Charles Wolf’s Main Cancer Regret: “I’m Not There for the Market Open”

WolfCharles2009-2-15.jpg “Charles Wolf with laptop and Archie, in his house near Denver last spring.” Source of the caption and the photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. C5) He was irked when a cancer recurrence last year required him to resume morning radiation treatments, partly because that took him away from the market. “What kills me more than anything else is that I’m not there for the market open,” he said.

For the full obituary, see:
E.S. BROWNING. “Wolf Loses Battle With Cancer; Disease Didn’t Affect His Investing Success; Model Patient.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JANUARY 29, 2009): C5.

World Astonished that an American Tradesman Tamed Lightning

(p. 24) Within five years of his speculative note to Collinson, lightning rods had become a common sight on church steeples throughout Europe and America. Franklin’s biographer Carl Van Doren aptly describes the astonishment that greeted these events around the world: “A man in Philadelphia in America, bred a tradesman, remote from the learned world, had hit upon a secret which enabled him, and other men, to catch and tame the lightning, so dread that it was still mythological.”

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

“Public Money Was Being Used to Rehab a House, and Later to Demolish It”

GadboisKarenNewOrleansGadfly.jpg “Karen Gadbois,a New Orleans activist, has helped expose corruption within a federally funded program designed to help rebuild the city.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) But Ms. Gadbois has a dangerous affection for the city’s shotgun houses and Creole cottages in a place where so much is falling down. She is the daughter of a plaster lather — a textile artist herself, and wife of a painter — and she cannot let the sagging porches and ragged cornices go. They have turned her into a full-time activist.

Lists of homes to which things are going to be done — there are many in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, where nearly 60 percent of the dwellings were damaged in the storm — are red meat for Ms. Gadbois. But this time she did not even need to leave her own house, a rambling, cheerfully messy raised green cottage in the Carrollton section (it took on four feet of water in the hurricane) to know something was terribly wrong with the list of houses NOAH claimed to work on.
“It wasn’t even that the house didn’t exist; the whole block didn’t exist,” Ms. Gadbois recalled. “Something’s not right here. We saw properties that had supposedly been remediated by NOAH coming up to be declared imminent health threats, and then demolished.”
It galled her, she said, that public money was being used to rehab a house, and later to demolish it, often by agencies sharing the same office space.

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “Amid Ruined New Orleans Neighborhoods, a Gadfly Buzzes.” The New York Times (Weds., August 13, 2008): A14.

The Most Fertile Margins of the Economy Are Always in People’s Minds

(p. 151) The most fertile margins of the economy are always in people’s minds: thoughts and plans and projects yet unborn to business. The future emerges centrifugally and at first invisibly, on the fringes of existing companies and industries. The fastest-growing new firms often arise through defections of restive managers and engineers from large corporations or through the initiatives of (p. 152) immigrants and outcasts beyond the established circles of commerce. All programs that favor established companies, certified borrowers, immobile forms of pay, pensions, and perquisites, institutionally managed savings and wealth, against mobile capital, personal earnings, disposable savings, and small business borrowing, tend to thwart the turbulent, creative, and unpredictable processes of innovation and growth.

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

Rhee Offers DC Teachers Higher Pay If They Give Up Tenure


“Michelle Rhee, second from left, with faculty and staff members of Washington schools last month at an awards ceremony.” Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the Washington public schools, thinks teacher tenure may be great for adults, those who go into teaching to get summer vacations and great health insurance, for instance. But it hurts children, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire.

So Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.

Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Ms. Rhee’s bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers’ Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing.
. . .
Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal’s recommendation or face dismissal.

For the full story, see:
SAM DILLON. “A School Chief Takes On Tenure, Stirring a Fight.” The New York Times (Thurs., November 13, 2008): A1 & A19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

God’s “Perverse Appetite for Burning Down the Buildings Erected in His Honor”

(p. 22) Humans had long recognized that lighting had a pro-(p. 23)pensity for striking the tallest landmarks in its vicinity, and so the exaggerated height of church steeples–not to mention their flammable wooden construction–presented a puzzling but undeniable reality: the Almighty seemed to have a perverse appetite for burning down the buildings erected in His honor.

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Government Elevator Inspectors Vote with Their Feet for the Private Sector


“The chief inspection official, Charles Miraglia, works on the side for at least one private elevator company.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A27) More than a dozen members of the New York Housing Authority’s elevator staff — including the official who directs all safety inspections — also work second jobs for private companies in the elevator industry, according to interviews and city records.

The employees, including three managers and nearly half the inspection staff, say their second jobs do not conflict with their duties maintaining the 3,300 elevators in the authority’s 2,600 buildings. Tenant complaints and inspection records indicate that the authority’s elevators are among the worst maintained in the city.
All of the elevator staff members with second jobs, including the chief inspection official, Charles Miraglia, have received a waiver from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, which ruled the second jobs did not present an ethical conflict. Each waiver was granted, the board said, based on the endorsement of the Housing Authority chairman, Tino Hernandez, and an assurance from the employee that the job would not interfere with his authority duties.
. . .
Criticism of the way the authority, the nation’s largest public housing landlord, maintains its elevators intensified recently, after a 5-year-old boy died trying to escape a stalled elevator in an authority-owned building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Aug. 19. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office continues to investigate that accident.
. . .
Some of those who received waivers to work a second job said in interviews that they worked only part time, and always after hours or on weekends.
Scott T. Hayes, a longtime elevator consultant and inspector for building owners in the city, said 99 percent of all commercial and residential inspections take place during normal business hours, and almost never on weekends. “If a building super works till 4:30 or 5 o’clock and then they’re off, and you show up at 6 o’clock and say I want to inspect the elevator, he’ll throw you out of the building,” Mr. Hayes said. “So I don’t know what kind of work they could be doing. It doesn’t make sense.”
Mr. Miraglia earns $104,000 a year in his authority post and received his waiver to work outside jobs in August 2007, at a time when the authority’s difficulties in inspecting elevators were already apparent.

For the full story, see:
RAY RIVERA. “Fixing Elevators: For the City, and on the Side.” The New York Times (Tues., September 30, 2008): B1.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The Policy Agenda to Euthanize the Entrepreneur

(p. 151) The agenda is simple: the stealthy and unannounced euthanasia of the entrepreneur. It can be accomplished easily by following two seductive themes of policy: lowering tax and interest costs for large corporations and a few other favored institutions, while shifting the burden increasingly to individuals and families. By reducing corporate taxes, subsidizing corporate loans, sponsoring a wide range of favored borrowers, institutionalizing personal savings, and discreetly allowing taxes to rise on personal income, government can painlessly extinguish the disposable wealth of entrepreneurs.

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

Environmentalists Abandon Science

In honor of “Earth Day,” some thoughtful comments by a co-founder of Greenpeace:

(p. A23) In 1971 an environmental and antiwar ethic was taking root in Canada, and I chose to participate. As I completed a Ph.D. in ecology, I combined my science background with the strong media skills of my colleagues. In keeping with our pacifist views, we started Greenpeace.
But I later learned that the environmental movement is not always guided by science. As we celebrate Earth Day today, this is a good lesson to keep in mind.
At first, many of the causes we championed, such as opposition to nuclear testing and protection of whales, stemmed from our scientific knowledge of nuclear physics and marine biology. But after six years as one of five directors of Greenpeace International, I observed that none of my fellow directors had any formal science education. They were either political activists or environmental entrepreneurs. Ultimately, a trend toward abandoning scientific objectivity in favor of political agendas forced me to leave Greenpeace in 1986.
The breaking point was a Greenpeace decision to support a world-wide ban on chlorine. Science shows that adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health, virtually eradicating water-borne diseases such as cholera. And the majority of our pharmaceuticals are based on chlorine chemistry. Simply put, chlorine is essential for our health.
My former colleagues ignored science and supported the ban, forcing my departure. Despite science concluding no known health risks – and ample benefits – from chlorine in drinking water, Greenpeace and other environmental groups have opposed its use for more than 20 years.

For the full commentary, see:

PATRICK MOORE. “Why I Left Greenpeace.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 22, 2008): A23.

An Intellectual Collaboration Beyond the Grave

There is something touchingly noble in this:

(p. 11) There is no direct evidence in the historical record, but it is entirely probable that it was the waterspout sighting that sent Priestley off on his quest to measure the temperature of the sea, trying to marshal supporting evidence for a passing conjecture his friend had made a decade before. Franklin had been dead for nearly four years, but their intellectual collaboration continued, undeterred by war, distance, even death.

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Houston Rejects Irrational Recycling Fad


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

(p. A13) HOUSTON — While most large American cities have started ambitious recycling programs that have sharply reduced the amount of trash bound for landfills, Houston has not.
. . .
Landfill costs here are cheap. The city’s sprawling, no-zoning layout makes collection expensive, and there is little public support for the kind of effort it takes to sort glass, paper and plastics. And there appears to be even less for placing fees on excess trash.

“We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up,” said Mayor Bill White, . . .

For the full story, see:
ADAM B. ELLICK. “Houston Resists Recycling, and Independent Streak Is Cited.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 29, 2008): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)