Reticent George Lucas Has Single-Minded Work Ethic

(p. C12) Although sometimes mocked by his contemporaries for his laborious approach to screenwriting (the script for “Star Wars” would evolve painfully over two years, as Mr. Jones describes in detail), Mr. Lucas developed for “Star Wars” a prodigious range of characters and settings. He had always loved make-believe, he recalled, “but it was the kind of make-believe that used all the technological toys I could come by, like model airplanes and cars.” Mr. Lucas earned respect as a shrewd and unsentimental negotiator. “I don’t borrow money,” he would say flatly, and his work ethic was second to none. From the outset, he foresaw the potential of merchandising, and by the late 1970s virtually every child in America and around the world would cherish his or her “Star Wars” figurines. In 1975, he established Industrial Light & Magic, a company that has produced the special effects not just for Mr. Lucas’s films but also for many Oscar-winning titles of the next 20 years, including “Jurassic Park.” He believed in the potential of computer games and perhaps regretted having sold his brainchild Pixar to Steve Jobs in 1986, far too early. He embraced the digital era, even predicting the advent of pay-per-view and online streaming.
Mr. Jones returns time and again to Mr. Lucas’s single-minded personality, in which work almost always took precedence. Fiercely independent, he was quite simply “the boss,” refusing to compromise with studio demands. Mr. Jones notes that Mr. Lucas has had “an inherent ability to hire the right people, and a preternatural knack for asking the right questions.” Diagnosed early on as a diabetic, Mr. Lucas has eschewed drugs and liquor. Reticent but not quite a recluse, devoted to his children, he hovers tantalizingly beyond the reach of the gossip columnists.

For the full review, see:
PETER COWIE. “A Death Star Is Born.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title “George Lucas: The Edison of the Movie Industry.”)

The book under review, is:
Jones, Brian Jay. George Lucas: A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.

Governments Encourage Drink that Consumers Are Rejecting

(p. A9) From coast to coast, urban planners are increasingly looking to craft breweries as the magic elixir to renew struggling urban cores.
Two years ago, Richmond, Va., put up $33 million in public money and incentives to entice Stone Brewing to build a retail store, tasting room and East Coast distribution center. Shortly thereafter the state of Virginia extended $1 million in grants and $1 million in matching tax credits to help Hardywood Park Craft Brewery expand into an office park in Goochland County. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at the time that Virginia had specifically “targeted craft beverages as part of the state’s economic development strategy.”
. . .
Small towns are getting in on the action, too. At a meeting in November, the city council of Florence, S.C., population 38,000, approved an incentive package totaling $180,000 to encourage a craft brewery to set up shop beside town hall. The month before that, the city council of Reidsville, N.C., population 14,000, voted to sell a city-owned building for $1 to a startup brewing co-op. In tiny Perry, N.Y., population 4,000, a public development corporation matched bank financing this year to help a microbrewery build in its downtown.
. . .
But here’s the rub: Demand for beer overall has been sliding in the U.S. for years. Twenty years ago, nearly three-quarters of young people said it was their favorite alcoholic drink, according to surveys by Gallup and Goldman Sachs Investor Research. Less than half feel that way now. The market is shrinking, and craft beer has grown at the expense of national brands like Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

For the full commentary, see:
JEREMY BAGOTT. “What Craft Brewers Want to Tap Next: the Taxpayer; Trendy suds are seen as a way to save city centers, never mind that beer sales have been sliding for years.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 31, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 30, 2016.)

Complex Labor Rules Reduce Work Choices for Older Workers

(p. B4) CALL them boomerang retirees: people who exit gracefully after their career at a company, then return shortly afterward to work there part time.
More and more companies are establishing formal programs to facilitate this, for reasons that benefit both the employer and the retiree. Leaving a satisfying job cold-turkey for a life of leisure can be an abrupt jolt to people accustomed to feeling purposeful, earning money and enjoying their colleagues. From the corporate perspective, it is useful to have experienced hands who can train younger people, pass along institutional wisdom and work with fewer strings attached.
“People in the U.S. define themselves by their work, and they like their co-workers,” said Roselyn Feinsod, senior partner in the retirement practice at the human resources firm Aon Hewitt, the human resources consultancy. Thus, unlike many retirees from past generations, people from both the blue-collar and white-collar sectors are more eager to retain ties to the familiar working world that they enjoyed (and sometimes loathed).
. . .
. . . , Atlantic Health Systems of Morristown, N.J., is among the growing ranks of employers that sponsor a formal program to invite retirees back into the work force, for no more than 1,000 hours a year. The company’s Alumni Club — formerly known as the 1,000 Hour Club — was established in 2006, and about 300 Atlantic Health retirees are currently on the company’s payroll in various capacities. “They’re engaged employees; they’re productive,” said Lesley Meyer, Atlantic Systems’ manager of corporate human resources. “They’re a stable talent pool.”
. . .
Most boomerang retirees return to work after an informal negotiation with a former boss. Programs like the one at Atlantic Systems are still relatively rare — for instance, about 8 percent of the 463 companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2015 had one — but they are on the rise.
They are also tricky to run: Establishing a boomerang retiree program involves a substantial commitment of resources, including systems for navigating complex labor market rules and pension law. Most returning retirees must wait several months before they can come back, and are often limited to that 1,000 hours a year. Companies are increasingly turning to outside staffing firms to manage the nuts and bolts.
. . .
It was a phone call from her former manager that lured Pat Waller, who spent 39 years as an intensive care nurse for Atlantic Health before retiring in 2005 at age 66, back to the work force part time. She joined the Alumni Club in 2007 after the hospital where she had worked, Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, N.J., applied to qualify as a federal center of excellence in knee and hip surgery; her former boss wondered if she would help gather data. Absolutely, she answered.
Since then, Ms. Waller has worked on several projects for Atlantic Health, gigs that easily give her the time to travel with her husband and see her six grandchildren.
Now that she is 77, Ms. Waller works mostly from home, sometimes three to four days a week and other times one to two, depending on the project, “I always said when I was at work I learned something every day,” she said. “Since I’ve come back, I feel the same way.”

For the full story, see:
CHRISTOPHER FARRELL. “Boomerang Boom: Firms Tapping Skills of the Recently Retired.” The New York Times (Sat., December 17, 2016): B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2016, and has the title “Retiring; Boomerang Boom: More Firms Tapping the Skills of the Recently Retired.”)

Cloud-Computing Firms Run Key Services on Private Servers

(p. B8) For nearly a decade, Amazon Web Services, the giant retailer’s cloud computing division, has told prospective customers: Ditch your data center and trust us to run your applications, store your data and host your internal software development.
Yet Amazon.com Inc. itself doesn’t fully run in the cloud.
Amazon isn’t alone. The other top cloud providers– Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp.–use their own cloud services for some purposes, but they continue to keep certain functions on private servers. Their struggles are a microcosm of the issues that dog their customers: Worries about reliability, security and risks inherent with change that have made it hard to move critical computing tasks to the public cloud.
“The vast majority of Amazon.com runs on AWS,” a company spokesperson said, and it intends to run everything there eventually.
The fact that Amazon still uses private servers is “ironic,” said Ed Anderson, an analyst with Gartner, which advises customers on both cloud services and data center servers. “That’s exactly why we tell people evaluating cloud services, ‘Do not buy into the hype. Do not buy into the myths. You have to be pragmatic, just like these vendors are,'” he said.

For the full story, see:
ROBERT MCMILLAN. “Companies Touting Cloud-Computing Don’t Always Use It.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): B8.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title “Cloud-Computing Kingpins Slow to Adapt to Own Movement.”)

When Winston Churchill Met Mark Twain

(p. C13) . . . [a] pleasant immersion in America’s political history is Mark Zwonitzer’s “The Statesman and the Storyteller: John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism.” It is a story of a friendship that flourished in spite of differences about momentous issues of war, peace and national identity. All of Mr. Zwonitzer’s pages are informative and entertaining, but none are more so than those recounting the meeting between the 65-year-old Twain and a 26-year-old British parliamentarian at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan in 1900. Suffice it to say that Twain and Winston Churchill differed vigorously about the Boer War.

For Will’s full book recommendations, see:
George F. Will. “12 Months of Reading.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C13.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed word, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title “George F. Will on Stalin’s last spy.”)

The book recommended, is:
Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

“Information in the Penumbra of Our Awareness” May Be Accessible

(p. C2) Here today, gone in a millisecond. At least that’s how we used to think about short-term, or working, memory. But a study just published in the journal Science tells a different story. A recent idea or word that you’re trying to recall has not, in fact, gone AWOL, as we previously thought. According to new brain-decoding techniques, it’s just sleeping.
“Earlier experiments show that a neural representation of a word disappeared,” said the study’s lead author, Brad Postle, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But by using a trio of cutting-edge techniques, Dr. Postle and his team have revealed just where the neural trace of that word is held until it can be cued up again.
. . .
To confirm that the memory still existed even while a person was not thinking about it, the scientists used another recent technique, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. They positioned a wand over a participant’s scalp and delivered a harmless magnetic pulse to the brain areas that held the images. The pulse made the distinctive neural signature of those fleeting memories visible to the scientists and triggered their recall in the students.
Dr. Postle compared working memory to paper inscribed with invisible ink. Words written in lemon juice are initially imperceptible, but by passing a hot cup of coffee over the paper, “you can see the part of the message that was heated up…. Our TMS is like the coffee cup.” In this way the team activated a memory that was not only temporary but below the student’s level of consciousness.
Using Dr. Postle’s new trifecta of brain-imaging and brain-stimulation techniques to reactivate forgotten memories has enticing–though still remote–therapeutic possibilities. It is neuroscience’s most faithful reading yet of the real-time content of our thoughts–about as close as we have ever come to mind-reading.
“Our study suggests that there’s information in the penumbra of our awareness. We are not aware that it’s there, but it’s potentially accessible,” said Dr. Postle.

For the full commentary, see:
SUSAN PINKER. “What You Just Forgot May Only Be ‘Sleeping’.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 7, 2017): C2.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to paragraph in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 5, 2017, and has the title “What You Just Forgot May Be ‘Sleeping’.”)

The Postle paper, discussed above, is:
Rose, Nathan S., Joshua J. LaRocque, Adam C. Riggall, Olivia Gosseries, Michael J. Starrett, Emma E. Meyering, and Bradley R. Postle. “Reactivation of Latent Working Memories with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.” Science 354, no. 6316 (Dec. 2, 2016): 1136-39.

Deer Dies from Stress Caused by Bickering Governments

(p. A1) A white-tailed deer that went from being a minor celebrity in Harlem to a cause célèbre after its capture, died in captivity on Friday [December 16, 2016], moments before it was to be driven upstate and released.
The preliminary causes of death, according to a New York City parks spokesman, were stress and the day and a half that the deer spent at a city animal shelter in East Harlem. But that did not begin to tell the absurd tale of how the buck, known as J.R., for Jackie Robinson, and Lefty, because of his crumpled left antler, came to die.
The deer had become the latest and most unlikely casualty of the feud between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, an animosity that has manifested itself mostly on big issues like education, safety at homeless shelters and funding mass transit.
But the tussle over the deer was extraordinary even by the standards set by Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio. All day Thursday and into Friday, the city and state issued competing and sometimes self-contradicting updates on the deer and what should be done with him.
The buck had spent two weeks attracting adoring, snack-proffering crowds at Jackie Robinson Park, where he often was seen near a chain-link fence across the street from a bodega. How he traveled to a park in the middle of a crowded Manhattan neighborhood remains unclear.
. . .
After it looked like the deer might live, allies of the mayor and governor took the opportunity to throw a few jabs.
“Bureaucracy lost,” Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, wrote on Twitter.
“Andrew Cuomo is an idiot,” posted Bill Hyers, who managed Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign.
. . .
. . . the Harlem deer was no ordinary deer. He was beloved, a holiday-season gift to a beleaguered city, a surrogate reindeer camped out just a block from St. Nicholas Avenue.
. . .
The deer was condemned to die, then he was not, then he was, then he was not.
For a few surreal minutes Thursday night, the deer, like Schrödinger’s cat, was both alive and dead, with a city official insisting he had already been euthanized and the state insisting he had not.
Then, just before 2 p.m. with workers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Department of Agriculture gathering at the Animal Care Centers of NYC shelter on East 110th Street, a city parks spokesman announced that the deer had died.
The spokesman, Sam Biederman, blamed the state.
“Unfortunately because of the time we had to wait for D.E.C. to come and transport the deer, the deer has perished,” he told reporters, adding that the city had wanted to euthanize the deer all along. “This was an animal that was under a great deal of stress for the past 24 hours and had been tranquilized for much of that time.”
The state, naturally, blamed the delay on the city.

For the full story, see:
ANDY NEWMAN. “Condemned, Reprieved, Then a Sudden Ending.” The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 17, 2016): A1 & A18.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2016, and has the title “Harlem Deer Caught in City-State Tussle Has Died.”)