May 23, 2016

Bacteria Can Break Down Plastic



(p. A11) Bacteria can gobble up oil spills, radioactive waste and, now, plastic. Researchers in Japan said they have discovered a species of microbe that eats PET, the polymer widely used in food containers, bottles and synthetic fibers.

Some scientists have said the bacteria could help break down otherwise non-biodegradable debris in landfills or recycling plants.

"We now have a chance to biologically degrade the widespread plastic PET," said Uwe Bornscheuer, a biochemist at Greifswald University in Germany. "That is, of course, a major achievement."


. . .


At a recycling plant, Dr. Yoshida and his team collected 250 samples of PET debris and discovered a host of different microbes living among the trash.

The researchers screened the microbes to identify those that appeared to dine on PET, and subsequent biochemical testing showed that a single, new species, Ideonella sakaiensis, was responsible for decomposing the polymer.

Adhered to a low-grade PET film, the bacteria used two enzymes to break down the plastic into two environmentally benign substances, which served as their main source of food.



For the full story, see:

KAT LONG. "Japan Researchers Discover Plastic-Eating Bacteria." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2016, and has the title "New Species of Bacteria Eats Plastic.")






May 22, 2016

More Evidence that Once-Dynamic Florence Is Now Stagnant



(p. C1) New research from a pair of Italian economists documents an extraordinary fact: The wealthiest families in Florence today are descended from the wealthiest families of Florence nearly 600 years ago.

The two economists -- Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti of the Bank of Italy -- compared data on Florentine taxpayers in 1427 against tax data in 2011. Because Italian surnames are highly regional and distinctive, they could compare the income of families with a certain surname today, to those with the same surname in 1427. They found that the occupations, income and wealth of those distant ancestors with the same surname can help predict the occupation, income and wealth of their descendants today.



For the full story, see:

JOSH ZUMBRUN. "Florence's Rich Stay Rich--for 600 Years." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 20, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "The Wealthy in Florence Today Are the Same Families as 600 Years Ago." Where there are minor differences in the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)


The Barone and Mocetti working paper, is:

Barone, Guglielmo, and Sauro Mocetti "Intergenerational Mobility in the Very Long Run: Florence 1427-2011." Bank of Italy Working Paper #1060, April 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 20, 2016

Long-Term Goals, Rather than Friends, Most Stimulate the Intelligent



(p. D1) A study published in February [2016] in the British Journal of Psychology looked at 15,000 respondents and found that people who had more social interactions with close friends reported being happier--unless they were highly intelligent. People with higher I.Q.s were less content when they spent more time with friends. Psychologists theorize that these folks keep themselves intellectually stimulated without a lot of social interaction, and often have a long-term goal they are pursuing.


For the full story, see:


ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN. "Why Making New Friends Is Harder for Grown-Ups." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 19, 2016): D1 & D4.

(Note: the bracketed year was added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 18, 2016, and has the title "The Science of Making Friends.")


The academic psychology paper mentioned above (with title ellipsis in original), is:

Li, Norman, and Satoshi Kanazawa. "Country Roads, Take Me Home... to My Friends: How Intelligence, Population Density, and Friendship Affect Modern Happiness." British Journal of Psychology (epublished on Feb. 1, 2016) DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12181.






May 19, 2016

Bold, Intelligent, Freedom-Loving Octopus "Inky" Escapes to the Sea



OctopusInkyEyesCaptors2016-05-16.jpgInky eyes captors. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A8) It was an audacious nighttime escape.

After busting through an enclosure, the nimble contortionist appears to have quietly crossed the floor, slithered through a narrow drain hole about six inches in diameter and jumped into the sea. Then he disappeared.

This was no Houdini, but rather a common New Zealand octopus called Inky, about the size of a soccer ball.

The breakout at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, which has captured the imagination of New Zealanders and made headlines around the world, apparently began when Inky slipped through a small gap at the top of his tank.

Octopus tracks suggest he then scampered eight feet across the floor and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that dropped him into Hawke's Bay, on the east coast of North Island, according to reports in New Zealand's news media.


. . .


Alix Harvey, an aquarist at the Marine Biological Association in England, noted that octopuses, members of a class of marine animals including squid and cuttlefish called Cephalopoda, have shown themselves to be adept at escaping through spaces as small as a coin, constrained only by their beaks, the only inflexible part of their bodies.

Ms. Harvey said that octopuses had also been documented opening jars and sneaking through tiny holes on boats, and that they could deflect predators by spraying an ink that lingers in the water and acts as a decoy. Some have been seen hauling coconut shells to build underwater shelters.


. . .


She continued, "They have a complex brain, have excellent eyesight, and research suggests they have an ability to learn and form mental maps."


. . .


Octopuses' intelligence, she said, was partly an evolutionary response to their habitation in complex environments such as coral reefs, in which the animals need to hide from predators and sneak up on their prey.



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "Octopus Escapes From an Aquarium in New Zealand." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 14, 2016): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 13, 2016, and has the title "Inky the Octopus Escapes From a New Zealand Aquarium.")






May 18, 2016

Coastlines Have Always Been Changing Features of Geography



(p. 4) The coastlines might seem like permanent features of geography. But over the past few million years, massive ice sheets expanded and receded, and seas rose and fell by hundreds of feet. Then, around 12,000 years ago, the most recent of many glacial ages ended, and seas eventually rose by 400 feet.

This is roughly where we are today.



For the full commentary, see:

PETER BRANNEN. "OPINION; Lessons From Underwater Miami." The New York Times (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 23, 2016.)






May 17, 2016

Black Conservative Disinvited to Speak at Virginia Tech




Jason Riley, who is quoted below, has published Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.



(p. A13) Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.


. . .


I've lost count of the times I've been approached by conservative students after a lecture to a mostly liberal audience and thanked, almost surreptitiously, for coming to speak. They often offer an explanation for their relative silence during question periods when liberal students and faculty are firing away. "Being too outspoken would just make it more difficult," a Wellesley student once told me. "You get to leave when you're done. We have to live with these people until we graduate."

In April [2016], I spoke at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the college Republicans who invited me took the precaution of clearing my name with liberal student groups "to make sure they wouldn't be upset."

We've reached a point where conservatives must have their campus speakers preapproved by left-wing pressure groups. If progressives aren't already in absolute control of academia, they're pretty close.



For the full commentary, see:


JASON L. RILEY. "I Was Disinvited on Campus; The anti-free speech takeover is so complete that now the fear of stirring a protest can determine what ideas students will hear." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., May 4, 2016): A13.

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

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


The Riley book that I mentioned at the top, is:

Riley, Jason L. Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.







May 16, 2016

Global Warming Is Producing More Pleasant Weather in United States



(p. 9) CHRISTMAS in New York was lovely this year -- especially for those who prefer to spend the day working on their tans. It was the city's warmest ever, with temperatures peaking at 66 degrees.

Record-breaking temperatures are occurring with alarming frequency in the United States, but Americans are reacting with a collective shrug. In a poll taken in January, after the country's warmest December on record, the Pew Research Center found that climate change ranked close to last on a list of the public's policy priorities. Why?

In a paper published on Wednesday [April 20, 2016] in the journal Nature, we provide one possible explanation: For a vast majority of Americans, the weather is simply becoming more pleasant. Over the past four decades, winter temperatures have risen substantially throughout the United States, but summers have not become markedly more uncomfortable.

Of course, people's preferences about weather vary widely. Some want a snowfall every winter, while others would rather wear sandals year-round. So we sought to develop a measure of the average American's weather preferences. To do this, we made use of research by economists who study local population growth in the United States. They have found that Americans have been moving to places with warm winters and cool, less humid summers. We made the inference (not true in every case, but reasonable to assume in general) that Americans prefer such conditions.

Then we evaluated the changes in weather conditions that Americans have experienced over the past four decades (i.e., roughly since climate change emerged as an issue in the public sphere). Climatologists customarily report weather changes averaged over the land surface -- an approach that counts changes in sparse Montana just as heavily as shifts in populous California. But because we were interested in the typical American's exposure to weather, we took a different tack, calculating changes over time on a county-by-county basis, weighted by population.

Our findings are striking: 80 percent of Americans now find themselves living in counties where the weather is more pleasant than it was four decades ago.



For the full commentary, see:

PATRICK J. EGAN and MEGAN MULLIN. "Gray Matter; Global Warming Feels Quite Pleasant." The New York Times (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 21, 2016.)


The Nature article mentioned above, is:

Egan, Patrick J., and Megan Mullin. "Recent Improvement and Projected Worsening of Weather in the United States." Nature 532, no. 7599 (April 21, 2016): 357-60.






May 15, 2016

Amazon Experiments with Brick-and-Mortar



(p. A11) This week, Amazon revealed the location of its second brick-and-mortar bookstore, which will open in a few months in Southern California, at a mall near the University of California, San Diego. The online retailer seems to have big ambitions for its physical stores.

On Wednesday [March 9, 2016], Nick Wingfield, who covers Amazon for The New York Times, visited the only Amazon bookstore in existence, in the University Village mall in Seattle. From inside the store, he had an online chat with Alexandra Alter, who writes about publishing for The Times. They discussed Amazon's strategy and how the retailer's stores differ from other bookstores. Here's what they had to say:

ALEXANDRA ALTER: Hi Nick! You're reporting live from the mother ship! What's it like?

NICK WINGFIELD: The best part is, I just tested the free Wi-Fi and it's 114 Mbps, easily the fastest I've ever gotten. Thank you, Jeff Bezos!

ALEXANDRA: Great, so you can just buy stuff from the Amazon website while you're sitting in the store. Unlike Barnes & Noble, I bet Amazon doesn't mind if people browse in its store then go buy it online.

NICK: Exactly. Here's the deal: At first glance, it looks like an ordinary but nice Barnes & Noble store. It's clean and well-lit and corporate. It doesn't have the charm of a funky used-bookstore. Once you start poking around the shelves, you notice the differences.

ALEXANDRA: How is the selection different? How are the sections organized?

NICK: They have 5,000 to 6,000 book titles, fewer than what you would find at a big Barnes & Noble. All of the books are arranged cover out, rather than spine out, in the belief that it makes browsing more friendly. I am so buying that "Boho Crochet" book.


. . .


ALEXANDRA: . . .

So, some Amazon skeptics have suggested that books are just going to be window-dressing and what Amazon really wants is a place to showcase its digital devices. Is there a prominent area for Amazon devices?

NICK: Electronics, most of them made by Amazon, like Echo and Fire TV, are the nucleus of the store. They're spread out on tables and stands so you can fiddle with them just like you can fiddle with iPads at the Apple Store a short hop from here.

Knowledgeable people tell me that Amazon views its physical stores as an important way to introduce the public to new, unfamiliar devices. Techies might be comfortable buying a device like the Echo online -- a speaker and virtual assistant for the home -- but a lot of people will want to see it in the flesh first. That said, I don't think Amazon stores would have saved the Fire Phone, the Amazon smartphone that belly-flopped. I should also say that books are not necessarily going to be the focus of all of the stores it opens in the future. Amazon intends to experiment.



For the full dialogue, see:

ALEXANDRA ALTER and NICK WINGFIELD. "Amazon, in the Material World." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 12, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: bold and italics in original print version; ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the dialogue has the date MARCH 10, 2016, and has the title "A Trip Through Amazon's First Physical Store.")






May 14, 2016

Arctic Sea Ice Rebuilds "a Significant Amount"



(p. A9) Using new satellite data, researchers at University College London reported in Nature Geoscience on Monday [July 20, 2015] that the total volume of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere was well above average in the autumn of 2013, traditionally the end of the annual melt season, after an unusually cool summer when temperatures dropped to levels not seen since the 1990s.

"We now know it can recover by a significant amount if the melting season is cut short," said the study's lead author Rachel Tilling, a researcher who studies satellite observations of the Arctic. "The sea ice might be a little more resilient than we thought."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Arctic Ice Is Able to Rebuild, Study Says." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 21, 2015): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 20, 2015, and has the title "Sea Ice Might Be More Resilient Than Thought.")









Eight Most Recent Comments:



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' !!



Aaron said:

You need a "like" button. Here's to enjoying bacon and eggs on an unusually warm fall day and doing so guilt free.



Aaron said:

I'd also suggest that work is just part of who some people are and a reason they got rich. A friend's dad comes to mind; he's a millionaire and in his 60s and a couple years ago I saw him cleaning one of his rental houses and wondered why he didn't pay someone to do it, but he's just one of those guys who'd rather work than golf or relax.



Jim Rose said:

It is often forgotten that the Minister for International trade and industry in the late 1960s up until 1971 was Tanaka – the most corrupt man in postwar Japanese politics. He had previously been Minister for Public Works, but to generate the necessary bribe income to pay an entire generation of Japanese politicians to step aside to allow him to become Prime Minister in the early 1970s at a young age, he thought the Ministry of International trade and industry was a better position to garner influence and donations. My professors in Japan worked in the Ministry of International trade and industry and the Ministry of Finance in the 1970s and 1960s. None of them seemed to carry over their picking winners skills into their private portfolios when they retired. see http://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2014/03/14/if-you-are-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich/



Aaron said:

Interested to see how not only did Hamilton gain a vote, but also how Jefferson lost one.



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.





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