Harvard President James Conant Helped Develop Mustard Gas in WWI

(p. C7) With America’s entry into World War I, Conant took a commission in the Chemical Warfare Service. His task was to develop poison gases—first mustard gas, then an even nastier brew called lewisite. Conant had Quaker branches on his family tree, but he had no qualms: What, he asked, was the moral difference between killing soldiers with explosives and killing them with gas?

. . .

The subtitle of Conant’s autobiography was “Memoirs of a Social Inventor.” He had invented poison gas; he had managed the invention of the Bomb; he had helped invent the modern Harvard; and he aimed to reinvent American education as a whole. But his greatest invention was himself: a new type of social being on the American scene—the scientist-administrator-social engineer. His granddaughter’s biography is an outstanding portrait of a technocrat, at work and at home.

For the full review, see:

Steven Shapin. “Citizen Conant.” The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017): C7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 27, 2017, and has the title “Review: Citizen Conant.”)

The book under review is:

Conant, Jennet. Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Chinese Communist One-Child Policy Caused “Intense Suffering of Ordinary People”

(p. B12) Kay Ann Johnson, an Asian studies scholar whose adoption of an infant girl from China led her to spend years researching the impact of the country’s one-child policy on rural families, died on Aug. 14 [2019] at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass.

. . .

For more than 20 years, Professor Johnson focused her research on Chinese villages where birth parents found themselves in a lopsided clash with a state bent on controlling population. The policy was also applied in cities, but villagers were usually more daring about trying to resist it. Professor Johnson presented her research in often painful case studies based on interviews with birth parents who described facing the ruthless policy.

One of those parents, Jiang Lifeng, already had a son when she became pregnant. She planned to keep the child and hoped to have a daughter. She avoided detection (and possibly forced sterilization) during pregnancy tests imposed by the authorities by using a friend’s urine. She delivered a girl, Shengshi. But nine months later the infant was taken from her bedroom by seven men, presumably government representatives, and driven away in a van.

Ms. Jiang recalled that “she ‘felt the sky fall down’ on her as she staggered after them, shocked and aghast at what had just happened,” Professor Johnson wrote. Ms. Jiang somehow caught up to the van and rode with the men and Shengshi to a local birth planning office, where she and her husband, Xu Guangwen, pleaded for the girl’s return. Officials refused.

The couple were told that they could adopt her after she had been taken to an orphanage. But that, Professor Johnson said, was a lie.

“The government had taken their baby, stripped them of their parental rights, and left them heartbroken and powerless to do anything about it,” she wrote. “It had been nothing short of a kidnapping by the government, leaving them no recourse.”

In his review of “China’s Hidden Children” in Foreign Affairs magazine, Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University, praised Professor Johnson for debunking the myth that Chinese parents did not value girls, and for outlining the often terrible consequences of the one-child policy.

“Johnson’s extraordinary book conveys the intense suffering of ordinary people struggling to build families against the will of an implacable bureaucracy,” Mr. Nathan wrote.

Kay Ann Johnson was born on Jan. 21, 1946, in Chicago. Her father, D. Gale Johnson, was an agricultural economist and the chairman of the economics department at the University of Chicago.

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s Painful One-Child Policy, Dies.” The New York Times (Friday, August 30, 2019): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 29, 2019, and has title “Kay Ann Johnson, 73, Who Studied China’s One-Child Policy, Dies.”)

Johnson’s book, mentioned above, is:

Johnson, Kay Ann. China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption, and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Newsboys “Were American Icons–Symbols of Unflagging Industry”

(p. A17) Thomas Edison was one. So were Harry Houdini, Herbert Hoover, W.C. Fields, Walt Disney, Benjamin Franklin, Jackie Robinson, Walter Winchell, Thomas Wolfe, Jack London, Knute Rockne, Harry Truman, John Wayne, Warren Buffett and many more familiar names. Besides being illustrious Americans, these men shared a calling—growing up, they were newsboys, delivering newspapers to subscribers or, more colorfully, hawking them on the streets for a couple of pennies, real money in those days.

In their time, newsboys (girls were rare) were American icons—symbols of unflagging industry and tattered, barefoot, shivering objects of pity. They had their own argot and better news judgment than many editors, because they had to size up the appeal of every edition to determine how many copies to buy from the publisher.

For the full review, see:

Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; Street-Corner Capitalists.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 7, 2019): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Crying the News’ Review: Street-Corner Capitalists.”)

The book under review is:

DiGirolamo, Vincent. Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

“Openness to Creative Destruction” Discussed on Power Trading Radio

John O’Donnell interviewed me at 6 PM 11/8/19, about my book “Openness to Creative Destruction” on his weekly Friday show on Power Trading Radio. (In the screen capture above, Merlin Rothfeld is on the left and John O’Donnell is on the right.)

Chagnon Documented Violence Among Hunter-Gathering Tribe

(p. B12) In his paper “Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population,” published in the journal Science in 1988, Dr. Chagnon — though the surname is French, his family used an Anglicized pronunciation, SHAG-non — asserted that tribal societies were not typically peaceful, challenging a widespread view.

Anthropologists go wrong, he wrote, when they ignore evidence that aggression among men in tribal societies is so highly rewarded that it becomes an inherited trait.

Yanomami life was one of “incessant warfare,” he wrote. His data, collected over decades, he said, showed that 44 percent of Yanomami men over 25 had participated in killing someone, that 25 percent of Yanomami men were killed by other Yanomami men, and that men who killed were more highly esteemed and had more wives and children than men who did not.

Dr. Chagnon dismissed as “Marxist” the widespread anthropological belief that warfare in tribal life was usually provoked by disputes over access to scarce resources.

“The whole purpose and design of the social structure of tribesmen seems to have revolved around effectively controlling sexual access by males to nubile, reproductive- age females,” he wrote in his 2014 memoir, “Noble Savages.”

For the full obituary, see:

Cornelia Dean. “Napoleon Chagnon, 81, Anthropologist in Amazon Whose Work Drew Criticism.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 1, 2019): B12.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the same date as the print version, and has title “Napoleon Chagnon, 81, Controversial Anthropologist, Is Dead.”)

The 2014 memoir mentioned above, is:

Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes–the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky

(p. B6) MOREHEAD, Ky. — Proximity to big markets is crucial for the fresh produce business.

So when AppHarvest, a two-year-old start-up, was looking for a site for a greenhouse, it picked a 366-acre field in Rowan County just outside Morehead, a university town in eastern Kentucky.

The greenhouse, the largest in the United States, will be just a day’s drive from almost 70 percent of American consumers, including those who love fresh tomatoes.

Next summer, when AppHarvest begins production at its $97 million building, 285 employees will start shipping 45 million pounds of fresh produce annually, primarily tomatoes, to grocery stores from Atlanta to New York, and as far west as Chicago and St. Louis.

For the greenhouse to be cost-effective, size was as important as location. The 60-acre, 2.76-million-square-foot building will be big enough to lower costs on materials, production and distribution.

“I asked the engineers, ‘How big can we possibly be to operate efficiently and effectively?’” said Jonathan Webb, AppHarvest’s 34-year-old founder and chief executive. “We have to compete with produce coming from 2,000 miles away.” Continue reading “Start-Up Is Building Largest Greenhouse in U.S., Creating 285 Jobs in Kentucky”

If Steve “Jobs Had Lived, Disney and Apple Might Have Merged”

(p. B7) Mr. Iger believes that, if Mr. Jobs had lived, Disney and Apple might have merged.

. . .

He thinks that Mr. Jobs also could have helped steer Silicon Valley in a better direction. “Steve had quite a conscience.” Mr. Iger says. “It didn’t always manifest itself in his interpersonal relationships, but he had quite a conscience. Silicon Valley needs leaders.” The two men became so close that Mr. Jobs pulled Mr. Iger aside right before the announcement of the $7 billion Disney-Pixar deal to confide that his pancreatic cancer had come back and was now in his liver. Only his wife, Laurene, knew. Mr. Iger had to think fast; he rejected Mr. Jobs’s offer to back out of the deal.

For the full interview, see:

Maureen Dowd, interviewer. “The Slow-Burning Success of a Hollywood Nice Guy.” The New York Times (Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019): D1 & D6-D7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Slow-Burning Success of Disney’s Bob Iger.”)

The book discussed in the interview is:

Iger, Robert. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. New York: Random House, 2019.