“An Entrenched Favors-for-Votes Culture Is Now Coming Unglued”


“Akis Tsochatzopoulos on April 11 became the highest-ranking Greek official ever to be detained on corruption charges.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A6) Prosecutors accuse the former defense minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, 73, a founding member of the Socialist Party and the highest-ranking Greek official ever to be detained on corruption charges, of pocketing at least $26 million in kickbacks for Greece’s purchase of submarines and missile systems and funneling the money through offshore accounts to buy property.
. . .
The case of Mr. Tsochatzopoulos (pronounced zok-at-ZOP-ou-los) marks the rise — and perhaps fall — of a political culture that has dominated Greece for decades, in which alternating Socialist and center-right New Democracy governments helped spread the spoils and, critics say, the corruption, during the boom years. That system helped drive up Greece’s public debt to the point that it was forced to seek a foreign bailout in 2010.
As the money has run out, an entrenched favors-for-votes culture is now coming unglued, and Greeks have become less forgiving of high-level missteps.

For the full story, see:
RACHEL DONADIO and NIKI KITSANTONIS. “Corruption Case Hits Hard in a Tough Time for Greece.” The New York Times (Thurs., May 3, 2012): A6 & A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 2, 2012.)

Observed Climate “Not in Good Agreement with Model Predictions”

The author of the following commentary is a Princeton physics professor:

(p. A13) What is happening to global temperatures in reality? The answer is: almost nothing for more than 10 years. Monthly values of the global temperature anomaly of the lower atmosphere, compiled at the University of Alabama from NASA satellite data, can be found at the website http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/. The latest (February 2012) monthly global temperature anomaly for the lower atmosphere was minus 0.12 degrees Celsius, slightly less than the average since the satellite record of temperatures began in 1979.
The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade has made it more difficult for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters to demonize the atmospheric gas CO2 which is released when fossil fuels are burned.
. . .
Frustrated by the lack of computer-predicted warming over the past decade, some IPCC supporters have been claiming that “extreme weather” has become more common because of more CO2. But there is no hard evidence this is true.
. . .
Large fluctuations from warm to cold winters have been the rule for the U.S., as one can see from records kept by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. For example, the winters of 1932 and 1934 were as warm as or warmer than the 2011-2012 one and the winter of 1936 was much colder.
. . .
It is easy to be confused about climate, because we are constantly being warned about the horrible things that will happen or are already happening as a result of mankind’s use of fossil fuels. But these ominous predictions are based on computer models. It is important to distinguish between what the climate is actually doing and what computer models predict. The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with model predictions.
. . .
. . . we should . . . remember the description of how science works by the late, great physicist, Richard Feynman:
“In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience; compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”

For the full commentary, see:
WILLIAM HAPPER. “Global Warming Models Are Wrong Again; The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with predictions.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 27, 2012): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Asteroid-Mining Start-Up Hopes to Launch First Spacecraft within Two Years


“A computer image shows a rendering of a spacecraft preparing to capture a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid.” Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B3) SEATTLE–A start-up with high-profile backers on Tuesday unveiled its plan to send robotic spacecraft to remotely mine asteroids, a highly ambitious effort aimed at opening up a new frontier in space exploration.

At an event at the Seattle Museum of Flight, a group that included former National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials unveiled Planetary Resources Inc. and said it is developing a “low-cost” series of spacecraft to prospect and mine “near-Earth” asteroids for water and metals, and thus bring “the natural resources of space within humanity’s economic sphere of influence.”
The solar system is “full of resources, and we can bring that back to humanity,” said Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis, who helped start the X-Prize competition to spur nongovernmental space flight.
The company said it expects to launch its first spacecraft to low-Earth orbit–between 100 and 1,000 miles above the Earth’s surface–within two years, in what would be a prelude to sending spacecraft to prospect and mine asteroids.
The company, which was founded three years ago but remained secret until last week, said it could take a decade to finish prospecting, or identifying the best candidates for mining.

For the full story, see:
AMIR EFRATI. “Asteroid-Mining Strategy Is Outlined by a Start-Up.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 25, 2012): B3.
(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 24, 2012, and has the title “Start-Up Outlines Asteroid-Mining Strategy.”)

Quick Computing If Air Conditioning Worked

(p. 36) Using those IBM 650s was no easy feat. You had to take your turn in line with the other students, write your program, key punch it onto a big stack of cards, do your proofs to make sure it was accurate, and feed it into the computer. If you were lucky and the air-conditioning did not malfunction, you’d get your results back quickly. But there would be errors, which you had to correct, and then you had to repeat the process over and over again until the 650–working on the data with the program that you wrote–came up with the right answers.

Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.

“Birdseye Coaxes Readers to Re-examine Everyday Miracles”


Source of book image: http://media.miamiherald.com/smedia/2012/05/04/10/50/13z9ot.Em.56.jpg

(p. C7) Birdseye made and lost money, went west to search for the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and hunted fox for furs in Labrador, where he took his wife and infant son to live 250 miles by dogsled from the nearest hospital. He harpooned whales near his home in Gloucester, Mass., and wore a necktie while doing it. And he designed the industrial processes that made it possible to fast-freeze food, thus rendering obsolete much canned, dried, salted and smoked food and the musty basement bins that once held a winter’s diet of turnips, onions and potatoes.

Food had been frozen earlier but more slowly. Crystallization turned it mushy and tasteless. It was poor man’s food. In Labrador, fishing with the Inuit, Birdseye noticed that when a fish was pulled from a hole in the ice and into minus-40-degree air, it froze instantly, staying so fresh that when it was thawed months later, it would sometimes come alive.
He spent years putting together modern mass production with what he had seen in Labrador. By the 1920s, he was fast-freezing food that was far closer to fresh than any competition. “Today’s locavore movement–the movement to shun food from afar and eat what is produced locally . . . would have perplexed him,” Mr. Kurlansky writes. After all, “consumers could go to a supermarket and buy the food of California, France and China for less money.”
. . .
The author makes a telling point about locavores: “We need to grasp that people who are accustomed only to artisanal goods long for the industrial. It is only when the usual product is industrial that the artisanal is longed for. This is why artisanal food, the dream of the food of family farms, caught on so powerfully in California, one of the early strongholds of agribusiness with little tradition of small family farms.”
Birdseye’s heroism has been forgotten, and his frozen food is taken for granted, the way all inventions are taken sooner or later. He sold his business for $23.5 million in 1929 to what would become General Foods. He stayed on as a consultant and also ran his light bulb company, which he would sell too.

For the full review, see:
HENRY ALLEN. “The American Way of Eating; Harlan Sanders and Clarence Birdseye, just like today’s locavores, saw a meal as a way to improve people’s lives.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 5, 2012): C5 & C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated May 4, 2012.)

(p. C6) “Birdseye” is a slight but intriguing book that raises far more questions than it answers. But it indeed coaxes readers to re-examine everyday miracles like frozen food, and to imagine where places with no indigenous produce would be without them. It emphasizes the many steps that went into developing such a simple-seeming process.

For the full review, see:
JANET MASLIN. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Inventor Who Put Frozen Peas on Our Tables.” The New York Times (Thurs., April 26, 2012): C6.
(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 25, 2012.)

Book reviewed:
Kurlansky, Mark. Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man. New York: Doubleday, 2012.


“Mark Kurlansky.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Cuban Dissident Dies after Communist Police Beat Him in Park

(p. 12) Havana
OUTSIDE the sun is blindingly hot, and in the immigration office 100 people are sweating profusely. But no one complains. A critical word, a demanding attitude, could end in punishment. So we all wait silently for a “white card,” authorization to travel outside Cuba.
The white card is a piece of the migratory absurdities that prevent Cubans from freely leaving and entering their own country. It is our own Berlin Wall without the concrete, the land-mining of our borders without explosives. A wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim stares of soldiers. This capricious exit permit costs over $200, a year’s salary for the average Cuban. But money is not enough. Nor is a valid passport. We must also meet other, unwritten requirements, ideological and political conditions that make us eligible, or not, to board a plane.
. . .
Thousands of Cubans have been condemned to immobility on this island, though no court has issued such a verdict. Our “crime” is thinking critically of the government, being a member of an opposition group or subscribing to a platform in defense of human rights.
In my case, I can flaunt the sad record of having received 19 denials since 2008 of my applications for a white card.
. . .
That same afternoon, as I was issued one more denial, my cellphone rang insistently in my pocket. A broken voice related to me the last moments in the life of Juan Wilfredo Soto, a dissident who died several days after being handcuffed and beaten by the police in a public park. I sat down to steady myself, my ears ringing, my face flush.
I went home and looked at my passport, full of visas to enter a dozen countries but lacking any authorization to leave my own. Next to its blue cover my husband placed a report of the details of Juan Wilfredo Soto’s death. Looking from his face in the photograph to the national seal on my passport, I could only conclude that in Cuba, nothing has changed.

For the full commentary, see:
YOANI SANCHEZ. “The Dream of Leaving Cuba.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., April 22, 2012): 12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated April 21, 2012.)

Warming Planet May Cause Fewer High Clouds in Tropics, Allowing Heat to Escape into Space

CloudWeatherBalloon2012-05-03.jpg “A technician at a Department of Energy site in Oklahoma launching a weather balloon to help scientists analyze clouds.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading proponent of the view that clouds will save the day. His stature in the field — he has been making seminal contributions to climate science since the 1960s — has amplified his influence.

Dr. Lindzen says the earth is not especially sensitive to greenhouse gases because clouds will react to counter them, and he believes he has identified a specific mechanism. On a warming planet, he says, less coverage by high clouds in the tropics will allow more heat to escape to space, (p. A14) countering the temperature increase.
. . .
Dr. Lindzen accepts the elementary tenets of climate science. He agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, calling people who dispute that point “nutty.” He agrees that the level of it is rising because of human activity and that this should warm the climate.
But for more than a decade, Dr. Lindzen has said that when surface temperature increases, the columns of moist air rising in the tropics will rain out more of their moisture, leaving less available to be thrown off as ice, which forms the thin, high clouds known as cirrus. Just like greenhouse gases, these cirrus clouds act to reduce the cooling of the earth, and a decrease of them would counteract the increase of greenhouse gases.
Dr. Lindzen calls his mechanism the iris effect, after the iris of the eye, which opens at night to let in more light. In this case, the earth’s “iris” of high clouds would be opening to let more heat escape.
. . .
“If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions, Dr. Lindzen said in the interview. “If I’m wrong, we’ll know it in 50 years and can do something.”
. . .
“You have politicians who are being told if they question this, they are anti-science,” Dr. Lindzen said. “We are trying to tell them, no, questioning is never anti-science.”

For the full story, see:
JUSTIN GILLIS. “TEMPERATURE RISING; Clouds’ Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters.” The New York Times (Tues., May 1, 2012): A1 & A14.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 30, 2012.)

A “Boring” and “Excellent” Business Education

(p. 34) Most of what they taught us in those days was functional. This was before they added “entrepreneurship” to business courses. It was all about manufacturing, marketing, and personnel. I found that somewhat boring. I had two favorite courses. The first was Small Business. It was the only course where all the pieces carne together. The other was Computing, which was the first computer course that the Michigan Business School had ever taught. I had a feeling that this was the big new thing. But, more important, it was what IBM did. I had never seen a computer lab before. This was soon after Remington Rand made headlines with its UNIVAC I, the world’s first commercial computer.
. . .
(p. 59) The University of Michigan is an excellent school. I loved being there and I am proud to have earned an MBA. When I was there, I noticed that the fìve-and–ten-cents-store founder, Sebastian S. Kresge–the man who invented the Kmart chain–had given them Kresge Hall. When I could afford to, I figured, why not do the same? I have always been so grateful for what I learned there. In 1997 I gave the school funding for a Sam Wyly Hall. (A few years earlier, Charles and I had helped to build Louisiana Tech’s 16-story Wyly Tower of Learning.) It’s fulfilling to me that today Paton Scholars study at Sam Wyly Hall on the Ann Arbor campus.

Source of both quotes:
Wyly, Sam. 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire. New York: Newmarket Press, 2008.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Some Tasks Are Done Better in Private Offices


Source of book image: http://timeopinions.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/quiet-final-jacket.jpg

(p. 4) When the R.C. Hedreen Company, a real estate development firm based in Seattle, commissioned a renovation of a 10,800-square-foot floor in an old downtown office building five years ago, it specified a perimeter of private offices. Collaborative spaces are provided for creative teamwork, but the traditional offices remain the executives’ home ports.

”Individually, a lot of our workday is taken up with tasks that are better served by working alone in private offices,” says David Thyer, Hedreen’s president.
Susan Cain, author of ”Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” is skeptical of open-office environments — for introverts and extroverts alike, though she says the first group suffers much more amid noise and bustle.
Introverts are naturally more comfortable toiling alone, she says, so they will cope by negotiating time to work at home, or by isolating themselves with noise-canceling headphones — ”which is kind of an insane requirement for an office environment, when you think about it,” she says.
Ms. Cain also says humans have a fundamental need to claim and personalize space. ”It’s the room of one’s own,” she says. ”Your photographs are on the wall. It’s the same reason we have houses. These are emotional safety zones.”

For the full story, see:
LAWRENCE W. CHEEK. “Please, Just Give Me Some Space: In New Office Designs, Room to Roam and to Think.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., March 18, 2012): 1 & 4.

The book mentioned is:
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown, 2012.

Harvard and M.I.T. Free Online Courses May Disrupt Mid-Tier Universities

(p. A17) In what is shaping up as an academic Battle of the Titans — one that offers vast new learning opportunities for students around the world — Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced a new nonprofit partnership, known as edX, to offer free online courses from both universities.
Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.
But Harvard and M.I.T. have a rival — they are not the only elite universities planning to offer free massively open online courses, or MOOCs, as they are known. This month, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan announced their partnership with a new commercial company, Coursera, with $16 million in venture capital.
. . .
Education experts say that while the new online classes offer opportunities for students and researchers, they pose some threat to low-ranked colleges.
“Projects like this can impact lives around the world, for the next billion students from China and India,” said George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who teaches at Athabasca University, a publicly supported online Canadian university. “But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a circuits course.”

For the full story, see:
TAMAR LEWIN. “Harvard and M.I.T. Join to Offer Web Courses.” The New York Times (Thurs., May 3, 2012): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 2, 2012, and has the title “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses.”)

Four Million Former Californians Voted with Their Feet


Joel Kotkin. Source of image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) ‘California is God’s best moment,” says Joel Kotkin. “It’s the best place in the world to live.” Or at least it used to be.
. . .
Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.
. . .
“Basically, if you don’t own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven’t robbed a bank and don’t have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak,” says Mr. Kotkin.
. . .
And things will only get worse in the coming years as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his green cadre implement their “smart growth” plans to cram the proletariat into high-density housing. “What I find reprehensible beyond belief is that the people pushing [high-density housing] themselves live in single-family homes and often drive very fancy cars, but want everyone else to live like my grandmother did in Brownsville in Brooklyn in the 1920s,” Mr. Kotkin declares.
“The new regime”–his name for progressive apparatchiks who run California’s government–“wants to destroy the essential reason why people move to California in order to protect their own lifestyles.”
Housing is merely one front of what he calls the “progressive war on the middle class.” Another is the cap-and-trade law AB32, which will raise the cost of energy and drive out manufacturing jobs without making even a dent in global carbon emissions. Then there are the renewable portfolio standards, which mandate that a third of the state’s energy come from renewable sources like wind and the sun by 2020. California’s electricity prices are already 50% higher than the national average.
Oh, and don’t forget the $100 billion bullet train. Mr. Kotkin calls the runaway-cost train “classic California.” “Where [Brown] with the state going bankrupt is even thinking about an expenditure like this is beyond comprehension. When the schools are falling apart, when the roads are falling apart, the bridges are unsafe, the state economy is in free fall. We’re still doing much worse than the rest of the country, we’ve got this growing permanent welfare class, and high-speed rail is going to solve this?”

For the full interview, see:
ALLYSIA FINLEY, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus; A leading U.S. demographer and ‘Truman Democrat’ talks about what is driving the middle class out of the Golden State.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 21, 2012): A13.
(Note: ellipses added; bracketed words in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview is dated April 20, 2012.)