For Kiva Funding, Entrepreneurs Must First Convince Friends or Family

(p. B6) Lending platform Kiva.org is scrapping its traditional approach to microfinance in the U.S. and instead is turning to something it calls social underwriting.
Before businesses can gain access to a no-interest crowdfunded loan of up to $10,000, Kiva is asking them to get 10 to 20 friends, family members or others to put up at least $25 each.
Kiva, a non-profit organization better known for providing financing in some of the world’s poorest countries, has found that this new approach improves repayment rates and believes it will provide a much-needed boost to its U.S. operation, where growth has been challenging.
. . .
Kiva said about 30% of entrepreneurs who start the private fundraising process can’t get enough people to vouch for them, while 92% of those who overcome that hurdle raise the money they seek. If the program in the U.S. succeeds, Kiva said it may export the private-fundraising model worldwide.

For the full story, see:
Ruth Simon. “Microfinancing Model With a Personal Twist.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 17, 2015): B6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 16, 2015, and has the title “Kiva Sets New Rules for U.S. Borrowers to Get Crowdfunded Loans.”)

Ann Arbor Recovers from Borders Bankruptcy “with Remarkable Speed”

(p. B6) ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A patch of sidewalk on the south side of East Liberty Street, four blocks from the main University of Michigan campus, has returned from the dead with remarkable speed.
At almost any hour of day, and especially at mealtimes, a mix of bargain-seeking undergraduates, white-collar tech workers and middle-class townies weave in and out of the restaurants, coffee shop and bank that now line the corridor.
The foot traffic is almost enough to make many in this city feel lucky that the single previous occupant of this red brick low-rise building on the 600 block went bankrupt five years ago. Almost, that is, because that previous tenant was the flagship Borders store.
“In some ways, the neighborhood is stronger and more interesting and more vibrant than it was when Borders was here,” said Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. “As much as I loved Borders — and I mean, I loved it — in the evolution of this building, it’s better than it was.”
Such talk is probably still sacrilege for some local nostalgics, who remember that the store was started by a pair of brothers and Michigan graduates before it turned into an international book chain, but it is difficult to argue on a dollars-and-cents basis with the transformation.
For more than 70 years, the site in this pivotal city block was occupied by a single-business anchor, first a regional department store, Jacobson’s, and then, for decades, Borders.
The chain’s bankruptcy — which, by 2011, was almost overdue as customers had long since turned en masse to the internet to buy books — created a once-in-a-generation release of a large piece of real estate. Suddenly available: a 50,000-square-foot former bookstore that fronts a full block of busy Liberty Street and a 45,000-square-foot adjacent building that previously housed Borders’ corporate headquarters.
There were many ideas about how to use all that space, but one option was immediately taken off the table: installing another anchor tenant.
“We wanted, on purpose, to have a multipurpose building,” said Ron Hughes of Hughes Properties. “I think it’s better for the city as well.”

For the full story, see:
STEVE FRIESS. “Square Feet; Going Small Energizes a Downtown.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 9, 2016): B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 8, 2016, and has the title “Square Feet; At the Former Home to Borders Books, a Tech Hub Now Sprouts.”)

Churchill’s “Natural Curiosity and General Optimism about Life”

(p. A11) In a newly unearthed essay sent to his publisher on Oct. 16, 1939 — just weeks after Britain entered World War II and Churchill became part of the wartime cabinet — and later revised, he was pondering the likelihood of life on other planets.
. . .
The manuscript was passed on to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., the site of famed 1946 Iron Curtain speech, in the 1980s by Wendy Reves, the wife of Churchill’s publisher, Emery Reves. It had been overlooked for years until Timothy Riley, who became the museum’s director last year, stumbled upon it recently. Soon after news of the discovery, two other copies were found in a separate archive in Britain.
. . .
Largely self-educated in the sciences, Churchill had boundless curiosity for practically anything, an attitude he once described as “picking up a few things as I went along.”
. . .
He was the first prime minister to hire a science adviser. Frederick Lindemann, a physicist, became Churchill’s “on tap” expert and once described him as a “scientist who had missed his vocation,” said Andrew Nahum, who organized an exhibition on Churchill and science at the Science Museum in London. He found a separate copy of the essay in the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge.
. . .
In the interwar period, Churchill wrote numerous scientific articles, including one called “Death Rays” and another titled “Are There Men on the Moon?” In 1924, he published a text asking readers “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” in which he speculated that technological advances could lead to the creation of a small bomb that was powerful enough to destroy an entire town.
Churchill’s recently unearthed article on extraterrestrial life was probably written in the same vein and was probably intended to be published as a popular science piece for a newspaper.
Two other scientific essays — one on cell division in the body and another on evolution — are stored in the museum’s archives in Fulton, Mr. Riley, the museum director, said in an interview.
Churchill had a “natural curiosity and general optimism about life,” Mr. Riley said. He had “a willingness to see technical and scientific advances improve not only his immediate world or his country, but the world.”

For the full story, see:
KIMIKO de FREYTAS-TAMURA. “A Lost Essay from Churchill on Alien Life.” The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 16, 2017): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 15, 2017, and has the title “Winston Churchill Wrote of Alien Life in a Lost Essay.”)

Libertarian Lessons from the “Little House”

(p. C25) Nothing about Laura Ingalls’s birth to a modest Wisconsin family on Feb. 7, 1867, suggested she would become one of the most significant voices in the canon of the American frontier. A century and a half later, the contribution Laura Ingalls Wilder made still seems astonishing — a fact not lost on her publisher. As a new anniversary-themed batch of “Little House on the Prairie” books rolled in this fall — with homespun-looking covers and introductions by luminaries including Laura Bush and Patricia MacLachlan (author of the gentle Newbery Medal-winning novel “Sarah, Plain and Tall”) — I found myself plunging back into the “Little House” world I’d loved as a child, with a strange feeling of urgency.
. . .
“Little House in the Big Woods” was published in 1932, when Laura was 65 and Rose, her only child, was long divorced, an accomplished, but increasingly broke journalist and author. Rose Wilder Lane had lost both her own money and money she invested for her parents in the 1929 stock market crash, and they were scrounging by, with Almanzo hauling loads and Laura selling eggs and apples and writing occasional pieces about farm life.
Out of desperation Rose suggested that her mother write down the stories of her pioneer childhood, heavily revised the resulting manuscript and found a publisher. In the rest of the books, as well, she provided substantial editing. Some historians insist that Rose — who later became an outspoken antigovernment polemicist and is called one of the godmothers of the libertarian movement, along with Ayn Rand — should be considered the books’ ghostwriter. Christine Woodside’s recent book, “Libertarians on the Prairie,” makes this case, cataloging libertarian messages Rose embedded in the books. (Some are overt: “The politicians are a-swarming in already,” says one character in “The Long Winter.” “They’ll tax the lining out’n a man’s pockets,” he cries. “I don’t see nary use for a county, nohow.”)

For the full commentary, see:
MARIA RUSSO. “READER’S NOTEBOOK; A ‘Little House’ Tinged with Red and Blue.” The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 10, 2017): C25.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 7, 2017, and has the title “READER’S NOTEBOOK; Finding America, Both Red and Blue, in the ‘Little House’ Books.”)

Woodside’s book, mentioned above, is:
Woodside, Christine. Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2016.

“Insects Can Solve Problems, They Can Learn”

(p. D6) Never underestimate the power of the bee brain.
In the latest triumph for one of humanity’s favorite insects, bumblebees learned how to push a ball to the center of a platform for a sugary treat.
That may not make them a threat on the chess board, but soccer or even Skee-Ball might be within their intellectual grasp — if it were scaled down in size, of course.
The new research finding is one more reason that scientists who study insects, of all sorts, would like to point out that just because a brain is small, doesn’t mean it is simple.
Clint Perry, one of the bumblebee trainers at Queen Mary University of London, and a confirmed small brain partisan, said, “I’ve actually been asked if bees have brains.”
In fact, a number of recent experiments have shown that “insects can solve problems, they can learn,” he said. And scientists have yet to define the limits of insects’ mental abilities.
. . .
The task of pushing a little ball to the center of a platform was completely arbitrary. Bees don’t do anything like this in nature, where they seek out flowers for nectar and pollen. So it was a brand new behavior demanding some kind of general ability to learn.
The way the bees learned was important, too. They were pre-trained to expect a treat in the center of a platform. But having to push a ball to the center to get the treat was something they hadn’t seen.
Then the researchers tried several ways of teaching the bees what to do. The bees learned best by watching a fellow bee perform the feat. After that kind of observation, 10 of 10 bees solved the problem on the first try. On later tries, they continued to improve, taking less time.

For the full story, see:
Gorman, James. “SCIENCETAKE; The Power of the Bumblebee Brain.” The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 28, 2017): D6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 23 [sic], 2017, and has the title “SCIENCETAKE; Bumblebees Demonstrate the Power of Insect Brains.”)

“I Believe in Free Markets and Open Skies”

(p. B1) DELHI — When the fast-growing Malaysian carrier AirAsia wanted to expand, India looked like the ideal frontier.
. . .
Then, AirAsia discovered the difficulties of doing business in India.
While it benefited from a recent loosening of restrictions on foreign investment in airlines, AirAsia India has contended with a web of red tape and regulations for new entrants that have added significant cost and complexity to its operations.
. . .
(p. B7) . . . Mr. Chandilya acknowledges that he misjudged India’s regulatory environment, which is uniquely stringent for airlines.
Taxes on aviation turbines are higher than almost anywhere else in the world. Every airline, even those with just a few planes, is also required to fly regularly to remote regions, where flights often run half full. And new entrants like AirAsia India are prohibited from flying lucrative international routes until they are five years old and have at least 20 aircraft, the so-called 5/20 rule.
“I believe in free markets and open skies, but if you look at the policies we have in place, I don’t think we have that at all,” Mr. Chandilya said.
. . .
Each Indian state controls its own taxes on aviation turbine fuel, and in many places it is kept as high as 30 percent. More than half of AirAsia India’s operating costs are fuel-related.
High taxes also extend to maintenance and Indian airlines often choose to take their aircraft to nearby countries for that work. AirAsia India plans to send its planes to Malaysia or Singapore for servicing once they’ve been operational for two years.
“I talk to ministers and policy makers about how they can help the industry and promote growth, but it is very difficult to get them to understand that reducing these taxes will probably boost their states’ economies,” Mr. Chandilya said.

For the full story, see:
MAX BEARAK. “India’s Restricted Airspace.” The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 23, 2015): B1 & B7.
(Note: eilipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 22, 2015, and has the title “AirAsia Faces Red Tape and Tough Competition in India.”)

Dubai Central Planners Subsidize Driverless Drones

(p. A7) Like a scene from “The Jetsons,” commuters in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, may soon climb aboard automated flying taxis, soaring over busy streets and past the desert city’s gleaming skyscrapers, all — quite literally — at the push of a button.
Passenger drones, capable of carrying a single rider and a small suitcase, will begin buzzing above the emirate as early as July [2017], according to the director of the city’s transportation authority, part of an ambitious plan to increase driverless technology.
Already, the eight-rotor drone, made by the Chinese firm Ehang, has flown test runs past the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic, sail-shaped skyscraper.
The drone “is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies,” Mattar Al Tayer, the director general of Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, said on Monday [Feb. 13, 2017], adding that the emirate would “spare no effort to launch” autonomous aerial vehicles by July.

For the full story, see:
RUSSELL GOLDMAN. “Dubai Plans Drone Taxis That Skip Drivers and Roads.” The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 15, 2017): A7.
(Note: bracketed dates added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title “Dubai Plans a Taxi That Skips the Driver, and the Roads.”)