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.

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].

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.

Supply Chain Fragility During Pandemic Undermines “Just-in-Time” Business Dogma

(p. A1) TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. is stockpiling up to four months of some parts. Volkswagen AG is building six factories so it can get its own batteries. And, in shades of Henry Ford, Tesla Inc. is trying to lock up access to raw materials.

The hyperefficient auto supply chain symbolized by the words “just in time” is undergoing its biggest transformation in more than half a century, accelerated by the troubles car makers have suffered during the pandemic. After sudden swings in demand, freak weather and a series of accidents, they are reassessing their basic assumption that they could always get the parts they needed when they needed them.

“The just-in-time model is designed for supply-chain efficiencies and economies of scale,” said Ashwani Gupta, Nissan Motor Co.’s chief operating officer. “The repercussions of an unprecedented crisis like Covid highlight the fragility of our supply-chain model.”

. . .

(p. A10) One day in 1950, Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno visited an American supermarket and marveled how the shelves were restocked as they were emptied, as Jeffrey Liker recounts in his book “The Toyota Way.” Shoppers were kept happy even though the supermarket had only small storerooms. It was the polar opposite of the car industry where warehouses were kept full of sheet metal and tires to ensure the assembly line never shut down.

Supermarkets had little choice, since they couldn’t stockpile bananas for months. Still, Mr. Ohno reasoned, their practices eliminated waste and cut costs. Toyota would only pay for what it needed to produce cars for a day. That meant they could make do with smaller factories and warehouses.

. . .

The tide began to turn with the global financial crisis. At least 50 auto suppliers went bankrupt, catching car makers by surprise. When suppliers like Visteon Corp. , a maker of air conditioners, radios and other components, declared bankruptcy, it led to fears that car factories relying on Visteon would also be unable to operate.

A different shock prompted a rethinking of just in time at the company where it started. The 2011 earthquake in northern Japan hit Toyota suppliers including chip maker Renesas Electronics Corp.

. . .

For certain components, Toyota asked its suppliers to stockpile parts, the antithesis of just in time. The on-hand inventory held by Toyota’s largest supplier, Denso Corp., rose to around 50 days’ worth of supply in the year ended March 2020, up from 38 days in 2011, according to its financial filings. Denso declined to comment on inventory figures but said it has started keeping emergency stores of parts, especially semiconductors.

Toyota’s efforts have helped it weather this year’s shortages of semiconductors better than many of its rivals, although it wasn’t perfect.

For the full story, see:

Sean McLain. “Auto Makers Hit Brakes On Just-in-Time Manufacturing.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 04, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 3, 2021, and has the title “Auto Makers Retreat From 50 Years of ‘Just in Time’ Manufacturing.”)

The most recent edition of the classic book on Toyota’s success, mentioned above, is:

Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way, 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2021.

When Athens Cancelled Socrates

(p. A15) A commitment to open expression has always defined liberalism, which gradually expanded our First Amendment protections. But now we see many liberals abandoning that principle, perhaps because they are no longer liberals in any meaningful sense of the term. How could they be, if they want tech barons to police our online reading? Facebook recently decided to stop blocking posts that suggested a “lab-leak” origin of Covid, but at the same time the company has been boasting of its efforts to downrank or “shadow-ban” accounts that share “misinformation” (in other words, they make it difficult for readers to find those accounts, without telling the account owners).

We sorely need a reminder of the follies and crimes of censorship. In “Dangerous Ideas,” Eric Berkowitz, a journalist and lawyer, offers a global history that identifies some recurring patterns in the suppression of free thinking. For starters, crackdowns almost inevitably happen when societies confront overwhelming crises. Philosophy flourished in ancient Athens, where free males (at least) enjoyed intellectual liberty, but after the Athenians suffered military defeat and a devastating pandemic, they canceled Socrates. Then Plato’s “Republic,” putting words into Socrates’ mouth, laid out a program for absolute control of speech and thought, anticipating in detail modern totalitarianism. Reading Plato, Mr. Berkowitz recognizes Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

. . .

What emerges from “Dangerous Ideas” is that ideological terms like blasphemy, subversion and hate speech are impossible to define. Thus there are never clear guidelines for censorship, which is inevitably inconsistent and often absurd. “We really do not know what is demanded of us,” protested a czarist censor jailed for making a wrong call. Facebook moderators can only be fired, but face a similar quandary.

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Rose. “BOOKSHELF; The Follies Of Censorship.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 08, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Dangerous Ideas’ Review: The Follies of Censorship.”)

The book under review is:

Berkowitz, Eric. Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2021.

Bezos’s Intuitions Drove Amazon’s Innovations

(p. 12) . . . Alexa, the voice coming out of my Echo, more or less is Jeff Bezos. He came up with the idea of a smart speaker in January 2011, back in the era of Google Plus and the iPod Shuffle. Bezos emailed his top deputies that month and declared, “We should build a $20 device with its brains in the cloud that’s completely controlled by our voice.”

For the next nearly four years, he obsessively micromanaged the project, pushing teams in Atlanta and Gdansk to make speech recognition seamless. He put in place a surreal testing protocol that involved hiring temps to spend days in empty apartments chattering away to silent speakers, and berated executives who told him it would take decades to develop speech recognition. He took home an early Echo prototype and when, in a moment of frustration, he told it to go “shoot yourself in the head,” it sent a wave of panic through the engineers who were listening in. He even came up with the idea for the LED ring on top, Stone writes, and with the name “Alexa” (in homage to the ancient library of Alexandria).

. . .

Amazon in the 2010s was an intensely personal venture, run by one of the wealthiest men in the world according to his own desires and reflecting his own personality.

. . .

Like Alexa, Amazon as a company seems to embody some of Bezos’ best personal qualities (his relentless drive to get you that package on time) and his worst (an “informal cruelty” that defines his company’s culture and requires that his factory workers and executives make personal sacrifices for corporate needs).

At Amazon, nearly every big decision comes down to a meeting with Bezos, at which his deputies hold their breaths, genuinely uncertain of whether he will berate them and tear up their proposals, or double their planned budgets. Some of his fixations, like his determination to create a smart speaker, are visionary.

. . .

It was, Stone writes, “a different style of innovation,” in which employees “worked backwards from Bezos’ intuition and were catering to his sometimes eclectic tastes (literally).”

For the full review, see:

Ben Smith. “Colossus.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 13, 2021): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated June 17,, 2021, and has the title “To Understand Amazon, We Must Understand Jeff Bezos.”)

The book under review is:

Stone, Brad. Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

“Anti-Heroism Goes Too Far”

(p. 11) In “Extra Life,” Steven Johnson, a writer of popular books on science and technology, tells the stories behind what he calls, in an understatement, “one of the greatest achievements in the history of our species.” Starting in the second half of the 19th century, the average life span began to climb rapidly, giving humans not just extra life, but an extra life. In rich countries, life expectancy at birth hit 40 by 1880, 50 by 1900, 60 by 1930, 70 by 1960, and 80 by 2010.

. . .

It’s been a long time since the history of technology has been recounted as the triumph of plucky heroes, and Johnson’s stories reflect today’s more sophisticated understanding.

. . .

Sometimes the anti-heroism goes too far — Norman Borlaug, whose Green Revolution saved a billion lives, is unmentioned. But altogether, Johnson is a fine storyteller. Among his cast of characters are John Graunt (1620–74), the British haberdasher who studied mortality reports as a hobby and thereby invented epidemiology; Joseph Bazalgette (1819–91), the man behind “one of the 19th century’s greatest engineering achievements,” which you probably did not guess was the London sewers; “Moldy Mary” Hunt (1910–91), the Peoria bacteriologist who scoured fruit markets for the perfect rotten cantaloupe, the one with a strain of mold that enabled the mass production of penicillin; John Stapp (1910–99), who strapped himself into his invention, the rocket sled, and safely decelerated from 628 miles per hour to 0 in 1.4 seconds; and Dilip Mahalanabis, 86, the Indian pediatrician who discovered that a bit of salt and sugar dissolved in clean water could stop fatal diarrhea and thereby saved the lives of nearly 60 million people.

For the full review, see:

Steven Pinker. “Modern Miracle.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 13, 2021): 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May [sic] 11, 2021, and has the title “How Humans Gained an ‘Extra Life’.”)

The book under review is:

Johnson, Steven. Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer. New York: Riverhead Books, 2021.

Warburg Focused on Cancer’s “Ravenous” Metabolizing of Sugars

(p. A15) Hours before Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, SS leader Heinrich Himmler convened a perplexing meeting. He and his minions put aside preparations for the offensive to chitchat about a gay biochemist of Jewish descent in Berlin. Not to rage about the man, or plot his downfall—to the contrary, the Nazis believed this scientist could save the Reich, by ridding it of a threat they feared every bit as much as Jews, homosexuals and communists—the scourge of cancer.

That scientist, Otto Warburg, is the subject of “Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer–Diet Connection,” an eye-opening work by journalist Sam Apple.

. . .

There’s no doubt Warburg was brilliant—the greatest biochemist of his day—and in the 1930s he focused on cancer, a major concern of the Nazis. Cancer deaths skyrocketed 287% in Germany between 1876 and 1910, “making a quiet mockery of the extraordinary march of German science,” Mr. Apple notes. From the Führer down, Nazi leaders trembled at the disease, and they enacted surprisingly modern measures to fight cancer. They railed against cigarettes, encouraged women to examine their breasts for lumps and worked to eliminate pesticides and artificial preservatives in food.

In his lab, Warburg made seemingly fundamental discoveries about how cancer worked.

. . .

The second half of “Ravenous” shifts into the (somewhat tenuous) links between Warburg’s research and our modern understanding of cancer. The biochemical complexities get a bit gnarly—there’s a dizzying amount of detail, making it hard to follow the main thread on occasion. Among other things, Warburg discovered that cancer cells gobble up far more glucose (a sugar) than their nonmalignant neighbors—“eating like shipwrecked sailors,” Mr. Apple writes. Oddly, cancer cells also metabolize sugars through fermentation, in a manner analogous to yeast cells. Biochemically, fermentation is normally a backup power generator for human cells, used only when oxygen runs low. Warburg found that cancer cells were running the backup generator all the time.

. . .

. . ., it’s not clear how much credit Warburg deserves. I walked away from “Ravenous” thinking of Otto Warburg as a sort of Sigmund Freud of cancer research. Freud got One Big Thing right—that the unconscious drives much of human behavior. But he was wrong on nearly every detail. Similarly, Warburg explicitly rejected good evidence for the insulin-cancer link during his lifetime, among other blunders, making it tricky to uphold him as a pioneer of modern cancer research.

Nevertheless, history will show that Otto Warburg always insisted that cancer was intimately tied to metabolism. As one latter-day biologist noted, marveling over Warburg’s rehabilitation, “We found out that son of a bitch was right.”

For the full review, see:

Sam Kean. “BOOKSHELF; Untangling a Disease.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 16, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 15, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Ravenous’ Review: Untangling a Disease.”)

The book under review is:

Apple, Sam. Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2021.

“All Seasons Press” Will Publish Books Cancelled by Mainstream

(p. B4) Two veteran book-publishing executives have teamed up to launch a conservative publishing house called All Seasons Press LLC as ideological debates roil a book industry increasingly fueled by demand for political titles.

Louise Burke, the former president and publisher of Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books Group, and Kate Hartson, whom Hachette Book Group dismissed as editorial director of its Center Street imprint earlier this year, said conservative authors are finding it harder to get published in the post-Trump era.

“I’m increasingly concerned and somewhat outraged about what’s going on in terms of free speech and free press,” said Ms. Burke, who retired in August 2017 after a 40-year career.

. . .

The company’s launch comes as some conservatives allege that much of the nation’s news media, publishers and mainstream social-media platforms are biased against them. They are looking to set up alternatives that they say better support free speech.

For the full story, see:

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg. “Book Imprint to Serve Conservative Voices.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, June 16, 2021): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 15, 2021, and has the title “New Book Publisher Caters to Conservative Voices.”)

Government Cover Ups

(p. 230) It’s hard enough to find out about the things the universe prefers to keep hidden without our government, which somebody you know must have voted for, covering up what has already been found. Sometimes, of course, it hides things to save its own neck and sometimes seemingly just for the hell of it.

Norman Maclean’s musings, quoted above, are from his wonderful prize-winning account of the Mann Gulch fire in which Wag Dodge spontaneously invented a way to save his life from the wall of fire speeding toward him:

Maclean, Norman. Young Men and Fire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017 [first edition 1992].

The Promise of Gene Editing Is Greater Than the Peril

(p. C1) The Berkeley biochemist [Jennifer Doudna] had helped to invent a powerful new technology that made it possible to edit the human genome—an achievement that made her the recipient of a Nobel Prize in 2020. The innovation was based on a trick that bacteria have used for more than a billion years to fight off viruses, a talent very relevant to us humans these days. In their DNA, bacteria develop clustered, repeated sequences (what scientists call CRISPRs) that can recognize and then chop up viruses that attack them. Dr. Doudna and others adapted the system to create a tool that can edit DNA—opening up the potential for curing genetic diseases, creating healthier babies, inventing new vaccines, and helping humans to fight their own wars against viruses.

. . .

(p. C2) . . . the advances in CRISPR technology, combined with the havoc wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, have pushed me to be more open to gene editing. I now see the promise of CRISPR more clearly than the peril. If we are wise in how we use it, biotechnology can make us more able to fend off lethal viruses and overcome serious genetic defects.

After millions of centuries during which evolution happened “naturally,” humans now can hack the code of life and engineer our own genetic futures. Or, for those who decry gene editing as “playing God,” let’s put it this way: Nature and nature’s God, in their wisdom, have evolved a species that can modify its own genome.

For the full commentary, see:

Walter Isaacson. “What Gene Editing Can Do for Humankind.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021): C1-C2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 19, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Isaacson’s commentary is related to his book:

Isaacson, Walter. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.