“a jobs program for people who couldn’t make it in the private sector”

Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400065526/sr=8-1/qid=1153368329/ref=sr_1_1/104-2835260-2878345?ie=UTF8

 

The levees are built by the Army Corps of Engineers, with the Orleans Levee District enjoying local control.  It is instructive to learn that the former president of the levee district bought himself an inflatable rubber craft a decade ago.  As Mr. Horne writes, some levees gave way "even before water reached the heights the walls were meant to contain and, in some cases, after it had begun to ebb."

Beset by outsourcing, brain drains and budget cuts, the Army Corps has been skimping for years.  This spring, its commanding officer conceded that there had been problems with flood-wall engineering.  But the government hardly has a monopoly on blame.  As Mr. Horne notes, the corps had intended to build a flood barrier at the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain on the city’s northern border ("an idea that would, after Katrina, suddenly seem like the highest sort of wisdom"), but the plan was scrapped when environmentalists sued.

By the mid-1970s, "the completion date for the upgraded flood defense that Congress had mandated for New Orleans had already been pushed back thirteen years," Mr. Horne writes, and one section was still unfinished as Katrina hit.  Apathy and indifference "turned government work into a jobs program for people who couldn’t make it in the private sector or who couldn’t be bothered to try."

Government handouts of a different sort followed the hurricane:  After a slow start with its relief effort, FEMA helped countless hurricane victims who were truly in need, but the agency also began cutting checks for almost anyone who asked.  "An initial $2000 would turn up in the mail within a few days of registering online or placing a call," Mr. Horne writes.  In fact, the agency "rolled over for millions in fraudulent or duplicate claims without checking to see that the applicant had offered a vacant lot or a nonexistent address as his or her residence."  Perhaps that was easier than risking further accusations of bias.

 

For the full review, see:

TOM BETHELL. "Books; Levying the Blame; Nearly a year after a hurricane ravaged a city and the finger-pointing began, two books dissect the destruction and the government’s response."  The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 15, 2006):  P8.

 

The citation for the Horne book is:

Horne, Jed.  Breach of Faith.  Random House, 2006.  (412 pages, $25.95)

 

Environmental Bureaucrats Ignore Local Knowledge


  Source of book image:  http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=0300106211

 

From a useful review of a book on environmental policy:


(p. D8) The striking aspect of his new book is the story he tells of his own journey from supporter to critic of the Spaceship Earth theory of environmental law.  His first step toward disenchantment was seeing, as an NRDC lawyer, the EPA’s personnel up close.  "The EPA had not come from Starfleet Academy," he notes, "but rather was an amalgam of the federal government’s preexisting environmental programs," then part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  In short, the bureaucrats were real people with real incentives, just like politicians and voters—but unanswerable to the public.


The next educational step, for him, was the decision to buy a farm in upstate New York.  Mr. Schoenbrod was surprised by the wisdom of his rural neighbors.  He movingly describes how a local logger changed his mind about forestry practices by showing him, among much else, that sometimes cutting down particular trees can benefit the forest.  (It sounds like a simple observation, but it is the kind of thing that bureaucrats, with their sweeping mandates, often don’t allow for.)  Mr. Schoenbrod also looks at the local reaction to a number of environmental decisions, such as the EPA’s ordered dredging of the Hudson River because of the small risk of PCBs.  The intent was to protect the health of local communities, but upstate landowners opposed the dredging by a ratio of more than 2 to 1.

For the full review, see: 

John Berlau.  "Bookshelf; A Law Unto Themselves."  The Wall Street Journal  (Thurs.,  August 18, 2005):  D8.

 

The full reference to the Schoenbrod book:

Schoenbrod, David.  Saving Our Environment from Washington:  How Congress Grabs Power, Shirks Responsibility, and Shortchanges the People. Yale University Press, 2005.


Exercising to Win, Hurts Lifetime Fitness

Source of image:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. E1)  The dirty secret among former high school and college jocks is that many don’t remain active as adults.  In their glory days they were the fittest among their peers.  But as adults many are overtaken by nonjocks who embrace fitness as a commitment to health, forget the varsity letter.

Onetime elite athletes often languish once organized competition is over and a coach isn’t hounding them, sports scientists and exercise physiologists say.  Many are burned out.  Others become discouraged when their lackluster fitness can’t compare to their highlight reels.  Running on a treadmill in a sea of anonymous gym-goers doesn’t compare to the thrill of being an m.v.p. on campus.

"Basically, they’ve been to the mountaintop and now they’re on these little hills, and that is difficult to deal with," said Dan Gould, the director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University in Lansing.

Extrinsic motivation is tricky business, said Dr. Gould, a professor of kinesiology.  He said he has found that athletes who played for trophies (p. E8) or attention are more at risk of becoming sedentary as adults than people who have taught themselves to get off the sofa and exercise, those with "intrinsic motivation."

 

For the full story, see:

JILL AGOSTINO.  "Once an Athletic Star, Now an Unheavenly Body."   The New York Times  (Thurs.,  July 6, 2006):  E1 & E8.

Indians Hunted Several Species to Local Extinction

 Researchers at work at the Emeryville Shellmound.  Source of photo:  online version of The Washington Post article cited below.

 

Like the Europeans who came later, the first Americans apparently had a propensity for killing and eating any animal they could lay their hands on without giving a lot of thought to the future, judging by the bones they left behind at one notable site.

"The general public probably buys into the ‘Pocahontas version’ that Native Americans were inherently different and more in tune with nature," said University of Utah archaeologist Jack Broughton.  "The evidence says otherwise."

After studying thousands of animal bones found in a garbage heap on the shores of San Francisco Bay, Broughton concluded that Native Americans living in an area where Emeryville is now located hunted several species to local extinction from 600 B.C. to A.D. 1300.

 

For the full story, see: 

Guy Gugliotta. "SCIENCE Notebook; Indians Depleted Wildlife, Too." The Washington Post (Monday, February 20, 2006):  A09

 

A more detailed summary of the research can be found in a University of Utah press release:

"Early California: A Killing Field; Research Shatters Utopian Myth, Finds Indians Decimated Birds."

 

The full, academic version of the research can be found in: 

Broughton, Jack M.  Prehistoric Human Impacts on California Birds: Evidence from the Emeryville Shellmound Avifauna, Ornithological Monographs, 2004.

 

Job Hopping May Aid Technological Experimentation

When employees jump from company to company, they take their knowledge with them.  ”The innovation from one firm will tend to bleed over into other firms,” Professor Rebitzer explained.  For a given company, ”it’s hard to capture the returns on your innovation,” he went on.  ”From an economics perspective, that should hamper innovation.”

He found a possible answer to the puzzle in the work of two management scholars, Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark.  In their book ”Design Rules:  The Power of Modularity” (MIT Press, 2000), they argued that when there is a lot of technological uncertainty, the fastest way to find the best solution is to permit lots of independent experiments.  That requires modular designs rather than tightly integrated systems.

”By having a lot of modular experimenters, you can take the best, which will be a lot better than the average,” Professor Rebitzer said.  Employee mobility may encourage productive innovation, as people quickly move to whichever company comes up with the best new technology.

. . .

To Professor Rebitzer’s surprise (though not his co-authors’), it turns out that Silicon Valley employees really do move around more often than other people.  The researchers looked at job changes by male college graduates from 1994 to 2001.  During that period, an average of 2.41 percent of respondents changed jobs in any given month.

But, they write, ”living in Silicon Valley increases the rate of employer-to-employer job change by 0.8 percentage point.”

”This effect is both statistically and behaviorally significant — suggesting employer-to-employer mobility rates are 40 percent higher than the sample average.”

 

For the full commentary, see: 

VIRGINIA POSTREL.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; In Silicon Valley, Job Hopping Contributes to Innovation."  The New York Times  (Thursday, December 1, 2005):  C4.

 

A PDF of the paper by Rebitzer and colleagues is downloadable at:    http://www.federalreserve.gov/Pubs/feds/2005/200511/200511abs.html

 

The book Postrel praises, is:

Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0262024667/104-2835260-2878345?redirect=true

Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com

Source of graphic: online version of The Gateway article cited below.

 

The Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, ran a nice feature article on artdiamondblog.com on July 18, 2006, as the first installment of a projected series on blogs created by members of the campus community.

 

If you click the citation below, you will arrive at the online version of the feature:

Reed, Charley. "Meet the Blogger: UNO Professor Art Diamond." The Gateway (Tues., July 18, 2006):  3.

 

For your convenience, the text of the feature also appears below.

Continue reading “Gateway Features artdiamondblog.com”

Entrepreneurial Archaeology

In the "Dig for a Day" program, participants pay $25.00 to spend three hours helping to excavate a Tel Maresha cave.  Source of the image:  the online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

While most archaeological excavations require hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr. Alpert said, this one is unusual because it is self-supporting.  “We have the people working and paying for the work, which has proven itself archaeologically and from a tourism standpoint,” he said.  “That’s why we are able to dig for so long.”  The Maresha excavation is licensed by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and reports are submitted each year to evaluate its scientific contribution.

“This is the ultimate chutzpah,” said Ian Stern, another of the company’s three owners, who has a doctorate in archaeology and emigrated to Israel from New Jersey (the third owner is Asher Afriat, a historian and native Israeli).  “We are providing the public with an active educational experience, while they do the work.  Their money underwrites the excavation and is used for all the follow-up of putting the pottery together, registering and photographing the finds, and writing the scientific reports.” 

 

For the full story, see:

CAREN OSTEN GERSZBERG.  "Family Journeys; Israel; Amateur Archaeologists Get the Dirt on the Past."  The New York Times, Section 5 (Sun., July 16, 2006):   11.

 

  Amateur archaeologists excavate a cave.  Source of the image:  the online version of the NYT article cited above.