Feds Investigate Theft of Intellectual Property by Chinese Nationals

(p. A10) BOSTON — Zaosong Zheng was preparing to board Hainan Airlines Flight 482, nonstop from Boston to Beijing, when customs officers pulled him aside.

Inside his checked luggage, wrapped in a plastic bag and then inserted into a sock, the officers found what they were looking for: 21 vials of brown liquid — cancer cells — that the authorities say Mr. Zheng, 29, a cancer researcher, took from a laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Under questioning, court documents say, Mr. Zheng acknowledged that he had stolen eight of the samples and had replicated 11 more based on a colleague’s research. When he returned to China, he said, he would take the samples to Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital and turbocharge his career by publishing the results in China, under his own name.

. . .

Mr. Zheng’s case is the first to unfold in the laboratories clustered around Harvard University, but it is not likely to be the last. Federal officials are investigating hundreds of cases involving the potential theft of intellectual property by visiting scientists, nearly all of them Chinese nationals.

For the full story, see:

Ellen Barry. “Chinese Man Is Accused Of Smuggling Lab Samples.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 1, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 31, 2019, and has the title “Stolen Research: Chinese Scientist Is Accused of Smuggling Lab Samples.”)

National Institutes of Health Rejected Funding for Moir’s Radical Theories

(p. B14) Robert D. Moir, a Harvard scientist whose radical theories of the brain plaques in Alzheimer’s defied conventional views of the disease, but whose research ultimately led to important proposals for how to treat it, died on Friday [December 20, 2019] at a hospice in Milton, Mass. He was 58.

His wife, Julie Alperen, said the cause was glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

Dr. Moir, who grew up on a farm in Donnybrook, a small town in Western Australia, had a track record for confounding expectations. He did not learn to read or write until he was nearly 12; Ms. Alperen said he had told her that the teacher at his one-room schoolhouse was “a demented nun.” Yet, she said, he also knew from age 7 that he wanted to be a scientist.

. . .

Conventional wisdom held that beta amyloid accumulation was a central part of the disease, and that clearing the brain of beta amyloid would be a good thing for patients.

Dr. Moir proposed instead that beta amyloid is there for a reason: It is the way the brain defends itself against infections. Beta amyloid, he said, forms a sticky web that can trap microbes. The problem is that sometimes the brain goes overboard producing it, and when that happens the brain is damaged.

The implication is that treatments designed to clear the brain of amyloid could be detrimental. The goal would be to remove some of the sticky substance, but not all of it.

The idea, which Dr. Moir first proposed 12 years ago, was met with skepticism. But he kept at it, producing a string of papers with findings that supported the hypothesis. Increasingly, some of the doubters have been won over, said Rudolph Tanzi, a close friend and fellow Alzheimer’s researcher at Harvard.

Dr. Moir’s unconventional ideas made it difficult for him to get federal grants. Nearly every time he submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Tanzi said in a phone interview, two out of three reviewers would be enthusiastic, while a third would simply not believe it. The proposal would not be funded.

For the full obituary, see:

Gina Kolata. “Robert Moir, 58, Researcher Who Rethought Alzheimer’s.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 21, 2019): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “Robert Moir, 58, Dies; His Research Changed Views on Alzheimer’s.”)

Clint Eastwood’s “Stubborn Libertarian Streak”

(p. C6) Though he acts bravely and responsibly at a moment of crisis, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) isn’t entirely a hero, and “Richard Jewell” doesn’t quite belong in the gallery with “Sully” and “American Sniper,” Eastwood’s other recent portraits of exceptional Americans in trying circumstances.

. . .

Eastwood, Ray and Hauser (who is nothing short of brilliant) cleverly invite the audience to judge Jewell the way his tormentors eventually will: on the basis of prejudices we might not even admit to ourselves. He’s overweight. He lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). He has a habit of taking things too seriously — like his job as a campus police officer at a small liberal-arts college — and of trying a little too hard to fit in. He treats members of the Atlanta Police Department and the F.B.I. like his professional peers, and seems blind to their condescension. “I’m law enforcement too” he says to the agents who are investigating him as a potential terrorist, with an earnestness that is both comical and pathetic.

Most movies, if they bothered with someone like Jewell at all, would make fun of him or relegate him to a sidekick role. Eastwood, instead, makes the radical decision to respect him as he is, and to show how easily both his everyday shortcomings and his honesty and decency are distorted and exploited by the predators who descend on him at what should be his moment of glory.

. . .

Eastwood has always had a stubborn libertarian streak, and a fascination with law enforcement that, like Jewell’s, is shadowed by ambivalence and outright disillusionment.

. . .

“Richard Jewell” is a rebuke to institutional arrogance and a defense of individual dignity, sometimes clumsy in its finger-pointing but mostly shrewd and sensitive in its effort to understand its protagonist and what happened to him. The political implications of his ordeal are interesting to contemplate, but its essential nature is clear enough. He was bullied.

For the full film review, see:

A.O. Scott. “The Jagged Shrapnel Still Flies Years Later.” The New York Times (Friday, December 13, 2019): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the film review was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “‘Richard Jewell’ Review: The Wrong Man.”)

E.U. Farm Subsidies in Central and Eastern Europe Go to Cronies of Politicians

(p. 1) CSAKVAR, Hungary — Under Communism, farmers labored in the fields that stretch for miles around this town west of Budapest, reaping wheat and corn for a government that had stolen their land.

Today, their children toil for new overlords, a group of oligarchs and political patrons who have annexed the land through opaque deals with the Hungarian government. They have created a modern twist on a feudal system, giving jobs and aid to the compliant, and punishing the mutinous.

These land barons, as it turns out, are financed and emboldened by the European Union.

Every year, the 28-country bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies intended to support farmers around the Continent and keep rural communities alive. But across Hungary and much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. The prime minister of the Czech Republic collected tens of millions of dollars in subsidies just last year. Subsidies have underwritten Mafia-style land grabs in Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Europe’s farm program, a system that was instrumental in forming the European Union, is now being exploited by the same antidemocratic forces that threaten the bloc from within. This is because governments in Central and Eastern Europe, several led by populists, have wide latitude in how the subsidies, funded by taxpayers across Europe, are distributed — even as the entire system is shrouded in secrecy.

For the full story, see:

Selam Gebrekidan, Matt Apuzzo and Benjamin Novak. “Populist Regimes Siphon Millions in E.U. Farm Aid.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 3, 2019): 1 & 12.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “Populist Politicians Exploit E.U. Aid, Reaping Millions.” The title of my National edition was “Populist Regimes Siphon Millions in E.U. Farm Aid.”)

Italy Regulates Irregular Pasta

(p. D8) BARI, Italy — The grandmothers set up shop early. Out of ground-floor kitchens that opened directly onto the street, they came out singing old songs, sweeping the stone floor and scattering their homemade orecchiette, the city’s renowned ear-shaped pasta, on the mesh screens of wooden trays

. . .

The scene — the grannies, the handmade pasta, the curved stone street — evoked the southern Italy of popular imagination.

. . .

But local officials suspect that the pasta street, in the historical part of town known as Old Bari, is the scene of a crime that has prompted the orecchiette crackdown scare of 2019.

According to the mayor’s office, in mid-October police inspectors busted a local restaurant for serving untraceable orecchiette, a violation of Italian and European Union regulations that require food in restaurants to be clearly sourced. The police fined the restaurateur and forced him to trash three kilos of pasta, or about seven pounds.

The November news reports (“Strong hand against the handmade orecchiette in Old Bari” wrote La Repubblica) immediately worried the sharp-elbowed women of Bari, who are permitted to sell small plastic baggies of pasta for personal use, but who are not licensed to deliver large, unlabeled shipments to restaurants.

The women don’t earn much to begin with, and fear having to wear hairnets, issue receipts and pay taxes. People here are asking if the Italian zeal for regulations, however often ignored, will end up overpowering the local pride in a custom that has brought Bari — where many families have their go-to pasta lady — tourists and much-needed good press.

. . .

“These women work 10, 15 hours a day, seven days a week to support their unemployed husbands and sons,” said Francesco Amoruso, 76, whose mother, one of the street’s venerable pasta makers, died last year at age 99. “And this is who they come down hard on?”

. . .

In the evening, as the women brought their trays of pasta into kitchens adorned with St. Nicholas shrines, Diego De Meo, 44, the owner of the restaurant Moderat, across from City Hall, waited for the evening rush.

He said he didn’t know which restaurant was caught serving contraband orecchiette but talked about how those little irregular, handmade pasta ears had “a little magic in them.” He suggested that trying to regulate Bari was like trying to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“Sometimes the irregular is what makes things beautiful,” Mr. De Meo said.

Pressed further for a hint on the identity of the offending restaurant, he paused awkwardly. “It was me,” he blurted out, adding that he alerted other restaurants, many of which he said bought orecchiette from the women.

“Look, it’s correct, it’s the law,” he acknowledged, referring to the fine. But while his business was unaffected, he felt bad for the women of Bari who he said “are perplexed.”

For the full story, see:

Jason Horowitz. “A Crime of Pasta, but the Suspects’ Lips Are Sealed.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has no date posted, and has the title “Call It a Crime of Pasta.” In the last several sentences, where the versions have slightly different wording, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Tesla’s Process Innovation May Be Low-Defect, Fast-Assembly

(p. A13) Tesla became a darling of government handouts, with tax credits and public funding galore. It quickly grew into a sales phenom with high prices but low volume. Then, this year, its production numbers started to match those of the other major manufacturers. How Mr. Musk achieved this—and whether he should be considered a visionary or a charlatan—is the subject of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors,” by the automotive journalist Edward Niedermeyer.

. . .

The book hits its stride when the author details Mr. Musk’s attempts to revolutionize the way cars are built. DeLorean and others faltered due to their inability to roll out large numbers of vehicles at a decent level of quality. Likewise the assembly line has been Tesla’s biggest obstacle. For a generation, automakers have cleaved to Toyota’s system of production, which emphasizes reducing waste and defects, slowing down the assembly line to achieve these goals. Mr. Musk, in contrast, feels Teslas should be assembled with a fast-moving line, deploying robots where other carmakers have employed workers.

Many observers bet that fast assembly won’t work. But this year Tesla delivered an impressive 158,000 cars to customers in the first two quarters, about the same number of Lexus models sold in the U.S. during that same period. Low-defect assembly was the major innovation of the automotive industry a generation ago; fast-line assembly may be the next. If Tesla’s fast-produced vehicles turn out to be reliable, Mr. Musk will deserve plaudits.

. . .

The portrait of Elon Musk that emerges from this book is one of a social-media obsessive who is constantly overpromising, playing the role of the self-sufficient business person while relying on government favors. Still, Tesla facilities produce lots of actual cars, which is more than what most other one-man marques have achieved. The accomplishment may not be as grand as Mr. Musk would like us to believe: He couldn’t have built his cars without subsidies from taxpayers who cannot afford Teslas and were given no choice in funding playthings for the rich. But his is an achievement, nonetheless.

For the full review, see:

Gregg Easterbrook. “BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Old Product.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2019, and has the title ” BOOKSHELF; ‘Ludicrous’ Review: A Revolutionary Old Product.”)

The book under review is:

Niedermeyer, Edward. Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2019.

Elizabeth Warren Started Out as a Student of Henry Manne’s Libertarian Law and Economics Ideas

(p. A1) Never one to shy away from a fight, Elizabeth Warren had found a new sparring partner. She had only recently started teaching at the University of Texas School of Law, but her colleague Calvin H. Johnson already knew her well enough to brace for a lively exchange as they commuted to work.

Indeed, on this morning in 1981, Ms. Warren again wanted to debate, this time arguing on the side of giant utilities over their customers.

Her position was “savagely anti-consumer,” Mr. Johnson recalled recently, adding that it wasn’t unusual for her to espouse similar pro-business views on technical legal issues.

Then something changed. He calls it Ms. Warren’s “road to Damascus” moment.

“She started flipping — ‘I’m pro-consumer,’” Mr. Johnson said.

That something, as Ms. Warren often tells the story, was her deepening academic research into consumer bankruptcy, its causes, and lenders’ efforts to restrict it. Through the 1980s, the work took her to courthouses across the country. There, she said in a recent interview, she found not only the dusty bankruptcy files she had gone looking for but heart-wrenching scenes she hadn’t imagined — average working Americans, tearful and humiliated, admitting they were failures:

(p. A10) “People dressed in their Sunday best, hands shaking, women clutching a handful of tissues, trying to stay under control. Big beefy men whose faces were red and kept wiping their eyes, who showed up in court to declare themselves losers in the great American game of life.”

. . .

The revelations from her bankruptcy research, by her account, became the seeds of her worldview, laid out in her campaign plans for everything from a new tax on the wealthiest Americans to a breakup of the big technology companies.

. . .

In 1979, Ms. Warren recruited her parents from her native Oklahoma to her home in the Houston suburbs to help babysit her two young children.

Then a professor at the University of Houston, she would be spending several weeks at a luxury resort near Miami, one of 22 law professors selected to study an increasingly popular discipline known as “law and economics.’’ One of its central ideas is that markets perform more efficiently than courts.

Mr. Johnson, Ms. Warren’s former Texas commuting partner, believes that it was an important influence on her early thinking.

“Before Liz converted, she came to us from the decidedly anti-government side of law and economics,” he said.

The summer retreat was colloquially known as a “Manne camp,” after its organizer, the libertarian legal scholar Henry G. Manne. With financial support from industry and conservative foundations, Mr. Manne had formed a Law and Economics Center at the University of Miami. (He would later move operations to Emory University and then to George Mason University.)

The mission of the retreat was to spread the gospel of free-market microeconomics among law professors. One participant, John Price, a former dean of the law school at the University of Washington, described it as “sort of pure proselytizing on the part of dedicated, very conservative law and economics folks,” with an emphasis on an anti-regulatory agenda. One faculty member, he recalled, suggested eliminating the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

. . .

While some in the group have said Ms. Warren expressed skepticism at the libertarian ideology, Ms. Blumberg remembers someone very much developing the early stages of her career, who was “far more captivated than I” with the theories.

. . .

Ms. Warren . . . wrote to Mr. Manne in 1981, attaching a copy of her latest published article. She was sending him one article a summer, she wrote, and each “increasingly reflects my time at LEC.”

. . .

“This is really hard-core law & econ analysis,” Todd J. Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason who formerly served as executive director of the Manne Center, wrote in an email. “If you had given me this article with the author anonymized and asked me who wrote it, I would have answered that it was one of the leading scholars in the law & economics of commercial and contract law. Never, in a million years, would I have thought this article was written by EW.”

For the full story, see:

Stephanie Saul. “THE LONG RUN; Warren’s Awakening to a World of Desperation.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 26, 2019): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “THE LONG RUN; The Education of Elizabeth Warren.”)