In Blackberry Movie “The Excitement of Disruption and the Thrill of Creation Become Tangible”

(p. C9) In Matt Johnson’s “BlackBerry” — a wonky workplace comedy that slowly shades into tragedy — the emergence of the smartphone isn’t greeted with fizzing fireworks and popping champagne corks. Instead, Johnson and his co-writer, Matthew Miller (adapting Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s 2015 book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry”), have fashioned a tale of scrabbling toward success that tempers its humor with an oddly moving wistfulness.

. . .

. . ., we’re in Waterloo, Ontario, in 1996, where Mike Lazaridis (a perfect Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Johnson) — best friends and co-founders of a small tech company called Research in Motion (RIM) — are trying to sell a product they call PocketLink, a revolutionary combination of cellphone, email device and pager.

. . .

The corporate types don’t understand Mike and Doug’s invention, but a predatory salesman named Jim Balsillie (a fantastic Glenn Howerton), gets it. Recently fired and fired up, Jim sees the device’s potential, making a deal to acquire part of RIM in exchange for cash and expertise. Doug, a man-child invariably accessorized with a headband and a bewildered look, is doubtful; Mike, assisted by a shock of prematurely gray hair, is wiser. He knows that they’ll need an intermediary to succeed.

Reveling in a vibe — hopeful, testy, undisciplined — that’s an ideal match for its subject, “BlackBerry” finds much of its humor in Jim’s resolve to fashion productive employees from RIM’s ebulliently geeky staff, who look and act like middle schoolers and converse in a hybrid of tech-speak and movie quotes. It’s all Vogon poetry to Jim; but as Jared Raab’s restless camera careens around the chaotic work space, the excitement of disruption and the thrill of creation become tangible.

For the full movie review, see:

Jeannette Catsoulis. “When Geeks Clash With Suits, They’re All Thumbs.” The New York Times (Friday, May 12, 2023): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the movie review has the date May 11, 2023, and has the title “‘BlackBerry’ Review: Big Dreams, Little Keyboards.”)

The book that is the basis of the movie under review in the passages quoted above is:

McNish, Jacquie, and Sean Silcoff. Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry. New York: Flatiron Books, 2015.

Instead of Ending Poverty, Chinese Communists End Free Speech About Poverty

(p. A1) A heartbreaking video of a retiree that showed what groceries she could buy with 100 yuan, or $14.50 — roughly her monthly pension and sole source of income — went viral on the Chinese internet. The video was deleted.

A singer vented the widespread frustration among young, educated Chinese about their dire finances and gloomy job prospects, like gig work. “I wash my face every day, but my pocket is cleaner than my face,” he sings. “I went to college to help rejuvenate China, not to deliver meals.” His song was banned and his social media accounts were suspended.

. . .

Hu Chenfeng recorded the footage that was removed from the Chinese internet. On popular video sites, he had posted a recording showing an elderly woman living on barely $15 a month. In the words of many social media commenters, he was revealing too much. “This subject is untouchable,” one commenter wrote on a now-deleted discussion thread on Zhihu, a site similar to Quora. Another wrote, “His account was censored simply because he showed what life is like for many people.”

In the video, which survives outside the Chinese internet on YouTube, Mr. Hu interviews the woman, a 78-year-old widow, on the street in the southwestern city of Chengdu. She said she planned to buy only rice, about the only thing she could afford. She hadn’t eaten meat for a long time. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recounted her financial hardship. The two walk through a grocery store. They bought rice, eggs, pork and flour. The bill came to 127 yuan ($18). Mr. Hu insisted on paying.

He was emotional, too, signing off with “a heavy heart.”

The video was removed from the two biggest user-generated video platforms in China. Mr. Hu’s accounts were suspended.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; China Is Deleting Poverty, One Video at a Time.” The New York Times (Monday, May 8, 2023): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 4, 2023, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Why China’s Censors Are Deleting Videos About Poverty.”)

EU Likes Greek Prime Minister Who Enforces Borders and Permits Economic Growth

(p. 4) . . . with Greece holding national elections on Sunday [May 21, 2023], Brussels has . . . lauded Mr. Mitsotakis, a pro-Europe conservative, for bringing stability to the Greek economy, for sending military aid to Ukraine and for providing regional stability in a time of potential upheaval in Turkey.

Above all, European Union leaders appear to have cut Mr. Mitsotakis slack for doing the continent’s unpleasant work of keeping migrants at bay, a development that shows just how much Europe has shifted, with crackdowns formerly associated with the right wing drifting into the mainstream.

“I’m helping Europe on numerous fronts,” Mr. Mitsotakis said in a brief interview on Tuesday [May 16, 2023] in the port city of Piraeus, where, in his trademark blue dress shirt and slacks, the 55-year-old rallied adoring voters on crowded streets. “It’s bought us reasonable good will.”

. . .

“Right-wing or a central policy,” said Mr. Mitsotakis, the leader of the nominally center-right New Democracy party, “I don’t know what it is, but I have to protect my borders.”

. . .

His government has spurred growth at twice the eurozone average. Big multinational corporations and start-ups have invested. Tourism is skyrocketing.

The country is paying back creditors ahead of schedule, and Mr. Mitsotakis expects, if he wins, international rating agencies to lift Greece’s bonds out of junk status. The number of migrant arrivals has dropped off 90 percent since the crisis in 2015, but also significantly since Mr. Mitsotakis took office four years ago.

“A European success story,” The Economist called Greece under Mr. Mitsotakis.

. . .

As Mr. Mitsotakis walked the streets, a bus driver reached out the window and clasped his hand. “Supporters until the end,” chanted a group of men in front of a cafe. “We trust you,” a woman shouted from her jewelry shop.

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz. “A Migration Enforcer Europe Can Live With.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 21, 2023): 4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “As Greece Votes, Leader Says Blocking Migrants Built ‘Good Will’ With Europe.”)

Argentine Drought Research Shows That Not All Bad Weather Events Are Due to Global Warming

(p. A5) Lack of rainfall that caused severe drought in Argentina and Uruguay last year was not made more likely by climate change, scientists said Thursday [Feb. 16, 2023]. But global warming was a factor in extreme heat experienced in both countries that made the drought worse, they said.

The researchers, part of a loose-knit group called World Weather Attribution that studies recent extreme weather for signs of the influence of climate change, said that the rainfall shortage was a result of natural climate variability.

Specifically, they said, the presence of La Niña, a climate pattern linked to below-normal sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific that influences weather around the world, most likely affected precipitation.

. . .

Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London who co-founded the group, said that the new research shows “that not every bad thing that is happening now is happening because of climate change.”

“It’s important to show what the realistic impacts of climate change are,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. “Drought in Argentina Not Linked to Warming.” The New York Times (Friday, February 17, 2023): A5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 16, 2023, and has the title “Scientists Wondered if Warming Caused Argentina’s Drought. The Answer: No.”)

Communists Want Us to Forget the 1.6 Million Chinese They Murdered in Cultural Revolution

(p. A23) It would seem impossible to forget or minimize the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, resulted in an estimated 1.6 million to two million deaths and scarred a generation and its descendants. The movement, which under Mao Zedong’s leadership sought to purge Chinese society of all remaining non-Communist elements, upended nearly every hallowed institution and custom. Teachers and schools long held in esteem were denounced. Books were burned and banned, museums ransacked, private art collections destroyed. Intellectuals were tortured.

But in China, a country where information is often suppressed and history is constantly rewritten — witness recent government censorship of Covid research and the obscuring of Hong Kong’s British colonial past in new school textbooks — the memory of the Cultural Revolution risks being forgotten, sanitized and abused, to the detriment of the nation’s future.

The Chinese government has never been particularly eager to preserve the memory of that sordid decade. When I spent six weeks traveling in China in 1994 — a slightly more open time in the country — I encountered few public acknowledgments of the Cultural Revolution. Museum placards and catalogs often simply skipped a decade in their timelines or provided brief references in the passive voice along the lines of “historical events that took place.”

But in her new book, “Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution,” the journalist Tania Branigan notes that under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, efforts to suppress this history have intensified — with troubling implications for the political health of the country at a time when it looms larger than ever on the world stage. “When you’ve had a collective trauma, you really need a collective response,” she told me recently. “I can see why the Communist Party wants to avoid the rancor and bitterness, but when you don’t have that kind of acknowledgment, you can move on — but you can’t really recover.”

For the full commentary, see:

Pamela Paul. “The Decade That China Cannot Delete.” The New York Times (Friday, May 19, 2023): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 18, 2023, and has the title “The Decade That Cannot Be Deleted.”)

The book on the cultural revolution mentioned above is:

Branigan, Tania. Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2023.

Did Feds Bail Out Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) Because It Was “a Climate Bank”?

After the article quoted below appeared, the Feds decided to bailout the Silicon Valley Bank. They claimed that this was a selective action–not one they would equally apply to all failed banks.

(p. B1) “Silicon Valley Bank was in many ways a climate bank,” said Kiran Bhatraju, chief executive of Arcadia, the largest community solar manager in the country. “When you have the majority of the market banking through one institution, there’s going to be a lot of collateral damage.”

Community solar projects appear to be especially hard hit. Silicon Valley Bank said that it led or participated in 62 percent of financing deals for community solar projects, which are smaller-scale solar projects that often serve lower-income residential areas.

. . .

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank threatens to derail what was a fast and growing part of the venture capital sector. More than $28 billion was invested in climate technology start-ups last year, up sharply from the year before, according to HolonIQ, a data provider.

For the full story, see:

David Gelles. “Bank’s Collapse Leaves Climate Start-Ups at Risk.” The New York Times (Monday, March 13, 2023): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 12, and has the title “Silicon Valley Bank Collapse Threatens Climate Start-Ups.”)

Scientist Latta Knows, but Cannot Prove, That Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Is Not Extinct

I respect and admire Dr. Latta for having the courage to affirm what he saw with his own two eyes. Other scientists should not be so quick to ‘give him the bird’ (so to speak ;).

(p. A19) If there’s new hope, it’s blurry. What’s certain: The roller coaster tale of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a majestic bird whose presumed extinction has been punctuated by a series of contested rediscoveries, is going strong.

The latest twist is a peer-reviewed study Thursday [May 18, 2023] in the journal Ecology and Evolution presenting sighting reports, audio recordings, trail camera images and drone video. Collected over the last decade in a Louisiana swamp forest, the precise location omitted for the birds’ protection, the authors write that the evidence suggests the “intermittent but repeated presence” of birds that look and behave like ivory-billed woodpeckers.

But are they?

“It’s this cumulative evidence from our multiyear search that leaves us very confident that this iconic species exists, and it persists in Louisiana and probably other places as well,” said Steven C. Latta, one of the study’s authors and director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary, a nonprofit bird zoo in Pittsburgh that helps lead a program that searches for the species.

But Dr. Latta acknowledges that no single piece of evidence is definitive, and the study is carefully tempered with words like “putative” and “possible.”

. . .

. . . Dr. Latta, the study co-author, insisted that he had seen one clearly with his own eyes. He was in the field in 2019 to set up recording units, and he figures he spooked the bird. As it flew up and away, he got a close, unimpeded view of its signature markings.

“I couldn’t sleep for, like, three days,” Dr. Latta said. “It was because I had this opportunity and I felt this responsibility to establish for the rest of the world, or at least the conservation world, that this bird actually does exist.”

For the full story, see:

Catrin Einhorn. “Experts Strive to Prove ‘This Bird Actually Does Exist’.” The New York Times (Friday, May 19, 2023): A19.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added. The online version of the article says that the print version appears on p. 21. My national edition of the print version appeared on p. 19.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 18, 2023, and has the title “A Vanished Bird Might Live On, or Not. The Video Is Grainy.”)

The peer-reviewed paper, co-authored by Latta and mentioned above, is:

Latta, Steven C., Mark A. Michaels, Thomas C. Michot, Peggy L. Shrum, Patricia Johnson, Jay Tischendorf, Michael Weeks, John Trochet, Don Scheifler, and Bob Ford. “Multiple Lines of Evidence Suggest the Persistence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilus Principalis) in Louisiana.” Ecology and Evolution 13, no. 5 (2023): e10017

California Democratic Leaders Are “Shook” that Voters in Their “Liberal Bastion” Prefer Merit Instead of Affirmative Action

(p. 1) The 2020 campaign to restore race-conscious affirmative action in California was close to gospel within the Democratic Party. It drew support from the governor, senators, state legislative leaders and a who’s who of business, nonprofit and labor elites, Black, Latino, white and Asian.

The Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants and 49ers and Oakland Athletics urged voters to support the referendum, Proposition 16, and remove “systemic barriers.” A commercial noted that Kamala Harris, then a U.S. senator, had endorsed the campaign, and the ad also suggested that to oppose it was to side with white supremacy. Supporters raised many millions of dollars for the referendum and outspent opponents by 19 to 1.

“Vote for racial justice!” urged the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

None of these efforts persuaded Jimmie Romero, a 63-year-old barber who grew up in the working-class Latino neighborhood of Wilmington in Los Angeles. Homelessness, illegal dumping, spiraling rents: He sat in his shop and listed so many problems.

Affirmative action was not one of those.

“I was upset that they tried to push that,” Mr. Romero recalled in a recent interview. “It was not what matters.”

Mr. Romero was one of millions of California voters, including about half who are Hispanic and a majority who are Asian American, who voted against Proposition 16, which would have restored race-conscious admissions at public universities, and in government hiring and contracting.

The breadth of that rejection shook supporters. California is a liberal bastion and one of the most diverse states in the country.

. . .

(p. 12) Valerie Contreras, a crane operator, is a proud union member and civic leader in Wilmington, where half the voters were against the referendum. She had little use for the affirmative action campaign.

“It was ridiculous all the racially loaded terms Democrats used,” she said. “It was a distraction from the issues that affect our lives.”

Asian voters spoke of visceral unease. South and East Asians make up just 15 percent of the state population, and 35 percent of the undergraduates in the University of California system.

Affirmative action, to their view, upends traditional measures of merit — grades, test scores and extracurricular activities — and threatens to reduce their numbers.

Sunjay Muralitharan is a voluble freshman and a leader of the Democratic Party chapter at the University of California, San Diego. A Bernie Sanders supporter, he favors universal basic income, a higher minimum wage and national health care.

In 2020, as a 16-year-old, he joined the campaign against race-conscious affirmative action in California. Afterward, he and friends applied to elite private universities outside California and were often surprised by the rejections, reaffirming his view that Asian students need higher grades and scores to gain admission.

“There were lots of students of Indian and Chinese descent who had to settle for schools not of their caliber,” said Mr. Muralitharan, who grew up in Fremont, a predominantly Asian middle-class suburb of San Jose.

. . .

Kevin Liao, a consultant and former top Democratic Party aide, . . . was not surprised, . . ., that many Asian Americans balked. “The notion that you would look at anything other than pure academic performance is seen by immigrants as antithetical to American values,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Michael Powell and Ilana Marcus. “The Affirmative Action Vote That Divided California Democrats.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 11, 2023): 1 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 5, 2023, and has the title “The Failed Affirmative Action Campaign That Shook Democrats.” The online version says that the print version had the title “California Vote Exposed a Divide Amid Democrats” but my national print version had the title “The Affirmative Action Vote That Divided California Democrats.”)

Fred Siegel Went from Liberal to Conservative During the New York Blackout of 1977 When Looters Burned Stores, Restaurants, and Civility

(p. B10) Fred Siegel, a passionate urban historian whose rejection of the liberal establishment’s response to crime, poverty and public civility transformed him from a spokesman for the Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 to a voter for Donald J. Trump in 2020, died on Sunday at his home in Brooklyn.

. . .

His ideological evolution was evidenced in the titles of his books: “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of America’s Big Cities” (1997); “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life” (2005), which he wrote with Harry Siegel; and “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class” (2014).

. . .

And, perhaps more in sorrow than in anger, he quoted former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York as saying that his fellow Democrats had “rewarded the articulation of moral purpose more than the achievement of practical good.”

. . .

. . . in 1991, Mr. Siegel argued: “Middle-class citizens, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced that modern liberal urban government is mostly about letting the poor misbehave at the expense of the middle class, and paying public employees very well to deliver services very poorly.”

. . .

Mr. Siegel’s metamorphosis — from a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute and a voter for the independent John Anderson in 1980 and the Democrat Walter F. Mondale in 1984 (each time voting against the Republican Ronald Reagan) — reached its apogee (depending on one’s political point of view) in 2020.

After a lifetime of sitting out presidential elections or mostly voting for losers, he cast his ballot for Mr. Trump.

He listed his reasons for doing so in 2020 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, lauding Mr. Trump for “crushing ISIS, pulling us out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving our embassy to Jerusalem and making fools of those people who insist that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” He also favored Mr. Trump, he said, for displaying an “ability to withstand a prolonged coup attempt by the Democrats and the media” and for championing “bourgeois values.”

In an online tribute this week, Brian C. Anderson, the editor of City Journal, wrote that Mr. Siegel had identified what he called a “riot ideology” that took hold of public officials in major cities, “making them reluctant to confront public disorder and crime for fear of violent opposition.”

. . .

The essayist Irving Kristol famously defined a neoconservative, a breed Mr. Kristol epitomized and popularized, as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” But Mr. Siegel’s conversion wasn’t the result of a single personal experience, his son said — even though a thief once grabbed a bag of $100 worth of kosher meat from him on the subway and several of the family’s cars were stolen.

If Mr. Siegel approached a philosophical epiphany, though, it was during the blackout of 1977, when looters raged through parts of Brooklyn, stripping stores of merchandise and setting them ablaze in a night of rioting.

Mr. Siegel, whose favorite restaurant, Jack’s Pastrami King, was among the places destroyed, reflected in 2017: “The city itself had been mugged, I realized. I’m still haunted by that moment from 40 years ago, when my political re-education began.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Fred Siegel, 78, Urban Historian And a Former Liberal, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 13, 2023): B10.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated May 15, 2023, and has the title “Fred Siegel, Urban Historian and a Former Liberal, Is Dead at 78.”)

The most recent of Siegel’s books mentioned above is:

Siegel, Fred. The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.

Feds Impose Tariffs on Imports of Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Make EV Engines

(p. A3) Large U.S. steelmakers are ramping up production of a hard-to-make, paper-thin steel to capture a fast-growing market for a material critical to powering electric vehicles.

. . .

Such electrical steel, which accounts for about 1% of all the steel produced annually in the world, already is in short supply for electric vehicles, executives said. Companies expect demand to accelerate faster than production as EV volumes expand in the coming years.

“It’s in limited supply and with very long lead times. Sometimes 50 or 52 weeks,” said Hale Foote, owner of Scandic Springs Inc., a San Leandro, Calif., company that uses high-grade electrical steel to make parts for scientific measurement devices.

. . .

More than 80% of the electrical steel produced comes from China, Japan and South Korea, all countries that are subject to U.S. tariffs or quotas on steel imports, industry analysts said.

. . .

(p. B2) “It takes intense focus. You have to have absolute consistency or you scrap the material,” said David Stickler, who led the investment group that built Big River Steel in Osceola, Ark., and then sold the mill to U.S. Steel in 2021. Mr. Stickler said he envisioned electrical steel being a core product at Big River when he started planning the mill nearly a decade ago.

. . .

Steel-industry executives said that creating more domestic capacity to make electrical steel for vehicles will likely take years, as steel companies acquire equipment and become proficient at the exacting production process.

“You can’t just buy the equipment and start making electrical steel. Those who’ve made the investment will have an advantage for the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Stickler said.

For the full story, see:

Tita, Bob. “Paper-Thin Steel Used to Power EVs Is in Short Supply.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 28, 2023): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added. The online version is longer, but the passages quoted above appear in both versions.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 27, 2023, and has the title “The Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Power Electric Cars Is in Short Supply.”)

Innovative Farmers Can Adapt to Scarcer Water

(p. D4) The Colorado River, Arizona’s largest water source, is so low that last month, for the first time in history, the federal government proposed cutting water allotments to three states that rely on the river, including Arizona. Climate change is parching soil and depleting aquifers already taxed by corporate agriculture. Large swaths of Arizona farmland are devoted to water-hungry crops like lettuce and hay, grown to feed livestock as far away as Saudi Arabia.

. . .

Drawing on lessons she learned at the Urban Farm, a Phoenix-based business that teaches home gardeners how to grow food in a dry climate, Ms. Norton turned her backyard “from bare-bones, dead-ground scratch” into a lush mix of garden and orchard. She’d be open to raising chickens as well, if not for the presence of predators like coyotes, roadrunners and rattlesnakes.

What appears wild is the result of careful planning. A mulberry tree provides shade for the dragon fruit growing around its trunk. The drip tape that waters apricot, plum and apple trees also irrigates Mexican primrose flowers and sweet potato vines below.

“These grapes are strategically placed to keep the afternoon sun off these young trees,” Ms. Norton said. “I take the leaves and give them to a lady four doors down. She uses them to make dolmas.”

Ms. Norton is an ardent member of the Phoenix area’s sprawling gardening community. She is now general manager of the Urban Farm, and owns a seed business with its founder, Greg Peterson.

. . .

A primary goal of gardeners like Ms. Norton is to naturally rejuvenate soil degraded by synthetic fertilizers and neglect. Zach Brooks started the Arizona Worm Farm to help.

Nearly halfway into a 10-year plan to establish a fully sustainable, off-the-grid farm, Mr. Brooks sees his project as proof of how quickly damaged land can be restored using natural methods. It includes gardens and a food forest, a dense collection of plants that support one another, comprising mostly fruits and vegetables. Together, they provide produce for a small farm store and meals for his 20 employees.

. . .

As challenging as it is to farm and garden around Phoenix, Sterling Johnson said it’s (p. D5) even more so in Ajo, about 100 miles south, which is even hotter and dryer.

“If we can do it out here,” he said, “we think you can do it anywhere.”

For the full story, see:

Brett Anderson and Adam Riding. “Feeding a Region As Water Runs Out.” The New York Times (Wednesday, May 10, 2023): D4-D5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 8, 2023, and has the title “In Parched Arizona, the Produce Gardens Bloom.”)