Well-Financed Fusion Startup Claims to Be a Year Away From Energy Break-Even Point

(p. B4) Zap Energy, a fusion energy start-up working on a low-cost path to producing electricity commercially, said last week that it had taken an important step toward testing a system its researchers believe will eventually produce more electricity than it consumes.

. . .

While many competing efforts use powerful magnets or bursts of laser light to compress a plasma in order to initiate a fusion reaction, Zap is pursuing an approach pioneered by physicists at the University of Washington and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

It relies on a shaped plasma gas — an energized cloud of particles that is often described as a fourth state of matter — that is compressed by a magnetic field generated by an electrical current as it flows through a two-meter vacuum tube. The technique is known as “sheared flow Z-pinch.”

. . .

Advances in stabilizing the magnetic field that is generated by the flowing plasma made by physicists at the University of Washington led the group to establish Zap Energy in 2017. The company has raised more than $200 million, including a series of investments from Chevron.

Recent technical advances in fusion fuels and in advanced magnets have led to a sharp increase in private investment, according to the Fusion Industry Association. There are 35 fusion companies globally, and private funding has risen above $4 billion, including from well-known technology investors like Sam Altman, Jeff Bezos, John Doerr, Bill Gates and Chris Sacca. Mr. Gates and Mr. Sacca invested in Zap’s most recent funding round.

. . .

The Zap Energy physicists and executives said in interviews last week that they believed they were within a year of proving that their approach was capable of reaching the long-sought-after energy break-even point.

If they do, they will have succeeded where an array of research efforts — going back to the middle of the last century — have failed.

The Zap Energy physicists said they had made the case for the “scaling” power of their approach to produce a steep increase in neutrons in a series of peer-reviewed technical papers that documented computer-generated simulations they would soon begin to test.

For the full story, see:

John Markoff. “A Seattle Start-Up Claims a Big Step For Fusion Energy.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 23, 2022): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 22, 2022, and has the title “A Big Step Toward Fusion Energy Is Hailed by a Seattle Start-Up.”)

Union Blocks Automation That Would Make Ports More Resilient and Efficient

(p. B6) The companies that transport and handle the cargo say the automation is one solution to the congestion at ports, particularly the Los Angeles and Long Beach sites at the heart of America’s supply chain woes. The spare use of robotics at U.S. ports leaves them uncompetitive with big gateways in China and Europe that are packed with automation, they say.

Jeremy Nixon, chief executive of Singapore-based container line Ocean Network Express, told the TPM22 Conference produced by The Journal of Commerce in Long Beach earlier this year that European and Asian ports can clear backlogs quickly because they have automated cargo-handling equipment that operates around the clock. “Here, we just don’t have that resilience,” he said.

. . .

A port performance index created by the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence ranked the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex dead last in efficiency among the world’s ports last year, trailing Luanda, Angola, and the Port of Ngqura, South Africa. The world’s most efficient ports were in the Middle East and Asia.

For the full story, see:

Paul Berger. “Port Union Talks Center on Automation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 10, 2022): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2022, and has the title “A Deep Divide on Automation Hangs Over West Coast Port Labor Talks.”)

“For the Foreseeable Future We Cannot Feed the World Without Relying on Fossil Fuels”

(p. 16) The title’s pleonastic fourth word is the giveaway. It announces the tone of Vaclav Smil’s 49th book: vinegary scorn for the irresponsible declarations of self-proclaimed experts, particularly those guilty of innumeracy, ahistoricism and other forms of wishful thinking that Vaclav Smil would never, ever fall for. You’ve heard a lot of prognostications about the state of the world. They’re bunk. Here, at last, is how the world really works.

. . .

. . . every fundamental aspect of modern civilization rests overwhelmingly on fossil fuel combustion. Take our food system. Readers of Michael Pollan or Amanda Little understand that it’s morally indefensible to purchase Chilean blueberries or, God forbid, New Zealand lamb. But even a humble loaf of sourdough requires the equivalent of about 5.5 tablespoons of diesel fuel, and a supermarket tomato, which Smil describes as no more than “an appealingly shaped container of water” (apologies to Marcella Hazan), is the product of about six tablespoons of diesel. “How many vegans enjoying the salad,” he writes, “are aware of its substantial fossil fuel pedigree?”

It is best to eat local, but we do not have enough arable land to support our population, even in our vast continent, at least not without the application of obscene quantities of natural-gas-derived fertilizer. One must further account for the more than three billion people in the developing world who will need to double or triple their food production to approach a dignified standard of living. Then add the additional two billion who will soon join us. “For the foreseeable future,” writes Smil, “we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.” He performs similar calculations for the world’s production of energy, cement, ammonia, steel and plastic, always reaching the same result: “A mass-scale, rapid retreat from the current state is impossible.”

Smil’s impartial scientist persona slips with each sneer at the “proponents of a new green world” or “those who prefer mantras of green solutions to understanding how we have come to this point.” Still, his broader point holds: We are slaves to fossil fuels.

. . .

Smil’s book is at its essence a plea for agnosticism, and, believe it or not, humility — the rarest earth metal of all. His most valuable declarations concern the impossibility of acting with perfect foresight. Living with uncertainty, after all, “remains the essence of the human condition.” Even under the most optimistic scenario, the future will not resemble the past. We will have to navigate seemingly impossible conditions, relying on instinct and imperfect assumptions and our old familiar flaws (chiefly “our never-failing propensity to discount the future”). This may not be a particularly galvanizing conclusion, but it is, yes, how the world works.

For the full review, see:

Nathaniel Rich. “The Theory of Nothing.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, May 29, 2022): 16.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 11, 2022, and has the title “Everything You Thought You Knew, and Why You’re Wrong.”)

The book under review is:

Smil, Vaclav. How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going. New York: Viking, 2022.

Firms Move from High Crime Chicago to Lower Crime Texas, Virginia, and Florida

(p. B4) The hedge fund Citadel and the trading firm Citadel Securities, both run by the billionaire Ken Griffin, are moving their offices to Miami after more than three decades in Chicago, according to a memo to employees that was obtained by The New York Times on Thursday [June 23, 2022].

The move follows elevated tensions between Mr. Griffin and Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, over taxes and the city’s crime rate. (Florida is one of the few states that don’t have a state income tax.) And it comes as the rise of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic has enabled companies to more freely move their offices in search of lower taxes, a more affordable work force or other potential perks. In recent months, Caterpillar said it was moving its office from Illinois to Texas, and Boeing has said it is moving from Illinois to Virginia. . . .

“The firms are having difficulty recruiting top talent from across the world to Chicago given the rising and senseless violence in the city,” said Zia Ahmed, a Citadel spokesman. “Talent wants to live in cities where they feel safe.”

According to the Chicago Police Department, there were 797 murders in 2021, up from 772 in 2020. Crime has been spiking in the city, though it is largely concentrated in a few areas.

While not a direct comparison, Miami Dade County reported 30 homicide offenses this year through May, down from 48 over the same period last year.

For the full story, see:

Lauren Hirsch. “Hedge Fund Cites Crime for Leaving Chicago.” The New York Times (Friday, June 24, 2022): B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 23, 2022, and has the title “Citadel says it will move offices to Miami because of crime in Chicago.”)

U.S. Forest Service Started the Most Destructive Fire in New Mexico History

(p. A10) MORA, N.M. — It started small, with a team of federal employees using drip torches to ignite a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest, aimed at thinning out dense pine woodlands.

But as April [2022] winds howled across the mountains of brittle-dry northern New Mexico, driving the fire over its boundaries and soon into the path of another out-of-control prescribed burn, it grew to become one of the U.S. Forest Service’s most destructive mistakes in decades.

The resulting merger of those two burns, called the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak blaze, now ranks as the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history. Still burning in a zone of more than 341,000 acres — larger than the city of Los Angeles — the fire has destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands in a region where Hispanic villagers settled centuries ago.

The painful losses have created a backlash against the Forest Service and provided a pivotal test case for how the authorities react when a prescribed burn goes badly wrong.

“I hope those responsible for this catastrophic failure are not sleeping at night,” said Meg Sandoval, 65, whose family settled in the region in the 1840s. She is now living out of a pickup camper shell after her home in Tierra Monte was destroyed by the fire.

“They ruined the lives of thousands of people,” she said.

. . .

. . . like many of her constituents, Ms. Leger Fernández said she was furious to learn that the Forest Service had started both blazes. “How could you make the same mistake twice in the same neighborhood?” she asked.

. . .

Patrick Dearen wrote a book about the Pecos River, whose headwaters are threatened by the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak fire. He noted that in the 1890s, the forest around the river that is now designated as national forest was made up mostly of “old burns,” as well as meadows, open parks and barren peaks.

An inventory in 1911 showed that a typical acre of ponderosa pine habitat had 50 to 60 trees. By the end of the 20th century, Mr. Dearen said, after a long national policy of suppressing natural fires, that had skyrocketed to 1,089 trees per acre.

“Nature had done its job well, but no one recognized it,” Mr. Dearen said. Still, if the government is going to assume nature’s role of thinning out forests, it needs to own up to its mistakes, he said.

“If an individual goes out and starts a fire on purpose and it gets away, he’s probably going to go to jail,” he said. “The federal government needs to assume responsibility to the people.”

For the full story, see:

Simon Romero. “Thousands Lost Everything In Fire Set by Forest Service.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 23, 2022): A10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 24, 2022, and has the title “The Government Set a Colossal Wildfire. What Are Victims Owed?”)

The book by Dearen mentioned above is:

Dearen, Patrick. Bitter Waters: The Struggles of the Pecos River. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016.

Maine Oyster Harvest in 2021 Was Largest in History, Up 50% from 2020

(p. D9) BRUNSWICK, Maine — Maine is producing more oysters than ever due to a growing number of shellfish farms that have launched off its coast in recent years.

The state’s haul of oysters, the vast majority of which are from farms, grew by more than 50% last year to more than 6 million pounds.

. . .

. . ., the growth of oysters is great news for a state that has been trying to diversify marine industries, said Dan Devereaux, one of the owners of Mere Point Oyster Company in Brunswick.

For the full story, see:

Whittle, Patrick, Associated Press. “‘Like a Wild West Gold Rush’: Maine Oysters Boom.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, June 26, 2022): D9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Gillies Created Reconstructive Surgery “Through Trial and Error”

(p. C6) During World War I, a handful of soldiers who had suffered catastrophic facial wounds traveled to Paris on a journey of last resort.

. . .

Trench warfare produced a huge number of facial injuries, and bespoke masks could never keep up with the demand.

. . .

But masks were of limited value, because they could conceal, but never heal, grievous wounds. Disfigured men needed a medical breakthrough to help them. Ms. Fitzharris, the author of “The Butchering Art” (2017), a history of Victorian medicine, chronicles the life of the British plastic surgeon Harold Delf Gillies, whose innovations and operating-room magic saved thousands of warriors from their fates and allowed them to walk in the world again. Both heartbreaking and inspiring, “The Facemaker” tells a profound story of survival, resurrection and redemption.

Born in New Zealand and educated in England, Gillies entered the Royal Army Medical Corps early in the war, at age 32. A champion amateur golfer, he began his soldiering as a novice military doctor. The second Battle of Ypres, in May 1915, was his baptism by fire. It was there, Ms. Fitzharris says, that he “first stepped into a field hospital’s makeshift operating theater,” where he labored around the clock, standing on a floor awash with blood. A month later, he was assigned to the Allied Forces base hospital in Étaples, France. The dental surgeon Auguste Charles Valadier showed him how to use bone grafts to reconstruct faces without distorting the features and to restore a patient’s ability to speak and eat.

That summer, Gillies sought out Hippolyte Morestin, an eccentric French surgeon devoted to achieving high-quality aesthetic results. Gillies watched Morestin remove a large cancerous growth from a patient’s face and close the wound with a flap of skin from the patient’s neck. It was a turning point for Gillies, who would describe the moment as “the most thrilling thing I had ever seen. I fell in love with the work on the spot.”

. . .

[Gillies’s] . . . key insight was that a multidisciplinary approach was needed: the combined work of plastic surgeons, dental surgeons, nurses, radiologists, artists, sculptors and photographers.

Gillies conceded it was “a strange new art,” without textbooks, precedent, or experience to guide its practice. Through trial and error, he re-created missing mouths and noses, filled in gaping voids of bone and flesh, restored obliterated jaws, treated horrific burns, and performed skin grafts. Until then, most surgeons had stitched together the edges of a gaping wound, a process that could cause necrosis and cellular destruction as well as further disfigurement. Among other things, Gillies learned that, to achieve the best results, he needed to perform surgery incrementally and space operations out over time, to allow patients to recover from one surgery to the next. Some men required 15 or 20 operations, occasionally as many as 40. “Never do today what can be put off till tomorrow” became his motto.

And Gillies mastered the use of the flaps, which are made to cover a wound and which have, as Ms. Fitzharris tells us, their “own blood supply in the form of a single large artery or multiple smaller blood vessels.” Gillies’s greatest invention was the tubed pedicle—a flap of skin attached to a “protective, infection-resistant cylinder,” which was itself attached to the injury site. It “dramatically reduced the chance for infection,” Ms. Fitzharris writes.

For the full review, see:

James L. Swanson. “Repairing the Wounds of War.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 28, 2022): C6.

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

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 27, 2022, and has the title “‘The Facemaker’ Review: Repairing the Wounds of War.”)

The book under review is:

Fitzharris, Lindsey. The Facemaker: A Visionary Surgeon’s Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022.

Wealthiest Resident of Illinois Moving His Business to Florida for Lower Taxes and Less Crime

(p. B1) Billionaire Ken Griffin is relocating his hedge-fund firm Citadel from Chicago to Miami, the third major employer to announce the move of a corporate headquarters from Illinois in the past two months.

In a letter to employees Thursday [June 23, 2022], Mr. Griffin said he had personally moved to Florida—a state that doesn’t collect personal income tax—and that his market-making business, Citadel Securities, would also transfer. He wrote that he views Florida as a better corporate environment and though he didn’t specifically cite crime as a factor, company officials said it was a consideration.

Mr. Griffin has been the wealthiest resident of Illinois, so his departure will hurt state tax collections on both the individual and corporate side. It could also be a blow to Chicago’s philanthropic scene. Mr. Griffin has given more than $600 million in gifts to educational, cultural, medical and civic organizations in the area, spokesman Zia Ahmed said.

For the full story see:

John McCormick and Juliet Chung. “Citadel Plans to Relocate to Florida.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 24, 2022): B1-B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 30 [sic], 2022, and has the title “Ken Griffin Moving Citadel From Chicago to Miami Following Crime Complaints.”)

New York City Hurt as Wealthy Residents Move to Miami

(p. A1) When roughly 300,000 New York City residents left during the early part of the pandemic, officials described the exodus as a once-in-a-century shock to the city’s population.

Now, new data from the Internal Revenue Service shows that the residents who moved to other states by the time they filed their 2019 taxes collectively reported $21 billion in total income, substantially more than those who departed in any prior year on record. The IRS said the data captured filings received in 2020 and as late as July 2021.

Many new or returning residents have since moved in. But the total income of those who had initially left was double the average amount of those who had departed over the previous decade, a potential loss that could have long-term effects on a city that relies heavily on its wealthiest residents to support schools, law enforcement and other public services.

The sheer number of people who left in such a short period raises uncertainty about New York City’s competitiveness and economic stability. The top 1 percent of earners, who make more than $804,000 a year, contributed 41 percent of the city’s personal income taxes in 2019.

About one-third of the people who left moved from Manhattan, and had an average income of $214,300. No other large American county had a similar exodus of wealth.

Early in the pandemic, Sam Williamson, 51, a white-collar defense lawyer living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, first relocated to Utah, then to Long Island. After a return to the city, he and (p. A19) his family permanently moved to Miami last year when his law firm opened an office there.

“I love New York City, but it’s been a challenging time,” Mr. Williamson said. “I didn’t feel like the city handled the pandemic very well.”

. . .

Gergana Ivanova, 28, a clothing designer and social media influencer, said her decision to move to Miami was less about taxes. The pandemic made the downsides of living in New York City more noticeable, she said, including the lack of space in her tiny Queens apartment and the trash piling up on the sidewalks. She felt less safe walking around when the streets were emptier.

“It didn’t feel happy and positive like it used to,” she said.

. . .

The exodus to Florida was especially robust, and not just for the retiree crowd. In 2020, New York City had a net loss of nearly 21,000 residents to Florida, IRS data showed, almost double the average annual net loss from before the pandemic.

. . .

Zak Jacoby was the general manager of a bar on the Lower East Side when the pandemic hit. Throughout 2020, his employment status fluctuated with the city’s changing indoor dining rules, a stressful period that put him on and off unemployment benefits.

Mr. Jacoby, 37, flew to Miami in January 2021 to see a friend — and decided to stay permanently after getting a job offer at a local restaurant group. If there was another virus surge, he said, the state would be less likely to shut down businesses, giving him more job security.

“My mind-set was, Florida’s more lenient on Covid, and there’s going to be less regulation,” he said.

For the full story see:

Nicole Hong and Matthew Haag. “Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Leaves Lasting Costs in Wake.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 28, 2022): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Flight of New York City’s Wealthy Was a Once-in-a-Century Shock.” The online version of the story says that the print version has the title “An Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Has Left Lasting Costs,” but my National print version has the somewhat different title “Exodus of New York’s Wealthy Leaves Lasting Costs in Wake.”)

On June 4th, Four-Inch Replicas of the Tiananmen Square Goddess of Democracy Statue Appeared at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

(p. 10) TAIPEI, Taiwan — For decades, a large candlelight vigil was held in Hong Kong each June 4, to commemorate those killed when Chinese soldiers crushed the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.

On Saturday, smaller crowds gathered in Taipei and other cities around the world — this time mourning not just the people slain 33 years ago, but also the fate of Hong Kong, where the smothering of dissent has put an end to the vigil in Victoria Park, the world’s most prominent public memorial to the victims of 1989.

“Now it’s about the two things together — Hong Kong as well as what happened on June 4,” said Francis Tse, a former Hong Kong resident who was one of about 400 people commemorating the anniversary in downtown Sydney, Australia. He and many others carried signs calling for the release of activists imprisoned in Hong Kong.

. . .

On Saturday [June 4, 2022], people who joined commemorations in Taipei, Sydney and London said they had also come to denounce the erasure of political freedoms in Hong Kong, as well as China’s draconian policies in two other regions, Xinjiang and Tibet.

“Now Hong Kong can no longer tell the truth and the real history, we must pass on this history even more in Taiwan,” said Henry Tong, a 41-year-old from Hong Kong who moved to Taiwan last year and attended this year’s vigil in Taipei. “Because of Hong Kong’s prohibition and suppression, it has blossomed everywhere.”

. . .

Over the past year, universities in Hong Kong have removed prominent Tiananmen memorials. In December, the University of Hong Kong took down the “Pillar of Shame,” a 26-foot statue by the Danish artist Jens Galschiot. A depiction of writhing corpses signifying those killed in 1989, it had been at the campus since the late 1990s, becoming a symbol of defiance against the Chinese authorities.

Since its removal, Prague and other cities have hosted replicas of the statue, and a smaller version was unveiled in Taipei on Saturday.

Another statue — modeled after the “Goddess of Democracy” erected by students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 — was removed from the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus late last year. In recent days, anonymous activists, determined to commemorate June 4 however they can, have left four-inch replicas of it around the campus.

For the full story see:

John Liu, Chris Buckley, Austin Ramzy, and Isabella Kwai. “Mourning Tiananmen’s Victims, and the Hong Kong That Was In Taipei [sic].” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 5, 2022): 10.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 30 [sic], 2022, and has the title “Mourning Tiananmen’s Victims, and the Hong Kong That Was.” The online version says that the print version has the title “In Taipei, Mourning Tiananmen’s Victims, and the Hong Kong That Was”, but my National print version has the title “Mourning Tiananmen’s Victims, and the Hong Kong That Was in Taipai [sic].”)

Lacking Government Approval During Pandemic, “State-of-the-Art Testing Machines . . . Weren’t Turned On”

(p. 12) The ethics manual of the American College of Physicians states that “the ethical imperative for physicians to provide care” overrides “the risk to the treating physician, even during epidemics.” Nevertheless, for most of human history, doctors often ran away in the face of widespread contagious disease.

. . .

When health workers stick around to treat patients, even at risk to their own lives, it is something to be celebrated, and the journalist Marie Brenner does just that in “The Desperate Hours,” an account of how workers at New York-Presbyterian, an academic health system, coped with the Covid surge in New York City beginning in the spring of 2020. The book details both medical heroism and corporate cowardice, prescient decisions and howling missteps, all against the backdrop of a swirling and mysterious pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 30,000 residents, not to mention 35 New York-Presbyterian employees.

Along the way we encounter some eye-opening anecdotes. Early on, New York City hospitals were faced with an alarming dearth of masks and a near rebellion by workers on the front lines. In response, New York-Presbyterian’s chief operating officer, Dr. Laura Forese, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, assured staff members that “masks would not be necessary” unless workers were in direct contact with infected patients. Though she was working off mistaken C.D.C. guidelines, it was “advice and regulation that countermanded every bit of common sense understood by public health officials since the Black Plague,” Brenner writes.

. . .

Yet state-of-the-art testing machines at New York-Presbyterian weren’t turned on because the leadership was waiting for the government to approve their use. When doctors and nurses complained, the communications office attempted to throttle them and even threatened them with demotions or dismissal. It is part of what Dr. Steve Corwin, New York-Presbyterian’s chief executive, calls “a failure of imagination on our part.”

The book has its share of heroes who buck the strictures of the system to speak the truth about what was coming (or had already arrived). No one was more heroic than Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, an infectious-disease modeler at New York-Presbyterian who raised the alarm about the pandemic in February 2020 but was largely ignored.

“This is going to be historically bad, rivaling the medical consequences of 1918, but far exceeding it in terms of global financial impact,” he warned his colleagues. “If we get through this, it will be the sort of thing that we will tell our grandchildren about.” Yet when Hupert showed his projections at a planning meeting, the medical school dean told him, “I think we will be all right.”

. . .

Compounding the disaster was that little guidance was coming from executives on how to navigate the crisis, including how to potentially ration beds and ventilators (which fortunately did not come to pass). “The amount of moral damage they did to a lot of people while they get paid millions of dollars is disgusting,” a critical-care physician says bitterly.

For the full review, see:

Sandeep Jauhar. “Plagued.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, July 3, 2022): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 19, 2022, and has the title “Facing Death During the Pandemic.”)

The book under review is:

Brenner, Marie. The Desperate Hours: One Hospital’s Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic’s Front Lines. New York: Flatiron Books, 2022.