Novelist Anna Quindlen Loves Her Electric Generator

QuindlenAnnaNovelist2013-04-23.jpg “Feel the Power: Author Quindlen at her home, which is kept up and running with occasional use of her beloved generator.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. M14) I love my generator. It’s not much to look at, a beige box half the size of my desk, hidden by a scrim of native grasses. If my power goes out for more than two minutes, it clears its throat and rumbles into life.

The fridge hums, the TV flares, the water flows from the faucet. Every once in a while I give the generator a pat in passing to show my appreciation.
. . .
. . . , in 2009, the tornado came. One of the things that was freaky was how exactly it conformed to every news report I’d ever seen. Dark air like demonic possession, a sharp path cut across the land by meteorological shears. We were lucky; the sharp path fell directly between the house and the garage. You could follow it from there by looking at the empty spaces in a solid line of trees, the rootballs waving their witchy root toes in the air. We lost a lot of trees. And the power, for five days. Five long days. It’s funny the little things you miss. Our coffee maker is electric. Each morning my friend, Emily, would bring a thermos of coffee and take my phone away to charge it.
But there was a big thing missing, too, and it wasn’t light. Where we live, if you lose power, you lose water. And after five days of keeping a bucket by the back door so I could get water from the pond for the toilets, five days of trying to convince myself that going in the pool was almost like an actual shower, I called the contractor and said, “Generator. Please. Soon.”

For the full commentary, see:
ANNA QUINDLEN. “HOUSE CALL; A Message Delivered by Tornado; After five days without power, a desperate writer calls her contractor to say: ‘Generator. Please. Soon.’.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 12, 2013): M14.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 11, 2013.)
(Note: ellipses added.)

QuidlenBelovedGenerator2013-04-23.jpg

“Ms. Quindlen’s beloved generator is shown.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Today Is 13th Anniversary of Democrats’ Infamous Betrayal of Elián González

GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg“In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. “10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title “10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.”)

Today (April 22, 2013) is the 13th anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history—when the Democratic Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.

Analytical Solutions Require Unrealistic Assumptions that Make Models Useless for Policy

TheCraftOfEconomicsBK2013-04-05.jpg

Source of book image: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/edward.leamer/images/COVER%209120_jkt_Rev1.jpg

(p. 190) When I was a younger man, I and all of my cohort were apprehensive if we saw Ed Leamer in the audience when we were presenting a paper. His comments were blunt, incisive, and often negative. But what truly terrified us was that he was almost always right. . . .

Leamer has produced a highly original little book, with big insights and lessons for us all. He explores the tension between economics that is mathematically sophisticated and complex but often vacuous, versus economics that may be vague but which is useful and carries a message. It is frankly a remarkable work, full of insights and persuasive arguments that need to be read, debated, and taken seriously.
. . .
(p. 191) But this is no rant of an old guy. Leamer gets very specific about his notions of usefulness versus rigor. A good drum to bang on is Samuelson, an important “mathematizer.” I would strongly encourage all young trade economists and perhaps all graduate students who have been subjected to a traditional international trade course at any level, to read the section on factor-price equalization. This is beautifully done and even exciting and funny at times. As told by Leamer, the young Samuelson excoriates Ohlin for largely dismissing the possibility of factor-price equalization and then presents his (Samuelson’s) “proof” of factor-price equalization. The latter, of course, is a theorem that is mathematically correct given the assumptions, but Ohlin is talking about its usefulness in understanding the world and constructing policy. The factor-price-equalization theorem is indeed a prime example of something that is valid but not useful.
. . .
Yet at the same time, I have thought long and hard about exactly what message should be given to graduate students and assistant professors without much success. The journal publishing business puts a huge premium on rigor over usefulness and few referees or editors are inclined to take the chance inherent in accepting papers that are a bit loose in their analytical or econometric structures, no matter how exciting they might be. If you accept that, then the profession as a whole has to rethink our view of what is an important scientific contribution: I cannot simply tell graduate students to think more broadly and worry less about elegance. Some will of course deny that there is any tension, but I side with Leamer. Over and over again, I hear, read, and/or referee papers (p. 192) where, in order to get an analytical solution to a model, the author has to assume away almost every interesting feature of the problem to the point that the remaining model is uninteresting and uninformative. But that at least qualifies the paper for possible publication in Econometrica, RESTud, or JET.

For the full review, see:
Markusen, James R. “Book Review of Ed Leamer’s the Craft of Economics.” Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 1 (2013): 190-92.
(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

The book under review is:
Leamer, Edward E. The Craft of Economics, Ohlin Lectures. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

“The French Work Force Gets Paid High Wages But Works Only Three Hours”

(p. B1) PARIS — “How stupid do you think we are?”
With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.
“I have visited the factory a couple of times,” Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.
“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
“I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!’ “

For the full story, see:
LIZ ALDERMAN. “Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)

For a similar account, see:
GABRIELE PARUSSINI. “U.S. CEO to France: “How Stupid Do You Think We Are?” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B1.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013, and has the title “U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Habits.”)

New Technology Allows Maple Syrup Farms to Adapt and Thrive with Global Warming

MapleSyrupTubingVermont2013-04-06.jpg “Tom Morse, left, and his father, Burr, at work on their maple farm in Vermont.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 11) Scientists say the tapping season — the narrow window of freezing nights and daytime temperatures over 40 degrees needed to convert starch to sugar and get sap flowing — is on average five days shorter than it was 50 years ago. But technology developed over the past decade and improved in recent years offers maple farmers like Mr. Morse a way to offset the effects of climate change with high-tech tactics that are far from natural.

Today, five miles of pressurized blue tubing spider webs down the hillside at Morse Farm, pulling sap from thousands of trees and spitting it into tubs like an immense, inverse IV machine. Modern vacuum pumps are powerful enough to suck the air out of a stainless steel dairy tank and implode it, and they help producers pull in twice as much sap as before.
“You can make it run when nature wouldn’t have it run,” Mr. Morse said.
His greatest secret weapon is a reverse-osmosis machine that concentrates the sap by pulling it through sensitive membranes, greatly increasing the sugar content before it even hits the boiler. The $8,000 instrument with buttons and dials looks like it belongs in a Jetsons-era laboratory more than in a Vermont sugarhouse. But it saves more fuel and money than every other innovation combined. With it Mr. Morse can process sap into syrup in 30 minutes, something that used to take two hours.
. . .
The biggest United States maple farmers have expanded their production acreage and are tapping more trees than ever before: the total was 5.5 million taps last year, compared with slightly over 4 million taps 10 years earlier.
As a result, United States maple syrup production hit a new high in 2011. In Vermont, the top-producing state, sap yield per tap has risen over the past decade.

For the full story, see:
JULIA SCOTT. “Maple Syrup: Old-Fashioned Product, Newfangled Means of Production.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., March 31, 2013): 11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 30, 2013, and has the title “High-Tech Means of Production Belies Nostalgic Image of Maple Syrup.”)

Hunter-Gatherers Complained of Hunger and Food Monotony

(p. 30) Based on numerous historical encounters with aboriginal tribes, we know [hunter-gatherers] often, if not regularly, complained about being hungry. Famed anthropologist Colin Turnbull noted that although the Mbuti frequently sang to the goodness of the forest, they often complained of hunger. Often the com-(p. 31)plaints of hunter-gathers were about the monotony of a carbohydrate staple, such as mongongo nuts, for every meal; when they spoke of shortages, or even hunger, they meant a shortage of meat, and a hunger for fat, and a distaste for periods of hunger. Their small amount of technology gave them sufficiency for most of the time, but not abundance.

Source:
Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: “hunter-gathers” substituted for “they” by AMD.)

Chagnon Enraged Cultural Anthropologists By Showing Tribal Violence

NobleSavagesBK2013-04-05.jpg

Source of book image: http://media.npr.org/assets/bakertaylor/covers/n/noble-savages/9780684855103_custom-4deac679a847f1d6e7d64424b01d0be54b54e3a7-s6-c10.jpg

(p. C) In the 1960s, cultural anthropologists led by Marvin Harris argued that conflict among prestate people was mostly over access to scarce protein. Dr. Chagnon disputed this, arguing that Yanomamo Indians’ chief motive for raiding and fighting–which they did a great deal–seemed to be to abduct, recover or avenge the abduction of women. He even claimed that Indian men who had killed people (“unokais”) had more wives and more children than men who had not killed, thus gaining a Darwinian advantage.

Such claims could not have been more calculated to enrage the presiding high priests of cultural anthropology, slaughtering as it did at least three sacred cows of the discipline: that uncontacted tribal people were peaceful, that Darwinism had nothing to say about human behavior and culture, and that material resources were the cause of conflict.
. . .
Meanwhile the science has been going Dr. Chagnon’s way. Recent studies have confirmed that mortality from violence is very common in small-scale societies today and in the past. Almost one-third of such people die in raids and fights, and the death rate is twice as high among men as among women. This is a far higher death rate than experienced even in countries worst hit by World War II. Thomas Hobbes’s “war of each against all” looks more accurate for humanity in a state of nature than Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “noble savage,” though anthropologists today prefer to see a continuum between these extremes.

For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “MIND & MATTER; Farewell to the Myth of the Noble Savage.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 26, 2013): C4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 25, 2013.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The Chagnon book that Ridley is discussing:
Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.