Confused and Fed Up With Contradictory “Green Noise”

GreenNoiseDrawing.jpg Source of drawing: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Maybe the point of much of the urgent, contradictory eco-crusades, is not so much to save the earth as to make us feel guilty about consuming, as a way to undermine the human progress that comes from capitalism?

(p. 1) DESPITE the expense and the occasional back strain, Mary Burnham, a public relations consultant in San Francisco, felt good about the decision she made a few years ago to buy milk — organic, of course — only in heavy, reusable glass bottles. For the sake of the environment, she dutifully lugged them back and forth from the grocery store every week. Cutting out disposable paper cartons, she reasoned, meant saving trees and reducing waste.

Or not. A friend, also a committed environmentalist, recently started questioning her good deed. “His argument was that paper cartons are compostable and lightweight and use less energy and water than the heavy bottles, which must be transported back to a plant to be cleaned and reused,” she said. “I have no idea which is better, or how to find out.”
Ms. Burnham, 35, recycles religiously, orders weekly from a community-supported farm, buys eco-friendly cleaning products and carries groceries in a canvas bag. But she admits to information overload on the environment — from friends, advice columns, news media, even government-issued reports. Much of the advice is conflicting.
“To say that you are confused and a little fed up with the often contradictory messages out there on how to live lightly on the earth is definitely not cool,” she said in an e-mail message. “But, heck, I’ll come out and say it. I’m a little overwhelmed.”
She is, in other words, a victim of “green noise” — static caused by urgent, sometimes vexing or even contradictory information played at too high a volume for too long.
. . .
(p. 8) . . . , as Mr. Hawken said, “even people inside the movement have the same feeling — burnout.”

For the full story, see:

ALEX WILLIAMS. “That Buzz in Your Ear May Be Green Noise.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., June 15, 2008): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Schumpeter Claimed Entrepreneurial Gains Result in New Jobs

From McCraw’s summary of an article entitled “The Function of Entrepreneurs and the Interest of the Worker” that Schumpeter published in 1927 in a labor magazine :

(p. 178) Schumpeter’s key point here is one he hammered home many times: it is the insatiable pursuit of success, and of the towering premium it pays, that drives entrepreneurs and their investors to put so much of their time, effort, and money into some new project whose future is completely uncertain. High entrepreneurial returns are essential to generate gains not only for individuals but also for society, through the creation of new jobs.

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

Innovation Can Occur Even in Ancient Technologies


“Making glass has long been energy-intensive, but soaring energy prices provide a strong incentive for that to change.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 4) Glassmaking is a based on old, stable technologies that require lots of materials and energy. The basic furnace, which melts sand into glass at extremely high temperatures, hasn’t undergone a fundamental change since the 1850s. Furnace designers have long contented themselves with small improvements, such as using pure oxygen to improve energy efficiency.
Today, glassmaking faces a technological upheaval that offers a reminder that “it is a mistake to assume that older technologies are less dynamic than new ones,” says David Edgerton, a historian at Imperial College in London and the author of “The Shock of the Old,” a history of the evolution of pre-electronic technologies in the 20th century.
. . .
Mr. Greenman sees a new willingness to innovate among glassmakers who, until recently, usually shunned technological advances because savings in materials and energy didn’t justify the costs of introducing new designs and processes.
“Many innovations were, frankly, thwarted by cost,” says C. Philip Ross, a consultant in Laguna Niguel, Calif., who has studied technological options for the industry. “There’s a lot of upside in revisiting old, discarded ideas.”
Glassmakers are searching for both small and large advances on three fronts: designing more efficient furnaces; creating much stronger glass; and using heat better.
. . .
The potential revolution in glass-making suggests a new model for innovation: Creators go back to the future, spending almost as much time retrieving once-discarded inventions as they do creating new ones.

For the full story, see:
G. PASCAL ZACHARY. “Ping; Starting to Think Outside the Jar.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., June 15, 2008): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)

EPA Mandates that Texas Keep Digging Ethanol Hole

ReeveEthanolPlant.jpg “At the Reeve plant near Garden City, Kan., grain is made into ethanol, and the byproducts are fed to cattle in the adjacent feedlot.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Unfortunately, the EPA rejected Gov. Paley’s request, discussed in the article quoted below:

(p. C1) The ethanol industry, until recently a golden child that got favorable treatment from Washington, is facing a critical decision on its future.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive regulations requiring the oil industry to blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.
Mr. Perry says the billions of bushels of corn being used to produce all that mandated ethanol would be better suited as livestock feed than as fuel.
Feed prices have soared in the last two years as fuel has begun competing with food for cropland.
“When you find yourself in a hole, you have to quit digging,” Mr. Perry said in an interview. “And we are in a hole.”
His request for an emergency waiver cutting the ethanol mandate to 4.5 billion gallons, from the 9 billion gallons required this year and the 10.5 billion required in 2009, is backed by a coalition of food, livestock and environmental groups.
Farmers and ethanol and other biofuel producers are lobbying to keep the existing mandates.

For the full story, see:
DAVID STREITFELD. “Uprising Against the Ethanol Mandate.” The New York Times (Weds., July 23, 2008): C1 & C5.

Rent Control as a Form of “Hatred of the Bourgeois”

New York City is one of the few remaining cities that has rent control laws (aka “rent stabilization”). Economists view such laws as a version of price ceilings, and they generally argue that such laws reduce the incentives to build and maintain housing.
Libertarian philosophers would add that the laws also violate fundamental rights of property.

(p. 25) At its core, the fight involves a law allowing landlords to displace rent-stabilized tenants if the landlords will use the space as their primary residence. The Economakis family has prevailed, thus far, on the principle that the law applies even to a building this large. But the tenants continue to press the notion that given the scope of the proposed home — which calls for seven bathrooms, a gym and a library — the owners are just trying to clear them out so they can sell the building off to become so many market-rate condos.

Mr. Economakis insists his family would never have subjected itself to years of argument — and tens of thousands in legal bills — if they did not want to live there. He acknowledged that it is a lot of space, but said that having the place to themselves is also a matter of privacy. He said that the family long ago offered, as a halfway measure, to let the tenants in the five rear apartments stay, along with a couple on the first floor, and said he would happily sign a promise to turn over the profits to the existing tenants if he sold within 20 years.
“We really believe that, as owners, we have a right to live in the building,” he said.
. . .
Last year, the tenants staged a rally outside the building and some 400 people showed up. Mostly, they lodge their silent protest daily on their doors. Mr. Pultz has his evil eye, while his first-floor neighbor, Laura Zambrano, has one poster giving the dictionary definition of the word hubris and another quoting Flaubert:
“Two things sustain me. Love of literature and hatred of the bourgeois.”

For the full story, see:

MARC SANTORA. “Landlord’s Dream Confronts Rent-Stabilized Lives.” The New York Times, Section 1 (Sun., June 15, 2008): 25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

Perhaps the most eloquent critique of rent control was penned in the only paper that Chicago Nobel Prize winners Milton Friedman and George Stigler ever wrote together (published as a pamphlet):
Friedman, Milton, and George J. Stigler. “Roofs or Ceilings? The Current Housing Problem.” Irvington-on-Hudson, New York: Foundation for Economic Education, 1946.

“Schumpeter Has Courage”

McCraw quoting the diary of Schumpeter’s former professor, Friedrich von Wieser:

(p. 101) “He is not misled by prevalent sentiment,” the professor wrote in his diary. “Schumpeter has courage, an asset which cannot be over-praised.”

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

Higher Prices to Operate Cars, Increases Demand for Segways


Using a Segway to deliver pizza. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B2) With gasoline prices and global warming on their minds, more Americans are getting out of their cars and riding to work — and riding on the job — on the once-maligned Segway.

Scott Hervey of Yorba Linda, Calif., bought one of the electric scooters on June 7 and has put 150 miles on it commuting to his custodian’s job at Disneyland, about 12 miles away. He had considered buying a Segway for four years, and gasoline prices finally drove him to do it. Now he “glides,” as Segway enthusiasts say, to work. “I like passing gas stations,” says the 54-year-old.
The two-wheeled Segway, a self-balancing vehicle that runs on a rechargeable battery, debuted amid massive hype in 2001. Tech icons like Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.’s chief executive officer, and Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos predicted it would change the way people lived. But critics panned the high-tech scooter for its $5,000 price tag and portrayed it as a toy for geeks and the rich. Some cities banned it from sidewalks because of safety concerns.
Today, the Segway is gaining converts. It plugs into a standard electrical outlet and can get up to 25 miles per charge.
Sales at the scooter’s maker, Segway Inc., have risen to an all-time high, says CEO Jim Norrod. The closely held Manchester, N.H., company doesn’t release detailed numbers. (A September 2006 recall showed the company had sold 23,500 Segways.) But Mr. Norrod says he expects sales this quarter to jump 50% from a year earlier, versus a 25% year-over-year increase in the first quarter.

For the full story, see:
STU WOO. “Segway Glides as Gasoline Jumps; Maligned Scooter Winning New Fans; $5,000 Price Tag.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 16, 2008): B2.

Montezuma Tried Appeasement with Cortes


Source of book image:

(p. A 13) Cortés was a man of deep contradictions. A devout Catholic, he was horrified by the sights and sounds of Aztec worship: its human sacrifices and cannibalism, its skull racks, its idols draped with human body parts, its priests with their blood-clotted hair. But he was not above massacring his enemies or burning them at the stake. He was genuinely dazzled by his first sight of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, with its tidy fields and gleaming stone causeways, a city of nearly a quarter-million people that was, he wrote in a letter to the Spanish king, more beautiful than any in Europe. Even so, he was ready to destroy it all to feed his desire for gold and to bend the Aztecs to his will.

If Cortés was a man of contradictions, Montezuma was not. Studious and conscientious, he had been trained for Aztec priesthood before becoming emperor in 1503 — the same year that Cortes set out from Spain for America. Montezuma believed in the rightness of his own convictions but also, it appears, in the importance of an open mind. As Mr. Levy shows, he always looked for ways to dispel a crisis by placating the feelings of all concerned. He would have made a fine college president. From his first meeting with Cortés in November 1519, though, he was desperately overmatched.
Montezuma hoped that, by giving Cortés magnificent gifts of gold and silver, he could make him go away. He made him want to stay instead. The Aztec ruler never quite shook off the suspicion that Cortés might be the Aztec god Quetzelcoatl returning home according to ancient prophesy — a suspicion that led Montezuma to want to treat the intrusive Spaniards as guests rather than a threat.
Cortés exploited Montezuma’s weakness without scruple, squeezing one concession after another out of him until, though outnumbered by more than 1,000-to-1, Cortés made him a hostage. When Montezuma had lost all credibility with his people and was no longer useful, Cortés cast him aside. Montezuma died a broken man — although probably not, Mr. Levy argues, at Cortes’s order. It is more likely that Montezuma died from wounds inflicted by his own subjects. When they saw him appear in chains and appeal for calm, they had bombarded him with stones and arrows. His weakness, they understood, had betrayed them to the Spanish.

For the full review, see:
ARTHUR HERMAN. “Bookshelf; Spain Says Hello.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 10, 2008): A13.

The reference for the book, is:
Levy, Buddy. Conquistador. New York: Bantam Books, 2008.

More on Dyslexia and Entrepreneurship

For the full story, see:

JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG. “Running the Show; Me, Me, Me; So many entrepreneurs are writing books about how they made it. Their books, though, aren’t nearly as successful.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 16, 2008): R7.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Source of book image:

(p. R7) Some entrepreneurial titles are written — and resonate with readers — for more personal reasons.

Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s, says he wrote his book, “Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic Who Turned a Bright Idea Into One of America’s Best Companies,” because he wanted parents of kids with dyslexia to know that their children could succeed in life.
Workman Publishing, an independent publisher based in New York, initially printed 35,000 copies in 2005. Today, after two additional printings, there are 50,000 hardcovers in print. A paperback edition was published in March 2007, with a reworked title.

For the full story, see:

JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG. “Running the Show; Me, Me, Me; So many entrepreneurs are writing books about how they made it. Their books, though, aren’t nearly as successful.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 16, 2008): R7.

Among Academic Economists Interest in Entrepreneurship is “A Quick Ticket Out of a Job”

From McCraw’s discussion of Schumpeter’s “legacy”:

(p. 500) In the new world of academic economics, neither the Schumpeterian entrepreneur as an individual nor entrepreneurship as a phenomenon attracts much attention. For professors in economics departments at most major universities, particularly in the United States and Britain, a focus on these favorite issues of Schumpeter’s has become a quick ticket out of a job. This development arose from a self-generated isolation of academic economics from history, sociology, and the other social sciences. It represented a trend that Schumpeter himself had glimpsed and lamented but that accelerated rapidly during the two generations after his death.

McCraw, Thomas K. Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2007.

Hospitals Lack Hospitality


Source of book image:

(p. R7) Most successful entrepreneurs like rattling on about how they did it.

The bookshelves have never been more crowded with such exploits from consultants, real-estate moguls and retailers. And publishers say there are more on the way. With layoffs and cutbacks dominating the headlines, demand for advice books based on true-life stories is peaking.
. . .
So what does it take to succeed?
“Pragmatic advice, [a book written by] somebody with a fairly high public profile, and a person who can hit the lecture circuit after the first rush of publicity and keep the book selling,” says Grand Central’s Mr. Wolff.
Those factors have contributed to the staying power of restaurateur Danny Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.”
News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers first published 30,000 copies in October 2006. (News Corp. also publishes The Wall Street Journal.) Mr. Meyer’s work, chatty personal anecdotes wrapped around a core message that emphasizes hospitality as the key to creating satisfied customers, proved a hit.
. . .
“The most surprising thing was the interest from the hospital community,” Mr. Meyer says. “That’s an industry in turmoil based on the absence of hospitality. They over-focus on the metrics of stays and cure rates rather than how they make people feel.”

For the full story, see:

JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG. “Running the Show; Me, Me, Me; So many entrepreneurs are writing books about how they made it. Their books, though, aren’t nearly as successful.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 16, 2008): R7.

(Note: ellipses added.)