Musk Says Under F.A.A. Rules “Humanity Will Never Get to Mars”

(p. B5) Last week, SpaceX and government regulators seemed to be in a strange standoff. SpaceX had filled the propellant tanks of this prototype of Starship — its ninth one — and looked ready to launch. But then the rocket stayed on the ground when no approval from the F.A.A. arrived.

Mr. Musk expressed frustration on Twitter, describing the part of the F.A.A. that oversees SpaceX as “fundamentally broken.”

Mr. Musk wrote, “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.”

Late on Monday [Feb. 1, 2021], the F.A.A. gave permission for Tuesday’s launch, but then revealed that the December launch had occurred without the agency’s approval. SpaceX had requested a waiver to conduct that flight even though it had not shown that a pressure wave that could be generated by an explosion during the test would not pose a danger to the public. The F.A.A. denied the request. SpaceX defied the ruling and launched anyway.

Even if Starship had landed perfectly, launching it without approval was a violation of the company’s license.

For the full story, see:

Chang, Kenneth. “SpaceX’s Starship Mars Rocket Prototype Again Crashes After a Test Launch.” The New York Times (Weds., Feb. 3, 2021): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2021, and has the title “SpaceX’s Prototype Mars Rocket Crashes in Test Flight.”)

The Congressional Budget Office report mentioned above is:

Congressional Budget Office. “The Budgetary Effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.” Feb. 2021.

Career Staff at C.D.C. Developed the Decentralized Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Plans

(p. A8) “While scientists did their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor — I’ll be very blunt about it — did not do his job in getting ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions,” Mr. Biden added.

“It was a big mess,” he said. “It’s going to take time to fix, to be blunt with you.”

Health officials in the Trump administration have pushed back on those suggestions, pointing to hundreds of briefings that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services offered the incoming health team, including on vaccine allocation and distribution.

The highly decentralized plans to distribute and administer the vaccines, giving state and local health departments authority once doses had been delivered, were developed with career staff members at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department.

Officials involved in the last administration’s distribution plans said late last year that outside of the first few weeks, when they carefully managed the flow of second-dose reserves, their plan was always to ship out doses as they became available, and that they never intended to stockpile doses.

For the full story, see:

Katie Rogers, Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere. “200 Million More Doses Coming, But the Logistics Are a Challenge.” The New York Times (Friday, February 12, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 11, 2021, and has the title “With More Vaccines Secured, Biden Warns of Hurdles to Come.”)

Nonpartisan CBO Estimates $15 Minimum Wage Would Cause 1.4 Million Job Loss

(p. B5) WASHINGTON — Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — a proposal included in the package of relief measures being pushed by President Biden — would add $54 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday [Feb. 8, 2021].

. . .

Critics of the plan noted a different element of the report: its forecast that raising the minimum wage to $15 would eliminate 1.4 million jobs by the time the increase takes full effect.

“Conservatives have been saying for a while that a recession is absolutely the wrong time to increase the minimum wage, even if it’s slowly phased in,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The economy’s just too fragile.”

For the full story, see:

Jason DeParle. “$15 Minimum Wage Would Cut Poverty And 1.4 Million Jobs.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 9, 2021): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Minimum Wage Hike Would Help Poverty but Cost Jobs, Budget Office Says.”)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report mentioned above is:

Congressional Budget Office. “The Budgetary Effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.” Feb. 2021.

Walter Williams Wrote That a Minimum Wage “Encourages Racial Discrimination”

(p. 26) Walter E. Williams, a prominent conservative economist, author and political commentator who expressed profoundly skeptical views of government efforts to aid his fellow African-Americans and other minority groups, died on Tuesday [Dec. 1, 2020] on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, where he had taught for 40 years. He was 84.

His daughter, Devon Williams, said he died suddenly in his car after he had finished teaching a class.

. . .

In the 1970s, during a yearlong stint at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, Mr. Williams was commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress to study the ramifications of a minimum wage and of the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandated that laborers in federal construction projects be paid no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

He outlined his findings in a 1977 report: A minimum wage causes high rates of teenage unemployment, especially among minority workers, and actually “encourages racial discrimination.”

He concluded, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2017, that the Davis-Bacon Act had “explicit racist motivations.”

Suppose, he said, that there are 10 secretaries, five of them white and five of them Black — all equally qualified — who are applying for a job. “If by law you must pay them all the same wage,” he said, “it doesn’t cost anything to discriminate against the Black secretaries.” Without such a mandate, he suggested, the Black secretaries would have a better chance at being gainfully employed, even if at lower pay.

In his book “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Mr. Williams was similarly critical of a host of government measures involving labor — from taxicab regulations to occupational licensing — that in his view wound up disproportionately harming Black people in the name of preventing discrimination.

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. “Walter E. Williams, Conservative Economist on Black Issues, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 26.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 7, 2020, and has the title “Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues.”)

Williams’s book, mentioned above, is:

Williams, Walter E. The State Against Blacks. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

FDA Should Approve Faster Clinical Trials for Boosters to Block New Covid-19 Variants

(p. A17) . . . , it is essential to design clinical trials that can be completed within several months, to avert potential outbreaks of new variants. It’s fast, but given today’s scientific capabilities that could be enough time to do the required trials.

Take the South African variant known as B1351. The existing trials will be used to establish that the current vaccines provide clinical protection against Covid disease. But to prove the new versions targeting B1351 work as well as the current vaccines, the FDA can measure the antibody levels in the plasma from patients who have recovered from B1351 and establish a benchmark for the number of antibodies needed to neutralize that virus. Then the FDA can use those antibody levels as a proxy to evaluate whether updated vaccines are able to generate sufficient levels of protection.

This could allow vaccine makers to test new boosters in clinical trials that enroll 300 or 400 patients rather than 40,000, an enormous savings in cost and time. Larger and longer studies can be started at the same time, including ones that follow vaccinated patients.

For the full commentary, see:

Scott Gottlieb. “Another Promising Vaccine, This One From Johnson & Johnson.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 1, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 31, 2021, and has the same title as the online version.)

Evolution of 5G Will Likely Not Favor China

In the passage of the commentary quoted below “RAN equipment” stands for “radio access network equipment” which is key hardware in the latest 5G broadband technology.

(p. C3) Huawei’s first generation of 5G RAN base stations is a modified version of the older 4G infrastructure that yields faster speeds. The ultimate promise of 5G is an ubiquitous network customized to user needs. Trillions of devices and applications—known as the Internet of Things—using 5G technology will offer new solutions for everything from autonomous vehicles to industrial production management to remote surgery. But the drivers of 5G’s evolution will be semiconductors, software systems and cloud computing—areas in which the U.S., not Huawei or any other Chinese company, is the world leader.

Instead of being intimidated by Huawei, U.S. foreign policy makers should recognize the Chinese company’s situation, which is akin to the dominance that IBM enjoyed during the age of mainframe computing. IBM’s massive scale and proprietary standards and software made it hard for competitors to match its offerings. Only in the 1970s and ’80s, when Japan massively subsidized new competitors like NEC, did IBM falter. But the true decline of IBM and its Japanese competitors came with the rise of the internet. The web’s transparent standards enabled many new firms to “plug and play.” Semiconductors, software and desktop computing eventually led to the apps on your smartphone at a fraction of the cost of such functions 30 years ago.

Today, 5G is at a similar moment. A new generation of technological standards for 5G would allow specialist suppliers—like the Microsofts and Intels of the internet era—to compete against Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Control via the old RAN infrastructure will be diminished by control via cloud computing and software, which plays to a key U.S. strength. Introducing these standards will take concerted action from U.S. firms, along with targeted U.S. government support, such as the adoption of procurement requirements to embody these new rules.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Cowhey and Susan Shirk. “The Danger of Exaggerating China’s Technological Prowess.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 8, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is related to the report:

Crowley, Peter, Chair. “Meeting the China Challenge: A New American Strategy for Technology Competition.” San Diego, CA: UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, Nov. 16, 2020.

Naps Aid Immunity, Energy, Alertness, Memory, and Mood

(p. D4) Sara E. Alger, a sleep scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., has been a public advocate for naps, particularly in the workplace, except in cases of insomnia. Along the way, she has had to fight anti-nap prejudice.

“Naps in general have a stigma attached to them as something you only do when you’re lazy or when you’re sick,” Dr. Alger said.

Wrapped inside nap phobia in the United States is often a message reminding us to be productive during what we now think of as normal working hours, although that concept is relatively new.

Modern attitudes about napping go back to the Industrial Revolution, according to Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York and the author of “The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life.”

“For a long time, people had flexible sleep schedules,” Dr. Wolf-Meyer said. Farmers and tradespeople had some autonomy over their time. They could choose to rest in the hottest part of the day, and might take up simple tasks during a wakeful period in the middle of the night, between two distinct bouts of sleep.

As the 1800s went on, more and more Americans worked in factories on set shifts that were supervised by a foreman. “They work for a total stranger, and a nap becomes totally nonnegotiable,” he said.

Staying awake all day and getting one’s sleep in a single long stretch at night came to be seen as normal. With that came a strong societal expectation that we ought to use our daylight hours productively.

. . .

Although there are no hard data so far on whether naps have been on the rise during 2020, sleep scientists like Dr. Alger think it’s likely. The many people who now work remotely no longer need to worry about the disapproving eyes of their colleagues if they want a brief, discreet period of horizontality in the afternoons.

If most offices reopen next year, as now seems possible, perhaps greater tolerance toward the adult nap will be one of the things salvaged from the smoking wreckage of the working-from-home era. (In a tweet last week, Dr. Wolf-Meyer called the pandemic “the largest (accidental) experiment with human #sleep ever conducted.”) . . .

Experts say that people who get seven to nine hours of sleep a day are less prone to catching infectious diseases, and better at fighting off any they do catch. Afternoon sleep counts toward your daily total, according to Dr. Alger.

This immunity boost, she said, is in addition to other well-known dividends of a good nap, like added energy, increased alertness, improved mood and better emotional regulation.

Included under the last rubric is a skill that seems especially useful for dealing with families, even if you never get closer to your relatives this year than a “Hollywood Squares”-style video grid: “Napping helps you be more sensitive to receiving other people’s moods,” Dr. Alger said. “So you’re not perceiving other people as being more negative than they are.”

Napping also helps you remember facts you learned right before nodding off. Given the way things have been going lately, of course, you may not see this as a plus. You could look at it from the reverse angle, though: Every hour before Jan. 1 that you spend napping is another hour of 2020 you won’t remember.

For the full commentary, see:

Pete Wells. “This Thanksgiving, Nap Without Guilt.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 25, 2020): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 24, 2020, and has the title “This Thanksgiving, It’s Time to Stop Nap-Shaming.”)

The book by Wolf-Meyer, mentioned above, is:

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew J. The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Free Speech First Amendment Blocks Government from Punishing False Statements

The commentary quoted below defines “deepfakes” as “apparently real images or videos that show people doing or saying things they never did or said.” For the government to punish false statements, the government would first have to establish which statements are true and which are false. The Supreme Court has ruled that if it did so, the government would be violating free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Cass Sunstein, who wrote the commentary below, is a well-respected legal scholar who served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

(p. C3) Can deepfakes, as such, be prohibited under American law? Almost certainly not. In U.S. v. Alvarez, decided in 2012, a badly divided Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from regulating speech simply because it is a lie.   . . .   The plurality opinion declared that “permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense…would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle…. Were this law to be sustained, there could be an endless list of subjects the National Government or the States could single out.”

For the full commentary, see:

Cass R. Sunstein. “Can the Government Regulate Deepfakes?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Cass Sunstein’s commentary is adapted from his book:

Sunstein, Cass R. Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

Pocketknife on Airplane Saved Lives

Small pocketknives are still banned from flights, in spite of good reason to think that they do not pose a security risk. So if a similar emergency arose now, a Julius Schachter today would not be able to take out his pocketknife and save lives.

(p. A22) Julius Schachter, known as Julie, lived much of the year in Germany. He had flown to the Bay Area in November [2020] for Thanksgiving.

His most significant work involved the chlamydia-related disease trachoma, an eye infection that until 1990 was one of the world’s leading infectious causes of blindness. He established the effectiveness of treating it with the mass distribution of the oral antibiotic azithromycin (until then, the disease was treated topically), said Dr. Thomas M. Lietman, director of the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology at U.C.S.F. and a longtime colleague of Dr. Schachter’s.

“Everyone in health care is taught that nonspecific antibiotic use is forbidden,” Dr. Lietman said. But in areas where trachoma was regularly found, he added, it was too difficult to determine who exactly was infected. “Julie’s leap was to consider treating the entire community, whether they were infected or not.”

It is expected that trachoma will be eliminated as a public health concern by 2030, thanks in large part to Dr. Schachter.

. . .

Dr. Schachter traveled constantly for work and often took his family on international trips, Sara Schachter, a veterinarian, said. She recalled a harrowing incident in 1986, when she and her brother and father were aboard a flight from Rome to Athens and a bomb exploded. Four passengers died after being sucked out of a hole created by the blast. Some oxygen masks were jammed and failed to fall; a calm Dr. Schachter used a pocketknife to pry them loose for fellow passengers.

. . .

Dr. Schachter continued to work while hospitalized with Covid-19. Dr. Lietman recounted a conversation they had on the day his friend was being moved to the intensive care unit.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Dr. Schachter said. “I’ve got to finish these four manuscripts.”

For the full obituary, see:

Katie Hafner. “Julius Schachter, 84.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 9, 2021): A22.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 8, 2021, and has the title “Julius Schachter, Leading Expert on Chlamydia, Dies at 84.”)

New York City’s Resilient Dynamism

(p. C10) Do you worry that New York won’t fully return to what it was before the pandemic?

LEBOWITZ I have lived in New York long enough to know that it will not stay the way it is now. There is not a square foot of New York City, a square foot, that’s the same as it was when I came here in 1970. That’s what a city is, even without a plague. But I’d like to point out, there were many things wrong with it before. After the big protests in SoHo, I saw a reporter interviewing a woman who was a manager of one of the fancy stores there. The reporter said to her, “What are you going to do?” And she said, “There’s nothing we can do until the tourists come back.” I yelled at the TV and I said, “Really? You can’t think what to do with SoHo without tourists? I can! Let me give you some ideas.” Because I remember it without tourists. How about, artists could live there? How about, let’s not have rent that’s $190,000 a month? How about that? Let’s try that.

For the full interview, see:

Dave Itzkoff, interviewer. “More of Her Metropolitan Life.” The New York Times (Friday, January 8, 2021): C1 & C10.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Jan. 7, 2020, and has the title “Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese Seek a Missing New York in ‘Pretend It’s a City’.” In the online and print versions the question by Itzkoff, and Lebowitz’s name before her answer, were in bold.)