Welcome! The articles below caught my attention this week. What are intended to be relatively objective “briefs” are preceded by dashes (——–), whereas additional material or relatively subjective comments are preceded by asterisks (********). Article titles preceded by [SR] require a subscription.
(1962) Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
********At last I have read the environmental classic Silent Spring, widely regarded as the most influential book on environmental matters. It is just as relevant today as it was 57 years ago. Those who would deny its “inconvenient truths” need to hear its message and care about it.
Although there is much in the book to discuss, I’ll restrict myself to something that falls within the scope of the invisible forces. On pages 258-59, Carson writes about the research underway on chemical vs biological control of insect pests:
In was reported in 1960 that only 2 per cent of all the economic entomologists in the country were then working in the field of biological controls. A substantial number of the remaining 98 per cent were engaged in research on chemical insecticides.
Why should this be? The major chemical companies are pouring money into the universities to support research on insecticides. This creates attractive fellowships for graduate students and attractive staff positions. Biological-control studies, on the other hand, and never so endowed—for the simple reason that they do not promise anyone the fortunes that are to be made in the chemical industry. These are left to state and federal agencies, where the salaries paid are far less.
And so it is that the knowledge produced by educational institutions is influenced by the expected monetary payoff of that knowledge. Only state and federal governments were able to take a longer view and support biological control. This discussion takes place in chapter 15, “Nature Fights Back,” which focuses on genetic selection and resistance. Insects, as opposed to human beings, adapt quickly to insecticides. In relation to this, it is important to remember that “Resistance is not something that develops in an individual. . . . [It] is something that develops in a population.”
(14 September 2019) “In Coal Country, the Mines Shut Down, the Women Went to Work and the World Quietly Changed” The New York Times
——–“From 2010 to2017, Letcher County in Kentucky saw a greater shift in the gender balance of its labor force than almost any other county in the United States.” The men went to work in the mines and the women stayed home to raise the children. But “a rash of coal mine bankruptcies and layoffs” changed everything. With the “coal business . . . going under” the one question was “what would keep everyone afloat. These days, the answer has been: women.” From the perspective of Billy Thompson, a director the United Steelworkers union, the story isn’t complicated: “The mines have shut down and the women have gone to work.” One result of this has been that some women have a greater sense of independence. As Ciara Bowling, who is employed in health care, notes: “Women now, they got a little taste of freedom. . . Men has been able to do whatever the hell they want for so long while women has had to sit in a chair and keep their legs closed and be nice and polite. Now they don’t have to. . . . All these men, they just don’t know what’s about to happen.”
********A clear illustration of how employment, at the least a source of money for making ends meet, can bring about changes in thoughts and culture. Since, in Letcher County, many of the women are finding work in health care, the article “US healthcare is booming. So why done in five workers live in poverty?” The Guardian is of related interest.
(16 September 2019) “Business Book of the Year Award 2019—the shortlist” The Financial Times
********The shortlist—six books— for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award is now out. The winner of the Award will be announced on December 3rd. Here are the books, in alphabetical order by author:
- David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
- Christopher Leonard, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
- Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
- Raguhuram Rajan, The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind
- Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
- Gregory Zuckerman, The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution
You can read just a little more about each book at the FT link. The Award goes to “the book that is judged to have provided the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues.” Although I haven’t read it, Invisible Women would seem to have an edge. If half of the world’s population truly is so poorly understood, it would seem that there are enormous opportunities for gain to be made by those who discover the differences and create products and experiences that reflect those differences. It seems like Surveillance Capitalism is the mechanism to learn about those differences.
(16 September 2019) “A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World” The New York Times
********This article provides an overview of International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), an American nonprofit that was founded “four decades ago by a top Coca-Cola executive . . . and now has branches in 17 countries. It is almost entirely funded by Goliaths of the agribusiness, food and pharmaceutical industries.” ILSI is a controversial group, having “championed tobacco interests during the 1980s and 1990s in Europe and the United States.” More recently, ILSI has “expanded its activities in Asia and Latin America, regions that provide a growing share of food company profits.” This is an opportunity to learn a bit about ILSI and the concerns being voiced about its influence on the regulatory processes of the countries in which it has branches. Here is the ILSI website.
May you have a good week!