Feds Requiring EV Chargers in Desolate Parts of the West That Are Off the Electric Grid

(p. B1) The U.S. government wants fast EV-charging stations every 50 miles along major highways. Some Western states say the odds of making that work are as remote as their rugged landscapes.

States including Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado are raising concerns about rules the Biden administration has proposed for receiving a share of the coming $5 billion in federal funding to help jump-start a national EV-charging network. The states say it will be difficult, if not impossible, to run EV chargers along desolate stretches of highway.

“There are plenty of places in Montana and other states here out West where it’s well more than 50 miles between gas stations,” said Rob Stapley, an official with the Montana Department of Transportation. “Even if there’s an exit, or a place for people to pull off, the other big question is: Is there anything on the electrical grid at a location or even anywhere close to make that viable?”

. . .

(p. B2) Some Western states are unhappy over the federal determination of which U.S. highways should have the chargers, which is a carry-over from 2015 legislation for alternative-fuels roadways.

Mr. De La Rosa of New Mexico said it could result in a disproportionate number of charging stations in the southeast part of the state, and none in the northwest. “It’s not apparent here in New Mexico how those decisions were made,” he said.

Utah’s population is largely clustered in cities along the Wasatch Front and Interstate-15 in the northern and southern parts of the state, and there are concerns that spending on remote locations could skip serving the routes most delivery drivers and residents use, said Kim Frost, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.

For the full story see:

Jennifer Hiller. “Plan for EV Chargers Meets Skepticism in West.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 14, 2022): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 13, 2022, and has the title “Biden Plan for EV Chargers Meets Skepticism in Rural West.”)

Corrupt Crony “Emergent” Firm Emerges as Incompetent Too

Emergent’s role in crony capitalism was documented in an earlier entry, that documented the donations and lobbying gifts they bestowed on congress and regulators in order to fill the emergency health stockpile with dubious anthrax vaccine instead of the masks and ventilators that were in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

(p. A7) WASHINGTON — Workers at a plant in Baltimore manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the ingredients several weeks ago, contaminating up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in the United States. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error.

. . .

The mistake is a major embarrassment both for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program, and for Emergent, its subcontractor, which has faced fierce criticism for its heavy lobbying for federal contracts, especially for the government’s emergency health stockpile.

For the full story see:

Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland. “Factory Mix-Up Ruins 15 Million Doses Of Vaccine From Johnson & Johnson.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 1, 2021): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was updated Aug. [sic] 1, 2021, and has the title “Factory Mix-Up Ruins Up to 15 Million Vaccine Doses From Johnson & Johnson.”

The “Intellect” and “Bravado” Behind the Success of Thiel, Musk, and the “PayPal Mafia”

(p. C7) Next week marks the 20th anniversary of PayPal becoming a publicly traded company. The IPO valued the online payments processor at nearly $1 billion—an eye-opening sum at the time. Back in the day, technology firms marked such occasions with glitzy celebrations. PayPal took a different path. Its youthful employees gathered in the parking lot of their Palo Alto, Calif., office building, where the company’s enigmatic chief executive, Peter Thiel, performed a keg stand and then played 10 simultaneous games of speed chess, winning nine of them.

Jimmy Soni tells that story and many others in “The Founders,” a gripping account of PayPal’s origins and a vivid portrait of the geeks and contrarians who made its meteoric rise possible. His richly reported narrative includes corporate intrigue, workplace hijinks, breakthrough innovation and first-class nerdiness.

. . .

Julie Anderson, one of X.com’s early employees, dropped the company’s California-based telephone customer-service provider and relaunched the service in Nebraska. Why there? Because many of her relatives lived there.

. . .

Confirming a cliché, staffers do spend all night at the office—sometimes sleeping under their desks, though not always. “There’s this massive value that you harness when you’re doing an all-nighter,” says Mr. Levchin, “when you’ve gone for presumably seven or eight hours of work, and you’re really getting up to a point when something’s about to be born—and then you go for eight more hours! And instead of stopping to go to sleep and letting these ideas dissipate, you actually focus on the findings you’ve made in the last few hours, and you just go crazy and do some more of that.”

. . .

Why did PayPal thrive when others—eMoneyMail, PayPlace, c2it—failed? One key was limiting the losses from fraud. If the company had taken a traditional approach, observes a member of the fraud-analytics team, it “would have hired people who had been building logistic regression models for banks for twenty years but never innovated.” Instead it turned to young, open-minded engineers who devised unorthodox methods.

. . .

. . . “The Founders” makes crystal-clear that PayPal’s human capital—a potent cocktail of intellect, bravado and competitiveness, complemented by the occasional keg stand—laid the foundation for success.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. “Making the Future Click.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 11, 2022, and has the title “‘The Founders’ Review: Making the Future Click.”)

The book under review is:

Soni, Jimmy. The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022.

The Poor of Dharnai Want the Cheap Plentiful Electricity From the Coal-Powered Grid

(p. A17) Consider the experience of Dharnai, an Indian village that Greenpeace in 2014 tried to turn into the country’s first solar-powered community.

Greenpeace received glowing global media attention when it declared that Dharnai would refuse “to give into the trap of the fossil fuel industry.” But the day the village’s solar electricity was turned on, the batteries were drained within hours. One boy remembers being unable to do his homework early in the morning because there wasn’t enough power for his family’s one lamp.

Villagers were told not to use refrigerators or televisions because they would exhaust the system. They couldn’t use cookstoves and had to continue burning wood and dung, which creates air pollution as dangerous for a person’s health as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, according to the World Health Organization. Across the developing world, millions die prematurely every year because of this indoor pollution.

In August 2014, Greenpeace invited one of the Indian’s state’s top politicians, who soon after become its chief minister, to admire the organization’s handiwork. He was met by a crowd waving signs and chanting that they wanted “real electricity” to replace this “fake electricity.”

When Dharnai was finally connected to the main power grid, which is overwhelmingly coal-powered, villagers quickly dropped their solar connections. An academic study found a big reason was that the grid’s electricity cost one-third of what the solar energy did. What’s more, it was plentiful enough to actually power such appliances as TV sets and stoves. Today, Dharnai’s disused solar-energy system is covered in thick dust, and the project site is a cattle shelter.

For the full commentary see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “The Rich World’s Climate Hypocrisy.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 21, 2022): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 20, 2022, and has the title “Opinion: The Rich World’s Climate Hypocrisy.”)

Covid Lockdowns “Embolden” Invasive Species and Wildlife Poaching

(p. 1) In a typical spring, breeding seabirds — and human seabird-watchers — flock to Stora Karlsö, an island off the coast of Sweden.

That might seem like a tidy parable about how nature recovers when people disappear from the landscape — if not for the fact that ecosystems are complex. The newly numerous eagles repeatedly soared past the cliffs where a protected population of common murres laid its eggs, flushing the smaller birds from their ledges.

In the commotion, some eggs tumbled from the cliffs; others were snatched by predators while the murres were away. The murres’ breeding performance dropped 26 percent, Jonas Hentati-Sundberg, a marine ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, found. “They were flying out in panic, and they lost their eggs,” he said.

. . .

(p. 6) Multiple studies found that as traffic eased in the spring of 2020, the number of wild animals that were struck and killed by cars declined. But the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions soon crept back up, even as traffic remained below normal levels, one team of researchers reported.

“Per mile driven, there were more accidents happening during the pandemic, which we interpreted as changes in animal space use,” said Joel Abraham, a graduate student studying ecology at Princeton University and an author of the study. “Animals started using roads. And it was difficult for them to stop, even when traffic started to rebound.”

The lockdowns seemed to embolden some invasive species, increasing the daytime activity of Eastern cottontail rabbits in Italy, where their rapid expansion may threaten native hares, while disrupting efforts to control others.

. . .

Spikes in wildlife poaching and persecution, as well as illegal logging and mining, were reported in multiple countries.

Economic insecurity might have driven some of this activity, but experts believe that it was also made possible by lapses in human protection, including reduced staffing in parks and preserves and even an absence of tourists, whose presence might typically discourage illegal activity.

“We’re not entirely the bad guys,” said Mitra Nikoo, a research assistant at the University of Victoria. “We’re actually doing a lot more good than we’ve been giving ourselves credit for.”

For the full story see:

Emily Anthes. “‘Anthropause’ During Pandemic Healed Nature, but Hurt It, Too.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 17, 2022): 1 & 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 21, 2022, and has the title “Did Nature Heal During the Pandemic ‘Anthropause’?”)

A.I. Remains Useful Mainly for “Uncinematic Back-Office Logistics”

(p. B4) After years of companies emphasizing the potential of artificial intelligence, researchers say it is now time to reset expectations.

With recent leaps in the technology, companies have developed more systems that can produce seemingly humanlike conversation, poetry and images. Yet AI ethicists and researchers warn that some businesses are exaggerating the capabilities—hype that they say is brewing widespread misunderstanding and distorting policy makers’ views of the power and fallibility of such technology.

“We’re out of balance,” says Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a Seattle-based research nonprofit.

. . .

The belief that AI is becoming—or could ever become—conscious remains on the fringes in the broader scientific community, researchers say.

In reality, artificial intelligence encompasses a range of techniques that largely remain useful for a range of uncinematic back-office logistics like processing data from users to better target them with ads, content and product recommendations.

. . .

The gap between perception and reality isn’t new. Mr. Etzioni and others pointed to the marketing around Watson, the AI system from International Business Machines Corp. that became widely known after besting humans on the quiz show “Jeopardy.” After a decade and billions of dollars in investment, the company said last year it was exploring the sale of Watson Health, a unit whose marquee product was supposed to help doctors diagnose and cure cancer.

. . .

Elizabeth Kumar, a computer-science doctoral student at Brown University who studies AI policy, says the perception gap has crept into policy documents. Recent local, federal and international regulations and regulatory proposals have sought to address the potential of AI systems to discriminate, manipulate or otherwise cause harm in ways that assume a system is highly competent. They have largely left out the possibility of harm from such AI systems’ simply not working, which is more likely, she says.

For the full story see:

Karen Hao and Miles Kruppa. “AI Hype Doesn’t Match Reality.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 30, 2022): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 5, 2022, and has the title “Tech Giants Pour Billions Into AI, but Hype Doesn’t Always Match Reality.”)

When Defenders of Free Speech Gain Power, They Often Succumb to “Milton’s Curse”

(p. A17) A typical account of free-speech history will begin with John Milton’s 1644 attack on censorship, “Areopagitica.” To those who feared the publication of false and dangerous doctrines, Milton said, in essence, buck up: “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” A typical account will then note that Milton went on to write “Paradise Lost”: A great poet and a great defense of free speech make an appealing pair. What probably won’t be mentioned is that Milton, who wrote “Areopagitica” early in the English Civil War, served the victors as, among other things, a censor and propagandist. That’s not so appealing, particularly if we know that other, forgotten, champions of free speech, like the radical democrat John Lilburne, were imprisoned under the regime Milton supported.

In “Free Speech: A History From Socrates to Social Media,” Jacob Mchangama delivers the bad news about Milton. Indeed, a recurring theme in this expansive, atypical history is “Milton’s Curse,” a disease that afflicts defenders of free speech when they are exposed to power.

. . .

“Free Speech” is addressed especially to the well-meaning among would-be censors. They should know how rarely censorship goes as planned. Consider Russia, which early in the 19th century organized more than a dozen censorship units that “placed almost comically strict limits on what could be published and imported.” A cookbook that referred to “free air” in an oven was deemed subversive, but Marx’s “Capital,” later in the century, slipped the czar’s net. Hardly anyone, the censors reasoned, would read such a “colossal mass of abstruse, somewhat obscure politico-economic argumentation.”

. . .

. . ., Mr. Mchangama alerts well-meaning censors who wish to curtail only “hate speech” that illiberal governments have hidden behind that same wish. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, says that “advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” This provision—which can easily be abused to “justify [the] persecution of opinions” that a government doesn’t like, as Mr. Mchangama says—was a win for the longtime Soviet position. In 1989, when Libyan and Iranian delegates condemned Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” at the U.N., they invoked the standard of the 1966 covenant. “The real criminal,” Mr. Mchangama notes, “was Rushdie, not those who sought to kill him.”

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Marks. “BOOKSHELF; How Dare You Say Such Things.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 9, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Free Speech’ Review: How Dare You Say Such Things.”)

The book under review is:

Mchangama, Jacob. Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. New York: Basic Books, 2022.

Government Sends Town’s $360,000 Covid Relief Funds to 24-Year-Old Who Loses It All at Online Casinos

(p. A4) TOKYO — Residents of a rural Japanese town were each looking forward to receiving a $775 payment last month as part of a coronavirus pandemic stimulus program.

But a municipal official mistakenly wired the town of Abu’s entire Covid relief budget, nearly $360,000, to a single recipient on the list of low-income households eligible to receive the money. After promising to return the accidental payment, the police said, the man gambled it away.

The man, Sho Taguchi, 24, told the police that he had lost the money in online casinos, a police official in Yamaguchi Prefecture said by phone on Thursday [May 19, 2022]. The day before, the authorities arrested Mr. Taguchi, the official said. The charge: fraud.

Japan is not the only country where coronavirus relief money has been misappropriated. The fraud has been so widespread in the United States that the Justice Department recently appointed a prosecutor to go after it. People have been accused of buying a Pokémon card, a Lamborghini and other luxuries.

But Abu, population 2,952, may be the only town on earth where an entire Covid stimulus fund has vanished at the hands of an online gambler who received it through administrative error. The details of the case, and the rare attention from Japan’s national news media, have come as a shock to residents of the seaside town.

For the full story see:

Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives. “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It Away.” The New York Times (Friday, May 20, 2022): A4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2022, and has the title “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It All Away.”)

Drug Extending Life of Breast Cancer Patients by Six Months Is “Unheard-Of”

(p. A16) The patients had metastatic breast cancer that had been progressing despite rounds of harsh chemotherapy. But a treatment with a drug that targeted cancer cells with laserlike precision was stunningly successful, slowing tumor growth and extending life to an extent rarely seen with advanced cancers.

The new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published on Sunday [June 5, 2022] in the New England Journal of Medicine, would change how medicine was practiced, cancer specialists said.

. . .

The clinical trial, sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca and led by Dr. Shanu Modi of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, involved 557 patients with metastatic breast cancer who were HER2-low. Two-thirds took the experimental drug, trastuzumab deruxtecan, sold as Enhertu; the rest underwent standard chemotherapy.

. . .

“It is unheard-of for chemotherapy trials in metastatic breast cancer to improve survival in patients by six months,” said Dr. Moore, who enrolled some patients in the study. Usually, she says, success in a clinical trial is an extra few weeks of life or no survival benefit at all but an improved quality of life.

The results were so impressive that the researchers received a standing ovation when they presented their data at the oncology conference in Chicago on Sunday.

. . .

“This strategy is the real breakthrough,” he said, explaining that it would enable researchers to zoom in on molecular targets on tumor cells that were only sparsely present.

“This is about more than just this drug or even breast cancer,” Dr. Winer said. “Its real advantage is that it enables us to take potent therapies directly to cancer cells.”

For the full story see:

Gina Kolata. “Trial of New Breast Cancer Drug Results in ‘Unheard-Of’ Survival Rates.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 8, 2022): A16.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2022, and has the title “Breast Cancer Drug Trial Results in ‘Unheard-Of’ Survival.” Where there are minor differences in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The academic NEJM article reporting the results summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Modi, Shanu, William Jacot, Toshinari Yamashita, Joohyuk Sohn, Maria Vidal, Eriko Tokunaga, Junji Tsurutani, Naoto T. Ueno, Aleix Prat, Yee Soo Chae, Keun Seok Lee, Naoki Niikura, Yeon Hee Park, Binghe Xu, Xiaojia Wang, Miguel Gil-Gil, Wei Li, Jean-Yves Pierga, Seock-Ah Im, Halle C.F. Moore, Hope S. Rugo, Rinat Yerushalmi, Flora Zagouri, Andrea Gombos, Sung-Bae Kim, Qiang Liu, Ting Luo, Cristina Saura, Peter Schmid, Tao Sun, Dhiraj Gambhire, Lotus Yung, Yibin Wang, Jasmeet Singh, Patrik Vitazka, Gerold Meinhardt, Nadia Harbeck, and David A. Cameron. “Trastuzumab Deruxtecan in Previously Treated Her2-Low Advanced Breast Cancer.” New England Journal of Medicine 387, no. 1 (July 7, 2022): 9-20.

Three Cups of Coffee a Day Lowers Risk of Death

(p. D6) That morning cup of coffee may be linked to a lower risk of dying, researchers from a study published Monday [June 6, 2022] in The Annals of Internal Medicine concluded. Those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee per day, even with a teaspoon of sugar, were up to 30 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. Those who drank unsweetened coffee were 16 to 21 percent less likely to die during the study period, with those drinking about three cups per day having the lowest risk of death when compared with noncoffee drinkers.

Researchers analyzed coffee consumption data collected from the U.K. Biobank, a large medical database with health information from people across Britain. They analyzed demographic, lifestyle and dietary information collected from more than 170,000 people between the ages of 37 and 73 over a median follow-up period of seven years. The mortality risk remained lower for people who drank both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee. The data was inconclusive for those who drank coffee with artificial sweeteners.

“It’s huge. There are very few things that reduce your mortality by 30 percent,” said Dr. Christina Wee, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a deputy editor of the scientific journal where the study was published. Dr. Wee edited the study and published a corresponding editorial in the same journal.

. . .

The study showed that the benefits of coffee tapered off for people who drank more than 4.5 cups of coffee each day.

For the full story see:

Dani Blum. “Have a Cup of Coffee. It Could Extend Your Life.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 7, 2022): D6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2022, and has the title “Coffee Drinking Linked to Lower Mortality Risk, New Study Finds.” Where there are minor differences in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The academic article summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Liu, Dan, Zhi-Hao Li, Dong Shen, Pei-Dong Zhang, Wei-Qi Song, Wen-Ting Zhang, Qing-Mei Huang, Pei-Liang Chen, Xi-Ru Zhang, and Chen Mao. “Association of Sugar-Sweetened, Artificially Sweetened, and Unsweetened Coffee Consumption with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.” Annals of Internal Medicine 175, no. 7 (July 2022): 909-17.

CDC’s “Rigid Checklist” Leads Doctors to Misdiagnose Atypical Cases

(p. A17) In his “memoir of illness and discovery,” Mr. Douthat tells us of his descent into a netherworld of consternation, paranoia and despair after contracting a chronic form of Lyme disease six years ago. Although he experienced physical pain that was often unbearable, he was stonewalled and scoffed at by skeptical doctors who refused to accept the existence of a long-lingering form of Lyme.

. . .

Lyme—a debilitating bacterial disease acquired from deer-tick bites—was ruled out because many of his symptoms didn’t match a rigid checklist drawn up for the ailment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This “diagnostic standardization,” Mr. Douthat writes, was “supposed to establish a consistent baseline for national case reporting, not rule out the possibility of atypical cases or constrain doctors from diagnosing them.” As a result of such inflexibility, he tells us, doctors miss “anywhere from a third to half of early Lyme cases.”

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “BOOKSHELF; Patient, Heal Thyself.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 14, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Deep Places’ Review: Patient, Heal Thyself.”)

The book under review is:

Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. New York: Convergent Books, 2021.