Steel Mills Repurposed as Online Warehouses

(p. A1) BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Ellen Gaugler remembers driving her father to the Bethlehem Steel mill, where he spent his working years hauling beams off the assembly line and onto rail cars.
When the Pennsylvania plant shut down about two decades ago, Ms. Gaugler thought it was the last time she or anyone in Bethlehem would come to its gates to find a job that paid a decent wage for a physical day of work.
But she saw an ad in the paper last year for a position at a local warehouse that changed her mind. She’d never heard of Zulily, the online retailer doing the hiring, but she knew the address: It was on the old mill site, steps from where her father worked.
“When I came for the interviews I looked up and said, ‘Oh, my God, I feel like I am at home,'” Ms. Gaugler said. She got the job.
As shopping has shifted from conventional stores to online marketplaces, many retail workers have been left in the cold, but Ms. Gaugler is coming out ahead. Sellers like Zulily, Amazon and Walmart are competing to get goods to the buyer’s doorstep as quickly as possible, giving rise to a constellation of vast warehouses that have fueled a boom for workers without college degrees and breathed new life into pockets of the country that had fallen economically behind.

For the full story, see:
NATALIE KITROEFF. ” Idle Steel Mills Rumble to Life As Online Sellers’ Warehouses.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A1 & A13.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 22, 2017, and has the title “Where Internet Orders Mean Real Jobs, and New Life for Communities.”)

Global Warming Could Be Reduced by Sequestering Carbon in Soil

(p. 7) . . . scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields.
. . .
Among the advocates of so-called regenerative agriculture is the climate scientist and activist James Hansen, lead author of a paper published in July that calls for the adoption of “steps to improve soil fertility and increase its carbon content” to ward off “deleterious climate impacts.”
Rattan Lal, the director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State, estimates that soil has the potential to sequester carbon at a rate of between 0.9 and 2.6 gigatons per year. That’s a small part of the 10 gigatons a year of current carbon emissions, but it’s still significant. Somewhat reassuringly, some scientists believe the estimate is low.
“Putting the carbon back in soil is not only mitigating climate change, but also improving human health, productivity, food security, nutrition security, water quality, air quality — everything,” Mr. Lal told me over the phone. “It’s a win-win-win option.”

For the full commentary, see:
JACQUES LESLIE. “OPINION; Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 3, 2017): 7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 2, 2017, and has the title “Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat.”)

The Hansen paper, mentioned above, is:
Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, Karina von Schuckmann, David J. Beerling, Junji Cao, Shaun Marcott, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Michael J. Prather, Eelco J. Rohling, Jeremy Shakun, Pete Smith, Andrew Lacis, Gary Russell, and Reto Ruedy. “Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative Co2 Emissions.” Earth System Dynamics 8 (2017): 577-616.

The System Is “Rigged” by the “Unelected Permanent Governing Class”

(p. 10) With its broad historical scope, Eisinger’s book lacks the juicy, infuriating details of “Chain of Title,” David Dayen’s chronicle of foreclosure fraud — another instance of white-collar crime that went largely unpunished. With its emphasis on institutions and incentives, it doesn’t serve up the red meat of Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide,” a stinging indictment of the justice system’s unequal treatment of corporate executives and street-level drug offenders. But for someone familiar with the political landscape of the contemporary United States, Eisinger’s account has the ring of truth.
After decades in which Wall Street masters of the universe were lionized in the media and popular culture, star investment bankers — rich, usually white men in nice suits — just don’t match the popular image of criminals. Democrats as well as Republicans cozied up to big business, outsourcing the Treasury Department to Wall Street and the Justice Department to corporate law firms. Even after the financial system collapsed, the Obama administration’s priority was to bail out the megabanks — to “foam the runway,” in Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s words. The Justice Department became increasingly staffed by intelligent, status-seeking, conformist graduates of the nation’s top law schools — all of whom had friends on Wall Street and in the defense bar. In that environment, the easy choice was to play along, strike a deal with an impressive-sounding fine (to be absorbed by shareholders) that held no one responsible, and avoid risking an acquittal or a hung jury. (The book’s title comes from then-U.S. Attorney James Comey’s name for prosecutors who had never lost a trial.) Corruption can take many forms — not just bags of cash under the table, but a creeping rot that saps our collective motivation to pursue the cause of justice. As Upton Sinclair might have written were he alive today: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his résumé depends upon his not understanding it.
There’s just one problem. While the “unelected permanent governing class” may have been willing to look the other way when highly paid bankers wrecked the economy, many of the workers who lost their jobs and families who lost their homes were not. Outside the Beltway, the fact that the Wall Street titans who blew up the financial system suffered little more than slight reductions in their bonuses only reinforced the perception that the “system” is “rigged” — with the consequences we know only too well. Many people simply want to live in a world that is fair. As Eisinger shows, this one isn’t.

For the full review, see:
JAMES KWAK. “Getting Away With It.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, JULY 9, 2017): 10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 5, 2017, and has the title “America’s Top Prosecutors Used to Go After Top Executives. What Changed?”)

The book under review, is:
Eisinger, Jesse. The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

“Renewables Are Not the Answer”

(p.B1) . . . : Global carbon-dioxide emissions have stopped rising. Coal use in China may have peaked. The price of wind turbines and solar panels is plummeting, putting renewable energy within the reach of meager budgets in the developing world.
And yet as climate diplomats gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the 23rd Conference of the Parties under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, I would like to point their attention to a different, perhaps gloomier statistic: the world’s carbon intensity of energy.
(p. B2) The term refers to a measure of the amount of CO2 spewed into the air for each unit of energy consumed. It offers some bad news: It has not budged since that chilly autumn day in Kyoto 20 years ago. Even among the highly industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the carbon intensity of energy has declined by a paltry 4 percent since then, according to the International Energy Agency.
This statistic, alone, puts a big question mark over the strategies deployed around the world to replace fossil energy. In a nutshell:
. . .
The most worrisome aspect about the all-out push for a future powered by renewables has to do with cost: The price of turbines and solar panels may be falling, but the cost of integrating these intermittent sources of energy — on when the wind blows and the sun shines; off when they don’t — is not. This alone will sharply curtail the climate benefits of renewable power.
Integrating renewable sources requires vast investments in electricity transmission — to move power from intermittently windy and sunny places to places where power is consumed. It requires maintaining a backstop of idle plants that burn fossil fuel, for the times when there is no wind or sun to be had. It requires investing in power-storage systems at a large scale.

For the full commentary, see:
EDUARDO PORTER. “Why Slashing Nuclear Power May Backfire.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 8, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 7, 2017, and has the title “Wind and Solar Power Advance, but Carbon Refuses to Retreat.”)

Lobstermen Retooling as Oyster Farmers

(p. A10) COREA, Me. — The boats start up around 3:30 in the morning, stirring the village with the babble of engines before they motor out to sea. They will return hours later, loaded with lobster.
Joe Young’s boat has not gone out lately. Instead, he puts on waders and sloshes into the salt pond behind his house, an inlet where water rushes in and out with the tides. After a lifetime with most of his income tied to what he finds in the sea, this lobsterman — and sixth-generation fisherman — is trying his hand at something new. He is farming oysters.
“Said I would never have a garden,” Mr. Young, 64, says, as he tends to his briny nursery. Tens of thousands of oysters the size of peanuts are growing inside porous boxes, stacked up like underwater file drawers, in a contraption called an “oyster condo.” He gives one of the boxes a shake, hoping to dislodge a slimy orange growth that has taken up residence, and flings away a green crab. Nearby, kelp he is growing sways lazily from a long underwater rope.
Reaching into the glassy water, Mr. Young plucks larger oysters from among the smooth stones, popping the mottled mollusks into a big white bucket.
“It’s different from lobstering,” Mr. Young said, “because I’m in the whole process.”
. . .
“Lobstermen are saying, ‘Boy, not (p. A11) only personally, but community level, we’re all invested in lobsters,’ ” Jon Lewis, the director of the state’s aquaculture division, said. ” ‘Natural resources tend to come and go. If this happens, what do I do?’ ”
. . .
To Mr. Young, aquaculture does not look so different from catching lobsters. “Fishermen are farmers,” he said. “There’s one crop, and it’s lobster.”

For the full story, see:
JESS BIDGOOD. “A Lobsterman Tries a New Line: Oyster Farmer.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 23, 2017): A10-A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 10, 2017, and has the title “A FISHERMAN TRIES FARMING.”)

Innovation Benefits from Constructive Arguments

(p. 7) When Wilbur and Orville Wright finished their flight at Kitty Hawk, Americans celebrated the brotherly bond. The brothers had grown up playing together, they had been in the newspaper business together, they had built an airplane together. They even said they “thought together.”
These are our images of creativity: filled with harmony. Innovation, we think, is something magical that happens when people find synchrony together. The melodies of Rodgers blend with the lyrics of Hammerstein. It’s why one of the cardinal rules of brainstorming is “withhold criticism.” You want people to build on one another’s ideas, not shoot them down. But that’s not how creativity really happens.
When the Wright brothers said they thought together, what they really meant is that they argued together. One of their pivotal decisions was the design of a propeller for their plane. They squabbled for weeks, often shouting back and forth for hours. “After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other’s side,” Orville reflected, “with no more agreement than when the discussion began.” Only after thoroughly decimating each other’s arguments did it dawn on them that they were both wrong. They needed not one but two propellers, which could be spun in opposite directions to create a kind of rotating wing. “I don’t think they really got mad,” their mechanic marveled, “but they sure got awfully hot.”
. . .
Wilbur and Orville Wright came from a wobbly family. Their father, a preacher, never met a moral fight he wasn’t willing to pick. They watched him clash with school authorities who weren’t fond of his decision to let his kids miss a half-day of school from time to time to learn on their own. Their father believed so much in embracing arguments that despite being a bishop in the local church, he had multiple books by atheists in his library — and encouraged his children to read them.
. . .
The Wright brothers weren’t alone. The Beatles fought over instruments and lyrics and melodies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony clashed over the right way to win the right to vote. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak argued incessantly while designing the first Apple computer. None of these people succeeded in spite of the drama — they flourished because of it. Brainstorming groups generate 16 percent more ideas when the members are encouraged to criticize one another. The most creative ideas in Chinese technology companies and the best decisions in American hospitals come from teams that have real disagreements early on. Breakthrough labs in microbiology aren’t full of enthusiastic collaborators cheering one another on but of skeptical scientists challenging one another’s interpretations.
If no one ever argues, you’re not likely to give up on old ways of doing things, let alone try new ones. Disagreement is the antidote to groupthink. We’re at our most imaginative when we’re out of sync. There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it.

For the full commentary, see:
Grant, Adam. “Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting?” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 5, 2017): 7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 4, 2017.)

For an Autistic Boy, Siri’s Patience Is “the Gift of Common Courtesy”

(p. C6) Late in the book, as a girl in Gus’s school takes him under her affectionate wing, the reader watches it all through Newman’s trepidation, followed by the dawning recognition that her son is someone “who may never be able to be responsible for another life, but who is nevertheless capable of deep affection, caring and considering. Sure, those emotions started with machinery and electronics — trains, buses, iPods, computers — and, particularly with Siri, a loving friend who never would hurt him.”
Hence, the title – drawn directly from a New York Times article Newman wrote in 2014, about Gus’s bond with Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant,” who could endlessly answer his questions, keep her son company and express — in that flat, sweet Siri voice — the gift of common courtesy. It went viral and led to this book. Why? Because the autistic boy displayed the dream/nightmare of this era: humans bonding with machines to get what they’re not getting from flesh-and-blood interactions. In this chapter, late in the book, Newman gallops through all the continuing experiments that use technology to lift and unleash the autistic (including my own effort to build augmentative technologies).
This is fertile terrain, born of the gradual recognition that technology’s great promise may in fact be to summon, capture and display our most human qualities, both the darkness and the light, to pave avenues of deepened connection with others. Here’s where the autistic, with their search for alternatives to traditional human connection, are actually innovators.
Does it dehumanize us if tenderness is tried out first with a machine? While his hyper-aware twin is showing standard bright-future achievements, Gus tentatively feels his way through life. But make no mistake. Gus’s deft fingers — rendered with unsentimental affection by his mom — are feeling things others will miss.
At one point, Gus says, “Good night, Siri, will you sleep well tonight?” Siri replies: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”
Newman’s response could speak for the entire book: “Very nice.”

For the full review, see:
RON SUSKIND. “A Character Among Characters.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017): 13.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 16, 2017, and has the title “A Family Memoir Makes the Case That Autism Is Different, Not Less.”)

The book under review, is:
Newman, Judith. To Siri with Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines. New York: HarperCollins, 2017.