Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain

(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called “Dry-Henceforth.”
Government-sponsored failure didn’t stop others from trying. A man who called himself “the moisture accelerator,” Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Smart Phones Bring Power to the Patient

(p. A11) We instinctively reach for our smartphones when we need to take pictures, get directions, deposit checks or reserve a table. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and digital pioneer, thinks that they are ready to perform at least one more task: revolutionize health care. In “The Patient Will See You Now,” he argues that smartphones will democratize medicine by bringing data and control directly to the people.
The power of doctors, says Dr. Topol, “can be likened to that of religious leaders and nobility” in centuries past, when knowledge and authority belonged to a small elite. He notes that we’ve never seen “a discrete challenge to the medical profession” akin to Luther ‘s challenge to the Roman Catholic Church or democracy’s challenge to monarchy and despotism. “But we’ve not had the platform or landscape for that to be accomplished. Until now.” Smartphones, he says, enable a range of medical applications to move from the hospital to the home, and they shift medicine’s locus of control from doctor to patient.

For the full review, see:
DAVID A. SHAYWITZ. “BOOKSHELF; Doctor Android; In the same way that Luther challenged the Catholic Church, smartphones are poised to upend the medical profession.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 13, 2015): A11.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12, 2015.)

The book under review is:
Topol, Eric. The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Police Unions Make It Harder to Get Rid of Bad Cops

(p. A29) A small percentage of cops commit most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the “resisting arrest” charges were filed by just 5 percent of New York Police Department officers. In other words, most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations.
But it’s very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else. In parts of the country, contract rules stipulate that officers get a 48-hour cooling-off period before having to respond to questions. They have access to the names and testimony of their accusers. They can be questioned only by one person at a time. They can’t be threatened with disciplinary action during questioning.
More seriously, cops who are punished can be reinstated through a secretive appeals process that favors job retention over public safety. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a riveting piece with egregious stories of cops who have returned to the force after clear incompetence. Hector Jimenez was an Oakland, Calif., cop who shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man in 2007. Seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him in the back three times while he ran away. The city paid damages. Jimenez was fired. But he appealed through his union and was reinstated with back pay.

For the full commentary, see:
David Brooks. “The Union Future.” The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 19, 2014): A29.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 18, 2014. )

Delta and Atlanta Protect Their Huge Hartsfield-Jackson Airport from Little Silver Comet Field

(p. B6) DALLAS, Ga. — Airports do not get much smaller than Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, where an undeveloped two-lane road weaves to a church-quiet setting framed by small hills.
On a recent weekday morning, four small business jets were planted on the tarmac, if it can be called that. Nine automobiles dotted the parking lot, most of them driven there for a meeting. Outside the two-story building that serves as the terminal, which was reminiscent of a lodge in off-peak season, there was no sign of human life.
Only 50 miles away sits the world’s most bustling airport, Hartsfield-Jackson. It maintains a monopoly on commercial flights in Atlanta, the largest metropolitan region without a secondary airport.
Paulding Northwest would like to change that grip on the market. The airport has applied for a commercial license so it can introduce two flights a week, and has since encountered stiff opposition.
Leading the charge against the bid is the Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which averages about 1,000 daily departures from its sprawling hub.
But the airport’s supporters are crying foul, saying that Delta, along with the city of Atlanta, which owns Hartsfield-Jackson, has managed to throw up a series of barriers, legal and political, against the bid.

For the full story, see:
MIKE TIERNEY. “Fighting for 2 Fights a Week.” The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2014, and has the title “Tiny Airport Fights for Sliver of Atlanta Market.”)

The Federal Government’s “Arrogance on a Grand Scale” Encouraged the Dust Bowl

(p. 126) In the last years of the wheat boom, Bennett had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge. He went directly after his old employer, the Department of Agriculture, for misleading people. Farmers on the Great Plains were working against nature, he thundered in speeches across the country; they were asking for trouble. Even in the late 1920s, before anyone else sounded an alarm, Bennett said people had sown the seeds of an epic disaster. The government continued to insist, through official bulletins , that soil was the one “resource that cannot be exhausted.” To Bennett, it was arrogance on a grand scale.
“I didn’t know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence,” he said.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Former Nebraskan Writes that Football Breaks the Soul

(p. C1) The poet Erin Belieu was born in Nebraska. It’s a place where, she once wrote,

football is to life what sleep deprivation is

to Amnesty International, that is,
the best researched and the most effective method
of breaking a soul.

Ms. Belieu got out, soul entirely unbroken. She’s spent the past two decades composing smart and nettling books of poems, beginning with “Infanta” (1995), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Hayden Carruth. I’ve admired her three previous books, but her new one, “Slant Six,” seems to me better by an order of magnitude. It’s got more smoke, more confidence, more wit and less tolerance for obscurity. Her crisp free verse has as many subcurrents as a magnetic field.

For the full review, see:
DWIGHT GARNER. “From a Slim Book, Many Observations.” The New York Times Book Review (Weds., DEC. 10, 2014): C1 & C4.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 9, 2014, and has the title “From a Slim Book, Many Observations.” The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)

The book under review is:
Belieu, Erin. Slant Six. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2014.

Ways Technology May Decrease Inequality

(p. 7) As the previous generation retires from the work force, many more people will have grown up with intimate knowledge of computers. And over time, it may become easier to work with computers just by talking to them. As computer-human interfaces become simpler and easier to manage, that may raise the relative return to less-skilled labor.
The future may also extend a growing category of employment, namely workers who team up with smart robots that require human assistance. Perhaps a smart robot will perform some of the current functions of a factory worker, while the human companion will do what the robot cannot, such as deal with a system breakdown or call a supervisor. Such jobs would require versatility and flexible reasoning, a bit like some of the old manufacturing jobs, but not necessarily a lot of high-powered technical training, again because of the greater ease of the human-computer interface. That too could raise the returns to many relatively unskilled workers.

For the full commentary, see:
TYLER COWEN “TheUpshot; Economic View; The Technological Fix to Inequality.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 7.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 6, 2014, and has the title “TheUpshot; Economic View; How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality.” )

Yucca Mountain Has Multiple Barriers to Isolate Nuclear Materials

(p. A20) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday [Oct. 16, 2014] released a long-delayed report on the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a disposal spot for nuclear waste, finding that the design met the commission’s requirements, laying the groundwork to restart the project . . .
. . .
. . . the report released Thursday, mostly done in 2010 but frozen until a recent court decision, concluded that the design had the required multiple barriers, to assure long-term isolation of radioactive materials.

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD “Calls to Use a Proposed Nuclear Site, Now Deemed Safe.” The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 17, 2014): A20.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014., and has the title “Calls to Use Yucca Mountain as a Nuclear Waste Site, Now Deemed Safe.”)

The “Miracle Machines” of Farming

(p. 75) Nobody had washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or incandescent light bulbs. But the farmers did have their miracle machines. In fifteen years, the Lucas family had gone from a walking plow pulled along behind a mule, to a riding plow, in which horses carried the blade through the soil, to a fine-tuned internal combustion plow.
“Machinery is the new Messiah,” said Henry Ford, and though that sounded blasphemous to a devout sodbuster, there was something to it. Every ten seconds a new car came off Ford’s factory line, and some of them were now parked next to dugouts in No Man’s Land.

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Balducci Wants a Sequel Where Winston Smith “Actually Triumphs Over Big Brother”

(p. 10) The author, most recently, of “The Escape” was a library rat growing up: “Libraries are the mainstays of democracy. The first thing dictators do when taking over a country is close all the libraries, because libraries are full of ideas.”
. . .
What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?
A sequel to “1984” where Winston Smith regains his senses and his independence and actually triumphs over Big Brother. Right now we could all use a little more hope about the world.

For the full interview, see:
“By the Book: David Baldacci.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., NOV. 30, 2014): 10.
(Note: italics, and bold, in original; ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date NOV. 26, 2014, and has the title “David Baldacci: By the Book.” The name of the interviewer, presumably the author of the italicized passage above, is not given in either the online or print versions.)

The book for which Balducci wishes a sequel is:
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1949].

Marxist Chinese Education Minister Bans “Western Values” from Textbooks and Lectures

(p. D8) This week [the week starting Sun. January 25, 2015], China’s ideological drive against Western liberal ideas broadened to take in a new target: foreign textbooks.
Meeting in Beijing with the leaders of several prominent universities, Education Minister Yuan Guiren laid out new rules restricting the use of Western textbooks and banning those sowing “Western values.”
“Strengthen management of the use of original Western teaching materials,” Mr. Yuan said at a meeting with university officials, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. “By no means allow teaching materials that disseminate Western values in our classrooms.”
The strictures on textbooks are the latest of a succession of measures to strengthen the Communist Party’s control of intellectual life and eradicate avenues for spreading ideas about rule of law, liberal democracy and civil society that it regards as dangerous contagions, which could undermine its hold on power.
On Jan. 19, the leadership issued guidelines demanding that universities make a priority of ideological loyalty to the party, Marxism and Mr. Xi’s ideas.
Mr. Yuan’s message this week spelled out how universities should do that.
“Never allow statements that attack and slander party leaders and malign socialism to be heard in classrooms,” he said, according to the Xinhua report. “Never allow teachers to grumble and vent in the classroom, passing on their unhealthy emotions to students.”

For the full story, see:
CHRIS BUCKLEY. “China Warns Against ‘Western Values’ in Imported Textbooks.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 31, 2015): A9.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 30, 2015.)