Deconstruction Theory as an “Elaborate Cover for Past Sins”


Source of book image:

(p. 14) Barish, a retired professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center, has devoted many years to tracking the elusive trail of the noted literary scholar who made headlines posthumously in 1988, after a researcher in Belgium discovered the trove of literary criticism he had published in that country’s leading pro-Nazi newspaper during World War II. De Man, who had emigrated to the United States in 1948, earned a doctorate at Harvard in 1960 and went on to a dazzling academic career, forming a generation of devoted disciples. When he died in 1983 at age 64, he was a revered figure. The author of brilliant if difficult essays on modern literature, he had been among the first to embrace deconstruction, the influential theory elaborated by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Deconstruction focused on linguistic ambiguity, infuriating critics who viewed it as a dangerous relativism.
. . .
Detractors maintained that despite obvious differences, the two were cut from the same intellectual cloth: The ideas about “undecidability” in language were an elaborate cover-up for past sins. The most hostile critics seized the opportunity to strike a decisive blow against deconstruction, as a doctrine with unavowable antecedents in Nazism.
Now, almost 30 years later, when the theoretical avant-garde has moved on, “The Double Life of Paul de Man” revives the man and his fall. This time, we get a story of the professor not just as a young collaborator, but as a scheming careerist, an embezzler and forger who fled Belgium in order to avoid prison, a bigamist who abandoned his first three children, a deadbeat who left many rents and hotel bills unpaid, a liar who wormed his way into Harvard by falsifying records, a cynic who used people shamelessly. Some of these accusations have been made before (and documented), but Barish develops them and adds new ones. Her conclusion is somber: She places de Man not among the charming scoundrels but among the false “new messiahs” of history.

For the full review, see:
SUSAN RUBIN SULEIMAN. “The Deconstructionist Deconstructed; ‘The Double Life of Paul de Man,’ by Evelyn Barish.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MARCH 9, 2014): 14.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date MARCH 7, 2014, and has the title “The Deconstructionist Deconstructed; ‘The Double Life of Paul de Man,’ by Evelyn Barish.”)

Hand’s book is:
Barish, Evelyn. The Double Life of Paul De Man. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014.

Patent Trial and Appeal Board May Be Invalidating Low Quality Patents

One of the common complaints about the U.S. patent system for the past couple of decades is that the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been approving too many low quality patents, that are then used by patent holders to extort licensing fees or out-or-court settlements from alleged infringers. One way in which the America Invents Act, signed in September 2011, tried to respond to the complaint was to strengthen the post-approval re-examination process for patents. The article quoted below suggests that the strengthened process may be having the intended effect.

(p. B4) The Patent Trial and Appeal Board is a little known but powerful authority that often allows a company embroiled in a lawsuit to skip the question of whether it infringed a patent–and challenge whether the patent should have been issued in the first place.

The board was launched in September 2012 as part of the massive patent overhaul passed by Congress the previous year and is currently staffed by 181 judges, many of whom have deep experience in intellectual property or technical fields like chemical and electrical engineering. Through last Thursday it had received 1,056 requests to challenge patents, far more than were received by any federal court over the same time period.
The board is part of the Patent and Trademark Office. But so far, it hasn’t shied away from upending the office’s decisions to issue certain patents. As of last week, the board had issued 25 written decisions concerning patent challenges, and upheld parts of challenged patents in only a few of them.
. . .
In recent months, Randall Rader, the chief judge of the Federal Circuit, has been one of the board’s most outspoken critics. At a conference of intellectual-property lawyers last fall, the judge called the board’s panels “death squads…killing property rights.”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Rader said the board is too quick to toss out patents that demonstrate only modest innovation. “The board needs to incentivize human progress–and understand that it often happens one small step at a time,” he said.
But many company lawyers think the board is doing exactly as it should–taking a skeptical look at patents that have added little to the world.

For the full story, see:
ASHBY JONES. “New Weapon in Intellectual Property Wars; Panel Can Upend Patent Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far; ‘Like Getting CAT-Scanned, MRI-ed, and X-Rayed’.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B4.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis inside paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title “A New Weapon in Corporate Patent Wars; Patent Trial and Appeal Board Can Upend PTO Decisions, but Some Say It Goes Too Far.”)

Government Regulations Slow U.S. Use of Drones

DronesThreeSophisticatedCommerical2014-04-03.jpgThree sophisticated drones. From top to bottom, the Insitu ScanEagle, the Yamaha RMAX, and the Trimble UX5. Source and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) After Greek land surveyor George Papastamos bought his first drones a year ago, he let go most of his workers. Now, instead of a team of 12, he shows up to work sites with just a drone and an assistant.

“I could see this was the future,” said Mr. Papastamos, a second-generation surveyor from Athens. The drones have improved his maps and lowered his costs, enabling him to win more business. “It is much, much more profitable,” he said.
As U.S. regulators and courts grapple with when and how to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes, flying robots already are starting to change the way companies do business in countries from Australia to Japan to the U.K. They are showing the potential to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to manned aircraft–and human workers–in industries like mining, construction and filmmaking.
The U.S. is “the world leader in producing drones,” but “the reality is the rest of the world has moved further ahead of us in terms of commercial applications,” said drone researcher Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University.

For the full story, see:
JACK NICAS. “From Farms to Films, Drones Find Commercial Uses.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 11, 2014): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 10, 2014, and has the title “Drones Find Fans Among Farmers, Filmmakers; FAA Still Debating Rules but Drones are Spraying 40% of Japan’s Rice Fields.”)

William Vanderbilt Helped Disrupt His Gas Holdings by Investing in Edison’s Electricity

(p. 84) But even the minimal ongoing work on the phonograph would be pushed aside by the launch of frenzied efforts to find a way to fulfill Edison’s premature public claim that his electric light was working. A couple of months later, when asked in an interview about the state of his phonograph, Edison replied tartly, “Comatose for the time being.” He changed metaphors and continued, catching hold of an image that would be quoted many times by later biographers: “It is a child and will grow to be a man yet; but I have a bigger thing in hand and must finish it to the temporary neglect of all phones and graphs.”
Financial considerations played a part in allocation of time and resources, too. Commissions from the phonograph that brought in hundreds of dollars were hardly worth accounting for, not when William Vanderbilt and his friends were about to advance Edison $50,000 for the electric light. Edison wrote a correspondent that he regarded the financier’s interest especially satisfying as Vanderbilt was “the largest gas stock owner in America.”

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.
(Note: ellipses, and capitals, in original.)

Some Geographical Clusters Are Due to Chance (It Is Not Always a Miracle, When Good, Or the Environment, When Bad)


David J. Hand. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 12) Your latest book, “The Improbability Principle,” aims to prove that extremely improbable events are in fact commonplace. Can you explain that a bit? Things like roulette wheels coming up in strange configurations or the same lottery numbers hitting two weeks in a row are clearly very rare events, but if you look at the number of lotteries and the number of roulette wheels, then you realize that you should actually expect these sorts of things to happen. I think within the statistical community people accept this. They’re aware of the impact of the law of truly large numbers.
. . .
You also write that geographical clusters of people with diseases might not necessarily be a result of environmental issues. It could just be a coincidence. Well, they could be due to some sort of pollution or infectious disease or something like that, but you can expect clusters to occur just by chance as well. So it’s an interesting statistical problem to tease these things out. Is this a genuine cluster in the sense that there’s a cause behind it? Or is it a chance cluster?

For the full interview, see:
Chozick, Amy, interviewer. “‘The Wonder Is Still There’; The Statistician David J. Hand on Eerie Coincidences and Playing the Lottery.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., FEB. 23, 2014): 12.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 21, 2014, and has the title “David J. Hand’s Lottery Tips.”)

Hand’s book is:
Hand, David J. The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

18 Unions Each Spent More on Politics than Koch Brothers

(p. A13) Harry Reid is under a lot of job-retention stress these days, so Americans might forgive him the occasional word fumble. When he recently took to the Senate floor to berate the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch for spending “unlimited money” to “rig the system” and “buy elections,” the majority leader clearly meant to be condemning unions.
It’s an extraordinary thing, in a political age obsessed with campaign money, that nobody scrutinizes the biggest, baddest, “darkest” spenders of all: organized labor. The IRS is muzzling nonprofits; Democrats are “outing” corporate donors; Jane Mayer is probably working on part 89 of her New Yorker series on the “covert” Kochs. Yet the unions glide blissfully, unmolestedly along. This lack of oversight has led to a union world that today acts with a level of campaign-finance impunity that no other political giver–conservative outfits, corporate donors, individuals, trade groups–could even fathom.
. . .
The Center for Responsive Politics’ list of top all-time donors from 1989 to 2014 ranks Koch Industries No. 59. Above Koch were 18 unions, which collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries ($18 million).

For the full commentary, see:
KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. “POTOMAC WATCH; The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs; Harry Reid surely must have meant the unions when he complained about buying elections.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 6, 2014.)

Gary Becker’s Grandson Ponders Opportunity Cost of College


“Louis Harboe with his parents, Frederik Harboe and Catherine Becker. Louis, now 18, got his first freelance tech job at age 12. Last year, he attended the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 1) Ryan was headed to South by Southwest Interactive, the technology conference in Austin. There, he planned to talk up an app that he and a friend had built. Called Finish, it aimed to help people stop procrastinating, and was just off its high in the No. 1 spot in the productivity category in the Apple App store.
. . .
Ryan is now 17, a senior at Boulder High. He is among the many entrepreneurially minded, technologically skilled teenagers who are striving to do serious business. Their work is enabled by low-cost or free tools to make apps or to design games, and they are encouraged by tech companies and grown-ups in the field who urge them, sometimes with financial support, to accelerate their transition into “the real world.” This surge in youthful innovation and entrepreneurship looks “unprecedented,” said Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and a Nobel laureate.
Dr. Becker is assessing this subject from a particularly intimate vantage point. His grandson, Louis Harboe, 18, is a friend of (p. 6) Ryan’s, a technological teenager who makes Ryan look like a late bloomer. Louis, pronounced Louie, got his first freelance gig at the age of 12, designing the interface for an iPhone game. At 16, Louis, who lives with his parents in Chicago, took a summer design internship at Square, an online and mobile payment company in San Francisco, earning $1,000 a week plus a $1,000 housing stipend.
Ryan and Louis, who met online in the informal network of young developers, are hanging out this weekend in Austin at South by Southwest. They are also waiting to hear from the colleges to which they applied last fall — part of the parallel universe they also live in, the traditional one with grades and SATs and teenage responsibilities. But unlike their peers for whom college is the singular focus, they have pondered whether to go at all. It’s a good kind of problem, the kind faced by great high-school athletes or child actors who can try going pro, along with all the risk that entails.
Dr. Becker, who studies microeconomics and education, has been telling his grandson: “Go to college. Go to college.” College, he says, is the clear step to economic success. “The evidence is overwhelming.”
But the “do it now” idea, evangelized on a digital pulpit, can feel more immediate than academic empiricism. “College is not a prerequisite,” said Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a version of the TED talks and conferences for youth, where Ryan spoke a few weeks ago. “These kids are motivated to take over the world,” she said. “They need it fast. They need it now.”

For the full story, see:
MATT RICHTEL. “The Youngest Technorati.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., MARCH 9, 2014): 1 & 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2014.)

In Hard Times Entrepreneurs Need Advice on How to Fire


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A13) Every entrepreneur has experienced what Ben Horowitz terms “the struggle.” That’s when things are going really, really badly. It’s when, as he puts it in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” “people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.” But there always is a way, Mr. Horowitz believes, and it’s the ability to spot the next move during the struggle that separates winners and losers.

Mr. Horowitz has authority on this subject. He was a successful tech CEO, having co-founded the pioneering cloud-computing company LoudCloud and subsequently overseen its evolution into a software firm, Opsware. He’s also one half of the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Among the firm’s winning bets: Facebook, Skype and Twitter.
. . .
The book, the author says, is written primarily for “wartime CEOs”–those like the late Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple in 1997 at a time when the company was verging on bankruptcy. Jobs recognized that to survive, Apple had to ditch most of its products and focus singularly on just four computer models.
Wartime CEOs don’t need classic management books that “focus on how to do things correctly, so you don’t screw up,” Mr. Horowitz argues. What the author offers instead is “insight into what you must do after you have screwed up. The good news is, I have plenty of experience at that and so does every other CEO.”
. . .
Parts of the book are dedicated to providing practical leadership advice: how to hire, fire and scale and when to sell and when to spurn offers. Some of the advice is counterintuitive. He dismisses the “don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” management maxim by asking: If an employee can’t solve the problem he encounters, do you really want him to hide it?

For the full review, see:
DANIEL FREEDMAN. “BOOKSHELF; Business Tips From Karl Marx; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2014): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 6, 2014, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Book Review: ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things,’ by Ben Horowitz; Born to a family of Marxists, Ben Horowitz now invests in tech startups. Among his winning bets: Twitter and Facebook.”)

The book under review is:
Horowitz, Ben. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.

Decline in Hours Worked Shows Weakness in Labor Market

(p. A15) Most commentators viewed the February [2014] jobs report released on March 7 as good news, indicating that the labor market is on a favorable growth path. A more careful reading shows that employment actually fell–as it has in four out of the past six months and in more than one-third of the months during the past two years.
Although it is often overlooked, a key statistic for understanding the labor market is the length of the average workweek. Small changes in the average workweek imply large changes in total hours worked. The average workweek in the U.S. has fallen to 34.2 hours in February from 34.5 hours in September 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That decline, coupled with mediocre job creation, implies that the total hours of employment have decreased over the period.
. . .
. . . , although the U.S. economy added about 900,000 jobs since September, the shortened workweek is equivalent to losing about one million jobs during this same period. The difference between the loss of the equivalent of one million jobs and the gain of 900,000 new jobs yields a net effect of the equivalent of 100,000 lost jobs.

For the full commentary, see:
EDWARD P. LAZEAR. “The Hidden Rot in the Jobs Numbers; Hours worked are declining, resulting in the equivalent of a net loss of 100,000 jobs since September.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 17, 2014): A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 16, 2014.)