Kansas City Government Pours Bleach on Food for the Homeless

(p. A17) KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They unfurled colorful blankets on a grassy slope, and unloaded steaming trays of corn dogs, baked beans and vegetable beef soup. Every week for the past three years, the volunteers have gone to a park just outside downtown Kansas City with home-cooked meals for the homeless. They call it a picnic with friends.
But on a cloudy afternoon earlier this month, an inspector from the Kansas City Health Department showed up and called it something else: an illegal food establishment.
She ordered most of the food put into black garbage bags, bundled them on the grass and, in a move that stunned the gathered group, doused the pile with bleach.
Allen Andrews, who has been living on the streets for the past year, said he watched silently as the bleach was poured, thinking back to when he had a home. He remembered how he had sometimes poured bleach on trash he put out for collection, to deter rodents from getting into it.
“They treat us like animals,” Mr. Andrews, 46, said.

For the full story, see:
John Eligon. “‘Where Feeding the Needy Requires Both a Heart and a Permit.” The New York Times (Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018): A17.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 21, 2018, and has the title “You Want to Feed the Hungry? Lovely. Let’s See Your Permit.” The online version says that the article appeared on p. A13 of the New York edition. It appeared on p. A17 of the National edition that I subscribe to.)

“Not Enough Workers”

(p. B1) MILWAUKEE — At Western Building Products’ banana-shaped factory on the lip of the Menomonee River outside Milwaukee, the company’s president, Mark Willey, is wrangling with a stubborn problem: not enough workers.
“If someone is here a year, they never leave,” Mr. Willey said. “Our problem today is just finding people who want to work.”
It is a headache employers across the country are confronting, as Friday’s monthly jobs report from the government illustrated. The unemployment rate in November [2018] held steady at 3.7 percent — the lowest in nearly half a century. And while the pace of hiring slowed to 155,000 from October’s above-average showing, the parade of payroll gains marched on uninterrupted for the 98th month

For the full story, see:
Patricia Cohen. “‘Hiring Slows in a Labor Pinch.” The New York Times (Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018): B1.
(Note: bracketed year added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 7, 2018, and has the title “As Hiring Slows, Employers Say It’s Getting Harder to Find Workers.”)

A Tale of Two Bookstores: New York City Subsidizes Amazon and Regulates the Strand

(p. A22) Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.
With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.
Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.
There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.
Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.
So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”
Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.
“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”
. . .
Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.
“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”
. . .
Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission’s approval.
. . .
Ms. Wyden — who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell’s book store in Portland — is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.
. . .
While she would not divulge the bookstore’s finances, she said that she could make more money renting out the Strand’s five floors, but she loves the family business too much.
She accused city officials of trying to hurry the landmarking process, leaving her little time to prepare a defense, especially during the holiday rush.
“It’s our busiest time of year, and we should be focused on customers and Christmas, which is where we make our most money,” Ms. Wyden said. “But they have no sympathy for that.”

For the full story, see:
Corey Kilgannon. “‘Declaring Strand Bookstore a Landmark Would Kill It, Says Strand.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018): A22.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title “Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says.” The online version says that the New York print edition appeared on p. A20 and had the title: “A Bid to Preserve Strand Bookstore Would Destroy It, Owner Says.” The page and title in the citation I give further above, is from the National print edition that I receive.)

George Bittlingmayer Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

For tens of thousands of years, before the Age of Innovation, human beings merely survived by hunting, gathering or tilling, and lived in caves or dirty, squalid huts. In marked contrast, the average person alive today enjoys a standard of living and access to entertainment, medical services, travel, and communications technology that our ancestors would have regarded as miraculous. Art Diamond skillfully shows how we got the many wonders we take for granted – everything from indoor plumbing to SUVs to iPhones – by telling the stories of the determined tinkerers, iconoclasts and visionaries who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. They succeeded because they were willing to wage the good fight and because they could draw on flawed but ultimately supportive legal, cultural and economic institutions. Diamond also addresses the question of whether the Age of Innovation has run its course, and he provides a timely warning about the dangers that current political and intellectual forces pose to the many potential innovations yet to come. The Age Innovation may end, but whether it does is largely in our hands.

George Bittlingmayer, Economist, Angel Investor, and Professor Emeritus, University of Kansas.

Bittlingmayer’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Patent Troll Is Bankrupt After Victims Fight Back

(p. B5) Shipping & Transit LLC sued more than 100 mostly small companies in 2016, making it the largest filer of patent lawsuits that year. But when the Florida company recently declared bankruptcy, it valued its U.S. patents at just $1.
Its demise followed three cases where companies fought back and were awarded legal fees after Shipping & Transit decided not to pursue the patent claims against them. Judges in the cases awarded a total of more than $245,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to businesses in 2017.
Shipping & Transit doesn’t sell tracking systems or anything else. Instead, it claims to own patents “for providing status messages for cargo, shipments and people,” according to court filings. The company typically demanded licensing fees of $25,000 to $45,000 from companies it said were infringing on its patents. Most agree to pay small amounts to avoid costly litigation.
. . .
In one ruling, a U.S. district judge in Santa Ana, Calif., called Shipping & Transit’s patent claims “objectively unreasonable” in light of a 2014 Supreme Court decision that held that certain kinds of abstract ideas weren’t patentable.
. . .
Patent assertions by companies that don’t make products and are primarily focused on making money off of patents have declined since the Supreme Court decision, but still “remain extremely high,” said Shawn Ambwani, chief operating officer of Unified Patents, which specializes in challenging these types of assertions.
In another of the cases from 2017, a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., said Shipping & Transit’s actions suggest that the company’s “strategy is predatory and aimed at reaping financial advantage from defendants who are unwilling or unable to engage in the expense of patent litigation.”.

For the full commentary, see:
Ruth Simon. “Company That Filed Patent Suits Derails.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 16, 2018, and has the title “Pushback Derails Company That Thrived on Patent Lawsuits.”)

“Profit Feeds Impact at Scale”

(p. 1) Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.
He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.
He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.
“A lot of people think it’s too good to be true,” says Mr. Reynolds, a California-born entrepreneur living in Rwanda. “Most people think I am pretty out there.”
The company he is building across Rwanda, Inyenyeri, aims to replace Africa’s overwhelming dependence on charcoal and firewood with clean-burning stoves powered by wood pellets. The business has just a tad more than 5,000 customers and needs perhaps 100,000 to break even. Even its chief operating officer, Claude Mansell, a veteran of the global consulting company Capgemini, wonders how the story will end.
“Do we know that it’s going to work?” he asks. “I don’t know. It’s never been done before.”
Inyenyeri presents a real-world test of an idea gaining traction among those focused on economic development — that profit-making businesses may be best positioned to deliver critically needed services to the world’s poorest communities.
Governments in impoverished countries lack the finance to attack threats to public health, and many are riddled with corruption (though, by reputation, not Rwanda’s). Philanthropists and international aid organizations play key roles in areas such as immunizing children. But turning plans for basic services into mass-market realities may require the potent incentives of capitalism. It is a notion that has provoked the creation of many businesses, most of them failures.
“Profit feeds impact at scale,” says Mr. Reynolds, now in the midst of a global tour (p. 8) as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”
More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility.
. . .
To succeed, a stove had to be so convenient and clean burning that women preferred it over their existing cooking method.
Mr. Reynolds began testing stoves made in Italy, India, the United States and China. He tried making his own.
He came to realize that the magic was in the combination of stove and fuel. He experimented with making charcoal out of corncobs. (“A stupid idea,” he says.) He tried burning banana leaves. Then he discovered wood pellets, which involve compressing wood and eliminating water, the element that produces much of the smoke.
He settled on a Dutch-made stove that reduces wood down to clean-burning gases. Using pellets reduced the need for wood by 90 percent compared with charcoal. But those stoves cost more than $75.
Then came the epiphany: Inyenyeri could supply the stoves for free while collecting revenue from subscriptions for pellets. Rwanda was urbanizing rapidly, and city dwellers rely on charcoal. They would be eager to switch to pellets, which were 30 to 50 percent cheaper.
. . .
(p. 9) The business model would get more attractive as the cost of charcoal climbed, and as innovation inevitably made stoves more efficient. Inyenyeri would also stand to collect revenue from an arrangement it later entered into with the World Bank to sell credits for reducing emissions.
In 2010, Mr. Reynolds sold his house in Boulder and went all in on Inyenyeri. He unloaded his wine cellar, liquidated his retirement accounts and moved to Rwanda with no plan to leave.
. . .
“This business model will happen,” he says. “If it’s not Inyenyeri that’s the first mover, then it will be someone else who learns from our mistakes and does it better. It’s too big of an opportunity.”

For the full story, see:
Peter S. Goodman. “‘A Low-Cost Fix for Africa’s Silent Killer.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Dec. 6, 2018): 1 & 8-9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 5, 2018, and has the title “Toxic Smoke Is Africa’s Quiet Killer. An Entrepreneur Says His Fix Can Make a Fortune.”)

Children Younger Than Peers in Class Are More Likely to Be Mis-Diagnosed

(p. A14) Diagnosing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is inherently subjective. New research highlights how this can get especially tricky with young children.
It shows that ADHD rates are significantly higher among children who are the youngest in their class compared with those who are the oldest.
ADHD is characterized by difficulty concentrating and constantly active, sometimes disruptive behavior. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, found that the youngest children in early elementary school grades have a 32% higher risk of being diagnosed with ADHD than the oldest children.
. . .
“We’re asking children to concentrate and focus when they don’t really have the ability to concentrate and focus yet,” says R. Scott Benson, a child psychiatrist in Pensacola, Fla. “We really want to be more careful, as we get more academic in these younger and younger grades, that we don’t mistake a slight developmental delay as ADHD.”
. . .
Tim Layton, an assistant professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School and first author on the study, says the research highlights the importance of pausing before calling a doctor about a child’s unusual behavior. “In fact, it may be the case that that behavior is completely normal, even though it may be disruptive or make the teaching environment difficult,” he says.

For the full commentary, see:
Sumathi Reddy. “YOUR HEALTH; The ADHD Diagnosis Problem.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018): A14.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title “YOUR HEALTH; A Reason to Think Twice About Your Child’s ADHD Diagnosis.”)

The ADHD study mentioned above, is:
Layton, Timothy J., Michael L. Barnett, Tanner R. Hicks, and Anupam B. Jena. “Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and Month of School Enrollment.” New England Journal of Medicine 379, no. 22 (Nov. 29, 2018): 2122-30.