Trump Threatens Antitrust Action Against Innovative Amazon Entrepreneur Bezos

(p. A11) Donald Trump, an innovator in all things, is now in the process of changing the rules in America with his threat to bring legal action against Amazon on antitrust grounds and, if we hear him correctly, on tax grounds as well.
Mr. Trump couldn’t have been clearer about his motivation. He complained about Washington Post reporters calling up and “asking ridiculous questions,” “all false stuff,” apparently related to Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which in defiance of all tradition he has refused to release, as well as Mr. Trump’s real-estate dealings.
Mr. Trump says the Post was purchased as “a toy” by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper with his personal funds in 2013). Mr. Trump says the paper now is being used to attack Mr. Trump in order to protect Amazon’s alleged tax-dodging practices even though Amazon, after long resistance, has begun in recent years to collect state sales tax.
All this seems to arise because the Post, the dominant newspaper in the nation’s capital, has assigned reporters to investigate the business career of the candidate who champions his credibility to be president by referring to his business career.

For the full commentary, see:
HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. “BUSINESS WORLD; Donald Trump’s Amazon Adventure; Does he really want to be president–or is his attack on entrepreneur Jeff Bezos a cry for help?” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 14, 2016): A11.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 13, 2016.)

Bacteria Can Break Down Plastic

(p. A11) Bacteria can gobble up oil spills, radioactive waste and, now, plastic. Researchers in Japan said they have discovered a species of microbe that eats PET, the polymer widely used in food containers, bottles and synthetic fibers.
Some scientists have said the bacteria could help break down otherwise non-biodegradable debris in landfills or recycling plants.
“We now have a chance to biologically degrade the widespread plastic PET,” said Uwe Bornscheuer, a biochemist at Greifswald University in Germany. “That is, of course, a major achievement.”
. . .
At a recycling plant, Dr. Yoshida and his team collected 250 samples of PET debris and discovered a host of different microbes living among the trash.
The researchers screened the microbes to identify those that appeared to dine on PET, and subsequent biochemical testing showed that a single, new species, Ideonella sakaiensis, was responsible for decomposing the polymer.
Adhered to a low-grade PET film, the bacteria used two enzymes to break down the plastic into two environmentally benign substances, which served as their main source of food.

For the full story, see:
KAT LONG. “Japan Researchers Discover Plastic-Eating Bacteria.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2016, and has the title “New Species of Bacteria Eats Plastic.”)

More Evidence that Once-Dynamic Florence Is Now Stagnant

(p. C1) New research from a pair of Italian economists documents an extraordinary fact: The wealthiest families in Florence today are descended from the wealthiest families of Florence nearly 600 years ago.
The two economists — Guglielmo Barone and Sauro Mocetti of the Bank of Italy — compared data on Florentine taxpayers in 1427 against tax data in 2011. Because Italian surnames are highly regional and distinctive, they could compare the income of families with a certain surname today, to those with the same surname in 1427. They found that the occupations, income and wealth of those distant ancestors with the same surname can help predict the occupation, income and wealth of their descendants today.

For the full story, see:
JOSH ZUMBRUN. “Florence’s Rich Stay Rich–for 600 Years.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 20, 2016): C1-C2.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title “The Wealthy in Florence Today Are the Same Families as 600 Years Ago.” Where there are minor differences in the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The Barone and Mocetti working paper, is:
Barone, Guglielmo, and Sauro Mocetti “Intergenerational Mobility in the Very Long Run: Florence 1427-2011.” Bank of Italy Working Paper #1060, April 2016.

“Liberated People Are Ingenious”

(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income–mere 100% betterments in the human condition–had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan’s income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.
. . .
(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England’s impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?
The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
To use another big concept, what came–slowly, imperfectly–was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”

For the full commentary, see:

DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. “How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)

McCloskey’s commentary is based on her “bourgeois” trilogy, the final volume of which is:
McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Long-Term Goals, Rather than Friends, Most Stimulate the Intelligent

(p. D1) A study published in February [2016] in the British Journal of Psychology looked at 15,000 respondents and found that people who had more social interactions with close friends reported being happier–unless they were highly intelligent. People with higher I.Q.s were less content when they spent more time with friends. Psychologists theorize that these folks keep themselves intellectually stimulated without a lot of social interaction, and often have a long-term goal they are pursuing.

For the full story, see:

ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN. “Why Making New Friends Is Harder for Grown-Ups.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 19, 2016): D1 & D4.

(Note: the bracketed year was added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 18, 2016, and has the title “The Science of Making Friends.”)

The academic psychology paper mentioned above (with title ellipsis in original), is:
Li, Norman, and Satoshi Kanazawa. “Country Roads, Take Me Home… to My Friends: How Intelligence, Population Density, and Friendship Affect Modern Happiness.” British Journal of Psychology (epublished on Feb. 1, 2016) DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12181.

Bold, Intelligent, Freedom-Loving Octopus “Inky” Escapes to the Sea

OctopusInkyEyesCaptors2016-05-16.jpgInky eyes captors. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) It was an audacious nighttime escape.

After busting through an enclosure, the nimble contortionist appears to have quietly crossed the floor, slithered through a narrow drain hole about six inches in diameter and jumped into the sea. Then he disappeared.
This was no Houdini, but rather a common New Zealand octopus called Inky, about the size of a soccer ball.
The breakout at the National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier, which has captured the imagination of New Zealanders and made headlines around the world, apparently began when Inky slipped through a small gap at the top of his tank.
Octopus tracks suggest he then scampered eight feet across the floor and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe that dropped him into Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of North Island, according to reports in New Zealand’s news media.
. . .
Alix Harvey, an aquarist at the Marine Biological Association in England, noted that octopuses, members of a class of marine animals including squid and cuttlefish called Cephalopoda, have shown themselves to be adept at escaping through spaces as small as a coin, constrained only by their beaks, the only inflexible part of their bodies.
Ms. Harvey said that octopuses had also been documented opening jars and sneaking through tiny holes on boats, and that they could deflect predators by spraying an ink that lingers in the water and acts as a decoy. Some have been seen hauling coconut shells to build underwater shelters.
. . .
She continued, “They have a complex brain, have excellent eyesight, and research suggests they have an ability to learn and form mental maps.”
. . .
Octopuses’ intelligence, she said, was partly an evolutionary response to their habitation in complex environments such as coral reefs, in which the animals need to hide from predators and sneak up on their prey.

For the full story, see:
DAN BILEFSKY. “Octopus Escapes From an Aquarium in New Zealand.” The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 14, 2016): A8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 13, 2016, and has the title “Inky the Octopus Escapes From a New Zealand Aquarium.”)

Coastlines Have Always Been Changing Features of Geography

(p. 4) The coastlines might seem like permanent features of geography. But over the past few million years, massive ice sheets expanded and receded, and seas rose and fell by hundreds of feet. Then, around 12,000 years ago, the most recent of many glacial ages ended, and seas eventually rose by 400 feet.
This is roughly where we are today.

For the full commentary, see:
PETER BRANNEN. “OPINION; Lessons From Underwater Miami.” The New York Times (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 4.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 23, 2016.)