January 23, 2018

Britain's Peaceful Ceding of Global Dominance Was a "Shining Exception"



(p. A13) At Harvard, the scholar Graham Allison, with a research team, has studied the historical precedents for power transitions, and his findings are not encouraging. In almost every case, he discovered, conflict was the result. The perennial danger, he explained in "Destined for War," published earlier this year, is that the weakening greater power will force a confrontation with its growing rival in order to stem its own decline, as Athens did with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The results can be disastrous, as they were for Athens.

The shining exception to the pattern is the peaceful shift in global dominance between 1870 and 1945. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, tackles this subject in "Safe Passage: The Transition From British to American Hegemony," a remarkable and timely chronicle--living history of the best sort.


. . .


In the 1840s, the two powers clashed over the Oregon Territory. Britain, though stronger militarily, accepted a compromise that endures to this day in the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel. Then, during the Civil War, London resisted the temptation to halt the rise of a competitor-power by supporting the Confederacy--say, by breaking the Union blockade. Britain's reasoning, in this case, rested on the self-interested desire to maintain the integrity of the blockade weapon for its own use and, in part, on a growing abhorrence of slavery.

As a result of such decisions, a peaceful transition--a "safe passage"--became possible. Its core logic, in Ms. Schake's view, was a mutuality of ideological and geopolitical interests, a realistic grasp of shifting military and economic power, and a kind of political cross-pollination: The United States, to paraphrase Ms. Schake's formulation, became more imperial as Britain became more democratic.



For the full review, see:

Brendan Simms. "BOOKSHELF; Make Way for the New Boss; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?" The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The 'Safe Passage' From British to American Hegemony; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?")


The book under review, is:

Schake, Kori. Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.






January 22, 2018

Is a Michelin Star the Best Metric of Good Food?



(p. A4) MONTCEAU-LES-MINES, France -- It is like giving up your Nobel, rejecting your Oscar, pushing back on your Pulitzer: Jérôme Brochot, a renowned and refined chef, decided to turn in his Michelin star.

He is renouncing the uniquely French distinction that separates his restaurant from thousands of others, the lifetime dream of hundreds. But Mr. Brochot's decision was not a rash one, born of arrogance, ingratitude or spite. Rather, it was for a prosaic, but still important, reason: he could no longer afford it.


. . .


Even in a region famed for its culinary traditions, this declining old mining town deep in lower Burgundy could not sustain a one-star Michelin restaurant. Mr. Brochot, a youthful-looking 46, had gambled on high-end cuisine in a working-class town and lost.


. . .


Already Mr. Brochot's strategy appears to be working. He has cut his prices and is offering a more down-to-earth cuisine of stews, including the classic blanquette de veau, and serving cod instead of the more expensive sea bass.

It had depressed him deeply, he said, to have to throw away costly bass and turbot, like gold even in France's street markets, at the end of every sitting because his customers couldn't afford it. "There was a lot of waste," he said.

"Since we changed the formula, we've gotten a lot more people," Mr. Brochot said. Above all, the effect has been psychological. "In the heads of people, a one-star, it's the price," he said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, most of the tables had diners, including Didier Mathus, the longtime former mayor, a Socialist.


. . .


"Maybe the star scared people," Mr. Mathus said. "I understand. He's saying, 'Don't be scared to come here.' Here, it's simple people, with modest incomes."



For the full story, see:

ADAM NOSSITER. "Rejected Honor Reflects Hardships of 'the Other France'." The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title "Chef Gives Up a Star, Reflecting Hardship of 'the Other France'.")






January 21, 2018

"New Jerseyans Are More Flammable than People in the Other 49 States"



(p. A17) At 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, New Jersey became the last state in the nation where drivers are not allowed to pump their own gasoline around the clock.


. . .


It is a distinction that makes Declan J. O'Scanlon Jr., a state lawmaker, spout frustration by the gallon.

"It's ridiculous," said Mr. O'Scanlon, a Republican assemblyman from Monmouth County who will soon take a seat in the State Senate. "If I want to pull in, get in and out quickly, I should be able to do so."

Mr. O'Scanlon said that he frequently pumps his own gas, ignoring the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act of 1949, the statute that first forbade civilians from putting their grubby hands on the nozzle.


. . .


New Jersey legislators cited safety concerns when they passed the original law that barred residents from pumping gas almost 70 years ago. But when gas station owners challenged the ban in 1951, the state's Supreme Court ruled that self-serve was indeed "dangerous in use." And the ban held up, despite attempts to fight it in the 1980s.

In the rest of the country, self-service stations became the norm. Safer unleaded gasoline became more common, thanks to federal regulations, as did pumps that accepted credit cards. In most of the United States, that spelled the end of an era when attendants offered to wipe your windshield and check your oil while the tank filled up and you fumbled for a tip.

Mr. O'Scanlon is undeterred by the dual weights of history and public opinion. He said that he may bring a new proposal this year, just to keep the conversation alive. He said that economic arguments about jobs and safety are absurd, given that drivers in other states have been pumping their own gas for decades and lived to tell the tale.

"The only thing you could argue is that New Jerseyans are more flammable than people in the other 49 states," he said. "Because we eat so much oily pizza, funnel cake and fries, maybe you could make that argument. Otherwise, it's simply ridiculous."



For the full story, see:

JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH. "New Jersey Is Last State to Insist at Gas Stations: Don't Touch That Pump." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018.)






January 20, 2018

Health Info from Apple Watches Will Allow Patients to "Take More Control"



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- In the last months of Steve Jobs's life, the Apple co-founder fought cancer while managing diabetes.

Because he hated pricking his finger to draw blood, Mr. Jobs authorized an Apple research team to develop a noninvasive glucose reader with technology that could potentially be incorporated into a wristwatch, according to people familiar with the events, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.


. . .


In September [2017], Apple announced that the Apple Watch would no longer need to be tethered to a smartphone and would become more of a stand-alone device. Since then, a wave of device manufacturers have tapped into the watch's new features like cellular connectivity to develop medical accessories -- such as an electrocardiogram for monitoring heart activity -- so people can manage chronic conditions straight from their wrist.


. . .


(p. B4) A digital health revolution has been predicted for years, of course, and so far has been more hype than progress. But the hope is that artificial intelligence systems will sift through the vast amounts of data that medical accessories will collect from the Apple Watch and find patterns that can lead to changes in treatment and detection, enabling people to take more control of how they manage their conditions instead of relying solely on doctors.

Vic Gundotra, chief executive of AliveCor, a start-up that makes portable electrocardiograms, said this would put patients on a more equal footing with doctors because they would have more information on their own conditions.

"It's changing the nature of the relationship between patient and doctor," he said, adding that doctors will no longer be "high priests."


. . .


Apple is also looking at potentially building an electrocardiogram into future models of the Apple Watch, according to a person familiar with the project, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were confidential. It is unclear whether the EKG development, earlier reported by Bloomberg, would be introduced; such a product would most likely require F.D.A. clearance.

Separately, Apple is continuing research on a noninvasive continuous glucose reader, according to two people with knowledge of the project. The technology is still considered to be years away, industry experts said.

The current solution used by many diabetics is also coming to the Apple Watch. Dexcom, a maker of devices measuring blood sugar levels for diabetics, said it was awaiting F.D.A. approval for a continuous glucose monitor to work directly with the Apple Watch. Continuous glucose monitors use small sensors to pierce the skin to track blood sugar levels and relay those readings through a wireless transmitter.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "As Wearable Devices Evolve, The Apple Watch Offers an EKG." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Freed From the iPhone, the Apple Watch Finds a Medical Purpose.")






January 19, 2018

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"



(p. 18) Run through anyone's list of "disruptive" innovations in the works today and they begin to seem like small-time stuff as we contemplate "Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World." Driverless cars, virtual reality, robots--these are interesting possibilities. But slaughter-free flesh for humanity, meat without misery, dinner without death: Now we're talking "transformational."

Who would not wish--all the more so if it meant giving up nothing--to make the abattoirs of the world fall silent? Suppose, as Paul Shapiro asks us to imagine, that after 10,000 or so years of raising other creatures for the killing, and some 60 years of raising them in the pitiless conditions of factory farms, we produced meat and other animal products from cultured cells, with no further need of the animals themselves, or at least no need that required their suffering.


. . .


To assume that the entrepreneurs and scientists described in "Clean Meat" cannot one day match precisely the beef, pork, chicken, duck and all the rest that carnivores demand is a bet against human ingenuity. Consider how close plant-based alternatives to meat, milk and eggs have come already. Not for nothing has Tyson Foods acquired a 5% stake in the startup Beyond Meat, through a venture fund focused, as Tyson announced, on "breakthrough technologies," including clean meat.

"Eat Meat, Not Animals"--a slogan of the future, Mr. Shapiro hopes.



For the full review, see:

Matthew Scully. "Making Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018): 18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 5, 2018, and has the title "Review: 'Clean Meat' Could Make Livestock Obsolete; Manufacturing meat without raising animals will soon shift from fantasy to reality. Early investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Cargill Inc.--already the world's largest supplier of ground beef.")


The book under review, is:

Shapiro, Paul. Clean Meat: How Growing Meat without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.






January 18, 2018

"Reject the Dark Side: Free the Net!"



(p. C5) HEALY Matt, what's a culture/politics tidbit most people don't know?

FLEGENHEIMER Washington's most prolific consumer of pop culture is very likely ... Ted Cruz. Amateur "S.N.L." historian, '80s movie buff and instigator of a Twitter feud with Mark Hamill over net neutrality. He explained the meaning of "Star Wars" to Luke Skywalker. It was very Cruz: @HammillHimself Luke, I know Hollywood can be confusing, but it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet. That's why giant corps (Google, Facebook, Netflix) supported the FCC power grab of net neutrality. Reject the dark side: Free the net! Ted Cruz 12:25 PM - Dec 17, 2017

ROGERS '80s movie buff?

FLEGENHEIMER "The Princess Bride"! Life on the campaign trail with Ted Cruz was basically months of "Princess Bride" imitations with an occasional discussion of Obamacare.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT FLEGENHEIMER and KATIE ROGERS. "'S.N.L.' Kimmel. Covfefe." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): C1 & C5.

(Note: ellipsis, bold and caps, in original.).

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "Kimmel, Covfefe, 'Wonder Woman': Washington on Pop Culture in 2017." The commentary/discussion is credited to Flegenheimer and Rogers, but Patrick Healy also participated. There are a few minor differences in how the print and online versions present the Cruz tweet. The quote above, follows the print version.)






January 17, 2018

Why People Have Trouble Taking Global Warming Seriously



(p. A15) It was only getting worse here and all across the Northeast in the wake of a "bomb cyclone" that turned Boston streets into an Arctic sea and left three-foot snowdrifts across New England. Weather forecasters were predicting temperature lows that could shatter century-old records in Worcester, Mass., Hartford and elsewhere.

Millions of people from Florida to Maine were left shivering as schools closed and flights were canceled this week. Officials said that seven deaths appeared to be tied to the weather.

Windows splintered. Car batteries died. Along the Maine coastline, the flooding left icebergs in people's yards. Ice fishermen had to keep their smelt bait close to them for fear it would freeze solid. Even snowmobiles coughed and sputtered and refused to start.

Across this American tundra, people called their heating-oil companies for emergency supplies and sat stranded on the sides of roads as tow-truck companies reported five-hour wait times to jump-start a dead battery or tow away a snowbound car. People slept in winter coats and debated whether wool, cotton or silk made for the best long underwear.



For the full story, see:

JESS BIDGOOD, KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JACK HEALY. "The Big Payoff At the Summit: Frozen Misery." The New York Times (Sat., January 6, 2018): A1 & A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title "An Eyelash-Freezing 'Icy Hell': The One Spot That Could Feel Like Minus 100.")






January 16, 2018

Badly Understood Starfish Causes Half of Great Barrier Reef Decline



(p. A9) BYRON BAY, Australia -- The Great Barrier Reef is literally being eaten alive.


. . .


One study found that between 1985 and 2012, the reef lost an average of 50 percent of its coral cover. Starfish predation was responsible for almost half that decline, along with tropical cyclones and bleaching.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown. One hypothesis is that currents are bringing nutrient-rich water from the deep sea up into the shelf, which correlates with starfish larvae growth.


. . .


Coral reefs are constantly undergoing change, and they follow a cycle of death and renewal, said Hugh Sweatman, a scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.



For the full story, see:

ISABELLA KWAI. "A Voracious Starfish Is Destroying the Great Barrier Reef." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018.)


The academic study mentioned above, is:

De'ath, Glenn, Katharina E. Fabricius, Hugh Sweatman, and Marji Puotinen. "The 27-Year Decline of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef and Its Causes." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109, no. 44 (Oct. 30, 2012): 17995-99.






January 15, 2018

Revival of the Resilient Brer Rabbit



(p. C23) When Robert Weil, the editor in chief and publishing director of Liveright, approached Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar with the idea of putting together "The Annotated African American Folktales," the two Harvard professors responded with a mix of excitement and trepidation.


. . .


"The Annotated African American Folktales," which came out in November [2017], contains more than 100 African and African-American folk tales as well as introductory essays and commentary to provide historical context. It draws from the rich, undersung work of folklorists from West Africa to the Deep South.


. . .


Professors Gates and Tatar . . . tackle controversial parts of folklore history, dedicating a chapter to the work of Joel Chandler Harris.


. . .


The decision to include Harris's work in this collection produced lively discussions between Mr. Gates and Ms. Tatar. "I felt uncomfortable with it," Ms. Tatar said. But Mr. Gates disagreed. The exchange proved to be a key moment of collaboration.

"In my house, growing up in Piedmont, West Virginia, we collected Mother Goose and Joel Chandler Harris," he said. "My father used to tell Brer Rabbit stories to my brother and me all the time."


. . .


In the late 19th century and early 20th century, African-Americans debated whether these folk tales were worth preserving. Some people considered the stories remnants of slavery rather than evidence of ingenuity.

The novelist Toni Morrison, however, has played an important role in validating these stories by integrating them into her writing, Ms. Tatar said.

While Ms. Morrison's novels contain traces of innovative uses of folklore, "Tar Baby" is the most obvious and the one Mr. Gates was particularly eager to include in this collection. Not only is it one of his favorite stories but he also finds the appearance of the tar baby in many cultures "haunting." The original folk tale is the story of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit. Angry that Brer Rabbit is always stealing from his garden, Brer Fox makes a tar baby. Brer Rabbit comes across the figure and tries to start a conversation. He grows frustrated by the lack of response and hits the tar baby, only to find his paw stuck in what is a doll made of tar and turpentine.


. . .


Folk tales give us "ancestral wisdom," they teach children lessons about compassion, forgiveness and respect, said Ms. Tatar. They take us "back to the people who lived before us." They help us "navigate the future."

Mr. Gates couldn't agree more. He has dedicated this labor of love to his 3-year-old granddaughter. He wants the book to be not just for her and black children of her generation, but for all American children.



For the full commentary, see:

LOVIA GYARKYE. "Folklore Reclaimed From History's Dustbin." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 15, 2017): C23.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 14, 2017, and has the title "From Two Scholars, African-American Folk Tales for the Next Generation.")


The book by Gates and Tatar, is:

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Maria ‎Tatar, eds. The Annotated African American Folktales. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2017.


The book by Joel Chandler Harris, is:

Harris, Joel Chandler. Uncle Remus. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895.






January 14, 2018

Tax Overhaul "Armageddon"



(p. A19) To travel the liberal byways of social media over recent weeks was to learn that Donald Trump was on the precipice of axing Robert Mueller and was likely to use the days just before Christmas, when we were distracted by eggnog and mistletoe, to lower the blade.

Christmas has come. Christmas has gone. Mueller has not.

To listen to Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, the tax overhaul that Trump just signed into law is no mere plutocratic folly. It's "Armageddon" (Pelosi's actual word). Their opposition is righteous, but how will millions of voters who notice smaller withholdings from their paychecks and more money in their pockets square that seemingly good fortune with such prophecies of doom on a biblical scale?

Some of these Americans may decide that the prophets aren't to be trusted -- and that the president isn't quite the pestilence they make him out to be.



For the full commentary, see:

Bruni, Frank. "The Dangers Of Trump Delirium." The New York Times (Weds., December 27, 2017): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 26, 2017, and has the title "The End of Trump and the End of Days.")









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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