Argentines Prefer “Cratered” Cryptocurrency Over Hyperinflating Pesos or Hauling “Large Stashes” of Dollar Bills

(p. A4) Even though the cryptocurrency market has cratered in recent months, many Argentines see it as a safe haven ‌in a country where surging inflation and a grinding economic crisis have battered the national currency, the peso, and people’s bank accounts.

“Money here is like ice cream,” said Marcos Buscaglia, an economist in Buenos Aires, the capital. “If you keep a peso for too long, it melts in terms of how much you can buy with it.”

. . .

Across the world, people in low-income and emerging countries have become the biggest users of cryptocurrencies, according to various reports, overtaking the United States and Europe.

Digital coins are prized in countries where the local money is volatile and where governments have made it harder for citizens to buy foreign currencies.

. . .

Argentina provides some clues about the appeal of cryptocurrencies.

Argentines have long looked to the dollar as a safe haven. Saving in dollars “is tattooed into our DNA,” said Daniel Convertini, 34, who works in communications for a ride-hailing company. “I learned to do it from my dad and my grandfather, not because I read it in some financial newspaper.”

. . .

. . . digital currencies provide an advantage by not requiring people to haul around large stashes of bills.

For the full story, see:

Ana Lankes. “Crypto Is Tumbling. But to Argentines, It Still Beats Pesos.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, August 21, 2022): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 20, 2022, and has the title “Crypto Is Tumbling, but in Argentina It’s Still a Safer Bet.”)

Since Adderall Is “Highly Regulated” Pharmacies and Patients Can’t “Quickly Pivot” in Response to Scarcity

(p. A13) The Food and Drug Administration has declared a nationwide shortage of Adderall, a medication used to treat A.D.H.D. that has had surging demand in recent years.

. . .

Adderall, which contains the stimulant amphetamine, is a controlled substance and highly regulated, so it is difficult for pharmacies to quickly pivot and carry new brands, analysts said.

. . .

While a number of companies make Adderall and generic versions, pharmacies may find it difficult to pivot to other suppliers because of amphetamine’s status as a controlled substance that typically includes restrictions on its use and monitoring of prescription orders. Any given pharmacy might risk raising red flags with the Drug Enforcement Administration by doubling its supply, said Erin Fox, an expert on drug shortages at the University of Utah.

“With a controlled substance, it’s harder for patients to call around and find a pharmacy that has product for them,” Ms. Fox said.

For the full story, see:

Christina Jewett. “F.D.A. Confirms Widespread Shortages of Adderall.” The New York Times (Friday, October 14, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 13, 2022, and has the title “F.D.A. Confirms Wide Shortage of Adderall.”)

Musk’s Private Starlink Infrastructure “Played a Crucial Role” in Saving Ukraine

(p. A6) KYIV, Ukraine—Elon Musk backtracked on his complaints over the cost of funding Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine and said his company would continue to pay for them, as explosions rocked the Russian-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday [Oct. 16, 2022].

Mr. Musk, the billionaire chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla, pledged to continue funding the Starlink service for Ukraine just a day after he said SpaceX couldn’t finance the service indefinitely on its own.

“The hell with it,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Saturday. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”

The 20,000 Starlink terminals estimated to be in operation across Ukraine have played a crucial role in maintaining the country’s communications during the war and are deployed at hundreds of Ukrainian military outposts where they allow commanders to call in artillery strikes or coordinate operations in areas where cell service is jammed by Russia.

For the full story, see:

Matthew Luxmoore. “Musk Says SpaceX to Cover Starlink Costs in Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 17, 2022): A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Oct. 16, 2022, and has the title “Elon Musk Says SpaceX Will Continue to Cover Starlink Costs in Ukraine.”)

Communists in Latvia: “Not Liberation, but Occupation”

(p. A8) REZEKNE, Latvia — Deported to Siberia by the Soviet secret police as a child and stranded there for more than a decade, Dr. Juris Vidins has for years cursed the large statue of a Red Army soldier looming over the center of his hometown in eastern Latvia. An inscription at its base honors the Soviet “liberators” who drove out the Nazis in 1944 — and who sent his father to a prison camp and the rest of the family to a frozen wilderness.

“This was not liberation, but occupation,” Dr. Vidins, 84, said, glowering at the statue of a Soviet soldier cradling a machine gun.

“They liberated me from my family, they liberated us from our property and everything we had,” he said. “If that is liberation, I don’t want a monument to it.”

. . .

The war in Ukraine has largely vindicated longstanding warnings by Baltic States that Russia is an aggressive power that cannot be trusted. But it has also blunted its capacity to terrify its neighbors, reducing the willingness of ethnic Russians abroad to rally publicly to Moscow’s side and exposing the weaknesses of its military machine.

For the full story, see:

Andrew Higgins. “Soviet Statues Are Latest Targets of Europe’s Anger.” The New York Times (Monday, September 26, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 25, 2022, and has the title “Soviet Monuments Become Latest Target of Backlash Against War in Ukraine.”)

Environmentalists Ignore “The Unintended Impacts of Policies”

(p. A1) Nicole Kramaritsch of Roxbury, N.J., has 46 bags just sitting in her garage. Brian Otto has 101 of them, so many that he’s considering sewing them into blackout curtains for his baby’s bedroom. (So far, that idea has gone nowhere.) Lili Mannuzza in Whippany has 74.

“I don’t know what to do with all these bags,” she said.

The mountains of bags are an unintended consequence of New Jersey’s strict new bag ban in supermarkets. It went into effect in May and prohibits not only plastic bags but paper bags as well. The well-intentioned law seeks to cut down on waste and single-use plastics, but for many people who rely on grocery delivery and curbside pickup services their orders now come in heavy-duty reusable shopping bags — lots and lots of them, week after week.

While nearly a dozen states nationwide have implemented restrictions on single-use plastic bags, New Jersey is the only one to ban paper bags because of their environmental impact. The law also bans polystyrene foam food containers and cups, and restricts restaurants from handing out plastic straws unless they’re requested.

Emily Gonyou, 22, a gig worker in Roselle Park who provides shopping services for people (p. A11) through Instacart, said she was surprised when she learned the delivery company had no special plans for accommodating the ban. “They pretty much said, ‘OK, do exactly what you’re doing, but with reusable bags,’” she said.

Ms. Gonyou said she goes through up to 50 reusable bags a day, many of which, she suspects, could end up in the garbage.

Compared to single-use plastics, the more durable reusable bags are better for the environment only if they are actually reused. According to Shelie Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, a typical reusable bag, manufactured from polypropylene, must be used at least 10 times to account for the additional energy and material required to make it. For cotton totes, that number is much higher.

. . .

Dr. Miller said the bag situation in New Jersey was emblematic of a lot of environmental policies. “If we don’t pay attention to the unintended impacts of policies such as the plastic waste ban, we run into the potential of playing environmental Whac-a-Mole,” she said. “We solve one environmental problem only to create or exacerbate another problem.”

For the full story, see:

Clare Toeniskoetter. “New Jersey Bag Ban’s Unforeseen Consequence: Too Many Bags.” The New York Times (Friday, September 2, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 1, 2022, and has the title “Why Do Some People in New Jersey Suddenly Have Bags and Bags of Bags?”)

Regulators Slowed Development of Moderna Vaccine

How much credit for the Covid vaccines goes to government and how much to entrepreneurs? Loftus’s book focuses on Moderna, and makes the case that government deserves considerable credit, mostly for early funding. A case can be made that at least as much focus should be given to BioNTech. If BioNTech had been the focus, that case might have been harder to make.

(p. C5) In late 2019, just weeks before the world heard of Covid-19, scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases visited the new manufacturing plant of a small, 9-year-old biotechnology company called Moderna. The company’s leaders boasted that the new plant in Norwood, Mass., could make a batch of a newly designed vaccine in 60 days—rapid by standard timelines that usually take 12 months or more.

. . .

One Friday afternoon in August [2020], the company was expecting delivery of large air-handling units to help expand production at its factory. Moderna had hired construction cranes to lift the tractor-trailer-sized units onto the roof of its plant. But delivery was delayed because the supplier lacked all the state permits needed to transport oversize cargo from the Midwest to Massachusetts. If the units didn’t get there by Sunday, Moderna would lose the cranes and a week of production.

Frantic, Moderna executives called Warp Speed officials. They gave the job to an Army colonel, who leaned on state officials, who in turn sent state police with sirens blaring to escort the delivery to their state line and then hand off the convoy to a new escort. The precious cargo rolled into Moderna’s plant on Sunday morning, in time for the cranes.

The much larger and older Pfizer, meanwhile, mostly opted out of Operation Warp Speed for fear it would slow the company down. As for Moderna’s collaboration, it generated enough friction to make the company’s chief medical officer during 2020, Tal Zaks, question at times whether it was worth it to accept the federal assistance.

Dr. Zaks had wanted to use a private contract research organization to run the whole trial, but NIAID officials wanted their clinical-trial network involved. Eventually, Dr. Zaks backed off, and both entities participated. “I realized we were at an impasse, and I was the embodiment of the impasse,” Dr. Zaks said.

Next, when Moderna’s 30,000-person study began enrolling volunteers in July 2020, the subjects weren’t racially diverse enough. Moncef Slaoui, who led Warp Speed’s vaccine efforts, and Dr. Fauci began holding Saturday Zoom calls with Mr. Bancel and other Moderna leaders to “help coax and advise Moderna how to get the percentage of minorities up to a reasonable level,” Dr. Fauci recalled.

Drs. Fauci and Slaoui wanted Moderna to slow down overall enrollment, to give time to find more people of color. Moderna executives resisted at first. “That was very tense,” Dr. Slaoui said. “Voices went up, and emotions were very high.” Moderna ultimately agreed, and the effort worked, but it cost the trial about an extra three weeks. Later, Mr. Bancel called the decision to slow enrollment “one of the hardest decisions I made this year.”

For the full essay, see:

Peter Loftus. “The Partnership That Made the First U.S. Covid Vaccine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 30, 2022): C5.

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

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date July 29, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is an adaptation from Loftus’s book:

Loftus, Peter. The Messenger: Moderna, the Vaccine, and the Business Gamble That Changed the World. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2022.

California $113 Billion Bullet Train “Is a Case Study” in How Boondoggle Infrastructure Grows “Too Big to Fail”

(p. A1) LOS ANGELES — Building the nation’s first bullet train, which would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, was always going to be a formidable technical challenge, pushing through the steep mountains and treacherous seismic faults of Southern California with a series of long tunnels and towering viaducts.

But the design for the nation’s most ambitious infrastructure project was never based on the easiest or most direct route. Instead, the train’s path out of Los Angeles was diverted across a second mountain range to the rapidly growing suburbs of the Mojave Desert — a route whose most salient advantage appeared to be that it ran through the district of a powerful Los Angeles county supervisor.

The dogleg through the desert was only one of several times over the years when the project fell victim to political forces that have added billions of dollars in costs and called into question whether the project can ever be finished.

Now, as the nation embarks on a historic, $1 trillion infrastructure building spree, the tortured effort to build the country’s first high-speed rail system is a case study in how ambitious public works projects can become perilously encumbered by political compromise, unrealistic cost estimates, flawed engineering and a determination to persist on projects that have become, like the crippled financial institutions of 2008, too big to fail.

. . .

Political compromises, the records show, produced difficult and costly routes through the state’s farm belt. They routed the train across a geologically complex mountain pass in the Bay Area. And they dictated that construction would begin in the center of the state, in the agricultural heartland, not at either of the urban ends where tens of millions of potential riders live.

The pros and cons of these routing choices have been debated for years. Only now, though, is it be-(p. A15)coming apparent how costly the political choices have been. Collectively, they turned a project that might have been built more quickly and cheaply into a behemoth so expensive that, without a major new source of funding, there is little chance it can ever reach its original goal of connecting California’s two biggest metropolitan areas in two hours and 40 minutes.

When California voters first approved a bond issue for the project in 2008, the rail line was to be completed by 2020, and its cost seemed astronomical at the time — $33 billion — but it was still considered worthwhile as an alternative to the state’s endless web of freeways and the carbon emissions generated in one of the nation’s busiest air corridors.

Fourteen years later, construction is now underway on part of a 171-mile “starter” line connecting a few cities in the middle of California, which has been promised for 2030. But few expect it to make that goal.

Meanwhile, costs have continued to escalate. When the California High-Speed Rail Authority issued its new 2022 draft business plan in February, it estimated an ultimate cost as high as $105 billion. Less than three months later, the “final plan” raised the estimate to $113 billion.

The rail authority said it has accelerated the pace of construction on the starter system, but at the current spending rate of $1.8 million a day, according to projections widely used by engineers and project managers, the train could not be completed in this century.

For the full story, see:

Ralph Vartabedian. “Costs Soaring As Bullet Train Goes Nowhere.” The New York Times (Monday, October 10, 2022): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 9, 2022, and has the title “How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails.”)

Non-Partisan Congressional Budget Office Estimates Cost of Biden Student Loan Forgiveness at $400 Billion

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — President Biden’s plan to erase significant amounts of student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans could cost about $400 billion, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday [Sept. 26, 2022], making it one of the costliest programs in the president’s agenda.

The C.B.O. said the price tag might rise even higher because of Mr. Biden’s decision to extend a pause on federal student loan repayments through the end of the year, which could end up costing some $20 billion. The report gauged the cost over a period of 30 years, though the bulk of the effects to the economy would be felt over the next decade.

. . .

. . . , critics have accused the Biden administration of hiding the plan’s true cost.

Marc Goldwein, the senior vice president for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said that the C.B.O. score did not take into account a significant part of (p. A13) the administration’s loan relief program: a plan to reduce payments for future borrowers who go on to earn low incomes after college, which outside analysts say could host hundreds of billions of dollars more.

“You’re basically buying a very expensive lottery ticket,” Mr. Goldwein said. “When you’re taking out the loan, you’re going to have no idea of how much you’re going to be paying back.”
Monday’s report, issued by a nonpolitical budget scorekeeper, is one of several attempts to estimate the total cost of the program, which Mr. Biden enacted using executive action rather than legislation.

For the full story, see:

Katie Rogers and Jim Tankersley. “Cost of Erasing Students’ Debt Will Be Steep.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 27, 2022): A1 & A13.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 26, 2022, and has the title ‘White House Student Loan Forgiveness Could Cost About $400 Billion.”)

Periodic Fasting May Reduce Inflammation That Causes Multiple Maladies

(p. A15) Mr. Hendricks sees fasting as a way of combating a range of ailments. (“Surgery without a scalpel” was how some doctors once described the practice.) He cites studies showing fasting to be effective against arthritis, hypertension and fibromyalgia, among other afflictions. The medical logic in these cases is that fasting reduces inflammation—the source of multiple maladies—while promoting insulin sensitivity, stimulating DNA repair and generating antioxidants that neutralize a harmful molecule known as reactive oxygen species. Mr. Hendricks argues that fasting leads to better outcomes from chemotherapy, too—by causing healthy cells to go dormant and avoid the treatment’s toxic chemicals.

And, yes, fasting triggers weight loss. The fasting Mr. Hendricks has in mind is periodic, its frequency and duration varying from person to person.

. . .

A theme running through “The Oldest Cure in the World” is the author’s exasperation with the American approach to practicing medicine. Few physicians, he notes, are knowledgeable about fasting, despite the benefits it provides. He favorably profiles two researchers—Valter Longo and Satchin Panda, at the University of Southern California and the Salk Institute, respectively—who have conducted ground-breaking studies on the value of restrictive food consumption.

The book’s most compelling story features an infant who in 1993 started having daily seizures after his first birthday. Neither medications nor brain surgery provided significant relief. Pediatric neurologists told the parents that their son, Charlie, faced a life of mental and physical retardation.

Charlie’s father discovered an obscure clinic at Johns Hopkins University that offered a treatment that involved brief fasting followed by a high-fat, ketogenic diet. The family’s neurologist dismissed the treatment as unworkable, but the family tried it anyway. On the second day of Charlie’s fast, the seizures stopped. Over time, his physical and mental development returned to normal, and he has grown up to be as healthy as his siblings. Later research has shown that fasting and a high-fat diet is a potent method for reducing seizures in epileptic children.

For the full review, see:

Matthew Rees. “BOOKSHELF; No First Helpings.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 7, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 6, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Oldest Cure in the World’ Review: No First Helpings.”)

The book under review is:

Hendricks, Steve. The Oldest Cure in the World: Adventures in the Art and Science of Fasting. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2022.

When Free Speech Could Be Defended in The New York Times

In 2017, an eloquent op-ed in The New York Times defended free speech by objecting to the students at Middlebury College who violently canceled a speech by Charles Murray. Would The New York Times run such an op-ed today?

(p. 9) The talk that the political scientist Charles Murray attempted to deliver last month at Middlebury College in Vermont must have been quite provocative — perhaps even offensive or an instance of hate speech. How else to explain the vehement opposition to it?

. . .

Some of the protesters became unruly and physically violent, forcing Mr. Murray to flee..

. . .

. . . Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative.

. . .

Of course, many of the protesters may have been offended by Mr. Murray’s other scholarship, in particular his controversial 1994 book, “The Bell Curve,” written with the Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein, which examined intelligence, social class and race in America. Or rather, they may have been offended, as many people have been, by what they assume “The Bell Curve” says; only a small fraction of the people who have opinions about that book have actually read it. (Indeed, some people protesting Mr. Murray openly acknowledged not having read any of his work.)

“The Bell Curve” has generated an enormous literature of scholarly response and rebuttal, a process that is still underway. Many scholars have deemed the book’s most provocative argument — that differences in average I.Q. scores among races may have genetic as well as environmental causes — to be flawed and racist. Some have judged it to be judicious and reasoned, if still controversial. But its academic critics have nonetheless treated it not as hate speech to be censored but as a data-based argument with which they must engage in order to disagree.

This is not how the Middlebury protesters treated Mr. Murray’s talk, and that is an intellectual disappointment. It is incumbent on each of us, in the spirit of free inquiry, to make a decision for ourselves — after actually reading a book or listening to a speaker — about how the views in question hold up to critical scrutiny. It is also incumbent upon colleges to offer protesters meaningful opportunities to share alternative views.

Not everyone deserves to get to speak at a college campus. But those like Mr. Murray who use reasoned, evidence-based approaches to investigate matters of scholarly concern shouldn’t be forcibly silenced after they have been invited to do so.

For the full commentary, see:

Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci. “Charles Murray’s ‘Provocative’ Talk.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, April 16, 2017): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 15, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)