Company Graveyard Scene from Wattenberg’s “In Search of the Real America”

EdselTombstone.JPG Source of image: screen capture downloaded on 9/3/08 from:

For years I have been trying to find a copy of Ben Wattenberg’s wonderful opening scene in the episode on big business of his 1970s series “In Search of the Real America.” He stands in a spooky, foggy, graveyard next to several tombstones. When we see the tombstones more closely, they have the names of big business corporate failures.

InSearchOfTheRealAmericaOpeningSlide.JPG Source of image: screen capture downloaded on 9/3/08 from:

Kronman Thinks It’s Good that We Die (and Charles Murray Applauds)

Over the weekend of August 16-17, 2008, I caught a few minutes of an interview on one of the C-SPAN channels. Charles Murray was handing softball questions to an academic philosopher named Kronman. Kronman was pontificating that life could only be meaningful because there was death. He suggested that those pursuing longevity research were misguided.
I sat there appalled, pondering how many wonderful, amazing projects we could get done, if only we had more time.
Some wise philosopher once said that you can only have useful dialogue with someone if the two of you have some shared assumptions. I don’t expect to be dialoguing with Anthony Kronman anytime soon. And that is just as well, since life is way too short to waste much time worrying about the Anthony Kronman’s of the world.
(In case you think I’m making this up, I quote below, from Kronman.)

(p. 229) The spiritual emptiness of our civilization has its source in the technology whose achievements we celebrate and on whose powers we all now depend.

Technology relaxes or abolishes the existing limits on our powers. There is no limit to this process itself. Indeed, every step forward is merely a provocation to go further. This might be called the (p. 230) technological “imperative.” . . .
. . .
(p. 230) If we lived forever, our powers, however great, would have no significance. How could it possibly matter whether we exercised them one way or another, sooner rather than later? This can matter to us only within the framework of a lifetime, that is, within the boundaries of a mortal existence. That we sometimes imagine (or think we imagine) that we want to have and use limitless powers in a limitless life is an illusion that always depends on our covertly smug-(p. 231)gling into our imagined picture of such an existence some essential feature of the human mortality we can never escape. In reality, the idea of immortality is for us quite unimaginable. It remains an empty abstraction.

PS: The following sentence appears on the copyright page of Kronman’s book: “The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.”
So the longevity of books is pompously praised, while the longevity of humans is belittled?

Don’t waste time on:
Kronman, Anthony T. Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given up on the Meaning of Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
(Note: ellipses added.)

“Nuclear Power Provides 77 Percent of France’s Electricity”

FrenchNuclearReactorFlamanville20080824.jpg “France is constructing a nuclear reactor, its first in 10 years, in Flamanville, but the country already has 58 operating reactors.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) FLAMANVILLE, France — It looks like an ordinary building site, but for the two massive, rounded concrete shells looming above the ocean, like dusty mushrooms.

Here on the Normandy coast, France is building its newest nuclear reactor, the first in 10 years, costing $5.1 billion. But already, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that France will build another like it.
. . .
Nuclear power provides 77 percent of France’s electricity, according to the government, and relatively few public doubts are expressed in a country with little coal, oil or natural gas.
With the wildly fluctuating cost of oil, anxiety over global warming from burning fossil fuels and new concerns about the impact of biofuels on the price of food for the poor, nuclear energy is getting a second look in countries like the United States and Britain. Even Germany, committed to phasing out nuclear power by 2021, is debating whether to change its mind.

For the full story, see:
STEVEN ERLANGER. “France Reaffirms Its Faith in Future of Nuclear Power.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 17, 2008): 6. (Also on p. 6 of the NY edition)
(Note: ellipsis added.)


Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Shaw: “All Progress Depends on the Unreasonable Man”

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

attributed to George Bernard Shaw
Elkington, John, and Pamela Hartigan. The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2008.
(Note: Elkington and Hartigan cite Shaw’s Man and Superman as the location of the Shaw quote.)

Leapfrog Competition in the Smartphone Industry


Source of graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C1) In recent years Palm lost its way. Its share of the smartphone market has been halved to about 16.9 percent over the last two years. First, Research in Motion found the sweet spot of business users with its BlackBerry. More recently, Apple grabbed consumers’ fancy with the iPhone.

Palm has tried to innovate beyond the five-year-old Treo with little effect. It announced with great fanfare last year that it would build the Foleo, a cross between a smartphone and notebook computer, only to cancel the project three months later. While cellphone makers like Samsung, LG and R.I.M. brought out products to compete with the iPhone, Palm has told Treo loyalists and investors to be patient. They will need to be. Palm’s stock price is down 90 percent since its high in March 2000.
Mr. Rubinstein, the executive chairman, said he is convinced he can bring Palm back. “Everyone is trying to make an iPhone killer,” he said. “We are trying to make a killer Palm product.”

For the full story, see:
LAURA M. HOLSON. “Palm, Once a Leader, Seeks Path in Smartphone Jungle.” The New York Times (Weds., August 20, 2008): C1 & C5.

ColliganRubensteinPalmExecs.jpg “Ed Colligan, left, Palm’s chief executive, and Jon Rubinstein, the executive chairman, who was hired to revive the company.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

A Schumpeterian Policy Program Promotes Innovation and Creative Destruction

McCraw on the nature of “a Schumpeterian program” :

(p. 169) Yet it is not difficult to identify a Schumpeterian program—at whatever level of analysis one chooses: the individual entrepreneur, the business firm, the industry, or even the country. At all levels, Schumpeter’s litmus test is whether the players are pursuing innovation and bringing about creative destruction. If they are, then the program is Schumpeterian.

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

A Standing Ovation, and a Salute, for Colonel Jack Moelmann

MoelmannColonel20080823.jpg “Colonel Moelmann, a retired Air Force officer, sold seats for $50, but had to spend almost $120,000 of his own to perform.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I do not share Colonel Moelmann’s particular dream, but I do salute him for paying for his dream himself, rather than trying to force taxpayers to finance it, as so many do in pursuit of their dreams.

(p. A18) Col. Jack Moelmann, a retired Air Force officer from O’Fallon, Ill., blew $118,182.44 on a one-night stand in New York on Saturday. It was everything he had dreamed of, and more: three hours with the mightiest of the mighty Wurlitzers, the legendary pipe organ at Radio City Music Hall.

The experience left him sweaty and exhausted — having your way with a mechanical marvel that contains more than a million parts is hard work — and it reduced his net worth to “the mid-five figures,” he said. But Colonel Moelmann had no regrets. He soldiered through tune after tune, from “The Trolley Song” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” to patriotic songs like “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Which, as he pointed out before he climbed onto the bench of the giant ebony console at the left-hand edge of the Rockettes’ high-kicking home, guaranteed him a standing ovation.
. . .
“Not many people get their name on the marquee,” he said.
Not many people spend a large chunk of their life savings to buy their way in, either.
The idea for a Radio City concert began with the president of the year-old Theater Organ Society International, the Rev. Gus L. Franklin, and Mr. Page, a member. “We turned our pockets inside out and said, ‘It’s not going to happen,’ ” Mr. Page said.
Colonel Moelmann, the society’s secretary, decided to make it happen — “I looked in the mirror and said: ‘Jack, you have a dream. Go for it.’ “– even though, he said, it was a foregone conclusion that “we’re going to lose money big time.”
He and the organ society put the price of the tickets at $50 a seat, but the show was far from a sellout. Even with the three balconies closed, the orchestra level was about a third full.
Some in the audience were Moelmann fans from way back. Susan Conrad Wells, a law librarian from Granby, Mass., said she had met Colonel Moelmann through an organ club in 1967, when he was stationed in Massachusetts.
Colonel Moelmann said that playing at Radio City presented its own challenges. “You can’t listen to what you’re playing,” he said. “If you listen note by note, once you’ve hit the note and you hear it, it’s too late to say, ‘Oops, I hit the wrong note.’ ”
In the end, he got his standing ovation.

For the full story, see:
JAMES BARRON. “Organist Rents Radio City to Play, Fulfilling Wish.” The New York Times (Mon., August 11, 2008): A18. (B4 in NY edition)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

MoelmannColonelAtOrgan20080823.jpg “Jack Moelmann always wanted to play Radio City’s pipe organ, above, even after playing at Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Schumpeter Learned from His Failures

McCraw (2007, p. 112) quotes from Schumpeter’s diary:

Really, I don’t quite regret any of my efforts and failures—every one of them taught me something about myself and life that uniform success would have hidden.

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

Good Laws Protect the Innovator

James Burke writes well, and what he writes is often stimulating, and thought-provoking. On the other hand, some of what he writes is exasperating—he writes in sweeping generalities, and often his ‘connections’ are exaggerations, giving no weight (or even mention) to alternative, equally plausible accounts.
But on balance, I enjoy listening to him. Here is one of the bits I especially liked:

(p. 19) Because the rule of law exists, and above all because it encourages and protects acts of innovation with patent legislation, we in the modern world expect that tomorrow will be better than today. Our view of the universe is essentially optimistic because of the marriage between law and innovation. Law gives an individual the confidence to explore, to risk, to venture into the unknown, in the knowledge that he, as an innovator, will be protected by society.

Burke, James. The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo’s Telescope Changed the Truth and Other Events in History That Dramatically Altered Our Understanding of the World. Back Bay Books, 1995.

Emergency Room Waiting Time Continues to Increase

(p. D4) ATLANTA — The average time that hospital emergency-room patients wait to see a doctor has grown to almost an hour from about 38 minutes over the past decade, according to new federal statistics released Wednesday.
The increase is due to supply and demand, said Dr. Stephen Pitts, the lead author of the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There are more people arriving at the ERs. And there are fewer ERs,” said Dr. Pitts, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Emory University.
The average time is based on a national survey of 362 hospital emergency departments.
Over all, about 119 million visits were made to U.S. emergency rooms in 2006, up from 90 million in 1996 — a 32% increase.
Meanwhile, the number of hospital emergency departments dropped to fewer than 4,600, from nearly 4,900, according to American Hospital Association statistics.
. . .
The amount of time a patient waited before seeing a physician in an ER has been rising steadily, from 38 minutes in 1997, to 47 minutes in 2004, to 56 minutes in 2006.
Dr. Pitts added that 56 minutes may be the average, but it’s not typical: The average was skewed to nearly an hour because of some very long waits.
. . .
“Millions more people each year are seeking emergency care, but emergency departments are continuing to close, often because so much care goes uncompensated,” Dr. Linda Lawrence, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement.
“This report is very troubling, because it shows that care is being delayed for everyone, including people in pain and with heart attacks.”

For the full story, see:

ASSOCIATED PRESS. Average ER Waiting Time Jumps to Nearly an Hour.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., August 7, 2008): D4.

(Note: eillipses added.)

Urgent Care Clinics Are Replacing Emergency Rooms


“An urgent-care clinic in Atlantic Beach, Fla.” “Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. D1) When a heavy metal door swung over her 14-year-old son’s foot, ripping the nail almost completely off his big toe, Tina Mobley didn’t want to take her chances in a crowded hospital emergency room or wait for an appointment at the pediatrician’s office the next day. Instead, she drove to an urgent-care clinic inside a Wal-Mart in Yulee, Fla., near her rural home. Within minutes, the doctor on duty numbed the pain with an injection, removed the nail, and cleaned and bandaged the injury.

Patients who need immediate care for injuries and illness, be it a nail-gun puncture or a severe stomach bug, are increasingly turning to walk-in urgent-care clinics. These facilities aim to fill the gap between the growing shortage of primary-care doctors and a shrinking number of already-crowded hospital emergency departments, with no appointment necessary and extended evening and weekend hours. Urgent-care clinics are staffed by physicians, offer wait times as little as a few minutes and charge $60 to $200 depending on the procedure — a fraction of the typical $1,000-plus emergency department visit. Some offer discounts and payment plans for the uninsured; for those with coverage, co-payments vary by insurance plan but may be less than half the amount of an ER visit, which can range from $50 to $200.

While the Yulee clinic that treated Ms. Mobley’s son is one of three operated inside Wal-Mart stores by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Solantic, urgent-care centers aren’t to be confused with the new crop of retail health clinics popping up in drugstores, which are run by nurse practitioners who prescribe medicine for minor illnesses and provide vaccinations. Urgent-care-center physicians and other medical staffers can put casts on broken bones, sew up lacerations, provide intravenous fluids for dehydrated patients, and deploy advanced life-support equipment for both adults and children. They often have equipment not available in physicians’ offices, such as X-rays.

For the full story, see:
LAURA LANDRO. “THE INFORMED PATIENT; Options Expand For Avoiding Crowded ERs.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., August 6, 2008): D1-D2.