Macron Gives France Hope That “Tomorrow Can Be Better Than Today”

(p. A27) PARIS — When people used to ask me what I missed about America, I would say, “The optimism.” I grew up in the land of hope, then moved to one whose catchphrases are “It’s not possible” and “Hell is other people.” I walked around Paris feeling conspicuously chipper.
But lately I’ve had a kind of emotional whiplash. France is starting to seem like an upbeat, can-do country, while Americans are less sure that everything will be O.K.
. . .
The French haven’t become magically cheerful, but there’s a creeping sense that hope isn’t idiotic, and life can actually improve. As is common with a new president, there was a jump in optimism after Emmanuel Macron was elected last year. But this time, optimism has remained strong, and in January it hit an eight-year high.
It helps that France’s economy is finally growing more and that Mr. Macron has made good on promises ranging from overhauling the labor laws to shrinking class sizes at kindergartens in disadvantaged areas.
. . .
“The France of the optimists has won, and is dragging the other part of France toward its own side,” said Claudia Senik, an economist who heads the Well-Being Observatory, an academic think tank here.
The French are even taking an intellectual interest in this alien idea. There are optimism clubs, conferences and school programs, scholars of positivity and books like “50+1 Good Reasons to Choose Optimism.” In September Mr. Macron was a patron of the Global Positive Forum, a study group of “positive initiatives” in business and government. (“Tomorrow can be better than today,” the forum’s website insists.)

For the full commentary, see:
Druckerman, Pamela. “The New French Optimism.” The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A27.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title “Are the French the New Optimists?”)

Case Study of Effects of Closing a Factory

(p. B1) Perhaps the most illuminating business book of the year, for me, is Amy Goldstein’s “Janesville: An American Story.” If you really want to understand what’s going on in today’s real economy — beyond the headlines about new stock-market highs, tax policy or the latest list of billionaires — spend some time with this true tale of what happened in the middle-class town of Janesville, Wis., after General Motors closed a factory there.
Ms. Goldstein admirably shows all sides of this story, capturing in microcosm all of the issues that so many communities across the United States are facing. You will probably be left doing some hard thinking about what is driving the politics of the moment, although Ms. Goldstein brilliantly, and respectfully, paints the book’s characters with such nuance that readers from across the ideological spectrum are likely to arrive at different conclusions about heroes and villains.
In crafting this deeply reported and riveting read, Ms. Goldstein spent considerable time in Janesville. As a result, you get a palpable sense of what life is like there; of the financial and psychological impact that a major plant closing has; and of the knock-on effects such an event has on other businesses and institutions. She paints vivid portraits of characters who include laid-off workers seeking retraining, union officials and local politicians, Speaker Paul D. Ryan among them. If you liked “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” J. D. Vance’s best-seller about growing up in Ohio and the decline of the industrial Midwest, I think you’ll find that “Janesville” makes these issues real in a new and compelling way.

For the full commentary, see:
Sorkin, Andrew Ross. “DEALBOOK For a Year Filled With News, A List of Books Worth a Look.” The New York Times (Tuesday, DEC. 26, 2017): B1 & B3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 25, 2017, and has the title “DEALBOOK; In a Year of Nonstop News, a Batch of Business Books Worth Reading.”)

The Goldstein book mentioned above, is:
Goldstein, Amy. Janesville: An American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Blacks Hurt by Increase in Irrelevant Degree Requirements for Jobs

(p. A15) Some 61% of employers have rejected applicants with the requisite skills and experience simply because they didn’t have a college degree, according to a 2017 Harvard Business School study. If current trends continue, the authors found, “as many as 6.2 million workers could be affected by degree inflation–meaning their lack of a bachelor’s degree could preclude them from qualifying for the same job with another employer.”
The pernicious effects of degree inflation are obvious, as tuition and student debt rise and qualified workers arbitrarily lose employment opportunities. But the practice also flouts federal law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) the Supreme Court unanimously interpreted this to mean that when minority groups are disproportionately affected–or suffer a “disparate impact”–from the selection process, employers must show that any requirements are directly job-related and an accurate predictor of job performance.
. . .
. . . degree inflation has obvious disparate-impact implications. The Harvard report found that groups with college graduation rates below the national average are disproportionately harmed by the practice.
. . .
Employers also fail the Griggs test by demanding college degrees without evidence they are necessary for the job. In a 2014 survey, Burning Glass Technologies found that employers are increasingly requiring bachelor’s degrees for positions whose current workers do not have one. For example, 65% of job postings for executive assistant and secretary positions call for a degree even though only 19% of people currently employed in such roles hold a degree.

For the full commentary, see:
Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison. “Degree Inflation and Discrimination; Could civil-rights laws and ‘disparate impact’ protect job applicants who haven’t finished college?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 3, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 2, 2018.)

The Harvard Business School study mentioned above, is:
Fuller, Joseph B., and Manjari Raman. “Dismissed by Degrees: How Degree Inflation Is Undermining U.S. Competitiveness and Hurting America’s Middle Class.” Accenture, Grads of Life, and Harvard Business School, Oct. 2017.

Double-Blind Study Shows Little Heart Benefit from Stents

(p. B3) A new study raised questions about the benefits of a relatively common procedure for heart patients–implanting tiny devices that prop open clogged arteries to relieve chest pain.
The 200-patient study conducted by U.K. researchers found that patients with stable chest pain, or angina, who received stent devices experienced no significant improvement in exercise time on a treadmill, compared with similar patients who received no stents during sham procedures.
All patients had received intensive treatment with heart drugs for six weeks before the real or fake procedures.
“Symptoms didn’t improve as much as expected” in the patients who received stents, Rasha Al-Lamee, an interventional cardiologist at Imperial College London and one of the study’s lead investigators, said in an interview. She presented results of the study at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics medical conference in Denver; results were simultaneously published online Thursday [November 2, 2017] by The Lancet.

For the full story, see:
Peter Loftus. “Study Questions Some Stent Use.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov. 3, 2017): B3.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 2, 2017, and has the title “Study Raises Questions About Stents in Some Heart Patients.”)

The Lancet article, summarized above, is:
Al-Lamee, Rasha, David Thompson, Hakim-Moulay Dehbi, Sayan Sen, Kare Tang, John Davies, Thomas Keeble, Michael Mielewczik, Raffi Kaprielian, Iqbal S. Malik, Sukhjinder S. Nijjer, Ricardo Petraco, Christopher Cook, Yousif Ahmad, James Howard, Christopher Baker, Andrew Sharp, Robert Gerber, Suneel Talwar, Ravi Assomull, Jamil Mayet, Roland Wensel, David Collier, Matthew Shun-Shin, Simon A. Thom, Justin E. Davies, Darrel P. Francis, Rasha Al-Lamee, David Thompson, Sayan Sen, Kare Tang, John Davies, Thomas Keeble, Raffi Kaprielian, Iqbal S. Malik, Sukhjinder S. Nijjer, Ricardo Petraco, Christopher Cook, Yousif Ahmad, James Howard, Matthew Shun-Shin, Amarjit Sethi, Christopher Baker, Andrew Sharp, Punit Ramrakha, Robert Gerber, Suneel Talwar, Ravi Assomull, Rodney Foale, Jamil Mayet, Roland Wensel, Simon A. Thom, Justin E. Davies, Darrel P. Francis, Ramzi Khamis, Nearchos Hadjiloizou, Masood Khan, Jaspal Kooner, Michael Bellamy, Ghada Mikhail, Piers Clifford, Peter O’Kane, Terry Levy, and Rosie Swallow. “Percutaneous Coronary Intervention in Stable Angina (ORBITA): A Double-Blind, Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Lancet 391, no. 10115 (Jan. 6, 2018): 31-40.

Blockchain Tested to Speed Property Transfers

(p. B8) The blockchain technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could change the way property deals are done and recorded more than any other new technology, real-estate and technology experts say.
And Sweden’s nearly 400-year-old land mapping and registration authority is likely to become one of the first government agencies to test using blockchain technology for conducting property sales.
The Lantmäteriet expects to conduct the first such transaction in the next few months and is shortlisting volunteers who want to buy or sell a property using the blockchain system. “From the technology point of view, we are quite ready,” said Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet’s chief digital officer.
Proponents of blockchain say the technology would make recording and transferring titles faster and much more efficient. Transactions that today take months to complete could take days or even hours, they say.
Blockchain technology also is practically bulletproof when it comes to fraudulent transactions, experts say.

For the full story, see:
Shefali Anand. “Test of Blockchain for Real Estate Is Readied.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 7, 2018): B8.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 6, 2018, and has the title “A Pioneer in Real Estate Blockchain Emerges in Europe.”)

Mackenzie Was Wrong in Thinking He Was a Failure, but Was Right About the Northwest Passage

(p. 10) In the summer of 1789, a young fur trader named Alexander Mackenzie led an expedition in search of a Northwest Passage. He and his voyageurs and Chipewyan guides were attempting, 14 years before Lewis and Clark, to cross North America, paddling birch bark canoes down a river they hoped would pierce the Rocky Mountains. Mackenzie was a businessman who wanted to speed the pace of trade by connecting New York and China via an interior passage through the continent. He did find such a route, without knowing it. Mackenzie died thinking he was a failure, when he was really just 200 years early.
Some ideas are fantastically ahead of their time. In 1636, René Descartes created contact lenses, using glass tubes filled with water; unfortunately, the wearer was unable to blink. Charles Babbage invented digital “difference engines” — essentially modern programmable computers but powered by steam — in the 1820s. And Kodak developed digital cameras in 1974 but discarded the product idea because it thought no one wanted to look at photos on televisions.
In a particularly ill-timed episode, Giovanni Caselli invented the fax machine in 1856. Letter writers could scribble a message onto electrically charged foil, and the portions covered by ink would block the flow of current. The stylus of Caselli’s device then scanned each line of text, transmitting the signal via telegraph lines to a second machine, which would scrawl out a “fac simile” of the letter.
To be practical, the system required a coordinated investment throughout a region, and Napoleon III had plans to modernize all of France with Caselli’s pantelegraph, more than a decade before Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. But before it could be installed, Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War, his government fell, and Paris descended into the brutal anarchy of the Commune. Caselli faded into obscurity, and his technology was forgotten for a century.
Like the fax machine and computer, Alexander Mackenzie’s Northwest Passage was too forward-looking to be practical or useful. Today the melting Northwest Passage — along the North Slope of Alaska, through the maze of Canadian Arctic islands, then back down along Greenland’s west coast, to the Atlantic — is regularly in the news. A holy grail for generations of explorers is now finally open, because of climate change. Giant cargo and oil tankers regularly ply those seas, and even the Crystal Serenity cruise ship, with 1,700 people onboard (many in black tie), has made the journey the past two summers.
. . .
Ideas do not exist only on their own merits. Timing matters.

For the full commentary, see:
Brian Castner. “The Northwest Passage That Might Have Been.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, March 11, 2018): 10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2018.)

Castner’s commentary is related to his book:
Castner, Brian. Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage. New York: Doubleday, 2018.

Patients Lower Blood Pressure Best When It Is Self-Monitored

(p. D4) The most effective way to monitor blood pressure may be to do it yourself.
British researchers randomly assigned 1,003 patients with hypertension to one of three groups.
. . .
The study was published in Lancet.
“People who monitor their own blood pressure and share the readings with their physician get better control,” said the lead author, Dr. Richard J. McManus, a professor of primary care at the University of Oxford. “Seventy-five million Americans have hypertension. If a good proportion of those self-monitored, it would lead to a big reduction in stroke.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS BAKALAR. “The Best Way to Monitor Your Blood Pressure? Do It Yourself.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MARCH 13, 2018): D4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 6 [sic], 2018, and has the title “The Best Way to Monitor Your Blood Pressure? Do It Yourself.”)

The Lancet study summarized above, is:
McManus, Richard J., Jonathan Mant, Marloes Franssen, Alecia Nickless, Claire Schwartz, James Hodgkinson, Peter Bradburn, Andrew Farmer, Sabrina Grant, Sheila M. Greenfield, Carl Heneghan, Susan Jowett, Una Martin, Siobhan Milner, Mark Monahan, Sam Mort, Emma Ogburn, Rafael Perera-Salazar, Syed Ahmar Shah, Ly-Mee Yu, Lionel Tarassenko, F. D. Richard Hobbs, Brendan Bradley, Chris Lovekin, David Judge, Luis Castello, Maureen Dawson, Rebecca Brice, Bethany Dunbabin, Sophie Maslen, Heather Rutter, Mary Norris, Lauren French, Michael Loynd, Pippa Whitbread, Luisa Saldana Ortaga, Irene Noel, Karen Madronal, Julie Timmins, Peter Bradburn, Lucy Hughes, Beth Hinks, Sheila Bailey, Sue Read, Andrea Weston, Somi Spannuth, Sue Maiden, Makiko Chermahini, Ann McDonald, Shelina Rajan, Sue Allen, Brenda Deboys, Kim Fell, Jenny Johnson, Helen Jung, Rachel Lister, Ruth Osborne, Amy Secker, Irene Qasim, Kirsty William, Abi Harris, Susan Zhao, Elaine Butcher, Pauline Darbyshire, Sarah Joshi, Jon Davies, Claire Talbot, Eleanor Hoverd, Linda Field, Tracey Adcock, Julia Rooney, Nina Cooter, Aaron Butler, Naomi Allen, Maria Abdul-Wahab, Kathryn McNicholas, Lara Peniket, Kate Dodd, Julie Mugurza, Richard Baskerville, Rakshan Syed, Clare Bailey, Jill Adams, Paul Uglow, Neil Townsend, Alison Macleod, Charlotte Hawkins, Suparna Behura, Jonathan Crawshaw, Robin Fox, Waleed Doski, Martin Aylward, Christine A’Court, David Rapley, Jo Walsh, Paul Batra, Ana Seoane, Sluti Mukherjee, Jonathan Dixon, Peter Arthur, Karen Sutcliffe, Costas Paschallides, Richard Woof, Peter Winfrey, Matthew Clark, Roya Kamali, Paul Thomas, David Ebbs, Liz Mather, Andre Beattie, Karim Ladha, Larisa Smondulak, Surinder Jemahl, Peter Hickson, Liam Stevens, Tony Crockett, David Shukla, Ian Binnian, Paul Vinson, Nigel DeKare-Silver, Ramila Patel, Ivor Singh, Louise Lumley, Glennis Williams, Mark Webb, Jack Bambrough, Neetul Shah, Hergeven Dosanjh, Frank Spannuth, Carolyn Paul, Jude Ganesegaram, Laurie Pike, Vijaysundari Maheswaran, Farah Paruk, Stephen Ford, Vineeta Verma, Kate Milne, Farhana Lockhat, Jennifer Ferguson, Anne-Marie Quirk, Hugo Wilson, David Copping, Sam Bajallan, Simria Tanvir, Faheem Khan, Tom Alderson, Amar Ali, Richard Young, Umesh Chauhan, Lindsey Crockett, Louise McGovern, Claire Cubitt, Simon Weatherill, Abdul Tabassum, Philip Saunders, Naresh Chauhan, Samantha Johnson, Jo Walsh, Inderjit Marok, Rajiv Sharma, William Lumb, John Tweedale, Ian Smith, Lawrence Miller, Tanveer Ahmed, Mark Sanderson, Claire Jones, Peter Stokell, Matthew J. Edwards, Andrew Askey, Jason Spencer, Kathryn Morgan, Kyle Knox, Robert Baker, Crispin Fisher, Rachel Halstead, Neil Modha, David Buckley, Catherine Stokell, John Gerald McCabe, Jennifer Taylor, Helen Nutbeam, Richard Smith, Christopher MacGregor, Sam Davies, Mark Lindsey, Simon Cartwright, Jonathan Whittle, Julie Colclough, Alison Crumbie, Nicholas Thomas, Vattakkatt Premchand, Rafia Hamid, Zishan Ali, John Ward, Philip Pinney, Stephen Thurston, and Tina Banerjee. “Efficacy of Self-Monitored Blood Pressure, with or without Telemonitoring, for Titration of Antihypertensive Medication (TASMINH4): An Unmasked Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Lancet 391, no. 10124 (March 10, 2018): 949-59.