“The Ultimate Resource” Is the Human Mind

(p. A13) Fifty years ago this month, Mr. Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb.” In it he portended global cataclysm–unless the world could be persuaded to stop producing so many . . . well . . . people. The book sketched out possible scenarios of the hell Mr. Ehrlich believed imminent: hundreds of millions dying from starvation, England disappearing by the year 2000, India doomed, the average American’s lifespan falling to 42 by 1980, and so on.
Mr. Ehrlich’s book sold three million copies, and his crabbed worldview became an unquestioned orthodoxy for the technocratic class that seems to welcome such scares as an opportunity to boss everyone else around.
. . .
Enter Julian Lincoln Simon.
Simon was a professor of business and economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1981, when this columnist first met him, Julian would smile and say the doom-and-gloomers had a false understanding of scarcity that led them to believe resources are fixed and limited.
. . .
In 1981 he put his findings together in a book called “The Ultimate Resource.” It took straight aim at Mr. Ehrlich. In contrast to the misanthropic tone of “The Population Bomb” (its opening sentence reads, “The battle to feed all humanity is over”), Julian was optimistic, recognizing that human beings are more than just mouths to be fed. They also come with minds.
. . .
. . . , human beings constantly find new and creative ways to take from the earth, increase the bounty for everyone and expand the number of seats at the table of plenty. Which is one reason Paul Ehrlich is himself better off today than he was when he wrote his awful book–notwithstanding all those hundreds of millions of babies born in places like China and India against his wishes.

For the full commentary, see:
William McGurn. “MAIN STREET; The Population Bomb Was a Dud; Paul Ehrlich got it wrong because he never understood human potential.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 1, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses in first quoted paragraph, in original; ellipses in rest of quotes, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 30, 2018.)

The Julian Simon book, mentioned above, is:
Simon, Julian L. The Ultimate Resource. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

When Government Mandates a Technology

(p. A20) In 2011, after a lengthy competition among automakers, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that the Nissan NV200 would become the “Taxi of Tomorrow” with most yellow cab owners required to purchase the boxy, bright yellow van. Eventually, the vehicle was expected to make up 80 percent of New York City’s fleet of over 13,000 cabs.
At the time, city officials touted the NV200’s increased leg room, USB charging ports and sunroof as amenities that would be attractive to riders who had long complained about cramped travel in less than spotless back seats.
But it turns out that tomorrow lasted only seven years.
Last week, the Taxi and Limousine Commission reversed the requirement, expanding the option for drivers beyond the Nissan NV200 to a smorgasbord of over 30 vehicles, including popular, fuel efficient models like the Toyota Camry.
. . .
. . . there are drivers like Sergio Cabrera, 60, who owns his vehicle and the expensive medallion needed to have it on the road, who said the NV200 has given him many headaches.
. . .
“There hasn’t been a worse car for the taxi industry than the NV200,” he said. “It’s not easy for older people to get into. Mechanically it’s one of the worst made cars I’ve ever owned.”
Mr. Cabrera complained that owning the Nissan has been expensive, in part because of regulations that he and other yellow cabdrivers say subjects them to more maintenance rules than drivers for ridesharing apps.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission requires yellow taxis to undergo a 200-point inspection every four months. Each time his Nissan has been inspected, Mr. Cabrera said he has had to shell out at least $1,500 in repairs in order to pass.

For the full story, see:
Tyler Blint-Welsh. “Time Is Up for ‘Taxi of Tomorrow’.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 13, 2018): A20.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 12, 2018, and has the title “It Was Billed as the ‘Taxi of Tomorrow.’ Tomorrow Didn’t Last Long.”)

Some Democrats Trying to Restrict “Zoning, Environmental, and Procedural Laws” that “Thwart” New Housing

(p. A1) SACRAMENTO — A full-fledged housing crisis has gripped California, marked by a severe lack of affordable homes and apartments for middle-class families. The median cost of a home here is now a staggering $500,000, twice the national cost. Homelessness is surging across the state.
In Los Angeles, booming with construction and signs of prosperity, some people have given up on finding a place and have moved into vans with makeshift kitchens, hidden away in quiet neighborhoods. In Silicon Valley — an international symbol of wealth and technology — lines of parked recreational vehicles are a daily testimony to the challenges of finding an affordable place to call home.
Heather Lile, a nurse who makes $180,000 a year, commutes two hours from her home in Manteca to the San Francisco hospital where she works, 80 miles away. “I make really good money and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t afford to live close to my job,” said Ms. Lile.
. . .
Now here in Sacramento, lawmakers are considering extraordinary legislation to, in effect, crack down on communities that have, in their view, systematically delayed or derailed housing construction proposals, often at the behest of local neighborhood groups.
The bill was passed by the Senate last month and is now part of a broad package of housing proposals under negotiation that Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders announced Monday was likely to be voted on in (p. A13) some form later this summer.
“The explosive costs of housing have spread like wildfire around the state,” said Scott Wiener, a Democratic senator from San Francisco who sponsored the bill. “This is no longer a coastal, elite housing problem. This is a problem in big swaths of the state. It is damaging the economy. It is damaging the environment, as people get pushed into longer commutes.”
. . .
The bill sponsored by Mr. Wiener, one of 130 housing measures that have been introduced this year, would restrict one of the biggest development tools that communities wield: the ability to use zoning, environmental and procedural laws to thwart projects they deem out of character with their neighborhood.

For the full story, see:

Adam Nagourney and Conor Dougherty. “Housing Costs Put California In Crisis Mode.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 18, 2017): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 17, 2017, and has the title “The Cost of a Hot Economy in California: A Severe Housing Crisis.”)

Portland Environmentalists Ashamed to Be Buying Air Conditioners

(p. A11) Here in Oregon’s largest city, it was sometimes hard to tell what was more startling: the record-setting heat or the fact that, on a planet getting used to higher temperatures, Portland was not entirely unprepared for it. In a region known for its enviously mild, low-humidity summers, people have increasingly and quietly embraced air-conditioning. Federal data suggests that about 70 percent of the Portland area’s occupied homes and apartments have at least some air-conditioning, up from 44 percent in 2002
. . .
Ms. Merlo’s home does not have air-conditioning, and she said she was considering sleeping in the basement. Although she cited environmental concerns as her primary reason for not installing a unit, she said more weeks like this one could shift her views.
“Talk to me five years from now, after another record-setting heat wave,” she said. “I might change my mind.”
Other people in the region already made the change. Kristan Moeckli, a Portland native who works in commercial real estate, said she had added a window unit to her apartment in Multnomah Village, just south of downtown. Pushed into the purchase by the coming heat, she bought the air-conditioner over the weekend, claiming one of the last units at the store.
“As we were looking at the 10-day forecast on our local news and they were projecting not just 80s — 80s, I can deal with — but 90s and above for a week, I was thinking about how we wouldn’t be able to cool down our apartment at night,” she said. “A part of me feels a little ashamed, as a native Oregonian, that I did cave and get the air-conditioning unit, but it’s kind of one those sorry, not sorry kind of things.”

For the full story, see:
Alan Blinder. “Region Proud of Roughing It, Without Air-Conditioning, Has Second Thoughts.” The New York Times (Friday, Aug. 4, 2017): A11.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 3, 2017, and has the title “‘As the Northwest Boils, an Aversion to Air-Conditioners Wilts.”)

Some Brain Traits Ease Music Learning

(p. C2) A study published in Cerebral Cortex in July [2015] shows that unusual activity in specific neural areas can predict how easily musicians learn their chops.
. . .
The data . . . point to a distinct starting advantage in some people–and where that advantage might reside in the brain. A retroactive examination of the first fMRI images predicted who would be the best learners.
Those with a hyperactive Heschl’s gyrus (part of the cerebral cortex that is associated with musical pitch) and with lots of reactivity in their right hippocampus (an area linked to auditory memory) turned out to be more likely to remember tunes they had heard before and, after some practice, play them well.
The “kicker,” said Dr. Zatorre, was finding that neural head start. “That gives you an advantage when you’re learning music, and it’s a completely different system from the parts of the brain that show learning has taken place. It speaks to the idea of 10,000 hours.” In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell called 10,000 hours of practice “the magic number of greatness.” Dr. Zatorre disagrees, saying, “Is it really fair to say that everyone’s brain is structured the same way, and that if you practice, you will accomplish the same thing?”

For the full commentary, see:
Susan Pinker. “Practice Makes Some Perfect, Others Maybe Not.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015): C2.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 26, 2015.)

The print version of the Cerebral Cortex article discussed above, is:
Herholz, Sibylle C., Emily B. J. Coffey, Christo Pantev, and Robert J. Zatorre. “Dissociation of Neural Networks for Predisposition and for Training-Related Plasticity in Auditory-Motor Learning.” Cerebral Cortex 26, no. 7 (July 1, 2016): 3125-34.

The Gladwell book mentioned above, is:
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

“Eye-Popping” Lack of Ideological Diversity in Universities

Cass Sunstein, the author of the passages quoted below, was the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012 during the Obama administration. He is currently a professor at the Harvard Law School. His spouse is Samantha Powers who he met while advising the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. She went on to be appointed by Obama as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

(p. 7B) In recent years, concern has grown over what many people see as a left-of-center political bias at colleges and universities. A few months ago, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017.

The findings are eye-popping (even if they do not come as a great surprise to many people in academia). Democrats dominate most fields. In religion, Langbert’s survey found that the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 70 to 1. In music, it is 33 to 1. In biology, it is 21 to 1. In philosophy, history and psychology, it is 17 to 1. In political science, it is 8 to 1.
. . .
. . . , the current numbers make two points unmistakably clear. First, those who teach in departments lacking ideological diversity have an obligation to offer competing views and to present them fairly and with respect. A political philosopher who leans left should be willing and able to ask students to think about the force of the argument for free markets, even if they produce a lot of inequality.
Second, those who run departments lacking ideological diversity have an obligation to find people who will represent competing views — visiting speakers, visiting professors and new hires. Faculties need not be expected to mirror their societies, but students and teachers ought not live in information cocoons.
John Stuart Mill put it well: “It is hardly possible to overrate the value … of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been, and is peculiarly in the present age, one of the primary sources of progress.”

For the full commentary, see:
Cass Sunstein. “The problem with All Those Liberal College Professors.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, May 1, 2018): 7B.
(Note: the ellipsis internal to last paragraph was in original; the other ellipses were added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 30, 2018.)

What Wofford’s Family “Lacked in Money, They Made Up for in Expectations”

(p. A19) Growing up on Buffalo’s rough and often neglected East Side, Keith H. Wofford recalled many crisp autumn Sundays spent with his father bonding over the Bills, following the team’s losses and wins on the radio.
Tickets to football games were not in the family’s budget: His father, John Wofford, worked at the nearby Chevrolet factory for 32 years, and his mother, Ruby, picked up odd jobs in retail to bring in extra income. But what the Woffords lacked in money, they made up for in expectations for their two sons.
“They always had an incredible amount of confidence in us,” Mr. Wofford, 49, said in an interview. “They made very clear that they didn’t see any limitations.”
Mr. Wofford held tight to that ideal as he left high school as a 17-year-old junior to attend Harvard University on a scholarship. Seven years later, he graduated from Harvard Law School. Last year, Mr. Wofford earned at least $4.3 million as a partner overseeing 300 lawyers and 700 employees at the New York office of international law firm Ropes & Gray, LLP, according to financial disclosure forms.
Now he’s the Republican nominee for state attorney general in New York, vying to become one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in the country.
“How many guys who work at a white shoe law firm had dads who had a union job?” asked C. Teo Balbach, 50, the chief executive of a software firm who grew up in Buffalo, and played intramural rugby at Harvard with Mr. Wofford.
“He’s a real hard worker and grinder, and that comes from that upbringing where you come from a middle-class family in a difficult neighborhood and you don’t take anything for granted,” Mr. Balbach added.
. . .
. . . issues facing Mr. Wofford should he win are potential conflicts of interest from his law practice.
. . .
Mr. Wofford said the criticism about him is indicative of Ms. James’s “hyperpartisan” attitude, and he sought to distinguish himself from her by characterizing himself as an outsider.
“Being on the wrong side of the tracks in Buffalo,” Mr. Wofford said, “is about as far from insider as you can get.”
His success as a lawyer, however, did allow him one heartfelt opportunity: In his father’s last years, Mr. Wofford returned to Buffalo, and during football season, they would bond again over Bills games — but in person, at the stadium, as a season-ticket holder.

For the full story, see:
Jeffery C. Mays. “Can an Unknown G.O.P. Candidate Become Attorney General?” The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018): A19.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 12, 2018, and has the title “Can a Black Republican Who Voted for Trump Be New York’s Next Attorney General?”)