“She Is Very Brave and Dedicated”

(p. A10) MOSCOW — Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent opposition leader in Belarus who vanished on Monday [Sept. 7, 2020] in what her supporters said was a kidnapping by security agents, reappeared overnight at her country’s southern border with Ukraine.

But an elaborate operation aimed at forcing her to leave Belarus came unstuck, according to opposition activists who were at the border with Ms. Kolesnikova when she destroyed her passport to make it impossible for Ukraine to admit her.

At a news conference in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on Tuesday evening, two Belarusian activists, Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, told how they had been seized in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Monday and taken to the border with Ukraine, along with Ms. Kolesnikova, by masked security agents who warned that if they did not leave the country they would be jailed indefinitely.

After passing through a Belarusian border checkpoint, they said, Ms. Kolesnikova grabbed her passport and started shouting that she was not going anywhere. She tore the passport into small pieces and threw them out of the window.

Mr. Rodnenkov and Mr. Kravtsov continued onto Ukraine without her. “She climbed out of the car and started walking back toward the Belarus border,” Mr. Kravtsov said. “She is very brave and dedicated to what she is doing.”

. . .

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has never warmed to Mr. Lukashenko but still sees him as an important bulwark against the West, announced at the end of August that he had formed a reserve force of Russian security officers to assist Belarus if “the situation gets out of control.”

In another sign of close collaboration between the two countries, Belarus announced on Tuesday that it would hold military exercises later this week with troops from Russia and Serbia. The exercises, called Slavic Brotherhood 2020, underscore an important propaganda point for Mr. Lukashenko, suggesting that he is not alone in his struggle for political survival but a sentinel for broader Slavic interests against the West.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Opposition Leader in Belarus Avoids Expulsion, Dramatically.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Opposition Leader in Belarus Averts Expulsion by Tearing Up Passport.”)

Quick Less Precise, but Repeated, Covid-19 Tests Can Be Better Than Slow Precise Tests

(p. A1) Public health experts are increasingly calling for a shift in thinking about Covid-19 testing: It is better to get fast, frequent results that are reasonably accurate than more precise results after dayslong delays.

. . .

Covid-19 tests that don’t require a lab tend to be less sensitive than “gold standard” laboratory-based tests, meaning they are likely to miss more cases. But many public health experts now say that repeat testing can make up for the loss of sensitivity, and such testing could quickly identify the most infectious people and help bring transmission to heel as workplaces and schools resume in-person operations and as influenza season looms.

. . .

(p. A6) “When we looked ahead, we realized we needed a paradigm shift from the still-needed diagnostic tests to the screening tests,” said Jonathan Quick, managing director for pandemic response, preparedness and prevention at the Rockefeller Foundation, which released a report in July [2020] calling for a massive scale-up in quick, cheap tests for Covid-19 screening. “As a practical matter, that meant making much more of a new kind of test,” Dr. Quick said.

Most Covid-19 diagnostic testing in the U.S. is processed in laboratories and uses a technique called rt-PCR that searches for the virus’s genetic material and amplifies it. The tests are incredibly sensitive but expensive to run, and the process often requires shipping samples from a test site to a lab.

. . .

“I think there’s a sense of desperation that we need to do something else,” Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said at a media briefing in August [2020].

. . .

Antigen tests are better at identifying cases when people have more virus in their system—meaning they will likely find people when they are most infectious, said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an advocate of low-cost, widely available at-home testing that can be done on a paper strip.

. . .

The FDA also has said that rapid tests should have comparable accuracy to PCR diagnostic tests—a requirement that some public health specialists and companies say is overly stringent for surveillance testing.

An FDA official noted sensitivity rates lower than PCR might be acceptable, depending on how the test results are used. The agency has allowed for antigen tests with a sensitivity rate of 80% or better, the official said. “You can even have lower than 80% sensitivity” if it is a recurring or serial test.

For the full story, see:

Brianna Abbott, and Thomas M. Burton. “Speed Over Precision Favored in Covid Tests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A1 & A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sep. 8, 2020, and has the title “Public Health Officials Pursue Covid-19 Tests That Trade Precision for Speed.” Where there are differences between the print and online versions, the passages above follow the online version.)

The report by The Rockefeller Foundation mentioned above is:

The Rockefeller Foundation. “National Covid-19 Testing & Tracing Action Plan.” Thurs., July 16, 2020.

Chinese Communist Response to Covid-19 “Shows an Increasingly Nervous, Fragile Country”

(p. A7) LONDON — In January [2020], the Chinese city of Wuhan became the first in the world to undergo a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In many ways this crucial period remains a mystery, with few images escaping the censors’ grasp.

A new film by the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei helps fill in some of that missing history. Although now living in Europe, Ai remotely directed dozens of volunteers across China to create “Coronation,” a portrait of Wuhan’s draconian lockdown — and of a country able to mobilize huge resources, if at great human cost.

. . .

The overall impression, especially in the film’s first half-hour, is one of awesome efficiency. Crews quickly bolt prefabricated rooms together, I.C.U. machines beep and purr. The new party members are sworn in with their right fists raised up and the crematory laborers work so hard that they complain that their hands ache.

As the film progresses, the human costs become more apparent. A volunteer worker whose job is finished is not allowed to leave the quarantine zone, so he sleeps in his car in a parking garage. Mourners wail inconsolably at a crematory, and a man fights to be allowed to collect his father’s urn without government officials present — something authorities do not permit because they are afraid the mourning will turn to anger at the government for having allowed the virus to spin out of control.

. . .

The film is available in the United States on Alamo on Demand and in other parts of the world on Vimeo on Demand. Ai said he had hoped to show it first at a film festival, but festivals in New York, Toronto and Venice, after first expressing interest, turned him down. He said that Amazon and Netflix also rejected the movie.

He says his impression is that this was because many of these festivals and companies want to do business in China and so avoid topics that might anger Beijing, something other Chinese directors say is common.

. . .

Rather than providing the world with a model for how to govern, China’s response to the virus shows an increasingly nervous, fragile country, he said. In the scenes where mourners collect ashes, for example, Ai said viewers should note that all the people in white suits and full personal protective gear lurking in the background are members of state organizations trying to make sure that a lid is kept on the grief.

For the full story, see:

Ian Johnson. “‘This Is About China’: Artist Shines a Light on What Wuhan Went Through.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 23, 2020): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “From Ai Weiwei, a Portrait of Wuhan’s Draconian Covid Lockdown.”)

Simison Interviews Diamond on Mazzucato

Recently I was interviewed by Bob Simison for his profile of economist Mariana Mazzucato that appeared in the current issue of Finance & Development, an official publication of the International Monetary Fund. Mazzucato believes that innovation should be more centrally funded and directed by governments. Simison mentions my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, and summarizes my claim that for innovation to flourish entrepreneurs need the freedom to pursue serendipity, hunches, and trial-and-error experiments.

(p. 50) To economist Arthur Diamond of the University of Nebraska,Omaha, Mazzucato’s thesis sounds too much like centrally planned industrial policy, which he argues won’t work because government is inherently unable to foster innovation. In his 2019 book, Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism, he argues that what drives innovation is entrepreneurs who are deeply immersed in their subject and able to benefit from serendipity, pursuing hunches, and plain old trial and error.

“Government decision-makers won’t be as immersed in the problems, won’t have the detailed information, and won’t be in a position to follow hunches toward breakthrough solutions,” Diamond says.

For Simison’s full profile of Mazzucato, see:

Simison, Bob. “Economics Agitator.” Finance & Development 57, no. 3 (Sept. 2020): 48-51.

(Note: in the original article, the title of my book was italicized.)

My book mentioned above is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Randomized Controlled Trials Can Obscure “Nuances and Complexities”

(p. A17) You’ve probably heard of the “gold standard”—randomized controlled trials—for evaluating new pharmaceutical therapies, including for Covid-19. Many treatments that showed promise in other studies have turned up muddy results in randomized controlled trials. But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ineffective. Doctors and regulators need to consider the totality of medical evidence when treating patients.

. . .

“Randomized trials for some purposes is the gold standard, but only for some purposes,” Harvard’s Donald Berwick, a former health adviser to President Barack Obama, said in an interview with GNS Health Care CEO Colin Hill in 2013. “Context does matter. We’re learning in a very messy world, and the context that neatens up that world may make it hard to know how to manage in the real world.”

. . .

As Thomas Frieden, who directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Mr. Obama, wrote in a 2017 New England Journal of Medicine article: “Elevating RCTs at the expense of other potentially highly valuable sources of data is counterproductive.” Such limitations affect their use for “urgent health issues, such as infectious disease outbreaks.” He added: “No study design is flawless, and conflicting findings can emerge from all types of studies.”

. . .

Some experts have dismissed the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, even though more than a dozen observational studies have found it beneficial. A retrospective observational study of Covid-infected nursing-home residents in France, for instance, found those treated with HCQ and azithromycin were 40% less likely to die.

But a few randomized controlled trials found no benefit. A Spanish randomized trial of HCQ for prophylaxis found it didn’t reduce risk of illness among a large group of people exposed in nursing homes, households and health-care settings. Yet two-thirds of the subjects “reported routine use of masks at the time of exposure,” so they were probably less likely to be infected. Nursing-home residents, who may be less likely to wear masks, were 50% less likely to become sick if they took HCQ. But this finding was statistically insignificant, because the trial included only 293 residents.

. . .

Another problem with Covid-19 randomized trials: Patients at different stages of an illness are often assigned the same dosage. Trials don’t reveal differences in how patients respond to a drug at different dosages or illness severity.

Observational studies can do so. Consider a large study by the Mayo Clinic, which found no overall benefit among patients who received a higher-antibody convalescent plasma versus a lower one. Yet the researchers reported a 37% reduction in mortality among patients under 80 who weren’t on a ventilator and received a high-antibody plasma within three days of hospitalizations.

A randomized trial might have obscured these nuances and complexities, denying doctors important information about treatment options. Randomized controlled trials can yield important insights, but it is a medical mistake and a disservice to patients to dismiss other types of evidence.

For the full commentary, see:

Allysia Finley. “Medical Research’s Cross of ‘Gold’ Imperils Covid Treatments.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 8, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The review article by Frieden mentioned above is:

Frieden, Thomas R. “Evidence for Health Decision Making — Beyond Randomized, Controlled Trials.” New England Journal of Medicine 377, no. 5 (Aug. 3, 2017): 465-75.

Pie Venture Was Located Where Entrepreneur Wanted to Live

(p. 1A) Judith Larsen turned her American dream into a small-town Nebraska reality with her Village PieMaker business, and the operation has gone cosmopolitan under a big-name owner.

. . .

Larsen’s is the story of entrepreneurship and diligence. It’s also a story of what happens when great success blossoms from small beginnings.

. . .

(p. 2A) Larsen learned how to make pies from her grandmother in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and got good enough to clear out a spare bedroom and build a pie kitchen in Sumner, Nebraska.

She bartered with pies and sold them. One time she used pie to hire a man to drag an upright piano from the basement. “I learned that you could get a man to do just about anything if you offered him a pie,” she said.

Then it was on to the village of Eustis, population 401, where in 2003 she rented an old creamery for her business. Sales took off. She named it the Village PieMaker, saying every place has its village drunk and village idiot, and she would be its piemaker. “No canned stuff” became the company’s motto.

She sought to produce pies that tasted homemade and looked homemade. “I wanted a product that people could be proud of because making a pie is a dying art,” she said.

. . .

“In the early days, I worked 80 hours a week in that shop,” she said. “In the beginning, I would do every job that everybody else would do.”

. . .

She has started a small business in which she uses a “longarm sewing machine” to assemble quilts. “I’m an entrepreneur and I’m also somebody who can’t sit still,” she said.

Who knows? Maybe her new business will do fairly well.

For the full story, see:

Rick Ruggles Jul 23, 2020. “Pie Venture That Found Success, Workers in Eustis Is Uprooted.” Omaha World-Herald (Friday, July 24, 2020): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 23, 2020, and has the title “Founder says she’s sad for workers after Joe Ricketts closes pie-making facility in Eustis.”)

Uber and Lyft Drivers Earn Over $23 an Hour in Seattle

(p. B3) A study by researchers at Cornell University found that the typical driver in Seattle made over $23 per hour after expenses during one week last fall. Previous studies for other areas had put net earnings well below $20 per hour. Another new study put the figure at less than half that.

. . .

While other researchers have assumed that drivers are working any time their app is turned on — even if they’re not on their way to pick up a customer or don’t have a passenger in the car — the Cornell study counts such time as work only if it directly precedes a ride. If a driver turns on the ride-share app but is not dispatched on a ride before shutting it off, the authors do not count the time as work.

According to the Cornell authors, this assumption adds about $2.50 per hour to the typical driver’s earnings.

. . .

The Cornell authors also assume that many of the costs of owning a vehicle, such as the value a car loses as it ages or financing costs, should not be considered work expenses because car owners would typically pay these costs even if they didn’t drive for Uber or Lyft.

The only costs the authors factor into their preferred calculation are so-called marginal costs — like gas and maintenance costs that accrue because of the extra miles a worker drives while on the job. This assumption results in costs that are up to about $5.50 an hour lower for full-time drivers, and a net wage that is several dollars per hour higher, than under a more conventional calculation.

For the full story, see:

Noam Scheiber. “Critics Doubt Study on Uber and Lyft Pay.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 14 [sic], 2020, and has the title “When Scholars Collaborate With Tech Companies, How Reliable Are the Findings?”)

The Cornell study mentioned above is:

Hyman, Louis, Erica L. Groshen, Adam Seth Litwin, Martin T. Wells, Kwelina P. Thompson, and K. Chernyshov. “Platform Driving in Seattle.” Research Studies and Reports, ILR School Cornell University, Institute for Workplace Studies. Ithaca, NY, July 6, 2020.

Water Park Entrepreneur Did Not Use “Market Research or Long-Term Planning”

(p. 12) . . ., “someone had tied off the ankles and sleeves of an old janitorial jumpsuit, stuffed it with sand and fabricated a head out of a plastic grocery bag,” Mulvihill writes in his new book, “Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park.” “The makeshift dummy cleared the loop but emerged decapitated.”

. . .

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I knew my father was a risk taker, but I never really understood the size of the risks, and the sheer tenacity and confidence he possessed to take them on. He was fearless.

I look back on the incredible number of crazy ride ideas and the inventors he’d back to develop those ideas, and it just blows you away. Some of them never worked out, but the ones that did were incredible. He didn’t rely on market research or long-term planning; he acted on gut instincts. Contrast it with the bigger parks and all of their exhaustive analysis.

. . .

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

My father. He was a creative genius and a driven entrepreneur. It’s one thing to have dreams and ideas, it’s another to execute them. He never took no for an answer — whether from an investor, regulator, inspector or government official.

He invented the water park and participation rides where you controlled the action, where you were in control of your own destiny. He was really the precursor to extreme sports and the X Games, only he did it at an amusement park. He wanted to show people something they’d never seen before. He never settled for mediocrity — that was boring. If you’re going to do something, go all out. Shoot for greatness. Do not check the box, blow it up. I’d like to think I’ve led my life embracing that premise.

For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer. “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; Risky Business? That’s Really an Understatement.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipses, and bold font, added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 12, 2018, and has the title “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; ‘Action Park’ Looks Back in Amusement and Terror.” The first couple of sentences and the bold questions are from the interviewer Williams. The unbold answers to the questions are from Andy Mulvihill. [Added later: I just figured out that in this blogging template, within the italics block quotations, bolded text does not appear to be bolded.])

The book discussed in the interview is:

Mulvihill, Andy, and Jake Rossen. Action Park: Fast Times, Wild Rides, and the Untold Story of America’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park. New York: Penguin Books, 2020.

Covid-19 May Shift Restaurants Toward Fewer Workers and More Take-Out, Even in Long Run

(p. B4) Andrew Snow was supposed to be ramping up by now. Mr. Snow, who owns the Golden Squirrel, a restaurant and bar in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, cut his staff of 28 people to two after the pandemic hit.

. . .

Now business is slowing again, as California is averaging about 8,000 new cases a day, about triple the level a month ago. Mr. Snow’s plans to bring back workers over the holiday weekend didn’t come to pass, and he has put further hiring on hold.

“People are scared,” he said in an interview. “The math for having more people doesn’t work out anymore.”

. . .

The longer the pandemic’s disruption, the more likely it is that some jobs will never come back. For instance, a number of restaurants had already switched to counter service, even for fairly high-end meals, to avoid the need for servers who have a hard time affording housing in big cities. Now virtually every restaurant in California is operating around counter service or delivery, and some may not change back.

Mr. Snow, for example, envisions a restaurant where people order at the bar, eat far from other patrons, then leave with a bag of groceries. The Golden Squirrel would have fewer employees, compensating for a less-full restaurant with expanded takeout orders.

“Some of the changes will make us a better business in the future,” Mr. Snow said. “The challenge is getting to that future.”

For the full story, see:

Conor Dougherty. “After Riding a Boom, California Braces for Hard Times.” The New York Times (Monday, July 13, 2020): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 14, 2020, and has the title “California, After Riding a Boom, Braces for Hard Times.”)

Reuters Kowtows to Beijing Communists By Erasing Tiananmen Square Stories

(p. B3) A financial-information company partly owned by the news organization Thomson Reuters removed articles related to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre from the feeds of its data terminals in China last week. The move came under pressure from the Chinese government, Reuters reported Monday [June 3, 2019].

The data firm that complied with the censorship demands, Refinitiv, is Reuters’s biggest customer. It prevented some articles that included mentions of the pro-democracy demonstrations from appearing on its Eikon software and mobile app in China.

In a statement, Refinitiv pointed to legal realities in China, whose government previously blocked websites from publishing stories it deemed politically sensitive. The Chinese authorities have also denied visas to journalists working for news outlets that have published articles that were critical of the nation’s leaders.

For the full story, see:

Marc Tracy. “Reuters Partner Hides Tiananmen News.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 5, 2019): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2019, and has the title “In China, a Reuters Partner Blocks Articles on the Tiananmen Square Massacre.”)

Masks Blocked Covid-19 at Hair Salon

(p. A6) Vigilant mask wearing might have spared nearly 140 people from catching the coronavirus at a hair salon in Missouri, according to a report published on Tuesday [July 14, 2020] by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In May [2020], the people interacted with two hair stylists with confirmed coronavirus infections, but none ended up showing symptoms of Covid-19.

. . .

But policies instructing locals to cover their mouths and noses, put in place by the city of Springfield and by the salon where the stylists worked, Great Clips, appear to have played a substantial role in curbing the spread of disease.

For the full story, see:

Katherine J. Wu. “Report on Hair Salon Affirms Value of Masks.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 16, 2020): A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 17 [sic], 2020, and has the title “2 Stylists Had Coronavirus, but Wore Masks. 139 Clients Didn’t Fall Sick.”)

The CDC report mentioned above is:

Hendrix MJ, Walde C, Findley K, Trotman R. Absence of Apparent Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from Two Stylists After Exposure at a Hair Salon with a Universal Face Covering Policy — Springfield, Missouri, May 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:930-932.