“Solar Geoengineering” Is “a Test of Our Technological Ingenuity”

(p. C6) . . . humans have been so successful at changing the environment that we have become the dominant influence on the natural world. According to Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, “Under a White Sky,” how we proceed is, in one sense, full of possibility, a test of our technological ingenuity and derring-do, . . .

. . .

Kolbert is a writer for The New Yorker, where parts of this book originally appeared. Her narrative voice is steady and restrained — the better, it sometimes seems, to allow an unadorned reality to show through, its contours unimpeded by frantic alarmism or baroque turns of phrase. The people she meets are trying to reverse the course of man-made environmental disaster, whether that might involve electrifying a river, shooting diamond dust into the stratosphere or genetically modifying a species to extinction. She says that the “strongest argument” in favor of some of the most fantastical sounding measures tends to be a sober realism: “What’s the alternative?”

The biggest and most urgent of the impending cataclysms involves climate change. Mitigation efforts — reducing emissions — won’t do anything to alleviate the greenhouse gases that are already trapping heat on our planet. The title of Kolbert’s book comes from one possible side-effect of “solar geoengineering” (or “solar radiation management,” in what’s supposed to be the less scary parlance). Spraying light-reflective particles into the atmosphere will make blue skies look white.

For the full review, see:

Szalai, Jennifer. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Exploring All Measures to Save the Environment.” The New York Times (Thursday, February 11, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 10, 2021, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Electrified Rivers and Other Attempts to Save the Environment.”)

The book under review is:

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. New York: Crown, 2021.

When Incumbents Can’t Compete, They Seek to Regulate and Litigate Startups

(p. B5) Figs Inc. has fashioned itself as the Warby Parker of medical uniforms, using advertising splashed on subways and billboards to sell its form-fitting scrubs directly to nurses and doctors.

. . .

Careismatic Brands, a leader in medical apparel with brands of scrubs like Cherokee and Dickies, has pursued litigation against Figs since 2019, saying the smaller company has misled health-care workers with boasts about how its products help keep them safe.

. . .

Startups increasingly have to prepare for legal challenges from the industry they are trying to disrupt, said Arun Sundararajan, a business professor at New York University. Starting with the rise of Uber and Airbnb, “The incumbents chose regulation and litigation to try to push them back,” he said, a strategy that has been replicated.

For the full story, see:

Sara Randazzo. “Figs, a Maker of Scrubs, Fights Lawsuit Over Ads, Marketing.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 4, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 3, 2021, and has the title “Figs Fights Lawsuit Over Scrubs Ads.”)

Clubhouse Tests the Market for Live Unfiltered Talk

(p. B1) Clubhouse and other audio-based social networks are attracting users with a simple appeal: hearing another human voice.

. . .

(p. B4) Clubhouse could be successful in building paid features because of its air of exclusivity—an invitation is required to join, but easy to procure—and the high-profile names coming to converse on the platform, including Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, actor Lindsay Lohan and Brad Parscale, one-time campaign manager for former President Donald Trump.

. . .  Mr. Musk’s appearance had in part helped drive an influx of China-based users to Clubhouse, where they participated in a rare outpouring of free debate on topics that are taboo in China, until Beijing’s censors this week appeared to cut off access to the app.

Any Clubhouse user can create a virtual room with designated speakers to discuss any topic, for example the merits of bitcoin, startup-building advice, stand-up comedy, or recovery from childhood trauma. Poetry readings, bedtime serenades and guided meditation are on offer. A number of the conversations are about Clubhouse itself, with users dissecting the app, lamenting its shortcomings and complaining about other users.

Tech executives have questioned the staying power of an app with so few guardrails for the length and quality of conversation and no way to filter out idle chatter.

. . .

As with seemingly all online communities, the challenge of moderation looms. Live audio is tougher to moderate than text or images, . . .

For the full story, see:

Heather Somerville. “Social Networks With A Voice Draw Users.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb 12, 2021): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 11, 2021, and has the title “Clubhouse Wins Over Hollywood, Tech, Even Elon Musk. Are You Next?”)

Disney Cancels Canaro for Daring to Defend Free Speech

(p. B2) Lucasfilm said it is no longer working with Gina Carano after the actress’s social-media posts angered fans.

Ms. Carano played the character Cara Dune on “The Mandalorian,” a television series inspired by the Star Wars franchise that is available to stream on Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ service. Lucasfilm is a unit of Disney.

“Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future,” a spokeswoman for the studio said. “Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

On Tuesday [Feb. 9, 2021], Ms. Carano shared an Instagram story, or a post that disappears, that read in part: “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views,” according to a report in Variety on Wednesday [Feb. 10, 2021].

For the full story, see:

Micah Maidenberg. “‘Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Over Her Posts.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb 12, 2021): B2.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 11, 2021, and has the title “‘The Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Gina Carano Over Social-Media Posts.”)

When Leftist James R. Flynn Disagreed, He Would Argue, Not Cancel

(p. B10) Dr. Jensen was best known for an article he published in 1969 claiming that the differences between Black and white Americans on I.Q. tests resulted from genetic differences between the races — and that programs that tried to improve Black educational outcomes, like Head Start, were bound to fail.

Dr. Flynn, a committed leftist who had once been a civil rights organizer in Kentucky, felt instinctively that Dr. Jensen was wrong, and he set out to prove it.  . . .

Like most researchers in his field, Dr. Jensen had assumed that intelligence was constant across generations, pointing to the relative stability of I.Q. tests over time as evidence. But Dr. Flynn noticed something that no one else had: Those tests were recalibrated every decade or so. When he looked at the raw, uncalibrated data over nearly 100 years, he found that I.Q. scores had gone up, dramatically.

“If you scored people 100 years ago against our norms, they would score a 70,” or borderline mentally disabled, he said later. “If you scored us against their norms, we would score 130” — borderline gifted.

. . .

“He surprised everyone, despite the fact that the field of intelligence research is intensely data-centric,” the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said in an interview. “This philosopher discovered a major phenomenon that everyone had missed.”

Though Dr. Flynn published his research in 1984, it was not until a decade later that it drew attention outside the narrow world of intelligence researchers.

The turning point came with the publication in 1994 of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, which argued that genes play a dominant role in shaping intelligence — a position that its fiercest critics called racist. In reviewing arguments for and against their position, the authors outlined Dr. Flynn’s research and even gave it a name: the Flynn effect.

. . .

“Jim was a paragon of intellectual curiosity and willingness to look at all the evidence,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. “He had almost a childlike curiosity, and I mean that in a good way.”

. . .

Unlike many academics, Dr. Flynn increased his output as he aged: Eleven of his 18 books appeared in his last decade, many of them going back to his earlier interests in political theory and free speech. He became increasingly focused on academic freedom and a critic of so-called cancel culture, especially on campus.

His last book, “In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor,” was rejected by its first publisher as incendiary — though, as Dr. Flynn pointed out, he was merely summarizing the positions of people he disagreed with, in order to make a larger point. Frustrated, he found a new publisher for the book, which he retitled “A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities” (2019).

“Dad was always very respectful of people he disagreed with, and hated the trend of boycotting academics because of their views,” Professor Flynn, his son, said. “He very much thought that people should be able to express their views, and if you don’t agree, argue with them.”

For the full obituary, see:

Clay Risen. “James R. Flynn, Who Found We’re Getting Smarter, and Why, Dies at 86.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 27, 2021): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 25, 2021, and has the title “James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86.”)

James R. Flynn’s last book was:

Flynn, James R. A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities. Washington, DC: Academica Press, 2019.

Musk Says Under F.A.A. Rules “Humanity Will Never Get to Mars”

(p. B5) Last week, SpaceX and government regulators seemed to be in a strange standoff. SpaceX had filled the propellant tanks of this prototype of Starship — its ninth one — and looked ready to launch. But then the rocket stayed on the ground when no approval from the F.A.A. arrived.

Mr. Musk expressed frustration on Twitter, describing the part of the F.A.A. that oversees SpaceX as “fundamentally broken.”

Mr. Musk wrote, “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities. Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.”

Late on Monday [Feb. 1, 2021], the F.A.A. gave permission for Tuesday’s launch, but then revealed that the December launch had occurred without the agency’s approval. SpaceX had requested a waiver to conduct that flight even though it had not shown that a pressure wave that could be generated by an explosion during the test would not pose a danger to the public. The F.A.A. denied the request. SpaceX defied the ruling and launched anyway.

Even if Starship had landed perfectly, launching it without approval was a violation of the company’s license.

For the full story, see:

Chang, Kenneth. “SpaceX’s Starship Mars Rocket Prototype Again Crashes After a Test Launch.” The New York Times (Weds., Feb. 3, 2021): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2021, and has the title “SpaceX’s Prototype Mars Rocket Crashes in Test Flight.”)

Career Staff at C.D.C. Developed the Decentralized Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Plans

(p. A8) “While scientists did their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor — I’ll be very blunt about it — did not do his job in getting ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions,” Mr. Biden added.

“It was a big mess,” he said. “It’s going to take time to fix, to be blunt with you.”

Health officials in the Trump administration have pushed back on those suggestions, pointing to hundreds of briefings that officials at the Department of Health and Human Services offered the incoming health team, including on vaccine allocation and distribution.

The highly decentralized plans to distribute and administer the vaccines, giving state and local health departments authority once doses had been delivered, were developed with career staff members at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department.

Officials involved in the last administration’s distribution plans said late last year that outside of the first few weeks, when they carefully managed the flow of second-dose reserves, their plan was always to ship out doses as they became available, and that they never intended to stockpile doses.

For the full story, see:

Katie Rogers, Noah Weiland and Sharon LaFraniere. “200 Million More Doses Coming, But the Logistics Are a Challenge.” The New York Times (Friday, February 12, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 11, 2021, and has the title “With More Vaccines Secured, Biden Warns of Hurdles to Come.”)

Nonpartisan CBO Estimates $15 Minimum Wage Would Cause 1.4 Million Job Loss

(p. B5) WASHINGTON — Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — a proposal included in the package of relief measures being pushed by President Biden — would add $54 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday [Feb. 8, 2021].

. . .

Critics of the plan noted a different element of the report: its forecast that raising the minimum wage to $15 would eliminate 1.4 million jobs by the time the increase takes full effect.

“Conservatives have been saying for a while that a recession is absolutely the wrong time to increase the minimum wage, even if it’s slowly phased in,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The economy’s just too fragile.”

For the full story, see:

Jason DeParle. “$15 Minimum Wage Would Cut Poverty And 1.4 Million Jobs.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 9, 2021): B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Minimum Wage Hike Would Help Poverty but Cost Jobs, Budget Office Says.”)

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report mentioned above is:

Congressional Budget Office. “The Budgetary Effects of the Raise the Wage Act of 2021.” Feb. 2021.

Walter Williams Wrote That a Minimum Wage “Encourages Racial Discrimination”

(p. 26) Walter E. Williams, a prominent conservative economist, author and political commentator who expressed profoundly skeptical views of government efforts to aid his fellow African-Americans and other minority groups, died on Tuesday [Dec. 1, 2020] on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, where he had taught for 40 years. He was 84.

His daughter, Devon Williams, said he died suddenly in his car after he had finished teaching a class.

. . .

In the 1970s, during a yearlong stint at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, Mr. Williams was commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress to study the ramifications of a minimum wage and of the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandated that laborers in federal construction projects be paid no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

He outlined his findings in a 1977 report: A minimum wage causes high rates of teenage unemployment, especially among minority workers, and actually “encourages racial discrimination.”

He concluded, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2017, that the Davis-Bacon Act had “explicit racist motivations.”

Suppose, he said, that there are 10 secretaries, five of them white and five of them Black — all equally qualified — who are applying for a job. “If by law you must pay them all the same wage,” he said, “it doesn’t cost anything to discriminate against the Black secretaries.” Without such a mandate, he suggested, the Black secretaries would have a better chance at being gainfully employed, even if at lower pay.

In his book “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Mr. Williams was similarly critical of a host of government measures involving labor — from taxicab regulations to occupational licensing — that in his view wound up disproportionately harming Black people in the name of preventing discrimination.

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. “Walter E. Williams, Conservative Economist on Black Issues, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 26.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 7, 2020, and has the title “Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues.”)

Williams’s book, mentioned above, is:

Williams, Walter E. The State Against Blacks. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

FDA Should Approve Faster Clinical Trials for Boosters to Block New Covid-19 Variants

(p. A17) . . . , it is essential to design clinical trials that can be completed within several months, to avert potential outbreaks of new variants. It’s fast, but given today’s scientific capabilities that could be enough time to do the required trials.

Take the South African variant known as B1351. The existing trials will be used to establish that the current vaccines provide clinical protection against Covid disease. But to prove the new versions targeting B1351 work as well as the current vaccines, the FDA can measure the antibody levels in the plasma from patients who have recovered from B1351 and establish a benchmark for the number of antibodies needed to neutralize that virus. Then the FDA can use those antibody levels as a proxy to evaluate whether updated vaccines are able to generate sufficient levels of protection.

This could allow vaccine makers to test new boosters in clinical trials that enroll 300 or 400 patients rather than 40,000, an enormous savings in cost and time. Larger and longer studies can be started at the same time, including ones that follow vaccinated patients.

For the full commentary, see:

Scott Gottlieb. “Another Promising Vaccine, This One From Johnson & Johnson.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 1, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 31, 2021, and has the same title as the online version.)