Zuckerberg Praises Musk for Not Being Too Shy to Reduce Staff at X

(p. R3) At the beginning of the year, many were quick with predictions of X’s demise, in part because of the dramatic staff cuts made by Musk.

. . .

Perhaps the biggest impact of Musk’s staff reductions was provoking a broader conversation about staffing needs and overall productivity throughout Silicon Valley.

Even rival Mark Zuckerberg praised Musk for removing layers of management. “I also think that it was probably good for the industry that he made those changes because my sense is that there were a lot of other people who thought that those were good changes but who may have been a little shy about doing them,” the Facebook co-founder said.

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Elon Musk as Technoking? More Like DramaKing.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 18, 2023): R3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 16, 2023, and has the title “In the Year of a DramaKing: Elon Musk.”)

“Sí Se Puede”

(p. 21) A center-right candidate appeared headed to victory in Venezuela on Monday in a primary election to choose an opposition candidate to compete in presidential elections next year — a vote that could prove pivotal to the fate of a country that has endured a decade of economic crisis and authoritarian governance.

. . .

At a polling station in a parking lot in Catia, a poor neighborhood in Caracas, voters began lining up at 7 a.m. only to encounter a problem: a group of pro-government civilians was threatening to burn the cars in the parking lot if voting proceeded.

But a woman who lived nearby, Margarita Fuenmayor, offered a solution: She would lend her house as a makeshift voting station.

“My parents died without medical attention in this country,” said Ms. Fuenmayor, 52, as a crowd of voters pushed and shoved to try to enter her home. “I think we need a change.”

All the while the line of voters outside grew. As voters left, they shouted “Sí se puede” or “Yes we can.’’

In another Caracas neighborhood, tables ordered by election volunteers never arrived. Instead the workers set voting boxes on chairs that neighbors had brought out from their houses. Hundreds of people stood in line, holding umbrellas against the rain.

Jesús Abreu, 68, voted and then stayed on as a volunteer. He said he lived on a pension of about $3.70 a month.

“I am here today because we are agonizing in life,’’ he said. “The government is slowly killing us.”

Ms. Machado is a veteran politician nicknamed “the iron lady” because of her adversarial relationship with the governments of Mr. Maduro and Mr. Chávez. She is viewed by some supporters as courageous for staying in Venezuela when many other politicians have fled political persecution.

. . .

“I ask you to remember how many people believed that this was impossible and we have overcome all the obstacles, overcome the hurdles and here we are,” Ms. Machado said as she voted Sunday morning in a middle-class Caracas neighborhood.”

For the full story, see:

Isayen Herrera and Genevieve Glatsky. “Venezuelans Bet on a Challenger to Maduro.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 24, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Oct. 23, 2023, and has the title “Maduro Antagonist on Track to Win Venezuela Primary.”)

The Social Security Administration Is Badly Administered

(p. B1) Few government agencies touch the lives of more Americans than the Social Security Administration — the agency pays $1.4 trillion in benefits to more than 71 million people every year.

But Social Security has been grappling with a customer service mess that threatens to grow worse before it gets better. The problems include long wait times on the agency’s toll-free phone line, a large backlog in disability applications and a growing problem with overpayments to low-income beneficiaries.

. . .

Training new workers typically takes more than a year because Social Security rules are so complex.

. . .

The waiting time on S.S.A.’s phone line, which is crucial for people with questions about benefits or those applying for benefits, averages 36 minutes. Average wait times have fluctuated over the past decade, but in 2013 the average wait time was 10 minutes. The agency recently began using a modernized toll-free phone system, but noted that more trained employees will be needed to reduce wait times.

There is a backlog of more than one million people waiting an average of seven months for initial decisions on disability benefit applications — a process that has been slowed by staffing issues at the agency and in state governments, which receive S.S.A. funding to determine applicants’ eligibility at the local level.

The agency also is under fire over overpayments of benefits that have led the agency to claw back billions of dollars, with some people receiving notices that they owe tens of thousands to the S.S.A.

. . .

Earlier this year [2023], the Social Security Administration placed last in a ranking of the best places to work in the federal government — . . . .

For the full commentary, see:

Mark Miller. “Social Security’s Customer Service Struggle.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sunday, December 3, 2023): 7.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 2, 2023, and has the title “When You Call Social Security, Expect to Wait Even Longer.” In a couple of places where the online version is slightly longer than the print version, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

“A Plausible Case for Hounds in Heaven”

(p. A17) My mini bernedoodle, Sugaree, meets me at the door when she hears me on the front porch steps. She jumps in anticipation—all four legs catching air—until I enter the hallway. It’s a love that doesn’t diminish.

This is my welcome every weeknight when I come home from work. I haven’t split the atom, ended world hunger or even brought her a new chew toy, yet I am honored like Pompey the Great in his third Roman triumph.

. . .

British writer C.S. Lewis . . . in “The Problem of Pain,” . . . made a plausible case for hounds in heaven. Lewis thought sufficient selfhood might exist in dogs and other domesticated animals that their immortality is subsumed within their master’s heavenly destiny.

. . .

God surely has use for a creature that teaches us so much about love.

For the full commentary, see:

Mike Kerrigan. “Our Dog, Who Art in Heaven.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 3, 2024, and has the same title as the print version.)

The C.S. Lewis book mentioned above is:

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2001.

Lower-Middle-Class Chinese Risk the Darién Gap to Seek Opportunity and Freedom in the U.S.

(p. B1) Mr. Gao said he felt he had no choice but to leave China.

“I think we will only be safe by coming to the U.S.,” he said, adding that he believed that Xi Jinping, China’s leader, could lead the country to famine and (p. B4) possibly war. “It’s a rare opportunity to protect me and my family,” he said.

A growing number of Chinese have entered the United States this year through the Darién Gap, exceeded only by Venezuelans, Ecuadoreans and Haitians, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.

. . .

Their flight is a referendum on the rule of Mr. Xi, now in his third five-year term. Boasting that “the East is rising while the West is declining,” he said in 2021 that China’s governance model had proved superior to Western democratic systems and that the center of gravity of the world economy was shifting “from West to East.”

Every immigrant I interviewed this year who passed through the Darién Gap — a journey known as zouxian, or walking the line, in Chinese — came from a lower middle-class background. They said that they feared falling into poverty if the Chinese economy worsened, and that they could no longer see a future for themselves or their children in their home country.

In Mr. Xi’s China, anyone could become a target of the state. You could get in trouble for being a Christian, Muslim, Uyghur, Tibetan or Mongolian. Or a worker who petitions for back pay, a homeowner who protests the delayed completion of an unfinished apartment, a student who uses a virtual private network for access to Instagram or a Communist Party cadre who is found with a copy of a banned book.

. . .

Another migrant I spoke with who crossed the Darién Gap, Mr. Zhong, who wanted to use only his family name for fear of retribution, has a background similar to Mr. Gao’s.

. . .

The trouble for Mr. Zhong, now in his early 30s, started last December [2022] when police officers stopped his car for a routine alcohol test and saw a copy of a Bible on the passenger seat. They told Mr. Zhong that he believed in an evil religion and tossed the Bible on the ground and stomped on it. The officers then took his phone and installed an app on it that turned out to have software that would track his movements.

On Christmas Day, four police officers broke into a home where Mr. Zhong and three fellow Christians were holding a prayer service. They were taken to the police station, beaten and interrogated.

Like Mr. Gao, Mr. Zhong came across social media posts about the Darién Gap. He borrowed about $10,000 and left home on Feb. 22 [2023].

. . .

Mr. Zhong soon moved to a town of 30,000 people in Alabama. He had grown up near Chengdu, a city of 20 (p. B5) million. Now he felt truly alone. He works at a Chinese restaurant 11 hours a day, he said, and is unwilling to take a day off. He has learned to cook General Tso’s chicken and other Chinese American dishes. The pay is much better than in China, and he can send more money home. Every Sunday, he joins an online religious service, hosted by a church in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, another community with a large population of Chinese immigrants.

He told me a joke over the phone: “Why did you go to the United States?” someone asks a Chinese immigrant. “Aren’t you satisfied with your pay, your benefits and your life?” The immigrant responds: “Yes, I’m satisfied. But in the U.S., I will be allowed to say that I’m not satisfied.”

“I can live like a real human being in the U.S.,” he said.

. . .

. . . Mr. Gao got his work permit, bought a car and started delivering packages for an e-commerce company. He makes $2 per package. The more he delivers, the more he makes.

. . .

On one Wednesday in November [2023], Mr. Gao said, he woke at 4 a.m., delivered more than 100 packages and didn’t get home until after 9 p.m.

He took the next day off. When the motorcade of Mr. Xi, who was in San Francisco for a meeting with President Biden, drove by, Mr. Gao joined other protesters on the sidewalk, chanting in Chinese, “Xi Jinping, step down!”

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; Why More Chinese Are Risking Danger in Southern Border Crossings to U.S.” The New York Times (Monday, December 4, 2023): B1 & B4-B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 3, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Like Wag Dodge at Mann Gulch, Bob Pardo Knew He Had to “Conceive” an Action Fast

(p. 21) In March 1967, Captain Pardo was on a mission over North Vietnam in an F-4 Phantom when antiaircraft fire hit his plane, inflicting damage, while more badly ripping into the fuel tank of another fighter in the strike force. Both jets pulled away to head home. But the second plane had lost too much fuel to make it to safety. Captain Pardo realized that its two-man crew would be forced to eject over enemy territory and face capture or worse.

Flying beneath the compromised plane, Captain Pardo told its pilot, Capt. Earl Aman, to lower his tailhook — a metal pole at the rear of a fighter used to arrest its landing. At 300 miles per hour, Captain Pardo nudged his plane’s glass windshield against the tip of the pole. For almost 90 miles, he pushed the other plane as both jets hemorrhaged fuel, until they crossed the border with Laos. Both crews ejected by parachute, and all four men were rescued.

. . .

“Pardo’s Push” entered Air Force legend — an extraordinary act of aerial ballet, but one that would never be prescribed in any pilot manuals or flying simulators. Only once before, during the Korean War, was a similar rescue maneuver performed.

The military did not honor Mr. Pardo for decades. It wasn’t until 1989 that he was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry. The citation described him pushing Captain Aman’s aircraft to safety. “The attempt was successful,” it read, “and consequently allowed the crew to avoid becoming prisoners of war.”

. . .

“My dad taught me that when your friend needs help, you help,” he said. “I couldn’t have come home and told him I didn’t even try anything. Because that’s exactly what he would have asked me. He would have said, ‘Did you try?’ So I had to be able to answer that with a yes.”

. . .

Between 1965 and 1968, the U.S. Air Force and Navy carried out an intense bombing campaign of the North, known as Operation Rolling Thunder, to destroy infrastructure. The tonnage of U.S. bombs dropped exceeded American bombing in the Pacific in World War II. North Vietnam’s defenses included antiaircraft batteries, missiles and Russian-made MIG fighter jets.  . . .

Both Captain Pardo’s and Captain Aman’s F-4 fighter-bombers were hit about 40 miles from the steel mill, Captain Pardo recalled in a 2019 interview with The San Antonio Express-News.

. . .

He knew Captain Aman’s plane would not be able to make it out of North Vietnam to rendezvous with a flying refueling tanker. At first, he tried to push Captain Aman’s plane by sticking the nose of his own jet into a rear port, but there was too much turbulence. Next he tried to maneuver directly under the other jet and give it a piggyback ride. That also failed.

Then he conceived of pushing Captain Aman’s tailhook. A tailhook pole was used by the Navy’s version of the F-4 Phantom to land on aircraft carriers. The Air Force used it for emergency runway landings, when the hook snags a cable stretched across tarmac.

For the full obituary, see:

Trip Gabriel. “Bob Pardo, 89, U.S. Pilot Who, With Midair Push, Rescued Another Plane.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 24, 2023): 21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Dec. 23, 2023, and has the title “Bob Pardo, Pilot in Daring Vietnam War Rescue, Dies at 89.”)

New Longevity Drugs for Dogs Can Be Proof-of-Concept for Longevity Drugs for People

(p. A1) “When you adopt a dog, you’re adopting future heartbreak,” said Emilie Adams, a New Yorker who owns three Rhodesian Ridgebacks. “It’s worth it over time because you just have so much love between now and when they go. But their life spans are shorter than ours.”

In recent years, scientists have been chasing after drugs that might stave off this heartbreak by extending the lives of our canine companions. On Tuesday, the biotech company Loyal announced that it had moved one step closer to bringing one such drug to market. “The data you provided are sufficient to show that there is a reasonable expectation of effectiveness,” an official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration informed the company in a recent letter. (Loyal provided a copy of the letter to The Times.)

That means that the drug, which Loyal declined to identify for proprietary reasons, has met one of the requirements for “expanded conditional approval,” a fast-tracked authorization for ani-(p. A19)mal drugs that fulfill unmet health needs and require difficult clinical trials. The drug is not available to pet owners yet, and the F.D.A. must still review the company’s safety and manufacturing data. But conditional approval, which Loyal hopes to receive in 2026, would allow the company to begin marketing the drug for canine life extension, even before a large clinical trial is complete.

. . .

. . . the letter, which came after years of discussion between Loyal and the F.D.A., suggests that the agency is open to canine longevity drugs, Ms. Halioua said.

. . .

Aging may be an inevitability, but it is not an unyielding one. Scientists have created longer-lived worms, flies and mice by tweaking key aging-related genes.

These findings have raised the tantalizing possibility that scientists might be able to find drugs that had the same life-extending effects in people. That remains an active area of research, but canine longevity has recently started to attract more attention, in part because dogs are good models for human aging and in part because many pet owners would love more time with their furry family members.

“There’s not a lot you wouldn’t do if you could stack the deck in your favor to preserve the life of your hairy, four-legged child,” said Ms. Adams, the Rhodesian Ridgeback owner.

For the full story, see:

Emily Anthes. “A Drug Aims to Extend Dogs’ Lives, Yes It Does.” The New York Times (Saturday, November 29, 2023): A1 & A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 29, 2023, and has the title “Could a Drug Give Your Pet More Dog Years?”)

“Context Switching Is the Mindkiller”

(p. B7) “My mind often feels…like a very wild storm,” Musk said Wednesday in the same interview. “I’m a fountain of ideas. I mean I have more ideas than I could possibly execute. So I have no shortage of ideas. Innovation is not a problem, execution is a problem.”

He was speaking at the New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday [Nov. 29, 2023] in New York City, a high-profile event run by one of the media juggernauts he has been openly needling.

He was only there, Musk said, because of his friendship with the host, Andrew Ross Sorkin. Or, as Musk called him on stage, “Jonathan.”

“I’m Andrew,” Sorkin said.

. . .

“Context switching is the mindkiller,” he tweeted the day after Thanksgiving, a favorite axiom of his that mixes a quote from the sci-fi book “Dune” with computer lingo for multitasking.

In “Dune,” fear is the mindkiller—the idea that the primal reaction to fear is to recoil rather than go forward. In essence, fear is an obstacle to be overcome to reach success. For Musk, the challenge to overcome is being able to handle switching between rockets and tweets and cars and brain computers and drilling machines and superhuman artificial intelligence.

. . .

In the moment that ricocheted around the world, Musk told advertisers unhappy with him to go f— themselves, saying he was unwilling to pander to their “blackmail” and warned they threatened to bankrupt the social-media platform he acquired slightly more than a year ago. And if they were successful, he warned, “See how Earth responds to that.”

. . .

To Musk, the likes of Disney are trying to squelch his freedom of speech. To others, they are simply exercising their rights to walk away.

“Go. F—. Yourself,” Musk said on stage to a stunned audience. “Is that clear? I hope it is. Hey, Bob, if you’re in the audience.”

For the full commentary, see:

Tim Higgins. “Storm in Musk’s Mind Casts Shadow on Vehicle Launch.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 4, 2023): B7.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 2, 2023, and has the title “The Storm Brewing Inside Elon Musk’s Mind Gets Out.” The 7th, 8th, and 9th sentences quoted above, appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the commentary. Also, the online version of the sentence on being able to handle switching, contains seven added words of detail.)

The science-fiction Dune book mentioned above is:

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Deluxe ed. New York: Ace, 2019 [1st ed. 1965].

“If Something Similar Happens Here, I Want to Know That I Have a Firearm”

(p. A1) Two weeks ago, Zvika Arran reluctantly drew a gun at an Israeli state-run shooting class for those seeking firearms licenses, part of a massive spike in applications since the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 [2023].

Mr. Arran said he was repelled by the idea of owning the pistol that now sits in a safe in his house. But his sense of security, like that of so many Israelis, was shattered when Hamas fighters overran communities near the Gaza Strip, killing an estimated 1,200 people and abducting more than 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

“God forbid, if something similar happens here, I want to know that I have a firearm,” said Mr. Arran, 48, who lives in Eliav, a small town that borders the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

. . .

(p. A6) Another resident of Eliav, Maayan Rosenberg-Schatz, said that like so many other Israelis, she no longer believed the Israeli military — which took hours to arrive at some embattled communities on Oct. 7 — would reach them in time in a crisis.

Two days after the attacks, she sat down with two of her young children to plan how to escape should Palestinian attackers invade their home.

“We talked about trying to flee to the roof, maybe escaping from there,” said Ms. Rosenberg-Schatz, 42, who applied for a gun license along with her husband. “But in the end, there’s no replacement for having a weapon.”

Ms. Rosenberg-Schatz, who described herself as politically center-left, said she was concerned that proliferating guns might fall into the wrong hands.

“Everyone tells you they’re worried about that — but they still feel unsafe” without a gun, she added. “Suddenly, we feel this fear deep down in our guts, and it’s really difficult to argue with that.”

For the full story, see:

Aaron Boxerman and Talya Minsberg. “Galvanized by Fear, Israelis Arm Themselves.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 16, 2023): A1 & A6.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 15, 2023, and has the title “Private Gun Ownership in Israel Spikes After Hamas Attacks.”)

James Watt Saw that “Environmental Extremists” Want “Centralized Planning and Control of the Society”

(p. A20) James G. Watt, who as President Ronald Reagan’s first Interior secretary tilted environmental policies sharply toward commercial exploitation, touching off a national debate over the development or preservation of America’s public lands and resources, died on May 27 [2023] in Arizona.

. . .

In one of his first official pronouncements, Mr. Watt declared that Interior Department policies over the years had swung too far toward conservation under the influence of “environmental extremists,” and away from the development of public resources that he said was needed for economic growth and national security.

He soon transferred control of many of the resources to private industry, restoring what he regarded as a proper balance to the nation’s patrimony. He opened most of the Outer Continental Shelf — nearly all of America’s coastal waters — to drilling leases by oil and gas companies. He widened access to coal on federal lands, and eased restrictions on strip-mining, which scarred landscapes and was cheaper than cutting deep mine shafts.

He increased industry access to wilderness areas for drilling, mineral mining and lumbering; gave private owners of hotels, restaurants and shops wider rights in national parks; curtailed the program to protect endangered species; cut funds to acquire land for national and state parks; and added money to build roads, bridges, hotels and other man-made structures in the parks.

. . .

He accused his critics of using sham environmental concerns to achieve “centralized planning and control of the society.” He told Business Week: “Look what happened to Germany in the 1930s. The dignity of man was subordinated to the powers of Nazism. The dignity of man was subordinated in Russia. Those are the forces that this thing can evolve into.”

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. McFadden. “James G. Watt, 85, Dies; Secretary Who Favored Developing Wilderness.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 10, 2023): A20.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 8, 2023, and has the title “James G. Watt, Polarizing Interior Secretary Under Reagan, Dies at 85.”)

Rich Chinese “Moved Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Out of” China in 2023

(p. B1) Affluent Chinese have moved hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country this year [2023], seizing on the end of Covid precautions that had almost completely sealed China’s borders for nearly three years.

They are using their savings to buy overseas apartments, stocks and insurance policies. Able to fly again to Tokyo, London and New York, Chinese travelers have bought apartments in Japan and poured money into accounts in the United States or Europe that pay higher interest than in China, where rates are low and falling.

The outbound shift of money in part indicates unease inside China about the sputtering recovery after the pandemic as well as deeper problems, like an alarming slowdown in real estate, the main storehouse of wealth for families. For some people, it is also a reaction to fears about the direction of the economy under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has cracked down on business and strengthened the government’s hand in many aspects of society.

In some cases, Chinese are improvising to get around China’s strict government controls on transferring money overseas. They have bought gold bars small enough to be scattered unobtrusively through carry-on luggage, as well as large stacks of foreign currency.

Real estate is an option, too. Chinese have emerged as the main buyers of Tokyo apartments costing $3 million or more, and they often pay with suitcases of cash, said Zhao Jie, the chief executive of Shenjumiaosuan, an online real estate listing service in Tokyo. “It’s really hard work to count this kind of cash.”

Before the pandemic, he said, (p. B5) Chinese buyers typically bought Tokyo studio apartments for $330,000 or less to rent out. Now they are buying much larger units and obtaining investment visas to relocate their families.

All told, an estimated $50 billion a month has been taken out of China this year, mainly by Chinese households and private-sector companies.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher and Joy Dong. “Suitcases of Cash: How China’s Money Flows Out.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023): B1 & B5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Gold Bars and Tokyo Apartments: How Money Is Flowing Out of China.”)