Most Novels Portray Businessmen as Either Foolish or Evil

(p. 8) The last book that made you furious?
Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” It uses all the tricks of a fire-and-brimstone preacher to sell a message of despair and pessimism based on a really shaky, selective and biased understanding of the science of climate change.

Your favorite antihero or villain?
Harry Potter’s uncle, Vernon Dursley — a much misunderstood man who stands for all the businessmen that novelists have denigrated, while living off the wealth they created. I am being a bit facetious, but I did use to enjoy pointing out to my children that businessmen only ever appear in fiction as foolish or evil or both, when clearly they generally do the world enormous good.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
The prime minister? “The Hockey Stick Illusion,” by Andrew Montford. It’s a great piece of detective work on a key scientific blunder, based around the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, and it forensically dismantles the mistakes that led to people believing they had at last found evidence that current climate change is unprecedented in rate or scale in this millennium. It may yet prove to be so in the future, but it is not so yet.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
Easy. The Bible. Not even the fine translations of William Tyndale, largely adopted by King James’s committee without sufficient acknowledgment, can conceal the grim tedium of this messy compilation of second-rate tribal legends and outrageous bigotry.

For the full interview, see:
SIMON PARKIN. “By the Book: Matt Ridley.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 8.
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date OCT. 15, 2015, and has the title “Matt Ridley: By the Book.” The online version has added questions and answers, that were left out of the published version. The passages quoted above, were in both versions, except for those on recommended presidential reading, which only appeared in the online version.)

Ridley has a courageous and illuminating discussion of environmental issues, in:
Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.

Failed “War on Cancer” Gets Repackaged as “Moonshot”

(p. A15) Last Friday [January 8, 2016] a group of 15 cancer researchers cut short a meeting at the Food and Drug Administration. The reason: They had been invited to Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s office to discuss his “moonshot” to cure cancer.
. . .
The idea that a concerted government push can lead to a “cure” for cancer is nearly a half century old, stretching back to President Nixon’s failed “War on Cancer.” The latest, which President Obama formalized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, has a deeply emotional tinge. Mr. Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer in May, and the vice president’s very public mourning and call for a “national commitment to end cancer as we know it” as he announced his decision not to run for president has moved and captivated Washington.
. . .
Unlike in 1971, when President Nixon launched his cancer war, researchers now understand that cancer is not one disease but essentially hundreds. The very notion of a single cure — or as Mr. Obama put it, making “America the country that cures cancer once and for all” — is misleading and outdated.
“Cancer is way more complex than anyone had imagined in 1970,” said Dr. Jose Baselga, the president of the American Association for Cancer Research and physician in chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
. . .
Commitments by powerful Washington figures to cure cancer seem to come along about every decade.
Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the director of the National Cancer Institute, announced in 2003 that his organization’s goal was to “eliminate suffering and death” caused by cancer by 2015.
During an appropriations hearing, Dr. von Eschenbach got into a public bargaining session with Senator Arlen Specter, then a Republican from Pennsylvania, about how much money Dr. von Eschenbach would need to advance the date of the cure.
“I asked you what it would take to move that date up to 2010,” Mr. Specter asked.
“We have proposed a budget that would support those initiatives that would amount to approximately $600 million a year,” Dr. von Eschenbach answered.
“Six-hundred million a year?” Mr. Specter asked. “And you can move the date from 2015 to 2010?”
“Yes, sir,” Mr. von Eschenbach said.
Mr. Specter died of cancer in 2012.

For the full story, see:
GINA KOLATA and GARDINER HARRIS. “‘Moonshot’ to Cure Cancer, to Be Led by Biden, Relies on Outmoded View of Disease.” The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 14, 2016): A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 13, 2016.)

Europeans Regulate, or Not, Based on Which Label They Arbitrarily Apply to Uber

(p. B8) LUXEMBOURG — Uber asserted on Tuesday [November 28, 2016] that it was helping to bolster Europe’s digital economy as part of its defense in a long-awaited hearing to decide how the popular ride-hailing service should be able to operate across the region.
. . .
At the heart of the European court case — a ruling is not expected until April, at the earliest — is whether Uber should be considered a transportation service or a digital platform, which acts independently to connect third-party drivers with passengers.
If the company is defined as a transportation service, it must comply with national laws that may restrict how Uber grows in Europe.
Yet if the judges rule the company is just an intermediary that connects drivers with passengers, legal experts say, Uber may gain greater freedom to offer more transportation, food delivery and other services to European consumers.

For the full story, see:
MARK SCOTT. “Is Uber a Car Service or a Digital Platform?” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 30, 2016): B8.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 29, 2016, and has the title “Uber, Seeking to Expand, Defends Itself at Europe’s Highest Court.”)

Middle Class Income Increased 5.2 Percent in 2015

(p. B1) Working families finally got a raise.
Early on Tuesday, the Census Bureau provided some long-awaited good news for the beleaguered working class: The income of the typical American household perched on the middle rung of the income ladder increased a hearty 5.2 percent in 2015, the first real increase since 2007, the year before the economy sank into recession.
Households all the way down the income scale made more money last year. The average incomes of the poorest fifth of the population increased 6.6 percent after three consecutive years of decline. And the official poverty rate declined to 13.5 percent from 14.8 percent in 2014, the sharpest decline since the late 1960s.
The numbers are heartening, confirming that the sluggish yet consistent recovery of the American economy has finally begun to lift all boats.

For the full commentary, see:
Porter, Eduardo. “ECONOMIC SCENE; The Bad News Is the Good News Could Be Better.” The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 14, 2016): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date SEPT. 13, 2016, and has the title “ECONOMIC SCENE; America’s Inequality Problem: Real Income Gains Are Brief and Hard to Find.”)

Video Gamers Become “More Optimistic, Creative, Courageous and Determined”

(p. 10) The principles of game design, McGonigal argues, can be used to turn not only leisure into productivity, but also sickness into health. By reframing recuperative tasks such as going for a walk, reconnecting with a friend or writing a short story as gamelike quests, healing can be systematized. Moreover, when you begin to tackle these life quests (McGonigal provides nearly 100 examples) you will, she writes, enter a “gameful” state, becoming more optimistic, creative, courageous and determined. By applying the psychological attributes that games unlock to real-world scenarios, we become like Mario as he guzzles a power-up and transforms into Super Mario.
McGonigal’s promises come thick and early, propped up by the results of two clinical studies. The 30-day program contained in the book will, she writes, “significantly” reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and decrease suffering. It will increase optimism, make you “more satisfied” and even lead, incredibly, to a life “free of regret.” McGonigal claims that every day for more than five years she has heard from someone telling her that the program changed his or her life.

For the full review, see:
SIMON PARKIN. “Taking Games Seriously.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., OCT. 12, 2015): 10.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 12 [sic], 2015, and has the title “‘SuperBetter’ and ‘The State of Play’.”)

The book under review, is:
McGonigal, Jane. Superbetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient–Powered by the Science of Games. New York: Penguin Press, 2015.

Vacuum Tubes May Be Revived

(p. B1) PASADENA, Calif. — The future of computing may be in its past.
The silicon transistor, the tiny switch that is the building block of modern microelectronics, replaced the vacuum tube in many consumer products in the 1970s. Now as shrinking transistors to even more Lilliputian dimensions is becoming vastly more challenging, the vacuum tube may be on the verge of a comeback.
. . .
The Achilles’ heel of today’s transistors is the smaller they get, the more they leak electrons. In modern computer chips, as much as half of the power consumed is lost to electrons leaking from transistors that are only dozens of atoms wide. Those electrons waste energy and generate heat.
In contrast, Dr. Scherer’s miniature vacuum tube switches perform a jujitsu move by using the same mechanism that causes leakage in transistors — known by physicists as quantum tunneling — to switch on and off the flow of electrons without leakage. As a result, he believes that modern vacuum tube circuits have the potential to use less power and work faster than today’s transistor-based chips.
. . .
Vacuum tubes are one of a range of ideas that engineers are looking at as they work to create chips that can do more while using less power. Other promising approaches include exotic materials such as carbon nanotubes and even microscopic mechanical switches that can be opened and closed just like an electronic gate.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “Grandma’s Radio Helps Computer Chips Shrink.” The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 6, 2016): B1 & B3.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date JUNE 5, 2016, and has the title “Smaller Chips May Depend on Vacuum Tube Technology.”)

Chinese Government Executes Farmer Who Killed Official for Destroying His House

(p. A9) . . . when Mr. Zhou heard last week that the Chinese government had executed the farmer, Jia Jinglong, he was furious. He saw it as a sign that the ruling Communist Party was imposing harsh punishments on the most vulnerable members of society while coddling the well-connected elite.
“The legal system isn’t fair,” Mr. Zhou, 57, said, adding that local officials had “turned against the common people.”
President Xi Jinping has made restoring confidence in Chinese courts a centerpiece of his rule, vowing to promote “social justice and equality” in a legal system long plagued by favoritism and abuse.
. . .
But the furor over the execution of Mr. Jia, who had sought revenge on officials for demolishing his home, has raised doubts about Mr. Xi’s efforts, with people across the country publicly assailing inequities in the justice system and asking why high-level officials often escape the death penalty.
“The perception is that the people are powerless and vulnerable against corrupt officials,” said Fu Hualing, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. “What is surprising is that Xi Jinping has been in power for four years, and that narrative has not changed.”

For the full story, see:
JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ. “Villager’s Execution in China Ignites an Uproar Over Inequality of Justice.” The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 21, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 20, 2016, and has the title “Villager’s Execution in China Ignites Uproar Over Inequality of Justice.”)