Jon Stewart’s Solyndra Riff Skewered Industrial Policy

Remember Solyndra? Apparently too few do. Today’s WSJ reports how the U.S. is imitating China’s “industrial policy” of subsidizing favored firms in favored industries such as green energy and semiconductors. To remind us that Larry Summers was right when he wrote that “government is a crappy venture capitalist,” I link above to Jon Stewart’s wise and funny send-up of the Solyndra debacle, first broadcast almost 10 years ago, on September 15, 2011.

The WSJ article mentioned above, is:

Ip, Greg. “West Dusts Off an Old Idea to Compete with China.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 30, 2021): A1 & A7.

Omaha’s “Boutique” Quarantine Unit Looked Backward to Ebola, Not Forward to Covid-19

(p. C1) Quarantine can be lifesaving; it can also be dangerous, an exercise of extraordinary power in the name of disease control, a presumption of guilt instead of innocence.

In “Until Proven Safe,” a new book about quarantine’s past and future, Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley do an impressively judicious job of explaining exactly why fears of quarantine are understandable and historically justified, . . .

. . .

(p. C6) What becomes clear in “Until Proven Safe” is that it’s a lot easier to tell someone else to just shut up and submit to quarantine than to do it yourself. Any exercise of such formidable power also opens up the possibility of abuse. The book includes historical examples of disease control measures getting mapped onto existing prejudices. In 1900, a cordon sanitaire in San Francisco’s Chinatown zigzagged around white-owned businesses; . . .

. . .

Quarantine infrastructures tend to be tailored to the previous epidemic, instead of anticipating whatever is to come. A shiny new federal quarantine facility in Omaha — the first constructed in the United States in more than a century — was finished in January 2020, just in time to receive 15 American passengers from the coronavirus-infested Diamond Princess cruise ship. This National Quarantine Unit has a grand total of 20 beds. It offers a “boutique experience” ideally suited to managing one or two patients at a time after they have had potential exposure to, say, Ebola. The facility can’t do much to help contain a raging pandemic. As Manaugh and Twilley point out, the first American evacuation flight out of Wuhan alone carried 195 passengers.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; You Can’t Leave Unless We Say So.” The New York Times (Tuesday, July 27, 2021): C1 & C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 26, 2021, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Extraordinary History (and Likely Busy Future) of Quarantine.”)

The book under review is:

Twilley, Nicola, and Geoff Manaugh. Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2021.

Lack of Full FDA Vaccine Approval Discourages Use

(p. A12) Even as President Biden, the C.D.C. and virtually the entire scientific community are urging — pleading with, even — Americans to get vaccinated, the government has not formally approved any vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration has instead given only “emergency use authorization” to the shots from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. That’s a temporary form of approval that allows people to receive shots while the agency continues to study their effectiveness and safety.

The difference between emergency authorization and full approval matters.

. . .

The situation also feeds uncertainty and skepticism among some Americans who have not yet gotten a shot. Those skeptics, as Matthew Yglesias of Substack wrote yesterday, are effectively taking the F.D.A. at its word. The F.D.A. leaders’ official position is that “they don’t have enough safety data yet,” Yglesias noted.

. . .

. . ., public health officials made highly technical statements about masks that many people interpreted as discouragement from wearing them. These statements ignored the many reasons to believe that masks could make a difference (like their longtime popularity in Asia to prevent the spread of viruses) and focused instead on the absence of studies showing that masks specifically prevented the spread of Covid.

Later, officials insisted that they were merely “following the data.” In truth, though, they were basing their advice on a narrow reading of the data — . . . .

. . .

Think of it this way: In the highly unlikely event that the evidence were to change radically — if, say, the vaccines began causing serious side effects about 18 months after people had received a shot — Americans would not react by feeling confident in the F.D.A. and grateful for its caution. They would be outraged that Woodcock and other top officials had urged people to get vaccinated.

The combination means that the F.D.A.’s lack of formal approval has few benefits and large costs: The agency has neither protected its reputation for extreme caution nor maximized the number of Americans who have been protected from Covid. “In my mind, it’s the No. 1 issue in American public health,” Topol told me. “If we got F.D.A. approval, we could get another 20 million vaccinated,” he estimated.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. “Why, After Months of Shots, Are None Approved?.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 22, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2021, and has the title “Why Aren’t the Vaccines Approved?”)

Biden’s “Infrastructure” Central Planners Aim to Tear Up Earlier Central Planners’ Highways

(p. A10) As midcentury highways reach the end of their life spans, cities across the country are having to choose whether to rebuild or reconsider them. And a growing number, like Rochester, are choosing to take them down.

. . .

Nearly 30 cities nationwide are currently discussing some form of removal.

. . .

The growing movement has been energized by support from the Biden administration, which has made addressing racial justice and climate change, major themes in the debate over highway removal, central to its agenda.

. . .

Congress is still haggling over Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, but experts say the proposed funding for highway removal represents a shift in the way the government approaches transportation projects.

“As recently as a decade ago,” said Peter D. Norton, a transportation historian at the University of Virginia, “every transportation problem was a problem to be solved with new roads.” Now, the impacts of those roads are beginning to enter the equation.

For the full story, see:

Nadja Popovich, and Denise Lu. “Can Removing Highways Fix America’s Cities?” The New York Times (Saturday, May 29, 2021): A10-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The online version, but not the print version, lists Josh Williams as the second co-author.)

Elon Musk Says He Prefers Being an Engineer to Being Boss of Tesla

If Musk really prefers being an engineer, why doesn’t he resign as CEO and take a job as an engineer? Maybe like many entrepreneurs, he complains, but in his heart he prefers being an entrepreneur?

(p. B1) WILMINGTON, Del.—Elon Musk said Tesla bought SolarCity Corp. for one fundamental reason: to become more than a car company.

The Tesla Inc. chief executive made the argument as he wrapped up two days of sometimes feisty testimony in court, defending the roughly $2.1 billion tie-up completed in 2016 at a time both Tesla and SolarCity were financially struggling.

. . .

Though the grilling focused largely on what information Tesla shareholders were given about the financial condition of SolarCity, Mr. Musk at times veered farther afield in answering, particularly when it came to whether he exerted too much control over the purchase, a key question in the trial.

On Monday he said that he didn’t enjoy being the boss of Tesla. “I rather hate it, and I would much prefer to spend my time on design and engineering, which is what intrinsically I like doing,” he said.

When Mr. Baron on Tuesday asked Mr. Musk whether he had lied about when a core SolarCity product would be ready to sell in large volume, he responded, “I have a habit of being optimistic.” Mr. Baron fired back: “This is more than optimistic. This is just plain out false.”

For the full story, see:

Dave Michaels and Rebecca Elliott. “Musk Says Deal Helped Diversify.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 14, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 13, 2021, and has the title “Elon Musk Defends SolarCity Deal: ‘The Goal Is Not to Be a Car Company’.”)

Critical Race Theory Rejects Enlightenment Rationalism and the Declaration of Independence

(p. A15) . . ., relatively few Americans—including those who regularly denounce it—know much about what critical race theory is. It originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. To find out more about it, I turned to “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

. . .

Because the Declaration of Independence—the founding document of the American liberal order—is a product of Enlightenment rationalism, a doctrine that rejects the Enlightenment tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation.

For the full commentary, see:

William A. Galston. “How Adherents See ‘Critical Race Theory’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book co-authored by a founder of critical race theory that is mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Delgador, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: NYU Press, 2017 [1st ed., 2001; 2nd ed., 2012].

SAS Entrepreneurs Forgo Billions in Order to Maintain Firm’s Tightknit Culture

Profits provide valuable information about whether a firm is doing something that consumers like, at a price they are willing to pay. But I think it is OK for a firm’s owners to seek less profits in return for more of some other values. Though personally, I would not forgo billions in order to preserve a yoga studio and a disc golf course.

(p. B1) Talks for Broadcom Inc. to buy SAS Institute Inc. have ended after the founders of the closely held software company changed their minds about a sale, people familiar with the matter said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the companies were discussing a deal that would value SAS in the range of $15 billion to $20 billion, including any debt. Following the report, Jim Goodnight and John Sall, who co-founded SAS decades ago and still run the company, had a change of heart and decided not to sell to Broadcom, the people said. Whether another suitor for SAS could emerge isn’t clear.

Some SAS employees saw the company as a strange fit for efficiency-focused Broadcom, some of the people familiar with the matter said. SAS is known for a tightknit culture and has a sprawling North Carolina campus with amenities including a yoga studio and a disc golf course.

For the full story, see:

Cara Lombardo. “SAS Calls Off Broadcom Talks.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 14, 2021): B1.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “Broadcom No Longer in Talks to Buy SAS.” The words “and a disc golf course” appear in the online version, but not in the print version.)

Cuban Communists Ban “Patria y Vida”

I highlighted the spirit and courage of those who sang the “Patria y Vida” song in my blog entry on February 22, 2021.

(p. A1) The protesters pouring into streets across Cuba have a common rallying cry: “Patria y Vida,” or “Fatherland and Life.” The phrase comes from a hip-hop song released a few months ago by dissident Cuban artists who set out to challenge the government—and in the process helped spark a wave of protests against the 62-year communist regime.

In the demonstrations that began Sunday, Cubans have called for an end to the regime, protesting the scarcity of food and medicine amid a surge of coronavirus cases. For Cuba’s frustrated youth in particular, “Patria y Vida” has become a danceable protest anthem and a viral sensation, with nearly six million views on YouTube.

. . .

(p. A8) The Cuban regime has banned any playing of “Patria y Vida.” The lyrics respond to Cuba’s revolutionary motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Fatherland or Death,” with lines like: “No more lies! My people demand freedom. No more doctrines! / Let us no longer shout ‘Fatherland or Death’ but ‘Fatherland and Life.’ ”

. . .

Messrs. Castillo, Otero and about 20 others created the San Isidro Movement to challenge the government by taking art from the galleries and music studios to the street, making performances public and organizing independent exhibits. The name came from the neighborhood where Messrs. Castillo and Otero live in Old Havana.

. . .

“It’s your fault that a whole nation is suffering,” sang Mr. Castillo in a song titled “Because of You, Sir,” and directed to Fidel Castro. The video juxtaposes images of the famed revolutionary leader next to rundown scenes of Havana, with hungry and hopeless residents looking through garbage.

Weeks after the release of “Patria y Vida,” police attempted to arrest Mr. Castillo near Mr. Otero’s home, but hundreds of angry San Isidro residents forced them to retreat. Video that was later shared widely captured him strutting on the street shirtless with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrist, while hundreds in the crowd sang “Patria y Vida” . . . .

For the full story, see:

Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba. “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “‘Patria y Vida’: The Dissident Rappers Helping Drive Cuba’s Protests.” The online version of the article says the print version had the title “The Artists Rattling Cuba’s Regime,” but my print version had the title “Rap Artists Stir Cuban Protests.” I think I receive the Central edition, but can’t find where that is stated.)

Highly Praised Robot Is Replaced by Humans in a Variety of Jobs

(p. A1) TOKYO—Having a robot read scripture to mourners seemed like a cost-effective idea to the people at Nissei Eco Co., a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business.

The company hired child-sized robot Pepper, clothed it in the vestments of Buddhist clergy and programmed it to chant several sutras, or Buddhist scriptures, depending on the sect of the deceased.

Alas, the robot, made by SoftBank Group Corp., kept breaking down during practice runs. “What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony?” said funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki. “It would be such a disaster.”

Pepper was fired. The company ended its lease of the robot and sent it back to the manufacturer. After a rash of similar mishaps across Japan, in which Pepper botched its job at (p. A10) a nursing home and gave baseball fans a creepy feeling, some people are saying the humanoid itself will need a funeral soon.

. . .

. . . , a Japanese hotel chain created a robot-operated hotel, with dinosaur-shaped robots handling front-desk duties, only to reverse course after the plan failed to save money and created more work for humans.

Pepper was given a perky demeanor and programmed to grasp human emotions and engage in basic conversation. It starred in some early demonstrations. But like a candidate who puts on a fine performance at his job interview only to drive his bosses crazy later, Pepper lacked the skills it said it had, say some of his managers.

In 2016, a Tokyo-area nursing-home operator called Ittokai introduced three units of Pepper, each at a cost of around $900 a month, to lead singing and exercises for elderly people at the home.

“Users got excited to have it early on because of its novelty,” said Masataka Iida, an executive at the company. “But they lost interest sooner than expected.” Mr. Iida said Pepper’s repertoire of exercise moves was limited and, owing to mechanical errors, it sometimes took unplanned breaks in the middle of its shift. After three years, the company pulled the plug.

. . .

SoftBank also touted Pepper as a companion for the home. The initial batch of 1,000 units sold out in a minute despite the hefty price tag.

Technology journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa said he “fell in love at first sight” after seeing Mr. Son, the SoftBank chief, present a futuristic picture of living with a chatty Pepper.

After arriving at the Ishikawa home, however, Pepper couldn’t recognize the faces of family members or carry on a proper conversation, said Mr. Ishikawa. The robot, connected to the cloud, is supposed to remember the family even after a breakdown, Mr. Ishikawa says, but when Pepper returned home after the repair of a sensor, Pepper greeted him, “Nice to meet you!”

He shipped the robot back to SoftBank in 2018 after spending at least $9,000 over the three-year life of his subscription services agreement; he wasn’t eligible for any form of refund.

“It was such a waste of money. I still regret it,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Miho Inada. “Humanoid Robot Keeps Getting Fired From Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “Humanoid Robot Keeps Getting Fired From His Jobs.”)

India’s Tata “Paid a Harsh Price” for Keeping Distance from Government

(p. A15) Mr. Raianu, a historian at the University of Maryland, is guilty of no hype when he titles his book “Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism.”

. . .

No other company has dominated the history of its national commerce and industry quite as much as the house of Tata in India, where it is one of the few major businesses still regarded as unstained by overt corruption. Although family-run for most of its existence—the stubborn Indian norm for merchants—the Tata company was from an early date “unusual” among India’s corporate groups (Mr. Raianu says) in employing professional executives and “talented nonrelatives.” The company also “kept its distance from the state” in both colonial and postcolonial times. It gave only lukewarm support to the Indian National Congress, which meant that the Tatas had few political chips to cash when the Congress party came to govern a free India. It paid a harsh price for this aloofness when Air India—the Tatas’ thriving aviation arm—was nationalized by Prime Minister Nehru in 1953.

. . .

The Parsi character of the company has, in many ways, helped it to transcend the mud pit of Indian business. The Parsis are a minuscule community, numbering around 57,000 Indians today. Practitioners of Zoroastrianism, they fled to India in the eighth century when Persia came under the sway of Islam. They embraced Western ways more readily than other Indians and, as a result, thrived under the British. Parsis, writes Mr. Raianu, “typified the religious minority exempt from ritual restrictions of caste and guild systems, much like European Jews.” And so they were more ready to look outward—to foreign opportunities—than the hidebound Indian business castes.

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “BOOKSHELF; From Homestead to Hegemony.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book under review is:

Raianu, Mircea. Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021.

Chinese Communists Arrest Many Uyghur Muslim Entrepreneurs

(p. A7) In the summer of 2018, Sadir Eli, a Uyghur businessman, was in high spirits. His real-estate firm was pulling in strong profits, and he told his daughter he would buy a house for her in Massachusetts.

Then, Mr. Eli was accused of being a separatist and disappeared into the black box of China’s prison system in the northwest Xinjiang region.

“He did not engage in politics,” said Maria Mohammad, who last heard from her husband in June 2018, shortly before he was detained. Instead, she believes, Mr. Eli was targeted in part because he was a rich businessman, giving him influence that the authorities viewed as a threat.

The Xinjiang government didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Eli’s fate brings to life an overlooked element of China’s suppression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang: the arrests of elite Uyghur business owners whose wealth and commercial interests enabled them to act as a bridge between Chinese authorities and Uyghur civil society. Some scholars saw them as helping narrow the economic gap between China’s Han majority and Xinjiang’s mostly Muslim ethnic minorities—a disparity that has fueled tensions in the strategically vital but fractious northwestern region.

The predecessor of Chinese leader Xi Jinping had envisioned economic development as the “foundation to solving all problems” in Xinjiang, a view more or less held by Beijing for more than a decade. But under Mr. Xi’s drive for national unity and assimilation, Chinese authorities have changed tack, making security and social control the region’s top priorities.

. . .

Nearly one-fifth of 4,572 people tracked in a database of individuals who have disappeared into Xinjiang’s internment camps and prisons made their livings in private business, according to nonprofit Uyghur Hjelp. The research and advocacy group, which shared its data with The Wall Street Journal, compiled the information through interviews with relatives and friends.

For the full story, see:

Eva Xiao. “Crackdown Hits Uyghur Entrepreneurs.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 13, 2021, and has the title “China Locks Up Uyghur Businessmen; ‘In Their Eyes, We Are All Guilty’.”)