In Covid-19 Lockdown, Cars Allow a Private Escape from Crowded Noisy Homes

(p. D6) Public spaces are hard to safely navigate, or totally off-limits and, as a result, I haven’t felt this strongly about my car since I was 16 — not just grateful, but deeply attached. Not just attached, but somehow amalgamated.

Every car is a getaway, even when it’s parked.

In my neighborhood, where so many people live in multigenerational homes, parked cars now double as quiet meeting spaces, meditation rooms, listening stations, nap pods, whatever extra spaces we need.

We sip coffee, fight loudly and make out in our cars. We eat snacks and take important phone calls and watch TikTok videos and put the seats way back and just breathe.

I haven’t seen my brother, who lives 15 minutes away from me, in weeks. He uses his tiny car as an office. Never mind that the floor is covered in Cheerios, and the windows are dotted with peeling stickers.

Week Three of lockdown, and it’s a privilege if you can work safely, in isolation, if you can escape momentarily into your car. Even if — especially if — you have nowhere else to go but home.

For the full commentary, see:

Tejal Rao. “Car Culture Has a New Meaning.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 1, 2020): D6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 31, 2020, and has the title “Dining and Driving on the Empty Freeways of Los Angeles.”)

“Working-Class Louis-François Cartier” Succeeded Through “Industry, Shrewdness, and Sheer Luck”

(p. 21) While Cartier is now a fixture in every major city, a synonym for international panache, its origins were modest. The author’s great-great-great-grandfather, , founded his eponymous company in 1847. Through a combination of industry, shrewdness, and sheer luck, he managed to transform his small shop into a fashionable destination: no small task in an era of civil unrest and regime change.

Thriving in the fickle fine jewelry market required finesse, and Brickell highlights the complementary skills different members of the close-knit Cartier clan brought to their ever-shifting business: innovative design, meticulous craftsmanship, an early appreciation for the power of public relations, and a keen eye for spotting counterfeit stones. Early on, Cartier also, crucially, developed a reputation as an honest and reliable dealer when droves of aristocrats were hocking their jewels following the Franco-Prussian War.

For the full review, see:

Sadie Stein. “Family Jewelers.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 22, 2019): 21.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. [sic] 26, 2019, and has the title “Can’t Afford a Shopping Spree at Cartier? This Book Is the Next Best Thing.”)

The book under review, is:

Brickell, Francesca Cartier. The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

French Jobs Rise as Labor Regulations Fall

(p. A1) PARIS — One after another, the speakers in Parliament have denounced President Emmanuel Macron and his revolutionary plans, calling them “cynicism” and a “flagrant crime.” Outside, hundreds of protesters shout their fury. Other demonstrators, invoking a long French tradition, have called for his head.

. . .

(p. A6) Mr. Macron has upset the French, and he is deeply unpopular for it. So it has become the defining paradox of his rule that he remains much despised, even as his changes begin to bear fruit.

The intractable unemployment rate, slayer of his predecessors, appears finally to be bending to a French president’s touch, recently reaching its lowest rate in 12 years at 8.1 percent.

Working-age employment rates are up, worker-training programs are showing big gains, quality long-term job contracts are outpacing precarious, short-term ones.

All of those are advances plausibly attributed to Mr. Macron’s landmark loosening of the rigid French labor market.

For the full story, see:

Adam Nossiter. “As the French Call for His Head, Macron Is Reshaping the Nation.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title “As Emmanuel Macron’s Impact Grows, So Does French Disdain.”)

Open Offices Speed Spread of Covid-19

(p. B6) After years of squeezing ever more workers into tighter office spaces, companies are realizing how efficiently the modern workspace can spread diseases like the coronavirus.

Cubicles and private offices have made way for open floors, where a sneeze or cough can circulate uninterrupted.  . . .

Between 2018 and 2019, the average office space per seat in North America declined by 14.3% to 195.6 square feet, according to brokerage firm JLL’s 2020 Occupancy Benchmarking Report.

Many companies also have abolished assigned seating, rotating workers through the office. That means workers in many offices are now more likely to touch surfaces contaminated by others.

. . .

In a study of more than 1,800 Swedish office workers that was published in 2014, a group of researchers from Stockholm University found that open-plan offices lead to more sick leaves. Among the possible explanations is that these offices can be more stressful, and risk of infection may be greater. The study also found that offices without assigned desks lead to more extended sick leaves, but only among men.

For the full story, see:

Konrad Putzier. “Open Offices Spur Virus Worries.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, MARCH 11, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2020, and has the title “Your Open-Floor Office Could Help Spread Coronavirus.”)

Remote Workers Are 13% More Efficient Than Office-Based Workers

(p. B4) Fans of remote work often cite studies showing that people who work from home are more productive, like a 2014 study led by the Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom. The study examined remote workers at a Chinese travel agency and found that they were 13 percent more efficient than their office-based peers.

For the full commentary, see:

Kevin Roose. “THE SHIFT; Work From Home? Think Again.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 12, 2020): B1 & B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2020, and has the title “THE SHIFT; Sorry, but Working From Home Is Overrated.”)

The paper mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Bloom, Nicholas, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying. “Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 130, no. 1 (Feb. 2014): 165-218.

Meaning and Pride Come “From Being Part of a Shared Enterprise”

(p. 6) . . . over the past three decades, deaths of despair among whites without a college degree–especially those under age 50–have soared.

. . .

Case and Deaton — a married couple who are both economists at Princeton — try to explain the causes in a new book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.” Their basic answer is that working-class life in the United States is more difficult than it is in any other high-income country.

. . .

Many of the problems afflicting the working class span racial groups, and Case and Deaton emphasize that these problems aren’t merely financial. Life for many middle- and low-income Americans can lack structure, status and meaning. People don’t always know what days or hours they will be working the following week. They often don’t officially work for the company where they spend their days, which robs them of the pride that comes from being part of a shared enterprise.

“Many people used to associate the meaning of their life with what their corporation or institution was doing,” says Deaton, a Nobel laureate in economics. Miners and factory workers identified themselves as such. Warehouse workers, especially those whose paycheck is signed by a staffing company, rarely feel the same connection.

The result of these trends has been a “coming apart,” as Case and Deaton put it, of day-to-day life for whites without a college degree versus those with a college degree.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson. “Dying of ‘Despair’ in America.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, MARCH 8, 2020): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2020, and has the title “How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts.”)

The book by Case and Deaton, discussed in the passages quoted above, is:

Case, Anne, and Angus Deaton. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020.

“Good Stress” Causes “a Burst of Energy That Focuses the Mind”

(p. A27) It was a staple of medical thinking dating to the 1910s that stress was the body’s alarm system, switching on only when terrible things happened, often leaving a person with an either-or choice: fight or flight.

The neuroscientist Bruce S. McEwen trailblazed a new way of thinking about stress. Beginning in the 1960s, he redefined it as the body’s way of constantly monitoring daily challenges and adapting to them.

Dr. McEwen, who died on Jan. 2 [2020] at 81, described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.

For the full obituary, see:

Randi Hutter Epstein. “Bruce McEwen, Who Discovered That Stress Can Alter the Brain, Dies at 81.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 11, 2020): A27.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 10, 2020, and has the title “Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain.”)