Amish Embrace Smartphones and Internet, at Least for Entrepreneurship

(p. 6) A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone. She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.

New technology has created fresh opportunities for prosperity among the Amish, just as it has for people in the rest of the world. A contractor can call a customer from a job site. A store owner’s software can make quick work of payroll and inventory tasks. A bakery can take credit cards.

But for people bound by a separation from much of the outside world, new tech devices have brought fears about the consequence of internet access. There are worries about pornography; about whether social networks will lead sons and daughters to date non-Amish friends; and about connecting to a world of seemingly limitless possibilities.

“Amish life is about recognizing the value of agreed-upon limits,” said Erik Wesner, an author who runs a blog, Amish America, “and the spirit of the internet cuts against the idea of limits.”

. . .

Referring to technology, Mr. Smucker said, “You have to do what you have to do to stay in business. People are starting to understand that.”

There are probably 2,000 successful Amish businesses in the Lancaster area, many of them multimillion-dollar enterprises, said Donald B. Kraybill, a retired professor at Elizabethtown’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.

This “very entrepreneurial, very capitalistic” tendency, he said, was all the more remarkable because it was channeled through a “culture of restraint.”

Many Amish people draw a bright line between what is allowed at work — smartphones, internet access — and what remains forbidden at home.

For the full story, see:

Kevin Granville and Ashley Gilbertson. “In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017): 6-7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 15, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

Fire Marshall Regulations Reduce Use of Hospital Hand Sanitizers, Helping Spread Dangerous Bacteria

(p. A11) With the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer — often more effective and convenient than soap and water — it’s far easier to keep hands clean than clothing.

But the placement of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for health workers isn’t as convenient as it could be, reducing its use. The reason? In the early 2000s, fire marshals began requiring hospitals to remove or relocate dispensers because hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol, making them flammable.

Fire codes now limit where they can be placed — a minimum distance from electrical outlets, for example — or how much can be kept on site.

Hand sanitizers are most often used in hallways, though greater use closer to patients (like immediately before or after touching a patient) could be more effective.

. . .

Although there have been fires in hospitals traced to alcohol-based hand sanitizer, they are rare. Across nearly 800 American health care facilities that used alcohol-based hand sanitizer, one study found, no fires had occurred. The World Health Organization puts the fire risk of hand sanitizers as “very low.”

For the full commentary, see:

Frakt, Austin. “Lab Coat Can Host Dangerous Bacteria.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 30, 2019): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 29, 2019, and has the title “Why Your Doctor’s White Coat Can Be a Threat to Your Health.” The last two sentences quoted above, occur in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

The the rarity of hand sanitizer hospital fires was documented in:

Boyce, John M., and Michele L. Pearson. “Low Frequency of Fires from Alcohol-Based Hand Rub Dispensers in Healthcare Facilities.” Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 24, no. 8 (Aug. 2003): 618-19.

Lacking Absolute Certainty, Evidence Can Get Us to “True Enough”

(p. A17) As in his earlier books, Mr. Blackburn displays a rare combination of erudite precision and an ability to make complex ideas clear in unfussy prose.

If truth has seemed unattainable, he argues, it is because in the hands of philosophers such as Plato and Descartes it became so purified, rarefied and abstract that it eluded human comprehension. Mr. Blackburn colorfully describes their presentation of truth as a “picture of an entirely self-enclosed world of thought, spinning frictionless in the void.”

The alternative is inspired by more grounded philosophers, like David Hume and especially the American pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Mr. Blackburn repeatedly returns to a quote from Peirce that serves as one of the book’s epigraphs: “We must not begin by talking of pure ideas—vagabond thoughts that tramp the public highways without any human habitation—but must begin with men and their conversation.” The best way to think about truth is not in the abstract but in media res, as it is found in the warp and weft of human life.

Put crudely, for the pragmatists “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” We take to be true what works. Newton’s laws got us to the moon, so it would be perverse to deny that they are true. It doesn’t matter if they are not the final laws of physics; they are true enough. “We must remember that a tentative judgment of truth is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty,” says Mr. Blackburn, a sentence that glib deniers of the possibility of truth should be made to copy out a hundred times. Skepticism about truth only gets off the ground if we demand that true enough is not good enough—that truth be beyond all possible doubt and not just the reasonable kind.

For the full review, see:

Julian Baggini. “BOOKSHELF; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 25, 2018): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 24, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘On Truth’ Review: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt; A philosopher argues that truth is humble, not absolute: “A tentative judgment . . . is not the same as a dogmatic assertion of certainty”.”)

The book under review is:

Blackburn, Simon. On Truth. Reprint ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Academic Progress in New Orleans Charter Schools Is “Remarkable”

(p. A19) This month, the New Orleans overhaul entered a new stage. On July 1, [2018] the state returned control of all schools to the city. The charter schools remain. But a locally elected school board, accountable to the city’s residents, is now in charge. It’s a time when people in New Orleans are reflecting on what the overhaul has, and has not, accomplished.

So I decided to visit and talk with students, teachers, principals, community leaders and researchers. And I was struck by how clear of a picture emerged. It’s still a nuanced picture, with both positives and negatives. But there are big lessons.

New Orleans is a great case study partly because it avoids many of the ambiguities of other education reform efforts. The charters here educate almost all public-school students, so they can’t cherry pick. And the students are overwhelmingly black and low-income — even lower-income than before Katrina — so gentrification isn’t a factor.

Yet the academic progress has been remarkable.

Performance on every kind of standardized test has surged. Before the storm, New Orleans students scored far below the Louisiana average on reading, math, science and social studies. Today, they hover near the state average, despite living amid much more poverty. Nationally, the average New Orleans student has moved to the 37th percentile of math and reading scores, from the 22nd percentile pre-Katrina.

This week, Douglas Harris — a Tulane economist who leads a rigorous research project on the schools — is releasing a new study, with Matthew Larsen, another economist. It shows that the test-score gains are translating into real changes in students’ lives. High-school graduation, college attendance and college graduation have all risen.

One example: In most of Louisiana, the share of 12th graders going directly to college has fallen in recent years, probably because of budget cuts to higher education. In New Orleans, Harris and Larsen report, the share has jumped to 32.8 percent, from 22.5 percent before Katrina.

People here point to two main forces driving the progress: Autonomy and accountability.

For the full commentary, see:

Leonhardt, David. “A Better Way to Run Schools.” The New York Times (Monday, July 16, 2018): A19.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 15, 2018, and has the title “How New Orleans Is Helping Its Students Succeed.” Where the two versions differ, the passages above follow the online version, which includes a few sentences not included in the print version.)

The Harris and Larsen report, mentioned above, is:

Harris, Douglas N., and Matthew F. Larsen. “The Effects of the New Orleans Post-Katrina Market-Based School Reforms on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes.” In Technical Report: Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, 2018.

Bill Gates Spending $400 Million to Develop Expensive High-Tech Toilets for Poor Countries

(p. B1) BEIJING — Bill Gates believes the world needs better toilets.

Specifically, toilets that improve hygiene, don’t have to connect to sewage systems at all and can break down human waste into fertilizer.

So on Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Gates held the Reinvented Toilet Expo, a chance for companies to showcase their takes on the simple bathroom fixture. Companies showed toilets that could separate urine from other waste for more efficient treatment, that recycled water for hand washing and that sported solar roofs.

It’s no laughing matter. About 4.5 billion people — more than half the world’s population — live without access to safe sanitation. Globally, Mr. Gates told attendees, unsafe sanitation costs an estimated $223 billion a year in the form of higher health costs and lost productivity and wages.

The reinvented toilets on display are a culmination of seven years of research and $200 million given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which the former software tycoon runs with his wife, since 2011. On Tuesday [Nov. 6, 2018], Mr. Gates pledged to give $200 million more in an effort get companies to see human waste as a big business.

. . .

(p. B5) . . . China’s toilet revolution has led to excesses — a problem that critics say could plague the Gates effort as well.

To win favor with Beijing, local officials have tried to outgun one another with newfangled latrines, many equipped with flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi and facial-recognition toilet paper dispensers. (Thieves have been known to make off with entire rolls.) There were even refrigerators, microwave ovens and couches, prompting China’s tourism chief at the time to instruct officials in January to rein in their “five-star toilets” and avoid kitsch and luxury.

Though the products on display on Tuesday were nowhere as flashy, Mr. Gates has drawn criticism for giving thousands of dollars to universities in developed countries to create high-tech toilets that will take years to pay off — if they ever do.

“Sometimes doubling down is necessary, but you’ve got to be reflective,” said Jason Kass, the founder of Toilets for People, a Vermont-based social business that provides off-grid toilets. “Has any of the approaches done in the last five years created any sustainable lasting, positive impact vis-à-vis sanitation? And the answer, as far as I can see, is no.”

. . .

Mr. Gates acknowledged that some reinvented toilets, in small volumes, could cost as much as $10,000, but added, “That will pretty quickly come down.”

“The hard part will be getting it from $2,000 to $500,” he said. “I’d say we are more confident today that it was a good bet than where we started, but we are still not there.”

For the full story, see:

Sui-Lee Wee. “Bill Gates Wants to Build A Better Toilet.” The New York Times (Friday, Nov. 9, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 6, 2018, and has the title “In China, Bill Gates Encourages the World to Build a Better Toilet.”)

Fear of Malpractice Suits Increases Useless Medical Care by 5%

(p. B4) Researchers from Duke and M.I.T. . . . offer what is perhaps the most precise estimate of how much defensive medicine matters, at least for care in the hospital. They found that the possibility of a lawsuit increased the intensity of health care that patients received in the hospital by about 5 percent — and that those patients who got the extra care were no better off.

“There is defensive medicine,” said Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at M.I.T. and an author of the paper, which was published in draft form Monday [July 23, 2018] by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “But that defensive medicine is not explaining a large share of what’s driving U.S. health care costs.”

Mr. Gruber and Michael D. Frakes, a Duke economist and lawyer, looked at the health care system for active-duty members of the military. Under longstanding law, such patients get access to a government health care system but are barred from suing government doctors and hospitals for malpractice. Their family members can also use the military hospitals, but they can sue for malpractice if they wish.

Their study looked at what happened to the hospital care that military members received when a base closing forced them to use their benefits in civilian hospitals, where it was possible to sue. Spending on their health care increased, particularly on extra diagnostic tests.

They also found that, even within the military hospitals, family members who could sue tended to get more tests than those who could not.

For the full commentary, see:

Margot Sanger-Katz. “Doctors’ Fear of Lawsuits May Hit Patients in the Wallet, Study Hints.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 23, 2018): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2018, and has the title “A Fear of Lawsuits Really Does Seem to Result in Extra Medical Tests.”)

The Frakes and Gruber working paper, mentioned above, is:

Frakes, Michael D., and Jonathan Gruber. “Defensive Medicine: Evidence from Military Immunity.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper # 24846, July 2018.

Astros Got Scouting and Analytics to Work Together

(p. A15) Mr. Reiter . . . has written a full account of the remarkable story of how one of the greatest turnarounds in modern baseball history was engineered. As he tells us in “Astroball: The New Way to Win It All,” Houston had looked at the processes that Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane had used early in the 21st century. That team’s methods—sophisticated statistical analyses and attention to “undervalued” measuring sticks (like on-base percentage)—were detailed in Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” (2003), and they changed the way baseball front offices operated. But Mr. Lewis’s book also portrayed a somewhat fraught internal organization, with old-fashioned scouts in one corner and the analytic nerds in the other, often disagreeing about players and prospects and resenting one another as well.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wanted to figure out how to get scouting and analytics to work together and eventually produce an internal metric that would render a decision on a player as simple as the one in blackjack: hit or stay, keep or trade, play or bench.

. . .

Under Mr. Luhnow, scouts not only made subjective judgments about a prospect’s talent but also collected unique data that they fed to the folks in the Nerd Cave. And the nerds began listening to the scouts. All of this was easier said than done, but it was done, and the team made a series of sound, even brilliant, choices as it drafted, traded and signed players.

For the full review, see:

Paul Dickson. “BOOKSHELF; Lone Star Turnaround; How the Houston Astros used a combination of data-driven analytics and team-building to go from last place to World Series champions.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 16, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Astroball’ Review: Lone Star Turnaround
How the Houston Astros used a combination of data-driven analytics and team-building to go from last place to World Series champions.”)

The book under review is:

Reiter, Ben. Astroball: The New Way to Win It All. New York: Crown Archetype, 2018.