November 22, 2017

"The Regulations Are Absurd"



(p. A6) CIUDAD del ESTE, Paraguay--This remote South American country, long known for contraband traffickers and a 35-year dictatorship, is now becoming something else: a manufacturing hub.

Paraguay has attracted scores of foreign factories since 2013, as predominantly Brazilian companies respond to new incentives by flocking to this gritty border city to make everything from toys to motor scooters for export.

Koumei SA, a family-run Brazilian light-fixtures company, is typical. Its owners moved the plant and about 150 jobs here last year, saying they were fed up with Brazil's high taxes and complicated labor rules.

"It's just easier here," said Seijii Abe, who directs the company with his father.


. . .


Brazil ranked 123rd out of 190 in the World Bank's 2017 survey on ease of doing business, right behind Uganda and Egypt. Companies there say they are bedeviled by rules that smother entrepreneurial impetus. They point to labor regulations that make hiring and firing difficult, high energy bills, a legal system that encourages employee lawsuits and taxes of up to 35% on imported goods.

"The regulations are absurd," said João Carlos Komuchena, owner of Kompar SA, a company which makes small plastic bottles used for packing soy sauce and other products that moved to Paraguay from Brazil last year. "We need to wake up in Brazil; there is a lot of prejudice against business."



For the full story, see:

Jeffrey T. Lewis. "Businesses Flee Brazil Rules for Paraguay." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 28, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2017, and has the title "Brazil's Woes Multiply as Manufacturers Move to Paraguay.")






November 21, 2017

The Ship that Held the Antikythera Mechanism Was Greek, Not Roman



(p. A12) A bronze statue's orphaned arm. A corroded disc adorned with a bull. Preserved wooden planks. These are among the latest treasures that date back to the dawn of the Roman Empire, discovered amid the ruins of the Antikythera shipwreck, a sunken bounty off the coast of a tiny island in Greece.


. . .


For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau's documentary "Diving for Roman Plunder," but the team's findings since 2012 -- such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship's equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them -- are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. "It's starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel."



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "A Bronze Arm Points to More Treasure Below." The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2017, and has the title "Bronze Arm Found in Famous Shipwreck Points to More Treasure Below.")






November 20, 2017

Those with Full Bladders Are More Financially Prudent



(p. 12) The "your brain, warts and more warts" genre is well represented by the new book "Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives," by Dean Buonomano, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A.


. . .


. . . researchers have reported that subjects with full bladders exercised more self-control in a completely unrelated realm (financial decisions) than subjects who had been permitted to relieve themselves first -- a finding that earned them this year's Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, awarded annually to unusual or ridiculous-seeming scientific research.



For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. "Think Again." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title "Is the Brain Good at What It Does?")


The book under review, is:

Buonomano, Dean. Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.






November 19, 2017

German Energy Consumers Pay Double Due to Ineffective Solar Subsidies



(p. B1) BETZIGAU, Germany -- Katharina Zinnecker's farm in the foothills of the German Alps has been in the family since 1699. But to squeeze a living from it today, she and her husband need to do more than sell the milk from their herd of cows.

So they carpeted the roofs of their farm buildings with solar panels. And thanks to hefty government guarantees, what they earn from selling electricity is "safe money, not like cows," Ms. Zinnecker said. "Milk prices go up and down."

The farm has been a beneficiary of "Energiewende," the German word for energy transition. Over the past two decades, Germany has focused its political will and treasure on a world-leading effort to wean its powerful economy off the traditional energy sources blamed for climate change.

The benefits of the program have not been universally felt, however. A de facto class system has emerged, saddling a group of have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidize the installation of solar panels and wind turbines elsewhere.


. . .


(p. B2) . . . renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, meaning that Energiewende is a big part of the reason prices for consumers have doubled since 2000.

These big increases "are absolutely not O.K.," said Thomas Engelke, team leader for construction and energy at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, an umbrella organization of consumer groups.

The higher prices have had political consequences.

The far-right party Alternative for Germany, which won enough support in the recent elections to enter Parliament, has called for an "immediate exit" from Energiewende. The party, known by its German initials AfD, sees the program as a "burden" on German households, and many supporters have come into its fold in part because of the program's mounting costs.

Julian Hermneuwöhner is one such voter. Mr. Hermneuwöhner, a 27-year-old computer science student, said his family paid an additional €800 a year because of Energiewende.

"But it hasn't brought lower CO2 emissions," he said. "It's frustrating that we're paying so much more, because the country hasn't gotten anything for it."

As a clean energy pioneer, Germany has not always seen the results it desired from its heavy spending.


. . .


. . . progress has been undone somewhat by the government's decision to accelerate its phase out of nuclear power after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan. That has made the country more reliant on its sizable fleet of coal-fired power stations, which account for the bulk of emissions from electricity generation.

The country has yet to address the transport industry, where emissions have increased as the economy boomed and more cars and trucks hit the road.



For the full story, see:

STANLEY REED. "$222 Billion Shift Hits a Snag." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 7, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Germany's Shift to Green Power Stalls, Despite Huge Investments.")






November 18, 2017

Will the Breakthrough Innovative Founder Always Overshadow His Successor?



JobsSteveAndTimCook2017-10-01.jpg"Ten years after Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, Tim Cook, his successor, opened the latest Apple product launch." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. B2) Mr. Jobs, who died in 2011, loomed over Tuesday's nostalgic presentation. The Apple C.E.O., Tim Cook, paid tribute, his voice cracking with emotion, Mr. Jobs's steeple-fingered image looming as big onstage as Big Brother's face in the classic Macintosh "1984" commercial. Mr. Cook even revived Mr. Jobs's patented "One more thing ..." line, but reverentially: "We have great respect for these words, and we don't use them lightly."


. . .


Mr. Cook is an amiable presenter, but he doesn't pretend to have Mr. Jobs's magnetism.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES PONIEWOZIK. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 13, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 12, 2017, and has the title "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; At the Apple Keynote, Selling Us a Better Vision of Ourselves.")






November 17, 2017

On Private Property, Innovator "Can Try New Ideas Without as Much Red Tape"



(p. B1) SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Molly Jackson, an 82-year-old retired nurse, was sitting in the back seat of a self-driving taxi when the vehicle jerked to a halt at a crossing as its computer vision spotted an approaching golf cart.

When the vehicle, a modified Ford Fusion developed by a start-up named Voyage, started to inch forward, it abruptly stopped again as the golfers pressed ahead and cut in front of the car.

Ms. Jackson seemed unfazed by the bumpy ride. As a longtime resident of the Villages Golf and Country Club, a retirement community in San Jose, Calif., she knew all about aggressive golf cart drivers.

"I like that; we made a good stop there," Ms. Jackson said. "I stop for them. They say we don't have to, but I do."


. . .


The speed limit, just 25 miles an hour, helps reduce the risk if something goes wrong. And because it is private property, the company does not have to share ride information with regulators and it can try new ideas without as much red tape.

(p. B6) Cars that can drive themselves could be a great benefit to older people. Residents at the Villages say that once people stop driving, they often pull back from activities and interacting with friends.



For the full story, see:

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI. "Where Cars Brake for Golf Carts." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 5, 2017): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 4, 2017, and has the title "Where Driverless Cars Brake for Golf Carts.")






November 16, 2017

Can "Radical Transparency" Work "in Today's Polarized and Litigious World"?



(p. B1) In 1993, Ray Dalio, the chairman of what is today the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates, received a memo signed by his top three lieutenants that was startlingly honest in its assessment of him.

It was a performance review of sorts, and not in a good way. After mentioning his positive attributes, they spelled out the negatives. "Ray sometimes says or does things to employees which makes them feel incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, pressed or otherwise bad," the memo read. "If he doesn't manage people well, growth will be stunted and we will all be affected."

To Mr. Dalio, the message was both devastating and a wake-up call. His reaction: "Ugh. That hurt and surprised me."

That moment helped push Mr. Dalio to rethink how he approached people and to begin developing a unique -- and sometimes controversial -- culture inside his firm, one based on a series of "principles" that place the idea of "radical transparency" above virtually all else.


. . .


(p. B5) Of course, the larger question is whether Mr. Dalio's version of utopia -- a place where employees feel comfortable offering blunt and in some cases brutal feedback -- can exist outside Bridgewater's controlled environment of mostly self-selecting individuals who either embrace the philosophy or quickly exit. Given the intense environment, as you might expect, there are horror stories of employees who have left in tears. Turnover among new employees is high.

Mr. Dalio's critics -- and there are many -- say his principles offer permission to be verbally barbaric, and they question whether the $160 billion firm's success is a product of such "radical transparency" or whether he can afford such a wide-ranging social experiment simply because the firm is so financially successful.

In truth, it is hard to imagine how harsh individual critiques in the workplace can work at many other organizations in today's polarized and litigious world, where people are increasingly looking for "safe spaces" and those who say they are offended by a particular argument are derided as "fragile snowflakes."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 5, 2017): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 4, 2017, and has the title, "DEALBOOK; Bridgewater's Ray Dalio Dives Deeper Into the 'Principles' of Tough Love." )


The Dalio book, discussed above, is:

Dalio, Ray. Principles: Life and Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.






November 15, 2017

"There Comes a Time When You Get Tired of Being a Slave"



(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO -- In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a "form of slave labor."

Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island's Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba's most valuable export.

But the doctors get a small cut of that money, and a growing number of them in Brazil have begun to rebel. In the last year, at least 150 Cuban doctors have filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement, demanding to be treated as independent contractors who earn full salaries, not agents of the Cuban state.

"When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to," said Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez, one of the doctors who filed suit. "There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave."


. . .


(p. A10) . . . , Dr. Jiménez, 34, found the work rewarding, but also began to harbor feelings of resentment.

"You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?" she said. "You wind up paying for it your whole life."


. . .


"We keep one another strong," said Dr. Jiménez, who says she has been unemployed since being fired in June and is now barred from re-entering Cuba for eight years.

Dr. Álvarez and her husband were among the lucky ones to keep their jobs and get what amounted to a huge pay raise. They also managed to bring their children to Brazil.

"It's sad to leave your family and friends and your homeland," she said. "But here we're in a country where you're free, where no one asks you where you're going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government."



For the full story, see:

ERNESTO LONDOÑO. "'Slave Labor'": Cuban Doctors Rebel in Brazil." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 29, 2017): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Cuban Doctors Revolt: 'You Get Tired of Being a Slave'.")






November 14, 2017

Washington, D.C. Regulators Protect Citizens from Goat Yoga



GoatYogaInGlendaleCalifornia2017-10-09.jpg"Goat yoga has spread nationwide since last year. Practitioners in Glendale, Calif., in May." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) WASHINGTON--Young goats have on occasion grazed in the Historic Congressional Cemetery, deployed to keep down brush. A yoga instructor has been holding weekly classes in the chapel.

Goats and yoga go together, as any modern yogi knows. So, cemetery staff proposed this spring, why not combine them and bring inner peace to all on the grounds?

"I asked the farmer if there's any harm to the goats doing yoga," says Kelly Carnes, who teaches the discipline on the cemetery grounds. "She said quite the opposite--the baby goats just love to interact with humans."

Gruff was the response from District of Columbia officials. District policy, they decreed, prohibited the human-animal contact goat yoga presented: "At this time the request for the event with the inclusion of baby goats has been denied."


. . .


(p. A12) This spring at the Congressional Cemetery, Ms. Carnes read about goat yoga and raised the idea with participants in her "yoga mortis" classes at the cemetery. They were "crazy to try it," she says.

She spoke with Paul Williams, president of the nonprofit that manages the cemetery, about trying it with the goats they had twice hired over the past several years to eat down unwanted plants.

The cemetery planned to hold goat classes in a pen in a grassy area. In June, Mr. Williams sought permission from the health department.

The "no" came that month. The capital's health code, says Dr. Vito DelVento, manager of the District of Columbia Department of Health's animal-services program, bans animals beyond common household pets from within district limits.


. . .


Then there's Washington's "no touch" policy barring direct contact between humans and animals beyond household pets.

"Baby goats are probably one of the most fun animal species--they are a blast," says Dr. DelVento, who has farm animals outside the District and has raised goats. "But the fact that we have baby goats jumping on people and interacting with people obviously violates our 'no touch' policy."

Mr. Williams says he will try again next year when Mrs. Bowen has a fresh herd of kids. He will seek a no-touch-policy exemption.

"We're really trying to offer a service," says Mrs. Bowen, "that is good for people's mental health and physical health."



For the full story, see:

Daniel Nasaw. "The Kids Are Not Alright: Bureaucrats Buck Goat Yoga." The Wall Street Jounal (Sat., OCT. 2, 2017): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 1, 2017, and has the title "Goat Yoga, Meet the Zoning Board.")






November 13, 2017

Every Dog Should Have His Day, Including Togo



(p. A23) Central Park in New York has two Columbus statues, one a 76-foot-tall whopper at, um, Columbus Circle. The park is a sort of mass market for historical markers -- 29 statues, along with multitudinous plaques, busts, carved panels and memorial groves. Most of them are accompanied by critics. A park official once told me the only noncontroversial statue on the premises was Balto, the hero sled dog.

Balto was famous for bringing critical diphtheria serum to the then almost unreachable town of Nome, Alaska, in the winter in 1925. He was a real celebrity in his time. But I am sorry to tell you that he actually has had detractors.

"It was almost more than I could bear when the 'newspaper dog' Balto received a statue for his 'glorious achievements,'" sniped sled driver Leonhard Seppala, whose team ran the longest stretch of the 674-mile Serum Run. Seppala felt very strongly that his lead dog, Togo, was the true hero of the day.

On your behalf I have been looking into this controversy, and I would say it's possible Togo's cheerleaders had a point.



For the full commentary, see:


Collins, Gail. "Dogs, Saints and Columbus Day." The New York Times (Sat., Oct. 7, 2017): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 6, 2017,)









Eight Most Recent Comments:



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.



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.





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