Disney’s Imagineers “Brain Trust” Leaving California for Florida’s “Business Friendly Climate”

(p. B3) Disney executives told roughly 2,000 workers in Southern California—including many members of its famed Imagineers force—that their jobs would be moving to a new campus in Orlando.

. . .

Though Disney’s narrative on Wall Street has lately focused on its streaming efforts, any change to the parks that are beloved by consumers and protected by employees carries symbolic resonance.

That is especially true for the Imagineers, which have become one of Disney’s most revered and mysterious workforces. Since their founding in the mid-20th century, the Imagineers have been credited by fans and Walt Disney himself with innovating some of the signature touches found in Disney theme parks, including beyond traditional entertainment.

. . .

The costly nature of Disney’s new office points to the sophistication of the tech operations moving there. The Imagineers in particular have come to be known as a Disney brain trust, with new employees joining from Google Inc. or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As the scope of Disney’s parks division has grown, smaller groups of Imagineers have been based in Florida, Shanghai and other parts of the world. With this most recent announcement, the largest concentration of Imagineers will no longer be based in Southern California for the first time since their founding.

Imagineer projects have included the Haunted Mansion and Soarin’ Around the World as well as newer additions such as the Avengers Campus and a “Zootopia”-themed land. Employees are immersed in the Imagineer way: to constantly “plus” their work—that is, make every detail a bit better—and think of each project in a “blue sky” way with no limitations.

Josh D’Amaro, the Disney executive overseeing the relocation, recently ended a parks presentation with a clip of Imagineers watching a walking robotic “Groot” from the film “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And then he wielded a “Star Wars” lightsaber.

“It’s real,” he added, two words that sent online fandoms into frantic speculation over what the Imagineers were cooking up. Patent applications routinely stream out of the division, many dissected by parks disciples for clues about what changes might be afoot.

In announcing the change, Mr. D’Amaro, head of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division since May 2020, said the decision didn’t come lightly since he had moved his own family across the country while climbing Disney’s ranks. He cited Florida’s business-friendly climate in announcing the move and pointed out to employees that the state offered a lower cost of living with no state income tax.

For the full story, see:

Erich Schwartzel “Disney Magic Makers to Relocate.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 24, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 23, 2021, and has the title “Disney Looks to Relocate Its Theme-Park Magic Makers to Florida.” Where there is a slight difference in wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

RSV and Other Common Viruses Now Surge as Unintended Consequence of Covid-19 Masks, Distancing, and Lockdowns

(p. A6) Doctors in France are calling it the immunity debt: When people avoided each other during the pandemic, they failed to build up the immunity against viruses that comes from normal contact.

As regular life resumes, society may find payments on that debt coming due, in the form of worse-than-normal viral disease outbreaks.

. . .

Figures recently released in Japan show the profound effect exposure to viruses such as flu and RSV can have on a nation’s health.

Deaths caused by pneumonia—a common complication of viral infections—last year in Japan fell by more than 17,000, far outweighing the 3,466 deaths attributed to Covid-19. As a result, Japan’s overall mortality fell for the first time in more than a decade.

It may have been borrowing from the future by creating greater room for viruses to run rampant later. Robert Cohen, a professor at a pediatric research center near Paris called Activ, calls this “immunity debt.”

Dr. Cohen said the hygiene measures adopted during the pandemic bring “an immediate and indisputable benefit” because common illnesses have been suppressed. But at some point almost all children are going to get RS virus, chickenpox and viruses that cause colds, which could mean larger outbreaks when the bugs make up for lost time, he said.

For the full story see:

Miho Inada. “Common Viruses Make a Comeback.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 29, 2021): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2021, and has the title “Post-Covid-19, World Risks an ‘Immunity Debt’.”)

Center-Left Biothreat Expert Says Many Scientists Rejected Wuhan Lab Origin, Not Due to Evidence, but Due to Trump

(p. A13) A few months before Covid-19 became a pandemic, Filippa Lentzos started reading about unusual flu cases in Wuhan, China. Ms. Lentzos, a social scientist who studies biological threats, belongs to an email group she describes as consisting of “ex-intelligence, bioweapons specialists, experts, former State Department diplomats” and others “who have worked in arms control, biological disarmament.”

As Chinese authorities struggled to contain the outbreak, she recalls, the expert circle asked questions about the pathogen’s origin: “Is this security related? Is it military? Is there something dodgy going on? What information are we not getting here?”

. . .

. . . in February 2020, a group of scientists had published a statement in the Lancet calling out “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” The New York Times and Washington Post dutifully attacked Mr. Cotton as unhinged. Media, with an assist from some virologists, dismissed the lab-leak theory as “debunked.”

Ms. Lentzos, who places her own politics on the Swiss “center left,” thought that conclusion premature and said so publicly. In May 2020, she published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists weighing whether “safety lapses in the course of basic scientific research” caused the pandemic. While acknowledging there was, “as of yet, little concrete evidence,” she noted “several indications that collectively suggest this is a serious possibility that needs following up by the international community.”

. . .

The article barely made a ripple. “If you look at the argumentation that’s used today, it’s exactly the same basically as what I laid out, which was, accidents happen,” she says. “We know that they’re having questions around safety. We know they were doing this field work. We see videos where they’re in breach of standard biosafety protocol. We know China is manipulating the narrative, closing down information sources—all of that stuff. All of that is in there. But it didn’t get much traction.”

. . .

American liberals—including many scientists—conflated open-mindedness about the question with support for Mr. Trump. Ms. Lentzos was one of the few who could separate their distaste for him from their analysis of the pandemic.

. . .

The most significant problem came from the scientific community. “Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks,” she says, and partisanship wasn’t their only motive: “Like most things in life, there are power plays. There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests. There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

Ms. Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and in favor of “seeing science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as this inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas, or any of that stuff, but seeing it as also a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.”

Take Peter Daszak, the zoologist who organized the Lancet letter condemning lab-leak “conspiracy theories.” He had directed millions of dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology through his nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance. A lab mistake that killed millions would be bad for his reputation. Other researchers have taken part in gain-of-function research, which can make viruses deadlier or easier to transmit. Who would permit, much less fund, such research if it proved so catastrophic? Yet researchers like Marion Koopmans, who oversees an institution that has conducted gain-of-function research, had an outsize voice in media. Both she and Mr. Daszak served on the World Health Organization’s origin investigation team.

. . .

Ms. Lentzos has experience working with United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization. “It was incredibly exciting to finally go in. And then you become more disillusioned when you see how things operate, how things don’t operate,” she says. “Like any large organization, they are slow, and inflexible, and bureaucratic.”

For the full interview see:

Adam O’Neal, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; A Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 12, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 11, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Dog Sniffs Identify Covid-19 Faster, Cheaper, and More Accurately than Antigen Tests

(p. A6) A growing body of research by scientists and dog trainers from the U.S. to the United Arab Emirates suggests that dogs can use their powerful sense of smell to sniff out Covid-19 infections, including in people without symptoms.

With more than 300 million scent receptors (compared with roughly five million in humans), dogs can do this with a high degree of accuracy by detecting compounds the human body releases in secretions like sweat and saliva as it reacts to the coronavirus, according to scientists.

Dogs have long been trained to detect odors associated with drugs or explosives and have also been used to identify diseases such as cancer, malaria and diabetes.

. . .

One dog can screen 250 to 300 people a day, according to the WHO.

Prof. Grandjean calculated that dog screenings in France could cost as little as one euro, equivalent to about $1.20, per person, as opposed to roughly €75 for a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, a highly accurate test that involves a nasal swab.

. . .

Studies have shown that dogs can be trained to identify Covid-19 infections with roughly 82% to 99% sensitivity and 84% to 98% specificity, Prof. Grandjean said. A test’s sensitivity indicates its ability to correctly detect an infection, while its specificity shows how well it can avoid giving false positives.

Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, trained eight dogs for one week to detect respiratory secretions from infected patients with an average detection rate of 94%, according to a study published recently in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases

In a study of 21 dogs led by Prof. Grandjean, 15 of the animals were able to detect Covid-19 with a sensitivity of 90% or more, with six dogs showing a sensitivity of 71% to 87%. The study was published in April in the Open Access Journal of Veterinary Science and Research.

Such results mean dogs may be more precise than many rapid antigen tests, which correctly identify Covid-19 infections in an average of 72% of people showing symptoms and 58% of asymptomatic people, according to a recent review from Cochrane, a U.K.-based nonprofit that evaluates scientific research.

For the full story see:

Ruth Bender and Rachel Bachman. “Dogs Deployed to Sniff Out Covid.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 20, 2021): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2021, and has the title “Your Next Covid-19 Test Could Be a Dog’s Sniff.”)

The articles mentioned in the passages above are:

Jendrny, Paula, Claudia Schulz, Friederike Twele, Sebastian Meller, Maren von Köckritz-Blickwede, Albertus Dominicus Marcellinus Erasmus Osterhaus, Janek Ebbers, Veronika Pilchová, Isabell Pink, Tobias Welte, Michael Peter Manns, Anahita Fathi, Christiane Ernst, Marylyn Martina Addo, Esther Schalke, and Holger Andreas Volk. “Scent Dog Identification of Samples from Covid-19 Patients – a Pilot Study.” BMC Infectious Diseases 20, no. 1 (2020). DOI:10.1186/s12879-020-05281-3

Grandjean, Dominique, Dana Humaid Al Marzooqi, Clothilde Lecoq-Julien, Quentin Muzzin, Hamad Katir Al Hammadi, Guillaume Alvergnat, Kalthoom Mohammad Al Blooshi, Salah Khalifa Al Mazrouei, Mohammed Saeed Alhmoudi, Faisal Musleh Al Ahbabi, Yasser Saifallah Mohammed, Nasser Mohammed Alfalasi, Noor Majed Almheiri, Sumaya Mohamed Al Blooshi, and Loïc Desquilbet. “Use of Canine Olfactory Detection for Covid-19 Testing Study on U.A.E. Trained Detection Dog Sensitivity ” Open Access Journal of Veterinary Science & Research (OAJVSR) 6, no. 2 (May 2021). DOI: 10.23880/oajvsr-16000210.

Dinnes, J., J. J. Deeks, S. Berhane, M. Taylor, A. Adriano, C. Davenport, S. Dittrich, D. Emperador, Y. Takwoingi, J. Cunningham, and et al. “Rapid, Point‐of‐Care Antigen and Molecular‐Based Tests for Diagnosis of Sars‐Cov‐2 Infection.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 3 (2021). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013705.pub2

Slow FDA Feeds Skepticism of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccines

(p. A19) In December 2020, the F.D.A. approved the distribution of mRNA coronavirus vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna under the agency’s emergency use authorization provision, which permits an accelerated approval process for medications and treatments during a public health emergency.

. . .

In theory, full approval should be imminent, since Pfizer applied for full approval in early May, and Moderna asked for full approval on June 1. This process is often long, requiring the agency to inspect manufacturing plants and review considerable amounts of documentation for vaccine production. But in this case, because of the urgency of the pandemic, the vaccine makers began to submit this material, called a biologics licensing application, in late 2020, and they’ve continued to submit more information. The F.D.A. has already reviewed some of the submissions and has provided feedback to the manufacturers. The emergency authorizations were granted more than six months ago. That’s more than ample time for the agency to conduct plant inspections and review the applications.

. . .

Fortunately, two doses of the mRNA vaccines appear to provide nearly full protection from Covid-related hospitalization and death, and the shots substantially reduce infections.

The lives and health of millions of Americans rest on the F.D.A.’s decision to fully license these vaccines.

For the full commentary see:

Eric J. Topol. “Vaccines Need Full Approval.” The New York Times (Monday, July 5, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2021, and has the title “It’s Time for the F.D.A. to Fully Approve the mRNA Vaccines.”)

Longshoreman Union Reduces Efficiency of American Ports

(p. A15) Global supply chains are buckling, driving up prices, creating shortages and frustrating consumers.

. . .

One problem is productivity. In Asia, ships are worked 24/7, or 168 hours a week, compared with 16 hours a day, or only 112 hours a week, at Los Angeles-Long Beach. Terminal gates used by truckers to deliver and receive seaborne containers operate only 88 hours a week, vs. 168 in Asia. For larger ships, it takes 24 seconds on average to move a container at the Chinese ports of Shanghai, Qingdao and Yantian, vs. 48 seconds at Los Angeles, according to IHS Markit port-performance data.

. . .

A decades-long history of toxic labor-management relations has led to huge cost increases that discourage operators from expanding work hours, limit their ability to automate terminals, and end in avoidable delays during contract negotiations. Many companies won’t soon forget six months of costly delays at West Coast ports during contract negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in 2014 and 2015. More than 30 container ships were backed up at anchor off the ports during that episode. Companies will be closely watching the next round of negotiations in 2022.

There is no sign that the labor-management paradigm will change, and a Democratic administration is unlikely to challenge longshoremen’s unions to make compromises.

For the full commentary see:

Peter Tirschwell. “Behind Your Long Wait for Packages.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 3, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Subsidy of “Thriving” Chip Industry Is “Inexcusable”

(p. A16) Consider this recent summary, by the Cato Institute’s Scott Lincicome, of the healthy state of America’s semiconductor industry: “The United States is also a top-five global exporter of semiconductors and related equipment, shipping almost $47 billion of those goods in 2019. These and other data led the SIA [Semiconductor Industry of America] to conclude in its 2020 State of the U.S. Semiconductor Industry report that ‘the semiconductor manufacturing base in the United States remains on solid footing.’”

“The SIA also reports that the U.S. industry has ‘nearly half’ of all global semiconductor sales—a market share that has been steady (ranging from the mid‐40s to low 50s) since the late 1990s—and is the top seller in every major regional market, including China. Sales by U.S. semiconductor firms also grew from $76.7 billion in 1999 to $192.8 billion in 2019—a compound annual growth rate of almost 5%.”

“Beyond output and sales, the U.S. semiconductor industry has been a global leader in capital spending (capex) and R&D.”

Subsidies are always suspect, but when showered on industries that are thriving, they are beyond doubt inexcusable. What further proof do we need to conclude that politicians cannot be trusted to allocate resources wisely?

For Boudreaux’s full letter to the editor, see:

Boudreaux, Donald J. “LETTERS; U.S. Chip Industry Chipper, Subsidy a Waste.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 1, 2021): A16.

(Note: the online version of the letter to the editor has the date May 31, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Global Freedom Has Declined for 15 Straight Years

(p. A4) Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting freedom and democracy, reports that freedom across the globe has declined for 15 straight years, a trend that accelerated last year. “The long democratic recession is deepening,” Freedom House says.

. . .

Democracy is messy, but in an authoritarian system the problem is the lack of messiness. Cults of personality develop, opposing voices with potentially good ideas are squelched, healthy debates and innovative thoughts are blocked. In a new piece in Foreign Affairs magazine, China expert Jude Blanchette notes this risk for Mr. Xi in China: “Paeans to the greatness of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ may strike outsiders as merely curious or even comical, but they have a genuinely deleterious effect on the quality of decision-making and information flows within the (Communist) party.”

At least China has done a good job of managing its economy. Elsewhere, authoritarian systems have produced a plundering of national resources, corruption and a general mismanagement of the economy.

For the full commentary, see:

Gerald F. Seib. “Autocrats Show Staying Power, for Now.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, July 13, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 12, 2021, and has the title “Cuba’s Unrest Frames World’s Big Struggle: Dictators vs. Democracies.”)

AI Algorithms Use Massive Data to Do “Narrow Tasks”

(p. B2) A funny thing happens among engineers and researchers who build artificial intelligence once they attain a deep level of expertise in their field. Some of them—especially those who understand what actual, biological intelligences are capable of—conclude that there’s nothing “intelligent” about AI at all.

. . .

. . . the muddle that the term AI creates fuels a tech-industry drive to claim that every system involving the least bit of machine learning qualifies as AI, and is therefore potentially revolutionary. Calling these piles of complicated math with narrow and limited utility “intelligent” also contributes to wild claims that our “AI” will soon reach human-level intelligence. These claims can spur big rounds of investment and mislead the public and policy makers who must decide how to prepare national economies for new innovations.

. . .

The tendency for CEOs and researchers alike to say that their system “understands” a given input—whether it’s gigabytes of text, images or audio—or that it can “think” about those inputs, or that it has any intention at all, are examples of what Drew McDermott, a computer scientist at Yale, once called “wishful mnemonics.” That he coined this phrase in 1976 makes it no less applicable to the present day.

“I think AI is somewhat of a misnomer,” says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose research on AI’s economic impacts requires a precise definition of the term. What we now call AI doesn’t fulfill the early dreams of the field’s founders—either to create a system that can reason as a person does, or to create tools that can augment our abilities. “Instead, it uses massive amounts of data to turn very, very narrow tasks into prediction problems,” he says.

When AI researchers say that their algorithms are good at “narrow” tasks, what they mean is that, with enough data, it’s possible to “train” their algorithms to, say, identify a cat. But unlike a human toddler, these algorithms tend not to be very adaptable. For example, if they haven’t seen cats in unusual circumstances—say, swimming—they might not be able to identify them in that context. And training an algorithm to identify cats generally doesn’t also increase its ability to identify any other kind of animal or object. Identifying dogs means more or less starting from scratch.

For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. “AI’s Big Chill.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2021): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 30, 2021, and has the title “Artificial Intelligence’s Big Chill.” When you click on the title in the search list internal to the WSJ, you get a different title on the page of the article itself: “Why Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Intelligent.”)

30% of U.S. Manufacturing Job Growth Is in Southwest

(p. A1) Companies producing everything from steel to electric cars are planning and building new plants in Southwest states, far from historical hubs of American industry in the Midwest and Southeast.  . . .

The Southwest, comprising Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, increased its manufacturing output more than any other region in the U.S. in the four years through 2020, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Those states plus Nevada added more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs from January 2017 to January 2020, representing 30% of U.S. job growth in that sector and at roughly triple the national growth rate, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

. . .

(p. A8) Manufacturers in the Southwest have been relatively insulated from pandemic shutdowns and layoffs, and job growth there is expected to continue.

. . .

Some growth in the Southwest has come at the expense of California, classified in U.S. statistics as part of the Far West. In 2019, nearly 2,000 manufacturing workers in Texas and more than 1,300 in Arizona arrived from California, the most in a decade, the most recent Census Bureau data show. More than 2,700 manufacturing workers have come to Nevada from California in 2017 through 2019.

For the full story, see:

Ben Foldy and Austen Hufford. “Southwest Emerges As America’s New Factory Hub.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., June 02, 2021): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2021, and has the same title in search list, but on the article page has the title “The Southwest Is America’s New Factory Hub. ‘Cranes Everywhere.’”)