Crushed Under Eurostar in a Desparate Dash to a Better Life

(p. 280) In recent years, police have practically barricaded the marshalling yard in Calais, France,where the elegant Eurostar train must slow down before it enters the Channel Tunnel to England. Today the Calais marshalling yard for the Channel Tunnel looks like what the military might erect around a flying-saucer wreckage–barbed wire, electric fences, armed guards, and police dogs everywhere. Yet each night as darkness falls desperate men from the developing world, Africans and Pakistanis and Afghans and others, hide throughout the marshalling yard, sprint toward the Eurostar as it slows for the tunnel, and try to cling to its side as it accelerates again. They hope to survive until the train bears (p. 281) them into the United Kingdom, for French law treats illegal immigrants harshly, while England is more liberal. Numerous indigent developing-world men have been killed when they have slipped off the sides or the couplers of Eurostar, then fallen beneath its wheels; the stylish passengers aboard the train may feel a slight bump. Yet the men keep trying, though most must know there is hardly anything on this aerodynamically sleek train to grab hold of. Many are arrested as they dash toward the train and the favored life it represents. If released, they return to dash again. If deported, they try to sneak back into the country and dash again.

Source:
Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

“Gambles on Original Concepts Paid Off”

InceptionMovieStill2011-05-19.jpg“One surprise hit was “Inception,” with Leonardo DiCaprio.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I thought the movie “Inception” was a wonderful, intellectual and adventure thrill ride. And if memory serves, what they were trying to instill in the conflicted inheritor of a monopoly, was that he should become more entrepreneurial.

(p. B1) As Hollywood plowed into 2010, there was plenty of clinging to the tried and true: humdrum remakes like “The Wolfman” and “The A-Team”; star vehicles like “Killers” with Ashton Kutcher and “The Tourist” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp; and shoddy sequels like “Sex and the City 2.” All arrived at theaters with marketing thunder intended to fill multiplexes on opening weekend, no matter the quality of the film. “Sex and the City 2,” for example, had marketed “girls’ night out” premieres and bottomless stacks of merchandise like thong underwear.

But the audience pushed back. One by one, these expensive yet middle-of-the-road pictures delivered disappointing results or flat-out flopped. Meanwhile, gambles on original concepts paid off. “Inception,” a complicated thriller about dream invaders, racked up more than $825 million in global ticket sales; “The Social Network” has so far delivered $192 million, a stellar result for a highbrow drama.
As a result, studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.

For the full story, see:
BROOKS BARNES. “Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow.” The New York Times (Mon., December 27, 2010): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 26, 2010 and has the title “Hollywood Moves Away From Middlebrow.”)

College Does Not Improve Thinking or Writing for 36% of Graduates

(p. 10) In a typical semester, . . . , 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.
. . .
Too many institutions, . . . , rely primarily on student course evaluations to assess teaching. This creates perverse incentives for professors to demand little and give out good grades. (Indeed, the 36 percent of students in our study who reported spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone still had an average G.P.A. of 3.16.) On those commendable occasions when professors and academic departments do maintain rigor, they risk declines in student enrollments. And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk.

For the full commentary, see:
RICHARD ARUM and JOSIPA ROKSA. “Your So-Called Education.” The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., May 15, 2011): 10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 14, 2011.)

Arum and Roska’s book is:
Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Feds Finally Admit Some Children Harmed by High Fluoridated Water Mandates

FluorisisChart2011-05-19.jpg


WSJ article quoted and cited below.

Back when I was a child, decades ago, my family opposed the fluoridation of public water supplies on the grounds that there might be health risks, and people could individually choose to apply fluoride to their teeth.
Well, now the government is suggesting that too much fluoride can harm children’s teeth, and that the target level for fluoride in the water should be reduced.

(p. A3) The federal government lowered its recommended limit on the amount of fluoride in drinking water for the first time in nearly 50 years, saying that spots on some children’s teeth show they are getting too much of the mineral.

Fluoride has been added to U.S. water supplies since 1945 to prevent tooth decay. Since 1962, the government has recommended adding a range of 0.7 milligrams to 1.2 milligrams per liter.
. . .
A study conducted between 1999 and 2004 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 41% of children between the ages of 12 and 15 exhibited signs of dental fluorosis, a spotting or streaking on the teeth. That was up from nearly 23% found in a study from 1986 and 1987.
. . .
. . . for years, some groups have called for an end to fluoridation, arguing that it poses serious health dangers, including increased risk of bone fractures and of decreased thyroid function. Friday’s announcement did little to appease such critics.
“The only rational course of action is to stop water fluoridation,” said Paul Connett, executive director of the Fluoride Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy and fluoride-education group

.

For the full story, see:
TIMOTHY W. MARTIN. “Government Advises Less Fluoride in Water.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JANUARY 8, 2011): A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Garbage Landfill Is Home to 80,000 in Payatas

(p. 281) Perhaps you’ve heard of Smoky Mountain, the town-sized garbage landfill in Payatas, outside Manila in the Philippines, that is home to an estimated eighty thousand desperately poor Filipinos who eke out a miserable existence scavenging what others throw away. Eighty thousand people is more than the population of Utica, New York. Entire families have been born at the Smoky Mountain landfill and lived their lives there, amidst squalor, stench, and constant smoke of smoldering trash. In July 2000, about two hundred residents of the Payatas landfill died when a large hill of trash collapsed, burying them under a garbage avalanche.

Source:
Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

Entrepreneur Ken Olsen Was First Lionized and Then Chastised

OlsenKenObit2011-05-16.jpg“Ken Olsen, the pioneering founder of DEC, in 1996.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

I believe in The Road Ahead, Bill Gates describes Ken Olsen as one of his boyhood heroes for having created a computer that could compete with the IBM mainframe. His hero failed to prosper when the next big thing came along, the PC. Gates was determined that he would avoid his hero’s fate, and so he threw his efforts toward the internet when the internet became the next big thing.
Christensen sometimes uses the fall of minicomputers, like Olsen’s Dec, to PCs as a prime example of disruptive innovation, e.g., in his lectures on disruptive innovation available online through Harvard. A nice intro lecture is viewable (but only using Internet Explorer) at: http://gsb.hbs.edu/fss/previews/christensen/start.html

(p. A22) Ken Olsen, who helped reshape the computer industry as a founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, at one time the world’s second-largest computer company, died on Sunday. He was 84.

. . .
Mr. Olsen, who was proclaimed “America’s most successful entrepreneur” by Fortune magazine in 1986, built Digital on $70,000 in seed money, founding it with a partner in 1957 in the small Boston suburb of Maynard, Mass. With Mr. Olsen as its chief executive, it grew to employ more than 120,000 people at operations in more than 95 countries, surpassed in size only by I.B.M.
At its peak, in the late 1980s, Digital had $14 billion in sales and ranked among the most profitable companies in the nation.
But its fortunes soon declined after Digital began missing out on some critical market shifts, particularly toward the personal computer. Mr. Olsen was criticized as autocratic and resistant to new trends. “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” he said at one point. And in July 1992, the company’s board forced him to resign.

For the full obituary, see:
GLENN RIFKIN. “Ken Olsen, Founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation, Dies at 84.” The New York Times (Tues., February 8, 2011): A22.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 7, 2011 and has the title “Ken Olsen, Who Built DEC Into a Power, Dies at 84.”)

Gates writes in autobiographical mode in the first few chapters of:
Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.

Christensen’s mature account of disruptive innovation is best elaborated in:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

“For the First 40 Years of Indian Independence, Entrepreneurs . . . Were Looked Down Upon”

(p. 8) Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder of the National Association of Software and Service Companies in India, explained that for the first 40 years of Indian independence, entrepreneurs here were looked down upon. India had lost confidence in its ability to compete, so it opted for protectionism. But when the ’90s rolled around, and India’s government was almost bankrupt, India’s technology industry was able to get the government to open up the economy, in part by citing the example of America and Silicon Valley. India has flourished ever since.

“America,” said Srivastava, “was the one who said to us: ‘You have to go for meritocracy. You don’t have to produce everything yourselves. Go for free trade and open markets.’ This has been the American national anthem, and we pushed our government to tune in to it. And just when they’re beginning to learn how to hum it, you’re changing the anthem. … Our industry was the one pushing our government to open our markets for American imports, 100 percent foreign ownership of companies and tough copyright laws when it wasn’t fashionable.”

If America turns away from these values, he added, the socialist/protectionists among India’s bureaucrats will use it to slow down any further opening of the Indian markets to U.S. exporters.

For the full commentary, see:
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN. “It’s Morning in India.” The New York Times, Week in Review Section (Sun., October 31, 2010): 8.
(Note: the online version of the story is dated October 30, 2010.)