learn. One group of kids has what Dweck has called performance goals; the other group has what she has called mastery goals. Children with performance goals are primarily interested in gaining favorable judgments of their competence. They want to do well on tests. They want social approval. They want awards. Children with mastery goals are primarily interested in increasing their competence rather than in demonstrating it. They want to encounter things that they can't do and to learn from their failures. As Dweck puts it, performance-oriented children want to prove their ability, while mastery-oriented children want to improve their ability. Children with performance goals avoid challenges. They prefer tasks that are well within the range of their ability. Children with mastery goals seek challenges. They prefer tasks that strain the limits of their ability. Children with performance goals respond to failure by giving up. Children (p. 186) with mastery goals respond to failure by working harder. Children with performance goals take failure as a sign of their inadequacy and come to view the tasks at which they fail with a mixture of anxiety, boredom, and anger. Children with mastery goals take failure as a sign that their efforts, and not they, are inadequate, and they often come to view the tasks at which they fail with the kind of relish that comes when you encounter a worthy challenge.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.

(Note: italics in original.)