Pfizer Refused Federal Subsidy to “Liberate” Their “Scientists From Any Bureaucracy”

In September [2020], the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, appeared on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” where he was asked about not accepting government funding for development.

“The reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy,” Bourla explained. “When you get money from someone that always comes with strings. They want to see how we are going to progress, what type of moves you are going to do. They want reports. I didn’t want to have any of that. I wanted them — basically I gave them an open checkbook so that they can worry only about scientific challenges, not anything else.”

“And also,” he added, “I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics, by the way.”

For the full story, see:

Philip Bump. “No, Pfizer’s Apparent Vaccine Success Is Not a Function of Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed.” The Washington Post (online posted Monday, November 9, 2020).

(Note: bracketed year added.)

Bernie Sanders Is Uncomfortable that Twitter Censored Trump

Do you think there is truth to the critique that liberals have become too censorious and too willing to use their cultural and corporate and political power to censor or suppress ideas and products that offend them?

Look, you have a former president in Trump, who was a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, a pathological liar, an authoritarian, somebody who doesn’t believe in the rule of law. This is a bad-news guy. But if you’re asking me, do I feel particularly comfortable that the then-president of the United States could not express his views on Twitter? I don’t feel comfortable about that.

Now, I don’t know what the answer is. Do you want hate speech and conspiracy theories traveling all over this country? No. Do you want the internet to be used for authoritarian purposes and an insurrection, if you like? No, you don’t. So how do you balance that? I don’t know, but it is an issue that we have got to be thinking about. Because yesterday it was Donald Trump who was banned, and tomorrow, it could be somebody else who has a very different point of view.

I don’t like giving that much power to a handful of high-tech people. But the devil is obviously in the details, and it’s something we’re going to have to think long and hard on.

For the whole interview, see:

Klein, Ezra, interviewer. “An Unusually Optimistic Conversation With Bernie Sanders; The Vermont senator discusses the Rescue Act, cancel culture, the filibuster and more.” The Ezra Klein Show, on the New York Times web site. (Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021).

(Note: the first sentence question is by interviewer Ezra Klein. The following answer is by Senator Bernie Sanders.)

Vaccine Immunity, Plus Natural Immunity from Getting Covid-19, Equals Herd Immunity Soon

The author of the passages I quote below is a surgeon and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and has authored The Price We Pay, which I recently read. It is a disturbing, eye-opening, excellent account of why the costs of drugs are high and rising.

(p. A17) Anthony Fauci has been saying that the country needs to vaccinate 70% to 85% of the population to reach herd immunity from Covid-19. But he inexplicably ignores natural immunity. If you account for previous infections, herd immunity is likely close at hand.

. . .

Dr. Fauci’s vaccination-only path to herd immunity has significantly influenced the national conversation. KNBC-TV in Los Angeles has a county-by-county vaccine tracker showing a bar graph of the percentage of Californians vaccinated, with the zone 70% to 85% labeled “herd immunity.” Currently, it’s at 26%. The false construct does create a greater urgency for everyone to get vaccinated. But it also creates false justification for continued excessive restrictions on freedom. And it raises the possibility that authorities are misallocating the limited vaccine supply by failing to direct it toward people without natural antibodies.

. . .

Some experts claim they don’t talk about natural immunity because we shouldn’t trust it. But a recent Public Health England study found that less than 1% of 6,614 healthcare workers who had Covid-19 developed a reinfection within five months—even though many of them work with Covid patients. Other experts believe natural immunity is powerful. “Natural immunity after Covid-19 infection is likely lifelong, extrapolating from data on other coronaviruses that cause severe illness, SARS and MERS,” says Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease physician and professor at the University of California.

For the full commentary, see:

Marty Makary. “Herd Immunity Is Near, Despite Fauci’s Denial.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 25, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Makary book praised above is:

Makary, Marty. The Price We Pay: What Broke American Health Care–and How to Fix It. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

Cancelled Slate Podcaster “Heartsick” That Ideas Cannot Be Debated and Words Cannot Be Spoken

(p. B5) The online publication Slate has suspended a well-known podcast host after he debated with colleagues over whether people who are not Black should be able to quote a racial slur in some contexts.

. . .

Mr. Pesca explored the argument over the use of the slur in a 2019 podcast about a Black security guard who was fired for using it. In one recording of the episode, Mr. Pesca said, he used the term while quoting the man, but asked his producer to make a version without the term. After consultation with his producers and his supervisor, who objected to his quotation of the slur, they decided to go with the version without it, he said.

“The version of the story with the offensive word never aired, and this is how I think the editorial process should go,” Mr. Pesca said in the interview.

No action was taken against him after a human resources investigation into his quotation of the slur, Mr. Pesca said. He said he had apologized to the producers involved.

. . .

Mr. Pesca, who has worked at Slate for seven years, said he was “heartsick” over hurting his colleagues but added, “I hate the idea of things that are beyond debate and things that cannot be said.”

Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s former chairman and editor in chief, who left the company for the podcast start-up Pushkin in 2018, called Mr. Pesca “a huge talent and a fair-minded journalist.”

“I don’t think he did anything that merits discipline or consequences, and I think it’s an example of a kind of overreaction and a lack of judgment and perspective that is unfortunately spreading,” Mr. Weisberg said.

For the full story, see:

Katie Robertson and Ben Smith. “Podcast Host Suspended After Debate Over Slur.” The New York Times (Weds., February 24, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2021, and has the title “Slate Suspends Podcast Host After Debate Over Racial Slur.”)

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?”)

Evolution of 5G Will Likely Not Favor China

In the passage of the commentary quoted below “RAN equipment” stands for “radio access network equipment” which is key hardware in the latest 5G broadband technology.

(p. C3) Huawei’s first generation of 5G RAN base stations is a modified version of the older 4G infrastructure that yields faster speeds. The ultimate promise of 5G is an ubiquitous network customized to user needs. Trillions of devices and applications—known as the Internet of Things—using 5G technology will offer new solutions for everything from autonomous vehicles to industrial production management to remote surgery. But the drivers of 5G’s evolution will be semiconductors, software systems and cloud computing—areas in which the U.S., not Huawei or any other Chinese company, is the world leader.

Instead of being intimidated by Huawei, U.S. foreign policy makers should recognize the Chinese company’s situation, which is akin to the dominance that IBM enjoyed during the age of mainframe computing. IBM’s massive scale and proprietary standards and software made it hard for competitors to match its offerings. Only in the 1970s and ’80s, when Japan massively subsidized new competitors like NEC, did IBM falter. But the true decline of IBM and its Japanese competitors came with the rise of the internet. The web’s transparent standards enabled many new firms to “plug and play.” Semiconductors, software and desktop computing eventually led to the apps on your smartphone at a fraction of the cost of such functions 30 years ago.

Today, 5G is at a similar moment. A new generation of technological standards for 5G would allow specialist suppliers—like the Microsofts and Intels of the internet era—to compete against Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. Control via the old RAN infrastructure will be diminished by control via cloud computing and software, which plays to a key U.S. strength. Introducing these standards will take concerted action from U.S. firms, along with targeted U.S. government support, such as the adoption of procurement requirements to embody these new rules.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Cowhey and Susan Shirk. “The Danger of Exaggerating China’s Technological Prowess.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan 9, 2021): C3.

(Note: the first ellipsis is added; the second and third are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 8, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is related to the report:

Crowley, Peter, Chair. “Meeting the China Challenge: A New American Strategy for Technology Competition.” San Diego, CA: UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, Nov. 16, 2020.

Abramson “Was Too Busy Surfing” to Patent Wireless Networking

I argue that patents enable funding for poor inventors or inventors who aspire to big expensive breakthroughs. If you have independent means (like a professorship in Hawaii) and mainly aspire to surf, you can afford to ignore patents.

(p. B11) Professor Abramson has been called the father of wireless networking. But it was a shared paternity. The project included graduate students and several faculty members, notably Frank Kuo, a former Bell Labs scientist who came to the University of Hawaii in 1966, the same year Professor Abramson arrived.

His deepest expertise was in communication theory, the subject of his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford University. The fundamental design ideas behind ALOHAnet were his. In a 2018 oral history interview for the Computer History Museum, Professor Kuo recalled, “Norm was the theory and I was the implementer, and so we worked together pretty well.”

. . .

That the ALOHAnet technology became so widely used was partly because Professor Abramson and his team had shared it freely and welcomed other scientists to Hawaii.

“We had done no patenting, and ALOHA was published in scientific papers,” putting their work in the public domain, Professor Abramson said in the oral history, adding: “And that was fine with me. I was too busy surfing to worry about that sort of thing.”

. . .

Some of the data-networking techniques developed by Professor Abramson and his Hawaii team proved valuable not only in wireless communications but also in wired networks. One heir to his work was Robert Metcalfe, who in 1973 was a young computer scientist working at Xerox PARC, a Silicon Valley research laboratory that had become a fount of personal computer innovations.

Mr. Metcalfe was working on how to enable personal computers to share data over wired office networks. He had read a 1970 paper, written by Professor Abramson, describing ALOHAnet’s method for transmitting and resending data over a network.

“Norm kindly invited me to spend a month with him at the University of Hawaii to study ALOHAnet,” Mr. Metcalfe recalled in an email.

Mr. Metcalfe and his colleagues at Xerox PARC adopted and tweaked the ALOHAnet technology in creating Ethernet office networking. Later, Mr. Metcalfe founded an Ethernet company, 3Com, which thrived as the personal computer industry grew.

“Norm, thank you,” Mr. Metcalfe concluded in his email. “Aloha!”

For the full obituary, see:

Steve Lohr. “Norman Abramson, a Pioneer Behind Wireless Networking, Is Dead at 88.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 12, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Dec. 11, 2020, and has the title “Norman Abramson, Pioneer Behind Wireless Networks, Dies at 88.”)

Jobs Told Benioff to Build an “Application Ecosystem”

(p. B1) I first met Steve Jobs in 1984 when Apple Inc. hired me as a summer intern.

. . .

Even once my internship ended, we stayed in touch, and as my career progressed he became a mentor of sorts. Which is why, one memorable day in 2003, I found myself pacing anxiously in the reception area of Apple’s headquarters.

. . .

(p. B2) As Steve’s staff ushered me into Apple’s boardroom that day, I felt a rush of excitement coursing through my jangling nerves.

. . .

“Marc,” he said. “If you want to be a great CEO, be mindful and project the future.”

I nodded, perhaps a bit disappointed. He’d given me similar advice before, but he wasn’t finished.

Steve then told me we needed to land a big account, and to grow “10 times in 24 months or you’ll be dead.” I gulped. Then he said something less alarming, but more puzzling: We needed an “application ecosystem.”

. . .

One evening, over dinner in San Francisco, I was struck by an irresistibly simple idea. What if any developer from anywhere in the world could create their own application for the Salesforce platform? And what if we offered to store these apps in an online directory that allowed any Salesforce user to download them? I wouldn’t say this idea felt entirely comfortable. I’d grown up with the old view of innovation as something that should happen within the four walls of our offices. Opening our products to outside tinkering was akin to giving our intellectual property away. Yet, at that moment, I knew in my gut that if Salesforce was to become the new kind of company I wanted it to be, we would need to seek innovation everywhere.

. . .

Building an ecosystem is about acknowledging that the next game-changing innovation may come from a brilliant technologist and mentor based in Silicon Valley, or it may come from a novice programmer based halfway around the world. A company seeking to achieve true scale needs to seek innovation beyond its own four walls and tap into the entire universe of knowledge and creativity out there.

For the full commentary, see:

Marc Benioff. “What I Learned from Steve Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 12, 2019): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 11, 2019, and has the title “The Lesson I Learned from Steve Jobs.”)

Marc Benioff’s commentary is adapted from his co-authored book:

Benioff, Marc, and Monica Langley. Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change. New York: Currency, 2019.

Even Alibaba Entrepreneur Jack Ma Cannot Speak His Mind in Communist China

(p. A1) Chinese President Xi Jinping personally made the decision to halt the initial public offering of Ant Group, which would have been the world’s biggest, after controlling shareholder Jack Ma infuriated government leaders, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the matter.

. . .

In a speech on Oct. 24 [2020], days before the financial-technology giant was set to go public, Mr. Ma cited Mr. Xi’s words in what top government officials saw as an effort to burnish his own image and tarnish that of regulators, these people said.

At the event in Shanghai, Mr. Ma, the country’s richest man, quoted Mr. Xi saying, “Success does not have to come from me.” As a result, the tech executive said, he wanted to help solve China’s financial problems through innovation. Mr. Ma bluntly criticized the government’s increasingly tight financial regulation for holding back technology development, part of a long-running battle between Ant and its overseers.

. . .

During his 21-minute speech, he criticized Beijing’s campaign to control financial risks. “There is no systemic risk in China’s financial system,” he said. “Chinese finance has no system.”

He also took aim at the regulators, saying they “have only focused on risks and overlooked development.” He accused big Chinese banks of harboring a “pawnshop mentality.” That, Mr. Ma said, has “hurt a lot of entrepreneurs.”

His remarks went viral on Chinese social media, where some users applauded Mr. Ma for daring to speak out. In Beijing, though, senior officials were angry, and officials long calling for tighter financial regulation spoke up.

After Mr. Xi decided that Ant’s IPO needed to be halted, financial regulators led by Mr. Liu, the leader’s economic czar, convened on Oct. 31 and mapped out an action plan to take Mr. Ma to task, according to the government officials familiar with the decision-making.

For the full story, see:

Jing Yang and Lingling Wei. “China’s President Personally Scuttled Record Ant IPO.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Nov 13, 2020): A1 & A9.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 12, 2020, and has the title “China’s President Xi Jinping Personally Scuttled Jack Ma’s Ant IPO.”)

Venture Capitalists Can Be Easy to Fool

I admire much about Peter Thiel, but was stunned to read in his Zero to One (p. 160) that he only invests venture capital money in start-ups whose founding supplicant is wearing a t-shirt. The review quoted below confirms that other venture capitalists also use dubious criteria to evaluate entrepreneurs.

(p. C4) Neumann’s innovation with WeWork was to repurpose office space for freelancers worldwide — rebranding precarity into community.

. . .

. . . Neumann seemed to believe that the pesky demands of having to turn a profit didn’t quite apply to him, even as he was determined to live the ostentatious life of a bohemian tycoon.

. . .

WeWork pulled the classic new-economy maneuver of hiring idealistic young people, deploying them to the point of exhaustion and paying them peanuts while telling them that they were part of a revolution — what Neumann called “the ‘We’ decade.” Eventually, WeWork offered stock options, though Neumann would be the one to cash out hundreds of millions in stock in order to fund an escalating lifestyle that had grown to include five children, several houses, a penchant for $200 T-shirts and lots of pot.

. . .

“Billion Dollar Loser” would be absorbing enough were it just about one man’s grandiosity, but Wiedeman has a larger argument to make about what Neumann represents. Neumann finagled funding not only from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate led by the billionaire-entrepreneur Masayoshi Son, who liked to say that “feeling is more important than numbers,” but also from the venerable venture capital firm Benchmark. Neumann had passed himself off as a tech visionary, even though he rarely used a computer and WeWork’s IT department was once run by a high school student from Queens.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “Big Dreams, and a Harsh Awakening.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 22, 2020): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Billion Dollar Loser’ Recounts WeWork’s Big Dreams and Its Harsh Wake-Up Call.”)

The book under review is:

Wiedeman, Reeves. Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2020.

“The Often-Unsung Adaptability of Organic Intelligence”

(p. A13) . . ., as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

. . .

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence.

. . .

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . .

Within this physically and culturally harsh environment, Construction Robotics had to invent and reinvent their business model on the fly. Should they license their innovations? Sell the robots? Rent them? Provide robots and technicians as a service? Create a full-service masonry shop? Pivot from bricks to cement blocks? Take money from venture capitalists, court Google or a Dubai investment fund? Mr. Peters follows the philosophy of the book “The Lean Startup” and aims for an MVP—minimum viable product—to gain exposure and experience, knowing the risks in the construction industry. Word of a robot that builds crummy walls will travel fast, and demolished reputations are hard to rebuild.

The business finally finds its footing in the epilogue, around 2018. Construction Robotics gets SAM to lay more than 3,000 bricks a day (versus 300 to 1,000 for a human mason), and they create another machine that helps workers lift and place concrete blocks, quickly selling dozens. The company now looks to be solvent, though it’s unclear how much the construction landscape is poised to change.

For the full review, see:

Hutson, Matthew. “BOOKSHELF; Building a Better Bricklayer.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Jan 14, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 13, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer.”)

The book under review is:

Waldman, Jonathan. SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.