February 22, 2018

NYC Fee for Plastic Bags Is "a Tax on the Poor and the Middle Class"



(p. A18) The ubiquitous, easily torn, often doubled-up plastic bags from the grocery store -- hoarded by dog owners, despised by the environmentally concerned and occasionally caught in trees -- will soon cost at least a nickel in New York City.

The City Council voted 28 to 20 on Thursday to require certain retailers to collect a fee on each carryout bag, paper or plastic, with some exceptions. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the measure.


. . .


Mr. Bloomberg offered a proposal in 2008 for a 6-cent bag fee -- 5 cents for stores; a penny for the city -- before dropping it several months later amid strong opposition. At the time, one of the opponents on the Council was Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now a state senator. Last month, Senator Felder introduced a bill that would prohibit the levying of local fees on bags; it passed a committee this week.

In discussing his opposition this week, Mr. Felder traced the 200-year history of how people have carried their groceries home, progressing from cloth bags to boxes to paper to plastic, and said that reusing bags presented a health hazard. He said he would hold a hearing on his bill in the city next month.

"That's nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class -- the most disadvantaged people," he said.

Opposition to the measure has also come from the plastic bag industry -- via its lobbying arm, the American Progressive Bag Alliance -- as well as from those who, like Mr. Felder, said the fee amounted to a regressive tax, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority New Yorkers . . . .



For the full story, see:

J. DAVID GOODMAN. "Council Approves a Fee on Checkout Bags." The New York Times (Fri., May 6, 2016): A18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 5, 2016, and has the title "5ยข Fee on Plastic Bags Is Approved by New York City Council.")







February 21, 2018

Washington, D.C. Tax Rate Cuts Increased Economic Growth AND Tax Revenue



(p. B1) The capital's financial affairs were in such disarray by the mid-1990s that they were taken over by a federal financial control board that operated until 2001. Yet in 2014 the council cut corporate and business taxes, reduced individual rates for everyone earning less than $1 million and broadened the tax base by eliminating many loopholes.

As a headline on the conservative website The Daily Caller put it, "Hell Freezes Over: DC Passes Tax Reform."

In the ensuing years, economic growth and tax receipts have surged, enabling the city to accelerate cuts that were being phased in. The legislation was not revenue neutral, in the sense that broadening the tax base offset the reduction in rates. It was a tax cut. But in a development that would surely warm the hearts of pro-growth Republicans, the economic lift was so strong that tax receipts increased, and last (p. B3) year hit a record.



For the full commentary, see:


JAMES B. STEWART. ''For Tax Reform Lessons, Congress Needn't Look Far Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., September 1, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 31, 2017.)







February 20, 2018

Audacious Heart Surgery During WW II Was Proof of Concept



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

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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

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

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 19, 2018

Harlem Parents Want to Enroll Their Children in Charter Schools



(p. A15) In New York City, . . . , a comprehensive study found improved academic performance, safety, and student engagement at district schools with charter schools, particularly high-performing ones, located nearby or in the same building.


. . .


Ultimately, the bare-knuckled attacks by charter-school opponents are a sign of desperation. Parent demand for a better education is undeniable: 14,000 Harlem children were entered into charter-school lotteries this year, vying for a total of only 3,000 spots; across the city, 48,000 students are on charter school waitlists.

Parents now have the freedom to choose and they are choosing charter schools. It is our responsibility as New Yorkers to give them more of what they want: public schools that are engines of opportunity rather than roadblocks to success.



For the full commentary, see:

Eva Moskowitz. ''Test Scores Don't Lie: Charter Schools Are Transformative; Our black and Hispanic students in Central Harlem outperform the city's white pupils by double digits." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 24, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 23, 2017.)


The "comprehensive study" mentioned above, is:


Cordes, Sarah A. "In Pursuit of the Common Good: The Spillover Effects of Charter Schools on Public School Students in New York City." Education Finance and Policy (forthcoming).







February 18, 2018

Renewed Tinkering on the Farm



(p. B1) The green tractor trundling across a Manitoba field with an empty cab looks like it's on a collision course with Matt Reimer's combine--until it neatly turns to pull alongside so he can pour freshly harvested wheat into its trailer.

The robot tractor isn't a prototype or top-of-the-line showpiece. It's an eight-year-old John Deere that the 30-year-old Mr. Reimer modified with drone parts, open-source software and a Microsoft Corp. tablet. All told, those items cost him around $8,000. He said that's about how much he saved on wages for drivers helping with last year's harvest.

Mr. Reimer's alterations, which he hopes to replicate for other farmers this year, are part of a technology revolution sweeping North America's breadbasket. Farmers, many of them self-taught, are building their own robotic equipment, satellite-navigation networks and mobile applications, moving their tinkering projects out of machine sheds and behind a computer screen.

This homespun hacking--which sometimes leapfrogs innovations by big equipment companies like Deere & Co. and navigation specialists like Trimble Navigation Ltd. --reflects dwindling farm incomes, the low price of electronic hardware and, sometimes, off-season boredom.



For the full story, see:

Jacob Bunge. "Farmers Harvest Homegrown Tech."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated on May 2, 2016, and has the title "Farmers Reap New Tools From Their Own High-Tech Tinkering.")






February 17, 2018

Knowledge from Self-Experimentation Should Be Publishable



(p. D4) When Bob Hariri developed a product he thought could be useful as a human-skin replacement for burn victims, he had no trouble finding a subject willing to test it--himself.

An entrepreneur and a neurosurgeon with both a medical degree and a doctorate, Dr. Hariri is one of a number of scientists who have experimented on themselves with new or yet-to-be approved medical products or technologies, and who say such practice can be indispensable in the development of innovative biomedical treatments.

Some scientists are pushing for self-experimentation data to be reported publicly and more systematically to aid scientific progress. Alex Zhavoronkov, chief executive of an aging-research company called InSilico Medicine Inc., and others hope to start a peer-reviewed journal on self-experimentation, where scientists and other qualified individuals would publish high-quality case studies of tests performed on themselves. He plans to launch a crowdfunding operation in the next few months to fund it.

The idea is "to unlock the knowledge [of self-experimentation] that resides there anyway," says Dr. Zhavrononkov, who takes an old diabetes drug called metformin that is supposed to have antiaging properties, even though it hasn't been approved for that purpose.


. . .


Advocates say self-experimentation can yield information that is hard to get from a clinical trial. The experimenter feels what it's like to be the patient and gets insight into how to improve testing procedures. Also, a number of individual reports, when cobbled together, can start to yield a picture of whether a new treatment is likely to work or not, though one wouldn't rely on those reports alone to conclude safety or effectiveness.



For the full story, see:

Wang, Shirley S. "Why Medical Researchers Experiment on Themselves."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 26, 2016): D4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2016, and has the title "IN THE LAB; More Medical Researchers Engage In Self-Experimentation.")






February 16, 2018

Child Prodigies Seldom Excel as Adults



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


. . .


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



For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipsis added.)

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


The book under review, is:

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






February 15, 2018

Farmers Buy Inputs Cheaper Online



(p. B4) Brandon Sinclair spent $26,000 on herbicides for his corn and soybean fields last year, roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-operative.

The savings came from a source many U.S. farmers have been slow to tap: the internet.

Farmers have long made pilgrimages to farm stores and co-operatives to purchase seeds, fertilizer and weed and pest killers. Now, with a commodity glut pressuring crop prices and pushing farm incomes to an eight-year low, farmers are scouring the web for better deals on the products they use to grow their crops.

The shift could upend a decades-old system built around small-town suppliers that also offer farming advice and sell services such as spraying for weeds. Mr. Sinclair says the math is simple: Using savings found online, the 31-year old Illinois farmer was able to spring for a helicopter to wrangle his herd of cattle. Now he is urging his neighbors to shop online, too.

"I've always been kind of a tech guru and a tight-ass," Mr. Sinclair said.



For the full story, see:

Jesse Newman and Jacob Bunge. "U.S. Farmers Buy in Bulk Online."The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 17, 2017): B4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 16, 2017, and has the title "E-Commerce for Farmers: Shopping Online for $26,000 of Herbicides.")






February 14, 2018

New Technology Reveals Fossil Secrets



(p. A11) Using a new laser imaging technique to reveal traces of soft tissue in fossils of an early feathered, birdlike dinosaur, scientists have found direct evidence of a wing structure needed for flight that was previously invisible from the preserved bone evidence.

The research is part of a body of work on the cutting edge of paleontology, leveraging new technology to flesh out the study of fossils beyond bones, to look at soft tissue and feathers. Other scientists have recently turned up evidence of the protein collagen preserved in dinosaur fossils millions of years old, and scanned feathers, muscle, skin and ligament tissue from a dinosaur's tail preserved in amber.

Known as laser-stimulated fluorescence, the new imaging technique "is revealing information preserved in the fossil we can't see with normal light," says University of Hong Kong paleontologist Michael Pittman, one of the leaders of the research, published Tuesday [February 28, 2017] in Nature Communications.



For the full story, see:

Ellie Kincaid. "Imaging Reveals Soft Tissue in Dinosaur Fossil." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 1, 2017): A11.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2017, and has the title "New Imaging Method Helps Scientists Look Beyond Dinosaur Bones.")






February 13, 2018

Musk "Could Be Completely Delusional"



(p. B2) Tesla Inc. on Tuesday [January 23, 2018] unleashed a bold pay package for Chief Executive Elon Musk that again ties his compensation entirely to key performance benchmarks. This time, the goals take the electric-car maker to cosmic heights, including an ultimate aim of hitting $650 billion in market value.


. . .


Mr. Musk could net billions of dollars by hitting only a few of the milestones. Tesla said in a proxy filing the 20.26 million stock options today would have a preliminary value of about $2.62 billion. But if Tesla were to reach the audacious market value of $650 billion--as much as Amazon.com Inc. is worth today--the company said Mr. Musk's stock award would reap him as much as $55.8 billion fully vested.

That total, however, assumes the company's shares outstanding won't be diluted. Tesla has added tens of millions of shares over the past several years, so that total dollar figure is unlikely.


. . .


Mr. Musk is saying, "I want to set an audacious goal, and then if I achieve it, then pay me audaciously," said John Challenger, a longtime expert in corporate compensation as chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "He is in some ways capturing the spirit of Silicon Valley."


. . .


Mr. Musk had previously committed the company to reaching a market cap of $700 billion, something he reiterated last year. "I could be completely delusional, but I think I see a clear path to that outcome," he told analysts in May.



For the full story, see:

Higgins, Tim. "Tesla Primes Musk's Pay for Blastoff." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., January 24, 2018): B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2018, and has the title "Elon Musk Could Net Billions by Hitting Tesla's New Milestones." Where the wording of the two versions differs, the passages quoted above follow the wording of the online version.)









Eight Most Recent Comments:



PaulS said:

Wonderful. Let's go for strict temporal gating as well as spatial gating. Exile everyone not made of money to the anti-social hours of the clock as well as the monster commutes of the far reaches of Queens and Staten Island. How about fixing the subways, and abolishing the nonsense that makes it take 90 years to build one small 2nd Ave line? How about dispersing the overconcentration of people a bit? It's a huge country and modern communication exists. How about paying for same by taxing the living daylights out of the billionaire rentier class who create the problem by forcing ever more people to cram into highly dysfunctional megacities as the price of having any income at all? You gotta love the nexus between airheaded liberals who want to pile everyone on Earth with a sob story into a few US-ian megacities (rather than fix their own governments and problems), and economics types who then want to punish the very same folks by blocking off absolutely everything with an extortionate toll gate. Not.



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.





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