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August 27, 2016

"To Understand Zoning, You Have to Have a Law Degree"



(p. 27) Not all buildings are worth keeping. In Midtown East, many nonconforming structures have low ceilings and columns that make them unappealing to new businesses. Some developers have gone so far as to demolish all but the bottom quarter of their buildings, and then build up from there, allowing them to retain the old zoning for their plots so as not to sacrifice a single square foot. The city is currently reconsidering a proposal that would allow these buildings to be rebuilt to their original size and possibly even larger.

It does not have to be this complicated. In honor of the code's 100th anniversary, the Municipal Art Society of New York has called on City Hall to consider overhauling the code in a way that would make it intelligible to all.

"To understand zoning, you have to have a law degree, it's so convoluted and so dense," Mike Ernst, director of planning at the civic group, said. "The whole process of how buildings get built these days is so confusing and opaque to people. There really should be more transparency, so people can have an understanding of what the future holds for their city."



For the full story, see:

"Reviled, Revered, and Still Challenging Russia to Evolve." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 22, 2016): 27.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2016, and has the title "40 Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not Be Built Today." It is substantially longer than the print version and includes three authors, while no authors were listed for the print version. The authors listed for the online version were: QUOCTRUNG BUI, MATT A.V. CHABAN and JEREMY WHITE.)






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 19, 2016

"Draconian" Regulations Reduce Consumer Choice



(p. B1) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency set up after the last financial crisis, is poised to adopt strict new national rules that will curtail payday lending.


. . .


(p. B6) A sweeping study of bans on payday lending, scheduled to be published soon in The Journal of Law and Economics, found similar patterns in other states. When short-term loans disappear, the need that drives demand for them does not; many customers simply shift to other expensive forms of credit like pawn shops, or pay late fees on overdue bills, the study's authors concluded.

Mr. Munn, who works as a site geologist on oil wells, first borrowed from Advance America eight months ago when his car broke down. He had some money saved, but he needed a few hundred more to pay the $1,200 repair bill. Then his employer, reacting to falling oil prices, cut wages 30 percent. Mr. Munn became a regular at the loan shop.

He likes the store's neighborhood vibe and friendly staff, and he views payday loans as a way to avoid debt traps he considers more insidious.

"I don't like credit cards," said Mr. Munn, who is wary of the high balances that they make it too easy to run up. "I could borrow from my I.R.A., but the penalties are huge."

At Advance America, he said, "I come in here, pay back what I've taken, and get a little bit more for rent and bills. I keep the funds to an extent that I can pay back with the next check. I don't want to get into more trouble or debt."


. . .


The rules would radically reshape, and in some places eliminate, payday borrowing in the 36 states where lenders still operate, according to Richard P. Hackett, a former assistant director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


. . .


"It's a draconian scenario," said Jamie Fulmer, an Advance America spokesman.



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "To Curb Abuse, Loan Rules May Cut a Lifeline." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 23, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title "Payday Loan Limits May Cut Abuse but Leave Some Borrowers Looking.")






August 14, 2016

How to Avoid Bureaucratic Time-Wasting Lines



(p. 9) London -- ITALIAN bureaucracy is legendary for a reason. Italians spend so much of their lives waiting in line -- an estimated 400 hours a year per person -- that some are now willing to pay freelancers to wait on their behalf. The rich can pay a "codista," a neologism for a trained line sitter, to maunder at the post office or bank while they get on with something more important.


. . .


Brazil has its "despachantes," meaning dispatchers. Venezuela has its "coleros," which, oddly, can translate to "top hats"; and Spain its "gestores" or agents. Meanwhile, in South Africa there is a company called Q4U that takes care specifically of the irksome business of applying for a British passport.

In New York City, the cash-rich and time-poor use the service Same Ole Line Dudes, which describes itself as "New York's only professional line sitting team." The Dudes will charge you $25 for the first hour, plus $10 for each additional 30 minutes, to put in the necessary time to obtain coveted concert tickets or rare new sneakers. Their slogan is, "We wait for your wants." I am told that they will even wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles for you.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM HODGKINSON. "How to Get Paid to Do Nothing." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 10, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 9, 2016.)






August 4, 2016

Based on Cost and Fairness, 76.9% of Swiss Voters Say "No" to Taxpayer-Paid Minimum Income for All



(p. C6) ZURICH--Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a controversial initiative that would have guaranteed all Swiss residents a minimum income on which to live.

The Basic Income Initiative received just 23.1% of the vote in Sunday's referendum, compared with 76.9% against. . . .

Rather, the significance of Sunday's vote--which the plan's backers ensured by collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures--was that it gave a high-profile airing to an idea that has gained traction among economists in Europe and the U.S. in recent years.

Though the monthly amount wasn't spelled out, it was expected to have been around 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,560) per adult, with a smaller subsidy for children, without regard to employment, education, disability, age or even wealth.


. . .


Opponents, . . . , latched on to two critiques: cost and fairness.



For the full story, see:

BRIAN BLACKSTONE. "Switzerland Votes to Reject Basic Income Initiative." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 6, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2016.)






August 3, 2016

Obama and Koch Brothers Agree Occupational Licensing Restricts Opportunity



GranatelliGraceCanineMassageTherapist2016-07-11.jpg"Grace Granatelli, a certified canine massage therapist. In 2013, Arizona's Veterinary Medical Examining Board demanded that she close up shop for medically treating animals without a veterinary degree." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- "I usually start behind the neck," Grace Granatelli said from her plump brown sofa. "There's two pressure points back behind the ears that help relax them a little bit." In her lap, she held the head of Sketch, her mixed beagle rat terrier, as her fingers traced small circles through his fur.

Ms. Granatelli, whose passion for dogs can be glimpsed in the oil portrait of her deceased pets and the bronzed casts of their paws, started an animal massage business during the recession after taking several courses and workshops. Her primary form of advertising was her car, with its "K9 RUBS" license plate and her website, Pawsitive Touch, stenciled onto her rear window.

But in 2013, Arizona's Veterinary Medical Examining Board sent her a cease-and-desist order, demanding that she close up shop for medically treating animals without a veterinary degree. If not, the board warned, every Swedish doggy massage she completed could cost her a $1,000 fine.

To comply with the ruling and obtain a license, Ms. Granatelli would have to spend about $250,000 over four years at an accredited veterinary school. None require courses in massage technique; many don't even offer one.


. . .


(p. B5) The Obama administration and the conservative political network financed by the Koch brothers don't agree on much, but the belief that the zeal among states for licensing all sorts of occupations has spiraled out of control is one of them. In recent months, they have collaborated with an array of like-minded organizations and political leaders in a bid to roll back licensing rules.


. . .


. . . the current mishmash of requirements is too often "inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary," a White House report concluded last year. Many of them, the report said, have little purpose other than to protect those already in the field from further competition.


. . .


Only rarely are licensing requirements removed. Last month, though, Arizona agreed to curb them for yoga teachers, geologists, citrus fruit packers and cremationists.

But dozens more professions escaped the ax. "Arizona is perceived as a low-regulatory state, but this was the most difficult bill we worked on this session," said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Republican governor, Douglas Ducey.

Licensing boards are generally dominated by members of the regulated profession. And in Arizona, more than two dozen of the boards are allowed to keep 90 percent of their fees, turning over a mere 10 percent of the revenue to the state.

"They use that money to hire contract lobbyists and P.R. people," Mr. Scarpinato said. "This is really a dark corner of state government."

They are often joined in their campaign by lobbyists from industry trade associations and for-profit colleges, which sell the required training courses.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Horse Rub? Where's Your License?" The New York Times (Sat., JUNE 18, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 17, 2016, and has the title "Moving to Arizona Soon? You Might Need a License.")


The White House report mentioned above, is:

The White House. "Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policy Makers." July 2015.






July 30, 2016

King Henry I Might "Have Liked Being Buried Under a Car Park"



(p. A4) LONDON -- Looking for a dead medieval king? You might want to check under a parking lot.

That theory, at least, is on the minds of archaeologists and historians in Reading, about 40 miles west of London, who this week will begin searching for the high altar of the abbey founded by King Henry I. They believe that the altar -- and, they hope, the king's remains -- could be under the parking lot of a local prison, near the abbey ruins. The area around a nearby nursery school will also be searched.

Nearly four years ago, archaeologists discovered King Richard III's grave under a parking lot in Leicester, about 100 miles northwest of London, on the site of a former monastery.


. . .


John Mullaney, a historian who is part of the team undertaking the search, said that archaeologists knew "within a few yards" where Henry was probably buried. He said the team would use ground-penetrating radar to search the area around the prison, and around a nearby nursery school.


. . .


As to whether a former monarch would roll in his grave at the prospect of spending eternity under a parking lot, Mr. Mullaney was philosophical.

"I'm afraid that England is a nation of car drivers," he said. "We are a small country and most people travel by cars, so we need lots of car parks. Henry was a reforming king and would have been fascinated by the idea of cars and transport, and may well have liked being buried under a car park."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "The Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 14, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 13, 2016, and has the title "Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot.")






How Many Government Staff Members Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb in King Tut's Display Case?



(p. A7) The intense attention paid by experts to Tutankhamen's tomb has not always been matched by staff members at the run-down Egyptian Museum. In January the government said eight people at the state-run museum were being disciplined for their role in a botched repair job that caused minor but lasting damage to King Tut's golden burial mask.

The repair job was an attempt to correct the damage caused by workers who had accidentally knocked the beard from the 3,300-year-old artifact in August 2014 as they repaired a light fixture in its display case.



For the full story, see:

DECLAN WALSH. "King Tut's Blade, and 'Iron From the Sky'." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 3, 2016): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 2, 2016, and has the title "King Tut's Dagger Made of 'Iron From the Sky,' Researchers Say.")






July 29, 2016

"We Can Fight Back When Our Lives Depend on It"



(p. A23) San Jose, Calif. -- I'LL never forget the first piece of safety advice I got when I began my transition from the male body in which I was born to the female body I now occupy: Carry a whistle. If I was attacked, I was supposed to blow it in hopes it would alert some do-gooder to dash into a dark alley to break up a brutal hate crime.

The idea was not only preposterous, it was also insulting. The implication was that I, being transgender, wouldn't be able to save myself. But I didn't need a whistle; I had a gun.

Since the attack in Orlando, Fla., many L.G.B.T. groups have been calling loudly for laws restricting gun ownership. But if anyone should be concerned about protecting the individual right to bear arms, it's L.G.B.T. people. We need to stop preaching nonviolence and voting for politicians who don't protect us.

Violence toward L.G.B.T. people is real. We are victimized at far greater rates than other minority groups. We often face multiple assailants. The attacks are frenzied and quickly escalate from harassment, to fists, to something altogether different. People die.

If you find yourself in a violent encounter, you're lucky if you get three seconds to react. If you want to save yourself, you have to go on the offensive. And a whistle isn't going to cut it.


. . .


But every day, Americans use guns to defend themselves, and they don't even have to pull the trigger. The mere appearance of a firearm can save their life. Just last week, Tom G. Palmer, now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote in an op-ed article in The New York Daily News about an episode in his 20s when he flashed his pistol at a group of men who were threatening to kill him because he was gay -- and they retreated.

This is a call to L.G.B.T. people to take their own defense seriously, and to question the left-leaning institutions that tell them guns are bad, and should be left to the professionals. Become a professional. You're allowed. That's what the Second Amendment is for. We can fight back when our lives depend on it.



For the full commentary, see:


NICKI STALLARD. "The L.G.B.T. Case for Guns." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 22, 2016): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 27, 2016

World Health Organization Praises Coffee, Reversing 1991 Warning



(p. A9) An influential panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded on Wednesday [JUNE 15, 2016] that regularly drinking coffee could protect against at least two types of cancer, a decision that followed decades of research pointing to the beverage's many health benefits. The panel also said there was a lack of evidence that it might cause other types of cancer.

The announcement marked a rare reversal for the panel, which had previously described coffee as "possibly carcinogenic" in 1991 and linked it to bladder cancer. But since then a large body of research has portrayed coffee as a surprising elixir, finding lower rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and several cancers in those who drink it regularly.



For the full story, see:

ANAHAD O'CONNOR. "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes, in Reversal of a 1991 Study." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 16, 2016): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 15, 2016, and has the title "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes.")






July 26, 2016

Government Land Use Regulations Increase Income Inequality



(p. A1) . . . a growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy.

It has even to some extent changed how Americans of different incomes view opportunity. Unlike past decades, when people of different socioeconomic backgrounds tended to move to similar areas, today, less-skilled workers often go where jobs are scarcer but housing is cheap, instead of heading to places with the most promising job opportunities, according to research by Daniel Shoag, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and Peter Ganong, (p. B2 [sic]) also of Harvard.


. . .


"To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.

And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like "maintaining neighborhood character" or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.

The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.

"You don't want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don't," said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "When Cities Spurn Growth, Equality Suffers." The New York Times (Mon., July 4, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2016, and has the title "How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality.")


The paper mentioned above by Ganong and Shoag, is:

Ganong, Peter, and Daniel Shoag. "Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?" Working Paper, Jan. 2015.


The paper mentioned above by Hsieh and Moretti, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper # 21154, May 2015.






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 29, 2016

Perfect Reliability Is Not Worth the Cost



(p. B4) Say what you will about Plain Old Telephone Service, but it worked. The functionality of POTS, as it was known, was limited to making calls, and they were expensive. But many traditional phone companies offered 99.999% reliability, which allowed for about five minutes of downtime a year.

Today's networks are far less expensive, infinitely more capable and nowhere near as reliable as the wired-to-the-wall phone, . . .


. . .


To some extent, contemporary networks suffer from inattention. The old phone system worked so well because regulators in certain countries like the U.S. said it had to, and enough money was set aside to fund an army of technicians and engineers to oversee it. That generally isn't the case with modern, digital networks and IT infrastructure, and companies often neglect this nuts-and-bolts technology.


. . .


Underneath it all, the economics of falling prices carry a trade-off. Consumers get more for their money in the mobile, digital era, but that often leaves margin-stretched companies with fewer resources to invest in robustness and maintenance. Reliability is as much a function of business and risk management as it is about tech.

"I don't know if people are sweating that detail as much as they used to," said Mr. Bayer, previously CIO of the Securities and Exchange Commission.


. . .


Former NYSE Euronext Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Leibowitz told the Journal in 2013 the public shouldn't expect market technology to function perfectly, a goal that would be too expensive to implement even if it were technically feasible.



For the full story, see:

STEVE ROSENBUSH and STEVEN NORTON. "Network Reliability, a Relic of Business?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 10, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 9, 2015 and has the title "What We Learned From the NYSE, United Airlines Tech Outages.")






June 27, 2016

Utilities Shifting Back to Fossil Fuels to Reduce Electricity Prices



(p. B1) KEADBY, England -- A wind farm here, along the River Trent, cranks out enough clean electricity to power as many as 57,000 homes. Monitored remotely, the windmills, 34 turbines each about 400 feet high, require little attention or maintenance and are expected to produce electricity for decades to come.

"They're very well behaved," said Sam Cunningham, the wind farm's manager, as she drove around the almost three-square-mile site.

The owner of the wind farm, the British electricity company SSE, has been betting big on turbines as well as other renewables for years, with multibillion-dollar investments that have made the utility the country's leading provider of clean power. In theory, last year's United Nations climate accord in Paris should have been a global validation of the company's business strategy.

But instead of doubling down, the utility is rethinking its energy mix, reconsidering plans for large wind farms and even restarting a mothballed power plant that runs on fossil fuel.

The moves reflect the existential debate faced by many major power companies, as they grapple with real-world energy economics and shifts in government policy. The calculus for fossil fuels can be more favorable at a time when energy prices are low and countries like Britain are rethinking subsidies on renewables to keep electricity prices down."



For the full story, see:

STANLEY REED. "Clean Power Muddied by Cheap Fuel." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016 and has the title "In Britain, a Green Utility Company Sees Winds of Change.")






June 20, 2016

Taxpayer Funded Stadiums Fail to Bring Promised Economic Development



(p. C14) The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been an epicenter of the U.S. stadium-and-arena boom, rolling out five major sports facilities since 1990 that together cost more than $2 billion.

Now, the neighboring cities are readying for a sixth: a 20,000-seat, $150 million Major League Soccer stadium to be built by 2018 in St. Paul about halfway between the two downtowns.


. . .


But taken with the other facilities that have a combined seat count of nearly 200,000, this latest project illustrates how the Twin Cities are an acute example of the rapid increase in stadiums and arenas in U.S. cities. These developments come despite a growing chorus of warnings from economists who say the stadiums are almost always poor drivers of economic development. Even when these facilities do spur nearby investment, economists and critics say the cost to the public is typically far higher than with traditional economic-development programs.


"I've lived in the Twin Cities since 1976, and have seen this proliferation of new sports stadia," said Jane Prince, a St. Paul city council member who voted against the soccer stadium aid package. "I just don't see the promised economic development occurring in conjunction with all of these."


. . .


"There's not one group that makes these decisions--it was two city governments, it was a legislature, it was sports owners," said R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2014. Mr. Rybak said he had long been critical of sports subsidies but he grudgingly helped craft the aid package for the Vikings stadium after the team was poised to move elsewhere.

That deal, and the others, he said, were "also driven by the increasingly crazy politics of sports economics," in which teams want their own facilities, custom designed for their ideal crowd sizes.



For the full story, see:

ELIOT BROWN. "Twin Cities to Get Yet Another Stadium." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 23, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2016, and has the title "In Twin Cities, How Many Stadiums Are Enough?")






June 16, 2016

Government Elephant Ivory Bans Endanger Rare Helmeted Hornbills




Another unintended consequence of well-intentioned government policy.



(p. A3) BEIJING -- Even as China, the world's leading market for illegal ivory, promises to help safeguard elephants in Africa, a rare bird in Southeast Asia is in danger because its skull is being sold in China as an ivory alternative, conservationists say.


. . .


More than 2,000 helmeted hornbill skulls, or casques, were seized by the authorities in Indonesia and China in the past five years, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental organization based in London. In some cases, Chinese citizens were caught trying to leave Indonesia with casques in their luggage.


. . .


China has joined the world in taking a stand against the trade in elephant and rhinoceros products. In September, during his state visit to the United States, President Xi Jinping pledged to "enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export."

But some conservationists worry that less celebrated but also threatened animals, including the helmeted hornbill, are being overlooked, becoming easy picks to meet the demand.

"Shifting to hornbill ivory is like grabbing a low-hanging fruit," Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, the director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, wrote in an email.



For the full story, see:

SHAOJIE HUANG. "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Hornbill Bird." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Bird.")






June 14, 2016

Suburbs Solved City Over-Crowding and Allowed Child Rearing



(p. C7) . . . , Adna Ferrin Weber, writing in 1899, had it right. "The 'rise of the suburbs' it is," he wrote, "which furnishes the solid basis of a hope that the evils of city life, so far as they result from overcrowding, may be in large part removed."


. . .

Joel Kotkin, in "The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us," presents the most cogent, evidence-based and clear-headed exposition of the pro-suburban argument. In Mr. Kotkin's view, there is a war against suburbia, an unjust war launched by intellectuals, environmentalists and central-city enthusiasts. In pithy, readable sections, each addressing a single issue, he debunks one attack on the suburbs after another. But he does more than that. He weaves an impressive array of original observations about cities into his arguments, enriching our understanding of what cities are about and what they can and must become, with sections reflecting on such topics as "housing inflation," "the rise of the home-based economy," "the organic expansion of cities" and "forces undermining the middle class in global cities."

The essence of Mr. Kotkin's defense of suburban expansion in the United States--with which he is most familiar and where the opposition to his views is better organized and much more formidable than elsewhere--is that suburbs now contain the great majority of residences as well as jobs. Suburban neighborhoods, he suggests, are as conducive to community living and as "green" as central-city ones. But his critique of conventional urban-planning wisdom goes further. He argues that central-city living is largely unaffordable by the middle class, let alone the poor; that central cities are becoming the abodes of the global rich, encouraging glamorous consumption rather than providing middle-class jobs; and that dense urban living in small, expensive quarters discourages child rearing, a critical concern for policy makers in many industrialized countries today.



For the full review, see:

SHLOMO ANGEL. "In Praise of Urban Sprawl; Dense urban living discourages child rearing. It is no surprise that there are 80,000 more dogs than children in San Francisco." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Kotkin, Joel. The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. Chicago: Agate B2 Books, 2016.






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 9, 2016

Feds Spend Over $500 Million to Aid Barge Shipping of Coal



(p. B1) CHARLEROI, Pa.--A few years ago, coal barges lined up 20 or 30 deep, waiting their turn for a towboat to shuttle them through the locks near this town along the Monongahela River.

These days it is the towboats that often sit idle. Cheap natural gas, stricter power-plant-emissions rules and a weak steel market have gutted coal demand, and with it traffic on the rivers that have served as the industry's commercial arteries for over a century.

Nevertheless, river infrastructure is about to be flooded with federal cash. In December, Congress authorized $405 million to improve river locks and dams over the next fiscal year, the most since 2008.

The money follows a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort spearheaded by the Waterways Council Inc., which represents an array of companies including coal producer Murray Energy Corp., utility FirstEnergy Corp., agricultural-commodities trader Cargill Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp.


. . .


"It's kind of ironic--we're spending even more to update and modernize this system when the value and volume of the commodities is diminishing, and coal is something that we as a country are moving away from," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a conservative-leaning advocacy group that analyzes infrastructure spending.



For the full story, see:

ROBBIE WHELAN. "Barges Get a Boost, Even as Demand Sinks." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2016, and has the title "U.S. Opens Spigot for Lock-and-Dam Fixes, Even as Coal Traffic Dwindles.")






June 8, 2016

A Rooftop Farm Is "a Foolish Endeavor" Due to High Costs and Government Regulations



(p. B1) BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is "a foolish endeavor" because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms.



For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. "Farming Startups Have Tough Row to Hoe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 14, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2016, and has the title "Farming Gets High Tech in Bid to Offer Locally Grown Produce.")






May 30, 2016

Contrary to Earlier White House Denials, Obama Admits to Banishing Bust of Winston Churchill



(p. A7) HANOVER, Germany -- It has been, perhaps, one of the most enduring mysteries of President Obama's tenure: What really happened to the bust of Winston Churchill that was once displayed in the Oval Office?


. . .


The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, the onetime Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a current Republican presidential candidate, are among those who have chastised Mr. Obama over the years for returning the bust to the British.


. . .


Dan Pfeiffer, the president's communications director at the time, blasted Mr. Krauthammer, calling his charge about the disappearing bust "100 percent false" and saying that "news outlets have debunked this claim time and again."


. . .


But late last week, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, renewed the charge, writing in a British tabloid that the Oval Office bust had been "banished" . . .

Countering such charges is typically left to a president's aides. But asked at a news conference Friday about the mayor's comments, Mr. Obama seemed to relish the chance to set everyone straight, once and for all, about the fate of the Churchill bust.


. . .


. . . Mr. Obama went on to explain what had happened to the bust lent by Mr. Blair, the one that critics had accused him of summarily sending back to the British. It was, Mr. Obama said, his decision to return that Churchill to his native land, because he wanted to replace it with a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


. . .


That appears to contradict the longstanding denials by White House officials, including Mr. Pfeiffer, that neither Mr. Obama nor anyone else in his administration had chosen to dispatch Churchill's likeness in favor of someone else's. By Mr. Obama's admission, he made the decision to replace the Churchill bust with one of Dr. King.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL D. SHEAR. "White House Letter; No Need for Holmes; Obama Sheds Light on a Churchill Mystery." The New York Times (Mon., April 25, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2016, and has the title "White House Letter; No Need for Holmes; Obama Sheds Light on a Winston Churchill Mystery.")






May 28, 2016

Feds Encourage Costly, Intrusive, Confusing Title IX Bureaucracies



(p. A1) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In a brightly lit classroom here at Harvard, Mia Karvonides was trying to explain to a group of bemused student leaders the difference between a romantic encounter and "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," as the university's relatively new code of sexual misconduct defines it.

She tried to leaven the legalistic atmosphere at the town-hall-style meeting with realistic-sounding examples, defying gender stereotypes. Jose and Lisa, chemistry students, are working late at night in the lab, she began, when Lisa comes up from behind and kisses Jose on the neck.

Such a surprise move, she suggested, could be the beginning of a sexual misconduct complaint.


. . .


Ms. Karvonides is Harvard's first Title IX officer, leading a new bureaucracy that oversees how the institution responds to complaints of sexual violence under Title IX, the federal law that governs gender equity in education. She is one of a rapidly growing number of Title IX employees on campuses nationwide, as colleges spend millions to hire law-(p. A3)yers, investigators, case workers, survivor advocates, peer counselors, workshop leaders and other officials to deal with increasing numbers of these complaints.


. . .


The expansion of Title IX bureaucracies -- often at great expense -- is driven in part by pressure from the federal government, which recently put out a series of policy directives on sexual misconduct on campus. More than 200 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for the way they have handled complaints of sexual misconduct, up from 55 two years ago.


. . .


. . . in a report last week, a national association of professors said that the Title IX bureaucracy had started to infringe on academic freedom, by beginning investigations into faculty members' lectures and essays.


. . .


At a minimum, federal rules require colleges to designate one Title IX coordinator, at least part time.

Many colleges have gone far beyond that, at a cost ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.


. . .


At the University of California, Berkeley, officials said, Title IX spending has risen by at least $2 million since 2013, though they declined to give the total.

"Certainly, colleges are spending more related to Title IX than ever in history, both preventatively and responsively," Mr. Sokolow said. He estimated that dealing with an inquiry could cost "six figures," and that responding to a lawsuit "can run into the high six or even seven figures, not counting a settlement or verdict."


. . .


Some campuses have adopted "affirmative consent" rules, in effect a written or unwritten contract, requiring a yes before the first kiss and at every step along the way. Harvard has opted instead for what Ms. Karvonides called a more nuanced standard of "unwelcome conduct."

This has led to criticism by some that the policy is not strong enough, and by others that it could punish behavior as mild as flirting.

"This is ubiquitously on the mind of everyone at Harvard," said Daniel Banks, the undergraduate council vice president, who helped organize the recent town-hall-style meeting on the subject. Many students have concluded that the best solution is not so much compliance as avoidance.

"You either don't date at all," said Daniel Levine, another student leader, "or you're like a married couple."



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "In Battling Sexual Misconduct, Colleges Build a Bureaucracy." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 30, 2016): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 29, 2016, and has the title "Colleges Spending Millions to Deal With Sexual Misconduct Complaints.")


The AAUP report expressing concerns about how Title IX bureaucracies violate academic freedom and due process, is:

American Association of University Professors (AAUP). "The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX." Draft Report, March 24, 2016.






May 26, 2016

Tesla Direct Sales Thwarted by Laws that Protect Dealers Instead of Consumers



(p. B3) Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it plans to unveil this week at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.

The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker's direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.

The auto maker's legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director's license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.

For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.

"It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper," Todd Maron, the auto maker's chief counsel, said in an interview. "Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table."


. . .


"There is no legitimate competitive interest in having consumers purchase cars through an independent dealership," Greg Reed, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning law firm, said. He calls Michigan's laws "anti-competitive protectionism."



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY. "Tesla Weighs Legal Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 29, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 28, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Weighs New Challenge to State Direct-Sales Bans.")






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 24, 2016

Trump Threatens Antitrust Action Against Innovative Amazon Entrepreneur Bezos



(p. A11) Donald Trump, an innovator in all things, is now in the process of changing the rules in America with his threat to bring legal action against Amazon on antitrust grounds and, if we hear him correctly, on tax grounds as well.

Mr. Trump couldn't have been clearer about his motivation. He complained about Washington Post reporters calling up and "asking ridiculous questions," "all false stuff," apparently related to Mr. Trump's tax returns, which in defiance of all tradition he has refused to release, as well as Mr. Trump's real-estate dealings.

Mr. Trump says the Post was purchased as "a toy" by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper with his personal funds in 2013). Mr. Trump says the paper now is being used to attack Mr. Trump in order to protect Amazon's alleged tax-dodging practices even though Amazon, after long resistance, has begun in recent years to collect state sales tax.

All this seems to arise because the Post, the dominant newspaper in the nation's capital, has assigned reporters to investigate the business career of the candidate who champions his credibility to be president by referring to his business career.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Donald Trump's Amazon Adventure; Does he really want to be president--or is his attack on entrepreneur Jeff Bezos a cry for help?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 14, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 13, 2016.)







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 12, 2016

Some Entrepreneurs Support Big Government, Except When They Are the Ones Regulated



(p. A11) In October [2015], author Steven Hill will publish a book called "Raw Deal: How the 'Uber Economy' and Naked Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers." At the political conventions next summer, which party's attendees will be most likely to have read that book?

The ironies run deep. The Uber driver who ferried Jeb Bush around San Francisco said the former Florida governor was a nice chap but added that he still planned to vote for Mrs. Clinton--the candidate who regards the innovations that has led to the creation of his job as a problem that government needs to solve.

But is Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick any different? Even as he struggles with regulators taking aim at his business model, Mr. Kalanick has spoken up in favor of ObamaCare. During a visit to New York last November, he enthused that ObamaCare was "huge" for companies like his, on the grounds that the individual market has democratized benefits such as health care.

That's true insofar as it means he doesn't have to provide it for his drivers. But the reality is that ObamaCare is to health what taxi commissions are to transportation. And if Uber's co-founder can't see the difference, maybe he deserves the Bill de Blasios and Hillary Clintons coming after him.



For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM MCGURN. "MAIN STREET; Uber Crashes the Democratic Party; The ride-share app is bringing out the inner Elizabeth Warren." The New York Times (Tues., July 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 20, 2015.)






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 6, 2016

Indian Government Scientists Fight Global Warming by Reducing Cow Belches



(p. A10) Let no one say that India isn't doing its bit to fight global climate change: Government scientists are working hard to reduce carbon emissions by making cows less flatulent.

Consider the numbers: India is home to more than 280 million cows, and 200 million more ruminant animals like sheep, goats, yaks and buffalo. According to an analysis of satellite data from the country's space program, all those digestive tracts send 13 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year -- and pound for pound, methane traps 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide does.


. . .


Scientists at the Cow Research Institute in Mathura, around 100 miles south of New Delhi, are tinkering with cattle feed, seeking a formula that will create less gas for the cows to belch out. (That is how most of it is released, by the way; scientists say much less comes from farting.)

But a team of researchers in the southern state of Kerala is working on a long-term answer.


. . .


. . . dwarf animals, which are about one-quarter the weight of crossbred cows, produce only one-seventh as much manure and one-tenth as much methane.



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "What in the World; Cows: India's Reply to Global Warming." The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 5, 2016): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 3, 2016, and has the title "What in the World; India's Answer to Global Warming; Cows That Belch Less.")






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 28, 2016

How Health Insurance Slows Medical Innovation



(p. A8) A recent study led by Wendell Evans at the University of Sydney supports growing evidence that early tooth decay, before a cavity forms, can often be arrested and reversed with simple treatments that restore minerals in the teeth, rather than the more typical drill-and-fill approach.

The randomized, controlled trial followed 19 dental practices in Australia for three years, then researchers checked up on the patients again four years later. The result: After seven years, patients receiving remineralization treatment needed on average 30% fewer fillings.


. . .


There is a substantial body of research supporting remineralization as a treatment for early tooth decay, and little opposition in the dental profession, says Margherita Fontana, a professor of cariology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Tradition, however, has been an obstacle to widespread use of the treatment. "For older generations [of dentists], it just feels wrong to leave decay and not remove it," Dr. Fontana says. "That's how they were trained."

Reimbursement is another obstacle. Insurance typically covers application of fluoride varnish in children, but not adults. The cost ranges from $25 to $55, according to the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute. Other preventive treatments also generally aren't covered.



For the full story, see:

DANA WECHSLER LINDEN. "Simple Dental Treatments Can Help Reverse Decay." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 12, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2016, and has the title "Simple Dental Treatments May Reverse Decay.")






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 26, 2016

Feds' Regulatory Delay Supports High-Fare Trans-Atlantic Airline Oligopoly



(p. B1) In the past three years, Norwegian, one of Europe's biggest low-cost airlines, has quietly established a beachhead in the trans-Atlantic market by offering low-fare, no-frills service on long-haul flights.

Thanks to a small but expanding fleet of fuel-efficient planes combined with deeply discounted ticket prices, Norwegian Air Shuttle has attracted a growing number of leisure travelers looking for cheap flights.

It is all part of the vision of Norwegian's outspoken chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, who is determined to force the same kind of low-fare competition on international routes that has been so successful in domestic markets for airlines like Southwest and Spirit, and Ryanair in Europe.


. . .


But Norwegian's expansion has been stymied by vigorous opposition. Legacy airlines on both sides of the Atlantic see a low-cost competitor on their cash-cow routes as a major threat to their long-term profitability. Labor unions object to Norwegian's plans to hire flight crew from Thailand, a practice they have repeatedly described as "labor dumping."

The airline has also faced lengthy delays in receiving regulatory approvals in the United States.


. . .


(p. B4) A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department did not give any reasons for the delays that have left Norwegian in bureaucratic limbo in the United States. The airline's first request was filed more than two years ago. . . .

The long delay in approving the application "does not reflect well on the political independence of the Department of Transportation with respect to the free trade principles behind the E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement," according to a report by analysts at the CAPA Center for Aviation. "The calculated inaction only serves to restrict competition and to deny consumer choice."


. . .


"There is still a lot to do," Mr. Kjos said. "We have to think about how to fly more people more cheaply. There are hundreds of millions of people that don't have access to cheap flights."



For the full story, see:

JAD MOUAWAD. "Norwegian Air Flies in the Face of the Trans-Atlantic Establishment." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 23, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2016.)






April 24, 2016

Government Regulations Protect Health-Care Incumbents Against Innovation



(p. A15) As people age, the main valve controlling the flow of blood out of the heart can narrow, causing heart failure, and sometimes death. In the past the only way to repair the damage was risky open-heart surgery. But an ingenious medical device now allows the heart to be repaired using a catheter that introduces a replacement valve through a main artery in the leg--another miracle of modern medicine.

In 2011, more than four years after they hit the European market, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved aortic heart valves for use in the U.S. The total cost of the new procedure is about the same as open-heart surgery. But government bureaucrats feared that the new replacement valve's lower risks and easier administration would mean that many more elderly patients would seek to fix their failing heart valves, pushing up Medicare's total spending. To limit their use, regulators created coverage rules based on a set of strained medical criteria. It was a budget prerogative masquerading as clinical reasoning.

This episode is a vivid example of the government's increasing practice to regulate medicine and ration care. A series of landmark studies published earlier this month in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, makes clear how contrived the original Medicare guidelines were.

For a patient to be qualified for the aortic valve device, Medicare required two cardiac surgeons to certify first that a patient wasn't a candidate for the open-heart repair. Also mandated was the presence of a cardiothoracic surgeon and an interventional cardiologist in the operating room during the procedure.



For the full commentary, see:

SCOTT GOTTLIEB. "Warning: Medicare May Be Bad for Your Heart; Aortic valve replacements are superior to open-heart surgery and less risky. So why are they hard to get?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 12, 2016): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 11, 2016.)


The Lancet article mentioned above, is:

Thourani, Vinod H., Susheel Kodali, Raj R. Makkar, Howard C. Herrmann, Mathew Williams, Vasilis Babaliaros, Richard Smalling, Scott Lim, S. Chris Malaisrie, Samir Kapadia, Wilson Y. Szeto, Kevin L. Greason, Dean Kereiakes, Gorav Ailawadi, Brian K. Whisenant, Chandan Devireddy, Jonathon Leipsic, Rebecca T. Hahn, Philippe Pibarot, Neil J. Weissman, Wael A. Jaber, David J. Cohen, Rakesh Suri, E. Murat Tuzcu, Lars G. Svensson, John G. Webb, Jeffrey W. Moses, Michael J. Mack, D. Craig Miller, Craig R. Smith, Maria C. Alu, Rupa Parvataneni, Ralph B. D'Agostino, Jr., and Martin B. Leon. "Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Versus Surgical Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients: A Propensity Score Analysis." The Lancet (April 3, 2016), DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30073-3.


The New England Journal of Medicine article mentioned above, is:

Leon, Martin B., Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, and John G. Webb. "Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients." New England Journal of Medicine (April 2, 2016), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616.







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 22, 2016

Today Is 16th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2016) is the 16th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.






April 18, 2016

Government Limits Hospital Competition



(p. A9) When the 124-bed StoneSprings Hospital Center opened in December, it became the first new hospital in Loudoun County, Va., in more than a century. That's more remarkable than it might at first seem: In the past two decades, Loudoun County, which abuts the Potomac River and includes growing Washington suburbs, has tripled in population. Yet not a single new hospital had opened. Why? One big reason is that StoneSprings had to fight through years of regulatory reviews and court challenges before laying the first brick.

County officials and the Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, began talking about building a new hospital in 2001. But Virginia is one of the 36 states with a "certificate of need" law, which requires health-care providers to obtain a state license before opening a new facility. Getting a license is supposed to take about nine months, according to the state Health Department. HCA first submitted an application in July 2002 but didn't win approval for a new facility until early 2004.

Then the plan faced a series of legal challenges from the Inova Health System, an entrenched, multibillion-dollar competitor. Over decades Inova has become the dominant player in the Virginia suburbs.


. . .


It's not hard to understand why Inova might fight so hard to keep out challengers: There's a direct correlation between prices and competition. In a paper released in December, economists with Yale, Carnegie Mellon and the London School of Economics evaluated claims data from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth. They found that rates were 15.3% higher, on average, in areas with one hospital, compared with those serviced by four or more. In markets with a two-hospital duopoly, prices were 6.4% higher. Where only three hospitals compete they were 4.8% higher.

Research by Chris Koopman of the free-market Mercatus Center suggests that Virginia could have 10,000 more hospital beds and 40 more hospitals offering MRIs if the certificate of need restrictions did not exist. "In many instances, they create a quasi-monopoly," he says. "In essence, it's a government guarantee that no one will compete with you, until you get notice and an opportunity to challenge that person's entry into that market."



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC BOEHM. "CROSS COUNTRY; For Hospital Chains, Competition Is a Bitter Pill; Building a new medical center in Virginia can take a decade, because state laws favor entrenched players." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 30, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 29, 2016.)


The academic paper mentioned above that relates hospital charges to the number of hospitals in the area, is:

Cooper, Zack, Stuart V. Craig, Martin Gaynor, and John Van Reenen. "The Price Ain't Right? Hospital Prices and Health Spending on the Privately Insured." NBER Working Paper # 21815. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., 2015.


Chris Koopman's research, mentioned above, can be found in:

Koopman, Christopher, and Thomas Stratmann. "Certificate-of-Need Laws: Implications for Virginia." In Mercatus on Policy: Mercatus Center, George Mason University, 2015.






April 10, 2016

Zimbabwe Government Would Rather Starve Citizens than Allow GMO Food



(p. A15) Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe

My country's government would rather see people starve than let them eat genetically modified food.

That's the only conclusion to draw from the announcement in February that Zimbabwe will reject any food aid that includes a genetically-modified-organism ingredient--such as grains, corn and other crops made more vigorous or fruitful through GMO breeding. The ban comes just as Zimbabweans are suffering from our worst drought in two decades and up to three million people need emergency relief.

"The position of the government is very clear," said Joseph Made, the minister of agriculture. "We do not accept GMO as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view."

In other words, my country--which can't feed itself--will refuse what millions around the world eat safely every day in their breakfasts, lunches and dinners as a conventional source of calories. It doesn't matter whether the aid arrives as food for people or feed for animals. Our customs inspectors will make sure that no food with GMOs reaches a single hungry mouth.



For the full commentary, see:

NYASHA MUDUKUTI. "We May Starve, but at Least We'll Be GMO-Free; Unlike the Europeans we copied, Zimbabwe can't afford such an unscientific ideological luxury." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A15.

(Note: italics in original.)

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






April 9, 2016

"China Has Blindly Constructed So Many Homes and Wasted So Much Resources"



(p. C6) In November [2015], President Xi Jinping told a meeting of officials that China must resolve the housing inventory situation and ensure the health of the property sector.

Since then, Meishan, a city of 3.5 million people, has become a showcase for efforts to lure rural dwellers to cities to buy homes as part of so-called destocking efforts to reduce the glut.


. . .


. . ., some analysts and local government officials warn the rural strategy isn't a cure-all. Banks typically hesitate to extend mortgages to rural migrants, whose homestead land doesn't typically qualify as collateral.

"Now with bad loans growing in China, banks are reluctant to lend to farmers. Farmers don't have assets and lending to them is risky," said Wang Fei, an official at Hubei Province's department of housing and urban-rural development.


. . .


Housing inventory in the city rose to 22.5 months last April, an alarmingly high level compared with a healthier rate of 12 months or lower. There were also cases where cash-strapped property firms defaulted on their loans, leaving behind unfinished apartments.

Buyers of Purple Cloud Golden World housing project are now stranded after Yang Jinhao, who controlled Sichuan Xinrui Property Development, got involved in a dispute with a shadow lender early last year.

"China has blindly constructed so many homes and wasted so much resources. I can't stand it!" said Yu Jianmin, a 70-year-old caretaker of the stalled project who said the construction firm he works for is still awaiting payment from Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang couldn't be reached.



For the full story, see:

ESTHER FUNG. "Discounts Help China Ease Home Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 2, 2016): C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 1, 2016, and has the title "China Sweetens Home-Ownership Deals for Rural Dwellers.")






April 2, 2016

Electricity from Cow Manure Failing Despite Administration Support



(p. B1) Wisconsin dairy farmer Art Thelen was full of optimism a decade ago when he joined a growing group of U.S. farmers investing in technology that turns livestock manure into electricity.

The systems promised to curb air pollution from agriculture, generate extra revenue and--in no small feat--curtail odors that waft for miles in much of farm country.

"It was a great idea, and when it worked well, it was wonderful," Mr. Thelen said.

Now the 61-year-old is among a group of farmers who recently have shut down their manure-to-energy systems--known as anaerobic digesters--or scrapped plans to build them because of the prolonged slump in natural-gas prices and higher-than-expected maintenance costs that made the systems less economical.



For the full story, see:

DAVID KESMODEL. "Energy Prices Steer Farmers Away From Manure Power." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






April 1, 2016

Obama Says Stimulus Worked at Battery Plant Where CEO Remains "Frustrated" at Losses



(p. A12) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- President Obama on Friday [February 26, 2016] used a visit to a high-technology battery plant in Florida to argue that the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies he signed into law during his first days in office had bolstered the economy, transformed the nation's energy sector, and positioned the United States for a strong rebound.

But Mr. Obama's trip to the Saft America factory here, opened in 2011 with a $95.5 million investment from the Department of Energy, also highlighted the challenges that have tempered the economic recovery and the difficulty that the president has had in claiming credit for it.


. . .


After touring the facility and watching a large robot named Wall-E assembling one of the batteries, the president called the factory "tangible evidence" that his stimulus package had worked and said that the economy was better off for it. "We took an empty swamp and turned it into an engine of innovation," he said.

That engine, though, has sputtered as it has struggled to start here. Saft, based in Paris, announced last week that it was reducing the factory's value because it had still not gained profitability in the competitive lithium-ion battery market. Saying he was "frustrated," the company's chief executive projected the plant might not be profitable for a few more years.



For the full story, see:

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS. "Obama Praises Stimulus at Battery Plant." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A12.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Obama Points to Florida Factory as Evidence That Stimulus Worked.")






March 31, 2016

After Wife's Cancer, F.D.A. Regulator Cuts Decision Time from Six to Five Months (Beyond Years Spent Testing)



(p. 1) BETHESDA, Md. -- Mary Pazdur had exhausted the usual drugs for ovarian cancer, and with her tumors growing and her condition deteriorating, her last hope seemed to be an experimental compound that had yet to be approved by federal regulators.

So she appealed to the Food and Drug Administration, whose oncology chief for the last 16 years, Dr. Richard Pazdur, has been a man denounced by many cancer patient advocates as a slow, obstructionist bureaucrat.

He was also Mary's husband.

In her struggle with cancer and ultimately her death in November, Ms. Pazdur had a part, her husband and a number of cancer specialists now say, in a profound change at the F.D.A.: a speeding up of the drug approval process. Ms. Pazdur's three-year battle with cancer was a factor, they say, in Dr. Pazdur's willingness to swiftly approve risky new treatments and passion to fight the disease that patient advocates thought he lacked.


. . .


(p. 13) Certainly there has been a change at the powerful agency. Since Ms. Pazdur learned she had ovarian cancer in 2012, approvals for drugs have been faster than at any time in the F.D.A.'s modern history. Although companies go through a yearslong discovery and testing process with new drugs before filing a formal application with the F.D.A., the average decision time on drugs by Dr. Pazdur's oncology group has come down to five months from six months. That is a major acceleration in a pharmaceutical industry where every month's delay can mean thousands of lives lost and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in sales that, given limited patent times, can never be recovered.

When asked specifically how his wife's illness had changed his work at the F.D.A., Dr. Pazdur said he was intent on making decisions more quickly.

"I have a much greater sense of urgency these days," Dr. Pazdur, 63, said in an interview. "I have been on a jihad to streamline the review process and get things out the door faster. I have evolved from regulator to regulator-advocate."



For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "A Wife's Cancer Prods the F.D.A." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






March 25, 2016

Ethanol Adds Carbon Dioxide to Atmosphere



(p. A9) Before long, it may be politically safe to take a wise step and eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).


. . .


Today, ethanol's downsides have become clear.

First, it increases the cost of driving. Current ethanol blends provide fewer miles per gallon, so drivers pay more to travel the same distance. According to the Institute for Energy Research, American drivers have paid an additional $83 billion since 2007 because of the RFS.

Second, ethanol adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than it eliminates by replacing fossil fuels. The Environmental Working Group says that "corn ethanol is an environmental disaster." The group explains: "The mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline has driven farmers to plow up land to plant corn--40 percent of the corn now grown in the U.S. is used to make ethanol. When farmers plow up grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, they release the carbon stored in the soil, contributing to climate-warming carbon emissions." And then there is the carbon emitted in harvesting, transporting and processing the corn into ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

MERRILL MATTHEWS. "The Corn-Fed Albatross Called Ethanol." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 6, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 5, 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 21, 2016

Ugly, Invasive, Depressing Federal LEDs Disrupt Sleep and Increase Risk of Breast Cancer



(p. B1) In my repellently contented middle age, I don't seek blue light. Like most sane people, I spurn restaurants whose lighting glares. I recoil from mirrors under fluorescent tubes. I switch on an overhead only to track down a water bug while wielding a flip-flop. Yet each evening from March onward, in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I live part of the year, it seems as if the overhead is always on.

Along with other parts of South Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace is an early recipient of the Department of Transportation's new light-emitting diode streetlights. New Yorkers who have not yet been introduced to these lights: We are living in your future.

Our new street "lamps" -- too cozy a word for the icy arrays now screaming through our windows -- are meant to be installed across all five boroughs by 2017. Indeed, any resident of an American municipality that has money problems (and what city doesn't?) should take heed.

In interviews with the media, my fellow experimental subjects have compared the nighttime environment under the new streetlights to a film set, a prison yard, "a strip mall in outer space" and "the mother ship coming in for a landing" in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Although going half-blind at 58, I can read by the beam that the new lamp blasts into our front room without tapping our own Con Ed service. Once the LEDs went in, our next-door neighbor began walking her dog at night in sunglasses.

Medical research has firmly established that blue-spectrum LED light can disrupt sleep patterns. This is the same illumination that radiates in far smaller doses from smartphone and computer screens, to which we're advised to avoid exposure for at least an hour before bed, because it can suppress the production of melatonin. . . .

While the same light has also been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and mood disorders, in all honesty my biggest beef with LEDs has nothing to do with health issues. These lights are ugly. They're invasive. They're depressing. New York deserves better.


. . .


Even fiscally and environmentally conscientious California has compromised on this point. Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have all opted for yellow-rich LEDs. These cities have willingly made the modest 10-15 percent sacrifice in efficiency for an ambience that more closely embodies what Germans call Gemütlichkeit and Danes call hygge: an atmosphere of hospitality, homeyness, intimacy and well-being.


. . .


As currently conceived, the D.O.T.'s streetlight plan amounts to mass civic vandalism. If my focus on aesthetics makes this issue sound trivial, the sensory experience of daily life is not a frivolous matter. Even in junior high school, I understood that lighting isn't only about what you see, but how you feel.



For the full commentary, see:

LIONEL SHRIVER. "Ruining That Moody Urban Glow." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 17, 2015.)






March 19, 2016

Regulatory Costs Slow Development of Lifesaving Antibiotics



(p. A13) In the 1980s, 29 new antibiotics were approved; another 23 were approved during the 1990s. But only nine new drugs made it to market from 2000-10, and a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows few drugs in development for the most serious microbial threats such as multidrug resistant Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


. . .


To revitalize the search for lifesaving antibiotics, the Food and Drug Administration needs a new way to approve them. Legislation proposed in both the House and the Senate would create a new regulatory pathway that would enable the FDA to approve drugs specifically for patients whose serious infections can't be treated with existing drugs, and for whom there are few or no other treatment options.

For these patients, the FDA would be empowered to approve new drugs based on fewer or smaller clinical studies than for antibiotics intended for broader use. The goal is to reduce the cost of development and accelerate the availability of new drugs for a targeted public health need.



For the full commentary, see:

JONATHAN LEFF And ALLAN COUKELL. "How to End the Regulatory Slowdown for New Antibiotics; With the threat from lethal drug-resistant bacteria growing, the FDA needs to speed up its approval process." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 3, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2015.)






March 17, 2016

Americans Should Not Be Required to Join a Private Organization Against Their Will



(p. A15) I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.


. . .


I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.

Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a "survey," asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues--about $1,000 a year--went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.


. . .


A Gallup poll last year found that 82% of the public agrees that "no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will." That's all we're asking.



For the full commentary, see:

HARLAN ELRICH. "Why I'm Fighting My Teachers Union; I don't want to be forced to pay for a political agenda I don't support. Now the Supreme Court will rule." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)






March 13, 2016

More Evidence for Stigler's Capture Theory



(p. A15) WASHINGTON -- Marilyn B. Tavenner, the former Obama administration official in charge of the rollout of HealthCare.gov, was chosen on Wednesday to be the top lobbyist for the nation's health insurance industry.

Ms. Tavenner, who stepped down from her federal job in February, will become president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group whose members include Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

As the new voice for insurers, Ms. Tavenner will lead the industry in a time of tumultuous changes and challenges, including delicate negotiations with Congress over the future of the Affordable Care Act.


. . .


The board of America's Health Insurance Plans unanimously elected Ms. Tavenner at a meeting here on Wednesday, according to Mark B. Ganz, the board chairman, who is also the chief executive of Cambia Health Solutions, based in Portland, Ore.


. . .


Mr. Ganz said that Ms. Tavenner had "the trust and respect of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, described the selection in more negative terms. "While millions of Americans are still being hurt by Obamacare's soaring costs and fewer choices," he said, "Ms. Tavenner's appointment shows how the law has created a cozy and profitable relationship for some."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT PEAR. "Head of Obama's Health Care Rollout to Lobby for Insurers." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 15, 2015.)






March 11, 2016

Feds' Dietary Policy Is "an Obstacle to Sensible Change"



(p. A25) BOSTON -- SINCE the publication of the federal government's 1980 Dietary Guidelines, dietary policy has focused on reducing total fat in the American diet -- specifically, to no more than 30 percent of a person's daily calories. This fear of fat has had far-reaching impacts, from consumer preferences to the billions of dollars spent by the military, government-run hospitals and school districts on food. As we argue in a recently published article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 35 years after that policy shift, it's long past time for us to exonerate dietary fat.


. . .


Recent research has established the futility of focusing on low-fat foods. Confirming many other observations, large randomized trials in 2006 and 2013 showed that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer risks, while a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil -- exceeding 40 percent of calories in total fat -- significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain. Other studies have shown that high-fat diets are similar to, or better than, low-fat diets for short-term weight loss, and that types of foods, rather than fat content, relate to long-term weight gain.


. . .


The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats.



For the full commentary, see:

DARIUSH MOZAFFARIAN and DAVID S. LUDWIG. "Stop Fearing Fat." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 9, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?")






March 8, 2016

Proletariat Loses Money Investing in Ponzi Scheme Supported by Chinese Communists



(p. B1) HONG KONG -- At every turn in his improbably rapid rise, Ding Ning, 34, went to great efforts to convey the image of strong government backing for his Internet financing business.

There was his company's lavish annual meeting and banquet last year in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where China's legislature meets and where top government leaders host official functions. Adding a splash of celebrity to the event were Zhou Tao, a nationally famous actress and host on the government's main television broadcaster, and several mid-ranking officials, bureaucrats and lawmakers.

There were the positive profiles in state-controlled media, as well as the company's advertising on official TV. There was the section of his company's website devoted to building Communist Party spirit.

But it all came crashing down in dramatic fashion for Mr. Ding this week, when the police alleged that his financing business, Ezubao, was a $7.6 billion Ponzi scheme and announced 21 arrests, including of Mr. Ding. The company was shut down.


, , ,


(p. B7) In interviews, former staff and investors described the signals of strong state support as one of the keys to Ezubao's rapid rise.

"Many people joined Ezubao because they saw the support from the government and from some government officials," said Feng Zhe, 36, a Beijing resident who worked as a salesman at the company from June of last year until December.

Mr. Feng said a number of his friends and family members invested in Ezubao's products and suffered losses. "Many people bought their products because the government has lent the company credibility," he added.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "Feeling Twice Victimized." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016, and has the title "Ponzi Scheme in China Gained Credibility From State Media.")






March 7, 2016

"Recyclers Around the Country Face Losses"



(p. B1) . . . recycling is a commodities business. The paper, metal, plastic and glass that recyclers collect, sort and sell competes against so-called virgin materials. And right now, many commodities are cheap.

Abundant oil is the latest headache for recyclers. New plastics are made from the byproducts of oil and gas production. So as plentiful fossil fuels saturate global markets, it has become cheaper for the makers of water bottles, yogurt containers and takeout boxes to simply buy new plastics. This, in turn, is dragging down the price of recycled materials, straining every part of the recycling industry.

In Montgomery, Ala., Infinitus Energy opened a $35 million recycling center in 2014. By last October, it was hemorrhaging (p. B5) money and shut down. Montgomery's recyclables are now going to a landfill, and a once booming local business, United Plastic Recycling, filed for bankruptcy last year.


. . .


. . . as recyclers around the country face losses, they are passing their costs along to cities and counties. Increasingly, local governments are receiving nothing at all for their recyclables, or even having to pay companies to accept them.

Last year, the city government in Washington, D.C., paid Waste Management $1.37 million to accept the recyclables it collected from residents.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GELLES. "Losing a Profit Motive: A Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 13, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 12, 2016, and has the title "Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It.")






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.






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 24, 2016

Harry Reid Supported Huge Tax Loophole for Wall Street and Casinos



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- In the span of a mere 11 days this month, $1 billion in future federal tax payments vanished.

As congressional leaders were hastily braiding together a tax and spending bill of more than 2,000 pages, lobbyists swooped in to add 54 words that temporarily preserved a loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries, along with billionaire Wall Street investors, that allowed them to put real estate in trusts and avoid taxes.

They won support from the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, who responded to appeals from executives of casino companies, politically powerful players and huge employers in his state. And the lobbyists even helped draft the crucial language.

The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes.

Some executives at companies with the most at stake are also big campaign donors. For example, the family of David Bonderman, a co-founder of TPG Capital, has donated $1.2 million since 2014 to the Senate Majority PAC, a campaign fund with close ties to Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats. TPG Capital has large holdings in Caesars Entertainment and helps run a Texas-based energy company, both of which stand to benefit from the (p. A17) last-minute change.



For the full story, see:

ERIC LIPTON and LIZ MOYER. "Lobbyists Shield a Tax Loophole Worth $1 Billion." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 20, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2015, and has the title "Hospitality and Gambling Interests Delay Closing of Billion-Dollar Tax Loophole." )






February 20, 2016

Mast Brothers Started Their Chocolate Business in Their Apartment



The Masts provide another example showing the possibility of entry into the candy business. The issue is relevant to the claim of those who support sugar quotas, that a decline in sugar prices would not be passed on to consumers in the form of lower candy prices. If there is easy entry into the candy business, then the business is traditionally competitive, and lower costs of production will be passed on to consumers.



(p. A20) In an interview on Sunday [Dec. 20, 2015], Rick Mast, who with his brother began making chocolate in a Brooklyn apartment in 2006, said the allegations were untrue -- for the most part. But on the claim that the Masts were "remelters" at the start, Mr. Mast confirmed the brothers did use industrial chocolate, what is known as couverture, in some of their early creations, before settling on the bean-to-bar process for which they are now known.

"It was such a fun experimental year," Mr. Mast said, adding that the brothers were transparent "to anyone that asked."



For the full story, see:

SARAH MASLIN NIR. "Unwrapping a Chocolatier's Mythos." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 21, 2015): A20 & A22.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2015, and has the title "Unwrapping the Mythos of Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn.")






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 17, 2016

Irony that Kafka Statue Faces Prague City Government Building



(p. 10) Prague is sprinkled with provocative pieces by Mr. Cerny -- a sculpture of a urinating man (directly in front of the Franz Kafka Museum), a statue of the Czech patron saint King Wenceslas sitting on an upside down dead horse.

His most recent installation in Prague is a sculpture of Kafka's head, set behind the Tesco department store in the center of town. The 36-foot-high head is made up of 42 moving chrome-plated layers, which move both in synchronicity and in opposing directions.

Mr. Cerny's original idea was a fountain featuring three figures: a robot, referencing the Czech-language writer Karel Capek, who coined the term; a Golem, representing the Yiddish language; and Kafka's beetle, referring to the German language. "I wanted to remind people that Prague was once a city of three languages," Mr. Cerny said.

Unfortunately, city water regulations prevented him from placing a fountain there, so instead he came up with the huge reflecting Kafka head, which is based on similar work of his on display in Charlotte, N.C., called "Metalmorphosis."

"I loved the irony that this sculpture faces a city government building in Prague," he said. "Imagine you're angry because the clerks are doing nothing, only saying for you to go to another office and then another office and another until finally you hear, 'This office is closed.' And then you walk out of the building, and there's the huge head of Kafka looking at you, reminding you of the irony."



For the full story, see:

DAVID FARLEY. "Footsteps; Prague; On the Trail of Kafka's Legacy." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 27, 2015): 10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2015, and has the title "Footsteps; On the Trail of Kafka in Prague.")






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.






February 7, 2016

Communist Chinese One Child Laws Violated Basic Human Rights



On Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 I caught the re-broadcast of an interview with Mei Fong that C-SPAN's web site suggests was first broadcast on Jan. 11, 2016. The interview focused on Fong's book on the history, causes and effects of China's one child laws. Fong is understated in her style, but it is clear that the Chinese communist government violated the rights of many Chinese citizens by forcing them to have unwanted abortions, and to undergo unwanted sterilizations. In many cases, when their "one child" died in a disaster, or of natural causes, parents desperately rushed to try to have the forced sterilization reversed.

Fong's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

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






February 5, 2016

Health Spending Rises Faster



HealthCostGrowthGraphs2016-01-21.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--Growth in U.S. health-care spending is accelerating after reaching historic lows, a pickup largely attributed to the millions of Americans who have gotten health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Spending on all health care increased 5.3% in 2014, according to a report Wednesday [Dec. 2, 2015] from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That compares with the 2.9% growth in 2013, which marked the lowest rate since the government began tracking the gains 55 years ago.

The return to more robust growth after a slowdown in spending had been anticipated by economists. Still, it is likely to add to criticism that the 2010 health law isn't doing enough to rein in costs. The report, based on 2014 government numbers and published in the journal Health Affairs, follows five consecutive years where average spending growth was less than 4% annually.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR. "Health Spending Picks Up." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): A3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "Growth in U.S. Health-Care Spending Picks Up.")






February 3, 2016

Unusual Array of Groups Strongly Push Breast-Feeding



C-SPAN on Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 broadcast a thought-provoking presentation by Courtney Jung on her book Lactivism. Jung argues that an unusual array of groups strongly advocate breast-feeding for reasons that are independent of the fairly modest health benefits, for baby and mother, that result from breast-feeding.

Jung's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

Jung, Courtney. Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 2, 2016

Gene Therapy Again Showing Promise



(p. B2) Biotechnology startup Spark Therapeutics Inc. said its experimental gene therapy improved vision among patients with hereditary vision impairment in a clinical trial, without the serious safety problems that have dogged the emerging field of gene therapy in the past.


. . .


Spark said it plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to market its treatment next year, which could make it the first gene therapy to reach the U.S. market if regulators approve it for sale. . . .

Gene therapy involves the injection of genetic material into a person's cells to treat or prevent a disease. The research stalled after some study participants died or developed cancer after receiving gene therapies in the late 1990s and 2000s.

But gene therapy is gaining ground again. In 2012, the European Commission approved the Western world's first gene therapy, UniQure NV's Glybera, for the treatment of patients with a rare enzyme deficiency. The therapy hasn't been approved for sale in the U.S.



For the full story, see:

PETER LOFTUS. "Eye Gene Therapy Shows Promise." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Gene Therapy for Visually Impaired Shows Promise." Where there were minor differences between the print and online versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






February 1, 2016

"America Represents Wilderness and Freedom, and Also a Big House"



(p. A1) JACKSON HOLE, China -- Yearning to breathe untainted air, the band of harried urbanites flocked to this parched, wild land, bringing along their dreams of a free and uncomplicated life.

But unlike the bedraggled pioneers who settled the American West, the first inhabitants of Jackson Hole, a resort community on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, arrived by Audi and Land Rover, their trunks filled with French wine and their bank accounts flush with cash.

Over the past decade, more than a thousand families have settled into timber-frame houses with generous backyards, on streets with names like Aspen, Moose and Route 66. On Sundays, some worship at a clapboard church that anchors the genteel town square, outfitted with bronze cowboys and a giant Victrola that sprays water.

"America represents wilderness and freedom, and also a big house," said Qin You, 42, who works in private equity and owns a six-bedroom home that features a koi pond, a year-round (p. A8) Christmas tree and what he proudly described as "American-style" electric baseboard heating. His parents live in the house and he goes there on weekends. "The United States is cool," he says.


. . .


. . . , Communist Party edicts and conservative commentators have sought to demonize so-called Western values like human rights and democracy as existential threats. Even if the menace is seldom identified by name, the purveyor of such threats is widely understood to be the United States.


. . .


Gao Zi, 60, a retired military employee who organizes an oil painting club for Jackson Hole residents, said that "we accepted the propaganda" back in the 1950s, when China was a closed society. "But now people have the opportunity to travel abroad and see the truth for ourselves."

Like Ms. Gao, Mr. Qin, the investment executive, has never been to the United States but he has long admired American ideals like personal liberty and blind justice. Five years ago, after his wife gave birth to their second child, Mr. Qin says the government fined him nearly $30,000 for violating the country's population-control policies. "This is not freedom," he said, before continuing a tour of his expansive back patio.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on Beijing's Outskirts." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 11, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 8, 2015, and has the title "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on the Outskirts of China's Capital.")






January 30, 2016

Some Heroes Are Punished for Doing What Is Right



At some point in the last few months watched, and jotted a few notes, on a C-SPAN presentation by Ralph Peters related to his historical novel Valley of the Shadow, that I caught part of. C-SPAN lists the show as first airing on June 23, 2015. My attention was drawn when Peters started talking about Lew Wallace. I had a minor curiosity about Lew Wallace for two obscure reasons. The first is that in young adulthood my favorite actor was Charlton Heston, one of whose most notable movies was Ben Hur, which was based on a novel by Lew Wallace. The other was that as an adult Lew Wallace lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana where there is still a small museum in his old study, a museum that holds memorabilia related to the Heston Ben Hur movie. The reason I know about the museum is that I graduated from Wabash College, which is also located in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Peters said that he was fascinated by forgotten figures and that one of these was Lew Wallace. According to Peters, Lew Wallace saved the union during the Civil War. A confederate general named Jubal Early would have seized Washington, D.C., if Wallace and an officer named Jim Ricketts had not taken the initiative to lead a force to stop Early. For doing what had to be done, Wallace risked court martial, and Wallace was indeed fired from the army. After Ricketts gave a full account of what had happened, Wallace was re-instated, but Lincoln did not approve of his receiving a new command. Peters said that this was because Wallace was unpopular with some powerful Indiana Republicans, and that Lincoln was facing an election in which he needed to win Indiana.

The above is a rough summary of Peters's account. I don't know if any of it is disputed by other experts. But it is a good story, and I hope that it is true.

The Peters historical novel discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Peters, Ralph. Valley of the Shadow: A Novel. New York: Forge Books, 2015.






January 25, 2016

Recording a Pain of "5" and Then Leaving Without Relieving



If health care was provided by free market companies whose success depended on voluntarily attracting customers, instead of by bureaucratic, hyper-regulated, CYA incentivized, and competition-insulated bureaucracies, would the surreal experience reported below be as common as it is?



(p. 11) A FRIEND was recently hospitalized after a bicycle accident. At one point a nursing student, together with a more senior nurse, rolled a computer on wheels into the room and asked my friend to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

She mumbled, "4 to 5." The student put 5 into the computer -- and then they left, without further inquiring about, or relieving, my friend's pain.

This is not an anecdote about nurses not doing their jobs; it's an illustration of what our jobs have become in the age of electronic health records. Computer documentation in health care is notoriously inefficient and unwieldy, but an even more serious problem is that it has morphed into more than an account of our work; it has replaced the work itself.

Our charting, rather than our care, is increasingly what we are evaluated on. When my hospital switched to bar code scanning for medication administration, not only were the nurses on my floor rated as "red," "yellow" or "green" based on the percentage of meds we scanned, but those ratings were prominently and openly displayed on printouts left at the nurses' station.


. . .


We need to streamline our records so that they serve just one master: the patient. We should focus on the most important information in guaranteeing accuracy of diagnosis, efficacy of treatment, continuity of care and patient safety. Otherwise the content of our care will be increasingly warped by the demands of our e-record systems -- and patients like my poor friend will lie in hospital beds in pain, uncomforted by the knowledge that the electronic record of that pain is satisfyingly and exactingly complete.



For the full commentary, see:

THERESA BROWN. "Patients vs. Paperwork." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 20, 2015): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 19, 2015, and has the title "When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care.")






January 21, 2016

Anti-GMO Chipotle No Longer Wears Health Halo



(p. A13) . . . if you need an anecdote for how the year unfolded for the anti-GMO movement, look no further than Chipotle. Last spring the fast food company announced with great fanfare that it would take GMO ingredients off its menu. It was all downhill after that. As was quickly pointed out, Chipotle wasn't being fully truthful, since its soft drinks and cheese contain genetically modified ingredients, and its meat comes from animals fed genetically modified grains. A lawsuit filed in California, which is pending, accused Chipotle of false advertising and deceptive marketing.

Then cases of food-borne illnesses hit Chipotle locations across the country. Supporters of traditional agriculture, who have felt maligned by the burrito company, started keeping a tally of the number of people sickened by Chipotle's food (ongoing, but more than 300) versus the number sickened by GMOs (zero). As the year winds to a close, the company that once wore the restaurant industry's health halo is apologizing, preparing for lawsuits, recentralizing its vegetable preparation and cutting locally sourced ingredients.



For the full commentary, see:

JULIE KELLY. "The March of Genetic Food Progress; 'Farmaceuticals' and other GM products are slowly being approved, despite political scare campaigns." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 29, 2015.)






January 20, 2016

In Poor Province, Chinese Communists Spend Over $400,000 Building Giant Golden Statue of Mao, Starver of Millions of the Proletariat



(p. B1) ZHUSHIGANG, China -- Just two days after images of a giant gold-colored statue of Mao in the bare fields of Henan Province spread across the Internet, the statue was gone -- torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials.

Villagers said demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning [January 7, 2016], and by Friday morning [January 8, 2016], only a pile of rubble remained.

The 120-foot-tall statue, which local media reports said cost $465,000, had been under construction for months and was nearing completion when it began to attract attention.

Some commenters on social media denounced the extravagance of the colossus in a poor, rural part of China, where the money might have been better spent on education or health care.


. . .


Others pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward.


. . .


Statues of Mao, the founder of the People's Republic of China, were once ubiquitous in China, and many survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying Mao's era was one when officials were selfless and honest.

But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivization and industrialization of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions of people died.



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "An Outcry Helps Topple a Mao Statue 120 Feet Tall." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 9, 2016): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "Golden Mao Statue in China, Nearly Finished, Is Brought Down by Criticism.")






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 12, 2016

North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley



For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.



(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. -- "California and New York want what we've got," said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. "They like drones, but they've got a steep learning curve ahead."

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and -- unlike in other sparsely populated states -- lots of expertise already in place.

Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.

"The potential up here is tremendous," said Jack Dalrymple, the state's governor. "It's not about supporting a company or two; it's creating the leading edge of an industry."

North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.")






January 11, 2016

Entrepreneurs Who Pay Taxes "Expect Services--Like Justice"



(p. B3) ATHENS -- Demetri Politopoulos, the founder of a midsize beer producer in northern Greece, says he nearly fainted when he heard the news late one night in October.

The Greek Parliament was planning to pass a law that would increase the tax he paid for each hectoliter of beer he sold by 50 percent.

Just like that, the microbrewery he started 17 years ago would go under, as his new tax bill of 1.6 million euros would wipe out his expected 1.45 million euros in profit for the year.


. . .


He started his business in 1998, but even as demand for his Vergina beer grew, his share of the market stayed in the low single-digits as the market leader did all in its power to prevent shops and restaurants from selling his product.


. . .


In 2005, Mr. Politopoulos took his case to the Hellenic Republic Competition Commission, citing numerous examples of what he said were unfair business practices by Heineken, from persuading retailers to not stock Vergina to more serious examples of bullying and intimidation.

But as is often the case in Greece, his petition went nowhere.

With Greece under unremitting pressure to find new revenue sources, the idea to close the gap between the way small and large brewers are taxed may have seemed a good idea.

That is, until Mr. Politopoulos took the floor in Parliament on Nov. 2.

"We are proud to pay taxes in Greece, but this is going to put us out of business," he said. "And when we do pay our taxes, we expect services -- like justice. Without justice in a society, there is nothing."

His 10-minute declamation hit a cord. A video of the speech went viral and parliamentary members rallied to his cause.

Indeed, concerns are growing here that in a rush to raise much-needed revenue, Greece and its creditors are placing an unfair burden on an already decimated private sector.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "A Greek Dvid Lands Some Big Punches." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "In Greece, Brewer's Woes Reflect Struggle of Business Owners.")






January 10, 2016

The Filth, Slaughter and Disease, That Was Rome



McCloskey's "Great Fact" says that life was very bad for tens of thousands of years until the capitalist industrial revolution started to make it better. The tens of thousands of years can be thought of as a horizontal hockey stick handle, with the capitalist industrial revolution represented by a sharply ascending blade. Rome was a bump on the hockey stick handle, but as the last paragraph quoted below suggests, not too much of a bump.



(p. C4) . . . Ms. Beard is competent and charming company. In "SPQR" she pulls off the difficult feat of deliberating at length on the largest intellectual and moral issues her subject presents (liberty, beauty, citizenship, power) while maintaining an intimate tone.

"In some ways, to explore ancient Rome from the 21st century is rather like walking on a tightrope, a very careful balancing act," she writes. "If you look down on one side, everything seems reassuringly familiar: there are conversations going on that we almost join, about the nature of freedom or the problems of sex; there are buildings and monuments we recognize and family life lived out in ways we understand, with all their troublesome adolescents; and there are jokes that we 'get.'"

"On the other side, it seems completely alien territory. That means not just the slavery, the filth (there was hardly any such thing as refuse collection in ancient Rome), the human slaughter in the arena and the death from illnesses whose cure we now take for granted; but also the newborn babies thrown away on rubbish heaps, the child brides and the flamboyant eunuch priests."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Early Rome: Its Warts and Wonders." The New York Times (Weds., Nov. 18, 2015): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome,' Mary Beard Tackles Myths and More.")


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.


On the hockey stick, see:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "McCloskey's Great Fact; Review of: McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World." Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy 1, no. 2 (2012): 200-05.






January 9, 2016

Behavioral Economists Ignore Biases and Irrationalities of Governments



(p. A4) . . . it is quite a leap between acknowledging markets sometimes fail and arguing they are inherently flawed. Policy makers who work from the second assumption risk overreaching, by seeing market failure where there is none and ignoring their own behavioral biases, in either case leaving people worse off, not better. Public trust in free markets hasn't wavered notably in the U.S. or Britain from precrisis levels and even in the pope's native Argentina, attitudes aren't much more negative than in 2009.


. . .


. . . , consumers don't seem irrational when they evaluate fuel economy; one study found changes in gasoline prices are closely reflected in the relative prices of less fuel-efficient used cars.

Besides, as Mr. Viscusi and Mr. Gayer note, the government has behavioral biases of its own. Courts and regulators assign more value to the potential harm of a new drug than its potential benefits. Politicians take actions out of proportion to the risks, for example by closing schools during the Ebola scare or imposing onerous airline-security checks to prevent terrorist hijackings.



For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "Market Critics Shouldn't Overreach." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 24, 2015): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 23, 2015, and has the title "Critics of Free Market Shouldn't Overreach." Where there are minor differences between the print and online versions of the article, the sentences quoted above follow the online version.)


The Vicusi and Gayer paper mentioned above, is:

Viscusi, W. Kip, and Ted Gayer. "Behavioral Public Choice: The Behavioral Paradox of Government Policy." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 38, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 973-1007.






January 7, 2016

Brits Attack Freedom, the Poor and the Environment, by Taxing Plastic Bags



(p. A4) LONDON -- Some warned of "bag rage" by irate shoppers. The Daily Mail predicted, "Plastic Bags Chaos Looms." Chloe Metzger, a 21-year-old blogger and student, wrote on Twitter: "I understand the whole #plasticbags thing but it couldn't be more annoying."

Nerves were rattled, jokes were made and the annoyance of it all was duly noted in Britain this week. Nevertheless, shoppers pulled off something that has also occurred in other cities, states and countries: They began weaning themselves off plastic shopping bags.

Starting this week, the government introduced a 5 pence charge for plastic bags for most groceries, clothes and other purchased items. And while it did not lead to a nationwide mutiny, as some had warned, it did create some tension in cashier lines.


. . .


The TaxPayers' Alliance, an anti-tax group, said the new measure would burden families struggling to get by.

A 2013 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, which champions laissez-faire economics, argued that paper and reusable bags were worse for the environment than plastic bags when it came to energy and water use, and to greenhouse gas emissions. "Every type of grocery bag incurs environmental costs," wrote H. Sterling Burnett, the author of the study.

Whatever the arguments, the charge has inspired a mix of applause, resentment, fear and humor.

It has also inspired ingenious new ways to try to get around paying the new fee. The Daily Express, a British tabloid, noted that there was "nothing to stop Brits buying loose vegetables, being rewarded with their free plastic bag and ramming it full of the rest of the shopping."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "British Begin Attack Aimed at a Scourge of the Realm." The New York Times (Weds., OCT. 7, 2015): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 6, 2015, and has the title "Charge for Plastic Bags in Britain Draws Applause, Anger and Humor.")


The 2013 bag report, referred to above, is:

Burnett, H. Sterling. "Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?" National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report # 353, Dec. 2013.






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 4, 2016

"We're from the Streets and We Want Change"



(p. A9) CARACAS, Venezuela -- On a sunny afternoon, Jorge Millán, an opposition candidate for congress, walked through the narrow streets of a lower-middle-class neighborhood, pressing the flesh in what was once a no man's land for people like him.


. . .


With the economy sinking under the weight of triple-digit inflation, a deep recession, shortages of basic goods and long lines at stores despite the nation's vast oil reserves, the opposition has its best chance in years to win a legislative majority.


. . .


"I was a Chavista, but Chávez isn't here anymore," said Mr. Omaña, referring to the followers of the former president.

"It's this guy," he said, referring to Mr. Maduro. "It's not the same."

Mr. Omaña complained about having to stand in long lines to buy food and about the fast-rising prices, saying that for the first time since Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998 he would vote for an opposition candidate.

"Enough is enough," he said. "We need something good for Venezuela."

Venezuelan politics was dominated after 1998 by Mr. Chávez and the movement he started, which he called the Bolivarian revolution, after the country's independence hero, Simón Bolívar. Mr. Chávez died in 2013, and his disciple, Mr. Maduro, was elected to succeed him, vowing to continue Mr. Chávez's socialist-inspired policies.


. . .


Opposition candidates said one of the biggest surprises of the campaign has been the warm reception they have received in what were once hostile pro-government strongholds.

Carlos Mendoza, 53, a motorcycle taxi driver and former convict who works in the district where Mr. Millán is running, said that he belongs to a group, known as a colectivo, that in the past was paid by the government to help out during campaigns, attend rallies and drive voters to the polls. Such groups were also often used to intimidate opposition supporters.

"They called us again this time," Mr. Mendoza said. "I told them, 'No way, you're not using me again.' "

"We're from the streets," he said, "and we want change."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Venezuela's Economic Pain Gives Opposition Lift Before Vote." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 5, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2015, and has the title "Venezuela's Economic Woes Buoy Opposition Before Election.")






January 3, 2016

Affirmative Action Reduces Number of Black Scientists



Malcolm Gladwell, in chapter three of David and Goliath, persuasively argues that science students who would thrive at a solid public university, may be at the bottom of their class at Harvard, and in discouragement switch to an easier non-science major. Gladwell's argument has implications for affirmative action, as noted by Gail Heriot in the passages quoted below.



(p. A13) . . . , numerous studies--as I explain in a recent report for the Heritage Foundation--show that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are less likely to go on to high-prestige careers than otherwise-identical students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle of the class or higher. In other words, encouraging black students to attend schools where their entering credentials place them near the bottom of the class has resulted in fewer black physicians, engineers, scientists, lawyers and professors than would otherwise be the case.

But university administrators don't want to hear that their support for affirmative action has left many intended beneficiaries worse off, and they refuse to take the evidence seriously.

The mainstream media support them on this. The Washington Post, for instance, recently featured a story lamenting that black students are less likely to major in science and engineering than their Asian or white counterparts. Left unstated was why. As my report shows, while black students tend to be a little more interested in majoring in science and engineering than whites when they first enter college, they transfer into softer majors in much larger numbers and so end up with fewer science or engineering degrees.

This is not because they don't have the right stuff. Many do--as demonstrated by the fact that students with identical entering academic credentials attending somewhat less competitive schools persevere in their quest for a science or engineering degree and ultimately succeed. Rather, for many, it is because they took on too much, too soon given their level of academic preparation.



For the full commentary, see:

GAIL HERIOT. "Why Aren't There More Black Scientists? The evidence suggests that one reason is the perverse impact of university racial preferences." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 22, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Oct. 21, 2015.)


Heriot's report for the Heritage Foundation, is:

Heriot, Gail. "A "Dubious Expediency": How Race-Preferential Admissions Policies on Campus Hurt Minority Students." Heritage Foundation Special Report #167, Aug. 31, 2015.


Gladwell's book, mentioned above, is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






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 26, 2015

Cuomo Bans the Fracking that Could Revive New York's Southern Tier



(p. A25) CONKLIN, N.Y. -- The main grocery store here was replaced by a Family Dollar store, already faded. The historic front of the town hall, a castle no less, is crumbling, and donations are being solicited. The funds earmarked to strip off the lead paint from the castle's exterior went instead to clear mold from the basement.

This town of roughly 5,500 residents looks alarmingly like dozens of other towns and cities in New York's Southern Tier, a vast part of the state that runs parallel to Pennsylvania. Years ago, the region was a manufacturing powerhouse, a place where firms like General Electric and Westinghouse thrived. But over time companies have downsized, or left altogether, lured abroad or to states with lower taxes and fewer regulations.


. . .


In western New York, . . . , Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, pledged $1 billion in 2012 to support economic development. Since then, he has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into numerous Buffalo-area projects.

The Southern Tier has proved to be a harder fix. It is predominantly rural and lacks a significant population core that typically attracts the private sector.

The region is resource rich, but landowners are angry the government will not let them capitalize on it. Some had pinned their hopes of an economic revival on the prospect of the state's authorizing hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking; many of them can recite the payment formula gas companies were proposing: $500 a month per acre.

But the Cuomo administration, citing health risks, decided last year to ban the practice, leaving some farmers contemplating logging the timber on their land, a move that could destroy swaths of pristine forest.



For the full story, see:

SUSANNE CRAIG. "Former Hub of Manufacturing Ponders Next Act." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 30, 2015): A20-A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 29, 2015, and has the title "New York's Southern Tier, Once a Home for Big Business, Is Struggling.")






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 14, 2015

Health Care Mandate "Freezes You at a Time When You Need to Be Moving Fast"



(p. B4) When LaRonda Hunter opened a Fantastic Sams hair salon 10 years ago in Saginaw, Tex., a suburb of Fort Worth, she envisioned it as the first of what would eventually be a small regional collection of salons. As her sales grew, so did her business, which now encompasses four locations -- but her plans for a fifth salon are frozen, perhaps permanently.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer workers health insurance or face penalties that can exceed $2,000 per employee. Ms. Hunter, who has 45 employees, is determined not to cross that threshold. Paying for health insurance would wipe out her company's profit and the five-figure salary she pays herself from it, she said.

"The margins are not big enough within our industry to support it," she said. "It's not that I don't want to -- I love my employees, and I want to do everything I can for them -- but the numbers just don't work."


. . .


For some business owners on the edge of the cutoff, the mandate is forcing them to weigh very carefully the price of growing bigger.

"There's kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for those who say, 'I have this new potential client, but if I bring them on, I have to hire five additional people,'" said Philip P. Noftsinger, the payroll unit president at CBIZ, a financial services provider for businesses. "They're really trying to assess how much the 50th employee is going to cost."


. . .


For businesses that use many seasonal, variable-hour or temporary workers, like those in the hospitality industry, simply figuring out how many qualifying employees they have can be a challenge.

"I think companies are going to have to work with their payroll processor for the basic data, and then their accountant or attorney about what certain items mean," Mr. Prince said.

The expense and distraction of all that paperwork is one of the biggest frustrations for one business owner, Joseph P. Sergio. His industrial cleaning company, Polar Clean, which is based in South Bend, Ind., but dispatches teams nationally, has just under 50 core employees. One of its business lines is disaster restoration, and after a flood or hurricane, its temporary staff balloons.

Mr. Sergio offers health insurance to his permanent staff, but the premiums have risen so quickly that he had to switch to a more restrictive plan, with a higher deductible. He is reluctant to go over the 50-employee line and incur all of the new rules that come with it. That makes bidding for new jobs an arduous and risky exercise.

"I've had to pull my controller and a couple of top people to sit and spend days going through this," he said. "If you ramp up, and it pushes you over 50, there's all these unknown costs and complicated rules. Are we really going to be able to benefit from going after that opportunity? It freezes you at a time when you need to be moving fast."



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Leads Business Owners to Rethink Plans for Growth." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Forces Businesses to Consider Growth's Costs.")






December 12, 2015

How Democratic Operatives Fight Innovation-Crushing Regulations



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the last few years, so-called sharing companies like Airbnb and Uber -- online platforms that allow strangers to pay one another for a room or a ride -- have established footholds in thousands of communities well before local regulators have figured out how to deal with them.


. . .


Chris Lehane, a Washington political operative who now serves as Airbnb's head of global policy and public affairs, framed Proposition F (p. B10) as a hotel-industry-led attack on the middle class.

In this city of about 840,000 people, roughly $8 million was raised by groups opposed to Proposition F -- about eight times the amount raised by the proposition's backers, according to records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Much of that money was spent mobilizing Airbnb hosts and users, Mr. Lehane said. Still, he repeatedly homed in on one of the company's most important talking points: Airbnb's victory was a win for the middle class.

"Cities recognize where the world is going, right, they understand that you're either going to go forward or you're going to go backward," he said. "They understand that in a time of economic inequality, this is a question of whose side are you on: Do you want to be on the side of the middle class, or do you want to be opposed to the middle class?"


. . .


Companies like Airbnb and Uber have become multibillion-dollar companies by employing a kind of guerrilla growth strategy in which they set up a modest team of workers in a city and immediately start providing their services to the public, whether local laws allow them to or not.


. . .


Mr. Lehane, a former political operative in the Clinton administration, was nicknamed the Master of Disaster for his no-holds-barred approach to winning political fights. David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama, is now a senior adviser to Uber and a member of its board.

Mr. Lehane and Mr. Plouffe have both tried to frame their companies as middle-class saviors in a moment of economic anxiety and income inequality -- themes that are playing out in the presidential election as well. Jeb Bush and other Republicans have bragged about their Uber rides on the campaign trail, praising these companies as the future of self-sufficient employment.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY and MIKE ISAAC. "Airbnb and Uber Mobilize Vast User Base to Sway Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 5, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 4, 2015.)






December 11, 2015

Environmentalists' Mandatory Green-Bins Succeed at Breeding Smarter Raccoons



(p. A1) TORONTO--Last fall, Suzanne MacDonald spent a week tempting raccoons into her Toronto-area backyard every night with rotisserie chickens locked inside organic-waste bins.

At one point, "I had like 12 raccoons on one bin trying to get in," said Ms. MacDonald, an animal behavior researcher who was testing bin prototypes for the city. None succeeded, she said, but "they did try mightily."


. . .


The battle between the city's residents and its backyard wildlife is increasingly playing out over the disposal of organic waste. Residents' green bins--which the city collects weekly at the curb--offer a smorgasbord for raccoons and have helped their numbers increase. Torontonians say it is tough to keep the (p. A8) bins sealed and the animals away.


. . .


"The members of Raccoon Nation are smart, they're hungry and they're determined," Mayor John Tory told reporters in April when he unveiled the new green bins. The bins, which feature a turn lock, will cost the city 31 million Canadian dollars ($23.6 million) and are to be rolled out next year.


. . .


Toronto was one of the first North American cities to introduce a mandatory green-bin program, as part of an effort to keep local landfills from overflowing and after years of a highly contentious cross-border garbage-disposal program in Michigan.


. . .


Ms. MacDonald believes the growing intelligence of Toronto's raccoons may be linked to the efforts people have put into outwitting them.

Her research, which has received financial backing from the National Geographic Society, suggests urban raccoons are smarter than their "country cousins," driven to new heights of intelligence by the humans working so diligently to outsmart them by creating obstacles.

"We're creating our environment in such a way that they have to be able to figure them out in order to survive," she said, "and those that figure them out will be smart and survive and pass on to their offspring."



For the full story, see:

JANE GERSTER. "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 24, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on Aug. 23, 2015, and has the title "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'.")






December 10, 2015

The Morality of Denying Hope to 30 Million Guanggun



(p. A4) One wife, many husbands.

That's the solution to China's huge surplus of single men, says Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, whose recent proposal to allow polyandry has gone viral.

. . .


By 2020, China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors -- called guanggun, or "bare branches." Birth control policies that since 1979 have limited many families to one child, a cultural preference for boys and the widespread, if illegal, practice of sex-selective abortion have contributed to a gender imbalance that hovers around 117 boys born for every 100 girls.

Though some could perhaps detect a touch of Jonathan Swift in the proposal, Mr. Xie wrote that he was approaching the problem from a purely economic point of view.

Many men, especially poor ones, he noted, are unable to find a wife and have children, and are condemned to living and dying without offspring to support them in old age, as children are required to do by law in China. But he believes there is a solution.


. . .


"With so many guanggun, women are in short supply and their value increases," he wrote. "But that doesn't mean the market can't be adjusted. The guanggun problem is actually a problem of income. High-income men can find a woman because they can pay a higher price. What about low-income men? One solution is to have several take a wife together."

He added: "That's not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life."


. . .

On Sunday [October 25, 2015], he published an indignant rebuttal on one of his blogs, accusing his critics of being driven by empty notions of traditional morality that are impractical and selfish -- even hypocritical.

"Because I promoted the idea that we should allow poor men to marry the same woman to solve the problem of 30 million guanggun, I've been endlessly abused," he wrote. "People have even telephoned my university to harass me. These people have groundlessly accused me of promoting immoral and unethical ideas.

"If you can't find a solution that doesn't violate traditional morality," he continued, "then why do you criticize me for violating traditional morality? You are in favor of a couple made up of one man, one woman. But your morality will lead to 30 million guanggun with no hope of finding a wife. Is that your so-called morality?"



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "Bachelor Glut in China Leads to a Proposal: Share Wives." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 27, 2015): A4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCTOBER 26, 2015, and has the title "Not Enough Women in China? Let Men Share a Wife, an Economist Suggests.")






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 4, 2015

While Woodrow Wilson Was President of Princeton, "No Blacks Were Admitted"



(p. A1) PRINCETON, N.J. -- Few figures loom as large in the life of an Ivy League university as Woodrow Wilson does at Princeton.


. . .


But until posters started appearing around campus in September, one aspect of Wilson's legacy was seldom discussed: his racist views, and the ways he acted on them as president of the United States.

The posters, put up by a year-old student group called the Black Justice League, featured some of Wilson's more offensive quotes, including his comment to an African-American leader that "segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you," and led to a remarkable two days at this genteel (p. A17) campus last week.


. . .


Perhaps best known for leading the United States during World War I and for trying to start the League of Nations, Wilson as president rolled back gains blacks had made since Reconstruction, removing black officials from the federal government and overseeing the segregation of rank-and-file workers.

Raised in the South, he wrote of "a great Ku Klux Klan" that rose up to rid whites of "the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes."

During Wilson's tenure as president of Princeton, no blacks were admitted -- "The whole temper and tradition of the place are such that no Negro has ever applied," he wrote -- though Harvard and Yale had admitted blacks decades earlier. Princeton admitted its first black student in the 1940s.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "At Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, a Heralded Alum, Is Recast as an Intolerant One." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 23, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 22, 2015.)







December 3, 2015

Bike Helmet Regulations Hurt Health



(p. D1) . . . many cycling advocates have taken a surprising position: They are pushing back against mandatory bike-helmet laws in the U.S. and elsewhere. They say mandatory helmet laws, particularly for adults, make cycling less convenient and seem less safe, thus hindering the larger public-health gains of more people riding bikes.

All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership. Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are. Academics theorize that as drivers become used to seeing bikes on a street, they watch more closely for them.

. . .


Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Sydney's Macquarie University, actually calculated the trade-off of mandatory helmet laws. In a 2012 paper in the journal Risk Analysis, he weighed the reduction of head injuries against increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling.

Dr. de Jong concluded that mandatory bike-helmet laws "have a net negative health impact." That is in part because many people cycle to work or for errands, experts say. People tend to replace that type of cycling not with another physical activity such as a trip to the gym, but with a ride in a car.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL BACHMAN. "The Helmet-Law Backlash." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 13, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Oct. 12, 2015, and has the title "Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?")






November 25, 2015

After Hiding Under Desk, Student Wants Gun to Protect Self and Others



(p. A1) ROSEBURG, Ore. -- A week has passed since J. J. Vicari huddled underneath a desk while gunshots exploded in the classroom next door. Now he is thinking about guns. Not about tightening gun laws, as President Obama urged after nine people were killed at the community college here. But about buying one for himself.

"It's opened my eyes," said Mr. Vicari, 19. "I want to have a gun in the house to protect myself, to protect the people I'm with. I'm sure I'll have a normal life and never have to go through anything like this, but I want to be sure."



For the full story, see:

JACK HEALY and JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Common Response After Killings in Oregon: 'I Want to Have a Gun'." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 8, 2015): A1 & A18.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated OCT. 7, 2015.)






November 21, 2015

Chinese Communists Fear the Magna Carta



(p. A5) HONG KONG -- China's leaders have long behaved as if nothing could daunt them. But an 800-year-old document written in Latin on sheepskin may have them running scared.


. . .


It is not clear why the public showing was moved off the Renmin University campus. But Magna Carta is widely considered a cornerstone for constitutional government in Britain and the United States, and such a system is inimical to China's leaders, who view "constitutionalism" as a threat to Communist Party rule.

In 2013, the party issued its "seven unmentionables" -- taboo topics for its members. The first unmentionable is promoting Western-style constitutional democracy. The Chinese characters for "Magna Carta" are censored in web searches on Sina Weibo, the country's Twitter-like social media site.

Hu Jia, a prominent Chinese dissident, said he was not surprised that the exhibit had been moved off the campus. He said that Renmin University had close ties to the Communist Party's training academy and that the principles the document stood for were contrary to the party's. More important, he said, Chinese leaders may have been concerned that the exhibit would be popular and that "many students would flock there."

"They fear that such ideology and historical material will penetrate deep into the students' hearts," Mr. Hu said.


. . .


Magna Carta has been the subject of several academic conferences and lectures in China this year, including two at Renmin University. One doctoral student in history who knows people at the museum said that the school had canceled the exhibit on orders of the Ministry of Education.

"To get kind of wound up about an old document like the Magna Carta? They're a little bit brittle and fragile, aren't they, Chinese leaders?" said Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat who was stationed in Beijing and now serves as director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney in Australia. "Poor dears."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL FORSYTHE. "Magna Carta Visits China, but Venue Abruptly Shifts." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 15, 2015): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated OCT. 14, 2015, and had the title "Magna Carta Exhibition in China Is Abruptly Moved From University.")






November 20, 2015

FTC Retaliated Against, and Destroyed, Innocent Firm that Stood Up for Rule of Law



(p. A17) Sometimes winning is still losing. That is certainly true for companies that find themselves caught in the cross hairs of the federal government. Since 2013, my organization has defended one such company, the cancer-screening LabMD, against meritless allegations from the Federal Trade Commission. Last Friday, [November 13, 2015] the FTC's chief administrative-law judge dismissed the agency's complaint. But it was too late. The reputational damage and expense of a six-year federal investigation forced LabMD to close last year.


. . .


Unlike many other companies in similar situations, . . . , LabMD refused to cave and in 2012 went public with the ordeal. In what appeared to be retaliation, the FTC sued LabMD in 2013, alleging that the company engaged in "unreasonable" data-security practices that amounted to an "unfair" trade practice by not taking reasonable steps to protect patient information. FTC officials publicly attacked LabMD and imposed arduous demands on the doctors who used the company's diagnostic services. In just one example, the FTC subpoenaed a Florida oncology lab to produce documents and appear for depositions before government lawyers--all at the doctors' expense.

Yet after years of investigation and enforcement action, the FTC never produced a single patient or doctor who suffered or who alleged identity theft or harm because of LabMD's data-security practices. The FTC never claimed that LabMD violated HIPAA regulations, and until 2014--four years after its investigation began--never offered any data-security standards with which LabMD failed to comply.


. . .


. . . , the FTC is likely to simply disregard the 92-page decision--which weighed witness credibility and the law--and side with commission staff. That's the still greater injustice: The FTC is not bound by administrative-law judge rulings. In fact, the agency has disregarded every adverse ruling over the past two decades, according to a February analysis by former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright. Defendants' only recourse is appealing in federal court, a fresh burden in legal fees.

That's what happens when a federal agency serves as its own detective, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. As Mr. Wright observed, the FTC's record is "a strong sign of an unhealthy and biased institutional process." And he puts it perhaps most powerfully: "Even bank robbery prosecutions have less predictable outcomes than administrative adjudication at the FTC." Winning against the federal government should never require losing so much.



For the full commentary, see:

DAN EPSTEIN. "Hounded Out of Business by Regulators; The company LabMD finally won its six-year battle with the FTC, but vindication came too late." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 20, 2015): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Nov. 19, 2015.)






November 16, 2015

Audits Worth Less When the Audited Directly Pay for Them



(p. B1) Environmental regulators in Gujarat, one of India's fastest-growing industrial states, found themselves in an implausible situation a few years ago: Every single city breached national air quality standards. And yet environmental audits kept finding that factories met pollution limits.

So the Gujaratis hired some researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to carry out an experiment, changing the way the audits were made. Instead of hiring their own auditors, companies had auditors assigned to them randomly. Instead of being paid by the companies they audited, auditors drew a fixed fee from a pool that all companies paid into.

Measured compliance rates abruptly plummeted. But once the new system was in place, the real emissions from polluting factories finally started to decline. The Gujaratis kept the new approach.

"When fact-checking is not done in an independent way, there is a long history of things turning out the way the entity being fact checked wants them to turn out," said Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago, a former chief economist for President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers who was one of the researchers involved in the study. "Until you change the incentives, this will not change."

The problem may seem remote, but it turns out that the same incentives apply in the United States, even in programs that, at first glance, appear to provide an unmitigated benefit.

Last month, the Energy Department released an extensive report assessing the impact of the federal weatherization program, which was begun in 1976 to shield the homes of low-income Americans from the elements, save them money on heating bills and improve energy efficiency.

It concluded that weatheriza-(p. B10)tion -- insulating homes, changing boilers, plugging leaky windows and the like -- was a stellar investment. Not only were the energy savings substantially larger than the cost of weatherizing homes, the report found, but the gains soared even more once the broader impacts on health were taken into account.

"The results demonstrate that weatherization provides cost-effective energy savings and health and safety benefits to American families," the Energy Department announced.

But do they? When Professor Greenstone and two other independent economists looked under the hood -- not a trivial challenge, given the report's 4,500 pages -- they found a collection of idiosyncratic choices and unorthodox assumptions that severely undermined the credibility of the enterprise.

In the end, they concluded, the government research effort, which was led by the Energy Department's own Oak Ridge National Laboratory, cannot tell us whether weatherization is a fabulous program or a waste of taxpayer dollars.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "ECONOMIC SCENE; For Government That Works, Call In the Auditors." The New York Times (Weds., OCT. 7, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 6, 2015, and the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; For Government That Works, Call In the Auditors.")






November 8, 2015

Recycling Is Costly "Religious Ritual"




John Tierney penned another eye-opening commentary, this one as a cover-story for the SundayReview Section of The New York Times. A few of the best passages are quoted below.



(p. 1) In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful.


. . .


So, what's happened since then? While it's true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and man-(p. 4)dates, it's still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies.


. . .


One of the original goals of the recycling movement was to avert a supposed crisis because there was no room left in the nation's landfills. But that media-inspired fear was never realistic in a country with so much open space. In reporting the 1996 article I found that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing. And that tiny amount of land wouldn't be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island.


. . .


Last week the National Institutes of Health announced that it had prematurely ended a large national study of how best to treat people with high blood pressure because of its exceptional results.

In this trial of more than 9,000 people age 50 and older with high blood pressure, an aggressive treatment strategy to keep systolic blood pressure below 120 was compared with a conventional one aimed at keeping it below 140. The subjects all had a high risk of heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. The N.I.H. concluded, six years into a planned eight-year study, that for these patients, pushing blood pressure down far below currently recommended levels was very beneficial.


. . .


As a business, recycling is on the wrong side of two long-term global economic trends. For centuries, the real cost of labor has been increasing while the real cost of raw materials has been declining. That's why we can afford to buy so much more stuff than our ancestors could. As a labor-intensive activity, recycling is an increasingly expensive way to produce materials that are less and less valuable.

Recyclers have tried to improve the economics by automating the sorting process, but they've been frustrated by politicians eager to increase recycling rates by adding new materials of little value. The more types of trash that are recycled, the more difficult it becomes to sort the valuable from the worthless.

In New York City, the net cost of recycling a ton of trash is now $300 more than it would cost to bury the trash instead. That adds up to millions of extra dollars per year -- about half the budget of the parks department -- that New Yorkers are spending for the privilege of recycling. That money could buy far more valuable benefits, including more significant reductions in greenhouse emissions.

So what is a socially conscious, sensible person to do?

It would be much simpler and more effective to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on garbage, as Thomas C. Kinnaman has proposed after conducting what is probably the most thorough comparison of the social costs of recycling, landfilling and incineration. Dr. Kinnaman, an economist at Bucknell University, considered everything from environmental damage to the pleasure that some people take in recycling (the "warm glow" that makes them willing to pay extra to do it).

He concludes that the social good would be optimized by subsidizing the recycling of some metals, and by imposing a $15 tax on each ton of trash that goes to the landfill. That tax would offset the environmental costs, chiefly the greenhouse impact, and allow each municipality to make a guilt-free choice based on local economics and its citizens' wishes. The result, Dr. Kinnaman predicts, would be a lot less recycling than there is today.

Then why do so many public officials keep vowing to do more of it? Special-interest politics is one reason -- pressure from green groups -- but it's also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters: It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint. It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins.

Religious rituals don't need any practical justification for the believers who perform them voluntarily. But many recyclers want more than just the freedom to practice their religion. They want to make these rituals mandatory for everyone else, too, with stiff fines for sinners who don't sort properly. Seattle has become so aggressive that the city is being sued by residents who maintain that the inspectors rooting through their trash are violating their constitutional right to privacy.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "The Reign of Recycling." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 4, 2015): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 3, 2015.)


The Kinnaman paper mentioned above, is:

Kinnaman, Thomas C., Takayoshi Shinkuma, and Masashi Yamamoto. "The Socially Optimal Recycling Rate: Evidence from Japan." Journal of Environmental Economics & Management 68, no. 1 (July 2014): 54-70.






November 2, 2015

Federal Agency Director Collects $750,000 for Lobbying



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- In this city with a grand tradition of government officials who pass through the revolving door into a world of big paychecks, Jeffrey Farrow stands apart.

While earning more than $100,000 a year as executive director of a tiny federal agency called the Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which has only one full-time federal employee, Mr. Farrow has simultaneously helped collect as much as $750,000 a year in lobbying fees. His clients have included the governments of Puerto Rico and the Republic of Palau, a tiny island nation in the western Pacific.

Mr. Farrow was at once a federal government bureaucrat and lobbyist. The revolving door did not even have to spin.

He managed this feat while running one of dozens of agencies that can get lost in the vast United States government -- this one responsible for identifying and helping preserve cemeteries and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe that are important to American Jews and others, including Orthodox Christians from Kosovo.


. . .


(p. A16) "A bizarre tale," said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in a letter he sent last month to Lesley Weiss, the chairwoman of the 30-year-old commission, asking her to explain Mr. Farrow's dual roles. "This lobbyist used federal personnel and resources to run a profitable personal business advancing the interest of foreign agents.".


. . .


Mr. Johnson, the Wisconsin senator, in a statement released by his office Friday, said the commission, despite its worthwhile mission, was an example of what is wrong with government.

"This relatively tiny agency is a classic example of the dysfunction and waste that typify far too much of the federal government," he said. "Established with the best of intentions to memorialize the horrors of 20th-century genocides, the Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad did little to accomplish that goal but was instead used to enrich a lobbyist."



For the full story, see:

ERIC LIPTON. "The Lobbyist With a Six-Figure Government Job."The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 15, 2015): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 14, 2015.)






October 28, 2015

Lax College Accreditors May Be "Doing More Harm than Good"



(p. A19) Most colleges can't keep their doors open without an accreditor's seal of approval, which is needed to get students access to federal loans and grants. But accreditors hardly ever kick out the worst-performing colleges and lack uniform standards for assessing graduation rates and loan defaults.

Those problems are blamed by critics for deepening the student-debt crisis as college costs soared during the past decade. Last year alone, the U.S. government sent $16 billion in aid to students at four-year colleges that graduated less than one-third of their students within six years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of the latest available federal data.


. . .


(p. A12) Accreditors say their job is to help colleges get better rather than to weed out laggards. Colleges pay for the inspections, which can cost more than $1 million at large institutions.

"You're not there to remove an institution," says Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a trade group. "You're there to enhance the operation."

The government has relied on accreditors as watchdogs since the 1950s. Colleges are evaluated by teams of volunteers from similar institutions, who follow standards set by the accreditation group. For example, colleges sometimes are required to collect student-retention data but given the freedom to set their own goals for those numbers.


. . .


Stephen Roderick, former provost at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, says he now has misgivings about his 2013 review of Glenville State College in West Virginia for the Higher Learning Commission. The review team wrote that the college had a "responsible program" to minimize default rates and "demonstrates a commitment" to evaluating graduation data.

Glenville's graduation rate is 30%, while about 22% of students defaulted on loans from 2011 to 2013. Both percentages rank near the bottom 10% of accredited four-year colleges. David Millard, assistant to Glenville's president, says the figures reflect the opportunity offered by the college to students in one of the poorest parts of the U.S.

Mr. Roderick says accreditors are inclined to see the best in colleges like Glenville, but that might not be the best for students. "Sometimes I feel that we're doing more harm than good," he says.



For the full story, see:

ANDREA FULLER and DOUGLAS BELKIN. "Education Watchdogs Rarely Bite; Accreditors keep hundreds of schools with low graduation rates or high loan defaults alive." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 18, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated June 17, 2015, and had the title "The Watchdogs of College Education Rarely Bite; Accreditors keep hundreds of schools with low graduation rates or high loan defaults alive.")






October 19, 2015

FCC Gains Arbitrary Power Over Internet Innovation



(p. A11) Imagine if Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg had been obliged to ask bureaucrats in Washington if it was OK to launch the iPhone, Gmail, or Facebook's forthcoming Oculus virtual-reality service. Ridiculous, right? Not anymore.

A few days before the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Federal Communications Commission announced what amounts to a system of permission slips for the Internet.


. . .


As the FCC begins to issue guidance and enforcement actions, it's becoming clearer that critics who feared there would be significant legal uncertainty were right. Under its new "transparency" rule, for example, the agency on June 17 conjured out of thin air an astonishing $100 million fine against AT&T, even though the firm explained its mobile-data plans on its websites and in numerous emails and texts to customers.

The FCC's new "Internet Conduct Standard," meanwhile, is no standard at all. It is an undefined catchall for any future behavior the agency doesn't like.


. . .


From the beginning, Internet pioneers operated in an environment of "permissionless innovation." FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now insists that "it makes sense to have somebody watching over their shoulder and ready to jump in if necessary." But the agency is jumping in to demand that innovators get permission before they offer new services to consumers. The result will be less innovation.



For the full commentary, see:

BRET SWANSON. "Permission Slips for Internet Innovation; The FCC's new Web rules are already as onerous as feared and favor some business models over others." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 15, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 14, 2015.)






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 11, 2015

Feds Constrain Startups



(p. A15) Virtually every state has suffered a drop in startups, which suggests that this is a national, and not a regional or state, problem.


. . .


If history is any indication, many of today's economic heavyweights will ultimately decline as new businesses take their place. Research by the Kaufman Foundation shows that only about half of the 1995 Fortune 500 firms remained on the list in 2010.

Startups also have declined in high technology. John Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland reports that there are fewer startups in high technology and information-processing since 2000, as well as fewer high-growth startups--annual employment growth of more than 25%--across all sectors. Even more troubling is that the smaller number of high-growth startups is not growing as quickly as in the past.


. . .


Surveys by John Dearie and Courtney Gerduldig, authors of "Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy" (2013), show that entrepreneurs report being hamstrung by difficulties in finding skilled workers, by a complex tax code that penalizes small business, by regulations that raise the costs of doing business, and by difficulties in obtaining financing that have worsened since 2008.



For the full story, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "Behind the Productivity Plunge: Fewer Startups; New businesses were created at a 30% lower rate in 2012 than the annual average rate in the 1980s." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 26, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 25, 2014.)






October 9, 2015

Smugglers Respond to Putin's Ban on Cheese



(p. A4) When the Russian government banned dairy products from a host of nations, including the United States and members of the European Union, last year in response to Western economic sanctions imposed over Russia's military meddling in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin said the restrictions would create a profitable opportunity for domestic industries.

Instead they appear to have created an opening for forgers and smugglers. The "cheese ring" was busted with an estimated $30 million worth of the stuff, nearly 500 tons, according to the Interior Ministry police.



For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "A Crackdown in Russia on a Creamy Contraband." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 19, 2015): A4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "Russian Police Get Tough on Illicit Cheese.")






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 5, 2015

Belgian Government Mandates Mayo to Be No Less than 80% Fat



(p. A1) BRUSSELS--Mayonnaise here is a sauce celebre, so important that a 60-year-old royal decree governs what goes in it.


. . .


Belgian mayonnaise must contain at least 80% fat and 7.5% egg yolk. European rivals are permitted to sell mayo with a mere 70% fat and 5% egg yolk.



For the full story, see:

TOM FAIRLESS. "No Yolk, Belgian Food Producers Fed Up with Mayonnaise Rules; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yellow peas." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 20, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 20, 2015 and the title "In Belgium, Mayonnaise Makers Want a New Recipe; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yell;ow peas.")






September 25, 2015

"If You Get Too Cold, I'll Tax the Heat"



(p. A11) George Harrison knew what he was talking about when he wrote the song "Taxman" for the Beatles: "If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." Had the Internet been around in 1966, they might have added: "If you use the Web, I'll tax your tweet."


For the full commentary, see:

OHN THUNE and AJIT PAI. "Taxman, Won't You Please Spare The Internet?; A moratorium on taxing online access has been an unqualified success. Let's make it permanent." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 17, 2014.)






September 22, 2015

Venezeuelan Socialists Seize Warehouses of Cerveceria Polar Beer



PolarWorkersProtestSocialistsSeizingProperty.jpg "Polar workers protested the government's decision to expropriate warehouse land in Caracas on Thursday [July 30, 2015]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A7) CARACAS, Venezuela--The government ordered major food companies, including units of PepsiCo and Nestlé Inc., to evacuate warehouses in an area where the state plans to expropriate land to build low-cost housing.


. . .


Manuel Larrazábal, a director at Polar, said he hoped the government would reconsider the measure. "We don't doubt that they need to construct housing, which is so important, but we ask why it has to affect active industrial facilities."


. . .


Some workers painted messages including "No to expropriation" and "Let us work" onto the walls of the industrial park and on dozens of trucks that lined the streets outside, which were blocked by police and National Guard. Polar said the move would affect some 600 workers, as well as 1,400 employees who transport their goods around Caracas and two neighboring states.


. . .


Polar suspended operations at its facility after getting the order Wednesday night. The expropriation order extends a history of shaky relations between it and the government, which began under the late leader Hugo Chávez and continues under his protégé, Mr. Maduro.

In recent months, the company, which is the largest beer maker in Venezuela, said it had to halt work at several plants and breweries due to labor strife. It has also struggled with difficulties in acquiring raw materials and U.S. dollars to pay overseas suppliers, a process controlled by the government due to complicated currency regulations.



For the full story, see:

KEJAL VYAS . "Venezuela Takeover Order Riles Companies; Maduro's government wants industrial zone to build housing for poor." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)






September 21, 2015

Obama Praises Koch Brothers for Supporting Criminal Justice Reforms



(p. A1) Once known for grim letters to fellow wealthy Americans warning of socialist apocalypse, Charles G. Koch now promotes research on the link between freedom and everyday happiness. Turn on "The Big Bang Theory" or "Morning Joe," and you are likely to see soft-focus television spots introducing some of the many employees of Koch Industries.

Instead of trading insults with Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, Mr. Koch and his brother, David H. Koch, are trading compliments with President Obama, who this month praised the Kochs' support for criminal justice reform at a meeting of the N.A.A.C.P.


. . .


(p. A17) . . ., the Kochs have made cause with prominent liberals to change federal sentencing rules, which disproportionately affect African-Americans, while a Koch-backed nonprofit, the Libre Initiative, offers driving lessons and tax preparation services to Latinos.


. . .


The brothers are sensitive to criticism that they are recent converts to issues like criminal justice. Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries, said the company had become active in defendants' rights back in the 1990s, after four employees at a Texas refinery were snared in what the company viewed as an overzealous prosecution of federal clean air and hazardous waste laws. The company and family have long donated to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Holden said, as well as to the United Negro College Fund and other charities.

"Charles obviously is a classical liberal, who believes in the Bill of Rights, and limited but necessary government," Mr. Holden said. "If those are your guideposts, criminal justice reform is where you need to be."


. . .


Michael L. Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, said in an interview that any political dimension to the giving was not his concern.

"My focus is very narrow: Is this program working for our students?" said Dr. Lomax, adding, "I don't really get very involved in the critics."


. . .


Civil libertarians have also sought the company out as a partner. Mr. Holden has made several trips to the White House, striking up a partnership with Valerie Jarrett, one of Mr. Obama's top advisers. "People are pulling us in because we can be helpful," Mr. Holden said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Alter Image." The New York Time (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Try to Alter Their Image.")






September 19, 2015

Increasing Recalls of Organic Food Due to Bacterial Contamination



(p. B3) New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products.

Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

"What's striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label," Mr. Pollack said. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Private Analysis Shows a Sharp Increase in the Number of Organic Food Recalls." The New York Times (Fri., Aug. 21, 2015): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 20, 2015, and has the title "Recalls of Organic Food on the Rise, Report Says." The last paragraph quoted above differs in the print and online versions; the version quoted is the print version. The online version of the paragraph is: "According to Stericycle, 87 percent of organic recalls since 2012 were for bacterial contamination, like salmonella and listeria, rather than a problem with a label. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it," Mr. Pollack said.")






September 13, 2015

The Dynamism of Venturesome New Yorkers: "If You Want Country Living, Move to the Country"



(p. A18) One cannot live any closer to the terminals of La Guardia Airport than the residents of East Elmhurst, Queens. Some homes sit only a few hundred yards away from the control tower, on the opposite side of the Grand Central Parkway. The new $4 billion airport hub envisioned for the site, announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, would be even closer.

So it might be assumed that the promise of years of heavy-duty construction and the associated noise, traffic and dust would fill residents with dread.

Not quite.

"We live in New York City, honey," said Michele Mongeluzo, 56, whose house sits on a rise just south of the parkway, offering an unobstructed view of the airport and the proposed construction site. "If you want country living, move to the country."

In interviews this week along the blocks closest to the airport, residents almost universally said that they not only had no trepidation about the construction but that they also actually welcomed it. Improvements, they said, were long overdue.

Furthermore, they suggested, what was a little construction on top of the aural challenges -- the roaring jet engines, the chop of helicopter rotors, the incessant highway traffic -- that they had already contended with and apparently overcome?

"If it's noisy, I'm used to it," said Freddy Fuhrtz, 75, who retired as an employee in the cargo division of Pan Am and still lives in the two-story house on 92nd Street where he grew up and raised his children. "It's progress."



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE. "Construction Plans Don't Faze Airport Neighbors." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A18 & A21.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "Construction Plans for La Guardia Airport Don't Faze Its Neighbors.")






September 10, 2015

Uber Used Political Entrepreneurship to Fight Government Regulations



(p. A15) Mayor Bill de Blasio's summertime battle with Uber exposed vulnerabilities in his political operation and has given rise to resentment among many of the allies he will need to advance his agenda at City Hall.


. . .


Aides to the mayor said they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of television ads, which began to air on July 14, the day after they met with Uber officials to negotiate.

Uber also ran a sophisticated digital strategy, with more than 40,000 people emailing the mayor and almost 20,000 sending him twitter messages.

City Hall repeatedly stumbled when it tried to fight back.

Aides managed to send emails to thousands of Uber users, saying they were only trying to slow the car service's expansion--while studying the issue--but were flooded by many people incorrectly accusing them of trying to totally ban the service.


. . .


After Uber staged several large rallies, the mayor's office aggressively tried to find supporters. But a rally on City Hall steps had fewer than 200 people, and many other officials didn't want to enter the fray.

Many of the city's influential black leaders were already backing Uber and had appeared at a July 14 news conference. Aides to the mayor were furious. "It was the African-American ministers that turned this fight," said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group.



For the full story, see:

JOSH DAWSEY. "War With Uber Hurt de Blasio With Allies; Aides to the mayor say they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of TV ads." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)







September 7, 2015

Smugly Believing Those Who Disagree with Us Are Stupid



(p. 3) Many liberals, but not conservatives, believe there is an important asymmetry in American politics. These liberals believe that people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum are fundamentally different. Specifically, they believe that liberals are much more open to change than conservatives, more tolerant of differences, more motivated by the public good and, maybe most of all, smarter and better informed.

The evidence for these beliefs is not good. Liberals turn out to be just as prone to their own forms of intolerance, ignorance and bias. But the beliefs are comforting to many. They give their bearers a sense of intellectual and even moral superiority. And they affect behavior. They inform the condescension and self-righteousness with which liberals often treat conservatives.


. . .


. . . my strongest memory of Mr. Stewart, like that of many other conservatives, is probably going to be his 2010 interview with the Berkeley law professor John Yoo. Mr. Yoo had served in Mr. Bush's Justice Department and had drafted memos laying out what techniques could and couldn't be used to interrogate Al Qaeda detainees. Mr. Stewart seemed to go into the interview expecting a menacing Clint Eastwood type, who was fully prepared to zap the genitals of some terrorist if that's what it took to protect America's women and children.

Mr. Stewart was caught unaware by the quiet, reasonable Mr. Yoo, who explained that he had been asked to determine what legally constituted torture so the government could safely stay on this side of the line. The issue, in other words, wasn't whether torture was justified but what constituted it and what didn't. Ask yourself how intellectually curious Mr. Stewart really could be, not to know that this is what Bush administration officials had been saying all along?



For the full commentary, see:

GERARD ALEXANDER. "Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 9, 2015): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 7, 2015.)

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)






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 29, 2015

From Self-Funding, and Sony, Khanna Builds PlayStation Supercomputer to Advance Science



KhannaGauravPlaystationSupercomputer2015-07-05.jpg"Gaurav Khanna with a supercomputer he built at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department using 200 Playstation 3 consoles that are housed in a refrigerated shipping container." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D3) This spring, Gaurav Khanna noticed that the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department was more crowded than usual. Why, he wondered, were so many students suddenly so interested in science?"

It wasn't a thirst for knowledge, it turns out. News of Dr. Khanna's success in building a supercomputer using only PlayStation 3 video game consoles had spread quickly; the students, a lot of them gamers, just wanted to gape at the sight of nearly 200 consoles stacked on one another.


. . .


Making a supercomputer requires a large number of processors -- standard desktops, laptops or the like -- and a way to network them. Dr. Khanna picked the PlayStation 3 for its viability and cost, currently, $250 to $300 in stores. Unlike other game consoles, the PlayStation 3 allows users to install a preferred operating system, making it attractive to programmers and developers. (The latest model, the PlayStation 4, does not have this feature.)

"Gaming had grown into a huge market," Dr. Khanna said. "There's a huge push for performance, meaning you can buy low-cost, high-performance hardware very easily. I could go out and buy 100 PlayStation 3 consoles at my neighborhood Best Buy, if I wanted."

That is just what Dr. Khanna did, though on a smaller scale. Because the National Science Foundation, which funds much of Dr. Khanna's research, might not have viewed the bulk buying of video game consoles as a responsible use of grant money, he reached out to Sony Computer Entertainment America, the company behind the PlayStation 3. Sony donated four consoles to the experiment; Dr. Khanna's university paid for eight more, and Dr. Khanna bought another four. He then installed the Linux operating system on all 16 consoles, plugged them into the Internet and booted up the supercomputer.

Lior Burko, an associate professor of physics at Georgia Gwinnett College and a past collaborator with Dr. Khanna, praised the idea as an "ingenious" way to get the function of a supercomputer without the prohibitive expense.

"Dr. Khanna was able to combine his two fields of expertise, namely general relativity and computer science, to invent something new that allowed for not just a neat new machine, but also scientific progress that otherwise might have taken many more years to achieve," Dr. Burko said.


. . .


His team linked the consoles, housing them in a refrigerated shipping container designed to carry milk. The resulting supercomputer, Dr. Khanna said, had the computational power of nearly 3,000 laptop or desktop processors, and cost only $75,000 to make -- about a tenth the cost of a comparable supercomputer made using traditional parts.



For the full story, see:

LAURA PARKER "An Economical Way to Save Progress." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2014, and has the title "That Old PlayStation Can Aid Science.")






August 28, 2015

No Increase in Public's Concern with Income Inequality Since 1978



(p. 4A) DENVER (AP) -- Income inequality is all the rage in public debate nowadays. Political figures from Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the left to Republican presidential prospect Jeb Bush on the right are denouncing the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

But ordinary Americans don't seem as fascinated by the issue as their would-be leaders. The public's expressed interest in income inequality has remained stagnant over the past 36 years, according to the General Social Survey, which measures trends in public opinion.

In 2014 polling, Republicans' support for the government doing something to narrow the rich-poor gap reached an all-time low. Even Democrats were slightly less interested in government action on the issue than they were two years ago.

The survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Because of its long-running and comprehensive questions, it is a highly regarded source on social trends.

In the latest survey, made public last week, less than half of Americans -- 46 percent -- said the government ought to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor. That level has held fairly steady since 1978. Thirty-seven percent said the government shouldn't concern itself with income differences, and the rest didn't feel strongly either way.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Income Inequality? Pols Want to Talk about It; Public Yawns." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, March 23, 2015): 4A.


For more details on the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) General Social Survey (GSS) results through 2014, see:

Inequality: Trends in Americans' Attitudes URL: http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/HTML%20Reports/inequality-trends-in-americans-attitudes0317-6562.aspx#study






August 26, 2015

Pentagon Seeks Innovation from Private Start-Ups Since "They've Realized that the Old Model Wasn't Working Anymore"



(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO -- A small group of high-ranking Pentagon officials made a quiet visit to Silicon Valley in December to solicit national security ideas from start-up firms with little or no history of working with the military.

The visit was made as part of an effort to find new ways to maintain a military advantage in an increasingly uncertain world.

In announcing its Defense Innovation Initiative in a speech in California in November, Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, mentioned examples of technologies like robotics, unmanned systems, miniaturization and 3-D printing as places to look for "game changing" technologies that would maintain military superiority.

"They've realized that the old model wasn't working anymore," said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They're really worried about America's capacity to innovate."

There is a precedent for the initiative. Startled by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the Pentagon to ensure that the United States would not be blindsided by technological advances.

Now, the Pentagon has decided that the nation needs more than ARPA, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, if it is to find new technologies to maintain American military superiority.


. . .


The Pentagon focused on smaller companies during its December visit; it did not, for example, visit Google. Mr. Welby acknowledged that Silicon Valley start-ups were not likely to be focused on the Pentagon as a customer. The military has captive suppliers and a long and complex sales cycle, and it is perceived as being a small market compared with the hundreds of millions of customers for consumer electronics products.

Mr. Welby has worked for three different Darpa directors, but he said that Pentagon officials now believed they had to look beyond their own advanced technology offices.

"The Darpa culture is about trying to understand high-risk technology," he said. "It's about big leaps." Today, however, the Pentagon needs to break out of what can be seen as a "not invented here" culture, he said.

"We're thinking about what the world is going to look like in 2030 and what tools the department will need in 20 or 30 years," he added.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Pentagon Shops in Silicon Valley for Game Changers." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 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 17, 2015

Average Length of 10-K Reports Rises to 41,911 Words




WordLength10KannualReportGraph2015-07-05.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) General Electric Co.'s chief financial officer was taken aback by the industrial conglomerate's 246-page annual report.

The 10-K and supporting documents his finance team and others at the company produced was meant to give investors a comprehensive picture of GE's businesses and financial performance over the previous 12 months. It did everything but.

Packed with text on the company's internal controls, auditor statements and regulator-mandated boilerplate on "inflation, recession and currency volatility," the 2013 annual report was 109,894 words long. "Not a retail investor on planet Earth could get through" it, let alone understand it, said GE finance chief Jeffrey Bornstein.

Companies are spending an increasing amount of time and energy beefing up their regulatory filings to meet disclosure requirements. The average 10K is getting longer--about 42,000 words in 2013, up from roughly 30,000 words in 2000. By comparison, the text of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has 32,000 words.



For the full story, see:

VIPAL MONGA and EMILY CHASAN. "The 109,894-Word Annual Report." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 2, 2015): B1 & B10.






August 9, 2015

NOAA New Estimates Show Increase Since 1880 of Only 1.65 Degrees Fahrenheit



(p. A10) Scientists have long labored to explain what appeared to be a slowdown in global warming that began at the start of this century as, at the same time, heat-trapping emissions of carbon dioxide were soaring. The slowdown, sometimes inaccurately described as a halt or hiatus, became a major talking point for people critical of climate science.

Now, new research suggests the whole thing may have been based on incorrect data.

When adjustments are made to compensate for recently discovered problems in the way global temperatures were measured, the slowdown largely disappears, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared in a scientific paper published Thursday. And when the particularly warm temperatures of 2013 and 2014 are averaged in, the slowdown goes away entirely, the agency said.


. . .


The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington that is critical of climate science, issued a statement condemning the changes and questioning the agency's methodology.

"The main claim by the authors that they have uncovered a significant recent warming trend is dubious," said the statement, attributed to three contrarian climate scientists: Richard S. Lindzen, Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger.

However, Russell S. Vose, chief of the climate science division at NOAA's Asheville center, pointed out in an interview that while the corrections do eliminate the recent warming slowdown, the overall effect of the agency's adjustments has long been to raise the reported global temperatures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by a substantial margin. That makes the temperature increase of the past century appear less severe than it does in the raw data.

"If you just wanted to release to the American public our uncorrected data set, it would say that the world has warmed up about 2.071 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880," Dr. Vose said. "Our corrected data set says things have warmed up about 1.65 degrees Fahrenheit. Our corrections lower the rate of warming on a global scale."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Global Warming 'Hiatus' Challenged by NOAA Research." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 5, 2015): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 4, 2015.)


The scientific article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Karl, Thomas R., Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, and Zhang Huai-Min. "Possible Artifacts of Data Biases in the Recent Global Surface Warming Hiatus." Science 348, no. 6242 (June 26, 2015): 1469-72.






August 5, 2015

Plant Breeders Use Old Sloppy "Natural" Process to Avoid Regulatory Stasis



(p. A11) What's in a name?

A lot, if the name is genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., which many people are dead set against. But what if scientists used the precise techniques of today's molecular biology to give back to plants genes that had long ago been bred out of them? And what if that process were called "rewilding?"

That is the idea being floated by a group at the University of Copenhagen, which is proposing the name for the process that would result if scientists took a gene or two from an ancient plant variety and melded it with more modern species to promote greater resistant to drought, for example.

"I consider this something worth discussing," said Michael B. Palmgren, a plant biologist at the Danish university who headed a group, including scientists, ethicists and lawyers, that is funded by the university and the Danish National Research Foundation.

They pondered the problem of fragile plants in organic farming, came up with the rewilding idea, and published their proposal Thursday in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

. . .


The idea of restoring long-lost genes to plants is not new, said Julian I. Schroeder, a plant researcher at the University of California, Davis. But, wary of the taint of genetic engineering, scientists have used traditional breeding methods to cross modern plants with ancient ones until they have the gene they want in a crop plant that needs it. The tedious process inevitably drags other genes along with the one that is targeted. But the older process is "natural," Dr. Schroeder said.


. . .


Researchers have previously crossbred wheat plants with traits found in ancient varieties, noted Maarten Van Ginkel, who headed such a program in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

"We selected for disease resistance, drought tolerance," he said. "This method works but it has drawbacks. You prefer to move only the genes you want."

When Dr. Van Ginkel crossbred for traits, he did not look for the specific genes conferring those traits. But with the flood-resistant rice plants, researchers knew exactly which gene they wanted. Nonetheless, they crossbred and did not use precision breeding to alter the plants.

Asked why not, Dr. Schroeder had a simple answer -- a complex maze of regulations governing genetically engineered crops. With crossbreeding, he said, "the first varieties hit the fields in a couple of years."

And if the researchers had used precision breeding to get the gene into the rice?

"They would still be stuck in the regulatory process," Dr. Schroeder said.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "A Proposal to Modify Plants Gives G.M.O. Debate New Life." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 28, 2015.)







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 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 29, 2015

How Home Solar Panel Subsidies Increase Inequality



(p. A13) Well-meaning--but ill-conceived--federal, state and local tax incentives for rooftop solar give back between 30% and 40% of the installation costs to the owner as a tax credit. But more problematic are hidden rate subsidies, the most significant of which is called net metering, which is available in 44 states. Net metering allows solar-system owners to offset on a one-for-one basis the energy they receive from the electric grid with the solar power they generate on their roof.

While this might sound logical, it isn't. An average California resident with solar, for example, generally pays about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electric service when the home's solar panels aren't operating. When they are operating, however, net metering requires the utility to pay that solar customer the same 17 cents per kilowatt-hour. But the solar customer still needs the grid to back up his intermittent solar panels, and the utility could have purchased that same solar power from a utility-scale solar power plant for about five cents per kilowatt-hour.

This 12-cents-per-kwh cost difference amounts to a wealth transfer from average electric customers to customers with rooftop solar systems (who also often have higher incomes). This is because utilities collect much of their fixed costs--the unavoidable costs of power plants, transmission lines, etc.--from residential customers through variable-use charges, in other words, charges based on how much energy they use. When a customer with rooftop solar purchases less electricity from the utility, he pays fewer variable-use charges and avoids contributing revenue to cover the utility's fixed costs. The result is that all of the other customers have to pick up the difference.



For the full commentary, see:

BRIAN H. POTTS . "The Hole in the Rooftop Solar-Panel Craze; Large-scale plants make sense, but panels for houses simply transfer wealth from average electric customers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 18, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 17, 2015.)






July 24, 2015

Army Corps of Engineers Blamed for Hurricane Katrina



(p. 13) NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 10 years on, one might assume that the case of Hurricane Katrina is closed.

That the catastrophic flooding of this city was caused not merely by a powerful storm but primarily by fatal engineering flaws in the city's flood protection system has been proved by experts, acknowledged by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and underscored by residents here to anyone who might suggest otherwise.

But the efforts to establish responsibility with ever more precision -- to ascertain just how many of those flaws were due to engineering, politics or money -- have not stopped.



For the full story, see:

CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Decade After Katrina, Pointing Finger Firmly at Army Corps." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 13 & 16.

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 23, 2015, and has the title "Decade After Katrina, Pointing Finger More Firmly at Army Corps.")






July 21, 2015

Feds Paid New York Journalist to Not Grow Crops in Oregon



(p. 11) As for the foolishness of agricultural subsidies, until recently, the federal government paid me, a New York journalist, $588 a year not to grow crops in Oregon. I rest my case.


For the full commentary, see:

Nicholas Kristof. "Our Water-Guzzling Food Factory." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 31, 2015): 11.

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 30, 2015.)






July 20, 2015

Drinking Water Not Harmed by Fracking



(p. A13) Fracking isn't causing widespread damage to the nation's drinking water, the Obama administration said in a long-awaited report released Thursday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency--after a four-year study that is the U.S. government's most comprehensive examination of the issue to date--concluded that hydraulic fracturing, as being carried out by industry and regulated by states, isn't having "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water."



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLD And AMY HARDER. "Fracking's Harm to Water Not Widespread, EPA Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 5, 2015): A5.

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is June 4, 2015, and has the title "Fracking Has Had No 'Widespread' Impact on Drinking Water, EPA Finds.")






July 17, 2015

Environment Experts Admit Obama Policies Are Expensive, Ineffective and May Make Environment Worse



(p. B1) Is the American approach to combating climate change going off the rails?

Last year, President Obama set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, only 10 years from now.

Now, environmental experts are suggesting that some parts of the strategy are, at best, a waste of money and time. At worst, they are setting the United States in the wrong direction entirely.

That is the view of some of the world's top environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club. On Tuesday, they argued in a letter to the White House that allowing the burning of biomass to help reduce consumption of fossil fuels in the nation's power plants, as proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, would violate the Clean Air Act.

It's also the view of economists from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, who on Tuesday released the disappointing results of a field test of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, the government's largest effort to improve residential energy efficiency.

It turns out that burning biomass -- wood, mainly -- for power produces 50 percent more CO2 than burning coal. And even if new forest growth were to eventually suck all of it out of the atmosphere, it would take decades -- perhaps more than a century -- to make up the difference and break even with coal.

One study commissioned by the state of Massachusetts concluded that the climate impacts of burning wood were worse than those for coal for 45 years, and (p. B8) worse than for natural gas for about 90 years. Humans do not have that kind of time.

The energy efficiency push has a different problem: It is much too expensive. The weatherization improvements cost more than twice as much as households' energy savings. Even after including the broad social benefits from less pollution, it was still a bad deal. Indeed, the program spent $329 per ton of CO2 it kept out of the air, some eight times as much as the administration's estimate of the social cost of damages caused by carbon.

These are not small setbacks. Most of the scenarios that keep the rise in global temperatures under a 2 degree Celsius ceiling, the point at which scientists fear the risk of climate upheaval rises significantly, rely heavily on bioenergy, including biomass for power generation and other biofuels, which face similar problems.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Climate Change Calls for Science, Not Hope." The New York Times (Sun., JUNE 24, 2015): B1 & B8.

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is JUNE 23, 2015, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Climate Change Calls for Science, Not Hope.")


The letter to the Obama administration from many environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, is:

http://www.pfpi.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Groups-bioenergy-letter-to-OMB-6-23-15.pdf


The research mentioned above by economists from Berkeley and the University of Chicago, is:

Fowlie, Meredith, Michael Greenstone, and Catherine Wolfram. "Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program." Working Paper, The Becker-Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, The University of Chicago, June 2015.


The research mentioned above that was commissioned by the state of Massachusetts, is:

Walker, Thomas , Dr. Peter Cardellichio, Andrea Colnes, Dr. John Gunn, Brian Kittler, Bob Perschel, Christopher Recchia, and Dr. David Saah. "Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study, Executive Summary." Manomet, MA: Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, June 2010.






July 13, 2015

Banks Used "Regulatory Arbitrage" to Rent Seek at Taxpayers' Expense



(p. 21) Between 2009 and 2011, a group of economists at New York University's Stern School of Business published an influential series of reports and books that sought to explain what, exactly, happened during the financial crisis. The depth of the inquiry was notable because the school is generally thought of as a Wall Street-friendly training ground for future bankers. One of the most striking findings was that between 1980 and 2000, the large banks in America had significantly moved away from productivity ­enhancement and toward rent-­seeking.

For the reports' principal authors, Matthew Richardson and Viral Acharya, the evidence of this shift came from careful study of the various ways that banks have legally evaded regulation of their capital requirements. A fundamental tenet of bank regulation is that banks shouldn't borrow too much, because being overleveraged makes them vulnerable to collapse. But banks can most easily make huge profits if they borrow huge amounts, and they tend to pursue unsafe levels of borrowing. Then, the authors observed, they use their power as essential tools in an economy to negotiate bailouts from the government, forcing taxpayers to guarantee their losses. Richardson and Acharya showed that it was precisely because our banking regulations were so extensive and complex that banks were able to seek rents. They called this "regulatory arbitrage," a term that means banks have harnessed regulation and turned it into a powerful business tool.



For the full commentary, see:

ADAM DAVIDSON. "Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., May 31, 2015): 18 & 20-21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 27, 2015, and has the title "Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself.")


One of the relevant papers by Acharya and Richardson is:

Acharya, Viral V., and Matthew Richardson. "Causes of the Financial Crisis." Critical Review 21, no. 2-3 (2009): 195-210.






July 11, 2015

Canny Outlaws in Education and at Hogwarts



(p. 174) Interestingly, the union members in some of the schools run by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school group with a solid educational track record, did not boycott the benchmark tests. The reason that they refused is revealing. Green Dot's exams are created by a panel of teachers from its schools and are regularly reviewed for effectiveness and modified by the teachers. The tests have more credibility with the teachers than the tests for the rest of the district's schools, which are written by an outside company, imposed from above, and don't mesh with year-round schedules.

The quiet resistance of canny outlaws and the vocal protests of others are signs that teachers dedicated to preserving and encouraging discretion and wise judgment are not going quietly into the night. These teachers are not people who simply rebel at rules or who are just committed to their own ways of doing things. They are committed to the aims of teaching, a practice whose purpose is to educate students to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, reasonable, reflective, and humane. And they are brave enough to act on these commitments, taking the risks necessary to find ways around the rules. We suspect that many of our readers are canny outlaws themselves or know people who are: practitioners who have the know-how and courage to bend or sidestep for-(p. 175)mulaic procedures or rigid scripts or bureaucratic requirements in order to accomplish the aims of their practice. We admire canny outlaws in the stories we tell ourselves about such people and even in some of our children's stories. We read the Harry Potter tales to them because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are canny outlaws who gain the guts and skill to break school rules and stand up to illegitimate power in order to do the right thing to achieve the aims of wizardry, indeed to save the practice itself.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 8, 2015

Not Clear If Net Neutrality Is Good for Consumers



(p. B2) Of course, government antitrust and communications policy is supposed to benefit consumers, not any individual company or group of companies. "It's fair to say Netflix has gotten something of a free pass," said Scott Hemphill, visiting professor of antitrust and intellectual property at New York University School of Law. "This open Internet principle that's in ascendance is certainly good for Netflix. It's harder to say it's good for consumers."

. . .


Despite Netflix's arguments that it shouldn't have to pay fees to a broadband provider, that proposition is hardly self-evident. The fees Netflix so fiercely opposes are analogous to those found in many industries, such as credit cards, where both consumers and merchants pay the credit card companies. "It's hard to say if these fees are good or bad for consumers," Professor Hemphill said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; Netflix's Invisible Hand In Policy and Mergers." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): B2-B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "Her Majesty's Jihadists" which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title "Common Sense; How Netflix Keeps Finding Itself on the Same Side as Regulators.")






July 5, 2015

"You Can't Get Married if You're Dead"



(p. A15) On Friday my phone was blowing up with messages, asking if I'd seen the news. Some expressed disbelief at the headlines. Many said they were crying.

None of them were talking about the dozens of people gunned down in Sousse, Tunisia, by a man who, dressed as a tourist, had hidden his Kalashnikov inside a beach umbrella. Not one was crying over the beheading in a terrorist attack at a chemical factory near Lyon, France. The victim's head was found on a pike near the factory, his body covered with Arabic inscriptions. And no Facebook friends mentioned the first suicide bombing in Kuwait in more than two decades, in which 27 people were murdered in one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the country.

They were talking about the only news that mattered: gay marriage.


. . .


The barbarians are at our gates. But inside our offices, schools, churches, synagogues and homes, we are posting photos of rainbows on Twitter. It's easier to Photoshop images of Justice Scalia as Voldemort than it is to stare evil in the face.

You can't get married if you're dead.



For the full commentary, see:

BARI WEISS. "Love Among the Ruins; Hurrah for gay marriage. But why do supporters save their vitriol for its foes instead of the barbarians at our gates?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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







June 28, 2015

The Bureaucratic Absurdities of Socialized Medicine



(p. 13) Reading "Do No Harm," Henry Marsh's frank and absorbing narrative of his life in neurosurgery, it was easy to imagine him at the table. The men, and increasingly women, who slice back the scalp, open the skull and enter the brain to extract tumors, clip aneurysms and liberate nerves, share a certain ego required for such work. They typically are bold and blunt, viewing themselves as emperors of the clinical world. Marsh adds irony to this characterization, made clear in the opening line of the book, "I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing."


. . .


Britain's National Health Service is a socialized system, and Marsh chafes at new rigid rules imposed by its administrators. He is particularly incensed by a mandatory dress code: Neurosurgeons are subject to disciplinary action for wearing a wristwatch. There is scant evidence that this item contributes to hospital infections, but he is shadowed on ward rounds by a bureaucrat who takes notes on his dress and behavior. The reign of the emperor is ending, but Marsh refuses to comply and serve as a myrmidon.

Clinical practice is becoming a theater of the absurd for patients as well. Hospital charts are filled with N.H.S. forms detailing irrelevant aspects of care. Searching for a patient's operative note, Marsh finds documentation she passed a "Type 4 turd." He shows her an elaborate stool chart "colored a somber and appropriate brown, each sheet with a graphically illustrated guide to the seven different types of turd. . . . She looked at the document with disbelief and burst out laughing."



For the full review, see:

JEROME GROOPMAN. "Consider the Comma." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 13.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 21, 2015, and has the title "'Do No Harm,' by Henry Marsh.")





(p. C6) Amid the life-or-death dramas of neurosurgery in this book are some blackly comic scenes recounting the absurdities of hospital bureaucracy in the National Health Service: not just chronic bed shortages (which mean long waits and frantic juggling of surgery schedules), but also what Dr. Marsh calls a "loss of regimental spirit" and ridiculous meetings, like a slide presentation from "a young man with a background in catering telling me I should develop empathy, keep focused and stay calm."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "From a Surgeon, Exhilarations and Regrets." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 19, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 18, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'Do No Harm,' a Brain Surgeon Tells All.")




The book under review, in both reviews, is:

Marsh, Henry. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2015.







June 23, 2015

"Brazen Federal Overreach" Blocks Wine Process Innovation



(p. A13) On May 27, our Napa Valley winery will pull eight cases of Cabernet Sauvignon out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. We placed them there six months ago, protected from the elements, following similar experiments in the past two years. The cold water and the tides seem to expedite the aging process, and we believe that our ocean-aged fine wine--which we've trademarked as Aquaoir--could revolutionize how vintners around the world think about winemaking. The only obstacle: the federal government.

For more than a year, our winery has been targeted by the Treasury Department, specifically, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency believes our product is unfit for human consumption, despite an utter lack of evidence, and it has threatened to revoke our winemaking license. Washington doesn't recognize this wine for what it is: the product of entrepreneurship and experimentation.


. . .


We don't envision expanding into vast underwater wine-storage development. We simply want to try to understand the ocean-aging effects so that we can try to simulate them on dry land. It would be lamentable if brazen federal overreach blocked the potential for innovation in an industry that could be on the cusp of a true sea change. Only in Washington could you raise a glass to that.



For the full commentary, see:

JIM DYKE JR. "The Wine-Dark Sea of Regulation; We aged wine at the bottom of the ocean--then the feds threatened our license." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 20, 2015.)






June 19, 2015

It Takes Longer to Explain a Medical Bill than It Takes to Explain Newton's Second Law



(p. 4) I CONFESS I filed this column several weeks late in large part because I had hoped first to figure out a medical bill whose serial iterations have been arriving monthly like clockwork for half a year.

As medical bills go, it's not very big: $225, from a laboratory. But I don't really want to pay it until I understand what it's for. It's not that the bill contains no information -- there is lots of it. Test codes: 105, 127, 164, to name a few. CPT codes: 87481, 87491, 87798 and others. It tells me I'm being billed $29.90 for each of nine things, but there is an "adjustment" to one of $14.20.

At first, I left messages on the lab's billing office voice mail asking for an explanation. A few months ago, when someone finally called back, she said she could not tell me what the codes were for because that would violate patient privacy. After I pointed out that I was the patient in question, she said, politely: "I'm sorry, this is what I'm told, and I don't want to lose my job."


. . .


One recent study found that up to 90 percent of hospital bills contain errors.


. . .


Before you embark on the journey of decoding your bill, you might also want to have a look at a tutorial -- Understanding Your Medical Bill -- produced by the Khan Academy, an online educator, and the Brookings Institution in Washington. It's a bit over 12 minutes. That's about five minutes longer than the Khan Academy's tutorial explaining Newton's second law.



For the full commentary, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "The Medical Bill Mystery." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 3, 2015): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 2, 2015.)






June 12, 2015

Constitutional Superheroes Created the American Nation



(p. 12) When and how did the United States ­become a nation? This question is the core of "The Quartet." In his customary graceful prose, Joseph J. Ellis, the author of such works of popular history as the prizewinning "Founding Brothers," argues that the United States did not become a nation with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Rather, he says, American nationhood resulted from the creation, adoption and effectuation of the United States ­Constitution.

Ellis declares, "Four men made the ­transition from confederation to nation ­happen. . . . George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison" (along with three supporting players: Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson). He writes that "this political quartet diagnosed the systemic dysfunctions under the Articles, manipulated the political process to force a calling of the Constitutional Convention, collaborated to set the agenda in Philadelphia, attempted somewhat successfully to orchestrate the debates in the state ratifying conventions, then drafted the Bill of Rights as an insurance policy to ensure state compliance with the constitutional settlement. If I am right, this was arguably the most creative and consequential act of political leadership in American history."


. . .


Ellis's "quartet" are constitutional superheroes, the Fantastic Four of American nationalism.



For the full review, see:

R. B. BERNSTEIN. "Gang of Four." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 12.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 5, 2015, and has the title "''The Quartet,' by Joseph J. Ellis.")


The book under review, is:

Ellis, Joseph J. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






June 7, 2015

Merton Miller Applauded Bankers Who Cleverly Evaded Government Interference with Free Markets



(p. 12) . . . Merton Miller, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago, . . . was in many ways the father of financial innovation. Miller praised complex financial instruments, in large part because they helped institutions avoid the law. He applauded bankers for cleverly avoiding government attempts to interfere with markets.


For the full review, see:

FRANK PARTNOY. "Societal Bonds." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 28.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2015, and has the title "'Smart Money,' by Andrew Palmer.")






May 31, 2015

Justice Kagan Cites Dr. Seuss to Show Fish Are Tangible



(p. A16) In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the real issue in the case, Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, was that the law is too harsh. It is, she wrote, "too broad and undifferentiated, with too-high maximum penalties, which give prosecutors too much leverage and sentencers too much discretion."

She added, "And I'd go further: In those ways," the law "is unfortunately not an outlier, but an emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code."

Still, she said, "this court does not get to rewrite the law." She said it was "broad but clear."

"A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form," Justice Kagan wrote, citing as authority the Dr. Seuss classic "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."

It does not matter, she said, that what Mr. Yates destroyed was not a document.

"A person who hides a murder victim's body is no less culpable than one who burns the victim's diary," she wrote. "A fisherman, like John Yates, who dumps undersized fish to avoid a fine is no less blameworthy than one who shreds his vessel's catch log for the same reason."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Kagan's dissenting opinion.



For the full story, see:

ADAM LIPTAK. "In Overturning Conviction, Supreme Court Says Fish Are Not Always Tangible." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 26, 2015): A16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 25, 2015.)


The book discussed above is:

Seuss, Dr. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. New York: Random House, 1960.






May 26, 2015

Voters Want Texas-Style Economic Dynamism



(p. A23) Surveys and interviews give us some sense of what's going on. Voters have a lot of economic anxieties. But they also have a template in their heads for what economic dynamism looks like.

That template does not include a big role for government. Polls show that faith in government is near all-time lows. In a Gallup survey, voters listed dysfunctional government as the nation's No. 1 problem. In fact, American voters' traditional distrust has morphed and hardened. They used to think it was bloated and ineffective. Now they think it is bloated and ineffective and rigged to help those who need it least.

When many of these voters think of economic dynamism, they think of places like Texas, the top job producer in the nation over the past decade, and, especially, places like Houston, a low-regulation, low-cost-of-living place. In places like Wisconsin, voters in the middle class private sector support candidates who cut state pensions and pass right-to-work laws, so that economic governance can be more Texas-style.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "The Field Is Flat." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 27, 2015): A23.






May 25, 2015

To FDA Aging Is Not a Disease, So FDA Will Not Approve Drugs that Extend Life



(p. D1) Some of the top researchers on aging in the country are trying to get an unusual clinical trial up and running.


. . .


The trial aims to test the drug metformin, a common medication often used to treat Type 2 diabetes, and see if it can delay or prevent other chronic diseases. (The project is being called Targeting/Taming Aging With Metformin, or TAME.) Metformin isn't necessarily more promising than other drugs that have shown signs of extending life and reducing age-related chronic diseases. But metformin has been widely and safely used for more than 60 years, has very few side effects and is inexpensive.

The scientists say that if TAME is a well-designed, large-scale study, the Food and Drug Administration might be persuaded to consider aging as an indication, or preventable condition, a move that could spur drug makers to target factors that contribute to aging.


. . .


(p. D4) Fighting each major disease of old age separately isn't winnable, said S. Jay Olshansky, another TAME project planner and a professor at the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer. If we reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer's disease."

"We are suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all by going after the biological process of aging," Dr. Olshansky said.

Sandy Walsh, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency's perspective has long been that "aging" isn't a disease. "We clearly have approved drugs that treat consequences of aging," she said. Although the FDA currently is inclined to treat diseases prevalent in older people as separate medical conditions, "if someone in the drug-development industry found something that treated all of these, we might revisit our thinking."



For the full story, see:

SUMATHI REDDY. "To Grow Old Without Disease." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 17, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2015, and has the title "Scientists' New Goal: Growing Old Without Disease.")






May 23, 2015

Henry Paulson Fears Chinese Economy "Will Face a Reckoning"



(p. B1) About 340 pages into Henry M. Paulson's new book on China, a sentence comes almost out of nowhere that stops readers in their tracks.

"Frankly, it's not a question of if, but when, China's financial system," he writes, "will face a reckoning and have to contend with a wave of credit losses and debt restructurings."


. . .


(p. B2) Like the United States crisis in 2008, Mr. Paulson worries that in China "the trigger would be a collapse in the real estate market," and he declared in an interview that China is experiencing a real estate bubble. He noted that debt as a percentage of gross domestic product in China rose to 204 percent in June 2014 from 130 percent in 2008.

"Slowing economic growth and rapidly rising debt levels are rarely a happy combination, and China's borrowing spree seems certain to lead to trouble," he wrote.

Mr. Paulson's analysis in his book, "Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower," is all the more remarkable because he has long been a bull on China and has deep friendships with its senior leaders, who could frown upon his straightforward comments.



For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Crisis Tells China to Be Wary." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 21, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 20, 2015, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Financial Crisis Tells China to Be Wary.")


The book discussed above is:

Paulson, Henry M. Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower. New York: Twelve, 2015.






May 21, 2015

Instead of Becoming a Lobbyist, Harry Reid Would "Rather Go to Singapore and Have Them Beat Me with Whips"




Finally an issue on which Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can agree:



(p. A14) "I've had calls from lots of people," Mr. Reid said. "For example, Al Gore called me. Maybe I want to do something with Al Gore? I have no idea."

But on one matter he was clear: He said he would not be a lobbyist.

"I'd rather go to Singapore and have them beat me with whips," he said.



For the full story, see:

ADAM NAGOURNEY. "Reid to Head Home on New Mission." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 3, 2015): A14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2015, and has the title "Harry Reid Hopes to Ensure Democrats' Success as Tenure Winds Down.")







May 18, 2015

Obama's Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Likens Obama's Climate Change Policies to "Burning the Constitution"



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Laurence H. Tribe, the highly regarded liberal scholar of constitutional law, still speaks of President Obama as a proud teacher would of a star student. "He was one of the most amazing research assistants I've ever had," Mr. Tribe said in a recent interview. Mr. Obama worked for him at Harvard Law School, where Mr. Tribe has taught for four decades.


. . .


Next week Mr. Tribe is to deliver oral arguments for Peabody in the first federal court case about Mr. Obama's climate change rules. Mr. Tribe argues in a brief for the case that in requiring states to cut carbon emissions, thus to change their energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the E.P.A. is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority under the Clean Air Act. At a House hearing last month, Mr. Tribe likened the climate change (p. A15) policies of Mr. Obama to "burning the Constitution."


. . .


While Mr. Tribe is one of the nation's foremost experts on constitutional law, and has argued some Supreme Court cases related to environmental law, he said he has never specialized in the Clean Air Act.


. . .


It is widely expected that the fight over the E.P.A. regulations will eventually go before the Supreme Court. If it does, Mr. Tribe said that he expects he "may well" play a role in that case -- which would be argued before two other former students, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan.



For the full story, see:

CORAL DAVENPORT. "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 7, 2015): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 6, 2015, and has the title "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama.")






May 13, 2015

Purdue President Mitch Daniels Opposes "the Bureaucratic Accreditation Process"



(p. A9) As a college administrator, Mr. Daniels has . . . taken notice of the bureaucratic accreditation process that is a prerequisite for receiving federal funds. Six regional groups blessed by the Education Department, as well as a coterie of program-specific organizations, sign off on an institution's programs. The ostensible goal when Congress coupled federal funding with accreditation in the 1952 G.I. Bill was to protect students from colleges hawking worthless degrees.

That hasn't happened. Instead, universities devote considerable resources to a useless process. Almost no institution misses the mark, and since accreditation is done geographically, an upper-tier school like Purdue is accredited by the same agency that has given accreditation to Indiana University East, where the six-year graduation rate is about 18%.

Purdue pays $150,000 annually in direct accreditation fees, working with any combination of 17 agencies--but that doesn't include time. Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy said in a 2011 letter that the school spent $849,000 in one year of a multiyear accreditation. "One suspects you have some basic inertia and some folks would rather spend their time being busy with this than doing something more productive," Mr. Daniels says with a faint smile. "I refer of course to the people on other campuses."

'All this time and money and in the end some really lousy schools get accredited, so I'm not sure what the student--the consumer--learns. An awful lot of make work involved, or so it seems," he says. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) is considering reforms, including untangling accreditation from federal funding, an idea that Mr. Daniels says "ought to be looked at."



For the full interview, see:

KATE BACHELDER, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; How to Save American Colleges; The Purdue president on freezing tuition, how to reduce student debt, and busting the accreditation cartel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 25, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 24, 2015.)






May 9, 2015

Incandescents Better than LEDs at Allowing a Good Night's Sleep



(p. D6) Studies have shown that such light, especially from the blue part of the spectrum, inhibits the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps people fall asleep.


. . .


Devices such as smartphones and tablets are often illuminated by light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that tend to emit more blue light than incandescent products.



For the full story, see:

KATE GALBRAITH. "WIRED WELL; Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?" The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 7, 2015): D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "WIRED WELL; Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?")






May 8, 2015

Self-Made, Abolitionist, Meritocratic Hamilton Viewed as Elitest



(p. 627) To Jefferson we owe the self-congratulatory language of Fourth of July oratory, the evangelical conviction that America serves as a beacon to all humanity. Jefferson told John Dickinson, "Our revolution and its consequences will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe." At least on paper, Jefferson possessed a more all-embracing view of democracy than Hamilton, who was always frightened by a sense of the fickle and fallible nature of the masses.

Having said that, one must add that the celebration of the 1800 election as the simple triumph of "progressive" Jeffersonians over "reactionary" Hamiltonians greatly overstates the case. The three terms of Federalist rule had been full of daz-(p. 628)zling accomplishments that Republicans, with their extreme apprehension of federal power, could never have achieved. Under the tutelage of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, the Federalists had bequeathed to American history a sound federal government with a central bank, a funded debt, a high credit rating, a tax system, a customs service, a coast guard, a navy, and many other institutions that would guarantee the strength to preserve liberty. They activated critical constitutional doctrines that gave the American charter flexibility, forged the bonds of nationhood, and lent an energetic tone to the executive branch in foreign and domestic policy. Hamilton, in particular, bound the nation through his fiscal programs in a way that no Republican could have matched. He helped to establish the rule of law and the culture of capitalism at a time when a revolutionary utopianism and a flirtation with the French Revolution still prevailed among too many Jeffersonians. With their reverence for states' rights, abhorrence of central authority, and cramped interpretation of the Constitution, Republicans would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these historic feats.

Hamilton had promoted a forward-looking agenda of a modern nation-state with a market economy and an affirmative view of central government. His meritocratic vision allowed greater scope in the economic sphere for the individual liberties that Jefferson defended so eloquently in the political sphere. It was no coincidence that the allegedly aristocratic and reactionary Federalists contained the overwhelming majority of active abolitionists of the period. Elitists they might be, but they were an open, fluid elite, based on merit and money, not on birth and breeding--the antithesis of the southern plantation system. It was the northern economic system that embodied the mix of democracy and capitalism that was to constitute the essence of America in the long run. By no means did the 1800 election represent the unalloyed triumph of good over evil or of commoners over the wellborn.

The 1800 triumph of Republicanism also meant the ascendancy of the slaveholding south. Three Virginia slaveholders--Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe--were to control the White House for the next twenty-four years. These aristocratic exponents of"democracy" not only owned hundreds of human beings but profited from the Constitution's least democratic features: the legality of slavery and the ability of southern states to count three-fifths of their captive populations in calculating their electoral votes. (Without this so-called federal ratio, John Adams would have defeated Thomas Jefferson in 1800.) The Constitution did more than just tolerate slavery: it actively rewarded it. Timothy Pickering was to inveigh against "Negro presidents and Negro congresses"-- that is, presidents and congresses who owed their power to the three-fifths rule. This bias inflated southern power (p. 629) against the north and disfigured the democracy so proudly proclaimed by the Jeffersonians. Slaveholding presidents from the south occupied the presidency for approximately fifty of the seventy-two years following Washington's first inauguration. Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






May 6, 2015

Economic Growth Depends on the Talented Becoming Entrepreneurs Instead of Rent Seekers



(p. 6) In an influential paper, the economists Kevin M. Murphy and Robert W. Vishny, both at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Andrei Shleifer at Harvard University argue that countries suffer when talented people become what we economists call "rent seekers." Instead of creating wealth, rent seekers simply transfer it -- from others to themselves.

Job titles don't tell you whether someone is primarily a rent seeker. A lawyer who helps draft precise contracts may actually be helping the wheels of commerce turn, and so creating wealth. But trial lawyers in a country with poorly functioning tort systems may simply be extracting rents: They can make money by pursuing frivolous lawsuits.



For the full commentary, see:

SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN. "Economic View; Maximizing the Social Returns to a Career in Finance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 12, 2015): 6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 10, 2015, and has the title "Economic View; Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance.")


The paper praised and summarized above, is:

Murphy, Kevin M., Andrei Shleifer, and Robert W. Vishny. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth." Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, no. 2 (May 1991): 503-30.






May 4, 2015

Hamilton's SEUM at Paterson Was an Early Failure of Centrally Planned Industrial Policy



(p. 384) The 1792 financial panic came on the heels of the two great projects by which Hamilton hoped to excite the public with the shimmering prospects for American manufacturing: the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and submission of his Report on Manufactures. The outlook for both was badly damaged by the panic. Even a short list of the worst offenders in the share mania--William Duer, Alexander Macomb, New York broker John Dewhurst, Royal Flint--included so many SEUM directors that it almost sounded like a company venture. Duer's notoriety was especially detrimental since he had been SEUM governor, its largest shareholder, and its chief salesman in hawking securities.


. . .


(p. 385) How exactly would the SEUM, its coffers cleaned out by Duer, pay for its property on the Passaic River? Hamilton privately approached William Seton at the Bank of New York and arranged a five-thousand-dollar loan at a reduced 5 percent interest rate. He cited high-minded reasons, including the public interest and the advantage to New York City of having a manufacturing town across the Hudson, but more than the public interest was at stake: "To you, my dear Sir, I will not scruple to say in confidence that the Bank of New York shall suffer no diminution of its pecuniary faculties from any accommodations it may afford to the Society in question. I feel my reputation concerned in its welfare." The SEUM's collapse, Hamilton knew, could jeopardize his own career. In promising Seton that he would see to it as treasury secretary that the Bank of New York was fully compensated for any financial sacrifice entailed by the SEUM loan, Hamilton mingled too freely his public and private roles.

(p. 386) For several days in early July 1792, Hamilton huddled with the society directors to hammer out a new program. "Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation," he was to lecture one superintendent, with what could almost have been his personal motto. Rewarding his efforts, the society approved wide-ranging operations: a cotton mill, a textile printing plant, a spinning and weaving operation, and housing for fifty workers on quarter-acre plots. Never timid about his own expertise, Hamilton pinpointed the precise spot for the factory at the foot of the waterfalls that had so impressed him with their strength and beauty during the Revolutionary War.

It was an index of the hope generated by Hamilton that the SEUM, at his suggestion, hired Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the architect who had just laid out plans for the new federal city on the Potomac River, to supervise construction of the society's buildings and plan the futuristic town of Paterson. At the same time, it was an index of Hamilton's persistent anxiety that he dipped into managerial minutiae befitting a factory foreman rather than an overworked treasury secretary. For instance, he instructed the directors to draw up an inventory of tools possessed by each worker and stated that, if any were broken, the parts should be returned and "a report made to the storekeeper and noted in some proper column." With his reputation at stake, Hamilton even subsidized the venture with his own limited funds, advancing $1,800 to the mechanics. Despite the Duer fiasco, the SEUM commenced operations in spinning, weaving, and calico printing.

The subsequent society records make for pretty dismal reading, as Hamilton was beset by unending troubles. L'Enfant was the wrong man for the job. Instead of trying to conserve money for the cash-strapped society, he contrived extravagant plans for a seven-mile-long stone aqueduct to carry water. He was enthralled by the idea of creating a grand industrial city on the pattern of the nascent Washington, D.C., with long radiating avenues, rather than with building a simple factory. By early 1794, L'Enfant shucked the project and spirited off the blueprints into the bargain. To find qualified textile workers, the society sent scouts to Scotland and paid for the laborers' passage to America. Even the managers clamored for better pay, and SEUM minutes show that some disgruntled artisans personally hired by Hamilton began to sabotage the operation by stealing machinery. One of the saddest parts of the story relates to the employment of children. Whatever hopeful vision Hamilton may have had of children performing useful labor and being educated simultaneously, they had neither the time nor the money to attend school. To remedy the problem, the board hired a schoolmaster to instruct the factory children on Sundays--which, as Hamilton must have known, was scarcely a satisfactory solution.

By early 1796, with Hamilton still on the board, the society abandoned its final (p. 387) lines of business, discontinued work at the factory, and put the cotton mill up for sale. Hamilton's fertile dream left behind only a set of derelict buildings by the river. At first, it looked as if the venture had completely backfired. During the next two years, not a single manufacturing society received a charter in the United States. Hamilton's faith in textile manufacturing in Paterson was eventually vindicated in the early 1800s as a "raceway" system of canals powered textile mills and other forms of manufacturing, still visible today in the Great Falls Historic District. The city that Hamilton helped to found did achieve fame for extensive manufacturing operations, including foundries, textile mills, silk mills , locomotive factories, and the Colt Gun works. Hamilton had chosen the wrong sponsors at the wrong time. In recruiting Duer and L'Enfant, he had exercised poor judgment. He was launching too many initiatives, crowded too close together, as if he wanted to remake the entire country in a flash.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 3, 2015

Social Security "Produces Inequality Systematically"



(p. B5) Mr. Kotlikoff, 64, did not set out to become Dr. Social Security. Two decades ago, he and a colleague were studying the adequacy of life insurance. To do so, you need to know something about Social Security. Soon, Mr. Kotlikoff was developing a computer model for various payouts from the government program and realized that consumers might actually pay to use it.

From that instinct, a service called Maximize My Social Security was born, though it wasn't easy to do and get it right. "We had to develop very detailed code, and the whole Social Security rule book is written in geek," he said. "It's impossible to understand."

Because of that, most people filing for benefits have to get lucky enough to encounter a true expert in their social circle, at a Social Security office or on its hotline. They are rare, and this information dissymmetry offends Mr. Kotlikoff. "We have a system that produces inequality systematically," he said. It's not because of what the beneficiaries earned, either; it's simply based on their (perhaps random) access to those who have a deep understanding of the rules.


. . .


"Get What's Yours" is a useful book. Indeed, we all need better instruction guides for the many parts of our financial lives that only grow more complex over time.



For the full commentary, see:

RON LIEBER. "YOUR MONEY; The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)


The book under discussion is:

Kotlikoff, Laurence J., Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing out Your Social Security. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






April 30, 2015

Hamilton Fostered the Preconditions for Capitalism




(p. 345) In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. His own life offered an extraordinary object lesson in social mobility, and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people's minds and bodies. As treasury secretary, he wanted to make room for entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America's special genius for business: "As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element."

Hamilton did not create America's market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. A capitalist society requires certain preconditions. Among other things, it must establish a rule of law through enforceable contracts; respect private property; create a trustworthy bureaucracy to arbitrate legal disputes; and offer patents and other protections to promote invention. The abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide such an atmosphere was one of Hamilton's principal motives for promoting the Constitution. "It is known," he wrote, "that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption." He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses--the necessary-and-proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause--making them the basis for government activism in economics.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 25, 2015

Lincoln Defended Innovative Rail Against Incumbent Steam



(p. A15) "Lincoln's Greatest Case" convincingly shows that 1857 was a watershed year for the moral and political questions surrounding slavery's expansion to the west, something that Jefferson Davis's preferred railroad route would have facilitated. Mr. McGinty's discussion of Lincoln's philosophy and the career-making speeches he would develop in the late 1850s allows us to see the transportation disputes in light of the political and cultural dynamics that would lead to the Civil War. The book is also a case study of discomfort with new technology--and the futility of using a tort suit to prevent the adoption of inevitable innovation.

The book ends on an elegiac note, with steamboats making their inevitable passage into the mists of history. The rails, which could operate year-round through paths determined by man, not nature, would reign supreme, thanks in part to the efforts of a technophile future president.



For the full review, see:

MARGARET A. LITTLE. "BOOKSHELF; When Steam Was King; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 22, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Technology's Great Liberator; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail.")


The book under review is:

McGinty, Brian. Lincoln's Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






April 24, 2015

Remaining Airline Regulations Increase Fares and Reduce Services



(p. 256) Kenneth Button makes the case for "Really Opening Up the American Skies." "The deregulation of the 1970s, by removing entry quantitative controls, led to a considerable increase in services. It also increased the capability of individuals to access a wider range of destinations from their homes via the hub-and-spoke system of routings that emerged. This pattern has been reversed since 2007. The largest 29 airports in the United States lost 8.8 percent of their scheduled flights between 2007 and 2012, but medium-sized airports lost 26 percent and small airports lost 21.3 percent. . . . In sum, the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act only partially liberalized the U.S. domestic airline market. One important restriction that remains is the lack of domestic competition from foreign carriers. The U.S. air traveler benefited from the country being the first mover in deregulation, and this provided lower fares and consumer-driven service attributes some 15-20 years before they were enjoyed in other markets; the analogous reforms in Europe only fully materialized after 1997. But the world has changed, and so have the demands of consumers and the business models adopted by the airlines. . . . But remaining regulations still limit the amount of competition in the market and, with this, the ability of travelers to enjoy even lower fares and a wider range of services." Regulation, Spring 2014, pp. 40-45 http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2014/4/regulation-v37n1-8.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The article quoted by Taylor is:

Button, Kenneth. "Really Opening up the American Skies." Regulation 37, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 40-45.






April 22, 2015

Today Is 15th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2015) is the 15th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.






April 18, 2015

In American Political System "It Will Be far More Difficult to Undo than to Do"




(p. 330) Jefferson traced the formation of the two main parties--to be known as Republicans and Federalists--to Hamilton's victory over assumption. For Jefferson, this event split Congress into pure, virtuous republicans and a "mercenary phalanx," "monarchists in principle," who "adhered to Hamilton of course as their leader in that principle."

Why did Jefferson retrospectively try to downplay his part in passing Hamilton's assumption scheme? While he understood the plan at the time better than he admitted, he probably did not see as clearly as Hamilton that the scheme created an unshakable foundation for federal power in America. The federal government had captured forever the bulk of American taxing power. In comparison, the location of the national capital seemed a secondary matter. It wasn't that Jefferson had been duped by Hamilton; Hamilton had explained his views at dizzying length. It was simply that he had been outsmarted by Hamilton, who had embedded an enduring political system in the details of the funding scheme. In an unsigned newspaper article that September, entitled "Address to the Public Creditors," Hamilton gave away the secret of his statecraft that so infuriated Jefferson: "Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 17, 2015

Disclosure Regulations Often Have Unintended Consequences



(p. B5) . . . , some disclosure works. Professor Levitin cites two examples. The first is an olfactory disclosure. Methane doesn't have any scent, but a foul smell is added to alert people to a gas leak. The second is A.T.M. fees. A study in Australia showed that once fees were disclosed, people avoided the high-fee machines and took out more when they had to go to them.

But to Omri Ben-Shahar, co-author of a recent book, "More Than You Wanted To Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure," these are cherry-picked examples in a world awash in useless disclosures. Of course, information is valuable. But disclosure as a regulatory mechanism doesn't work nearly well enough, he argues.

First, it really works only when things are simple. As soon as transactions become complex, disclosure starts to stumble. Buying a car, for instance, turns out to be several transactions: the purchase itself, the financing, maybe the trade-in of old car and various insurance and warranty decisions. These are all subject to various disclosure rules, but making the choices clear and useful has proved nigh impossible.

In complex transactions, we then must rely on intermediaries to give us advice. Because they are often conflicted, they, too, become subject to disclosure obligations. Ah, even more boilerplate to puzzle over!

And then there's the harm. Over the years, banks that sold complex securities often stuck impossible-to-understand clauses deep in prospectuses that "disclosed" what was really going on. When the securities blew up, as they often did, banks then fended off lawsuits by arguing they had done everything the law required and were therefore not liable.

"That's the harm of disclosure," Professor Ben-Shahar said. "It provides a safe harbor for practices that smell bad. It sanitizes every bad practice."



For the full review, see:

JESSE EISINGER. "In an Era of Disclosure, an Excess of Sunshine but a Paucity of Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., FEBRUARY 12, 2015): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEBRUARY 11, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Ben-Shahar, Omri, and Carl E. Schneider. More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.






April 16, 2015

Occupational Licensing Creates Cartels



(p. 251) Aaron Edlin and Rebecca Haw discuss "Cartels by Another Name: Should Licensed Occupations Face Antitrust Scrutiny?" "Once limited to a few learned professions, licensing is now required for over 800 occupations. And once limited to minimum educational requirements and entry exams, licensing board restrictions are now a vast, complex web of anticompetitive rules and regulations. . . . State-level occupational licensing is on the rise. In fact, it has eclipsed unionization as the dominant organizing force of the U.S. labor market. While unions once claimed 30% of the country's working population, that figure has since shrunk to below 15%. Over the same period of time, the number of workers subject to state-level licensing requirements has doubled; today, 29% of the U.S. workforce is licensed and 6% is certified by the government. The trend has important ramifications. Conservative estimates suggest that licensing raises consumer prices by 15%. There is also evidence that professional licensing increases the wealth gap; it tends to raise the wages of those already in high-income occupations while harming low-income consumers who cannot afford the inflated prices." "We contend that the state action doctrine should not prevent antitrust suits against state licensing boards that are comprised of private competitors deputized to regulate and to outright exclude their own competition, often with the threat of criminal sanction." University of Pennsylvania Law Review, April 2014, pp. 1093-1164. http://www.pennlawreview.com/print/162-U-Pa-L-Rev-1093.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 14, 2015

"The Most Celebrated Meal in American History"




(p. 328) If we are to credit Jefferson's story, the dinner held at his lodgings on Maiden Lane on June 20, 1790, fixed the future site of the capital. It is perhaps the most celebrated meal in American history, the guests including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and perhaps one or two others. For more than a month, Jefferson had been bedeviled by a migraine headache, yet he presided with commendable civility. Despite his dislike of assumption, he knew that the stalemate over the funding scheme could shatter the union, and, as secretary of state, he also feared the repercussions for American credit abroad.

Madison restated his familiar argument that assumption punished Virginia and other states that had duly settled their debts. But he agreed to support assumption--or at least not oppose it--if something was granted in exchange. Jefferson recalled, "It was observed... that as the pill would be a bitter one to the southern states, something should be done to soothe them." The sedative measure was that Philadelphia would be the temporary capital for ten years, followed by a permanent move to a Potomac site. In a lucrative concession for his home state, Madison also seems to have extracted favorable treatment for Virginia in a final debt settlement with the central government. In return, Hamilton agreed to exert his utmost efforts (p. 329) to get the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to accept Philadelphia as the provisional capital and a Potomac site as its permanent successor.

The dinner consecrated a deal that was probably already close to achievement. The sad irony was that Hamilton, the quintessential New Yorker, bargained away the city's chance to be another London or Paris, the political as well as financial and cultural capital of the country. His difficult compromise testified to the transcendent value he placed on assumption. The decision did not sit well with many New Yorkers. Senator Rufus King was enraged when Hamilton told him that he "had made up his mind" to jettison the capital to save his funding system. For King, Hamilton's move had been high-handed and secretive, and he ranted privately that "great and good schemes ought to succeed not by intrigue or the establishment of bad measures."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 13, 2015

Italian Traditional Family Stunts Individual Enterprise



(p. 15) Hooper's book, both sweeping in scope and generous with detail, makes persuasive arguments for how geography, history and tradition have shaped Italy and its citizens, for better and sometimes for worse. Roman Catholicism, for example, has indelibly conditioned Italian society, even as the Vatican's restrictions are widely ignored. Catholicism's great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It's a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.


. . .


There's . . . mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings. But while "the traditional family has been at the root of much of what Italy has achieved," Hooper writes, dependence on the family can infantilize, and lack of individual enterprise has held the country back. Indeed, various sections of Hooper's book return to Italy's economic decline and its underlying causes.

He notes that the paperwork and formalities of Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy rob the average Italian of 20 days a year. And he wonders what other country could ever have had a Minister for Simplification to deal with its plethora of often conflicting laws and regulations.

Circumventing some of that bureaucracy partly answers another common question: Why is Italy so prone to corruption? After all, Italians are masters at sidestepping regulations, or, as the saying goes, "Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno" ("Make the law, then find a way around it"). It's no wonder foreign investment in Italy is so low.



For the full review, see:

LISABETTA POVOLEDO. "Under the Italian Sun." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 1, 2015): 15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "'The Italians,' by John Hooper.")


The book under review is:

Hooper, John. The Italians. New York: Viking, 2015.






April 10, 2015

In Hamilton's Financial System the "Cogs and Wheels Meshed Perfectly Together"




(p. 302) Much later, Daniel Webster rhapsodized about Hamilton's report as follows: "The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton." This was the long view of history and of many contemporaries, but detractors were immediately vocal. They were befuddled by the complexity of Hamilton's plan and its array of options for creditors. Opponents sensed that he was moving too fast, on too many fronts, for them to grasp all his intentions. He had devised his economic machinery so cunningly that its cogs and wheels meshed perfectly together. One could not tamper with the parts without destroying the whole. Hamilton later said of this ingenious structure, "Credit is an entire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part. Wound one limb and the whole tree shrinks and decays."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 7, 2015

"Red Tape Is Good for the Government but Not for Us Chinese People"



(p. A8) China's seven million public servants have long been a target of scorn by citizens who accuse them of endemic laziness and corruption. Last year, a municipal water official in Hebei Province with a history of turning off the taps of customers who refused to pay kickbacks -- including an entire village -- was detained after investigators found $20 million hidden in his home.

In the southwestern province of Yunnan, officials at a local land reclamation bureau often leave for lunch around 10:30 a.m., returning after 3 p.m. "It simply gets too hot to do any work," Pan Yuwen, an agricultural adviser, said one rainy day last month when the temperature was a less-than-sultry 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

But more than lackadaisical bureaucrats, it is the head-spinning tangle of regulations that infuriates many ordinary Chinese. At the heart of their ire is the hukou, or family registration, an onerous system akin to an internal passport that often tethers services like public education, subsidized health care and pensions to a Chinese citizen's parents' birthplace -- even if he or she never lived there.


. . .


One recent afternoon, Li Ying, 39, sat in a fluorescent-lit Beijing government office, waiting for her number to be called so she could apply for a temporary residence permit that would allow her 6-year-old son to enroll in school.

Although Ms. Li moved to Beijing with her parents as a child in 1981, her hukou is registered in a distant town, meaning her son will be shut out of the city's public schools without the permit.

Among the 14 required documents, Ms. Li must provide her hukou certificate, proof of residence, a diploma, a job contract, a marriage license, her husband's identity card, his hukou, a certificate proving that she has only one child and a company document detailing her work performance and tax payments.

"What a headache," she said, a pile of paperwork balanced on her lap. "Red tape is good for the government but not for us Chinese people."



For the full story, see:

DAN LEVIN. "China's Middle Class Chafes Against Maze of Red Tape." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): A4 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)







April 6, 2015

"He Used the Rich for a Purpose that Was Greater than Their Riches"




(p. 299) Hamilton's interest was not in enriching creditors or cultivating the privileged class so much as in insuring the government's stability and survival. Walter Lippmann later said of Hamilton, "He used the rich for a purpose that was greater than their riches."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 3, 2015

Chinese Communists Crush Innovative Entrepreneurs by Banning Open Internet



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Jing Yuechen, the founder of an Internet start-up here in the Chinese capital, has no interest in overthrowing the Communist Party. But these days she finds herself cursing the nation's smothering cyberpolice as she tries -- and fails -- to browse photo-sharing websites like Flickr and struggles to stay in touch with the Facebook friends she has made during trips to France, India and Singapore.

Gmail has become almost impossible to use here, and in recent weeks the authorities have gummed up Astrill, the software Ms. Jing and countless others depended on to circumvent the Internet restrictions that Western security analysts refer to as the Great Firewall.

By interfering with Astrill and several other popular virtual private networks, or V.P.N.s, the government has complicated the lives of Chinese astronomers seeking the latest scientific data from abroad, graphic designers shopping for clip art on Shutterstock and students submitting online applications to American universities.

If it was legal to protest and throw rotten eggs on the street, I'd definitely be up for that," Ms. Jing, 25, said.

China has long had some of the world's most onerous Internet restrictions. But until now, the authorities had effectively tolerated the proliferation of V.P.N.s as a lifeline for millions of people, from archaeologists to foreign investors, who rely heavily on less-fettered access to the Internet.

But earlier this week, after a number of V.P.N. companies, including StrongVPN and Golden Frog, complained that the Chi-(p. A6)nese government had disrupted their services with unprecedented sophistication, a senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.

The move to disable some of the most widely used V.P.N.s has provoked a torrent of outrage among video artists, entrepreneurs and professors who complain that in its quest for so-called cybersovereignty -- Beijing's euphemism for online filtering -- the Communist Party is stifling the innovation and productivity needed to revive the Chinese economy at a time of slowing growth.

"I need to stay tuned into the rest of the world," said Henry Yang, 25, the international news editor of a state-owned media company who uses Facebook to follow American broadcasters. "I feel like we're like frogs being slowly boiled in a pot."


. . .


The vast majority of Chinese Internet users, especially those not fluent in English and other foreign languages, have little interest in vaulting the digital firewall. But those who require access to an unfiltered Internet are the very people Beijing has been counting on to transform the nation's low-end manufacturing economy into one fueled by entrepreneurial innovation.


. . .


Avery Goldstein, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the growing online constraints would not only dissuade expatriates from relocating here, but could also compel ambitious young Chinese studying abroad to look elsewhere for jobs.

"If they aren't able to get the information to do their jobs, the best of the best might simply decide not to go home," he said.

For those who have already returned to China and who crave membership in an increasingly globalized world, the prospect of making do with a circumscribed Internet is dispiriting. Coupled with the unrelenting air pollution and the crackdown on political dissent, a number of Chinese said the blocking of V.P.N.s could push them over the edge.

"It's as if we're shutting down half our brains," said Chin-Chin Wu, an artist who spent almost a decade in Paris and who promotes her work online. "I think that the day that information from the outside world becomes completely inaccessible in China, a lot of people will choose to leave."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Further Tightens Grip on the Internet." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 29, 2015.)






April 2, 2015

Hamilton Thought "Contracts Formed the Basis of Public and Private Morality"




(p. 297) Hamilton argued that the security of liberty and property were inseparable and that governments should honor their debts because contracts formed the basis of public and private morality: "States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct." The proper handling of government debt would permit America to borrow at affordable interest rates and would also act as a tonic to the economy. Used as loan collateral, government bonds could function as money--and it was the scarcity of money, Hamilton observed, that had crippled the economy and resulted in severe deflation in the value of land. America was a young country rich in opportunity. It lacked only liquid capital, and government debt could supply that gaping deficiency.

The secret of managing government debt was to fund it properly by setting aside revenues at regular intervals to service interest and pay off principal. Hamilton refuted charges that his funding scheme would feed speculation. Quite the contrary: if investors knew for sure that government bonds would be paid off, the prices would not fluctuate wildly, depriving speculators of opportunities to exploit. What mattered was that people trusted the government to make good on repayment: "In nothing are appearances of greater moment than in whatever regards credit. Opinion is the soul of it and this is affected by appearances as well as realities." Hamilton intuited that public relations and confidence building were to be the special burdens of every future treasury secretary.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 31, 2015

Brin: Regulatory Burden Discourages Health Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) Earlier this month, at a private conference for the CEOs of his portfolio companies, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla interviewed Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, asking them if the company might jump into health care. "It's just a painful business to be in," Mr. Brin replied, later noting that "the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs."

Mr. Brin is right. As a neurosurgeon-scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded a bioelectronic medicine company that deploys implantable technology to supplant drugs, I wish he were wrong.


. . .


. . . entrepreneurs should be allowed to carve out their own turf and let patients choose their own level of risk.

Consider the case of Goran Ostovich, a burly, 47-year-old truck driver from Mostar, Bosnia. Mr. Ostovich has suffered from long-standing rheumatoid arthritis and needed near-permanent bed rest. With his hands and wrists swollen and aching, he could no longer hold on to a wheel or even play with his small children. He tried a variety of medications. None worked.

When I met Goran at his doctor's office in 2012, however, he didn't seem at all afflicted with the disease. That's because, one year earlier, he had been offered the opportunity to be the first participant in a clinical trial of a new therapy based on my invention. He received a bioelectronic implant and rapidly improved.


. . .


Since news of this clinical trial's success became public, people from all over the U.S. stricken with rheumatoid arthritis have emailed, called and sent letters pressing for their shot at potentially effective--but not yet FDA-approved--treatments.


. . .


Some patients are very willing to take a calculated risk, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

KEVIN J. TRACEY. "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game.")






March 29, 2015

Rich Slaveholders "Posed as Plucky Populists"



(p. 267) As Hamilton tangled with Lansing, neither knew that Virginia had on June 25 become the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. Like their New York counterparts, antifederalists there posed as plucky populists, even though their ranks included many rich slaveholders. Patrick Henry, the leading antifederalist, warned delegates who supported the Constitution, "They'll free your niggers." George Washington noted the hypocrisy of the many slaveholding antifederalists: "It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.







March 19, 2015

Over-Regulation Could Stifle Drones' Potential to Revolutionize Our Lives



(p. A15) In the early days of the automobile, Vermont enacted a law requiring someone to walk one-eighth of a mile in front of every car and wave a red flag to warn pedestrians. Iowa directed all motorists to call ahead to warn each town on their route that they were coming. Some jurisdictions set speed limits so low that drivers who obeyed them risked having their engines stall.

Those laws seem humorously quaint, but if they had been widely adopted and enforced, the automobile revolution might have been shut down and its manifold benefits denied to millions. Today over-regulation could stifle the development of drones, which have the potential to revolutionize many parts of the economy and our everyday lives.

To cite a few examples: Amazon hopes to launch Prime Air, which would use drones to deliver packages in less than 30 minutes after an order is placed. Texas Equusearch, which organizes missing-person recovery efforts, can replace the labor of 100 volunteers with one drone. Clayco Inc., a construction firm, intends to use drones for aerial imaging of construction projects--replacing either helicopters, which burn fossil fuels and can be dangerous to those below, or construction workers, who risk serious injury through falls when they must climb to reach high, hard-to-reach places to take photos.



For the full commentary, see:

JOSEPH R. PALMORE and CHRISTOPHER J. CARR. "Overregulated Drones Struggle for Take-Off; The FAA has been slow and stuck in the past--precisely what the technology is not." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






March 12, 2015

Machiavelli Experienced "Flow" Writing The Prince



(p. 8) "Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are," Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince."


. . .


After the reveling, back in his study at a heavy desk much like the one in Palazzo Vecchio, he would spend the evening on the work that would come to define him. "For four hours," he wrote, "I feel no boredom, I forget every worry, I don't dread poverty, nor has death any terrors for me."



For the full story, see:

ONDINE COHANE. "Footsteps; Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2014, and has the title "Footsteps; In Tuscany, Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli.".)


Machiavelli's classic is:

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992 (based on a translation first published in 1910).






March 11, 2015

Occupational Licensing Raises Costs for Consumers and Reduces Jobs



(p. B1) What lesson should we draw from the success of Uber?

Customers have flocked to its service. In the final three months of last year, its so-called driver-partners made $656.8 million, according to an analysis of Uber data released last week by the Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger, who served as President Obama's chief economic adviser during his first term, and Uber's Jonathan V. Hall.

Drivers like it, too. By the end of last year, the service had grown to over 160,000 active drivers offering at least four drives a month, from near zero in mid-2012. And the analysis by Mr. Krueger and Mr. Hall suggests they make at least as much as regular taxi drivers and chauffeurs, on flexible hours. Often, they make more.

This kind of exponential growth confirms what every New Yorker and cab riders in many other cities have long suspected: Taxi service is woefully inefficient. It also raises a question of broader relevance: Why stop here?


. . .


(p. B5) . . . like taxi medallions, state licenses required to practice all sorts of jobs often serve merely to cordon off occupations for the benefit of licensed workers and their lobbying groups, protecting them from legitimate competition.

This comes at a substantial social cost. "Lower-income people suffer from licensing," Professor Krueger told me. "It raises the costs of many services and prevents low-income people from getting into some professions."

In a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found that almost three out of 10 workers in the United States need a license from state governments to do their jobs, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. By cordoning off so many occupations, he estimates, professional licensing by state governments ultimately reduces employment by up to 2.8 million jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Job Licenses in Spotlight as Uber Rises." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)



The working paper co-authored by Krueger, is:

Hall, Jonathan V., and Alan B. Krueger. "An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber's Driver-Partners in the United States." Working paper. January 22, 2015.



Kleiner's working paper at Brookings, is:

Kleiner, Morris M. "Reforming Occupational Licensing Policies." In The Hamilton Project, Brookings, Discussion Paper 2015-01, January 2015.






March 10, 2015

Over-Taxed and Over-Regulated Castles for Sale in Italy



(p. A3) While castles and historic mansions in Italy have long been family inheritances, today dozens of them are for sale, even in one of the most conservative real estate markets in Europe.


. . .


On historic buildings, where owners used to pay little as compensation for the elevated costs of maintaining centuries-old structures, the taxes increased by 20 or 30 times, depending on the property's location.

On some buildings, taxes spiked from 3,000 euros (about $3,400) in 2011 to 75,000 euros (about $84,000) by 2013. That might be a small figure for castle dwellers in the United Kingdom, but it is a burden for Italian pockets, especially in regions where the property's market value or tourism interest is low.

The trends, to many here, are indicative of Italy's place as a country caught between its past glory and its modern difficulty in producing an innovative climate capable of ensuring its future.


. . .


. . . buyer beware: Living a nobleman's life in Italy comes at a cost, even for many tycoons. New owners face the same onerous bureaucracy as Italians to make even minimal changes to many older properties.

Under Italian law, the owner of a historic building is its custodian, bound to maintain it and grant its security and, in some cases, its use to the public. Many buyers give up on properties of great historic value, but in bad condition, for this reason, brokers said.

"This is a problem for possible investors, who want to have modern comforts like a spa, air-conditioning or a lift," said Mr. Pallavicini, of the Italian Historic Houses Association.

"We no longer live like in 1800," he added. "But 99 percent of those changes are either impossible or extremely bureaucratic and complicated in an Italian historic building."



For the full story, see:

GAIA PIANIGIANI. "PONTASSIEVE JOURNAL; Life of Italian Nobility for Sale, Complete With Regulations and Taxes." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)






March 7, 2015

Innovation and Jobs Destroyed by Tax



(p. 7A) I was humbled to receive in November the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House for the development of life-changing medical devices. Traveling to our nation's capital, I couldn't help but think: There is no way I could have had the same impact if the tax on medical devices was in place when I got started over 50 years ago.

Simply put, the medical device tax is destroying job creation and innovation, and as a result, patient care is suffering.


. . .


Every day, I see firsthand the difficult choices innovators must make as a result of this ill-conceived tax. Perhaps worst of all, the medical device tax is helping cause a steep drop of investments in promising therapies.


. . .


It's time to put an end to this disastrous policy so that medical device entrepreneurs can do what America does best -- innovate.



For the full commentary, see:

Tom Fogarty. "Opposing View: Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation." USA Today (Mon., January 5, 2015): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2015, and has the title "Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation: Opposing View.")






March 6, 2015

A Federal "Building Whose Banality Is Exceeded Only by Its Expense"



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--They span 75 feet, weigh 4,300 pounds and can't move.

The four, black aluminum clouds comprising the once-mobile component of "Mountains and Clouds"--one of the final works of sculptor Alexander Calder, which dominates the Hart Senate office building's 90-foot-high atrium--haven't drifted for more than a decade. They once rotated at a gentle speed, but have been frozen in place for years after a bearing failed.


. . .


, , , , mirroring the mixed feelings toward Mr. Calder's sculpture, many in Washington didn't appreciate the contemporary Hart building's break with traditional architecture. In 1981, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) suggested in a "sense of the Senate" resolution that the plastic covering that had protected the building from wintry elements was preferable to the exterior itself.

"Whereas the plastic cover has now been removed revealing, as feared, a building whose banality is exceeded only by its expense," said the resolution, which never came to a vote. "Therefore, be it resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the plastic cover be put back."



For the full story, see:

KRISTINA PETERSON. "A Nebulous Debate in Washington." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Dec. 26, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 25, 2014, and has the title "Calder Sculpture Triggers Heavenly Debate in Washington.")






March 4, 2015

Depression of 1920-21 Ended Quickly, Without Government Stimulus or Bailouts



(p. C3) Beginning in January 1920, something much worse than a recession blighted the world. The U.S. suffered the steepest plunge in wholesale prices in its history (not even eclipsed by the Great Depression), as well as a 31.6% drop in industrial production and a 46.6% fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Unemployment spiked, and corporate profits plunged.


. . .


In the absence of anything resembling government stimulus, a modern economist may wonder how the depression of 1920-21 ever ended. Oddly enough, deflation turned out to be a tonic. Prices--and, critically, wages too--were allowed to fall, and they fell far enough to entice consumers, employers and investors to part with their money. Europeans, noticing that America was on the bargain counter, shipped their gold across the Atlantic, where it swelled the depression-shrunken U.S. money supply. Shares of profitable and well-financed American companies changed hands at giveaway valuations.

Of course, the year-and-a-half depression must have seemed interminable for all who were jobless or destitute. It was, however, a great deal shorter than the 43 months of the Great Depression of 1929-33. Then too, the 1922 recovery would bring tears of envy to today's central bankers and policy makers: Passenger-car production shot up by 63%, for instance, and the Dow jumped by 21.5%. "From practically all angles," this newspaper judged in a New Year's Day 1923 retrospective, "1922 can be recorded as the renaissance of prosperity."

In 2008, as Lehman Brothers toppled, the Great Depression monopolized the market on historical analogies. To avoid a recurrence of the 1930s, officials declared, the U.S. had to knock down interest rates, manipulate stock prices to go higher, repave the highways and trade in the clunkers.

The forgotten depression teaches a very different lesson. Sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES GRANT. "The Depression Fixed by Doing Nothing; The agonizing but often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 3, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 2, 2015, and has the title "The Depression That Was Fixed by Doing Nothing; The often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.")


Grant's commentary is elaborated on in his book:

Grant, James. The Forgotten Depression: 1921, the Crash That Cured Itself. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






March 2, 2015

"It's My Life, and I Want the Chance to Save It"



(p. 18) LYONS, Colo. -- Since May [2014], a string of states have passed laws that give critically ill patients the right to try medications that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Deemed "Right to Try" laws, they have passed quickly and often unanimously in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and Arizona, bringing hope to patients like Larry Kutt, who lives in this small town at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Kutt, 65, has an advanced blood cancer and says his state's law could help him gain access to a therapy that several pharmaceutical companies are testing. "It's my life," he said, "and I want the chance to save it."

The laws do not seem to have helped anyone obtain experimental medicine, as the drug companies are not interested in supplying unapproved medications outside the supervision of the F.D.A. But that seems almost beside the point to the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian group behind legislative efforts to pass Right to Try laws. "The goal is for terminally ill patients to have choice when it comes to end-stage disease," said Craig Handzlik, state policy coordinator for the Goldwater Institute, based in Arizona. "Right to Try is something that will help terminally ill people all over the country."



For the full story, see:

JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Patients Seek 'Right to Try' New Drugs." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 11, 2015): 18.

(Note: the bracketed year is added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 10, 2015.)






March 1, 2015

Probate Court Kept Hamilton Waiting for a Year



(p. 25) For a year after his mother's death, Alexander was held in painful suspense by the probate court and perhaps absorbed the useful lesson that people who manipulate the law wield the real power in society.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






February 26, 2015

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson



One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn't perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow's book.

PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow's Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.


Main book discussed:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.


Other book, briefly mentioned:

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






February 25, 2015

Wall Street Democrats Question Hillary Clinton's Views on Job Creation



(p. B1) "Hillary said what?"

That was the question whispered among some of Wall Street's most prominent Democratic supporters over the weekend after Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on the campaign trail for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts.

"Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs," Mrs. Clinton said on Friday in Boston.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. "Wall St. Wonders About Hillary Clinton." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 28, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCTOBER 27, 2014, and has the title "Hillary Clinton's Comment on Jobs Raises Eyebrows on Wall St.")






February 24, 2015

In Defense of the "Degar-Andish"



(p. C9) "The Lonely War" begins by retelling a lesson from Ms. Fathi's mother, imparted on the first day of third grade. "If anyone asks you whether your parents support the revolution, you must say, 'Yes, they do.'"


. . .


As the Islamic dress code became obligatory, Ms. Fathi and her sister, Goli, faced the tyranny of a "morality" teacher at school who tried to mold them into ideal Muslim girls.

The author remained steadfastly critical through it all. "To feel human," she writes, "we needed to retake control of our minds as well as our bodies. We waged the war on both fronts."


. . .


Defying a ban on covering the protests any further, Ms. Fathi was under surveillance at her home and tailed by government agents; her life was threatened. She, her husband and two children left Iran in June 2009.


. . .


Her portraits of the women's rights activists Faezeh Hashemi and Shahla Sherkat make for fascinating reading. So do her accounts of other courageous Iranian women like the lawyers Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi (the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2003), who made legal challenges against discriminatory laws against women, and publishers like Shahla Lahiji who dared to print the work of those branded as "degar-andish," literally, "those who think differently."



For the full review, see:

NAHID MOZAFFARI. "Books of The Times; Portrait of Iran, Where Revolution Is Ideological and the Costs Are Human." The New York Times (Thurs., Jan. 1, 2015): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 31, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Fathi, Nazila. The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. New York: Basic Books, 2014.






February 22, 2015

Free Market Tour Guide Challenges Savannah's Attack on Free Speech



(p. A25) SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Especially when she sips French onion soup at a restaurant that was featured in the Julia Roberts movie "Something to Talk About," Michelle Freenor is an irrepressible tour guide.

She rattles off the history of Methodism in this city, as well as tidbits about William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. She discusses the canopy of Spanish moss that hangs above Savannah's streets, whether "Jingle Bells" was actually composed here, and just how haunted one of the country's largest historic landmark districts might be.

But Ms. Freenor has also emerged in recent weeks in a new role: plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could reshape Savannah's lucrative and potent tourism industry. Backed by a nonprofit law firm with libertarian leanings, Ms. Freenor and three others, including her husband, are challenging the Savannah ordinance that requires tour guides to hold licenses and pass regular academic and medical examinations.

"It's the free market that made us successful, not the City of Savannah," said Ms. Freenor, 43. "You shouldn't have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is."


. . .


"What tour guides do is talk for a living," said Robert Johnson, one of Ms. Freenor's lawyers. "They're just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. And in this country, you don't need a license from the government to be able to talk."



For the full story, see:

ALAN BLINDER. "Lawsuit May Reshape Tourist Industry in History-Rich Savannah." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 21, 2014): A25 & A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2014. The online version says that the New York paper version of the article started on p. 28. It does not say on what page of that edition, the article continued. My page numbers are from the National Edition, which I usually receive.)






February 20, 2015

High Costs of Public Sector Unions



(p. A11) . . . the costs of public-sector unions are great. "The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste," the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city's$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.

There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. "The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service," a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "BOOKSHELF; Public Unions vs. the Public; Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2015.)


The book under review is:

DiSalvo, Daniel. Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.






February 19, 2015

Mandated Health Treatment Regulations Are Often Reversed



(p. A25) After spending nearly two decades in medicine, I am still amazed by how spare the evidence is on which we doctors base our medical decisions. Treatment guidelines, often accompanied by a de facto mandate, are frequently reversed.

Only a few years ago, for example, beta-blocker drugs were routinely recommended for almost all patients undergoing noncardiac surgery. Since then, research has shown that these drugs may significantly increase the risk of stroke at the time of surgery. I remember colleagues questioning the beta-blocker recommendation for certain patients and being admonished for not being "evidence-based." I shudder to think how many patients were left disabled by strokes because of the blanket adoption of this standard.

What is in vogue today is often discarded tomorrow. Hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause is an example of a once widely implemented treatment that we have now largely abandoned. In September, in response to new research, the American College of Cardiology revoked a major recommendation on heart-attack treatment. "Science is not static but rather constantly evolving," said its president, Patrick T. O'Gara, in explaining the decision.


. . .


Instead of being allowed to deliver "patient-centered" care, many physicians feel they are being co-opted by regulations. Some feel pressured to prescribe "mandated" treatment, even to frail older adults who may not benefit. Guidelines are supposed to assist and advise. But all too often, recommended care in certain situations becomes mandated care in all situations.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "Don't Homogenize Health Care." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 11, 2014): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 10, 2014.)






February 17, 2015

Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain



(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called "Dry-Henceforth."

Government-sponsored failure didn't stop others from trying. A man who called himself "the moisture accelerator," Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 15, 2015

Police Unions Make It Harder to Get Rid of Bad Cops



(p. A29) A small percentage of cops commit most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the "resisting arrest" charges were filed by just 5 percent of New York Police Department officers. In other words, most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations.

But it's very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else. In parts of the country, contract rules stipulate that officers get a 48-hour cooling-off period before having to respond to questions. They have access to the names and testimony of their accusers. They can be questioned only by one person at a time. They can't be threatened with disciplinary action during questioning.

More seriously, cops who are punished can be reinstated through a secretive appeals process that favors job retention over public safety. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a riveting piece with egregious stories of cops who have returned to the force after clear incompetence. Hector Jimenez was an Oakland, Calif., cop who shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man in 2007. Seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him in the back three times while he ran away. The city paid damages. Jimenez was fired. But he appealed through his union and was reinstated with back pay.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "The Union Future." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 19, 2014): A29.

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






February 13, 2015

The Federal Government's "Arrogance on a Grand Scale" Encouraged the Dust Bowl



(p. 126) In the last years of the wheat boom, Bennett had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge. He went directly after his old employer, the Department of Agriculture, for misleading people. Farmers on the Great Plains were working against nature, he thundered in speeches across the country; they were asking for trouble. Even in the late 1920s, before anyone else sounded an alarm, Bennett said people had sown the seeds of an epic disaster. The government continued to insist, through official bulletins , that soil was the one "resource that cannot be exhausted." To Bennett, it was arrogance on a grand scale.

"I didn't know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence," he said.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 5, 2015

Justice on the Plains



(p. 71) "What are you doing here?" the judge asked again.

"I cannot talk," Ehrlich answered, in his hybrid English-German. "This guard will stab my heart out."

"You talk to me," Judge Alexander told him. "Now what are you people here for? It's the middle of the night."

"Pit-schur."

"What's that? A picture?"

"Yah."

An officer produced the picture that Ehrlich kept in his house--Kaiser Wilhelm and his family in formal pose.

"That's a beautiful picture," the judge said, then turned to the police. "Is that all you got against these people?"

"They're pro-German. They're hurting the war effort. Spies, for all we know."

The judge turned to the Germans from the Volga. "How many of you are supporting America in the war?" All hands went up.

Ehrlich reached into his pocket and produced two hundred dollars' worth of government stamps issued to support the war effort . A friend produced war bonds. The judge looked at the sheriff and asked him how many of his officers had war bonds or stamps. None.

(p. 72) "Take these people home," the judge said. "If anything happens to them, I'll hold you responsible ." They drove back in the freezing predawn darkness and released the men to their families at sunrise. A daylong party followed.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 1, 2015

How the Federal Government Caused the High Plains Dust Bowl



(p. 50) People were pouring into town, taking up rooms at the Crystal Hotel-- suitcase farmers who had no intention of ever settling there. They wanted only to rent out a tractor and a piece of ground for a few days, drop some winter wheat into the fresh-turned fold, and come back next summer for the payoff. It was a game of chance called "trying to hit a crop." One suitcase farmer broke thirty-two thousand acres in southeast Kansas in 1921. Four years later, he plowed twice that amount. The banks seldom said no. After Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916, every town with a well and a sheriff had itself a farmland bank -- an institution! -- offering forty-year loans at six percent interest. Borrow five thousand dollars and payments were less than thirty-five dollars a month. Any man with a John Deere and a half-section could cover that nut. If it was hubris, or "tempting fate" as some of the church ladies said, well, the United (p. 51) States government did not see it that way. The government had already issued its official view of the rapid churning of ancient prairie sod.

"The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses," the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed as the grasslands were transformed. "It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted, that cannot be used up."



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 29, 2015

Government Encouraged the Dust Bowl of the 1930s



Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time helps us to understand the motives and struggles of those who suffered in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains of the United States. Sometimes he also illuminates the role that the government had in encouraging ordinary people to move to a place that would soon be hell on earth.

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most thought-provoking passages of Egan's book.


Book discussed:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 28, 2015

TransCanada Plans to Use Eminent Domain to Build the Keystone Pipeline




I am not opposed to the Keystone Pipeline on environmental grounds. But I have long believed that property rights should be defended, and that we too readily allow the violation of property rights through eminent domain.

If the Keystone Pipeline can be built without eminent domain, then I am in favor of allowing it. If it can only be built by violating landowners' property rights, then I oppose it.



(p. 1A) LINCOLN -- As the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate pledged quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline early next year, final offers were landing Tuesday in dozens of Nebraska mailboxes.

TransCanada Corp. said it mailed new offers of right-of-way payments this week to more than 100 Nebraska landowners who have refused to sign an easement contract.

The letters also say the company will pursue eminent domain against landowners who don't agree to terms by Jan. 16. The company says Nebraska law requires condemnation proceedings to start within two years of the state's approval of the pipeline route, which occurred Jan. 22, 2013.



For the full story, see:

Joe Duggan. "TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., DECEMBER 17, 2014): 1A & 3A.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Keystone XL pipeline: TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners.")






January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"



(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


Source:

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

(Note: italics in original.)






January 21, 2015

Obamacare Advisor Says Obscure Law Passed Due to "Stupidity of the American Voter"



(p. A4) Jonathan Gruber, the economist at the heart of a fresh debate about the Affordable Care Act, has had more than a dozen appointments to visit the White House since Democrats began drafting the health law in 2009, records show.

The visits included at least one group meeting with President Barack Obama , as well as appointments with senior administration officials who helped shape the 2010 law that expanded health insurance to millions of Americans.

The White House in recent days has tried to distance itself from Mr. Gruber, a 49-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, since a 2013 video surfaced last week in which he said the law passed because of the "huge political advantage" of the legislation's lacking transparency. He also referred to the "stupidity of the American voter."

Republicans have seized on the comments as evidence that supporters of the law purposely misled the public about its costs.

"It is amusing to watch Washington liberals discount Mr. Gruber's truth-telling as a gaffe and disown" his involvement in the law, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR and COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON. "Health Adviser Gruber Logged Regular White House Visits." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 18, 2014): A4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2014.)






January 10, 2015

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




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



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

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


. . .


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


. . .


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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The Burkhauser co-authored paper summarized above, is:

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


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

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






January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries



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

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



Source:

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






January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones



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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review is:

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






January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity



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


Source:

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






December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity



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

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



Source:

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






December 27, 2014

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



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


Source:

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






December 8, 2014

Billionaire Risks All for Hong Kong Freedom



(p. A11) Hong Kong If Chinese soldiers crush Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, there's little doubt media tycoon Jimmy Lai will be high on their wanted list. His Apple Daily newspaper and Next magazine cheer on the movement for universal suffrage. He bankrolls the city's pro-democracy political parties, as financial records stolen by hackers show. The government-owned media accuse him of fomenting a "color revolution" at the behest of the American government. . . .

But Mr. Lai's activities this week are not hard to track. From about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., he sits in the protesters' encampment outside the main government offices. Most of the time he can be found at one of the makeshift supply pavilions labeled "materials stand," chatting with students or listening to speeches.

On Friday morning, I find Mr. Lai at the encampment reading essays by Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu, and we walk to a nearby food court to chat. Two photographers from a pro-Beijing newspaper conspicuously record our meeting.



For the full interview, see:

HUGO RESTALL. "Hong Kong's Billionaire Democrat; Despite threats and smears from Beijing, Jimmy Lai talks about his support for student protesters in Hong Kong and why they might succeed." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Oct. 3, 2014.)






December 4, 2014

Consumers Cannot Count on Regulators for Safety



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- The nation's top auto regulator faced withering criticism across Capitol Hill on Tuesday over its failure to identify a deadly defect in General Motors cars -- even as its top official tried again and again to shift the blame back to the automaker.

Hours after a House committee released a scathing report about the agency's yearslong failure to spot the ignition-stalling defect that has now been linked to 19 deaths, a Senate subcommittee hearing turned angry and tense. Lawmakers from both parties accused the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of overlooking evidence that could have saved lives and of deferring to the auto industry rather than standing up to it.

The agency was "more interested in singing 'Kumbaya' with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat," said Senator Claire McCaskill, the subcommittee's chairwoman, in sharp questioning reminiscent of her interrogation of G.M.'s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, in a hearing before the same panel in the spring.


. . .

(p. B2) "You want to obfuscate responsibility, rather than take responsibility," Ms. McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said, her voice rising. "We've all said shame on G.M." She added, "You've got to take some responsibility that this isn't being handled correctly."


. . .


Watching from a seat just behind Mr. Friedman [deputy administrator of the N.H.T.S.A.] was Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Rose, a teenager who was killed in 2005 when her Cobalt ran off the road, into a tree, and the air bags did not deploy.

As Mr. Friedman continued to speak, Ms. Christian said she could feel herself getting flushed and increasingly upset over the agency's lack of remorse.

"It was extremely frustrating to hear David Friedman go on about how his agency was this wonderful thing," she said. "All along they missed the glaringly obviously defects."



For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT and AARON M. KESSLER. "Congress Castigates Auto Regulator Over a Deadly G.M. Defect." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A1 & B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014, and has the title "Senators Take Auto Agency to Task Over G.M. Recall." In the Midwest edition that I receive, this article started on p. A1; according to the indexes, and the online edition, in the New York edition, the article started on p. B1.)






November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money



(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."



For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")






November 28, 2014

When Pirates Were More Enlightened than Most Governments



(p. A11) While slaves were oppressed by the social order, Mr. Rediker argues, pirates on the high seas were remaking it. An estimated 2,500 buccaneers prowled the Atlantic and the Caribbean at any given time during the first half of the 18th century. The great majority were former merchant seamen, or deserters from the Royal Navy. They were aged between 14 and 50, though most were in their 20s. Married men were not welcome for fear that they might desert and compromise an entire pirate crew.

Here, Mr. Rediker suggests, egalitarianism was being practiced at sea half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. And, he adds, there was a striking uniformity of rules and customs on all pirate vessels. At the start of each voyage, or whenever a new captain was chosen, a wide-ranging social compact would be drawn up listing rights and responsibilities. The articles would allocate authority, deal with the distribution of plunder, and set the rules of punishment to enforce discipline. Booty was usually allocated according to skills and duties--the captain might be given two shares; gunners, boatswains, mates, carpenters and medics one and a half shares; and the rest of the crew a share each. In times of battle, the crew gave the captain unquestioned authority whether fighting, chasing or being chased. What perhaps set the pirates most apart from their former colleagues in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy was punishment. The lash, for example, was rarely used. Fighting was not allowed on board and disputes between crew had to be settled ashore by sword or pistol. This brought an unusual degree of harmony to the pirate ship. Incorrigible trouble makers were unceremoniously dumped and left behind on deserted islands. Vengeance was also freely taken upon captives, and woe betide any ship's captain who had tyrannized and abused his crew.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Motley Crew at the Helm; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Outlaws of the Atlantic' by Marcus Rediker; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution.")


Book under review:

Rediker, Marcus. Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014.






November 23, 2014

Cat Stevens Protests New York Government Ban on Paperless Tickets



(p. C3) Yusuf, the singer until recently called Yusuf Islam, but better known as Cat Stevens for his 1970s hits like "Peace Train," has canceled a concert at the Beacon Theater in frustration over New York state laws on ticket scalping.


. . .


"I have been a longtime supporter of paperless tickets to my shows worldwide and avoiding scalpers," Yusuf wrote. "Unfortunately NY has a state law that requires all tickets sold for shows in NYC to be paper, enabling them to be bought and sold at inflated prices."

After heavy lobbying by the ticketing industry, New York passed a law in 2010, which has since been renewed, requiring promoters to offer customers the option of transferrable tickets.



For the full story, see:

BEN SISARIO. "Cat Stevens Cancels Show and Cites Ticket Law." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 25, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPTEMBER 24, 2014, and has the title "Yusuf, the Former Cat Stevens, Cancels New York Concert.")






November 22, 2014

Socialist Price Setting Causes Shortages of Corn Flour, Car Batteries and Toilet Paper



(p. B1) Venezuela's prices on everything from butter to flat-screen TVs are set without warning by the government, which also caps corporate profits at 30%. Any profits evaporate quickly, however, because inflation is almost double that.

And expanded price controls imposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded late leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez in April 2013, have exacerbated shortages of basic items such as corn flour, car batteries and toilet paper, triggering violent street protests since early February.



For the full story, see:

MAXWELL MURPHY and KEJAL VYAS. "CFO JOURNAL; Currency Chaos in Venezuela Portends Write-Downs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)






November 21, 2014

Cancer Gains Have Not Come from "Centralized Direction"



(p. 180) The truth remains that over the course of the twentieth century, the greatest gains in the battle against cancer came from independent research that was not under any sort of centralized direction and that did not have vast resources at its disposal. As we have seen, such research led to momentous chance discoveries in cancer chemotherapy and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of the disease that have resulted in exciting new therapeutic approaches.


Source:

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






November 20, 2014

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



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


For the full review, see:

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

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


The book being reviewed is:

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






November 17, 2014

War on Cancer Was "Profoundly Misconceived"



(p. 179) Following the testing of nearly half a million drugs, the number of useful anticancer agents remains disappointingly small. Expressions of discontent with the methodology of research and of research and the appalling paucity of results were, over the years, largely restricted to the professional literature. However, in 2001 they broke through to the popular media. In an impassioned article in the New Yorker magazine entitled "The Thirty Years' War: Have We Been Fighting Cancer the Wrong Way?" Jerome Groopman, a respected clinical oncologist and cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, fired a devastating broadside. "The war on cancer," he wrote, "turned out to be profoundly misconceived--both in its rhetoric and in its execution. The high expectations of the early seventies seem almost willfully naïve." Regarding many of the three-phased clinical trials, with their toxic effects, he marveled at "how little scientific basis there was and how much sensationalism surrounded them." Groopman concluded that hope for progress resided in the "uncertainty inherent in scientific discovery."


Source:

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

(Note: italics in original.)






November 13, 2014

In 1971 Nixon "Launched an All-Out War on Cancer"



(p. 173) In 1971 the U.S. government finally launched an all-out "war on cancer." In his State of the Union address in January 1971, President Richard Nixon declared: "The time has come in America when the same kind of concerted effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal."

As the country debated a bill known as the National Cancer Act, the air was filled with feverish excitement and heady optimism. Popular magazines again trumpeted the imminent conquest of cancer. However, some members of the committee of the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, which was asked by the NCI to review the cancer plan envisioned by the act, expressed concern regarding the centralization of planning of research and that "the lines of research... could turn out to be the wrong leads." The plan fails, the reviewers said in their confidential report, because

It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand, and that given the right kind of administration and organization, the hard problems can be solved. It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer.


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






November 12, 2014

FDR Ruthlessly Manipulated Political Process



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


. . .


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

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

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



For the full obituary, see:

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

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

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


The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

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






November 9, 2014

"Discovery Cannot Be Achieved by Directive"



(p. 170) As early as 1945 the medical advisory committee reporting to the committee reporting to the federal government on a postwar program for scientific research emphasized the frequently unexpected nature of discoveries:

Discoveries in medicine have often come from the most remote and unexpected fields of science in the past; and it is probable that this will be equally true in the future. It is not unlikely that significant progress in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, cancer, and other refractory conditions will be made, perhaps unexpectedly, as the result of fundamental discoveries in fields unrelated to these diseases.... Discovery cannot be achieved by directive. Further progress requires that the entire field of medicine and the underlying sciences of biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, bacteriology, pathology, parasitology, etc., be developed impartially.

Their statement "discovery cannot be achieved by directive" would prove to be sadly prophetic.



Source:

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

(Note: italics in original.)






November 4, 2014

Less than One Percent of Government Spending Is Cost Effective



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


. . .


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

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



For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

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


The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

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






November 1, 2014

Centrally Planned War on Cancer "Fails to Allow for Surprises"



(p. 115) It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand.... It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer. --A COMMITTEE OF THE INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, ON THE NATIONAL CANCER ACT AND THE "WAR ON CANCER"


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






October 30, 2014

British Parents Jailed by Nationalized Health Service for Trying to Sell Home to Pay for Son's Cancer Treatment



(p. A4) . . . , no Briton is ever entirely happy with the taxpayer-funded service, and now the case of a 5-year-old boy with a brain tumor has thrown a harsh light on the $170 billion-a-year system.

Critics are asking whether the service was justified in refusing a cancer treatment for the boy, Ashya King, sought by his desperate parents in an effort to save his life, and whether it overstepped in trying to impose its decision on his family.

The refusal set off a chain of events that enthralled and horrified the British public, as Ashya's parents removed their son from University Hospital Southampton in England on Aug. 28 without the consent of British doctors, setting off a highly publicized international hunt. Concern for the child, however, turned into public outrage when the parents, Brett and Naghemeh King, were arrested and jailed in Madrid, where they had traveled to sell their holiday home so they could pay for the treatment, called proton beam therapy.


. . .


"They treated us like terrorists," Mr. King, 51, said during an emotional news conference in Spain, where he and his wife were held for three days, separated from their critically ill son, as British authorities pursued University Hospital Southampton's recommendation that Ashya be made a ward of the court.


. . .


(p. A10) Professor Hunter . . . said that, because the health service is publicly accountable, doctors tend to be reluctant to recommend innovative solutions for fear of lawsuits if things go wrong.

Mrs. Anderton, too, said that, despite the excellent care her son received, the N.H.S. is not always at the cutting edge. "The only downside is that we don't have advanced types of treatments that could be lifesaving," she said.



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO DE FREYTAS-TAMURA. "Health Care for Britain in Harsh Light." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A4 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014.)






October 27, 2014

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



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book being reviewed is:

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






October 22, 2014

Nevada Government Lets Tesla Sell Directly to Consumers



(p. A13) . . . in addition to rubber-stamping the agreement that waived Tesla's property, sales and business taxes for a decade or more--while throwing in discount power rates--the Nevada legislature also approved a bill last week that would exempt the auto maker from franchising regulations outlawing the company's retail approach. The state's auto dealers, who only weeks ago threatened to sue over the matter, shifted gears and endorsed the legislation.

"My car dealers want to assist in any way they can," John Sande of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association told the Reno Gazette Journal. "Nevada law does not allow Tesla to come in and sell directly to the consumer, so we are going to have to come in and change it so they can sell directly to the consumer."

No doubt the dealers balanced the pros and cons of agitating for their own self-interest against overwhelming political support for the deal and the spending potential of thousands of new, well-paid workers who may prefer a Ford or Chevy pickup over a $70,000 Tesla Model S. But the fact that Nevada legislators so quickly jettisoned a key provision of the state's dealership-franchise provisions speaks volumes about how essential these statutes really are to the well-being of their constituents.

There is no rational reason Tesla--or any other automobile manufacturer--should be restricted from selling new cars directly to those who seek to buy them.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN KERR. "OPINION; Tesla Breaks the Auto Dealer Cartel; Nevada lets the electric car maker sell directly to consumers. Too bad everyone else still can't." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 17, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2014.)







October 13, 2014

Mexicans Abandon Government Subsidized Housing Developments



(p. A5) ZUMPANGO, Mexico -- In an enormous housing development on the edge of this scrappy commuter town, Lorena Serrano's 11-foot-wide shoe box of a home is flanked by abandoned houses. The neighborhood has two schools, a few bodegas and a small community center that offers zumba classes.

There is very little else.

"There are no jobs, no cinema, no cantina," said Ms. Serrano of the 8,000-home development, called La Trinidad. Her husband's commute to the capital, Mexico City, about 35 miles south, takes two hours each way by bus and consumes a quarter of his salary, she said. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

Ms. Serrano, 39, is among more than five million Mexicans who, over the past decade, bought houses through a government program that made mortgages available to low-income buyers.

The program, initially hailed by some experts as the answer to Mexico's chronic housing deficit, fueled a frenzy of construction and helped inspire similar efforts in Latin America and beyond, including Brazil's "My House, My Life," which aims to build at least 3 million homes by this year.

But the concrete sprawl around Mexico City and other big towns grew faster than demand. Commutes proved unbearable, and residents abandoned their homes.



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "ZUMPANGO JOURNAL; They Built It. People Came. Now They Go." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 9, 2014): A5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 8, 2014.)






October 9, 2014

Feds Allow Hollywood to Use Drones



(p. B1) LOS ANGELES -- The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014] with the help of Hollywood.

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska.

Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.

The decision has implications for a broad range of industries including agriculture, energy, real estate, the news media and online retailing. "While the approval for Hollywood is very limited in scope, it's a message to everyone that this ball is rolling," said Greg Cirillo, chairman of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, a law firm in Washington.

Michael P. Huerta, the administrator of the F.A.A., said at least 40 similar applications were pending from companies beyond Hollywood. One is Amazon, which wants permission to move forward with a drone-delivery service. Google has acknowledged "self-flying vehicle" tests in the Australian outback.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial use," Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation, told reporters in a conference call.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014.)






October 5, 2014

Feds Protect Us from Baby Photos



(p. 1) Pictures of smiling babies crowd a bulletin board in a doctor's office in Midtown Manhattan, in a collage familiar to anyone who has given birth. But the women coming in to have babies of their own cannot see them. They have been moved to a private part of the office, replaced in the corridors with abstract art.

"I've had patients ask me, 'Where's your baby board?' " said Dr. Mark V. Sauer, the director of the office, which is affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center. "We just tell them the truth, which is that we no longer post them because of concerns over privacy."

For generations, obstetricians and midwives across America have proudly posted photographs of the babies they have delivered on their office walls. But this pre-digital form of social media is gradually going the way of cigars in the waiting room, because of the federal patient privacy law known as Hipaa.

Under the law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does.



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "Baby Pictures at the Doctor's? Cute, Sure, but Illegal." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 10, 2014): 1 & 19.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2014.)






October 4, 2014

Cancer Will Likely Be Cured by "Lone Wolves, Awkward Individualists, Nonconformists"




Morton Meyers quotes Ernst Chain, who received the Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Fleming and Florey, for developing penicillin:


(p. 81) But do not let us fall victims of the naive illusion that problems like cancer, mental illness, degeneration or old age... can be solved by bulldozer organizational methods, such as were used in the Manhattan Project. In the latter, we had the geniuses whose basic discoveries made its development possible, the Curies, the Rutherfords, the Einsteins, the Niels Bohrs and many others; in the biologic field... these geniuses have not yet appeared.... No mass attack will replace them.... When they do appear, it is our job to recognize them and give them the opportunities to develop their talents, which is not an easy task, for they are bound to be lone wolves, awkward individualists, nonconformists, and they will not very well fit into any established organization.


Source:

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

(Note: ellipses in original.)






October 1, 2014

Brazil Libertarian Uses Laser Vision to Privatize Trains



BrazilLaserVisionLibertarian2014-09-30.jpg"In campaign ads, Paulo Batista, who is running for a seat in the São Paulo state legislature, is a superhero looking for old commuter trains to blast into privatization with his laser vision." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A4) RIO DE JANEIRO -- An auditor flies through the air like Superman, shooting laser beams from his eyes.


. . .


"The neutral, generic method of appealing to voters is a mediocre and failed way of doing politics," said Paulo Batista, 34, a real estate auditor and self-described libertarian who is running for a seat in São Paulo's state legislature.

Mr. Batista's ads, depicting him as a superhero using his laser vision to privatize dilapidated commuter trains, are popular on YouTube.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Brazil's Politicians Often Play the Clown in Ads." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 3, 2014): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2014.)






September 29, 2014

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



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


. . .


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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

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

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


The book under review is:

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






September 23, 2014

French Government Wastes $68.5 Million Ordering Trains Too Wide for Many Platforms



(p. B3) PARIS--France's state-run railway system on Wednesday admitted failing to mind the gap, after realizing that a fleet of new trains it has ordered are too wide to fit many of the country's stations.

Confirming a report in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, train operator Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer and network owner Réseau Ferré de France said about 1,300 of France's 8,700 railway platforms must be trimmed to make way for the wider rolling stock.

It will cost about €50 million ($68.5 million) to alter the platforms to fit the new trains by 2016, when they are delivered, SNCF and RFF said.



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM HOROBIN. "French in Uproar Over Train Snafu." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 21, 2014, and has the title "Mind the Gap: New French Trains Too Wide for Many Platforms.")






September 20, 2014

Modelers Can Often Obtain the Desired Result




(p. A13) After earning a master's degree in environmental engineering in 1982, I spent most of the next 10 years building large-scale environmental computer models. My first job was as a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency. I was hired to build a model to assess the impact of its Construction Grants Program, a nationwide effort in the 1970s and 1980s to upgrade sewer-treatment plants.

The computer model was huge--it analyzed every river, sewer treatment plant and drinking-water intake (the places in rivers where municipalities draw their water) in the country. I'll spare you the details, but the model showed huge gains from the program as water quality improved dramatically. By the late 1980s, however, any gains from upgrading sewer treatments would be offset by the additional pollution load coming from people who moved from on-site septic tanks to public sewers, which dump the waste into rivers. Basically the model said we had hit the point of diminishing returns.

When I presented the results to the EPA official in charge, he said that I should go back and "sharpen my pencil." I did. I reviewed assumptions, tweaked coefficients and recalibrated data. But when I reran everything the numbers didn't change much. At our next meeting he told me to run the numbers again.

After three iterations I finally blurted out, "What number are you looking for?" He didn't miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show $2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy.


. . .


There are no exact values for the coefficients in models such as these. There are only ranges of potential values. By moving a bunch of these parameters to one side or the other you can usually get very different results, often (surprise) in line with your initial beliefs.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT J. CAPRARA. "OPINION; Confessions of a Computer Modeler; Any model, including those predicting climate doom, can be tweaked to yield a desired result. I should know." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 9, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






September 18, 2014

Feds Threaten 14,000 Dead Men with Prison, if They Fail to Register for Draft



(p. A3) . . . the Selective Service System mistakenly sent notices to more than 14,000 Pennsylvania men born between 1893 and 1897, ordering them to register for the nation's military draft and warning that failure to do so is "punishable by a fine and imprisonment."


. . .


Chuck Huey, 73, of Kingston, said he got a notice addressed to his late grandfather Bert Huey, a World War I veteran who was born in 1894 and died in 1995 at age 100.


. . .


Huey said he tried calling the Selective Service but couldn't get a live person on the line.


. . .


"You just never know. You don't want to mess around with the federal government," he said.



For the full story, see:

The Associated Press. "14,000 men sent draft reminders 100 years too late." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., July 11, 2014): 3A.

(Note: ellipses added.)






September 16, 2014

Structural Reforms Needed to Increase Innovation



(p. A13) . . . , a lack of "demand" is no longer the problem.


. . .


Where, instead, are the problems? John Taylor, Stanford's Nick Bloom and Chicago Booth's Steve Davis see the uncertainty induced by seat-of-the-pants policy at fault. Who wants to hire, lend or invest when the next stroke of the presidential pen or Justice Department witch hunt can undo all the hard work? Ed Prescott emphasizes large distorting taxes and intrusive regulations. The University of Chicago's Casey Mulligan deconstructs the unintended disincentives of social programs. And so forth. These problems did not cause the recession. But they are worse now, and they can impede recovery and retard growth.

These views are a lot less sexy than a unicausal "demand," fixable by simple, magic-bullet policies. They require us to do the hard work of fixing the things we all agree need fixing: our tax code, our cronyist regulatory state, our welter of anticompetitive and anti-innovative protections, education, immigration, social program disincentives, and so on. They require "structural reform," not "stimulus," in policy lingo.



For the commentary, see:

JOHN H. COCHRANE. "OPINION; The Failure of Macroeconomics; When models don't yield the spending policies they want, some Keynesians abandon models--but not the spending." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., July 3, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2014.)






September 12, 2014

3.2 Million Waiting for Care Under England's Single-Payer Socialized Medicine



(p. A13) . . . even as the single-payer system remains the ideal for many on the left, it's worth examining how Britain's NHS, established in 1948, is faring. The answer: badly. NHS England--a government body that receives about £100 billion a year from the Department of Health to run England's health-care system--reported this month that its hospital waiting lists soared to their highest point since 2006, with 3.2 million patients waiting for treatment after diagnosis. NHS England figures for July 2013 show that 508,555 people in London alone were waiting for operations or other treatments--the highest total for at least five years.

Even cancer patients have to wait: According to a June report by NHS England, more than 15% of patients referred by their general practitioner for "urgent" treatment after being diagnosed with suspected cancer waited more than 62 days--two full months--to begin their first definitive treatment.


. . .


The socialized-medicine model is struggling elsewhere in Europe as well. Even in Sweden, often heralded as the paradigm of a successful welfare state, months-long wait times for treatment routinely available in the U.S. have been widely documented.

To fix the problem, the Swedish government has aggressively introduced private-market forces into health care to improve access, quality and choices. Municipal governments have increased spending on private-care contracts by 50% in the past decade, according to Näringslivets Ekonomifakta, part of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, a Swedish employers' association.



For the commentary, see:

SCOTT W. ATLAS. "OPINION; Where ObamaCare Is Going; The government single-payer model that liberals aspire to for the U.S. is increasingly in trouble around the world." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., Aug. 14, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 13, 2014.)






September 11, 2014

The Health Hazards of Government Guidelines on Salt



SaltIntakeGuidelinesGraphic2014-08-17.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) A long-running debate over the merits of eating less salt escalated Wednesday when one of the most comprehensive studies yet suggested cutting back on sodium too much actually poses health hazards.

Current guidelines from U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and other groups set daily dietary sodium targets between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower, well below the average U.S. daily consumption of about 3,400 milligrams.

The new study, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years, found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.

The findings, published in the (p. A2) New England Journal of Medicine, are the latest to challenge the benefit of aggressively low sodium targets--especially for generally healthy people. Last year, a report from the Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress on health issues, didn't find evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.



For the story, see:

RON WINSLOW. "Low-Salt Diets May Pose Health Risks, Study Finds." The Wall Street Journal (Thur., Aug. 14, 2014): A1-A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 13, 2014, an has the title "Low-Salt Diets May Pose Health Risks, Study Finds.")






September 10, 2014

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



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


Source:

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

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






September 7, 2014

Conservatives Still Read Books, Despite Book Industry Slump



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


. . .


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



For the full story, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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







September 6, 2014

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



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

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



Source:

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






September 1, 2014

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



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book being reviewed is:

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






August 30, 2014

Rollin King Found Legal Way to Avoid Fed's Regulations



(p. 25) Rollin W. King, a co-founder of Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that helped to change the way Americans travel, died Thursday [June 26, 2014] in Dallas. He was 83.


. . .


The concept for Southwest came to Mr. King when he noticed that businessmen in Texas were willing to charter planes instead of paying the high fares of the domestic airlines.

At the time that Mr. King first proposed the idea to Mr. Kelleher over drinks, the federal government regulated the fares, schedules and routes of interstate airlines, and the mandated prices were high.

Competitors like Texas International Airlines, Braniff International Airways and Continental Airlines waged a protracted legal battle before Southwest could make its first flight. By not flying across state borders, Southwest was able to get around prices set by the Civil Aeronautics Board.



For the full obituary, see:

MICHAEL CORKERY. "Rollin King, 83, Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest Airlines." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., June 29, 2014): 25.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 28, 2014, and has the title "Rollin King, Texas Pilot Who Helped Start Southwest, Dies at 83.")






August 29, 2014

Notaries Were Useful in a Contractual Society



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


Source:

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






August 25, 2014

Human Freedom and Dignity Lived in Florence



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


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






August 24, 2014

U.S. Constitution Reflects Lockean Natural Rights



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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review is:

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






August 23, 2014

The Vagueness and Regulatory Discretion of Dodd-Frank Is "a Recipe for Cronyism"



(p. 218) Aaron Steelman has an "Interview" with John Cochrane. On Dodd-Frank: "I think Dodd-Frank repeats the same things we've been trying over and over again that have failed, in bigger and bigger ways. . . . The deeper problem is the idea that we just need more regulation--as if regulation is something you pour into a glass like water--not smarter and better designed regulation. Dodd-Frank is pretty bad in that department. It is a long and vague law that spawns a mountain of vague rules, which give regulators huge discretion to tell banks what to do. It's a recipe for cronyism and for banks to game the system to limit competition." On how to stop bailing out large financial institutions: "You have to set up the system ahead of time so that you either can't or won't need to conduct bailouts. Ideally, both. . . . The worst possible system is one in which everyone thinks bailouts are coming, but the government in fact does not have the legal authority to bail out." . . . Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Third Quarter 2013, pp. 34-38. https://www.richmondfed
.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q3/pdf/interview.pdf
.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

(Note: italics, and first two ellipses, are in original; the last ellipsis is added.)






August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence



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


Source:

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






August 18, 2014

"The Lone Commando Who Answers to No One and Breaks Rules to Save Patients Is No Longer a Viable Job Description"



(p. D5) A keen sense of loss permeates "Code Black," an affecting love letter from a young doctor to his hospital. Over the years, plenty of similar romances have been immortalized in book form, but this may be the first to play out as a documentary, and is surely the first to emerge from our newly reformed health care climate. You'd think you'd be in for some celebration.

But not in the least. In fact, among all its familiar themes, the film's most striking is the profound sense of estrangement between the young doctors on the screen and all the recent efforts at improving the health care system. The spirit that brought them to medicine and keeps them there, they say over and over, was never even part of the national discussion.


. . .


. . . , as their department chairman points out, the day of the cowboy doctor is over; the lone commando who answers to no one and breaks rules to save patients is no longer a viable job description. Newly smothered in paperwork and quality control, many of these young doctors grieve for a self-image that has ridden off into the sunset.



For the full review, see:

ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D.. "Saving Lives and Pushing Paper." The New York Times (Tues., July 1, 2014): D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 30, 2014.)






August 17, 2014

Salutati Imitated Antiquity "in Order to Produce Something New"



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


Source:

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

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






August 14, 2014

Dogs, and Movie About Dog, Banned in Iran



(p. D6) In Jafar Panahi's new movie, a writer in Iran smuggles his pet dog into his home inside a tote bag. The film, "Closed Curtain," addresses Iranian lawmakers' recent ban on dog-walking in public, part of an effort to curb perceived Western influences including keeping pets. For two decades, Mr. Panahi has captured such vagaries of life in his native country.

"Closed Curtain," which won the best screenplay award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York City's Film Forum on July 9. It is Mr. Panahi's second film since December 2010, when Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Court banned him from making movies for 20 years.



For the interview with Panahi, see:

TOBIAS GREY. "An Iranian Director's Best Friend." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 27, 2014): D6.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 26, 2014, an has the title "Iranian Director Flouts Ban on Filming.")






August 9, 2014

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



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


Source:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 2, 2014

Climate Models Allow "the Modeler to Obtain Almost Any Desired Result"




Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are the commonly-used models that attempt to integrate climate science models with economic effect models. In the passage quoted below, "SCC" stands for "social cost of carbon."


(p. 870) I have argued that IAMs are of little or no value for evaluating alternative climate change policies and estimating the SCC. On the contrary, an IAM-based analysis suggests a level of knowledge and precision that is nonexistent, and allows the modeler to obtain almost any desired result because key inputs can be chosen arbitrarily.

As I have explained, the physical mechanisms that determine climate sensitivity involve crucial feedback loops, and the parameter values that determine the strength of those feedback loops are largely unknown. When it comes to the impact of climate change, we know even less. IAM damage functions are completely made up, with no theoretical or empirical foundation. They simply reflect common beliefs (which might be wrong) regarding the impact of 2º C or 3º C of warming, and can tell us nothing about what might happen if the temperature increases by 5º C or more. And yet those damage functions are taken seriously when IAMs are used to analyze climate policy. Finally, IAMs tell us nothing about the likelihood and nature of catastrophic outcomes, but it is just such outcomes that matter most for climate change policy. Probably the best we can do at this point is come up with plausible estimates for probabilities and possible impacts of catastrophic outcomes. Doing otherwise is to delude ourselves.



For the full article, see:

Pindyck, Robert S. "Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?" Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 860-72.






July 30, 2014

Privatizing TSA Screeners Has Worked Well



(p. 241) Chris Edwards makes the case for "Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration." "More than 80 percent of Europe's commercial airports use private screening companies, including those in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. The other airports in Europe use their own in-house security, but no major country in Europe uses the national government's aviation bureaucracy for screening. Europe's airports moved to private contracting during the 1980s and 1990s after numerous hijackings and terrorist threats, and it has worked very well. Canada also uses private screening companies at its commercial airports, and some airports also use private firms for general airport security. . . . The 2001 legislation that created TSA established the SPP [Screening Partnership Program], which has allowed some airports to opt out of TSA screening and use private firms. The firms contract with TSA and are under federal regulatory control. Originally, there were five airports in the program, with San Francisco being the largest. All five have had good results with private screening and have stuck with it. The number of SPP airports has grown to 16 today." Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 742, November 19, 2013, http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/privatizing-transportation-security-administration.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

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






July 29, 2014

HR Regulations and Fear of Lawsuits Keep Managers from Firing Workers Who Do Not Work



(p. 1B) The biggest problem in your workplace has a name. His name is Jeff. . . .

Jeff sits two cubicles down from us, or three, or four. His real name may be John, Juan or Joan. He gets to the widget factory late, he leaves early and always mucks up his part of any group project. He complains, loudly, about the smallest things, and when you bring doughnuts for your birthday he probably takes three and then talks with his mouth full, too.


. . .


(p. 2B) . . . , morale suffers greatly when most of a company's employees perceive that their supervisor is failing to deal with their low-performing co-worker, month after month, year after year.

For this, Hoogeveen blames a corporate culture that is so concerned about HR regulations, and the often-imagined threat of litigation, that bosses often fail to take into account how the trouble employee affects the larger climate.


. . .


. . . if Jeff doesn't improve, he needs to be fired. This is perhaps the worst part of a boss's job, Hoogeveen thinks. His eyes mist as he recalls firing an employee whom he liked, but who was simply a bad fit at QLI.

It's human nature to avoid this conflict, to maintain the status quo and let Jeff be, he says. That's what can and does happen at most Omaha companies.

But it's bad for the employees, and it's bad for business.

"A lot of this stuff is incredibly easy to understand," says Omaha's workplace mechanic [Kim Hoogeveen]. "It's incredibly difficult to live."



For the full story, see:

Hansen, Matthew. "Workplace Guru: Don't Let Problem Worker Slide." Omaha World-Herald (Mon., July 21, 2014): 1B-2B.

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

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Hansen: Don't let Jeff -- the problem worker -- slide, workplace guru says.")






July 26, 2014

Countries that Protect Jobs Stifle Economic Growth



(p. 240) In an "Interview" conducted by Jessie Romero, John Haltiwanger discusses changing patterns of job creation and destruction: "But now we're seeing a decline in the entry rate and a pretty stark decline in the share of young businesses. . . . But it's also important to recognize that the decline in the share of young firms has occurred because the impact of entry is not just at the point of entry, it's also over the next five or 10 years. A wave of entrants come in, and some of them grow very rapidly, and some of them fail. That dynamic has slowed down. . . . If you look at young small businesses, or just young businesses period, the 90th percentile growth rate is incredibly high. Young businesses not only are volatile, but their growth rates also are tremendously skewed. It's rare to have a young business take off, but those that do add lots of jobs and contribute a lot to productivity growth. We have found that startups together with high-growth firms, which are disproportionately young, account for roughly 70 percent of overall job creation in the United States. . . . "I think the evidence is overwhelming that countries have tried to stifle the [job] destruction process and this has caused problems. I'm hardly a fan of job destruction per se, but making it difficult for firms to contract, through restricting shutdowns, bankruptcies, layoffs, etc., can have adverse consequences. The reason is that there's so much heterogeneity in productivity across businesses. So if you stifle that destruction margin, you're going to keep lots of low-productivity businesses in existence, and that could lead to a sluggish economy. I just don't think we have any choice in a modern market economy but to allow for that reallocation to go on. Of course, what you want is an environment where not only is there a lot of job destruction, but also a lot of job creation, so that when workers lose their jobs they either immediately transit to another job or their unemployment duration is low." Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Second Quarter 2013, pp. 30-34. http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/econ_focus/2013/q2/pdf/interview.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 235-42.

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






July 6, 2014

Summers's Unbreakable Washington Power Elite Rule: Insiders Don't Criticize Other Insiders



(p. 5) A telling anecdote involves a dinner that Ms. Warren had with Lawrence H. Summers, then the director of the National Economic Council and a top economic adviser to President Obama. The dinner took place in the spring of 2009, after the oversight panel had produced its third report, concluding that American taxpayers were at far greater risk to losses in TARP than the Treasury had let on.

After dinner, "Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice," Ms. Warren writes. "I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People -- powerful people -- listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don't criticize other insiders."

"I had been warned," Ms. Warren concluded.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Summers did not respond to a request for comment.



For the full commentary, see:

GRETCHEN MORGENSON. "Fair Game; From Outside or Inside, the Deck Looks Stacked." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 27, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: italics in original commentary, and in Warren book. I added a missing quotation mark.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 26, 2014.)


The Warren passages quoted above are from p. 106 of her book:

Warren, Elizabeth. A Fighting Chance. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.









July 2, 2014

The Opportunity Cost of Surgeons Dictating and Documenting Health Records



(p. A13) Across the country, doctors waste precious time filling in unnecessary electronic-record fields just to satisfy a regulatory measure. I personally spend two hours a day dictating and documenting electronic health records just so I can be paid and not face a government audit. Is that the best use of time for a highly trained surgical specialist?


For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL F. CRAVIOTTO JR. "A Doctor's Declaration of Independence; It's time to defy health-care mandates issued by bureaucrats not in the healing profession." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 29, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 28, 2014.)






June 27, 2014

Instead of 50 Silicon Valleys, Andreessen Sees 50 Kinds of Silicon Valley



AndreessenMarcCofounderNetscape2014-05-31.jpg "Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the first major web browser, Netscape, has a record for knowing what's coming next with technology." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B8) Mr. Andreessen said new valleys will eventually emerge. But they won't be Silicon Valley copycats.

Over the past couple of years, venture firms have invested in start-ups in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and all over China. Los Angeles, for example, is home to Snapchat, Tinder, Whisper, Oculus VR and Beats, some of the big tech stories of the year. Mr. Andreessen said another hot place is Atlanta, the home of Georgia Tech.

But he offers a caveat.

"My personal view is that Silicon Valley will continue to take a disproportionate share of the No. 1 positions in great new markets, and I think that's just a reflection that the fact that the valley works as well as it does," Mr. Andreessen said.

There is a caveat to his caveat.

In Mr. Andreessen's view, there shouldn't be 50 Silicon Valleys. Instead, there should be 50 different kinds of Silicon Valley. For example, there could be Biotech Valley, a Stem Cell Valley, a 3-D Printing Valley or a Drone Valley. As he noted, there are huge regulatory hurdles in many of these fields. If a city wanted to spur innovation around drones, for instance, it might have to remove any local legal barriers to flying unmanned aircraft.



For the full interview, see:

NICK BILTON. "DISRUPTIONS; Forecasting the Next Big Moves in Tech." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 19, 2014): B8.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MAY 18, 2014, and has the title "DISRUPTIONS; Marc Andreessen on the Future of Silicon Valley(s), and the Next Big Technology." )






June 20, 2014

How Medicaid Rewards Doctors Who Mistreat Patients



(p. A13) I recently operated on a child with strabismus (crossed eyes). This child was covered by Medicaid. I was required to obtain surgical pre-authorization using a Current Procedural Terminology, or CPT, code for medical identification and billing purposes. The CPT code identified the particular procedure to be performed. Medicaid approved my surgical plan, and the surgery was scheduled.

During the surgery, I discovered the need to change my plan to accommodate findings resulting from a previous surgery by another physician. Armed with new information, I chose to operate on different muscles from the ones noted on the pre-approved plan. The revised surgery was successful, and the patient obtained straight eyes.

However, because I filed for payment using the different CPT code for the surgery I actually performed, Medicaid was not willing to adjust its protocol. The government denied all payment. Ironically, the code-listed payment for the procedure I ultimately performed was an amount 40% less than the amount approved for the initially authorized surgery. For over a year, I challenged Medicaid about its decision to deny payment. I wrote numerous letters and spoke to many Medicaid employees explaining the predicament. Eventually I gave up fighting what had obviously become a losing battle.



For the full commentary, see:

ZANE F. POLLARD. "The Bureaucrat Sitting on Your Doctor's Shoulder; When I'm operating on a child, I shouldn't have to wonder if Medicaid will OK a change in the surgical plan.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 22, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 21, 2014.)






June 16, 2014

June 16th Is Liberalism Day




In the old days a "liberal" was someone who believed in freedom, including free markets and minimal government. Milton Friedman defended "liberal" in its original sense in his article "Liberalism, Old Style."

At some point the left hijacked the word, at least in the United States. (I understand that in much of the rest of the world "liberal" still retains more of its original meaning.)

Maybe there's some defensible justification for hijacking a word, but most of the time it seems like a dishonest and cowardly way to win an argument by muddying up the debate.

Dan Klein and Kevin Frei are trying to reclaim the word "liberal" from the pirates of the left. As part of their effort, they have proclaimed June 16th to be "Liberalism Day."

I believe their cause is just, but I am not sure it is efficient. Time and effort are scarce, so we must pick our battles.

On the other hand, the meaning of "libertarian" has narrowed over recent decades. It used to be that most libertarians believed in minimal government; increasingly more libertarians endorse anarchism. It used to be that most libertarians believed in national defense; increasingly more libertarians endorse total isolationism.

I do believe in some minimal night-watchman state, and I do believe that sometimes there is evil in the world that must be fought. So maybe I should start calling myself a "liberal" in the original sense, what Friedman called a "classical liberal"?


#LiberalismDay





June 13, 2014

Federal Tax Reduction Fueled Craft Beer Revolution



TheCraftBeerRevolutionBK2014-05-28.jpg













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




(p. 6) The story of craft beer's rise begins in 1965, when Fritz Maytag, an heir to the Maytag appliance fortune, bought and revived the Anchor Steam brewery in San Francisco, thus inspiring a generation of so-called home brewers to begin considering commercial ventures.


. . .


A 1976 federal tax reduction for small brewers fueled the industry's growth.


. . .


For years, the greatest challenge for craft brewers was distribution -- simply getting restaurants and grocery stores to sell their product. Most wholesale beer distributors, Mr. Hindy writes, were heavily reliant on the three megabreweries -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- and couldn't be bothered to spend time pushing obscure brands whose makers rarely had enough money to advertise. In 1996, Augustus Busch III demanded that its distributors devote a "100 percent share of mind" to Busch products. That left most microbrewers to beg and wheedle the Miller and Coors distributors, a situation so frustrating that, in time, Mr. Hindy's Brooklyn Brewery began distributing its own products.



For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; Craft Brewers, Finding a Better Seat at the Bar." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MAY 11, 2014): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review is:

Hindy, Steve. The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World's Favorite Drink. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.






June 11, 2014

"A Backhanded Slap to Overweening European Union Rule Makers"



LemonsSoldByUglyFruit2014-05-31.jpg "Lemons sold by Ugly Fruit." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) At a time of lingering economic hardship for many in the European Union, whose penchant for regulation has extended even to the shape, size and color of the foods its citizens eat, Ms. Soares has bet that there is a market for fruits and vegetables deemed too ugly by government bureaucrats, supermarkets and other retailers to sell to their customers.

Six months ago, she and a handful of volunteers started a cooperative called Fruta Feia, or Ugly Fruit, which in its short life is already verging on a kind of countercultural movement. It has taken off with hard-pressed consumers, won applause from advocates outraged by Europe's skyrocketing food waste, and provided a backhanded slap to overweening European Union rule makers. In its own way, it has even quietly subverted fixed notions of what is beautiful, or at least edible.

"The E.U. norms are based on the mistaken idea that quality is about appearance," said Ms. Soares, 31, who formerly worked in Barcelona as a renewable energy consultant. "It's of course easier to measure the exterior aspect rather than interior features like sugar levels, but that is the wrong way to determine quality."

She said her goal was "to break the dictatorship of aesthetics, because it has really helped increase food wastage."

Europe wastes 89 million tons of food a year, according to a study presented in May by the Dutch and Swedish governments, which called on the European Union "to reduce the amount of food waste caused by the labeling system."

For her part, Ms. Soares estimates that a third of Portugal's farming produce goes to waste because of the quality standards set by supermarkets and their consumers. She says the waste is also a striking example of misplaced regulatory intervention by the European Union, which has tried to unify food standards across the 28-nation bloc.



For the full story, see:

RAPHAEL MINDER. "Tempting Europe With Ugly Fruit." The New YorkTimes, First Section (Sun., MAY 25, 2014): 6 & 8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 24, 2014.)






June 9, 2014

Government Regulations Favor Health Care Incumbents



WhereDoesItHurtBK2014-05-28.jpg





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





(p. A11) The rise in U.S. health-care costs, to nearly 18% of GDP today from around 6% of GDP in 1965, has alarmed journalists, inspired policy wonks and left patients struggling to find empathy in a system that tends to view them as "a vessel for billing codes," as the technologist Dave Chase has put it.

Enter Jonathan Bush, dyslexic entrepreneur, . . .


. . .


. . . , Mr. Bush touts technology as a driver of change. It has revolutionized the way we shop for books and select hotels, but health-care delivery has been stubbornly resistant. Mr. Bush notes that the number of people supporting each doctor has climbed to 16 today from 10 in 1990--half of whom, currently, are administrators handling the mounting paperwork. Astonishingly, as Mr. Bush observes, the government had to pay doctors billions of dollars, via the 2009 HITECH Act, to incentivize them to upgrade from paper to computers. Meanwhile, fast-food chains discovered computers on their own, because the market demanded it.


. . .


Let entrepreneurs loose on these challenges, Mr. Bush believes, and they will come up with solutions.

Mr. Bush identifies three major obstacles to the kinds of change he has in mind. First, large hospital systems leverage their market position to charge hefty premiums for basic services, then use the proceeds to buy more regional hospitals and local practices. "As big ones take over the small," Mr. Bush laments, "prices shoot up. Choices vanish." Second, government regulations, especially state laws, favor powerful incumbents, shielding "imaging centers and hospitals from competition." Third, heath care suffers from a risk-avoidant culture. The maxim "do no harm," Mr. Bush says, should not be an excuse for clinging to a flawed status quo.



For the full review, see:

David A. Shaywitz. "BOOKSHELF; A System Still in Need of Repair; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 19, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Where Does It Hurt?' by Jonathan Bush; Routine medical services can be done for less cost--one of many obvious realities that current health-care practices studiously ignore.")


The book under review is:

Bush, Jonathan, and Stephen Baker. Where Does It Hurt?: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Fixing Health Care. New York: Portfolio, 2014.






June 3, 2014

Public Cannot Go into Space Because of Government Run Space Programs



BransonRichard2014-04-25.jpg "'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be able to run a spaceship company,' says Richard Branson." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. C11) Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is just months away from launching what he considers "the biggest Virgin company we've ever built." At 63, he's already founded multiple businesses worth billions, including a record label and a mobile company. But it's his foray into outer space with Virgin Galactic that has Mr. Branson excited.


. . .


Safety has been one of the biggest challenges in building Virgin Galactic. In 2007, two workers died after a tank explosion during a rocket test, and three were seriously wounded. The accident, which occurred at a partner company's facility, delayed the program for an estimated 18 months.

Risk factors weigh on the minds of potential customers as well, especially after NASA's 1986 Challenger disaster, in which seven crew members, including a schoolteacher, died. Mr. Branson thinks that today most people would want to go into space if they could be guaranteed a safe return trip. "Sadly, I think because the space program was run by governments, there was never any real interest in enabling members of the public to go to space after they tried once" with the Challenger, he explains. "After that, they decided not to take any risks whatsoever." He adds, "I would say 90% of people my age thought they would go to space because they saw the moon landing."



For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson; The Virgin Group founder on his out-of-this world venture: space travel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 1, 2013, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Richard Branson on Space Travel; The Virgin Group founder on his latest out-of-this world venture, Virgin Galactic'.")






May 24, 2014

"A Libertarian Celebration of Hustling, Hacking and Free-Form Development"



TheBrightContinentBK2014-04-28.jpg















Source of book image: http://www.hmhco.com/shop/books/the-bright-continent/9780547678313#



(p. 21) Africa's gains have come not because of Western largess or painful structural adjustment programs set out by the likes of the International Monetary Fund, Olopade argues, nor are they the work of governments. They are largely the fruit of Africans' efforts to help themselves, through creative means that sometimes involve breaking the rules.


. . .


She excavates a hopeful narrative about a continent on the rise, "a libertarian celebration of hustling, hacking and free-form development."

The best solutions, according to Olopade, are local, developed by people closest to the problem, not bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels: the South African gynecologist who operates out of two shipping containers stacked together, the Kenyan family who take over an abandoned plot of land to grow vegetables to eat and sell.

Central to Olopade's thesis is the concept of kanju, a term that describes "the specific creativity born from African difficulty." It is the rule-bending ethos that makes it possible to get things done in the face of headaches like crumbling infrastructure, corrupt bureaucracy and tightfisted banks unwilling to make loans to people without political connections.

Many countries have these kinds of hacks and workarounds. In India, the term is jugaad, and it has had its moment in the sun as a business school concept. India runs on this informal hacking of the system that makes life and business ­possible.



For the full review, see:

LYDIA POLGREEN. "Home Improvement." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., APRIL 13, 2014): 21.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 11, 2014, and has the title "Home Improvement; 'The Bright Continent,' by Dayo Olopade.")


The book under review is:

Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2014.






May 22, 2014

In France "'Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité' Means that What's Yours Should Be Mine"



SantacruzGuillaumeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpgGuillaume Santacruz is among many French entrepreneurs now using London as their base. He said of his native France, "The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city's East End.


. . .


A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.

He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.

"A lot of people are like, 'Why would you ever leave France?' " Mr. Santacruz said. "I'll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There's a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good."


. . .


(p. 5) "Making it" is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master's in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend's father to open dental clinics in Marseille. "But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort," he said.

A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.

"Every week, more tax letters would come," Mr. Santacruz recalled.


. . .


Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France's biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. "In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here," Ms. Segalen said. "In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state's involvement in everything."


. . .


"It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there's a deep-rooted feeling that you don't show that you make money," Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. "There is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine. It's more like, if someone has something I can't have, I'd rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That's a very French state of mind. But it's a race to the bottom."



For the full story, see:

LIZ ALDERMAN. "Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., MARCH 23, 2014): 1 & 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2014.)




SegalenDianeFrenchEntrepreneurInLondon2014-04-27.jpg 'Diane Segalen moved most of her executive recruiting practice to London from Paris. In France, she says, "there is this sense that 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' means that what's yours should be mine."" Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 15, 2014

Koch Industries Was Only Major Ethanol Producer to Oppose Ethanol Tax Credits



(p. A17) I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles--the principles of a free society--that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles.


. . .


Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs--even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers--many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "OPINION; I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "OPINION; Charles Koch: I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." )


Koch's philosophy of the free market is more fully elaborated in:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.






May 14, 2014

Delta Overcomes Obstacles that Ground Other Airlines



DeltaOvercomesObstaclesToKeepFlyingGraphic.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


Cancellations due to mechanical failures, piliot illness and government regulations are often announced as though they were acts of God, outside the possible control of airlines, for which the airline is blameless. But airlines can take actions, and improve processes, to reduce the frequency and consequences of such cancellations. In airlines, and in other firms, there is not a sharp line between what can and what cannot be under the firm's control.


(p. D3) Atlanta

The crew of Delta Air Lines Flight 55 last Thursday couldn't legally fly from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta unless they waited a day due to new limits on how much pilots can fly in a rolling 28-day period. The trip would have to be canceled.

Instead, Delta headquarters told the captain to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which they could reach within their duty limits. There, two new pilots would be waiting to take the Boeing 767 on to Atlanta. The plane arrived in San Juan at 2:44 a.m., quickly took on fuel and pilots, and landed in Atlanta only 40 minutes late.

The episode, unorthodox in the airline industry, illustrates the fanaticism Delta now has for avoiding cancellations. Last year, Delta canceled just 0.3% of its flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightStats.com. That was twice as good as the next-best airlines, Southwest and Alaska, and five times better than the industry average of 1.7%.


. . .


Managers in Delta operations centers move planes, crews and parts around hourly trying to avoid canceling flights. How well an airline maintains its fleet and how smartly it stashes spare parts and planes at airports affect whether your flight goes or not.

Delta thinks it has come up with new analytical software and instruments that can help monitor the health of airplanes and predict which parts will soon fail. Empty planes are ferried to replace crippled jets rather than waiting for overnight repairs.

Mechanics developed a vibration monitor to install on cooling fans for cockpit instruments. A plane can't be sent out on a new trip with a broken fan.

Now when vibration starts to increase, indicating that a bearing may be wearing down and getting close to failing, a new fan is swapped in. The wobbly fan goes to the shop for new bearings. That has reduced canceled flights.

So has spending $2 million to have spare starters for Boeing 767 engines at all 767 stations abroad. Starters last about five years. While each plane has two and both engines can be started with one, you can't send a plane out on a long trip over oceans with only one working.



For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; How Smartly an Airline Stashes Spare Parts and Planes at Airports Affects Whether or Not Your Flight Takes Off." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "THE MIDDLE SEAT; A World Where Flights Aren't Canceled; Inside Delta's new strategies to avoid stranding fliers.")






May 8, 2014

Government Pushed Kiewit to Ignore Worker Safety



TrappedUnderTheSeaBK2014-04-25.jpg

















Source of book image: http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1369819962l/17934699.jpg



(p. C9) Boston Harbor's filth is legendary. It was mock-celebrated in the 1966 song "Dirty Water." The city's water-treatment plants were hopelessly inadequate, and barely treated sewage had been pouring into the harbor for decades.


. . .


The Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant was supposed to solve these problems. Begun in 1990, the $3.8 billion facility would process human and industrial waste on a small island in Boston Harbor and then send it through a 9.5-mile tunnel into the deep waters of the Atlantic. Fifty-five vertical pipes called risers spurred off the tunnel's final section to further diffuse waste before releasing it into the sea. Temporary safety plugs, likened to giant salad bowls, had been placed near the bottom of each riser to keep water from seeping in before construction was complete.

These plugs were a source of conflict between the tunnel's owner, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), and the company they hired to build it, Kiewit, "the Omaha-based construction giant" that, Mr. Swidey notes, "had built more miles of the U.S. highway system than any other contractor." The director of MWRA, Doug MacDonald, had left a job as a partner in a Boston law firm to take over the authority, a behemoth of 1,700 employees and, at the peak of harbor cleanup, an additional 3,000 construction workers. Mr. MacDonald's job included mollifying various parties who disagreed about how the Deer Island project would reach completion: Kiewit; the tunnel's designers, mostly out of the picture by 1998; ICF Kaiser Engineers, hired by MWRA to protect its interests and act as Mr. MacDonald's eyes and ears; the union "sandhogs" who bored out 2.4 million tons of rock to create the tunnel; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ostensibly looking out for worker safety but seeming more interested in handing out fines; and, though federal funds for harbor cleanup had long since dried up, "a bow-tied federal judge who served as the cleanup project's robed referee, threatening stiff fines or worse if the deadlines he imposed were not met."


. . .


The problem weighed most heavily on Kiewit. The firm was contractually obligated to deliver on time, subject to late-fee penalties of $30,000 a day, and to cover cost overruns. More, Kiewit had fronted the construction costs and would only be paid by selling the tunnel, piece by piece, to MWRA. The contract further obligated Kiewit to provide "lighting and ventilation (or breathing apparatus) for the personnel" that pulled the plugs but, in what seemed a senseless conflict, mandated that the plugs "could be removed only after the tunnel was completed," writes Mr. Swidey, "meaning after the sandhogs had cleared out, taking their extensive ventilation, transportation, and electrical systems with them."

Kiewit protested that clearing the tunnel of its life-sustaining infrastructure would make "the risk of catastrophe [to the workers pulling the plugs] . . . exponentially higher !" They offered several sound alternatives. In response, ICF Kaiser accused them of just wanting their payday. After a "year-long memo war," Kiewit capitulated, cleared the tunnel and hired a commercial dive team to go into a pitch-black airless tube.



For the full review, see:

NANCY ROMMELMANN. "BOOKS; One Mile Down, Ten Miles Out; Their oxygen was starting to get thin. On the verge of passing out, Hoss radioed back to the Humvees. The reply was an expletive, and the line went dead." The Wall Street Journal (Sat.,March 15, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside last paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 14, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Trapped Under the Sea' by Neil Swidey; In 1999, five deep-sea welders had to traverse a tunnel beneath Boston Harbor with no breathable air, no light and no chance for rescue should things go horribly wrong." )


The book under review is:

Swidey, Neil. Trapped under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.






May 3, 2014

Sweden Shows ObamaCare Will Cause Health Care Delays and Rationing



(p. A11) President Obama has declared the Affordable Care Act a success--a reform that is "here to stay." The question remains, however: What should we expect to come out of it, and do we want the effects to stay? If the experiences of Sweden and other countries with universal health care are any indication, patients will soon start to see very long wait times and difficulty getting access to care.


. . .


Rationing is an obvious effect of economic planning in place of free-market competition. Free markets allow companies and entrepreneurs to respond to demand by offering people what they want and need at a better price. Effective and affordable health care comes from decentralized innovation and risk-taking as well as freedom in pricing and product development. The Affordable Care Act does the opposite by centralizing health care, minimizing or prohibiting differentiation in pricing and offerings, and mandating consumers to purchase insurance. It effectively overrides the market and the signals it sends about supply and demand.

Stories of people in Sweden suffering stroke, heart failure and other serious medical conditions who were denied or unable to receive urgent care are frequently reported in Swedish media. Recent examples include a one-month-old infant with cerebral hemorrhage for whom no ambulance was made available, and an 80-year-old woman with suspected stroke who had to wait four hours for an ambulance.

Other stories include people waiting many hours before a nurse or anyone talked to them after they arrived in emergency rooms and then suffering for long periods of time before receiving needed care. A 42-year-old woman in Karlstad seeking care for meningitis died in the ER after a three-hour wait. A woman with colon cancer spent 12 years contesting a money-saving decision to deny an abdominal scan that would have found the cancer earlier. The denial-of-care decision was not made by an insurance company, but by the government health-care system and its policies.



For the full commentary, see:

PER BYLUND. "OPINION; What Sweden Can Teach Us About ObamaCare; Universal public health care means the average Swede with 'high risk' prostate cancer waits 220 days for treatment." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 17, 2014.)






May 2, 2014

"If You Do the Right Thing and Lose, You Still Did the Right Thing"



CoburnTom2014-04-25.jpg







Senator Tom Coburn. Source of photo: online version of the NYT interview quoted and cited below.











(p. 12) You recently learned you have prostate cancer and announced that you'll be leaving the Senate next January two years before the scheduled end of your term. How are you feeling? I'm feeling good. I'm not cured of the disease, but I'm on my way to marked improvement. And they may potentially have a cure. But I've got 5 or 10 years in front of me even if they don't cure it.


. . .


Do you really think the problem in Washington is that people don't listen to one another? My philosophy is different than most of the people up here. I think if you do the right thing and lose, you still did the right thing. I think if you do less than the right thing and win, it's morally reprehensible.



For the full interview, see:

Leibovich, Mark, interviewer. "Power Is a Tool'." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MARCH 16, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date MARCH 13, 2014, and has the title "Senator Tom Coburn: 'Power Is a Tool'.")






April 27, 2014

Government Wire Inspectors Only Showed Up to Get Their Pay



(p. 121) Edison had originally planned to offer service to the entirety of south Manhattan, south of Canal Street and north of Wall Street, but engineering considerations forced him to carve out a smaller district, bounded by Wall, Nassau, Spruce, and Ferry Streets. Still, his company had to place underground some eighty thousand linear feet of electrical wire. This had never been attempted before, so it should not have been a surprise when H. O. Thompson, the city's commissioner of public works, summoned Edison to his office to explain that the city would have to be assured that the lines were installed safely. Thompson was assigning five inspectors to oversee the work, whose cost would be covered by an assessment of $5 per day, per inspector, payable (p. 122) each week. When Edison left Thompson's office, he was crestfallen, anticipating the harassment and delays ahead that would be caused by the inspectors' interference. On the day that work began, however, the inspectors failed to appear. Their first appearance was on Saturday afternoon, to draw their pay. This set the pattern that the inspectors followed as the work proceeded through 1881 and into 1882.


Source:

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






April 25, 2014

Bill Clinton Says U.S. Control of Internet Protects Free Speech



(p. A11) . . . , Mr. Clinton, appearing on a panel discussion at a recent Clinton Global Initiative event, defended U.S. oversight of the domain-name system and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann.


. . .


"I understand why the reaction in the rest of the world to the Edward Snowden declarations has given new energy to the idea that the U.S. should not be in nominal control of domain names on the Internet," Mr. Clinton said. "But I also know that we've kept the Internet free and open, and it is a great tribute to the U.S. that we have done that, including the ability to bash the living daylights out of those of us who are in office or have been.

"A lot of people who have been trying to take this authority away from the U.S. want to do it for the sole purpose of cracking down on Internet freedom and limiting it and having governments protect their backsides instead of empower their people."

Mr. Clinton asked Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia: "Are you at all worried that if we give up this domain jurisdiction that we have had for all these years that we will lose Internet freedom?"

"I'm very worried about it," Mr. Wales answered. People outside the U.S. often say to him, "Oh, it's terrible. Why should the U.S. have this special power?" His reply: "There is the First Amendment in the U.S., and there is a culture of free expression."

He recalled being told on Icann panels to be more understanding of differences in cultures. "I have respect for local cultures, but banning parts of Wikipedia is not a local cultural variation that we should embrace and accept. That's a human-rights violation."



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama; The former president strongly defends the current system of oversight by the U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the shorter title "INFORMATION AGE; Open Internet: Clinton vs. Obama.")






April 24, 2014

Little Estonia Prepares Defense Against Russia's Evil Empire



IlvesToomasEstoniaPresident2014-04-23.jpg










Toomis Hendrick Ilves, President of Estonia. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) Perched alone up in eastern Baltic are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Their fear of Moscow propelled them to become the first and only former Soviet republics to seek the refuge of NATO. But now doubts are appearing. The West has responded tepidly to the Crimean aggression. Military budgets are at historic lows as a share of NATO economies. The alliance, which marked its 65th anniversary on Friday, has never faced the test of a hot conflict with Moscow.

In this new debate over European security, Mr. Ilves plays a role out of proportion to Estonia's size (1.3 million people) and his limited constitutional powers. A tall man who recently turned 60, he has the mouth of a New Jersey pol--he grew up in Leonia--and wears the bow ties of a lapsed academic. Americans may recall his Twitter TWTR -0.15% feud two years ago over Estonia's economy with economist Paul Krugman, whom Mr. Ilves called "smug, overbearing & patronizing."


. . .


Estonia managed on Thursday to get NATO's blessing to turn the brand-new Amari military airfield near Tallinn into the first NATO base in the country. This small Balt tends to be proactive. While European governments axed some $50 billion from military budgets in the last five year amid fiscal belt-tightening, Estonia is only one of four NATO allies to devote at least 2% of gross domestic product to defense, supposedly the bare minimum for security needs.

"It lessens your moral clout if you have not done what you have agreed to do," Mr. Ilves says of defense budgets. His barb hits directly at neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, which both spend less than 1% of GDP on their militaries.



For the full commentary, see:

MATTHEW KAMINSKI. "THE SATURDAY INTERVIEW; An American Ally in Putin's Line of Fire; Estonia's president, who was raised in New Jersey, on how Crimea has changed 'everything' and what NATO should do now." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 5, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






April 21, 2014

Where Ideas Go to Launch Versus Where Ideas Go to Die



(p. 1) PALO ALTO, Calif. -- THE most striking thing about visiting Silicon Valley these days is how many creative ideas you can hear in just 48 hours.


. . .


Curt Carlson, the chief executive of SRI International, which invented Siri for your iPhone, recalls how one leading innovator (p. 11) just told him that something would never happen and "then I pick up the paper and it just did."

What they all have in common is they wake up every day and ask: "What are the biggest trends in the world, and how do I best invent/reinvent my business to thrive from them?" They're fixated on creating abundance, not redividing scarcity, and they respect no limits on imagination. No idea here is "off the table."


. . .


What a contrast. Silicon Valley: where ideas come to launch. Washington, D.C., where ideas go to die. Silicon Valley: where there are no limits on your imagination and failure in the service of experimentation is a virtue. Washington: where the "imagination" to try something new is now a treatable mental illness covered by Obamacare and failure in the service of experimentation is a crime. Silicon Valley: smart as we can be. Washington: dumb as we wanna be.



For the full commentary, see:

Thomas L. Friedman. "Start-Up America: Our Best Hope." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., FEB. 16, 2014): 1 & 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 15, 2014.)






April 14, 2014

Detailed Government Rules Impede Progress



TheRuleOfNobodyBK2014-04-08.jpg












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






(p. A13) The rulebooks should be "radically simplified," Mr. Howard says, on matters ranging from enforcing school discipline to protecting nursing-home residents, from operating safe soup kitchens to building the nation's infrastructure: Projects now often require multi-year, 5,000-page environmental impact statements before anything can begin to be constructed. Unduly detailed rules should be replaced by general principles, he says, that take their meaning from society's norms and values and embrace the need for official discretion and responsibility.

Mr. Howard serves up a rich menu of anecdotes, including both the small-scale activities of a neighborhood and the vast administrative structures that govern national life. After a tree fell into a stream and caused flooding during a winter storm, Franklin Township, N.J., was barred from pulling the tree out until it had spent 12 days and $12,000 for the permits and engineering work that a state environmental rule required for altering any natural condition in a "C-1 stream." The "Volcker Rule," designed to prevent banks from using federally insured deposits to speculate in securities, was shaped by five federal agencies and countless banking lobbyists into 963 "almost unintelligible" pages. In New York City, "disciplining a student potentially requires 66 separate steps, including several levels of potential appeals"; meanwhile, civil-service rules make it virtually impossible to terminate thousands of incompetent employees. Children's lemonade stands in several states have been closed down for lack of a vendor's license.



For the full review, see:

STUART TAYLOR JR. "BOOKSHELF; Stop Telling Us What to Do; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'The Rule of Nobody' by Philip K. Howard; When a tree fell into a stream in Franklin Township, N.J., it took 12 days and $12,000 for the necessary permits to remove it.")


The book under review is:

Howard, Philip K. The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.






April 12, 2014

Rob Lowe: Libertarian Nerd



LoweRob2014-04-08.jpg










Rob Lowe. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 12) Chris Traeger on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" was a total nerd. Was it hard for you to play such an uncool character? My deep dark secret is that I was a nerd in school. I liked the theater. I liked to study. I wasn't very good at sports. It took being famous to make me cool, which, by the way, I never forgot.


.. .


. . . what do you believe? My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.



For the full interview, see:

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy, interviewer. "''It's Time to Get Back in the Pool': Rob Lowe on Aging into the Good Roles and Cashing in on His Scandalous Legacy." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., APRIL 6, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date APRIL 4, 2014, and has the title "Rob Lowe on the Problems With Being Pretty.")






April 9, 2014

Patent Trial and Appeal Board May Be Invalidating Low Quality Patents




One of the common complaints about the U.S. patent system for the past couple of decades is that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been approving too many low quality patents, that are then used by patent holders to extort licensing fees or out-or-court settlements from alleged infringers. One way in which the America Invents Act, signed in September 2011, tried to respond to the complaint was to strengthen the post-approval re-examination process for patents. The article quoted below suggests that the strengthened process may be having the intended effect.



(p. B4) The Patent Trial and Appeal Board is a little known but powerful authority that often allows a company embroiled in a lawsuit to skip the question of whether it infringed a patent--and challenge whether the patent should have been issued in the first place.

The board was launched in September 2012 as part of the massive patent overhaul passed by Congress the previous year and is currently staffed by 181 judges, many of whom have deep experience in intellectual property or technical fields like chemical and electrical engineering. Through last Thursday it had received 1,056 requests to challenge patents, far more than were received by any federal court over the same time period.

The board is part of the Patent and Trademark Office. But so far, it hasn't shied away from upending the office's decisions to issue certain patents. As of last week, the board had issued 25 written decisions concerning patent challenges, and upheld parts of challenged patents in only a few of them.


. . .


In recent months, Randall Rader, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, has been one of the board's most outspoken critics. At a conference of intellectual-property lawyers last fall, the judge called the board's panels "death squads...killing property rights."

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rader said the board is too quick to toss out patents that demonstrate only modest innovation. "The board needs to incentivize human progress--and understand that it often happens one small step at a time," he said.

But many company lawyers think the board is doing exactly as it should--taking a skeptical look at patents that have added little to the world.



For the full story, see:

ASHBY JONES. "New Weapon in Intellectual Property Wars; Panel Can Upend Patent Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far; 'Like Getting CAT-Scanned, MRI-ed, and X-Rayed'." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "A New Weapon in Corporate Patent Wars; Patent Trial and Appeal Board Can Upend PTO Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far.")






April 8, 2014

Government Regulations Slow U.S. Use of Drones



DronesThreeSophisticatedCommerical2014-04-03.jpgThree sophisticated drones. From top to bottom, the Insitu ScanEagle, the Yamaha RMAX, and the Trimble UX5. Source and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) After Greek land surveyor George Papastamos bought his first drones a year ago, he let go most of his workers. Now, instead of a team of 12, he shows up to work sites with just a drone and an assistant.

"I could see this was the future," said Mr. Papastamos, a second-generation surveyor from Athens. The drones have improved his maps and lowered his costs, enabling him to win more business. "It is much, much more profitable," he said.

As U.S. regulators and courts grapple with when and how to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, flying robots already are starting to change the way companies do business in countries from Australia to Japan to the U.K. They are showing the potential to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to manned aircraft--and human workers--in industries like mining, construction and filmmaking.

The U.S. is "the world leader in producing drones," but "the reality is the rest of the world has moved further ahead of us in terms of commercial applications," said drone researcher Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.



For the full story, see:

JACK NICAS. "From Farms to Films, Drones Find Commercial Uses." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title "Drones Find Fans Among Farmers, Filmmakers; FAA Still Debating Rules but Drones are Spraying 40% of Japan's Rice Fields.")






April 5, 2014

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers



(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending "unlimited money" to "rig the system" and "buy elections," the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.

It's an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, "darkest" spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are "outing" corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the "covert" Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver--conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups--could even fathom.


. . .


The Center for Responsive Politics' list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).



For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)






March 31, 2014

Better Policies Explain Why Poland Prospers More than Ukraine



RushchyshynYaroslavUkraineEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, a garment manufacturer, wants to end penalties when his company reports a financial loss." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) LVIV, Ukraine -- Every kind of business in this restless pro-European stronghold near the border with Poland has an idea about how to make Ukraine like its more prosperous neighbor.

For Yaroslav Rushchyshyn, founder of a garment manufacturer, it is abolishing bizarre regulations that have had inspectors threatening fines for his handling of fabric remnants and for reporting financial losses.

For Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, it is modernizing a rigid education system to help nurture entrepreneurs.

For Natalia Smutok, an executive at a company that makes color charts for paint and cosmetics, it meant starting an antibribery campaign, even though she is 36 weeks pregnant.


. . .


(p. B10) Victor Halchynsky, a former journalist who is now a spokesman for the Ukrainian unit of a Polish bank, said the divergence of the two countries was a source of frustration.

"It's painful because we know it's only happened because of policy," he said, adding that while both countries had started the reform process, Poland "finished it."

Ukraine has been held back by a number of policies. Steep energy subsidies have kept consumption high and left the country dependent on Russian gas, draining state coffers. Mr. Pavliv said the state university system, which he called "pure, pure Soviet," was too inflexible to set up a training program for project managers, or to allow executives without specific certifications to teach courses. An agriculture industry once a Soviet breadbasket has been hurt by antiquated rules, including restrictions on land sales. Aggressive tax police have been used to shake down businesses.



For the full story, see:

DANNY HAKIM. "A Blueprint for Ukraine." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 14, 2014): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2014.)



PavlivAndrewTechEntrepreneur2014-03-30.jpg "Andrew Pavliv, who runs a technology company, wants to help turn Lviv into a little Ukrainian Silicon Valley." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






March 28, 2014

Paul Ryan Warns that the Safety Net Can Be a Hammock



(p. A21) . . . Mr. Ryan said two years ago: "We don't want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives."


For the full commentary, see:

Krugman, Paul. "The Hammock Fallacy." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 7, 2014): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2014.)



The original source of the Paul Ryan quote appears to be:

"Paul Ryan Wants 'Welfare Reform Round 2'." The Huffington Post (posted 03/20/2012).


Ryan made similar comments in his January 25th official Republican response to the State of the Union speech:

We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.

Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked -- and it won't work now.


Source:

NPR transcript of Paul Ryan response, January 25, 2011.






March 17, 2014

Margaret Thatcher Left Britain "Prosperous, Confident and Free"



MargaretThatcherBK2014-03-06.jpg
















Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/manually-added/thatchercover_custom-e43e3b7aec14140f5606737ab274110160f0c94a-s2-c85.jpg



Daniel Hannan, a European Parliament representative from Britain, discusses a favorite book of 2013:



(p. C9) We've waited a long time for the authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, and it has been worth the wait. Through Charles Moore's vivid prose, we relive the extraordinary story of Britain's greatest peacetime leader--how she found her country bankrupt, demoralized and dishonored and left it prosperous, confident and free. Mr. Moore weaves numerous new revelations into the narrative of the single-minded, humorless, workaholic, patriotic force of nature that was Margaret Thatcher.


For the full article, see:

"12 Months of Reading; We asked 50 of our friends--from April Bloomfield to Mike Tyson--to name their favorite books of 2013." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 14, 2013): C6 & C9-C12.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 13, 2013.)


The book that Hannan praises is:

Moore, Charles. Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.






March 14, 2014

Carnegie Was Depressed by Initial Inactivity of Retirement



(p. 592) IT IS DIFFICULT to picture Andrew Carnegie depressed, but there is no other way to describe his state of being in the months following his retirement. Carnegie confessed as much in an early draft of his Autobiography, but the editor John Van Dyke, chosen by Mrs. Carnegie after her husband's death, perhaps thinking his melancholic ruminations would displease her, edited them out of the manuscript.


. . .


(p. 593) The vast difference between life in retirement and as chief stockholder of the Carnegie Company was brought home to him as he prepared to leave for Britain in the early spring of 1901. For close to thirty years, he had scurried about for weeks prior to sailing tying up loose ends. There were documents to be signed, instructions to be left with his partners in Pittsburgh and his private secretary in New York. Retirement brought an end to this round of activities and a strange, inescapable melancholy.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






March 4, 2014

Better Wheat Is "Mired in Excessive, Expensive and Unscientific Regulation"



(p. A19) Monsanto recently said that it had made significant progress in the development of herbicide-tolerant wheat. It will enable farmers to use more environmentally benign herbicides and could be ready for commercial use in the next few years. But the federal government must first approve it, a process that has become mired in excessive, expensive and unscientific regulation that discriminates against this kind of genetic engineering.

The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet.


. . .


Much of the nation's wheat crop comes from a section of the central plains that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted.


. . .


New crop varieties that grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could increase yields and lengthen the time farmland is productive. Varieties that grow with lower-quality water have also been developed.


. . .


Given the importance of wheat and the confluence of tightening water supplies, drought, a growing world population and competition from other crops, we need to regain the lost momentum. To do that, we need to acquire more technological ingenuity and to end unscientific, excessive and discriminatory government regulation.



For the full commentary, see:

JAYSON LUSK and HENRY I. MILLER. "We Need G.M.O. Wheat." The New York Times (Mon., Feb. 3, 2014): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 2, 2014.)






February 28, 2014

Growth Slow Due to Policies Impeding Start-Ups



(p. A11) The most recent period of rapid productivity growth in the U.S.--and rapid economic growth--was in the 1980s and '90s and reflected the remarkable success of new businesses in information and communications technologies, including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel and Google. These new companies not only created millions of jobs but transformed modern society, changing how much of the world produces, distributes and markets goods and services.

Rising living standards in the future will depend on the continued success of these businesses but also on the next generation of success stories. Getting the U.S. economy back on track will require a much higher annual rate of new business startups. Sadly, the annual rate of new business creation is about 28% lower today than it was in the 1980s, according to our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Dynamics Statistics annual data series.

Why is the startup rate so low? The answer lies in Washington and the policies implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that were, ironically, intended to grow and stabilize the economy.    . . .

This explosion in federal regulation, intervention and subsidies has retarded productivity growth by protecting incumbents at the expense of more efficient producers, including startups. The number of pages in the Federal Code of Regulations peaked at nearly 175,000 in 2012, an increase of more than 7% in President Obama's first three years.



For the full commentary, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "U.S. Productivity Growth Has Taken a Dive; It has averaged about 1.1% since 2011, less than half the historical rate since 1948. Here's how to increase it." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 3, 2014.)






February 26, 2014

Carnegie's Not-Fully-Grown-Infant-Industry Argument for Steel Tariffs



(p. 375) The steel industry was doubly dependent on state and national governments for the generous loans and subsidies that fueled railway expansion and rail purchases and the protective tariffs that enabled the manufacturers to keep their prices--and profits--higher than would have been possible had they been compelled to compete with European steelmakers. If, in the beginning, as Carnegie had argued, the tariff had been needed to nurture an infant steel industry, by the mid-1880s that infant had become a strapping, abrasive youth, who kept on growing. Why then, one might inconveniently ask, was there need for a protective tariff? Because, as Carnegie argued in the North American Review in July 1890, the steel industry was not yet fully grown and would have to be protected until it was.

On the issue of the tariff--as on few others--Pittsburgh's workingmen were in agreement with Carnegie. They voted Republican in large numbers because the Republicans were the guardians of the protective tariff, and the tariff, they believed, protected their wage rates.

The argument linking the tariff and wages in the manufacturing sector was a compelling one in the industrial states, but nowhere else. As the Democrats took great delight in pointing out, high tariffs led to high prices for all consumers.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 22, 2014

Jay Gould Said Railroad Rates Should Be Set by "the Laws of Supply and Demand"



(p. 344) Jay Gould, asked in 1885 by a Senate investigating committee if he believed a "general national law" was needed to regulate railroad rates, responded that they were already regulated by "the laws of supply and demand, production, and consumption."


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 21, 2014

Hero Rebels Against the Bureau of Technology Control



InfluxBK2014-02-19.jpg
















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



(p. D8) In "Influx," . . . , a sinister Bureau of Technology Control kidnaps scientists that have developed breakthrough technologies (the cure to cancer, immortality, true artificial intelligence), and is withholding their discoveries from humanity, out of concern over the massive social disruption they would cause. "We don't have a perfect record--Steve Jobs was a tricky one--but we've managed to catch most of the big disrupters before they've brought about uncontrolled social change," says the head of the bureau, the book's villain. The hero has developed a "gravity mirror" but refuses to cooperate, despite the best efforts of Alexa, who has been genetically engineered by the Bureau to be both impossibly sexy and brilliant.

In the publishing world, there is a growing sense that "Influx," Mr. Suarez's fourth novel, may be his breakout book and propel him into the void left by the deaths of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton. "Influx' has Mr. Suarez's largest initial print run, 50,000 copies, and Twentieth Century Fox bought the movie rights last month.

An English major at the University of Delaware with a knack for computers, Mr. Suarez started a consulting firm in 1997, working with companies like Nestlé on complex production and logistics-planning issues. "You only want to move 100 million pounds of sugar once," says Mr. Suarez, 49 years old.

He began writing in his free-time. Rejected by 48 literary agents--(a database expert, he kept careful track)--he began self-publishing in 2006 under the name Leinad Zeraus, his named spelled backward. His sophisticated tech knowledge quickly attracted a cult following in Silicon Valley, Redmond, Wash., and Cambridge, Mass. The MIT bookstore was the first bookstore to stock his self-published books in 2007.



For the full review, see:

EBEN SHAPIRO. "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 7, 2014): D8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2014, and the title "Daniel Suarez Sees Into the Future.")


The book under review, is:

Suarez, Daniel. Influx. New York: Dutton, 2014.



SuarezDanielAuthorInflux2014-02-19.jpg










Author of Influx, Daniel Suarez. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.








February 18, 2014

Carnegie Donated to Pro-Steel-Tariff Republicans



(p. 331) Through good times and bad, protected tariffs on imported steel rails had kept the domestic steel business strong--and the steelmakers, a major force in Pennsylvania politics, had responded by doing all they could to reelect pro-tariff Republicans. Three weeks before the 1884 elections, Carnegie had written his partners in Pittsburgh that "Bethlehem, Penna. Steel Co., Cambria, and Lackawanna I & C [Iron & Coal] have each given $ 5,000 to the Republican National Committee and we have been asked to give the same amount which I think is only fair."


Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: bracketed words in original.)

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






February 16, 2014

Incandesce



(p. A11) When I am asked if I want a Compact Fluorescent Light, the only thought I have is that I don't want my light to be compact, nor do I wish it to be florescent. I want a light that will incandesce across my room, filling it with a familiar yellow surf, and remind me that it was not with wax or kerosene, but with incandescent bulbs that man conquered the night.


. . .


I imagine what will happen when the filaments in my final incandescent bulbs grow weak, and I can hardly read my notes before me. Will I no longer be able to write at night? Or worse, will living with CFLs and LEDs make every day feel like I have just spent nine hours plastered before a computer screen? One day, soon, I will turn on my light and hear for the last time the signature, explosive death rattle of an incandescent bulb, and I'll hold a vigil for the light that shaped and witnessed more than a century of human history. Tender is the light, Keats might say.

In my lightless room, I'll sit for a moment and wonder how many more times in my life I'll watch a bulb go out again. As I look to my dead bulb, I'll think of the poet again and whisper: Darkling, you were not a piece of technology born for death.



For the full commentary, see:

ALEXANDER ACIMAN. "Tender Is the Light of My Incandescents; Bracing myself for life once the filaments in my beloved bulbs grow weak." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 31, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 30, 2014.)






February 15, 2014

Big Island of Hawaii Bans G.M.O.s Despite Papaya Saved from Disease



IlaganGreggorDefenderOfGMOs2014-01-19.jpg "Greggor Ilagan initially thought a ban on genetically modified organisms was a good idea." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) KONA, Hawaii -- From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill's proponents called a "G.M.O.-free oasis."

"You just type 'G.M.O.' and everything you see is negative," he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone's re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island's papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban's supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

"Are we going to just ignore them?" Mr. Ilagan wondered.

Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban's sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to "act before it's too late," the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence.


. . .


(p. 19) Ms. Wille urged a vote for the ban. "To do otherwise," she said, "would be to ignore the cries from round the world and on the mainland."

"Mr. Ilagan?" the Council member leading the meeting asked when it came time for the final vote.

"No," he replied.

The ban was approved, 6 to 3.

The mayor signed the bill on Dec. 5.



For the full story, see:

Amy Harmon. "On Hawaii, a Lonely Quest for Fact." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 5, 2014): 1 & 18-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 4, 2014, and has the title "A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.")



PapayaGeneticallyModified2014-01-19.jpg













"Papaya genetically modified to resist a virus became one part of a controversy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 12, 2014

It Does Not Take a Government to Raise a Railroad



(p. A17) . . . , All Aboard Florida (the train will get a new name this year), is not designed to push political buttons. It won't go to Tampa. It will zip past several aggrieved towns on Florida's Treasure Coast without stopping.

Nor will the train qualify as "high speed," except on a stretch where it will hit 125 miles an hour. Instead of running on a dedicated line, the new service will mostly share existing track with slower freight trains operated by its sister company, the Florida East Coast Railway.

But the sponsoring companies, all owned by the private-equity outfit Fortress Investment Group, appear to have done their sums. By minimizing stops, the line will be competitive with road and air in connecting the beaches, casinos and resorts of Miami and Fort Lauderdale with the big airport and theme-park destination of Orlando. Capturing a small percentage of the 50 million people who travel between these fleshpots, especially European visitors accustomed to intercity rail at home, would let the train cover its costs and then some.

But Fortress has a bigger fish in the pan. Its local operation, Florida East Coast Industries, is a lineal progeny of Henry Flagler, the 1890s entrepreneur who created modern Florida when he built a rail line to support his resort developments. Flagler's heirs are adopting the same model. A Grand Central-like complex will rise on the site of Miami's old train station. A similar but smaller edifice is planned for Fort Lauderdale.

The project is a vivid illustration of the factors that have to fall in place to make passenger rail viable nowadays. If the Florida venture succeeds, it would be the only intercity rail service anywhere in the world not dependent on government operating subsidies. It would be the first privately run intercity service in America since the birth of Amtrak in 1971.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; A Private Railroad Is Born; All Aboard Florida isn't looking for government operating subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 15, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 14, 2014.)






February 4, 2014

Teles Argues the Evils of Government Arise More from Its Complexity than Its Size



(p. A21) Steven M. Teles had a mind-altering essay in National Affairs called "Kludgeocracy in America." While we've been having a huge debate about the size of government, the real problem, he writes, is that the growing complexity of government has made it incoherent. The Social Security system was simple. But now we have a maze of saving mechanisms -- 401(k)'s, I.R.A.'s, 529 plans and on and on. Health insurance is now so complicated that only 14 percent of beneficiaries could answer basic questions about deductibles and co-pays.

This complexity stymies rational thinking, imposes huge compliance costs, and aids special interests who are capable of manipulating the intricacies. One of the reasons we have such complex structures, Teles argues, is that Americans dislike government philosophically, but like government programs operationally. Rather than supporting straightforward government programs, they support programs in which public action is hidden behind a morass of tax preferences, obscure regulations and intricate litigation.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS. "The Sidney Awards, Part 2." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A21. [National Edition]

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 30, 2013.)


The article praised by Brooks is:

Teles, Steven M. "Kludgeocracy in America." National Affairs 17 (Fall 2013): 97-114.






January 20, 2014

AquaBounty Has Waited More than 17 Years for FDA Approval



EnviropigDevelopedAtGuelph2013-12-31.jpg

"The Enviropig Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, developed these pigs to produce more environmentally friendly waste than conventional pigs. But the pigs were killed because the scientists could not get approval to sell them as food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 4) If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet.

In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline -- members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It's just one more delay in a process that's dragged on far too long.

The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic "switch" from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.


. . .


We should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It's a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country.


. . .


Then there's the Enviropig, a swine that has been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorus. Phosphorus in animal waste is a major cause of water pollution, and as the world's appetite for meat increases, it's becoming a more urgent problem. The first Enviropig, created by scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, was born in 1999, and researchers applied to both the F.D.A. and Health Canada for permission to sell the pigs as food.

But last spring, while the applications were still pending, the scientists lost their funding from Ontario Pork, an association of Canadian hog farmers, and couldn't find another industry partner. (It's hard to blame investors for their reluctance, given the public sentiment in Canada and the United States, as well as the uncertain regulatory landscape.) The pigs were euthanized in May.

The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don't come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty's, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we'll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals -- and perhaps ourselves.



For the full commentary, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 10, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 9, 2013.)


Emily Anths, who is quoted above, has written a related book:

Anthes, Emily. Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.






January 8, 2014

Unpedigreed, Self-Educated, Obese Knox Understood Artillery



SonsOfTheFatherBK2013-12-29.jpg












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






(p. A17) In "Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés," we can see how Washington's ideas about character evolved over the course of the war and after. This collection of essays, edited by Robert M.S. McDonald, explores Washington's relationships with a series of younger men.


. . .


Knox came to Washington's attention in 1775 for his work on the defenses around Boston. His resourcefulness and keen interest in military science proved invaluable. When Washington allowed Knox to head for Fort Ticonderoga in hopes of retrieving some 50 British cannon captured by Ethan Allen, Knox succeeded against long odds. Over nine harrowing weeks, Mark Thompson writes, Knox and his men hauled 60 tons of artillery 300 miles "through the New York backcountry, along waterways and gullied roads, across ice and snow." Deployed on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, the guns helped persuade the British to abandon the city. But Knox was far more than a herculean teamster. Washington put him in charge of all Continental artillery, and the batteries under his direction loomed large at Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth and Yorktown. After the war, Knox became Washington's secretary of war.

Washington saw merit in the unprepossessing Knox, as he did in others, despite the lack of a "gentlemanly" pedigree. Forced as a child to support his mother when his father abandoned the family, Knox was a mere bookseller before the war, self-educated and obese. But he understood artillery and could see its role in sieges and in the mobile warfare that would characterize the Revolution. More than that, he could discuss its theory and application with Washington. Jefferson and Madison, in their more playful approach to ideas, complicated matters; Knox clarified them.



For the full review, see:

ALAN PELL CRAWFORD. "Bookshelf; A Few Men of Character." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Dec. 10, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'George Washington: Gentleman Warrior,' by Stephen Brumwell and 'Sons of the Father,' edited by Robert M.S. McDonald; By 1775, Washington had strong ideas about how to run an army. Officers, he said, should be men of independent financial means.")


Book under review:

McDonald, Robert M. S., ed. Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés, Jeffersonian America. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013.






January 6, 2014

Ignorance of Economics Makes U.S. Agency Complicit in Elephant Deaths



IvoryCrushedByUS2013-11-27.jpg "Crushed ivory falls out of the crusher as the U.S. crushed its six-ton stock of confiscated ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



The higher the price of ivory, the greater the incentive for ivory poachers to kill elephants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have put their cache of ivory on the market, thereby increasing the supply, and reducing the price. If they had done so, they would have reduced the incentive of the poachers to poach. (This is basic price theory that I teach in each of my micro-economic principles classes.) Instead they crushed the ivory and thereby doomed some elephants to death, who otherwise could have been saved.



(p. A3) COMMERCE CITY, Colo.--The U.S. government spent the past 25 years amassing contraband ivory in a warehouse here, with pieces ranging from tiny statuettes to full elephant tusks tattooed by intricate carvings. Ultimately, the pile grew to six tons--equivalent to ivory from at least 2,000 elephants.

On Thursday, the stash collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was pulverized by an industrial rock crusher as government officials, conservationists from around the world and celebrities gathered to watch the destruction.

The move, which follows similar events in the Philippines and Gabon in recent years, is part of a global effort to combat elephant poaching, on the rise because of growing demand for ivory trinkets in Asia. Proponents argue that crushing the ivory conveys to illegal traffickers and collectors that it has no value unless it is attached to an elephant.


. . .


But critics of the practice said they worry that destroying the coveted commodity, sometimes referred to as "white gold," could instead create the perception that the world's remaining ivory is more valuable--and drive poachers to kill more elephants for their tusks. "This could be self-defeating," said Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, an independent conservation economist.


. . .


While praising efforts to preserve elephants, some in conservation circles consider crushing contraband ivory to be an ineffective strategy.

Kirsten Conrad, a wildlife conservation consultant who has studied the Chinese ivory market, said elephants could be better served if sustainably harvested ivory--from elephants that died from natural causes, for example--were regularly offered for sale.

The proceeds would give communities in Africa an incentive to better protect wildlife, and the steady supply would dissuade speculators in China from stockpiling, as she says they are doing now. A kilo of raw ivory can sell for up to $3,000. "We're losing an elephant every 16 minutes," she said. "We should look really hard at legal trade."



For the full story, see:

ANA CAMPOY. "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, U.S. Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 15, 2013): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2013, and has the title "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, Government Agency Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'.")



IvoryToBeCrushedInUS2013-11-27.jpg "Ivory on display before the U.S. crushed it in Commerce City, Colo., Thursday. On Thursday the government destroyed nearly six tons of seized contraband ivory tusks and trinkets." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






December 31, 2013

"Western Union Bullied the Makers of Public Policy into Serving Private Capital"



WesternUnionAndTheCreationOfTheAmericanCorporateOrderBK2013-12-28.jpg












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







(p. A13) Until now there has been no full-scale, modern company history. Joshua D. Wolff's "Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893" ably fills the bill, offering an exhaustive and yet fascinating account.


. . .


If people today remember anything about Western Union, it is that its coast-to-coast line put the Pony Express out of business and that its leaders didn't see the telephone coming. Mr. Wolff tells us that neither claim is exactly true. It was Hiram Sibley, Western Union's first president, who went out on his own, when his board balked, to form a separate company and build the transcontinental telegraph in 1861; he made his fortune by eventually selling it to Western Union. And the company was very aware of Alexander Graham Bell's invention, patented in 1876, but history had supposedly shown that it wasn't necessary to control a patent to win the technology war. The company's third president, William Orton, was sure that Bell and his "toy" would not get the better of Western Union: "We would come along and take it away from him." They didn't.


. . .


Mr. Wolff contends that the company's practices set the template for today's "corporate triumphalism," not least in the way Western Union bullied the makers of public policy into serving private capital. Perhaps, but telecom competition today is so ferocious and differently arranged from that of the late 19th century that a "triumphant" company today may be toast tomorrow--think of BlackBerry--and can't purchase help with anything like Western's Union's brazenness and scope. Western Union had friends in Congress, the regulatory bureaucracy and the press. Members of the company's board of directors chaired both the 1872 Republican and Democratic national conventions. It seemed that, whatever the battles in business, politics, technology or the courts, the company's shareholders won.



For the full review, see:

STUART FERGUSON. "Bookshelf; The Octopus of the Wires." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 23, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 22, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893,' by Joshua D. Wolff.")


Book under review:

Wolff, Joshua D. Western Union and the Creation of the American Corporate Order, 1845-1893. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.






December 30, 2013

Wind Power Fined $1 Million for Killing Birds



GoldenEagleOverWindTurbine2013-12-29.jpg "A golden eagle flies over a wind turbine on Duke Energy's wind farm in Converse County, Wyo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) The Justice Department announced late . . . [in the week of Nov. 17-23] that a subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing golden eagles and other federally protected birds at two of the company's wind projects in Wyoming. The guilty plea was a long-overdue victory for the rule of law and a sign that green energy might be going out of vogue.

As Justice noted in its news release, this is the first time a case has been brought against a wind company for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The 1918 law makes it a federal crime to kill any bird of more than 1,000 different species. Over the past few decades, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against oil and gas companies for killing birds, while the wind industry has enjoyed a de facto exemption. By bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Wind Power Is Brought to Justice; Duke Energy's guilty plea for killing protected birds is an ominous sign for renewable energy." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 29, 2013): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2013.)






December 24, 2013

Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin Expected to Make a Good Profit Starting a Private Lending Library




Shortly after arriving in Allegheny City (near Pittsburgh) Andrew Carnegie's Uncle Aitkin had complained in a letter:


(p. 42) "There is no possibility of getting papers or periodicals to read here for a small sum--most of the people being in the habit of purchasing them for their own use. This has been to me a great deprivation. I really find that books here are as dear as in the old country everything considered."

Uncle Aitkin hoped to remedy this flaw in American cultural life--and make a profit at it--by starting up his own lending library. "I am now convinced that for any one to keep a library and to give works out at a cheaper rate would pay very well & I think I will be engaged in this business in a short time,--after I make a little money by lecturing etc." Regrettably--for Uncle Aitkin and for Allegheny City's starved readers--he never got around to setting up his business.



Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






December 23, 2013

Over-Regulated Tech Entrepreneurs Seek Their Own Country



The embed above is provided by YouTube where the video clip is posted under the title "Balaji Srinivasan at Startup School 2013."




(p. B4) At a startup conference in the San Francisco Bay area last month, a brash and brilliant young entrepreneur named Balaji Srinivasan took the stage to lay out a case for Silicon Valley's independence.

According to Mr. Srinivasan, who co-founded a successful genetics startup and is now a popular lecturer at Stanford University, the tech industry is under siege from Wall Street, Washington and Hollywood, which he says he believes are harboring resentment toward Silicon Valley's efforts to usurp their cultural and economic power.

On its surface, Mr. Srinivasan's talk,—called "Silicon Valley's Ultimate Exit,"—sounded like a battle cry of the libertarian, anti-regulatory sensibility long espoused by some of the tech industry's leading thinkers. After arguing that the rest of the country wants to put a stop to the Valley's rise, Mr. Srinivasan floated a plan for techies to build an "opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology."

His idea seemed a more expansive version of Google Chief Executive Larry Page's call for setting aside "a piece of the world" to try out controversial new technologies, and investor Peter Thiel's "Seastead" movement, which aims to launch tech-utopian island nations.



For the full commentary, see:

FARHAD MANJOO. "HIGH DEFINITION; The Valley's Ugly Complex." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 4, 2013): B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 3, 2013, and has the title "HIGH DEFINITION; Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem.")






December 22, 2013

Spain's $11 Billion Per Year Slows Global Warming by 61 Hours



(p. A17) Today Spain spends about 1% of GDP throwing money at green energy such as solar and wind power. The $11 billion a year is more than Spain spends on higher education.

At the end of the century, with current commitments, these Spanish efforts will have delayed the impact of global warming by roughly 61 hours, according to the estimates of Yale University's well-regarded Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. Hundreds of billions of dollars for 61 additional hours? That's a bad deal.



For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "Green Energy Is the Real Subsidy Hog; Renewables receive three times as much money per energy unit as fossil fuels." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 12, 2013): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 11, 2013.)






December 19, 2013

Regulators Harass Saucy and Irreverent Buckyball Entrepreneur



ZuckerCraigBuckyballs2013-12-07.jpg










"Craig Zucker, former head of Maxfield & Oberton, which made Buckyballs, sells Liberty Balls to raise a legal-defense fund against an unusual action by federal regulators." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Over the last three weeks, more than 2,200 people have placed orders for $10-to-$40 sets of magnetic stacking balls, rising to the call of a saucy and irreverent social media campaign against a government regulatory agency.


. . .


It involves an effort by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall Buckyballs, sets of tiny, powerfully magnetic stacking balls that the magazines Rolling Stone and People once ranked on their hot products lists.

Last year, the commission declared the balls a swallowing hazard to young children and filed an administrative action against the company that made the product, demanding it recall all Buckyballs, and a related product called Buckycubes, and refund consumers their money. The company, Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, challenged the action, saying labels on the packaging clearly warned that the product was unsafe for children.

But the fuss now has less to do with safety. After Maxfield & Oberton went out of business last December, citing the financial toll of the recall battle, lawyers for the product safety agency took the highly unusual step of adding the chief executive of the dissolved firm, Craig Zucker, as a respondent in the recall action, arguing that he con-
(p. B6)trolled the company's activities. Mr. Zucker and his lawyers say the move could ultimately make him personally responsible for the estimated recall costs of $57 million.

While the "responsible corporate officer" doctrine (also known as the Park doctrine) has been used frequently in criminal cases, allowing for prosecutions of individual company officers in cases asserting corporate wrongdoing, experts say its use is virtually unheard-of in an administrative action where no violations of law or regulations are claimed.


. . .


Three well-known business organizations -- the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association -- banded together this summer to file a brief urging the administrative law judge reviewing the recall case to drop Mr. Zucker as a respondent.

The groups argue that holding an individual responsible for a widespread, expensive recall sets a disturbing example and runs counter to the business desire for limited liability. They contend that such risk would have a detrimental effect on entrepreneurism and openness in dealing with regulatory bodies.


. . .


Conservative legal groups like Cause of Action, a nonprofit that targets what it considers governmental overreach, have been watching the proceedings with interest and weighing taking some action.

"This really punishes entrepreneurship and establishes a bad precedent for businesses working to create products for consumers," said Daniel Z. Epstein, the group's executive director. "It undermines the business community's ability to rely upon the corporate form."


For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT. "In Regulators' Sights; Magnetic-Toy Recall Gives Rise to Wider Legal Campaign." The New York Times (Fri., November 1, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 31, 2013, and has the title "Buckyball Recall Stirs a Wider Legal Campaign.")






December 14, 2013

In Britain Right and Left Support "Libertarian Paternalism"



(p. 4) In 2010, Mr. Cameron set up the Behavioral Insights Team -- or nudge unit, as it's often called. Three years later, the team has doubled in size and is about to announce a joint venture with an external partner to expand the program.

The unit has been nudging people to pay taxes on time, insulate their attics, sign up for organ donation, stop smoking during pregnancy and give to charity -- and has saved taxpayers tens of millions of pounds in the process, said David Halpern, its director.


. . .


Creating Commitment

One morning in late May 2008, 10 copies of a little red book arrived for Rohan Silva in Norman Shaw South, the Westminster wing where the leader of the political opposition -- at the time, the Conservatives -- is traditionally housed.

The book was "Nudge," and Mr. Silva, then 27 and David Cameron's youngest adviser, piled them up on his desk. He had read the book as soon as it came out, a few weeks before. In fact, he had read deeply on behavioral economics and social psychology and met many of the American academics who specialized in the field. He was eager to spread the message in his country. "We used to joke about Ro being on commission for Thaler and Sunstein," said Steve Hilton, Mr. Cameron's former director of strategy and now a visiting scholar at Stanford.


. . .


Libertarian Paternalism


. . .


. . . , the question in Britain no longer seems to be whether, but how, to nudge. In their book, Professor Thaler and Mr. Sunstein defined their approach as steering people toward decisions deemed superior by the government but leaving them free to choose. "Libertarian paternalism," they called it, and while that term is not used much in Britain, there is broad agreement on the subject among the left and the right.

Mr. Halpern used to be policy chief for Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, and later wrote a report on behavioral policy-making commissioned by Mr. Blair's Labour Party successor, Gordon Brown. In one small way, the 2010 election campaign was also a race to decide which party would carry out an idea that had been percolating in the intellectual ranks of both for some years.

Wider Horizons

One of Mr. Thaler's favorite nudges is something that Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam adopted in public bathrooms: a small sticker of a fly in the center of a urinal has been shown to improve aim. It saves the airport cleaning costs.

During a recent visit to Downing Street, Mr. Thaler ran into Mr. Cameron in the men's room. There were no fly stickers.

"What's the deal?" he joked.


For the full story, see:

KATRIN BENNHOLD. "The Ministry of Nudges." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., December 8, 2013): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 7, 2013, and has the title "Britain's Ministry of Nudges.")


The Nudge book is:

Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Revised & Expanded (pb) ed: Penguin Books, 2009.






December 11, 2013

Portland Government Stops Girl from Selling Mistletoe to Pay for Braces






In Portland, the government is stopping an 11 year old girl from selling mistletoe to raise money for her braces. Here is a link to the KATU local Portland ABC news station video report: http://www.katu.com/news/local/11-year-old-told-not-to-sell-mistletoe-but-begging-is-fine-234014261.html?tab=video&c=y It also has been posted to YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj4caXi0wdw






December 10, 2013

Use of Floppy Disks Shows Slowness of Government



(p. A14) WASHINGTON -- The technology troubles that plagued the HealthCare.gov website rollout may not have come as a shock to people who work for certain agencies of the government -- especially those who still use floppy disks, the cutting-edge technology of the 1980s.

Every day, The Federal Register, the daily journal of the United States government, publishes on its website and in a thick booklet around 100 executive orders, proclamations, proposed rule changes and other government notices that federal agencies are mandated to submit for public inspection.

So far, so good.

It turns out, however, that the Federal Register employees who take in the information for publication from across the government still receive some of it on the 3.5-inch plastic storage squares that have become all but obsolete in the United States.


. . .


"You've got this antiquated system that still works but is not nearly as efficient as it could be," said Stan Soloway, chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents more than 370 government contractors. "Companies that work with the government, whether longstanding or newcomers, are all hamstrung by the same limitations."

The use of floppy disks peaked in American homes and offices in the mid-1990s, and modern computers do not even accommodate them anymore. But The Federal Register continues to accept them, in part because legal and security requirements have yet to be updated, but mostly because the wheels of government grind ever slowly.


. . .


. . . , experts say that an administration that prided itself on its technological savvy has a long way to go in updating the computer technology of the federal government. HealthCare.gov and the floppy disks of The Federal Register, they say, are but two recent examples of a government years behind the private sector in digital innovation.



For the full story, see:

JADA F. SMITH. "Slowly They Modernize: A Federal Agency That Still Uses Floppy Disks." The New York Times (Sat., December 7, 2013): A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date December 6, 2013.)






December 5, 2013

Wind Power Increases Government Corruption



LaclairKathyDislikesWindTurbines2013-10-27.jpg "Kathy Laclair of Churubusco, N.Y., dislikes the noise from the wind turbine blades and says their shadows give her vertigo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

"It really is renewable energy gone wrong," said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the (p. A16) wind companies.


. . .


. . . corruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm's developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative's car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, "That's up to you," according to the complaint.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption." The New York Times (Mon., August 18, 2008): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 17, 2008.)



NoWindTurbinesSign2013-10-27.jpg









"To some upstate towns, wind power promises prosperity. Others fear noise, spoiled views and the corrupting of local officials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






November 19, 2013

Booker Bravely Boosted Bain



MurphyAndBookerMeetThePress2010-10-25.jpg "Cory A. Booker, right, the Democratic mayor of Newark, on "Meet the Press" with Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist. "Enough is enough," Mr. Booker said of attacks in the presidential race." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



Romney was criticized for his past association with Bain Capital which was criticized for its role in the process of creative destruction. Democrat Cory Booker, to his credit, defended Bain. (But to his discredit, he later went wobbly when fellow Democrats were appalled by his defense.)


(p. A15) Mayor Cory A. Booker of Newark, a prominent Democrat enlisted as a surrogate for President Obama's campaign, sharply criticized it on Sunday for attacking Mitt Romney's work at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

Mr. Booker, speaking on the NBC program "Meet the Press," made his comments in response to a television advertisement the president's campaign unveiled last week. It portrays Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as someone who eliminated jobs for the sake of profits during his years running Bain Capital.

"I have to just say, from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity," Mr. Booker said. "To me, it's just we're getting to a ridiculous point in America, especially that I know I live in a state where pension funds, unions and other people are investing in companies like Bain Capital. If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses. And this to me, I'm very uncomfortable with."



For the full story, see:

RAYMOND HERNANDEZ. "Newark Mayor Criticizes Obama's Ad." The New York Times (Mon., May 21, 2012): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 20, 2012, and has the title "Surrogate for Obama Denounces Anti-Romney Ad.")






November 17, 2013

Foreign Aid Frees Despots from Having to Seek the Consent of the Governed



TheGreatEscapeBK2013-10-24.jpg











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






(p. 4) IN his new book, Angus Deaton, an expert's expert on global poverty and foreign aid, puts his considerable reputation on the line and declares that foreign aid does more harm than good. It corrupts governments and rarely reaches the poor, he argues, and it is high time for the paternalistic West to step away and allow the developing world to solve its own problems.

It is a provocative and cogently argued claim. The only odd part is how it is made. It is tacked on as the concluding section of "The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality" (Princeton University Press, 360 pages), an illuminating and inspiring history of how mankind's longevity and prosperity have soared to breathtaking heights in modern times.


. . .


THE author has found no credible evidence that foreign aid promotes economic growth; indeed, he says, signs show that the relationship is negative. Regretfully, he identifies a "central dilemma": When the conditions for development are present, aid is not required. When they do not exist, aid is not useful and probably damaging.

Professor Deaton makes the case that foreign aid is antidemocratic because it frees local leaders from having to obtain the consent of the governed. "Western-led population control, often with the assistance of nondemocratic or well-rewarded recipient governments, is the most egregious example of antidemocratic and oppressive aid," he writes. In its day, it seemed like a no-brainer. Yet the global population grew by four billion in half a century, and the vast majority of the seven billion people now on the planet live longer and more prosperous lives than their parents did.



For the full review, see:

FRED ANDREWS. "OFF THE SHELF; A Surprising Case Against Foreign Aid." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



The book reviewed is:

Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013.






November 12, 2013

How Adding Bike Lanes Increases Air Pollution



(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- New York is wooing cyclists with chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for double-decker bicycle parking.

San Francisco can't even install new bike racks.

Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That's put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.


. . .


Cars always will vastly outnumber (p. A15) bikes, . . . [Mr. Anderson] reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It's an "attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy," he wrote in his blog this month.



For the full story, see:

PHRED DVORAK. "San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?; City Backpedals on a Cycling Plan After Mr. Anderson Goes to Court." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 20, 2008): A1 & A15.

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






November 11, 2013

Creating Parking Spaces by Variable Meter Pricing Saves Time and Reduces Air Pollution and Double-Parking



SanFranciscoStreetParking2013-10-25.jpg "San Francisco is a city chronically plagued with a shortage of street parking. On a recent night in the North Beach neighborhood, the slow chase for a parking space was well under way." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- The maddening quest for street parking is not just a tribulation for drivers, but a trial for cities. As much as a third of the traffic in some areas has been attributed to drivers circling as they hunt for spaces. The wearying tradition takes a toll in lost time, polluted air and, when drivers despair, double-parked cars that clog traffic even more.

But San Francisco is trying to shorten the hunt with an ambitious experiment that aims to make sure that there is always at least one empty parking spot available on every block that has meters. The program, which uses new technology and the law of supply and demand, raises the price of parking on the city's most crowded blocks and lowers it on its emptiest blocks. While the new prices are still being phased in -- the most expensive spots have risen to $4.50 an hour, but could reach $6 -- preliminary data suggests that the change may be having a positive effect in some areas.



For the full commentary, see:

MICHAEL COOPER and JO CRAVEN McGINTY. "A Meter So Expensive, It Creates Parking Spots." The New York Times (Fri., March 16, 2012): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 15, 2012.)



MetersWithVariablePricing2013-10-25.jpg "San Francisco has installed sensors and new meters on some blocks to track where cars are parked and set prices accordingly." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






November 10, 2013

If Feds Stalled Skype Deal, Google Would Have Been "Stuck with a Piece of Shit"




Even just the plausible possibility of a government veto of an acquisition, can stop the acquisition from happening. The feds thereby kill efficiency and innovation enhancing reconfigurations of assets and business units.


(p. 234) . . . , an opportunity arose that Google's leaders felt compelled to consider: Skype was available. It was a onetime chance to grab hundreds of millions of Internet voice customers, merging them with Google Voice to create an instant powerhouse. Wesley Chan believed that this was a bad move. Skype relied on a technology called peer to peer, which moved information cheaply and quickly through a decentralized network that emerged through the connections of users. But Google didn't need that system because it had its own efficient infrastruc-(p. 235)ture. In addition, there was a question whether eBay, the owner of Skype, had claim to all the patents to the underlying technology, so it was unclear what rights Google would have as it tried to embellish and improve the peer-to-peer protocols. Finally, before Google could take possession, the U.S. government might stall the deal for months, maybe even two years, before approving it. "We would have paid all this money, but the value would go away and then we'd be stuck with a piece of shit," says Chan.


Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






November 9, 2013

Entrepreneurial Spirit Values "Voyaging into the Unknown"



PhelpsEdmundWinner2006NobelPrize2013-10-24.jpg











"Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for economics." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C7) Edmund Phelps's "Mass Flourishing" could easily be retitled "Contra-Corporatism," for at its heart this fine book is an attack on that increasingly common "third way" between capitalism and socialism. Mr. Phelps cogently argues that America's current economic woes reflect a reduction in the innovative dynamism that generates economic success and personal satisfaction. He places little hope in the Democratic Party, which "voices a new corporatism well beyond Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society," or in Republicans in the thrall of "traditional values," who see "the good economy as mercantile capitalism plus social protection and social insurance." He instead yearns for legislative solons who "could usefully ask of every bill and regulatory directive: How would it impact the dynamism of our economy?"


. . .


The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. He sees modern capitalism as profoundly humanist, imbued with "a spirit that views the prospect of unanticipated consequences that may come with voyaging into the unknown as a valued part of experience and not a drawback."


. . .


In . . . [the] new corporatism, the state protects both organized labor and politically connected companies. and the state has acquired a "panoply of new roles," from regulations "aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition" to lawsuits that "add to the diversion of income from earners to those receiving compensation or indemnification." It is as if "every person in a society is a signatory to an implicit contract" in which "no person may be harmed by others without receiving compensation." But protection against all conceivable harm also means protection against almost all change--and this is the death knell of dynamism and innovation.


. . .


But what is to be done? The author wants governments that are "aware of the importance of the role played by dynamism in a modern-capitalist economy," and he disparages both current political camps. He has a number of thoughtful ideas about financial-sector reform. He is no libertarian and even proposes a "national bank specializing in extending credit or equity capital to start-up firms"--not my favorite idea.



For the full review, see:

EDWARD GLAESER. "How to Unleash the Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 19, 2013): C7.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 18, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Mass Flourishing' by Edmund Phelps; Innovative dynamism is the key to economic success and personal satisfaction, a Nobel-winner argues.")



The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.




Mass-FlourishingBK2013-10-24.jpg















Source of book image: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/files/2013/08/Mass-Flourishing-cover.jpg









October 31, 2013

After 25 Years of Government Harassment, A&P Was Finally Allowed to Lower Prices for Consumers




The two main types of creative destruction are: 1.) new products and 2.) process innovations. Much has been written about the new product type; much less about the process innovation type. Marc Levinson has written two very useful books on process innovations that are important exceptions. The first is The Box and the second is The Great A&P.


(p. A13) A prosecutor in Franklin Roosevelt's administration called it a "giant blood sucker." A federal judge in Woodrow Wilson's day deemed it a "monopolist," and another, during Harry Truman's presidency, convicted it of violating antitrust law. The federal government investigated it almost continuously for a quarter-century, and more than half the states tried to tax it out of business. For its strategy of selling groceries cheaply, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company paid a very heavy price.


. . .


A&P was Wal-Mart long before there was Wal-Mart. Founded around the start of the Civil War, it upset the tradition-encrusted tea trade by selling teas at discount prices by mail and developing the first brand-name tea. A few years later, its tea shops began to stock spices, baking powder and canned goods, making A&P one of the first chain grocers.

Then, in 1912, John A. Hartford, one of the two brothers who had taken over the company from their father, had one of those inspirations that change the course of business. He proposed that the company test a bare-bones format at a tiny store in Jersey City, offering short hours, limited selection and no home delivery, and that it use the cost savings to lower prices. The A&P Economy Store was an instant success. The Great A&P was soon opening one and then two and then three stores per day. By 1920, it had become the largest retailer in the world.


. . .


While shoppers flocked to A&P's 16,000 stores, small grocers and grocery wholesalers didn't share their enthusiasm. The anti-chain-store movement dates back at least to 1913, when the American Fair-Trade League pushed for laws against retail price-cutting.


. . .


Thanks in good part to the Hartfords' tenacity, the restraints on discount retailing began to fade away in the 1950s. Chain-store taxes were gradually repealed, and state laws limiting price competition to protect mom and pop were taken off the books. By 1962, when Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and other modern discount formats were born, the pendulum had swung in consumers' favor.



For the full commentary, see:

MARC LEVINSON. "When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 12, 2013): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 11, 2013, and had the title "Marc Levinson: When Creative Destruction Visited the Mom-and-Pops; The A&P grocery company may be nearing its sell-by date, but a century ago it was a fresh, revolutionary business.")


Levinson's book on A&P is:

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






October 26, 2013

Under Humble Austerity Policy China Builds $11.4 Million Giant Brass Puffer Fish



PufferFishStatueYangshong2013-10-22.jpg "A puffer fish statue in Yangzhong has raised ire in view of a government pledge to end spending on vanity projects." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 6) HONG KONG -- Chinese Communist Party leaders' vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.

The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, . . .


. . .


Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went. Construction of the fish tower began on a previously isolated and undeveloped river island in March, four months after Mr. Xi was appointed party leader.


. . .


. . . China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.

Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building "the world's biggest teapot," a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.

In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.



For the full story, see:

CHRIS BUCKLEY. "As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., October 13, 2013): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 12, 2013.)



SongQinglingSculpture2013-10-23.jpg









"A sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a founder of modern China." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







October 5, 2013

"SEC Rules Demanded Complexity"



(p. 152) Google had considerable experience with pleasing users, but in the case of the auction, it could not create a simple interface. SEC rules demanded complexity. So the Google auction was a lot more complicated than buying Pokémon cards on eBay. People had to qualify financially as bidders. Bids had to be placed by a brokerage. If you made an error in reg-(p. 153)istering, you could not correct it but had to reregister. All those problems led to a few postponements of the start of the bidding period.

But the deeper problem was the uncertainty of Google's prospects. As the press accounts accumulated--with reporters informed by Wall Streeters eager to sabotage the process-- the perception grew that Google was a company with an unfamiliar business model run by weird people. A typical Wall Street insider analysis was reflected by Forbes.com columnist Scott Reeves, who concluded that Google's target price, at the time pegged to the range between $ 108 and $ 135 a share, was excessive. "Only those who were dropped on their head at birth [will] plunk down that kind of cash for an IPO," Reeves wrote.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.






October 1, 2013

SEC Told Google to Delete "Making the World a Better Place" from Document



(p. 150) . . . , the Securities and Exchange Commission was unimpressed by the charms of Page's "Owner's Manual." "Please revise or delete the statements about providing 'a great service to the world,' 'to do things that matter,' 'greater positive impact on the world, don't be evil' and 'making the world a better place,'" they wrote. (Google would not revise the letter.) The commission also had a problem with Page's description of the lawsuit that Overture (by then owned by Yahoo) had filed against Google as "without merit." Eventually, to resolve this issue before the IPO date, (p. 151) Google would settle the lawsuit by paying Yahoo 2.7 million shares, at an estimated value of between $ 260 and $ 290 million.

That set a contentious tone that ran through the entire process. The SEC cited Google's irregularities on a frequent basis, whether it was a failure to properly register employee stock options, inadequate reporting of financial results to stakeholders, or the use of only first names of employees in official documents. It acted toward Google like a junior high school vice principal who'd identified an unruly kid as a bad seed, requiring constant detentions.



Source:

Levy, Steven. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






September 24, 2013

Nanny Feds Take Revenge on Zucker for Trying to "Save Our Balls"



ZuckerCraigBuckyballsEntrepreneur2013-08-31.jpg











Craig Zucker. Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A11) Mr. Zucker is the former CEO of Maxfield & Oberton, the small company behind Buckyballs, an office toy that became an Internet sensation in 2009 and went on to sell millions of units before it was banned by the feds last year.

A self-described "serial entrepreneur," Mr. Zucker looks the part with tussled black hair, a scraggly beard and hipster jeans. Yet his casual-Friday outfit does little to subdue his air of ambition and hustle.

Nowadays Mr. Zucker spends most of his waking hours fighting off a vindictive U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that has set out to punish him for having challenged its regulatory overreach. The outcome of the battle has ramifications far beyond a magnetic toy designed for bored office workers. It implicates bedrock American notions of consumer choice, personal responsibility and limited liability.


. . .


In August 2009, Maxfield & Oberton demonstrated Buckyballs at the New York Gift Show; 600 stores signed up to sell the product. By 2010, the company had built a distribution network of 1,500 stores, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Brookstone. People magazine in 2011 named Buckyballs one of the five hottest trends of the year, and in 2012 it made the cover of Brookstone's catalog.

Maxfield & Oberton now had 10 employees, 150 sales representatives and a distribution network of 5,000 stores. Sales had reached $10 million a year. "Then," says Mr. Zucker, "we crashed."

On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission instructed Maxfield & Oberton to file a "corrective-action plan" within two weeks or face an administrative suit related to Buckyballs' alleged safety defects. Around the same time--and before Maxfield & Oberton had a chance to tell its side of the story--the commission sent letters to some of Maxfield & Oberton's retail partners, including Brookstone, warning of the "severity of the risk of injury and death possibly posed by" Buckyballs and requesting them to "voluntarily stop selling" the product.

It was an underhanded move, as Maxfield & Oberton and its lawyers saw it. "Very, very quickly those 5,000 retailers became zero," says Mr. Zucker. The preliminary letters, and others sent after the complaint, made it clear that selling Buckyballs was still considered lawful pending adjudication. "But if you're a store like Brookstone or Urban Outfitters . . . you're bullied into it. You don't want problems."


. . .


Maxfield & Oberton resolved to take to the public square.On July 27, just two days after the commission filed suit, the company launched a publicity campaign to rally customers and spotlight the commission's nanny-state excesses. The campaign's tagline? "Save Our Balls."

Online ads pointed out how, under the commission's reasoning, everything from coconuts ("tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?") to stairways ("are they really worth the risk?") to hot dogs ("delicious but deadly") could be banned.


. . .


. . . in February [2013] the Buckyballs saga took a chilling turn: The commission filed a motion requesting that Mr. Zucker be held personally liable for the costs of the recall, which it estimated at $57 million, if the product was ultimately determined to be defective.

This was an astounding departure from the principle of limited liability at the heart of U.S. corporate law.


. . .


Given the fact that Buckyballs have now long been off the market, the attempt to go after Mr. Zucker personally raises the question of retaliation for his public campaign against the commission. Mr. Zucker won't speculate about the commission's motives. "It's very selective and very aggressive," he says.



For the full interview, see:

SOHRAB AHMARI, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Craig Zucker; What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds; Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): A11.

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

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds. Buckyballs was the hottest office game on the market. Then regulators banned it. Now the government wants to ruin the CEO who fought back.")





September 22, 2013

Growth of Labor Safety Net Made Great Recession Deeper and Longer



TheRedistributionRecessionBK2013-09-05.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-VE881_bkrvre_GV_20121101145828.jpg






(p. 309) [Mulligan's empirical results suggest] that employment was dropping not only because of declining demand for the employees' products, but also because employers were substituting capital and other factors for labor. This surprising finding suggests that although a decline in aggregate demand for goods and services was one of the reasons for the decline in labor, other causes were also at play in most sectors of the economy. This fact is consistent with an inward shift in the supply of labor to the marketplace during this period.

In chapter 3, Mulligan introduces the main culprit responsible for this supplycurve shift--the unintended consequences of increases in the social safety net that substantially increased the marginal tax rate on work. In his model, Mulligan operationalizes this force into changes in the replacement rate (the fraction of productivity that the average nonemployed person receives in the form of means-tested benefits) and the self-reliance rate (1 minus the replacement rate), which is the fraction of lost productivity not replaced by means-tested benefits.

His conjecture is that, in a reverse of government policies in the 1990s that made work pay for single mothers by transforming welfare as we knew it into a program that nudged single mothers off the Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls and into the workforce, "temporary" government program expansions to mitigate the (p. 310) short-run consequences of unemployment and the bursting of the housing bubble made a prolonged paid period of nonwork an offer that many Americans found too tempting to refuse.

Mulligan identifies and incorporates the major expansions in eligibility and benefit amounts for Unemployment Insurance and food stamps into an eligibility index that shows that most of the 199 percent growth in these programs between 2007 and 2009 was due to these changes. He uses this growth rate in a weighted index of overall statutory safety-net generosity to determine the degree to which it has influenced overall employment. He does a similar analysis of the means-tested Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which facilitated substantial lender-provided discounts on home mortgage expenses for unemployment insurance-eligible workers. He finds that these market distortions that increased the marginal tax on work grew substantially in 2008, peaked in 2009--at almost triple their 2007 level--and then modestly fell in 2010 to a level appreciably above the 2007 level.


. . .


But his empirical evidence shows that the implementation of these "recession cures" was primarily responsible for the Great Recession's depth and duration.



For the full review, see:

Burkhauser, Richard V. "Review of: "The Redistributive Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy" by Casey B. Mulligan." The Independent Review 18, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 308-11.

(Note: ellipsis, and words in brackets, added.)


Book that is under review:

Mulligan, Casey B. The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.






September 20, 2013

Brazil's Cardozo Envies England's Rule of Law



PalinMichael2013-08-31.jpg















"Michael Palin." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C11) For his most recent project in Brazil, which will go on to become a PBS series, Mr. Palin interviewed former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, who is often credited with the country's economic turnaround. Whereas he says most political leaders are hesitant to say anything controversial, Mr. Cardoso was refreshingly straightforward. "I asked him, 'Brazil has so many good things going for it--the people are friendly and relaxed, the economy is booming. Is there anything you envy about us in England?' " He was surprised by Mr. Cardoso's answer. "He said straight out, 'The rule of law.' He said, 'Our problem here is we have endemic corruption,' " says Mr. Palin. "I just thought it was incredibly honest for a world leader."


For the full story, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Michael Palin Takes on the World; The former Monty Python performer is turning his global adventures into comic tales." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






September 10, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Funeral: "Suddenly from the Crowd a Great Roar"



ThatcherSupporterWithSign203-09-02.jpg "A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn't have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.


. . .


At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession--the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.

England came. The people came. Later we would learn they'd stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: "But We Loved Her."

. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. "Santo Subito."

And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.

What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "DECLARATIONS; Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Margaret Thatcher's coffin stood over he crypts that hold the tombs of Nelson and Wellington. It mattered." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 20, 2013): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 22, 2013 (I did not see any update in the part I quoted above), and has the title "DECLARATIONS; Noonan: Britain Remembers a Great Briton; Mrs. Thatcher is with Wellington and Nelson now.")