The “Woke-Mind” Is “Anti-Science, Anti-Merit and Anti-Human”

(p. 9) At various moments in “Elon Musk,” Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the world’s richest person, the author tries to make sense of the billionaire entrepreneur he has shadowed for two years — sitting in on meetings, getting a peek at emails and texts, engaging in “scores of interviews and late-night conversations.” Musk is a mercurial “man-child,” Isaacson writes, who was bullied relentlessly as a kid in South Africa until he grew big enough to beat up his bullies. Musk talks about having Asperger’s, which makes him “bad at picking up social cues.”

. . .

At one point, Isaacson asks why Musk is so offended by anything he deems politically correct, and Musk, as usual, has to dial it up to 11. “Unless the woke-mind virus, which is fundamentally anti-science, anti-merit and anti-human in general, is stopped,” he declares, “civilization will never become multiplanetary.”

. . .

The musician Grimes, the mother of three of Musk’s children (. . .), calls his roiling anger “demon mode” — a mind-set that “causes a lot of chaos.” She also insists that it allows him to get stuff done.

. . .

He is mostly preoccupied with his businesses, where he expects his staff to abide by “the algorithm,” his workplace creed, which commands them to “question every requirement” from a department, including “the legal department” and “the safety department”; and to “delete any part or process” they can. “Comradery is dangerous,” is one of the corollaries. So is this: “The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics. Everything else is a recommendation.”

Still, Musk has accrued enough power to dictate his own rules. In one of the book’s biggest scoops, Isaacson describes Musk secretly instructing his engineers to “turn off” Starlink satellite internet coverage to prevent Ukraine from launching a surprise drone attack on Russian forces in Crimea. (Isaacson has since posted on X that contrary to what he writes in the book, Musk didn’t shut down coverage but denied a request to extend the network’s range.)

. . .

Isaacson believes that Musk wanted to buy Twitter because he had been so bullied as a kid and “now he could own the playground.”  . . .  Owning a playground won’t stop you from getting bullied.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Self-Driving Czar.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 24, 2023): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 11, 2023, and has the title “Elon Musk Wants to Save Humanity. The Only Problem: People.”)

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. Elon Musk. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2023.

California Regulations Raise Costs to Repair Damaged Homes and Mandate Insurance Firms to Charge Below-Cost Rates

(p. B10) Allstate has stopped offering new home-insurance policies in California, saying it has become too expensive to insure new homes in the wildfire-prone state.

. . .

“The cost to insure new home customers in California is far higher than the price they would pay for policies due to wildfires, higher costs for repairing homes, and higher reinsurance premiums,” Allstate said.

It has become increasingly expensive for companies like Allstate and State Farm to insure properties in California. Wildfires in recent years have burned down thousands of homes, driving up costs for insurers who pay for homes to be rebuilt or repaired. High inflation has also made construction more expensive.

. . .

State regulators in recent years have struck down attempts by insurance companies to raise property rates that would offset their inflation costs. The state last year required insurers to drop prices for owners who have fireproofed their buildings. The insurers must set home-insurance rates in California based on their historical loss experience, not future loss projections.

For the full story, see:

Alyssa Lukpat. “Allstate Halts New California Home Policies Over Fire Risk.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 6, 2023): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2023, and has the title “Allstate Stops Selling New Home-Insurance Policies in California, Citing Wildfire Risks.”)

In Xi’s Communist China: “Our Speech Is Not Free”

(p. B1) Many innocent lives were lost to tragic events in China in the past month. So far we haven’t learned a single name of any of them from China’s government or its official media. Nor have we seen news interviews of family members talking about their loved ones.

Those victims would include a coach and 10 members of a middle-school girls volleyball team who were killed in late July when the roof caved in on a gymnasium near the Siberian border. Despite an outpouring of public grief and anger around the country, the government never released their names. Social media posts sharing their names and tributes to their lives were censored.

Then there were the people — probably dozens, possibly hundreds — who died in severe flooding in northern and northeastern China in recent weeks. It was the most serious flooding in the country in decades. Posts about the casualties, and the hardships people endured, were censored.

. . .

(p. B4) “Xi Jinping has made control of history one of his signature policies — because he sees counter-history as an existential threat,” Ian Johnson, an author who has covered China for decades, wrote in his new book, “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future.”

Mr. Xi has turned the screws extra tight since the Covid pandemic. In April 2020, relatives of Wuhan residents who died were followed by minders when they picked up the ashes of their loved ones.

The government ignored a citizen demand to make Feb. 6 a nationwide day of mourning to mark the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistle-blower who had warned the public of the coronavirus.

“We have always known that our speech is not free, our voice is not free. Yet we do not realize until today that even sorrow and mourning do not belong to us,” Ms. Zhang, the independent journalist, wrote in an article that was widely circulated on WeChat and other social media platforms before it was censored.

A recent video of the bereaved father of a volleyball player killed in the gymnasium collapse in Qiqihar highlighted the cruel reality faced by family members in public tragedies: Their grief, in the eyes of the government, makes them potential threats to social stability.

In the six-minute video, the father remained preternaturally composed as he tried to reason with the police, doctors and government officials at a hospital. He and other family members wanted to be allowed to identify the bodies of their daughters.

The father said he understood why the police were at the hospital. “We didn’t cause any troubles,” he said. He said he understood why no officials bothered to talk to them. “That’s fine,” he said.

Many people said online and in interviews that they cried watching the video because they recognized his “heart-wrenching restraint” and knew why he behaved that way.

“What happens if he didn’t hold back his anger?” asked an author in an article posted on social media. “As a father who has suffered such immense pain, why did he have to reason with such restraint and humility?”

As usual, the censorship machine went into high gear. Social media posts containing names of the victims and celebrating their lives and friendships were deleted. So were photos and videos showing the entrance of their school, where the public sent numerous flower bouquets, yogurt, milk tea and canned peaches, which is a comfort food for children in northeastern China.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “When Tragedy Strikes in China, The Government Represses Grief.” The New York Times (Monday, August 3, 2023): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date Aug. 14, 2023, and has the title “When Tragedy Strikes in China, the Government Cracks Down on Grief.”)

Insulin Makers Said High Prices Mainly Went to Pay Higher Rebates to Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) Firms

(p. A3) Novo Nordisk A/S is set to cut the U.S. list prices for several insulin drugs by up to 75%, the latest big drugmaker to make steep price reductions amid pressure to curb diabetes-treatment costs.

. . .

Novo’s price cuts follow Eli Lilly & Co.’s decision earlier this month to reduce list prices for its most commonly prescribed insulin products by 70%, effective in the fourth quarter of 2023.

. . .

Lilly, Novo and Sanofi SA are the leading sellers of insulins in the U.S. and worldwide. They had substantially raised the prices for their insulin products in the U.S. during the 2010s. The companies have said they didn’t make much from the higher list prices, because they had to pay larger rebates to the companies that manage drug benefits.

For the full story, see:

Peter Loftus. “Insulin Maker Plans Sharp Price Cut.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, March 15, 2023): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 14, 2023, and has the title “Novo Nordisk to Slash Insulin Prices by Up to 75%.”)

Shrinking Black-White Wage Gap Mainly Due to “Tight Labor Market”

A tight labor market is a key feature of what I call a “robustly redundant labor market” in my Openness to Creative Destruction book.

(p. A13) In the early 2000s, the wage gap between Black and white workers in the U.S. was as large as it had been in 1950.

. . .

The wage gap, though still enormous, has shrunk.

. . .

There appear to be three main causes of the recent trend, and the most significant is the country’s tight labor market. The unemployment rate has been falling for most of the past decade and has recently been near its lowest levels since the 1960s.

Tight labor markets help almost all workers, and they tend to help disadvantaged workers the most. As Gould put it, “When employers can’t be quite as choosy — when employers have to look beyond their network — that can provide more opportunities for historically marginalized groups.”

This dynamic helps close the Black-white wage gap because Black workers are overrepresented among low-wage workers. The Hispanic-white wage gap has also declined recently.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. “The Morning; Why There’s Progress, Finally, on Closing the Black-White Pay Gap.” The New York Times (Monday, June 19, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary also has the date June 15, 2023, and has the title “The Morning; The Racial Wage Gap Is Shrinking.” The online version of the passages quoted above includes an illustrative parenthetical sentence that I do not include above.)

Chinese Communists Detain Entrepreneur Who Exhorted Staff to “Go Forward Boldly”

(p. B1) In mid-January [2023], star Chinese investment banker Fan Bao, architect of the deals that created some of China’s most dominant technology companies, appeared at his bank’s annual party in Beijing.  . . .  He exhorted the hundreds of staffers in attendance to “Go Forward Boldly.”

A few weeks later, he disappeared.

For the past month, the 52-year-old banker—who set out to build the JPMorgan of China and successfully straddled the divide between China and the West—has been held incommunicado in a detention system run by the Communist Party’s anticorruption agency.

. . .

(p. B6) Privately, close associates of Mr. Bao have been dismayed by his detention. China Renaissance Holdings Ltd., the boutique investment bank he founded and ran, is a relatively small firm, making it unusual that it would draw this manner of government scrutiny. Colleagues, business partners, friends and acquaintances of Mr. Bao are worried about his safety and are hoping he will soon resurface publicly. “I feel utterly disillusioned,” said a person close to Mr. Bao.

The jolt to business people’s confidence also comes as anxiety over China’s direction, its curtailing of people’s rights, and the way it managed the Covid-19 pandemic is leading more middle-class and wealthy Chinese citizens to relocate to other countries. Global investors have been rethinking their exposure to the world’s second-largest economy following a selloff over the past two years that was largely caused by Beijing’s regulatory crackdowns and policy decisions.

. . .

Some Chinese entrepreneurs who previously went missing have reappeared quickly. Guo Guangchang, the billionaire chairman of Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun Group, emerged days after a mysterious detention by authorities in late 2015. He continues to run Fosun and was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese financier who ran a conglomerate called the Tomorrow Group, was taken from Hong Kong in 2017 and didn’t reappear for five years. He turned up in a Shanghai court last year to face corruption charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

. . .

Mr. Bao believed China was on the cusp of a new-economy revolution and connected early on with young entrepreneurs who were trying to get their internet-technology startups off the ground.

. . .

Mr. Bao tried to adapt to the new environment, shifting his attention to pursuing deals in industries like semiconductors that remained in Beijing’s good graces.

. . .

Mr. Bao’s last post on Chinese social media WeChat was on Jan. 9 [2023], a few days before the China Renaissance party. He congratulated Fenbi Ltd., a vocational training provider and a portfolio company in his firm’s fund, on its Hong Kong listing. Under his personal status, Mr. Bao had written: “Dream as if u’ll live forever, live as if u’ll die today.”

For the full story, see:

Jing Yang and Rebecca Feng. “China’s M&A Star Vanishing Spurs Alarm.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, March 20, 2023): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2023, was listed with the title “China’s M&A Star Tells Staff to Be Bold—Then He Disappears,” and had the title “China’s M&A Star Told His Employees to Be Bold—Then He Disappeared” at the top of the story.)

Progressives Now Argue that F.D.R.’s Liberal New Deal “Rested on a Jim Crow Foundation”

(p. C1) In October 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his administration send letters to thousands of clergy across the country, asking if the New Deal was helping their communities.

Even from admirers, the news wasn’t always good. Local administrators did not “carry out your will and purpose,” J.H. Ellis, a Black pastor in Hot Springs, Ark., wrote, “especially as it relates to the Negro group.” J.W. Hairston, an African American minister in Asheville, N.C., lamented that in the South “there are two states and two cities, one white — one black.”

The Northern Black press, meanwhile, was more blunt. The New Deal, more than one newspaper proclaimed, was also a “Raw Deal.”

Eight decades later, that charge still hangs in the air. Conservatives have long assailed the New Deal, which radically expanded the government’s involvement in the economy, as the epitome of big-government overreach. But in recent years, progressives have increasingly argued that this pillar of 20th-century liberalism rested on a Jim Crow foundation, and laid the groundwork for the yawning Black wealth gap that persists today.

Now, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., is entering the fray. “Black Americans, Civil Rights and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962,” on view through December 2024, takes a frank, deeply researched view of what it calls Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s “mixed” record on race, from their personal attitudes to the policies they championed.

. . .

(p. C3) . . . , the title of the opening wall text makes the central question plain: “A New Deal for All Americans?”

While a mainstay of scholarship for decades, that question has recently reached a broader public, thanks to books like Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White” and Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.”

On a recent afternoon, a docent directed visitors toward what she called “the most amazing thing” — a 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation map of the nearby city of Poughkeepsie, labeling predominantly Black areas as “hazardous” for lenders.

In 1935, the newly created Federal Housing Administration issued a manual for lenders, endorsing redlining (so named for the pink shading of “hazardous” areas) and warning that Black families should not be approved for mortgages in white areas. “Incompatible racial groups,” it noted, “should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

Housing policy is widely seen by historians as one of the New Deal’s most consequential failures, one which over time dramatically deepened residential segregation. But while the exhibition deals bluntly with the issue, it also avoids any simplified counternarrative of the New Deal writ large as inherently, and intentionally, racist at its core.

. . .

The exhibition deals directly with what the library calls the “greatest stain” on Roosevelt’s racial record: his refusal to publicly support federal anti-lynching legislation, out of fear it would alienate the Southern Democrats who dominated Congress and imperil the New Deal.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Schuessler. “F.D.R.’s Library Takes a Hard Look at Race.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 3, 2023): C1 & C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 1, 2023, and has the title “At the Roosevelt Library, an Unflinching Look at Race.”)

Communist China Has “Opened Police Outposts in Foreign Countries” to Arrest Chinese Exiles

(p. 10) As a lawyer in China, Lu Siwei belonged to a rare and increasingly besieged group willing to take on sensitive cases to defend rights activists and political pariahs. To stop him, the authorities put him under surveillance and barred him from practice, depriving him of his livelihood.

Mr. Lu’s wife and young daughter fled first, moving to the United States. Nearly two years later, it was Mr. Lu’s turn. He left China last month, crossing over into Laos. A few days later, as he was preparing to board a train to Thailand, he was arrested by local authorities. Accused of using fraudulent travel documents, he was in Laotian custody as of late August and facing the threat of deportation.

Under Xi Jinping, China’s most iron-fisted leader in decades, Chinese authorities have aggressively expanded their net outside the country. They have opened police outposts in foreign countries, offered bounties for critics who have fled overseas, pressured members of the Chinese diaspora to become informants, and secured the detention or deportation of exiles abroad.

For the full story, see:

Tiffany May. “He Fled Repression, but China’s Long Arm Caught Him in Another Country.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023): 10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2023, and has the title “He Fled China’s Repression. But China’s Long Arm Got Him in Another Country.”)

Okinawans Think Ikigai (a Reason for Living) Is Important for Long Life

(p. A11) Ask most people if they want to live to be 100 and the response is likely to be “Sure!” followed by “Wait a sec . . .” Questions suddenly abound: Am I going to be healthy? Am I going to be lonely? Will I be financially stable? Will I have outlived everyone I knew and loved? What author-researcher Dan Buettner set out to demonstrate in “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” is that the solutions to those concerns are also the keys to longevity itself.

. . .

What is clear early on is that what Mr. Buettner “discovers” during his visits to Sardinia; Singapore; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and even Loma Linda, Calif., is largely what we would expect: that much of what helps people live longer isn’t necessarily the purple Japanese sweet potatoes, or going to church every day, or having the limited stress load of a Greek shepherd. It is an Okinawan diet rich in nutrients and fiber, the walking uphill to the Sardinian church, and the community to which one belongs in Loma Linda when one is, for instance, a Seventh Day Adventist who plays pickleball.

. . .

There are many correlating clues to a longer life across the locations in “Live to 100.” Okinawans emphasize the importance of having an ikigai, or reason for living; in Costa Rica the same thing is called one’s plan de vida.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “Netflix’s Lessons in Longevity.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date August 29, 2023, and has the title “‘Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones’ Review: Lessons in Longevity.” In the original the word ikigai and the phrase plan de vida are in italics.)

Buettner’s latest book on blue zones is:

Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons from the Healthiest Places on Earth. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2023.

Innovative Air Conditioner Is Quieter and Uses Less Energy

(p. B5) There is nothing cool about window air conditioners.

They’re clunky, ugly and tend to be way too loud. Most of them are more or less identical and have been for a long time: same temperature, same efficiency, same fear of falling out the window during installation.

“There was no meaningful performance difference from unit to unit,” said Liam McCabe, a seasoned window-AC product reviewer. “Everything was a rectangular heavy box.”

At least until a sleeker, quieter, U-shaped AC came along that looked and sounded unlike any that had ever been made. It also produced less noise and required less energy, which solved the biggest problems of window air conditioners. These machines work if you turn them on and never have to think about them again. This one worked so well that it had the opposite effect. It made people completely obsessed with their air conditioning.

. . .

They had reasons to be cynical when they heard about a company disrupting window ACs, which had become commoditized in the century since the first one was patented. But when they tried it out, they found themselves blown away. Wired and Wirecutter both picked the U-shaped AC as the best on the market, and it defied everything McCabe thought he knew about window air conditioners. His years of reviewing the same old boring products turned out to be useful preparation for recognizing one that was totally different and entirely new.

“It fried my brain a bit,” he told me. “I remember thinking: This is too good to be true.”

. . .

There wasn’t much innovation or investment in ACs, said Kurt Jovais, Midea America’s president. His company would come to believe that the window AC had been undervalued.

“We know there’s a better way,” he recalled thinking. “We’re going to make sure we find what that better way is.”

That was Adam Schultz’s job. Midea America’s project manager for residential air conditioning was responsible for turning concepts into a product that wasn’t an eyesore. The quest for a less noisy, more efficient unit inspired his team to design a prototype in the shape of a U. Instead of squeezing a noise dampener inside the box to muffle noise, they essentially split the box in two and stuck the annoying clanks and thunks outside.

That is, the secret to making a better window air conditioner was taking advantage of the window.

The clever engineering solution wasn’t just effective. It was intuitive. All you had to do was look at the U shape and you would see why this AC sounds like a library.

“The window is a sound barrier,” Schultz said.

That wasn’t the only benefit of the unorthodox design. The variable-speed inverter compressor uses less energy, which means you can keep it cranking without having to worry about utility bills. You can also open your window for unconditioned fresh air, rather than bolting it down to a giant box during installation.

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Cohen. “SCIENCE OF SUCCESS; The Ingenuity Behind This Air Conditioner Will Blow U Away.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 17, 2023): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 15, 2023, and has the title “SCIENCE OF SUCCESS; How Did the World’s Coolest Air Conditioner Get So Hot?”)

Weight Loss Drugs Discovered Through “Tedious Trial and Error”

The first sentence quoted below implies that weight loss drugs are an exception in being discovered through trial and error rather than “through a logical process.” But I believe that drug discoveries in recent decades for cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s also owe a lot to trial and error processes.

(p. A1) While other drugs discovered in recent decades for diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s were found through a logical process that led to clear targets for drug designers, the path that led to the obesity drugs was not like that. In fact, much about the drugs remains shrouded in mystery. Researchers discovered by accident that exposing the brain to a natural hormone at levels never seen in nature elicited weight loss. They really don’t know why, or if the drugs may have any long-term side effects.

“Everyone would like to say there must be some logical explanation or order in this that would allow predictions about what will work,” said Dr. David D’Alessio, chief of endocrinology at Duke, who consults for Eli Lilly among others. “So far there is not.”

. . .

(p. A16) . . . results from a clinical trial reported last week indicate that Wegovy can do more than help people lose weight — it also can protect against cardiac complications, like heart attacks and strokes.

But why that happens remains poorly understood.

“Companies don’t like the term trial and error,” said Dr. Daniel Drucker, who studies diabetes and obesity at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto and who consults for Novo Nordisk and other companies. “They like to say, ‘We were extremely clever in the way we designed the molecule,” Dr. Drucker said.

But, he said, “They did get lucky.”

. . .

After tedious trial and error, Novo Nordisk produced liraglutide, a GLP-1 drug that lasted long enough for daily injections. They named it Victoza, and the F.D.A. approved it as a treatment for diabetes in 2010.

It had an unexpected side effect: slight weight loss.

. . .

Finally, after liraglutide was approved in 2010 for diabetes, Dr. Knudsen’s proposal to study the drug for weight loss moved forward. After clinical trials, the F.D.A. approved it as Saxenda for obesity in 2014. The dose was about twice the diabetes dose. Patients lost about 5 percent of their weight, a modest amount.

. . .

Despite the progress on weight loss, Novo Nordisk continued to focus on diabetes, trying to find ways to make a longer-lasting GLP-1 so patients would not have to inject themselves every day.

The result was a different GLP-1 drug, semaglutide, that lasted long enough that patients had to inject themselves only once a week. It was approved in 2017 and is now marketed as Ozempic.

It also caused weight loss — 15 percent, which is three times the loss with Saxenda, the once-a-day drug, although there was no obvious reason for that. Suddenly, the company had what looked like a revolutionary treatment for obesity.

. . .

Researchers continue to marvel at these biochemical mysteries. But doctors and patients have their own takeaway: The drugs work. People lose weight.

For the full story, see:

Gina Kolata. “Medical Mystery Shrouds Drugs for Weight Loss.” The New York Times (Friday, August 18, 2023): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 17, 2023, and has the title “We Know Where New Weight Loss Drugs Came From, but Not Why They Work.”)