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.")

October 4, 2015

New Evidence Says Scientists Must "Start from Scratch" on Computer Weather Models

PlutoArmosphere2015-08-16.jpg"An image of Pluto's atmosphere, backlit by the sun, captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it zipped past the planet." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Confounding expectations, Pluto's atmosphere has actually thickened over the last 26 years, and many planetary scientists changed their minds. Maybe the atmosphere would persist throughout Pluto's 248-year orbit, they speculated.

Now the story appears to be changing again. New Horizons obtained a snapshot of the structure of the atmosphere by looking at distortions in radio signals sent from Earth passing through Pluto's atmosphere.

What the new measurement "seems to have detected is a potential for the first stages of that collapse just as New Horizons arrived," Dr. Stern said. "It would be an amazing coincidence, but there are some on our team who would say, 'I told you so.' "

Even if the atmosphere is collapsing, though, the view from the night side of Pluto is, at present, spectacularly hazy. A photograph showing a silhouette of Pluto surrounded by a ring of sunlight "almost brought tears" to the atmospheric scientists, Dr. Summers said, showing sunlight scattered by small particles of haze up to 100 miles above the surface.

"This is our first peek at weather in Pluto's atmosphere," he said.

Computer models had suggested that the haze would float within 20 miles of the surface, where temperatures are about minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, the haze particles formed higher, 30 to 50 miles up, where temperatures are balmier, around minus 270.

"We're having to start from scratch to understand what we thought we knew about the atmosphere," Dr. Summers said.

For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Pluto's Atmosphere Is Thinner Than Expected, but Still Looks Hazy." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 25, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 24, 2015.)

October 3, 2015

Recent Job Losses from City Minimum Wage Hikes

(p. A13) The city councils in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles have already voted to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years. For large employers in Seattle, the first increase to $11 from $9.47 took effect in April. In San Francisco a hike to $12.25 from $10.74 began in May. Los Angeles rolled out a minimum wage for hotel workers of $15.37 in July.

It's still early to know how the hikes are affecting the job market, but the preliminary data aren't good. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute, Adam Ozimek of Moody's Analytics and Stephen Bronars of Edgewood Economics reported last month that the restaurant and hotel industries have lost jobs in all three cities. Mr. Bronars crunched the numbers and discovered that the "first wave of minimum wage increases appears to have led to the loss of over 1,100 food service jobs in the Seattle metro division and over 2,500 restaurant jobs in the San Francisco metro division." That is a conservative estimate, he notes, as the data include areas outside city limits, where the minimum wage didn't increase.

This comes as no surprise. In 2014 the Congressional Budget Office found that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would result in employment falling by 500,000 jobs nationally. By the way, less than 20% of the earning benefits would flow to people living below the poverty line, as University of California-Irvine economist David Neumark has pointed out.

For the full commentary, see:

ANDY PUZDER. "A Post-Labor Day, Minimum-Wage Hangover; The evidence is already coming in: Mandatory increases in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have cost thousands of jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 8, 2015): A13.

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

October 2, 2015

Experts Are Paid "to Sound Cocksure" Even When They Do Not Know

(p. B1) I think Philip Tetlock's "Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction," co-written with the journalist Dan Gardner, is the most important book on decision making since Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow." (I helped write and edit the Kahneman book but receive no royalties from it.) Prof. Kahneman agrees. "It's a manual to systematic thinking in the real world," he told me. "This book shows that under the right conditions regular people are capable of improving their judgment enough to beat the professionals at their own game."

The book is so powerful because Prof. Tetlock, a psychologist and professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, has a remarkable trove of data. He has just concluded the first stage of what he calls the Good Judgment Project, which pitted some 20,000 amateur forecasters against some of the most knowledgeable experts in the world.

The amateurs won--hands down.

. . .

(p. B7) The most careful, curious, open-minded, persistent and self-critical--as measured by a battery of psychological tests--did the best.

. . .

Most experts--like most people--"are too quick to make up their minds and too slow to change them," he says. And experts are paid not just to be right, but to sound right: cocksure even when the evidence is sparse or ambiguous.

For the full review, see:

JASON ZWEIG. "The Trick to Making Better Forecasts." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 26, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 25, 2015.)

The book under review, is:

Tetlock, Philip E., and Dan Gardner. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. New York: Crown, 2015.

October 1, 2015

Evidence Minimum Wage Causes Job Loss

(p. A1) Some economists have reported that there is no longer any evidence that raising wages will cost jobs.

Unfortunately, that last claim is inaccurate. There are in fact many studies on each side of the issue. David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve have done their own studies and point to dozens of others showing significant job losses.

Recently, Michael Wither and Jeffrey Clemens of the University of California, San Diego looked at data from the 2007 federal minimum-wage hike and found that it reduced the national employment-to-population ratio by 0.7 percentage points (which is actually a lot), and led to a six percentage point decrease in the likelihood that a low-wage worker would have a job.

Because low-wage workers get less work experience under a higher minimum-wage regime, they are less likely to transition to higher-wage jobs down the road. Wither and Clemens found that two years later, workers' chances of making $1,500 a month was reduced by five percentage points.

Many economists have pointed out that as a poverty-fighting measure the minimum wage is horribly targeted. A 2010 study by Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser found that only 11.3 percent of workers who would benefit from raising the wage to $9.50 an hour would come from poor households. An earlier study by Sabia found that single mothers' employment dropped 6 percent for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage.

A study by Thomas MaCurdy of Stanford built on the fact that there are as many individuals in high-income families making the minimum wage (teenagers) as in low-income families. MaCurdy found that the costs of raising the wage are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Minimum-wage workers often work at places that disproportionately serve people down the income scale. So raising the minimum wage is like a regressive consumption tax paid for by the poor to subsidize the wages of workers who are often middle class.

For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "Minimum Wage Muddle." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 24, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "The Minimum-Wage Muddle.")

September 30, 2015

"Stunned" Geophysicists Are Headed "Back to the Drawing Board"

(p. A3) Bringing the blur of a distant world into sharp focus, NASA unveiled its first intimate images of Pluto on Wednesday [July 15, 2015], revealing with startling clarity an eerie realm where frozen water rises in mountains up to 11,000 feet high.

. . .

At a briefing held Wednesday [July 15, 2015] at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., mission scientists said they were stunned by what the images reveal.

"It is going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board," said Alan Stern, the New Horizons project's principal investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Across 3 Billion Miles of Space, NASA Probe Sends Close-Ups of Pluto's Icy Mountains." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A3.

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

(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 15, 2015, has the title "NASA Releases Close-Up Pictures of Pluto and Its Largest Moon, Charon," and has some different wording than the print version. The quote above follows the online version.)

September 29, 2015

Smart and Energetic Young Adults in France Find Opportunity in England, Australia or the U.S.

(p. A6) The income gap between generations is even more severe in France than in the United States, said Louis Chauvel, a French sociologist who has also worked in America on income inequality and other issues. On top of that, Mr. Chauvel added, the United States economy has been rebounding, while unemployment in France has been rising since 2008 and has hovered around 10 percent for the last two years.

"In the U.S., the young 25-year-olds have lots of opportunities," he said. "It's generally much better to be relatively young in the United States than to be aging.

"In France, we face a completely different trend: We have more and more educated young French citizens, and they face economic scarcity, even though they have more education than their parents."

Young adults in France see their taxes going to finance social benefits for retirees that they believe they will never receive, Mr. Chauvel added. The most energetic and smartest among them do find jobs, he said, but often they can do it only by leaving France for Britain, Australia or the United States.

For the full story, see:

ALISSA J. RUBIN and AURELIEN BREEDEN. "'Song for French Charity Strikes Discordant Note." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 4, 2015): A6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 3, 2015, and has the title "'Toute La Vie,' Song for French Charity, Strikes Discordant Note.")

September 28, 2015

Autism Is "Inseparably Tied to Innovation"

(p. 11) "NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.

For the full review, see:

JENNIFER SENIOR. "'Skewed Diagnosis; A Science Journalist's Reading of Medical History Suggests that the 'Autism Pandemic' Is an Optical Illusion." The New York Time Book Review (Sun., AUG. 23, 2015): 11.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 17, 2015, and has the title "'NeuroTribes,' by Steve Silberman.")

The book under review, is:

Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin Random House, 2015.

September 27, 2015

Disneyland Started as a "Nightmare" and "Fiasco"

(p. C12) Sixty years ago, on July 18, 1955, the "Happiest Place on Earth," better known as Disneyland, opened to the public. But on that day, the former orange grove in Anaheim, Calif., was one of the most miserable places in America. A heat wave caused the park's new asphalt to stick to people's shoes. A gas leak forced parts of the site to close, a plumbers strike led to a water shortage, and lax security resulted in dangerous overcrowding.

Reviewing the $17.5 million theme park, a journalist wrote in a local newspaper, "Walt's dream is a nightmare...a fiasco the like of which I cannot recall in 30 years of show life."

Undeterred, Walt Disney added ever more attractions and innovations, transforming mass leisure from its violent origins in the ancient world to today's amusement-park industry, with $12 billion of annual revenue in the U.S.

For the full commentary, see:

AMANDA FOREMAN. "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 18, 2014): C12.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2015, an has the title "HISTORICALLY SPEAKING; From Gladiators to Mickey Mouse: Disneyland Turns 60.")

Eight Most Recent Comments:

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.

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.



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