“Macron Is Concerned with the End of the World; We Are Concerned with the End of the Month”

(p. A6) “Bosses prefer taking on temporary workers,” says Virginie Bonnin, 40, who works in local auto parts plants. “We are disposable.”

A single mother of three girls, Ms. Bonnin earns €1,900 a month. She learns on Thursday nights what her hours will be for the coming week. When her jobs end, she is sustained by unemployment benefits of about €1,400 a month.

“I’m not the worst off,” she says. “But it’s tricky.  In those times, I will not eat meat so that the kids can eat meat.” Her last summer vacation, a sacred French institution, was two years ago.

Ms. Bonnin was provoked into joining the Yellow Vests by the same measure that mobilized much of the country, a tax on gasoline that was to take effect in January.

Mr. Macron promoted it as a means of adapting to climate change. Outside major cities, where people rely on cars to get nearly everywhere, it supplied proof that the president was indifferent to the working class.  “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” one Yellow Vest slogan put it.  “We are concerned with the end of the month.”

That accusation endured even after Mr. Macron suspended the gas tax in the face of Yellow Vest furor.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2019, and has the title “Inequality Fuels Rage of ‘Yellow Vests’ in Equality-Obsessed France.”)

Boeing Tech Kludge Designed to Avoid Cost of Re-Certification Regulations

(p. A18)  . . . , Boeing engineers created the automated anti-stall system, called MCAS, that pushed the jet’s nose down if it was lifting too high. The software was intended to operate in the background so that the Max flew just like its predecessor. Boeing didn’t mention the system in its training materials for the Max.

Boeing also designed the system to rely on a single sensor — a rarity in aviation, where redundancy is common. Several former Boeing engineers who were not directly involved in the system’s design said their colleagues most likely opted for such an approach since relying on two sensors could still create issues. If one of two sensors malfunctioned, the system could struggle to know which was right.

Airbus addressed this potential problem on some of its planes by installing three or more such sensors. Former Max engineers, including one who worked on the sensors, said adding a third sensor to the Max was a nonstarter. Previous 737s, they said, had used two and managers wanted to limit changes.

“They wanted to A, save money and B, to minimize the certification and flight-test costs,” said Mike Renzelmann, an engineer who worked on the Max’s flight controls. “Any changes are going to require recertification.” Mr. Renzelmann was not involved in discussions about the sensors.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date , and has the title “Boeing’s 737 Max: 1960s Design, 1990s Computing Power and Paper Manuals.”)

Turing Award Winners’ Neural Networks “Are Still a Very Long Way from True Intelligence”

(p. B3) On Wednesday [March 27, 2019], the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest society of computing professionals, announced that Drs. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio had won this year’s Turing Award for their work on neural networks. The Turing Award, which was introduced in 1966, is often called the Nobel Prize of computing, and it includes a $1 million prize, which the three scientists will share.

. . .

Though these systems have undeniably accelerated the progress of artificial intelligence, they are still a very long way from true intelligence. But Drs. Hinton, LeCun and Bengio believe that new ideas will come.

“We need fundamental additions to this toolbox we have created to reach machines that operate at the level of true human understanding,” Dr. Bengio said.

For the full story, see:

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

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date , 2019, and has the title “Turing Award Won by 3 Pioneers in Artificial Intelligence.”)

Schools Are Safer Today Than 20 Years Ago

(p. A9) Americans believe schools are more unsafe today than they were two decades ago, according to a new poll — even as federal data shows that by most measures, schools have become safer.

. . .

A survey last month of 1,063 adults by The Associated Press and the N.O.R.C. Center at the University of Chicago found that 74 percent of parents of school-age children, and 64 percent of nonparents, believed schools were more unsafe today than they were in 1999. Only 35 percent of parents said they felt “very confident” that their child was safe at school.

. . .

Their fears run counter to the data presented in a federal report released this week. School is still among the safest places an American child can be.

Homicide is a leading cause of death for American youth, but the vast majority of those deaths take place at home or in the neighborhood. Between 1992 and 2016, just 3 percent of youth homicides and 1 percent of youth suicides took place at school, according to the federal report.

School crime levels decreased between 2001 and 2017. The number of students between 12 and 18 years old who reported being the victim of a violent crime at school over the past six months dropped from 2 to 1 percent. Incidents of theft, physical fights, the availability of illegal drugs and bullying also went down.

These changes echo the national drop in crime.

For the full story, see:

Dana Goldstein.  “Schools Are Safer, Even if They Feel Less So.”  The New York Times (Saturday, April 20, 2019):  A9.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story also has the date April 20, 2019, but has the title “20 Years After Columbine, Schools Have Gotten Safer. But Fears Have Only Grown.”)

Neanderthal’s “Body Was Archaic” but “Spirit Was Modern”

(p. B14) Starting in the mid-1950s, leading teams from Columbia University, Dr. Solecki discovered the fossilized skeletons of eight adult and two infant Neanderthals who had lived tens of thousands of years ago in what is now northern Iraq.

Dr. Solecki, who was also a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist at the time, said physical evidence at Shanidar Cave, where the skeletons were found, suggested that Neanderthals had tended to the weak and the wounded, and that they had also buried their dead with flowers, which were placed ornamentally and possibly selected for their therapeutic benefits.

The exhumed bones of a man, named Shanidar 3, who had been blind in one eye and missing his right arm but who had survived for years after he was hurt, indicated that fellow Neanderthals had helped provide him with sustenance and other support.

“Although the body was archaic, the spirit was modern,” Dr. Solecki wrote in the magazine Science in 1975.

Large amounts of pollen found in the soil at a grave site suggested that bodies might have been ceremonially entombed with bluebonnet, hollyhock, grape hyacinth and other flowers — a theory that is still being explored and amplified. (Some researchers hypothesized that the pollen might have been carried by rodents or bees, but Dr. Solecki’s theory has become widely accepted.)

“The association of flowers with Neanderthals adds a whole new dimension to our knowledge of his humanness, indicating he had a ‘soul,’” Dr. Solecki wrote.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts.  “Ralph Solecki, 101, Archaeologist Who Uncovered the Inner Life of Neanderthals.”  The New York Times  (Wednesday, April 17, 2019):  B14.

(Note:  the online version of the obituary has the date April 11, 2019, and has the title “Ralph Solecki, Who Found Humanity in Neanderthals, Dies at 101.”)

Oxford Business Card (and Discount Code) for “Openness to Creative Destruction”

The text below is copied and pasted from an Oxford University Press promotional business card.  The 30% discount code is:  ASFLYQ6

OPENNESS TO CREATIVE DESTRUCTION
ARTHUR M. DIAMOND, JR.

Life improves under the economic system often called “entrepreneurial capitalism” or “creative destruction,” but more accurately called “innovative dynamism.”  Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism shows how innovation occurs through the efforts of inventors and innovative entrepreneurs, how workers on balance benefit, and how good policies can encourage innovation.

The inventors and innovative entrepreneurs are often cognitively diverse outsiders with the courage and perseverance to see and pursue serendipitous discoveries or slow hunches.  Arthur M. Diamond, Jr. shows how economies grow where innovative dynamism through leapfrog competition flourishes, as in the United States from roughly 1830-1930. Consumers vote with their feet for innovative new goods and for process innovations that reduce prices, benefiting ordinary citizens more than the privileged elites.  Diamond highlights that because breakthrough inventions are costly and difficult, patents can be fair rewards for invention and can provide funding to enable future inventions.  He argues that some fears about adverse effects on labor market are unjustified, since more and better new jobs are created than are destroyed, and that other fears can be mitigated by better policies.  The steady growth in regulations, often defended on the basis of the precautionary principle, increases the costs to potential entrepreneurs and thus reduces innovation.

for more information, please visit global.oup.com/academic

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HARDBACK  $99.00 | £64.00        PAPERBACK  $34.95 | £22.99

“Ridiculous” to Project “Our Psychology into the Machines”

(p. A8)  . . .  the soft-spoken, 55-year-old Canadian computer scientist, a recipient of this year’s A.M. Turing Award — considered the Nobel Prize for computing — prefers to see the world though the idealism of “Star Trek” rather than the apocalyptic vision of “The Terminator.”

“In ‘Star Trek,’ there is a world in which humans are governed through democracy, everyone gets good health care, education and food, and there are no wars except against some aliens,” said Dr. Bengio, whose research has helped pave the way for speech- and facial-recognition technology, computer vision and self-driving cars, among other things. “I am also trying to marry science with how it can improve society.”

. . .

Cherri M. Pancake, the president of the Association for Computing Machinery, which offers the $1 million award, credited Dr. Bengio and two other luminaries who shared the prize, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun, with laying the foundation for technologies used by billions of people. “Anyone who has a smartphone in their pocket” has felt their impact, she said, noting that their work also provided “powerful new tools” in the fields of medicine, astronomy and material sciences.

Despite all the accolades, Dr. Bengio recoils at scientists being turned into celebrities. While Dr. Hinton works for Google and Dr. LeCun is the chief A.I. scientist at Facebook, Dr. Bengio has studiously avoided Silicon Valley in favor of a more scholarly life in Montreal, where he also co-founded Element A.I., a software company.

“I’m not a fan of a personalization of science and making some scientists stars,” said Dr. Bengio, a self-described introvert, who colleagues say is happiest when hunched over an algorithm. “I was maybe lucky to be at the right time and thinking the right things.”

Myriam Côté, a computer scientist who has worked with Dr. Bengio for more than a decade, described him as an iconoclast and freethinker who would feel stymied by the strictures of Silicon Valley. A communitarian at heart, she said, he shuns hierarchy and is known for sharing the profits from his own projects with younger, less established colleagues.

“He wants to create in freedom,” she said. Citing the credo of student rebels in 1968 in Paris, where Dr. Bengio was born, she said his philosophy was: “It is forbidden to forbid.”

That, in turn, has informed his approach to A.I.

Even as Stephen Hawking, the celebrated Cambridge physicist, warned that A.I. could be “the worst event in the history of our civilization,” and the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has cautioned it could create an “immortal dictator,” Dr. Bengio has remained more upbeat.

. . .

. . .  he dismissed the “Terminator scenario” in which a machine, endowed with human emotions, turns on its creator. Machines, he stressed, do not have egos and human sentiments, and are not slaves who want to be freed. “We imagine our creations turning against us because we are projecting our psychology into the machines,” he said, calling it “ridiculous.”

For the full story, see:

Dan Bilefsky.  “THE SATURDAY PROFILE; Teaching a Generation of Machines, Far From the Spotlights of Silicon Valley.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A8.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “THE SATURDAY PROFILE;  He Helped Create A.I. Now, He Worries About ‘Killer Robots’.”)

Plastic Bags Better for Environment Than Cotton Bags

(p. A25)  Back in 2011, Britain’s Environment Agency conducted a life-cycle assessment of various bag options, looking at every step of the production process.

. . .

That same British analysis also looked into reusable options, like heavier, more durable plastic bags or cotton bags. And it found that these are only sustainable options if you use them very frequently.

Making a cotton shopping bag is hardly cost-free. Growing cotton requires a fair bit of energy, land, fertilizer and pesticides, which can have all sorts of environmental effects — from greenhouse gas emissions to nitrogen pollution in waterways.

The study found that an avid shopper would have to reuse his or her cotton bag 131 times before it had a smaller global warming impact than a lightweight plastic bag used only once. And, depending on the make, more durable plastic bags would have to be used at least 4 to 11 times before they made up for their heftier upfront climate costs.

So if you’re going to opt for a reusable bag for environmental reasons, make sure you actually reuse it — often.

For the full story, see:

Erica Komisar.  “Paper or Plastic? Your Choice of Bag Matters Less Than What’s Inside.”  The New York Times (Saturday, March 30, 2019):  A25.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 29, 2019, and has the title “Plastic Bags, or Paper? Here’s What to Consider When You Hit the Grocery Store.”)

“Seek Truth from Facts”

(p. A15)  . . . 2019 . . .  marks the anniversary of the result of a . . . defiant protest—one that will receive little attention in or out of China, even though it launched the economic reforms that kick-started the country’s rise.

Forty years ago this spring, corn farmers in Xiaogang village, in the central province of Anhui (where Pearl Buck set “The Good Earth”), reported a grain yield of 66 metric tons. This single harvest equaled the village’s total output between 1955 and 1970—but for once the figure was not exaggerated. In fact, villagers underreported their actual yield by a third, fearing officials would not believe their record haul.

What caused this massive spike in production? A new fertilizer or hybrid seed? Better equipment? A catchy, rhymed propaganda slogan? No; Xiaogang’s farmers were starving. After taking power in 1949, China’s Communist Party had effectively abolished private land ownership, grouping farms into “people’s communes” subservient to the state. By 1978 villages were crippled by quotas that seized most of what they grew for redistribution.

Continue reading ““Seek Truth from Facts””

Private Property Unleashed Innovation

(p. A17)  Enlightenment philosophers recognized that the crown, guild, church and village sometimes acted as rent-seekers stripping away the rewards for work, thrift and innovation, and in the process inhibiting productive effort and progress. The Enlightenment established the principle that labor and capital are private property and not communal assets subject to involuntary sharing, and thus unleashed the explosion of knowledge and production that drives human flourishing to this day.

Extraordinarily in America, the crown jewel and greatest beneficiary of the Enlightenment, political movements are afoot that seek to overturn the individual economic rights secured in the Enlightenment and return to a medieval world of subjects and subjugation.

For the full commentary, see:

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date 9.)

Janet Yellen Values Non-Ph.D.s at Fed

(p. A2)  Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, nicely captured this sentiment by saying about Mr. Moore, an advocate for lower taxes and other conservative causes: “Steve’s nomination has thrown the card-carrying members of the Beltway establishment into a tizzy, and that says little about Steve and his belief in American ingenuity, but a lot about central planners’ devotion to groupthink.”

Anti-elitism is an odd look for Mr. Sasse, Ph.D. (Yale) and former college president (Midland University), but he’s hardly alone.

. . .

Economics can be insular, and even Janet Yellen, who chaired the Fed before Mr. Powell, agrees the Fed has been top-heavy with Ph.D. economists like her. “It’s not always been clear that this led to an improvement in policymaking,” she said in a 2012 interview for an oral history of the Fed, released Friday [April 12, 2019]. She praised the contribution of non-economist governors who, she says, are always asking themselves if the arguments of economists are “relevant to the world as I’m experiencing it through my contacts, whether they’re bankers or businesspeople or whatever?”

For the full commentary, see:

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

(Note:  the online version of the commentary has the date 9.)