“How Swimming Frees Their Minds”

(p. 11) Tsui endears herself to the reader . . . . Her universal query is also one of self, and her articulations of what she learns are moving. Long-distance swimmers speak to her about how swimming frees their minds, of their sense of “sea-dreaming.” And Tsui’s argument about the unique state of flow one enters while swimming makes you desperately long to be in the pool or the ocean. Water becomes the mind’s sanctuary while the body moves in its best imitations of a fish.

For the full review, see:

Mary Pols. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 14, 2020): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April [sic] 14, 2020, and has the title “Eat. Sleep. Swim. Repeat.”)

The book under review is:

Tsui, Bonnie. Why We Swim. New York: Algonquin Books, 2020.

Germans Were “Seduced” by Nazi “Optimism”

(p. C7) In some perceptive passages in the earlier stages of this book, Mr. Fritzsche examines how, during the party’s years in opposition, the Nazis were able to broaden their support away from the original ideological core to voters who, for example, just thought that “something” had to be done to sort out a deeply unsettled country.  . . .

What the author stresses is that, contrary to what is so often assumed, many Germans were seduced not by despair but by optimism. Mr. Fritzsche sets out the ways that the Nazis produced the impression that the party was creating a Volksgemeinschaft—a people’s community—through such methods as transforming the Left’s traditional celebration of (p. C8) the first of May into “The Day of National Labor,” a festival of national unity rather than class struggle.

. . .

Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism.

. . .

It was probably the memory of that Volksgemeinschaft, however much it rested on illusion, that explains one of the most remarkable facts in Mr. Gellately’s book: When Germans in the country’s west and in West Berlin—a people still living amid the ruins of the Reich—were asked in 1948 whether National Socialism was a good idea, but poorly implemented, 57% of those polled replied “yes.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “High-Speed History.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on June 12, 2020, and has the title “Three on the Third Reich: High-Speed History.”)

The two books mentioned in the passages quoted above, are:

Fritzsche, Peter. Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Gellately, Robert. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Oliver Williamson’s Subtle Attempt to Get Pablo Spiller to Turn Down the Music

Several years ago, I presented a paper in an economic methodology session at the AEA in which Williamson also presented a paper. He was a fellow pluralist in method. I think his work deserves more attention than I have given it. The profession will be worse for his absence.

(p. A9) Building on the work of Ronald Coase, Dr. Williamson developed transaction-cost economics, examining costs that go beyond the price of a good or service.

. . .

Some of Dr. Williamson’s thinking took shape when he worked for the Justice Department’s antitrust division in 1966 and 1967.

The department had accused Schwinn & Co. of restraining trade by limiting the retailing of its bicycles to authorized merchants. The conventional wisdom among antitrust enforcers was that such arrangements could be explained only as an effort to reduce competition.

Dr. Williamson found the question more complicated and argued that Schwinn’s motive might be to reduce costs. For instance, a restricted number of retailers would make it less costly to control quality and agree on how to share advertising expenses. The resulting increase in efficiency could benefit consumers.

. . .

Pablo Spiller, a friend and Berkeley colleague who lived across the street from Dr. Williamson, recalled that he spoke precisely but not always directly. One night Dr. Spiller was playing music a bit too loudly. Dr. Williamson called. Rather than mentioning the volume, he said: “You know, I actually like the current song more than all the previous ones.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Economist Explored Inner Life of Firms.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 6, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 4, 2020, and the title “Oliver Williamson, Nobel Economics Winner, Studied Inner Life of Firms.”)

Masks Do Not Cover Genuine Smiles

(p. D3) Women do tend to smile more than men, across age groups and ethnicities. But it’s not necessarily because they are happier; in fact, women suffer higher rates of depression. Rather, said Marianne LaFrance, a psychologist at Yale University who studies gender and nonverbal communication, women feel pressure to smile, and they can be penalized if they don’t.

“Women get completely socialized that smiling should be the default expression on their face,” said Dr. LaFrance, the author of “Why Smile? The Science Behind Facial Expressions.” “So everyone expects it, including women themselves.”

. . .

As Dr. LaFrance described it, it is the social, obligatory smile — “which is the one that women do the most,” she said — that tends to be focused on the mouth muscles, easily covered up by a medical mask. But a genuine smile, or what is know in the field as the Duchenne smile (named for Guillaume Duchenne), a French anatomist who discovered it, involves both the mouth and the eyes.

“What’s interesting,” Dr. LaForce said, is that the facial muscle engaged by a genuine smile — what’s called the orbicularis oculi — can’t be used on command.

“So will the mask stifle a smile? No. Not unless it’s a fake one,” she said.

For the full commentary, see:

Jessica Bennett. “How Emotions Play Out Behind the Masks.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 11, 2020): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2020 and has the title “Silver Lining to the Mask? Not Having to Smile”.)

The book by LaFrance, mentioned in a passage quoted above, is:

LaFrance, Marianne. Why Smile?: The Science Behind Facial Expressions. pb ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Coffee Gives Us “More Ideas, More Talk, More Energy, More Time, More Life”

(p. C4) After five centuries, we still have questions about coffee, but we agree on what we need it to do. Most of us drink coffee not because we have a finely calibrated understanding of its role in blocking the adenosine that makes us feel tired and increasing the dopamine that makes us feel good. Instead, we drink coffee because . . . of our bottomless desire for more ideas, more talk, more energy, more time, more life.

For the full commentary, see:

Augustine Sedgewick. “How Coffee Became a Modern Necessity.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 4, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date and title as the print version.)

Sedgewick’s commentary is related to her book:

Sedgewick, Augustine. Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug. New York: Penguin Press, 2020.

Data Retrieval Does Not Equal Creativity

(p. F2) Steve Jobs once described personal computing as a “bicycle for the mind.”

His idea that computers can be used as “intelligence amplifiers” that offer an important boost for human creativity is now being given an immediate test in the face of the coronavirus.

In March [2020], a group of artificial intelligence research groups and the National Library of Medicine announced that they had organized the world’s scientific research papers about the virus so the documents, more than 44,000 articles, could be explored in new ways using a machine-learning program designed to help scientists see patterns and find relationships to aid research.

. . .

Jerry Kaplan, an artificial-intelligence researcher who was involved with two of Silicon Valley’s first A.I. companies, Symantec and Teknowledge during the 1980s, pointed out that the new language modeling software was actually just a new type of database retrieval technology, rather than an advance toward any kind of “thinking machine.”

“Creativity is still entirely on the human side,” he said. “All this particular tool is doing is making it possible to get insights that would otherwise take years of study.”

For the full commentary, see:

John Markoff. “You Need A.I. to Spell Creative.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 9, 2020): F2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 8, 2020, and has the title “You Can’t Spell Creative Without A.I.”)

“Masks Are Pilloried Until They Are Mandatory”

(p. 6) The surreal reality of American cities and towns also mirrors the half-remembered, half-empty approximations explored in sleep, ordered by the same pliable, foggy logic: Masks are pilloried until they are mandatory; liquor stores open early for sexagenarians only; an invisible plague makes people fall gravely ill seemingly at random; touching anything — everything — is banned.

For the full story, see:

Caity Weaver. “The Interpretation of Viral Dreams.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, April 12, 2020): 6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2020, and has the title “Why Am I Having Weird Dreams Lately?”)