Most Israelis Will Have No Place to Go If Israel is Destroyed

The video clip above is embedded through YouTube’s “share” feature. It is a clip of the EconTalk episode posted on Mon., Dec. 18, 2023. Host Russell Roberts interviews Haviv Rettig Gur on “An Extraordinary Introduction to the Birth of Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

As the title claims, the interview really is “extraordinary.” I realize now that when I have thought about Israelis, I have always thought about the Israelis I have known–the ones I have run into at universities in the United States. Haviv showed me that these are the exceptions, that the vast majority of Israelis have no place to go if Hamas succeeds at destroying Israel. I bet the attitudes of many Americans toward what happened on October 7 would be different if they understood this, so I hope this interview is widely viewed.

Elon Musk Wants to Go to Mars, But He Wants Freedom Even More

The video clip above is embedded through YouTube’s “share” feature. It is a clip from the annual DealBook Summit of The New York Times. Andrew Ross Sorkin interviewed Elon Musk on November 29, 2023 at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

A year earlier at the 2022 DealBook Summit, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings said: “Elon Musk is the bravest most creative person on the planet.”

Musk’s dream is for humanity to go to Mars. He is trying to privately fund his dream with billions of dollars he hoped to earn from Tesla. His investment of 44 billion dollars to buy Twitter may end his dream. But he bought Twitter to defend free speech, and free speech is required for the fast advance of science and technology. So if we ever make it to Mars we will owe much to Elon Musk. And even if we never make it to Mars we still will owe much to Elon Musk.

In Xi’s Communist China: “Our Speech Is Not Free”

(p. B1) Many innocent lives were lost to tragic events in China in the past month. So far we haven’t learned a single name of any of them from China’s government or its official media. Nor have we seen news interviews of family members talking about their loved ones.

Those victims would include a coach and 10 members of a middle-school girls volleyball team who were killed in late July when the roof caved in on a gymnasium near the Siberian border. Despite an outpouring of public grief and anger around the country, the government never released their names. Social media posts sharing their names and tributes to their lives were censored.

Then there were the people — probably dozens, possibly hundreds — who died in severe flooding in northern and northeastern China in recent weeks. It was the most serious flooding in the country in decades. Posts about the casualties, and the hardships people endured, were censored.

. . .

(p. B4) “Xi Jinping has made control of history one of his signature policies — because he sees counter-history as an existential threat,” Ian Johnson, an author who has covered China for decades, wrote in his new book, “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future.”

Mr. Xi has turned the screws extra tight since the Covid pandemic. In April 2020, relatives of Wuhan residents who died were followed by minders when they picked up the ashes of their loved ones.

The government ignored a citizen demand to make Feb. 6 a nationwide day of mourning to mark the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistle-blower who had warned the public of the coronavirus.

“We have always known that our speech is not free, our voice is not free. Yet we do not realize until today that even sorrow and mourning do not belong to us,” Ms. Zhang, the independent journalist, wrote in an article that was widely circulated on WeChat and other social media platforms before it was censored.

A recent video of the bereaved father of a volleyball player killed in the gymnasium collapse in Qiqihar highlighted the cruel reality faced by family members in public tragedies: Their grief, in the eyes of the government, makes them potential threats to social stability.

In the six-minute video, the father remained preternaturally composed as he tried to reason with the police, doctors and government officials at a hospital. He and other family members wanted to be allowed to identify the bodies of their daughters.

The father said he understood why the police were at the hospital. “We didn’t cause any troubles,” he said. He said he understood why no officials bothered to talk to them. “That’s fine,” he said.

Many people said online and in interviews that they cried watching the video because they recognized his “heart-wrenching restraint” and knew why he behaved that way.

“What happens if he didn’t hold back his anger?” asked an author in an article posted on social media. “As a father who has suffered such immense pain, why did he have to reason with such restraint and humility?”

As usual, the censorship machine went into high gear. Social media posts containing names of the victims and celebrating their lives and friendships were deleted. So were photos and videos showing the entrance of their school, where the public sent numerous flower bouquets, yogurt, milk tea and canned peaches, which is a comfort food for children in northeastern China.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “When Tragedy Strikes in China, The Government Represses Grief.” The New York Times (Monday, August 3, 2023): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date Aug. 14, 2023, and has the title “When Tragedy Strikes in China, the Government Cracks Down on Grief.”)

“France’s Most Famous Public Intellectual” Fears That if Putin Conquers Ukraine Western Civilization “Might Collapse”

(p. C1) In his new documentary film “Slava Ukraini,” Bernard-Henri Lévy, France’s most famous public intellectual, dodges Russian sniper fire in Ukraine, nonchalantly wearing a khaki bulletproof vest over a chic bespoke suit.

He climbs onto a Ukrainian naval vessel in Odessa that is sweeping the Black Sea for Russian mines, his mane of graying hair blowing gently in the wind. And he surveys blown-out apartment blocks in Kyiv, descends into trenches with Ukrainian soldiers in Sloviansk and comforts a mother whose young son is so traumatized by war, he has stopped speaking.

It can be easy to dismiss Lévy — and plenty do — as a 74-year-old reckless war tourist, an heir to a timber fortune playing action hero as Russian missiles rain down on Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol. But instead of spending the last 12 months in his art-filled home on Paris’s right bank or enjoying retirement at his 18th-century palace in Marrakesh, Lévy has been braving Russian military assaults, vertigo and what (p. C5) he calls his natural tendency for melancholy to make his Ukraine film.

It was, he said, a necessary cri de coeur to support Ukraine in a conflict he views as nothing less than a battle for the future of Europe, global liberalism and Western civilization.

“In Ukraine, I had the feeling for the first time that the world I knew, the world in which I grew up, the world that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren, might collapse,” he said during an interview at the Carlyle Hotel in New York earlier this month, . . .

For the full story, see:

Dan Bilefsky. “A Philosopher Chooses Action.” The New York Times (Wednesday, March 1, 2023): C1 & C5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2023, and has the title “A Polarizing French Philosopher Chooses War Zones Over Salons.”)

Chinese Citizens Tune Out Randomly Linked Nonsense Propaganda Phrases

(p. B1) China is now one of the last places on earth trying to eliminate Covid-19, and the Communist Party has relied heavily on propaganda to justify increasingly long lockdowns and burdensome testing requirements that can sometimes lead to three tests a week.

The barrage of messages — online and on television, loudspeakers and social platforms — has become so overbearing that some citizens say it has drowned out their frustrations, downplayed the reality of the country’s tough coronavirus rules and, occasionally, bordered on the absurd.

. . .

(p. B4) Yang Xiao, a 33-year-old cinematographer in Shanghai who was confined to his apartment for two months during a lockdown this year, had grown tired of them all.

“With the Covid control, propaganda and state power expanded and occupied all aspects of our life,” he said in a phone interview. Day after day, Mr. Yang heard loudspeakers in his neighborhood repeatedly broadcasting a notice for P.C.R. testing. He said the announcements had disturbed his sleep at night and woke him up at dawn.

“Our life was dictated and disciplined by propaganda and state power,” he said.

To communicate his frustrations, Mr. Yang selected 600 common Chinese propaganda phrases, such as “core awareness,” “obey the overall situation” and “the supremacy of nationhood.” He gave each phrase a number and then put the numbers into Google’s Random Generator, a program that scrambles data.

He ended up with senseless phrases such as “detect citizens’ life and death line,” “strictly implement functions” and “specialize overall plans without slack.” Then he used a voice program to read the phrases aloud and played the audio on a loudspeaker in his neighborhood.

No one seemed to notice the five minutes of computer-generated nonsense.

When Mr. Yang uploaded a video of the scene online, however, more than 1.3 million people viewed it. Many praised the way he used government language as satire. Chinese propaganda was “too absurd to be criticized using logic,” Mr. Yang said. “I simulated the discourse like a mirror, reflecting its own absurdity.”

His video was taken down by censors.

. . .

In June [2022], dozens of residents protested against the police and Covid control workers who installed chain-link fences around neighborhood apartments. When a protester was shoved into a police car and taken away, one man shouted: “Freedom! Equality! Justice! Rule of law!” Those words would be familiar to most Chinese citizens: They are commonly cited by state media as core socialist values under Mr. Xi.

For the full story, see:

Zixu Wang. “China’s Covid Propaganda, Often Seen as Absurd, Stirs Rebellion.” The New York Times (Friday, September 30, 2022): B1 & B4.

[Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 29, 2022, and has the title “China’s ‘Absurd’ Covid Propaganda Stirs Rebellion.”)

Elon Musk Likes Government the Referee, Not Government the Subsidizer

Here are some especially important passages from the Wall Street Journal transcript of the Elon Musk interview:

Joanna Stern

Well, I want to come back to autonomous vehicles, but wanted to just stay a little bit more on the role of government. You said at this conference, actually, a year ago, that you think the government should really just be hands off when it comes to innovation. Though with this bill, there is a lot of support for EVs and it could be the biggest change that we’ve seen throughout the country in terms of the infrastructure of EVs. And it helps Tesla. What do you think the role of government should be?

Elon Musk

I think the role of government should be that of, like, a referee. But not a player on the field. So generally, government should just try to get out of the way and not impede progress. I think there’s a general problem, not just in the U.S., but in most countries, where the rules and regulations keep increasing every year.

Rules and regulations are immortal. They don’t die. Occasionally you see a law with a sunset provision, but really, otherwise, the vast majority of rules and regulations live forever. And so if more rules and regulations are applied every year and it just keeps growing and growing, eventually it just takes longer and longer and it’s harder to do things.

And there’s not really an effective garbage collection system for removing rules and regulations. And so gradually this hardens the arteries of civilization, where you’re able to do less and less over time. So I think governments should be really trying hard to get rid of rules and regulations that perhaps had some merit at some point but don’t have merit currently. But there’s very little effort in this direction. This is a big problem. Continue reading “Elon Musk Likes Government the Referee, Not Government the Subsidizer”

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.

Video of Diamond Q&A on Innovation Unbound Posted to YouTube

On 3/17/21 Derek Yonai posted my 3/16/21 live Q&A session related to my “Innovation Unbound” lecture that was recorded on 3/1/21 and posted on 3/9/21. Some of my lecture and some of my answers in the Q&A, were related to my book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Google Further Reduces Small Payments to Content Creators

YouTube is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google.

(p. A15) SAN FRANCISCO — The authorities believe a woman who shot three people at YouTube’s headquarters before killing herself on Tuesday [April 3, 2018] was angered by the social media outlet’s policies.
While the police did not specifically say what those policies were, they likely had to do with a concept called “demonetization.”
. . .
One of those creators was Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman the police said had shot YouTube employees in San Bruno, Calif. She frequently posted videos to several YouTube channels and had become increasingly angry over the money she was making from them.
“My Revenue For 300,000 Views Is $0.10?????” Ms. Aghdam wrote on her website, while calling YouTube “a dictatorship.”
. . .
Video creators take a share of the money from ads running before or alongside their videos. But YouTube has been raising the bar on qualifications for running ads.
Last April, the company said it would set a requirement for 10,000 cumulative lifetime views before allowing videos to gain ads. In January, the company raised that requirement to 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year and 1,000 subscribers.

For the full story, see:
NELLIE BOWLES and JACK NICAS. “YouTube Complaints From Attacker Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 5, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 4, 2018, and has the title “YouTube Attacker’s Complaints Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.”)