December 15, 2017

Knowledge Transforms a Weed into a Resource



(p. A10) ZADAR, Croatia -- For generations, residents of Zadar, an idyllic town on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, used the dry, stringy stems and yellow blossoms of a common variety of a wild daisy as kindling, mostly to singe the hair off pigs destined for the spit.

But about five years ago, cosmetics manufacturers and the essential oils industry started using a rare extract from the flower -- known as the curry plant for its spicy aroma -- as a critical ingredient in high-end creams, ointments and tinctures, sold for their purported rejuvenating powers.

So let the pigs shave themselves, local residents decided, turning their attention to gathering bushels of the once widely ignored weed, in hopes of creating a new local industry to add to an economy based on construction, fruit farming, olive oil and a touch of tourism.



For the full story, see:

JOSEPH OROVIC. "ZADAR JOURNAL; Croatian Farmers' Hopes of New Life Rest on a Weed Called Immortelle." The New York Times (Fri., NOV. 24, 2017): A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 23, 2017, and has the title "ZADAR; JOURNAL; Can a Wild Daisy Rejuvenate Croatia's Farming Economy?")






December 14, 2017

Record High Temperatures in London



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:


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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 13, 2017

Immunotherapy Cocktails, Like Chemotherapy Cocktails, May Benefit from Trial-and-Error Experiments



(p. A16) A new way of genetically altering a patient's cells to fight cancer has helped desperately ill people with leukemia when every other treatment had failed, researchers reported on Monday [Nov. 20, 2017] in the journal Nature Medicine.

The new approach, still experimental, could eventually be given by itself or, more likely, be used in combination treatments -- analogous to antiviral "cocktails" for H.I.V. or multidrug regimens of chemotherapy for cancer -- to increase the odds of shutting down the disease.

Researchers say the treatment may be more promising as part of a combination than when given alone because, although some patients in the small study have had long-lasting remissions, many others had relapses.

The research, conducted at the National Cancer Institute, is the latest advance in the fast-growing field of immunotherapy, which fires up the immune system to attack cancer. The new findings build on two similar treatments that were approved by the Food and Drug Administration this year: Kymriah, made by Novartis for leukemia; and Yescarta, by Kite Pharma for lymphoma.

In some cases, those two treatments have brought long and seemingly miraculous remissions to people who were expected to die.

Kymriah and Yescarta require removing millions of each patient's T-cells -- disease-fighting white blood cells -- and genetically engineering them to seek and destroy cancer cells. The T-cells are then dripped back into the patient, where they home in on protein molecules called CD19 found on malignant cells in most types of leukemia and lymphoma.

The new treatment differs in a major way: the T-cells are programmed to attack a different target on malignant cells, CD22.



For the full story, see:

DENISE GRADY. "Experimental Gene Treatment Shows Promise in Combating Leukemia." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 21, 2017): A16.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 20, 2017, and has the title "New Gene Treatment Effective for Some Leukemia Patients.")


The Nature Medicine article, mentioned above, is:

Fry, Terry J., Nirali N. Shah, Rimas J. Orentas, Maryalice Stetler-Stevenson, Constance M. Yuan, Sneha Ramakrishna, Pamela Wolters, Staci Martin, Cindy Delbrook, Bonnie Yates, Haneen Shalabi, Thomas J. Fountaine, Jack F. Shern, Robbie G. Majzner, David F. Stroncek, Marianna Sabatino, Yang Feng, Dimiter S. Dimitrov, Ling Zhang, Sang Nguyen, Haiying Qin, Boro Dropulic, Daniel W. Lee, and Crystal L. Mackall. "CD22-Targeted CAR T Cells Induce Remission in B-ALL That Is Naive or Resistant to CD19-Targeted CAR Immunotherapy." Nature Medicine (published online on Nov. 20, 2017).






December 12, 2017

Startups 'Push the Flywheel' Longer than They Admit



(p. A8) Some startups that spend years developing their product say the clock doesn't start with those years. They count time from the day they came upon a solution that worked--never mind time spent looking for ideas or toiling at approaches that failed.

Milpitas, Calif.-based View Inc., which makes window glass that changes tint electronically, incorporated as Echromics and was in development as early as 2007. When its first technical approach failed, almost the entire staff turned over, said CEO Rao Mulpuri. He took over in December 2008.

A spokeswoman says the company considers 2009--the year it made breakthroughs that made its product possible--as the year it "really started its journey." The company changed its name to View in 2012.

When it comes to the question of founding a company, Mr. Mulpuri says, "there's a technical answer, which is the official answer. When was the company founded in the state of Delaware? But as a team, it's not as simple as that."

Silicon Valley investors are used to the idea that a "pivot" or new name takes off the years like a shot of Botox--though not all are thrilled.

David Gurle, chief executive of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Symphony Communication Services LLC, isn't amused by startups that play the age game.

He founded private-messaging startup Perzo in 2012. After Symphony, another startup, acquired it in 2014, it began targeting financial-services clients. He proudly cites 2012 as Symphony's founding year, despite its permutations.

"If you told me that a flower only started growing when it was out of the earth, then I would say, 'No, it's already been growing,'" Mr. Gurle said.



For the full story, see:

Patience Haggin. "Forever Young: Tech Startups, Like Hollywood Celebrities, Fudge Their Age; To look like overnight successes, new companies are playing around with their origin stories." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 12, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2017, and has the title "The Secret to Startup Success? Fudge Your Age; To look like overnight successes, new companies are playing around with their origin stories." The passages quoted from the online version, above, are about a sentence and a half longer than the similar passages in the print version.)






December 11, 2017

Price "Gouging" Encourages Demanders to Conserve and Suppliers to Supply



(p. A17) . . . price hikes are a response to scarcity, and signals that reveal the true severity of scarcity are critical during storms and other crises. Price hikes let consumers know that fuel is scarcer than it was. Price hikes prompt consumers to use fuel more judiciously, buying less gasoline than they would at a lower price. They take fewer unnecessary trips, diminishing pressure on supplies. Price hikes also create a financial incentive for suppliers from outside the area to move their product into high-demand zones. As supplies return to normal, so do prices.


. . .


Year's revelers in New York City welcomed 2015, Uber's surge-pricing algorithm stopped working for nearly 30 minutes. Without the guarantee of extra pay, drivers had little incentive to brave New Year's traffic. Requests spiked 300%, wait times doubled, and the rate of completed trips fell 80%. People who really needed Ubers--and would have been willing to pay surge pricing--couldn't get a ride.


. . .


Price increases are an important means of encouraging as many people as possible to cope as well and as creatively as possible with natural disasters. True, the rising price of goods like gasoline can create problems for consumers, particularly the poor. But these drawbacks are negligible compared to the life-threatening shortages that can result when ill-informed public outrage keeps prices artificially low. Even a poor person is better off being able to buy a bottle of water for $10 when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty.



For the full commentary, see:

Donald J. Boudreaux. "'Price Gouging' After a Disaster Is Good for the Public; If government prohibits suppliers from charging more, consumers hoard, exacerbating shortages." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCT. 4, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 3, 2017.)






December 10, 2017

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



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

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

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



For the full review, see:

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






December 9, 2017

NIH and FDA Should Allow Gene Editors to Cure Diseases



(p. A15) Should Americans be allowed to edit their DNA to prevent genetic diseases in their children? That question, which once might have sounded like science fiction, is stirring debate as breakthroughs bring the idea closer to reality. Bioethicists and activists, worried about falling down the slippery slope to genetically modified Olympic athletes, are calling for more regulation.

The bigger concern is exactly the opposite--that this kind of excessive introspection will cause patients to suffer and even die needlessly. Anachronistic restrictions at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health effectively ban gene-editing research in human embryos that would lead to implantation and births. These prohibitions are inhibiting critical clinical research and should be lifted immediately.


. . .


What's holding researchers back, at least in America, is outmoded regulations. The FDA is blocked by law from accepting applications for research involving gene editing of the human germ line--meaning eggs, sperm and embryos. The NIH, whose approval also would be needed, is similarly barred from even considering applications to conduct such experiments in humans. These rules date as far back as the 1970s, when the technology was in its infancy. It's easy to invoke hypothetical fears when actual lifesaving interventions are decades away.

Today they aren't--and desperate patients deserve access to whatever cures this technology may be able to provide. The public thinks so, too. A survey this summer found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic gene editing--in somatic and germ-line cells alike. Popular opinion is in tune with scientific reality. Legislators and regulators need to catch up.



For the full commentary, see:

Henry I. Miller. "Gene Editing Is Here, and Desperate Patients Want It; Two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic use, but regulators are still stuck in the 1970s." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCT. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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






December 8, 2017

After 30 Years, Medical Entrepreneur Rosenberg's Slow Hunch Pays Off



(p. B3) In the another significant development, the cancer institute's prominent cancer researcher and chief of surgery, Steven A. Rosenberg, detailed for the first time an immunotherapy success against metastatic breast cancer, in a talk earlier this month.

In the lecture at a Boston meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, Dr. Rosenberg reported on the first patient with metastatic breast cancer who is disease-free nearly two years after her first immunotherapy treatment. In the therapy, a person's own cells are multiplied billions of times and reinfused into the patient. Dr. Rosenberg's lab has already reported successes in treatment of melanoma, lymphoma, colorectal cancer and bile-duct cancer.

That patient is Judy Perkins, a 51-year-old structural engineer from Port St. Lucie, Fla. She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer--cancer that spread beyond the original location--in 2013.


. . .


Ms. Perkins is only one case. But the fact that she had metastatic breast cancer that is no longer detectable makes it very consequential. It follows reports from the Rosenberg lab about other internal-organ cancers, specifically colorectal and bile-duct.


. . .


Dr. Rosenberg's interest in immunotherapy was piqued three decades ago, when he was struck by a chance encounter with a stomach-cancer patient who improbably recovered despite no treatment. This became a lifelong quest to discover how that patient had in effect cured himself. Scores of recoveries at the cancer institute of melanoma and lymphoma patients followed after immunotherapy treatment from his lab.

Now, his lab is exploring the promise of treating and accomplishing tumor regressions in far-more-common solid-tumor cancers of internal organs, including the breast, colon and bile-duct.



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Immunotherapy Treatments for Cancer Gain Momentum." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 13, 2017): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2017.)






December 7, 2017

University of Chicago Seeks Discourse, Not Deference



(p. A21) Several years ago Robert Zimmer was asked by an audience in China why the University of Chicago was associated with so many winners of the Nobel Prize -- 90 in all, counting this month's win by the behavioral economist Richard Thaler. Zimmer, the university's president since 2006, answered that the key was a campus culture committed to "discourse, argument and lack of deference."


. . .


The University of Chicago has always been usefully out of step with its peers in higher education -- it dropped out of the Big Ten Conference and takes perverse pride in its reputation as the place where fun goes to die. It was out of step again last year when Jay Ellison, the dean of students, sent a letter to incoming freshmen to let them know where the college stood in respect to the campus culture wars.

"Our commitment to academic freedom," he wrote, "means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

The letter attracted national attention, with cheering from the right and caviling on the left. But its intellectual foundation had been laid earlier, with a 2015 report from a faculty committee, convened by Zimmer, on free expression. Central to the committee's findings: the aim of education is to make people think, not spare them from discomfort.



For the full commentary, see:

Stephens, Bret. "Our Best University President." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 21, 2017): A21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 20, 2017, and has the title "America's Best University President.")






December 6, 2017

Reinvesting Profits Enables the Scaling Up of Success



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


. . .


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


. . .


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

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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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









Eight Most Recent Comments:



PaulS said:

"when the alternative is to have $10 and go thirsty"

In the real world, the politics will get "interesting" with respect to folks who *don't* have $10 to pay for what normally costs $1 or $0.10, and will therefore go thirsty, or be stranded, or worse. Then, also be aware of simple resentment. Then, aggravate the anger with runaway inequality so extreme that the elites running the show will not be inconvenienced in the slightest by any likely level of 'gouging'. Then brace for a social explosion.

All told, it seems fatuous to expect very many people to be happy about being charged, say, an entire car payment just to get home across town from the holiday party. (It seems even more fatuous to expect happiness when the 'gouging' comes as an ongoing life-upending surprise, as with I-66 in Virginia.)

It helps to instead ground oneself in reality. After doing so, it's ridiculously easy to imagine the relevant government and/or employer simply declaring, for example: "If you wish to be allowed to drive a taxi at all, then you will make yourself available, to some specified extent, even at times that may be inconvenient for you."

Indeed, such rules and regulations are utterly banal and commonplace. Nary a soul would weep for Uber if it and its drivers were regulated - even rather harshly - in such a manner. Of course, some souls would become exercised over the minor economic inefficiency of such regulation, but they would number far too few to matter.



PaulS said:

"Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of 'brain fossilization.'"

I had no idea. These days, after all, Curry is very much in the doghouse as a "climate denier". Wow. What, then, can we deduce about the typical (or merely politically-correct?) level of hysteria in the "climate community"? Of course, many in said "community" would force most of us back into the Stone Age while they themselves continue to jet across the world at whim to attend "conventions" in order to signal virtue by delivering half-hour diatribes on saving the "planet" from impending doom.

Maybe, then, The Donald is right (???!) that it is fairly safe to behave just as the doomers do, and ignore the threat - and their own diatribes - as a practical matter? Wouldn't that be weird?



PaulS said:

Another case in point: between them, Google, Tesla, and others have spent countless billions on mapping the USA, enough for at least $1000/mile including every last obscure Forest Service track. That should be more than enough to catalog everything down to the embossing style on every manhole cover. And yet a person can find their way to Grandma's new house with vague turn-by-turn directions or a vague line-sketch that shows no details whatsoever about the road surface or the sidewalks or the crosswalks. And a person will manage the task without needing, in advance, a finely detailed map of the current construction projects, including lane changes etc. But that severe incompleteness won't stop morally-posturing politicians from forcing autonomous cars onto the populace years or even decades before they are actually ready for unsupervised consumer use. That is the essentially only kind of use they will get in the real world. After all, politicians love to posture, they love to toady up to rent-seeking billionaires, and they love photo-ops of themselves gawking at shiny new tech gadgets. Note that when signals were first installed on the Chicago El, the accident rate went up for a time, as trained motormen became careless about watching where they were going. Not-so-trained consumers will be far too busy fiddling with their phones to be ready to take over on a split-second's notice.



PaulS said:

And there will be unicorns. So we'll have some remote working, but we'll be jailing ever more techies in a few obscenely overcrowded, otherworldly-expensive megacities. Just as Microsofties once told us wasting two days on the now-infamously godawful airlines just to physically attend an hour meeting was going away, but both the meetings and the airlines only got worse and worse.

So not really a big deal, just another stylistic business fad. Those come and go like mayflies - while being crammed, confined, and nailed down, remains eternally.



rjs said:

there's a lot GDP doesnt capture, but i'm not sure where Feldstein is coming from about statins...the consumption of drugs is included in the non-durable goods component of PCE, consumption of health care services by themselves account for 12% of GDP, and R & D would be included in investment in intellectual property products.. the problem is that everyone is trying to make GDP into something it's not...it's a measure of goods and services produced by the economy, full stop. it's not intended to measure increases in life expectancy or well being, or any other intangibles..



rjs said:

actually, if every adult spent the $10,000 that was given to them, it would add about 13% to GDP (less any inflation adjustment) furthermore, as the US is the creator of its own currency, there would be no need to "pay for" such a citizen bonus...we certainly managed to conjure up trillions of dollars to bail out the banks a few years back without "paying for it"; we could just as easily do the same for this case..



Aaron said:

An appropriately sweet topic this Valentine's day, though this may make you this holiday's Scrooge.



Ed Rector said:

There are more than 2000 colleges in the USA offering tens of thousands of degrees/majors. Oh yes, there are also a few thousand JC's, trade schools and apprentice programs that train welders. Who should decide what any individual student wants to study?? Senator Rubio, the Mercatus Center or the individual student?? And you call yourselves 'freedom-loving Libertarians' !!





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