August 22, 2014

The Great Lakes Return to Greatness

(p. 16) But after reaching historic lows in 2013, water levels in the Great Lakes are now abruptly on the rise, a development that has startled scientists and thrilled just about everybody with a stake in the waterfront, including owners of beach houses, retailers in tourist areas and dockmasters who run marinas on the lakeshore.

Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are at least a foot higher than they were a year ago, and are expected to rise three more inches over the next month. Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are seven to nine inches higher than a year ago.

For the full story, see:

JULIE BOSMAN. "Creeping Up on Unsuspecting Shores: The Great Lakes, in a Welcome Turnaround." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JUNE 29, 2014): 16 & 20.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 28, 2014.)

August 21, 2014

Salutati Defended the Independence of Florence

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


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

August 20, 2014

The Process Innovation Called "Fracking"

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

For the full article, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

Gold's article was excerpted from his book:

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

August 19, 2014

Political Entrepreneurs Can Find Ways to Overcome Vested Interests

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

. . .

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


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

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

The book Rodrik discusses is:

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

August 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. . . ."


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

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

August 16, 2014

Process Innovations, Allowed by Deregulation, Creatively Destroyed Railroads

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

. . .

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

For the full review, see:

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

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

The book under review is:

Gallamore, Robert E., and John R. Meyer. American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

August 15, 2014

Flexibility of System of Industrial Relations Makes German Economy Strong

(p. 183) We have argued that the remarkable transformation of the German economy from the "sick man of Europe" to a lean and highly competitive economy within little more than a decade is rooted in the inherent flexibility of the German system of industrial relations. This system allowed German industry to react appropriately and flexibly over time to the demands of German unification, and the global challenges of a new world economy.


Dustmann, Christian, Bernd Fitzenberger, Uta Schoenberg, and Alexandra Spitz-Oener. "From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany's Resurgent Economy." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 167-88.

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 13, 2014

"In the Name of God and of Profit"

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

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


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

Eight Most Recent Comments:

Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.

Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.

Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.

Rev. Pfloyd said:

Hans' "The Best Stats You've Ever Seen" Ted Talk is my favorite Ted Talk ever, which is a pretty big statement when you share company with talks like Sir Ken Robinson's education talk and Steven Pinker's Human Nature and the Blank Slate" talk.

Rev. Pfloyd said:

Voting with your feet. And of course now people are fleeing France to move across the water to England for the same reason. It's truly a global world; soaking the rich really isn't an option anymore.

otacon said:

The media tends to be a willing participant in fanning the flames of racism. Check CNN or the Drudge Report. Every day there is at least one racially charged story. Every day. It has become a tool for news outlets to get clicks but ultimately is a disservice to pretty much everyone.

otacon said:

This is very dangerous and this doctor is acting completely irresponsibly. Are these students supposed to take Adderall for their entire lives or just until they pass American History class? Why not prescribe steroids for under performing children in sports?

Rev. Pfloyd said:

Mark Perry has addressed this before--we don't need more humanities students in the New Economy. In fact, we probably don't need college graduates as a whole (and those we do would benefit from STEM education):

"Part of the skilled-worker shortage is being driven by the ongoing push from parents, teachers and high school counselors for high school graduates to attend four-year colleges, even though many college students are graduating with $20,000 or more in student loan debt and are unable to find full-time employment. Call it the “obsession with college education” or the “overselling” of college education that has perhaps unfairly influenced an entire generation of young Americans."

I've often hypothesized about the idea of charging higher tuition rates for "luxury majors" (what I would consider to be majors of less practical use and more of an "intellectual exercise") and the possible effects on college major or college attendance on the whole.


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