The Opportunity Cost of a Bad Bottle of Wine

  Len Evans.  Source of photo:  http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/heart-attack-kills-len-evans-king-of-australian-wine/2006/08/17/1155407960581.html

 

BACK in the early 1990’s Len Evans, the Australian wine man and legend in his own lifetime, gave me some advice.

”I’d say you’re about 60,” he said, ”and from the looks of you, you’ll be lucky to make 75.  You’ve got about 15 years ahead of you, and it’s time for you to learn my Theory of Capacity.

”You’ve got to make the most of the time you’ve got left, man.  You’ve got to calculate your future capacity.  A bottle of wine a day is 365 bottles a year.  Which means you’ve probably only got 5,000 bottles ahead of you.

”People who say you can’t drink good stuff all the time are fools.  You must drink good stuff all the time.  Every bottle of inferior wine you drink is like smashing a superior bottle against a wall:  the pleasure is lost forever.  You can’t get that bottle back.”

 

For the full story, see: 

FRANK J. PRIAL.  "A Wine Man Who Vowed to Drain the Cup."  The New York Times  (Weds., August 30, 2006):  D7. 

Technology Liberates the Paralyzed

  Paralyzed from a stabbing, Matthew Nagle can move computer cursor by means of a sensor implanted in his brain.  Source of image:  online version of NYT article cited below.

 

(p. A1)  A paralyzed man with a small sensor implanted in his brain was able to control a computer, a television set and a robot using only his thoughts, scientists reported yesterday.

Those results offer hope that in the future, people with spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig’s disease or other conditions that impair movement may be able to communicate or better control their world.

“If your brain can do it, we can tap into it,” said John P. Donoghue, a professor of neuroscience at Brown University who has led development of the system and was the senior author of a report on it being published in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

 

For the full story, see: 

ANDREW POLLACK. "Paralyzed Man Uses Thoughts to Move a Cursor." The New York Times  (Thurs., July 13, 2006):  A1 & A21.

German Opera House “Falling On Its Knees Before the Terrorists”

   "A scene added to “Idomeneo,” shown in a 2003 rehearsal, includes Muhammad and other religious figures."  Source of photo and caption:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 

 

(p. A1)  BERLIN, Sept. 26 — A leading German opera house has canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, prompting a storm of protest here about what many see as the surrender of artistic freedom.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin said Tuesday that it had pulled “Idomeneo” from its fall schedule after the police warned of an “incalculable risk” to the performers and the audience.

. . .

Political and cultural figures throughout Germany condemned the cancellation.  Some said it recalled the decision of European newspapers not to reprint satirical cartoons about Muhammad, after their publication in Denmark generated a furor among Muslims.

Wolfgang Börnsen, a culture spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc in Parliament, accused the opera house of “falling on its knees before the terrorists.”

 

For the full story, see:

JUDY DEMPSEY and MARK LANDLER.  "Opera Canceled Over a Depiction of Muhammad." The New York Times  (Weds., September 27, 2006):  A1 & A12.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

R&D Stats Better; But Still Omit a Lot of Innovation

GDPgrowthWithR&Dgraph.gif  Source of graphic:  online version of WSJ article cited below.

Note well Romer’s caveat below that, although we may be measuring better, we are still not measuring Schumpeterian innovations (such as the Wal-Mart innovations that are vastly increasing the efficiency of retailing).

 

That research and development makes an important contribution to U.S. economic growth has long been obvious.  But in an important advance, the nation’s economic scorekeepers declared they can now measure that contribution and found that it is increasing.

. . .

Since the 1950s, economists have explained economic output as the result of measurable inputs.  Any increase in output that can’t be explained by capital and labor is called "multifactor productivity" or "the Solow residual," after Robert Solow, the Nobel Prize-winning economist considered the father of modern growth theory.

From 1959 to 2002, this factor accounted for about 20% of U.S. growth.  From 1995 to 2002, when productivity growth accelerated sharply, that grew to about 33%.  Accounting for R&D would explain about one-fifth, by some measures, of the productivity mystery.  It suggests companies have been investing more than the official data had previously shown — a good omen for future economic growth.  "The slump in investment is not as drastic as people thought before they saw these figures," says Dale Jorgenson, professor of economics at Harvard University.

Mr. Jorgenson noted a lot of the multifactor productivity growth remains unexplained.  "The great mystery of growth . . . is not eliminated."

Paul Romer, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, said the better the measurements of R&D become, the more economists and policy makers will realize other factors may be more important.  "If you look at why we had rapid productivity growth in big-box retailing, there were lots of intangibles and ideas that . . . don’t get recorded as R&D."

 

For the full story, see:

GREG IP and MARK WHITEHOUSE.  "Why Economists Track Firms’ R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., September 29, 2006):  A2.

(Note:  The slightly different online version of the title is:  "Why Economists Track Firms’ R&D; Data on Knowledge Creation Point to an Increasing Role In Domestic Product Growth.")

(Note:  ellipses in Jorgenson and Romer quotes, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

 

Hernando de Soto Creates Buzz in Clinton Hallways

DeSotoClinton.jpg  Hernando de Soto and Bill Clinton at the second annual Clinton Global Initiative.  Source of photo:  online version of the WSJ article cited below.

 

. . . the buzz in the hallways centered on a topic that until recently most philanthropists all but ignored:  registering poor people’s property so they could borrow against it to build businesses, pay taxes or for other purposes.  Many citizens of developing countries don’t formally have title to their land, and many economists — including Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, another conference attendee — see this as a key source of urban poverty.  According to Mr. de Soto’s research, the value of unregistered land in developing countries totals over $9 trillion.  Mr. Clinton told the audience that these assets "cannot be converted into collateral for loans — wealth locked-up and locked-down — keeping people in grinding poverty instead of being an asset that can lift them up."  Up to 85% of urban land parcels in the developing world are unregistered, Mr. Clinton said, citing Mr. de Soto’s research.

But standing in the way of widespread land-ownership records are insufficient legal frameworks, confusing procedures and corrupt property registries.  And establishing land ownership is all but impossible in communist and socialist countries, where property usually is owned by the state, said John Bryant, chief executive of Operation Hope, a nonprofit in Los Angeles that provides financial services to the poor.

 

For the full article, see: 

SALLY BEATTY. "GIVING BACK; Helping the Poor Register Land." Wall Street Journal (Fri., September 29, 2006): W2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

Sulfa: First Antibiotic Was Pursued for Profit

  Source of the book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/1400082137.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V52133117_.jpg

 

Economists have debated whether patents mainly provide incentives, or obstacles, to innovation.  In the story of the development of sulfa, the first powerful antibiotic, the desire for profit, through patents, was one motive that drove an important part of the development process; this, even though, in the end, sulfa turned out not to be patentable:

(p. P9) Mr. Hager follows a group of doctors into postwar German industry — specifically into the dye conglomerate IG Farben.  These men, having witnessed horrible deaths by infection on the battlefield, picked up on Ehrlich’s hypothesis by trying to synthesize a dye that specifically stained and killed bacteria.  Led by the physician-scientist Gerhard Domagk, they brought German know-how, regimentation and industry to the enterprise.

Year after year the team infected mice with streptococci, the bacteria responsible for so many deadly infections in humans.  The researchers then treated the mice with various dyes but had to watch as thousands upon thousands of them died despite such treatment.  Nothing seemed to work.  The 1920s turned into the ’30s, and still Domagk and his team held to Ehrlich’s idea.  There was simply no better idea around.

Then one of the old hands at IG Farben mentioned that he could get dyes to stick to wool and to fade less by attaching molecular side-chains containing sulfur to them.  Maybe what worked for wool would work for bacteria by making the dye adhere to the bacteria long enough to kill it.

. . .

The IG Farben conglomerate expected huge profits from Prontosil.  But then French scientists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris dashed these dreams.  The German scientists — all of them Ehrlich disciples — thought that the power to cure infection rested in the dye, with the sulfa side-chain merely holding the killer dye to the bacteria.  The scientists at the Pasteur Institute, though, showed that the sulfa side-chain alone worked against infection just as well as the Prontosil compound.  In fact, the dye fraction of the compound was useless.  You could have Ehrlich’s magic bullet without Ehrlich’s big idea!  This bombshell rendered the German patents worthless.  The life-saver "drug" turned out to be a simple, unpatentable chemical available in bulk everywhere.

 

For the full review, see: 

PAUL MCHUGH.  "BOOKS; Medicine’s First Miracle Drug."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., September 30, 2006):  P9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

 

The reference for the book is: 

Thomas Hager.  The Demon Under The Microscope.  Harmony, 340 pages, $24.95

Maybe Fewer Women Engineers Because Fewer Women Want to Be Engineers?

I’ve slogged through enough reports from the National Academy of Sciences to know they’re often not shining examples of the scientific method.  But — call me naïve — I never thought the academy was cynical enough to publish a political tract like “Beyond Bias and Barriers,” the new report on discrimination against female scientists and engineers.

. . .

I consulted half a dozen of these experts about the report, and they all dismissed it as a triumph of politics over science.  It’s classic rent-seeking by a special-interest group that stands to get more money and jobs if the recommendations are adopted.

“I am embarrassed,” said Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware, “that this female-dominated panel of scientists would ignore decades of scientific evidence to justify an already disproved conclusion, namely, that the sexes do not differ in career-relevant interests and abilities.”

. . .

After decades of schools pushing girls into science and universities desperately looking for gender diversity on their faculties, it’s insulting to pretend that most female students are too intimidated to know their best interests.  As Science magazine reported in 2000, the social scientist Patti Hausman offered a simple explanation for why women don’t go into engineering:  they don’t want to.

“Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors or quarks,” Hausman said.  “Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works.”

 

For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY.  "Academy of P.C. Science."  The New York Times   (Tues., September 26, 2006):  A23.

 

(Note:  the title of the online version was "Academy of P.C. Sciences.")

(Note:  ellipses added.)