38 Theories Why Humans Became Sedentary

(p. 36) . . . if people didn’t settle down to take up farming, why then did they embark on this entirely new way of living? We have no idea–or actually, we have lots of ideas, but we don’t know if any of them are right. According to the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, at least thirty-eight theories have been put forward to explain why people took to living in communities: that they were driven to it by climatic change, or by a wish to stay near their dead, or by a powerful desire to brew and drink beer, which could only be indulged by staying in one place. One theory, evidently seriously suggested (Jane Jacobs cites It In her landmark work of 1969, The Economy of Cities), was that “fortuitous showers” of cosmic rays caused mutations in grasses that made them suddenly attractive as a food source. The short answer is that no one knows why agriculture developed as it did.

Making food out of plants is hard work. The conversion of wheat, rice, corn, millet, barley, and other grasses into staple foodstuffs is one of the great achievements of human history, but also one of the more unexpected ones.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.
(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

Private ADP Job Data May Better Capture Startup Job Growth than Government Data

“ADP” in the quote below, stands for Automatic Data Processing Inc. which is a large payroll processing firm that provides job growth data that are an alternative to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. Recent research by Haltiwanger and others, has indicated that startups may have an under-appreciated large role in job growth.

(p. C1) It has been dubbed “Another Dumb Payroll” report and a “random number generator.” But the ADP employment report doesn’t entirely deserve its bad rap.

. . .
ADP may better capture . . . new business formation than Labor Department estimates. BofA Merrill Lynch economist Michelle Meyer notes that new firms show up in ADP data after two months of existence; the government doesn’t have complete records until much later. Indeed, more than half the 187,000 new jobs ADP reported last month came from businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

For the full story, see:
KELLY EVANS. “AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., FEBRUARY 4, 2011): C1.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “AHEAD OF THE TAPE; Respect for ADP: Jobs Picture Is Brighter Than Thought.”)

For some of the work showing the importance of startups in job creation, see:
Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Jarmin. “Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young.” NBER Working Paper # 16300, August 2010.

Few Good Jobs for China’s College Graduates

(p. A13) BEIJING–Young people calling themselves the “ant tribe” and living in Beijing’s outskirts have prompted a national discussion about the tough job market for college graduates in China.
The term “ants”–referring to the graduates’ industriousness as well as their crowded, modest living conditions–was coined in a book by Lian Si, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, who in a 2007-09 survey of 600 Beijing-area college graduates found their average monthly income was the equivalent of $300.
The book touched a nerve in China, inspiring both admiration for the young people’s striving and indignation at their living conditions. Earlier this year, several members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the government, said they were moved to tears on a visit to the village of Tangjialing when they heard two young men who shared a 50-square-foot room sing a song they composed about their tough lives.
. . .
The “Song of the Ants” is a favorite. Its refrain: “Though we have nothing, we are tough in spirit; though we have nothing, we are still dreaming; though we have nothing, we still have power; though we have nothing, we are not afraid of being deserted.”

For the full story, see:
Sue Feng and Ian Johnson. “Job Squeeze in China Sends ‘Ants’ to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 4, 2010): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 3, 2010 and has the title “China Job Squeeze Sends ‘Ants’ to Fringes; Millions of College Graduates Stack Up, Seek Cheap Living on Beijing Outskirts.”)

Google CEO Larry Page Admires Steve Jobs

BrinPageSchmidtGoogle2011-06-05.jpg “Former colleagues describe Larry Page, center, as strong-willed and sometimes impolite. He is said to admire Apple CEO Steve Jobs.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) Larry Page’s PageRank algorithm was the basis for Google Inc.’s search engine. As Google’s new chief executive, Mr. Page will face the challenge of leading a company that has grown far beyond that algorithm and must compete with agile Web upstarts such as Facebook Inc. and Groupon Inc.

On Friday, a day after being named to replace outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt in April, Mr. Page gave little hint of how he planned to tackle such challenges. The 38-year-old Google co-founder didn’t immediately address employees in an all-hands note or meeting, said a person familiar with the matter, though the company has a weekly Friday meeting that Mr. Page was expected to attend.
But several of Mr. Page’s former colleagues describe him as having similarities to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whom Mr. Page has said he admired. Both men are strong willed, sometimes impolite and push engineers hard to execute their ambitious projects.
Some former colleagues said Mr. Page is likely to try to pierce through the sometimes “paralyzing” bureaucracy that product managers and engineers have faced when trying to launch some Google products in recent years.
On Thursday, Messrs. Page and Schmidt said some top-level decision-making had gotten slower and the management change would improve that. Also, the company has said it is trying to allow more projects to operate like start-ups inside of Google in order to speed up innovation.

For the full story, see:
AMIR EFRATI and SCOTT MORRISON. “TECHNOLOGY; Chief Seeks More Agile Google; As CEO, Larry Page Must Pierce Bureaucracy, Compete With Nimble Upstarts.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 22, 2011): B1 & B4.

“The American Machines Did Things that the World Earnestly Wished Machines to Do”

(p. 22) . . . when the displays were erected it came as something of a surprise to discover that the American section was an outpost of wizardry and wonder. Nearly all the American machines did things that the world earnestly wished machines to do–stamp out nails, cut stone, mold candles–but with a neatness, dispatch, and tireless reliability that left other nations blinking. Elias Howe’s sewing machine dazzled the ladies and held out the impossible promise that one of the great drudge pastimes of domestic life could actually be made exciting and fun. Cyrus McCormick displayed a reaper that could do the work of forty men–a claim so improbably bold that almost no one believed it until the reaper (p. 23) was taken out to a farm in the Home Counties and shown to do all that it promised it could. Most exciting of all was Samuel Colt’s repeat-action revolver, which was not only marvelously lethal but made from inter-changeable parts, a method of manufacture so distinctive that it became known as “the American system.” Only one homegrown creation could match these virtuoso qualities of novelty, utility, and machine-age precision–Paxton’s great hall itself, and that was to disappear when the show was over. For many Europeans this was the first unsettling hint that those tobacco-chewing rustics across the water were quietly creating the next industrial colossus–a transformation so improbable that most wouldn’t believe it even as It was happening.

The most popular feature at the Great Exhibition was not an exhibition at all, but rather the elegant “retiring rooms,” where visitors could relieve themselves in comfort, an offer taken up with gratitude and enthusiasm by 827,000 people–11,000 of them on a single day. Public facilities in London were woefully lacking in 1851. At the British Museum, up to 30,000 daily visitors had to share just two outside privies. At the Crystal Palace the toilets actually flushed, enchanting visitors so much that It started a vogue for installing flushing toilets at home– . . .

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Steve Jobs as Project Entrepreneur

JobsSteveIpadIntroduction2011-06-05.jpg “Steve Jobs’s presence at the unveiling seemed to reassure investors.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Innovative entrepreneurs can have several different motives. I think Steve Jobs is mainly a “project entrepreneur”—his main motive is to envision a project and to accomplish it.

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, interrupted his medical leave on Wednesday to introduce the company’s much-anticipated new iPad, a thinner, faster and lighter version of its popular tablet computer that will sell at the same prices as the original models.

Mr. Jobs alluded to his leave but neither commented on his health nor said whether he planned to return to the company in the near future.
“We’ve been working on this product for a while and I just didn’t want to miss today,” he said.

For the full story, see:
MIGUEL HELFT. “Jobs Returns to Introduce a New iPad.” The New York Times (Thurs., March 3, 2011): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated March 2, 2011 and has the title “Jobs Returns to Introduce a New iPad.”)

Italian “Legal System Barely Functions”

(p. B4) The Italy that Mr. Severgnini describes seethes with frustration. Government works poorly. The legal system barely functions. Too many Italians are crowded into too little space. Fear of failure stymies innovation. Mr. Severgnini is dismayed at the national genius for enjoyment and the Italian inability to plan for the future. “Our sun is setting in installments,” he writes. “It’s festive and flamboyant, but it’s still a sunset.”

For the full review, see:
WILLIAM GRIMES. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; An Insider Explains Italy, Land of Cheery Dysfunction.” The New York Times (Weds., August 23, 2006): B1 & B4.

Book under review:
Severgnini, Beppe. La Bella Figura; a Field Guide to the Italian Mind. Translated by Giles Watson. pb ed. New York: Broadway Books, 2006.

Partage Provides Incentives to Recover Antiquities and the Means to Preserve Them


Source of book image: http://press.princeton.edu/images/k8602.gif

(p. D1) In some cases, it makes aesthetic or archaeological sense to keep artifacts grouped together where they were found, but it can also be risky to leave everything in one place, particularly if the country is in turmoil or can’t afford to excavate or guard all its treasures. After the Metropolitan Museum was pressured to hand over a collection called the Lydian Hoard, one of the most valuable (p. D2) pieces was stolen several years ago from its new home in Turkey.
. . .
(p. D2) In his book “Who Owns Antiquity?”, James Cuno argues that scholars have betrayed their principles by acquiescing to politicians who have exploited antiquities to legitimize themselves and their governments. Saddam Hussein was the most blatant, turning Iraqi archeology museums into propaganda for himself as the modern Nebuchadnezzar, but other leaders have been just as cynical in using antiquities to bolster their claims of sovereignty.

Dr. Cuno advocates the revival of partage, the traditional system in which archeologists digging in foreign countries would give some of their discoveries to the host country and take others home. That way both sides benefit, and both sides have incentives to recover antiquities before looters beat them to it. . . .
As the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Dr. Cuno has his own obvious motives for acquiring foreign antiquities, and he makes no apology for wanting to display Middle Eastern statues to Midwesterners.
“It is in the nature of our species to connect and exchange,” Dr. Cuno writes. “And the result is a common culture in which we all have a stake. It is not, and can never be, the property of one modern nation or another.”
Some of the most culturally protectionist nations today, like Egypt, Italy and Turkey, are trying to hoard treasures that couldn’t have been created without the inspiration provided by imported works of art. (Imagine the Renaissance without the influence of “looted” Greek antiquities.) And the current political rulers of those countries often have little in common culturally with the creators of the artifacts they claim to own.

For the full commentary, see:
JOHN TIERNEY. “FINDINGS; A Case in Antiquities for ‘Finders Keepers’.” The New York Times (Tues., November 17, 2009): B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated November 16, 2009.)

The Cuno book discussed above, is:
Cuno, James. Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

500 Kinds of Hammers: Even Marx Knew that Capitalism Produces Variety


The diversity of hammers, part 1. Source of graphic: page 4 of the Basalla book quoted and cited aways down below.

(p. 21 of Bryson) Suddenly, for the first time In history, there was in most people’s lives a lot of everything. Karl Marx, living in London, noted with a tone of wonder, and just a hint of helpless admiration, that it was possible to buy five hundred kinds of hammer In Britain. Everywhere was activity, Modern Londoners live in a great Victorian city; the Victorians lived through It, so to speak. In twelve years eight railway termini opened In London. The scale of disruption–the trenches, the tunnels, the muddy excavations, the congestion of wagons and other vehicles, the smoke, the din, the clutter–that came from filling the city with railways, bridges, sewers, pumping stations, power stations, subway lines, and all the rest meant that Victorian London was not just the biggest city in the world but the noisiest, foulest, muddiest, busiest, most choked and dug-over place the world had ever seen.

The 1851 census also showed that more people in Britain now lived in cities than in the countryside–the first time that this had happened anywhere in the world–and the most visible consequence of this was crowds on a scale never before experienced. People now worked en masse, traveled en masse, were schooled, imprisoned, and hospitalized en masse. When they went out to enjoy themselves, they did that en masse, and nowhere did they go with greater enthusiasm and rapture than to the Crystal Palace.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

On Marx and hammers, Bryson references p. 156 of Petroski:
Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts–from Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers–Came to Be as They Are. New York: A. Knopf, 1992.

Actually, Petroski’s source on Marx on hammers clearly is Basalla who he quotes on pp. 23-24:

(p. 23 of Petroski) George Basalla, in The Evolution of Technology, suggests the great “diversity of things made by human hands” over the past two hundred years by pointing out that five million patents have been issued in America alone. . . . (p. 24) He then introduces the fundamental questions of his study:

The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumb-tacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn . . . that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts. What forces led to the proliferation of so many variations of this ancient and common tool? Or more generally, why are there so many different kinds of things?

Basalla dismisses the “traditional wisdom” that attributes technological diversity to necessity and utility, and looks for other explanations, “especially ones that can incorporate the most general assumptions about the meaning and goals of life.”

(Note: italics in original; first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)

Petroski then again mentions Marx on hammers on the p. 156 that is referenced by Bryson:

(p. 156 of Petroski) In spite of Marx’s astonishment that five hundred different kinds of hammers were made in Birmingham in the 1860s, this was no capitalist plot. Indeed, if there were a plot, it was to not make more. The proliferation of hammer types occurred because there were then, as now, many specialized uses of hammers, and each user wished to possess a tool that was suited as ideally as possible to the tasks he performed perhaps thousands of times each day, but seldom if ever in a formal social context. I have often reflected on the value of special hammers while using the two ordinary ones from my tool chest: a familiar carpenter’s hammer with a claw, and a smaller version that fits in places the larger one does not. The tasks I’ve applied them to have included driving and removing nails, of course, but also opening and closing paint cans, pounding on chisels, tacking down carpets, straightening dented bicycle fenders, breaking bricks, driving wooden stakes, and on and on.

The Basalla book is:
Basalla, George. The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

On p. 2 of Basalla, he writes:

(p. 2 of Basalla) The variety of made things is every bit as astonishing as that of living things. Consider the range that extends from stone tools to microchips, from waterwheels to spacecraft, from thumbtacks to skyscrapers. In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn, as well he might have been, that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts . . .

(Note: ellipsis added.)

In Basalla’s notes to this chapter, the only Marx he mentions is the first volume of Capital. Searching volume one of Capital in Google Books for “hammer,” one discovers the relevant passage on p. 375:

(p. 374 of Marx) Manufacture is characterized by the differentiation of (p. 375) the instruments of labour–a differentiation whereby implements of a given sort acquire fixed shapes, adapted to each particular application, and by the specialisation (sic) of those instruments, giving to each special instrument its full play only in the hands of a specific detail labourer. In Birmingham alone 500 varieties of hammers are produced, and not only is each adapted to one particular process, but several varieties often serve exclusively for the different operations in one and the same process. The manufacturing period simplifies, improves, and multiplies the implements of labour, by adapting them to the exclusively special functions of each detail labourer.

The Marx book is:
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. New York: Modern Library, 1906 [first German edition in 1867].


The diversity of hammers, part 2. Source of graphic: page 5 of the Basalla book quoted and cited somewhere above.