“The Establishment Drew Its Knives” Against Lister’s Handwashing

(p. C5) Lindsey Fitzharris’s slim, atmospheric “The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine” has its share of resplendent gore. . . . The book is an imperfect first effort, stronger at the beginning than at the end, and a bit workaday when it isn’t freaky — it floats less on narrative momentum than on an armada of curious details. But the story it tells is one of abiding fascination, in part because it involves a paradigm shift so basic, so seemingly obvious, that one can scarcely believe the paradigm needed shifting in the first place.
. . .
The real drama in Lister’s story comes from the resistance he faced to his theories. After he published the last article in a five-part series in the medical journal The Lancet, carefully outlining his system for killing “septic germs,” the establishment drew its knives. The inventor of chloroform wrote under a pseudonym to complain that Lister was taking credit for having discovered the miracles of carbolic acid. (He wasn’t.) Others accused him of fearmongering, dismissing Pasteur’s germ theory as pure hooey. The editor of The Lancet himself refused to use the word “germ.”
“It was difficult for many surgeons at the height of their careers,” Fitzharris writes, “to face the fact that for the past 15 or 20 years they might have been inadvertently killing patients by allowing wounds to become infected with tiny, invisible creatures.”
. . .
There were, after all, others — most famously the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847, he hypothesized that puerperal fever was spread by doctors carrying “cadaverous particles” from the deadhouse to the obstetrics ward at Vienna’s General Hospital. When he set up a basin filled with chlorinated water and enjoined his colleagues to do something radical after autopsies — wash their hands — mortality rates plummeted.
The establishment still rejected Semmelweis’s hypothesis when he published it. Over the years, Fitzharris writes, his behavior grew increasingly erratic. He was eventually committed to an asylum.
Lister, meanwhile, lived to a ripe old age and got a mouthwash named after him. Timing, personality and geopolitics always help determine who earns the garlands for innovation. But it’s sad to think that Semmelweis never lived to see the vindication of his theory. He died in that asylum, possibly from an infection, believing that his contribution had been bleached from the record.

For the full review, see:
JENNIFER SENIOR . “Books of The Times; Wash Up, Doc: How Hospitals Became Clean.” The New York Times (Thursday, November 30, 2017): C5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 29, 2017, and has the title “Books of The Times; The Story of How Surgeons Cleaned Up Their Act.”)

The book under review, is:
Fitzharris, Lindsey. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Kodak Using Blockchain to Manage Digital Photo Property Rights

(p. B1) Shares of Eastman Kodak more than doubled after the company waded into the digital-currency world with plans to launch an initial coin offering.
Kodak on Tuesday [January 9, 2018] said the coin, KodakCoin, would be the backbone of a new platform that will help photographers license their work and track the unlicensed use of their images. The coin uses the technology behind bitcoin, called blockchain, to keep a digital ledger of the photographs.
. . .
“For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem,” said Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke in a statement.
For the past several years, people have been experimenting with ways to use blockchain. At its essence, blockchain is an open record of transactions, maintained in an online ledger that is distributed across a network of computers, that cannot be tampered with. That makes it like an indelible time stamp, which could be useful in a case of copyright and digital-rights management.

For the full story, see:

Erik Holm and Paul Vigna. “Kodak Snaps Is Crypto-Moment.”The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan 10, 2018): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan 9, 2018, and has the title “Kodak Catches Crypto Fever.” The online version has two additional paragraphs between the last two paragraphs quoted above.)

“Without Amazon, We Wouldn’t Be Here”

(p. B1) KANATA, Ontario — Truth be told, the headquarters of Instant Pot don’t look much like a church.
But inside this sterile, gray office building on the outskirts of Ottawa, behind a door marked only by a small metal sign, a new religion has been born.
Its deity is the Instant Pot, a line of electric multicookers that has become an internet phenomenon and inspired a legion of passionate foodies and home cooks. These devotees — they call themselves “Potheads” — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.
. . .
(p. B5) I went to Kanata to get a peek behind the scenes of the Instant Pot phenomenon and meet its creator: Robert Wang, who invented the device and serves as chief executive of Double Insight, its parent company. What I found was a remarkable example of a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth. It is also a testament to the enormous power of Amazon, and its ability to turn small businesses into major empires nearly overnight.
. . .
In 2010, after several months of sluggish sales in and around Ontario, Mr. Wang listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat.
Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.
. . .
Mr. Wang credits the device’s technological advances — most notably, a group of sensors that keep the cooker from overheating or exploding under pressure.
Instant Pot’s internet fandom also gives it a leg up. The food bloggers behind popular recipe sites like Nom Nom Paleo were early converts to electric pressure-cooking, and cookbook authors took note of the device’s cult appeal. Mr. Wang says that more than 1,500 Instant Pot cookbooks have been written, including several of Amazon’s current best-sellers.
Amazon has played a particularly large role in Instant Pot’s rise. Early on, Instant Pot joined the “Fulfillment by Amazon” program, in which Amazon handles the packing and shipping of a seller’s products in exchange for a cut of each item sold. Eventually, Instant Pot sent Amazon wholesale shipments directly from factories in China, and Amazon began promoting the machines in its major annual sales. At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.
“Without Amazon, we wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Wang said.

For the full story, see:
KEVIN ROOSE. “The Shift; Instant Pot’s Inner Sanctum.” The New York Times (Mon., December 18, 2017): B1 & B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 17, 2017, and has the title “The Shift; Inside the Home of Instant Pot, the Kitchen Gadget That Spawned a Religion.”)

Trying to Explain Low AI Productivity Gains as Due to Slow Adapting and Old Habits

(p. A2) In a recent paper Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chad Syverson of the University of Chicago note electric motors based on alternating current were introduced in the late 1800s but even by 1919 half of U.S. factories still weren’t electrified. The integrated circuit was commercialized in the 1960s yet 25 years later computers still represented just 5% of the value of all business equipment. Indeed, since the introduction of computers labor productivity has behaved much as it did after the introduction of electric motors and the internal combustion engine.
The authors blame these lags on the cost and time it takes for businesses to adapt to new technologies, obstacles they see at work today. Online shopping came along in the 1990s but retailers struggled to adapt business processes to the internet. They needed to build complementary infrastructure such as fulfillment centers, and, the authors note, customers had to adapt their habits, as well.
. . .
. . . perhaps the U.S. is at a point when technology and an economy growing solidly with low unemployment become mutually reinforcing. “Entrepreneurs are more willing to take risks, including investments in new technologies and new business models when the economy is running hotter,” says Mr. Brynjolfsson. “This will speed up the adoption of the kinds of conventions needed to take full advantage of artificial intelligence and other new technologies,” he said.

For the full commentary, see:
Greg Ip. ”CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Technology-Driven Boom Is Finally Coming.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 27, 2017, and has the title ”CAPITAL ACCOUNT; A Tech-Driven Boom Is Coming; Please Be Patient.”)

The Brynjolfsson, Rock and Syverson paper, mentioned above, is:
Brynjolfsson, Erik, Daniel Rock, and Chad Syverson. “Artificial Intelligence and the Modern Productivity Paradox: A Clash of Expectations and Statistics.” NBER Working Papers # 24001. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Nov. 2017.

World War I Spread the Deadly Flu of 1918

(p. A17) The Spanish flu began in the spring of 1918, infected 500 million people, and killed between 50 million and 100 million of them–more than both world wars and the Holocaust combined. Not since the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century–the Black Death–had such a fearsome pestilence devastated mankind.
Spanish-flu patients “would soon be having trouble breathing,” writes Laura Spinney in “Pale Rider,” her gripping account of the pandemic.
. . .
Ms. Spinney is at her best in trying to tease out the real origin of the pandemic. The first suspect was China, where pneumonic plague had erupted on the Manchurian border in 1910. The government, trying to curry favor with the Allies in World War I, had then sent tens of thousands of laborers, many infected, to dig trenches on the Western Front. Another theory put the initial outbreak at the British army’s mobilization base in Étaples in northern France. A third candidate was in the American heartland, at a U.S. Army staging base, Camp Funston in Kansas. The question is unsettled, but plainly the movement of troops in the Great War accelerated the flu’s spread.
. . .
The frantic search for the cause of the pandemic was nightmarish, too. A respected researcher persuaded himself and others that he had found the bacillus, and he persisted even though autopsies rarely turned up his pet suspect in the tissues of the dead. The microbe hunters couldn’t find their quarry because it slipped through the ultrafine strainers they tried to catch it with, and it was invisible to their microscopes. It was what the French bacteriologist Émile Roux called an “être de raison,” an organism whose existence could be deduced only from its effects. Eventually a virus–1/20th the size of a bacillus–was identified as the culprit. It was not actually seen until decades later with the invention of the electron microscope.

For the full review, see:
Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; A World Of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 11, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 10, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A World of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.”)

The book under review, is:
Spinney, Laura. Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.

Apple Orchard Must Focus on “Placating a Government Regulator”

(p. A1) ALTAMONT, N.Y. — For eight weeks every fall, Indian Ladder Farms, a fifth-generation family operation near Albany, kicks into peak season.
The farm sells homemade apple pies, fresh cider and warm doughnuts. Schoolchildren arrive by the busload to learn about growing apples. And as customers pick fruit from trees, workers fill bins with apples, destined for the farm’s shop and grocery stores.
This fall, amid the rush of commerce — the apple harvest season accounts for about half of Indian Ladder’s annual revenue — federal investigators showed up. They wanted to check the farm’s compliance with migrant labor rules and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets pay and other requirements for workers.
Suddenly, the small office staff turned its focus away from making money to placating a government regulator.
The investigators arrived on a Friday in late September and interviewed the farm’s management and a group of laborers from Jamaica, who have special work visas. The investigators hand delivered a notice and said they would be back the following week, when they asked to have 22 types of records available. The request included vehicle registrations, insurance documents and time sheets — reams of paper in all.
Over the next several days, the Ten Eyck family, which owns the farm, along with the staff devoted about 40 hours to serving the investigators, who visited three times before closing the books.
“It is terribly disruptive,” said Peter G. Ten Eyck II, 79, who runs the farm along with a daughter (p. A14) and son. “And the dimension that doesn’t get mentioned is the psychological hit: They are there to find something wrong with you. And then they are going to fine you.”
This is life on the farm — and at businesses of all sorts. With thick rule books laying out food safety procedures, compliance costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and ever-changing standards from the government and industry groups, local produce growers are a textbook example of what many business owners describe as regulatory fatigue.
Over the past five decades, Mr. Ten Eyck said, there has been an unending layering of new rules and regulations on his farm of over 300 acres, as more government agencies have taken an interest in nearly every aspect of growing food, and those agencies already involved have become even more so.
Now, a new rule is going into effect that will significantly expand the oversight of one regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, at the farm.
. . .
Researchers at the Mercatus Center, a conservative-leaning economic think tank at George Mason University, say apple orchards are facing a growing federal regulatory burden. Quantifying that burden is difficult, but using a computer algorithm that analyzes regulations through keyword searches, researchers from the center’s RegData Project estimated the federal regulatory code contains 12,000 restrictions and rules on orchards, up from about 9,500, or an increase of 26 percent, from a decade ago.
Many of those rules apply to other businesses as well, and some restrict the actions of government regulators, not the orchard owners. Using the Mercatus Center data, and screening for such exceptions, The New York Times identified at least 17 federal regulations with about 5,000 restrictions and rules that were relevant to orchards.
. . .
. . . regulation streamlining is a winning message across the political spectrum when it comes to making life easier for small businesses, according to more than 20 interviews with business owners and others in the produce industry.
Industry by industry, small businesses have been lobbying governments — from town health departments to federal cabinet agencies — to simplify rules and eradicate redundancy.
. . .
The grievances relate largely to the sheer amount of time and money that it takes to comply, and what farmers see as a disconnect between them — the rule followers — and the rule makers, who Mr. Ten Eyck describes as “people looking at a computer screen dreaming up stuff.”
“The intentions are not bad,” he said. “It is just that one layer after another gets to be — trying to top the people before them.”

For the full story, see:
STEVE EDER. “One Apple Orchard and 5,000 Government Rules.” The New York Times (Thurs., December 28, 2017): A1 & A14-A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2017, and has the title “When Picking Apples on a Farm With 5,000 Rules, Watch Out for the Ladders.”)

“The Transforming Power of the Individual Will”

(p. A10) “These deep transformations have started and will continue with the same force, the same rhythm, the same intensity in 2018,” the French president told his compatriots in his New Year’s Eve greetings a few days before.
Mr. Macron was hinting at the real disruptions he has brought about in French political life — in employment and fiscal policy so far, with other big jolts promised soon. Remarkably in so hidebound a country he is getting away with it.
. . .
Mr. Macron imbibed from his mentor, the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur, a belief in the transforming power of the individual will. As proof, the young president can point to his own quick rise to the top, a stunning success that undergirds many of his pronouncements.
Similarly, the changes he has pushed through so far — like his lightening of the mammoth French labor code, with barely a whimper from the opposition — only buttress the narrative of individual determination, which he now hopes to infuse in his fellow citizens.
It is an unusual position for a French politician, who for generations have emphasized the protective power of the state — and the proof of any success will come only with a significant drop in the stubborn 10-percent jobless rate, elusive so far. But already surveys show higher levels of confidence among business executives than have been seen in many years.

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “French President Opens Year With Scolding for Journalists.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 6, 2018): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 5, 2018, and has the title “Macron Opens Year Pulling No Punches With Journalists, or Anyone.”)