The “Adventure” and “Fun” of Driving Cars

(p. B6) For one Monday in early December, the New York Stock Exchange played the role of vintage car museum. At one end of Broad Street, outside the exchange, sat a high-roofed and stately 1921 Duesenberg coupe. At the other, a fearsome 1966 Ford GT40 racecar. Between them, encased in a glass vitrine, was an imperturbably cheery 1967 Porsche 911S.

Shaking hands by the coffee stand was McKeel Hagerty. The chief executive of the classic car insurance company that bears his name, Mr. Hagerty was there to ring the opening bell, and celebrate the first day of trading for his newly public company (HGTY). Later, at a brunch in the Big Board’s boardroom, Mr. Hagerty wielded a ceremonial gavel and said, “This is only just the beginning.”

The origins of Hagerty, the company, are far humbler. It was founded by his parents, Frank and Louise, in 1984, in their basement in Traverse City, Mich., as a boutique insurer of wooden boats.

In the early 1990s, the company began insuring collectible cars. With Mr. Hagerty at the helm, it has become one of the largest indemnifiers of vintage vehicles, with over two million classics on its rolls. The actuarial data necessary to determine repair and replacement costs on these cars has also made it a foremost authority on their valuation.

. . .

Hagerty went public via a SPAC, or special-purpose acquisition company, raising roughly $265 million in the process with a goal of expanding. So, what are Hagerty’s ambitions now? And why did it need to become a publicly traded company in order to achieve them?

“The purpose of the company is to save driving and car culture,” Mr. Hagerty said flatly, as we piloted a zippy, Hagerty-insured 1972 BMW 2002 tii toward the tip of Lower Manhattan. “If we’re going to save car culture, we have to make investments outside of the core business, and really help create a whole ecosystem.” Achieving this lofty goal required hundreds of millions of dollars in additional investment, he said: “That would have been tough for us to afford just as a private company.”

. . .

Outside experts agreed with this assessment of Mr. Hagerty’s vocation. “They encourage driving. Their tag lines all the time are, ‘Drive your cars,’” Mr. Gross said. “In some ways, you think, that’s a little strange for an insurance company. You think they’d want you to drive as little as possible to minimize the risk.” He laughed.

Instead, Mr. Hagerty said he sincerely wants to help people find the pleasure in “the experiential sides” of the automobile, those organized around adventure, preservation, culture and legacy. “I think that if we can help steward along the reasons that people drive and love cars, other than to get from Point A to Point B, then we win.”

Mr. Gross concurred with this plan. “I don’t know how many companies there are that take the long way around. And that’s what Hagerty is doing here. They’re not only selling insurance. They’re trying to make sure that the reason you need that insurance is viable and fun, and lots of people are doing it,” he said. “As a business strategy, it’s pretty smart.”

For the full commentary, see:

Brett Berk. “A Classic Car Insurer’s Vision to ‘Save Driving’.” The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 17, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 16, 2021, and has the title “A Classic Car Giant With a Lofty Mission: Save Driving.”)

Most of Supply-Chain Delays Occur in U.S.

(p. A17) Mr. Levy, 53, says he doesn’t see the supply chain’s “unprecedented crisis” ending before 2023. He’s chief economist for Flexport, a San Francisco-based tech company for global-logistic services.

. . .

The typical transit time for a container in pre-pandemic days was 71 days, Mr. Levy says. That’s how long it took for a full container to depart from Shanghai; discharge in Los Angeles; proceed to a warehouse near, say, Chicago; get trucked empty back to California; and then return to Shanghai. The current transit time is 117 days or more. The greatest delays are in the U.S., owing to port bottlenecks and trucking shortages. The Los Angeles to Chicago leg, for instance, now takes 22 days, 12 more than before. It takes 33 days for the empty container to return to California, compared with 20 in the old days.

Not only does it take much longer to import goods, it’s also become eye-wateringly expensive. “Where it might have cost $1,500 to move a container across the Pacific,” Mr. Levy says, “you’re seeing them go for more like $15,000 per container.”

This surge in transport costs has hit lower-value goods hardest and made quick restocking all the more of a challenge. Mr. Levy talked to a company that sells office supplies. “They were moving a container whose contents were in the order of $15,000 in value. Well, if that now costs $15,000 to move, you have a problem, right?”

. . .

The key question: “When will we start seeing people behave the way they used to in their consumption?” It’s possible we won’t. “People are creatures of habit,” Mr. Levy observes, and the pandemic has led them to take on new habits. So far, at any rate, “we have not seen a reversion to the previous patterns.”

The supply-chain crisis, Mr. Levy contends, has no parallel in history. We’ve had shocks before, such as the oil crisis of 1973. But “global-trade liberalization and distributed specialization,” allied to an ease of shipping and transport, fueled by ideas like “just-in-time inventory”—that’s all new.

. . .

There are specific short-term measures that governments can take, such as liberalization of trucking rules, traffic control, land-use regulation for stacking containers and port-opening hours. But Mr. Levy is “loath to put a small subset of these forward as a panacea.”

For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; An Insider Explains the Supply-Chain Crisis.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date December 17, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Scientists Should Not Censor Contrarian Conjectures from Outsiders

On Nov. 3, 2021 I presented my paper “Galilean Science: The Impediment to Progress When Science as Doctrine Wins Over Science as Process” at Day 3 of the Organisation [sic] for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “Workshop on AI and the Productivity of Science.” The OECD has 38, mainly European, governments as members and has the objective of finding policies to advance the economic progress of the world.

The link above is to OECD’s recently posted YouTube Zoom recording of all of Day 3. My presentation starts at about 1:23.

In the session where I presented my paper, we were asked to answer one of a couple of questions. I chose to focus on the question: “What is the most important impediment to raising the productivity of science, and why?” My answer, in brief, was that science is impeded when authorities require adherence to the dominant doctrines, censoring rather than permitting the contrarian conjectures from outsiders who advance us toward truth.

Galilean science is also discussed on p. 129 of my Openness book:

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

Concentrating at the Office Can Be Harder than Concentrating at Home

(p. A4) Many people returning to offices are starting to wonder how they ever managed to be productive in a place with so many distractions. On top of standard interruptions to the workday that have long existed—say, small talk while making a fresh cup of coffee—there are now new temptations and annoyances (depending on whom you ask) spawned by staggered schedules, hybrid work, and the pandemic-induced realization that socializing can be exhausting.

. . .

Valerie Warshaw, 40, an interior designer with an architecture firm in Richmond, Va., also has trouble focusing with people chatting near her desk, but for different reasons.

“I get distracted just from hearing other people’s conversation and then I’m like, ‘Ooh! I want to chime in on that,’ ” she said. “The group that I’m in is very social.”

. . .

Her noise-canceling AirPods can help but have a downside: she gets startled when people come up behind her desk without warning. Ms. Warshaw has learned the best way to get anything done is to barricade herself in a conference room.

“People don’t disturb you because they think you’re on a call,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Katherine Bindley. “Working From Work Can Be Hard.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 17, 2021, and has the title “Working From Work Is Harder Than It Sounds.”)

E-Mobility Devices Offer Consumers “Lower Virus Risk” and More Convenience Than Public Transit

(p. A9) A boom in electric-powered mobile devices is bringing what is likely to be a lasting change and a new safety challenge to New York’s vast and crowded street grid.

The devices have sprouted up all over. Office workers on electric scooters glide past Manhattan towers. Parents take electric bikes to drop off their children at school. Young people have turned to electric skateboards, technically illegal on city streets, to whiz through the far corners of New York.

Though many of these riders initially gave up their subway and bus trips because of the lower virus risk of traveling outdoors, some say they are sticking with their e-mobility devices even as the city begins to move beyond the pandemic.

“I use the scooter for everything, it’s really convenient,” said Shareese King, 41, a Bronx resident who deleted the Uber app from her phone after she started running her errands on an electric scooter.

Electric bikes, scooters and other devices are in many cases made for urban life because they are affordable, better for the environment, take up little, if any, street space for parking and are just fun to use, said Sarah M. Kaufman, the associate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.

For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu and Chelsia Rose Marcius. “As Personal E-Mobility Spreads, Safety Challenges Grow.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 28, 2021): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. [sic] 8, 2021, and has the title “As E-Scooters and E-Bikes Proliferate, Safety Challenges Grow.”)

Small Modular Reactors Are Safer and Cheaper Than Older Reactors and Generate More Predictable Carbon-Free Energy Than Can Wind and Sun

(p. B13) Nuclear energy is a rare thing—a carbon-free energy source that isn’t hyped and enjoys bipartisan support in Washington. The big question now is whether new technologies that might lower the costs actually work.

Governments are reconsidering nuclear power, given its ability to provide predictable carbon-free energy.

. . .

“Modular” nuclear fission plants are where the real promise lies. Simpler designs, standardized components and passive safety features all help reduce costs. Being smaller can make it easier to find sites and integrate into a grid with intermittent renewables. Proponents estimate that modular reactors could more than halve the cost and build time associated with traditional ones.

One approach uses existing technologies to build small modular reactors, known as SMRs. They generate anything from a few megawatts to 500, compared with around 1,000 or more for a typical conventional reactor. The controlled fission reaction splits uranium, which heats water into steam, driving a turbine to generate electricity. Water also cools the reactor. SMRs use passive safety features, such as placement underground or in a pool of water, to reduce the need for some more expensive measures. It makes them cheaper to build, but opponents worry it could be a recipe for more disasters.

. . .

Others are trying to build modular reactors with new technology, such as novel nuclear fuels or cooling systems involving gas or salt instead of water. These advanced designs are intended to reduce the risk of accidents and build in more flexibility for intermittent power.

. . .

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program co-founded two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration plants to be completed by 2027. The first is designed by Bill Gates-backed TerraPower in partnership with GE-Hitachi. It will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with integrated energy storage on the site of a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The second will be built in Washington state by X-Energy using four of its 80 MW helium gas-cooled reactors fueled by special uranium pebbles.

. . .

There is also innovation in nuclear fusion—combining atoms to generate energy—which comes with fewer safety and waste concerns. This month, Commonwealth Fusion Systems secured $1.8 billion in funding with promises to build reactors in the 2030s. But many think commercially viable fusion remains a very long shot.

For the full commentary, see:

Rochelle Toplensky. “Nuclear Power’s Second Chance.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021): B13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 20, 2021, and has the title “Nuclear Power Has a Second Chance to Prove Itself.”)

“Two Self-Made Mill Owners” in Golden Age of Capitalism Collected and Preserved “Literary Treasures”

(p. C6) A consortium of British libraries and museums has announced that it successfully raised more than $20 million to buy a “lost” library containing rare manuscripts by Robert Burns, Walter Scott and the Brontës, heading off an auction and preserving the collection intact.

. . .

“A collection of literary treasures of this importance comes around only once in a generation,” Richard Ovenden, the head of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, said in a news release earlier this month announcing the deal.

. . .

Alfred and William Law, two self-made mill owners who grew up less than 20 miles from the Brontë home in Haworth (which is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum), began collecting what became the Honresfield Library in the 1890s.

. . .

In the announcement, Gabriel Heaton, the Sotheby’s specialist who organized the planned sale, called it “a collection like no other that has come to market in recent decades.”

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Schuessler. “$20 Million Raised to Preserve a ‘Lost Library’.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 25, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2021, and has the title “Group Raises $20 Million to Preserve ‘Lost’ Brontë Library.”)

Fewer Wildfires, but More Wildfire Costs, Due to More Building Near Forests

Source of graph: online version of WSJ commentary cited below.

(p. A19) In the early 1900s, about 4.2% of land world-wide burned every year, as you can see on the nearby graph. A century later, that had dropped almost to 3%. That decline has continued through the satellite era, and 2021 is likely to end with only 2.5% of the globe having caught fire, based on data through Aug. 31 [2021].

This data is entirely noncontroversial. Even a report from the World Wildlife Fund—chillingly subtitled “a crisis raging out of control?”—concedes midway through that “the area of land burned globally has actually been steadily declining since it started to be recorded in 1900.”

Human ingenuity gets the credit: People have moved from hearths to power stations, converted untamed land into protected farms, and created enough excess wealth that societies can increasingly afford to defend our surroundings with fire suppression and forest management.

. . .

It is true that more people will probably be threatened by fires in the future, but this is because part of the world’s growing population will settle where wildfires are more common. The number of homes in high-fire-risk zones in the Western U.S. has increased 13-fold over the past 80 years and is set to increase further by 2050. A 2016 Nature study concludes this is true globally. “Contrary to common perception,” the researchers write, “human exposure to wildfires increases in the future mainly owing to projected population growth in areas with frequent wildfires, rather than by a general increase in burned area.”

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Climate Activists Blow Smoke on Wildfire Fears.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Lomborg’s quotation from he report of the World Wildlife Fund is from p. 8 of:

Group, Boston Consulting. “Fires, Forests and the Future: A Crisis Raging out of Control?”: World Wildlife Fund, 2020.

The Nature study Lomborg quotes above is:

Knorr, W., A. Arneth, and Leiwen Jiang. “Demographic Controls of Future Global Fire Risk.” Nature Climate Change 6, no. 8 (Aug. 2016): 781-85.

“Endless” Trial-and-Error Experiments Led to Creation of Islet Cells to Cure Type 1 Diabetes

(p. 1) Brian Shelton’s life was ruled by Type 1 diabetes.

. . .

His ex-wife, Cindy Shelton, took him into her home in Elyria, Ohio. “I was afraid to leave him alone all day,” she said.

Early this year, she spotted a call for people with Type 1 diabetes to participate in a clinical trial by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The company was testing a treatment developed over decades by a scientist who vowed to find a cure after his baby son and then his teenage daughter got the devastating disease.

Mr. Shelton was the first patient. On June 29, [2021] he got an infusion of cells, grown from stem cells but just like the insulin-producing pancreas cells his body lacked.

Now his body automatically controls its insulin and blood sugar levels.

Mr. Shelton, now 64, may be the first person cured of the disease with a new treatment that has experts daring to hope that help may (p. 18) be coming for many of the 1.5 million Americans suffering from Type 1 diabetes.

“It’s a whole new life,” Mr. Shelton said. “It’s like a miracle.”

. . .

One problem was the source of the cells — they came from unused fertilized eggs from a fertility clinic. But in August 2001, President George W. Bush barred using federal money for research with human embryos. Dr. Melton had to sever his stem cell lab from everything else at Harvard. He got private funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard and philanthropists to set up a completely separate lab with an accountant who kept all its expenses separate, down to the light bulbs.

Over the 20 years it took the lab of 15 or so people to successfully convert stem cells into islet cells, Dr. Melton estimates the project cost about $50 million.

The challenge was to figure out what sequence of chemical messages would turn stem cells into insulin-secreting islet cells. The work involved unraveling normal pancreatic development, figuring out how islets are made in the pancreas and conducting endless experiments to steer embryonic stem cells to becoming islets. It was slow going.

. . .

The next step for Dr. Melton, knowing he’d need more resources to make a drug that could get to market, was starting a company.

. . .

His company Semma was founded in 2014, a mix of Sam and Emma’s names.

One challenge was to figure out how to grow islet cells in large quantities with a method others could repeat. That took five years.

The company, led by Bastiano Sanna, a cell and gene therapy expert, tested its cells in mice and rats, showing they functioned well and cured diabetes in rodents.

At that point, the next step — a clinical trial in patients — needed a large, well financed and experienced company with hundreds of employees. Everything had to be done to the exacting standards of the Food and Drug Administration — thousands of pages of documents prepared, and clinical trials planned.

Chance intervened. In April 2019, at a meeting at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Melton ran into a former colleague, Dr. David Altshuler, who had been a professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard and the deputy director of the Broad Institute. Over lunch, Dr. Altshuler, who had become the chief scientific officer at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, asked Dr. Melton what was new.

Dr. Melton took out a small glass vial with a bright purple pellet at the bottom.

“These are islet cells that we made at Semma,” he told Dr. Altshuler.

Vertex focuses on human diseases whose biology is understood. “I think there might be an opportunity,” Dr. Altshuler told him.

Meetings followed and eight weeks later, Vertex acquired Semma for $950 million. With the acquisition, Dr. Sanna became an executive vice president at Vertex.

. . .

Less than two years after Semma was acquired, the F.D.A. allowed Vertex to begin a clinical trial with Mr. Shelton as its initial patient.

For the full story, see:

Gina Kolata. “A Cure for Severe Diabetes? For an Ohio Patient, It Worked.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, November 28, 2021): 1 & 18.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 27, 2021, and has the title “A Cure for Type 1 Diabetes? For One Man, It Seems to Have Worked.”)

Wisconsin Hospitals Increasingly Sue Patients

(p. A8) Hospitals in Wisconsin have sued patients over medical debt at a rate that amounts to one out of every 1,000 residents a year, especially people in low-income areas and who are Black, a new study found.

The study, published Monday [Dec. 6, 2021] in the health-policy journal Health Affairs, found some hospitals were more likely than others to take patients to court and low-income and Black patients were disproportionately sued.

The findings highlight how the financial and legal jeopardy that patients face depends on which hospital they go to. The findings also add to mounting research on the consequences of medical debt, a problem that research shows is more acute among people who are uninsured.

Medical-bill lawsuits “are not a fait accompli,” said Zack Cooper, an economist with the Yale University School of Public Health and an author of the new lawsuit analysis. “This is very much a choice that these hospitals are making.”

. . .

Hospitals were suing people more for unpaid bills, the study also found. The rate increased to 1.53 lawsuits for every 1,000 residents in 2018, up from 1.12 lawsuits per 1,000 residents in 2001.

. . .

Dr. Cooper called for more data to better understand potential factors driving the disproportionate number of lawsuits among Black patients.

“First, Black patients could have a higher burden of unpaid medical bills, which leads them to get sued more on a per-capita basis,” he said. “Second, Black patients could have a similar amount of debt, but were more likely targeted by hospitals.”

For the full story, see:

Melanie Evans and Tom McGinty. “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2021): A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 6, 2021, and has the title “Hospitals in Wisconsin Pursued Medical Debt Collection Widely but Unevenly, Study Finds.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version is “Hospitals Faulted on Medical-Debt Suits.” The title of my National edition of the print version is “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.”)

The article co-authored by Cooper, and discussed above, is:

Cooper, Zack, James Han, and Neale Mahoney. “Hospital Lawsuits over Unpaid Bills Increased by 37 Percent in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2018.” Health Affairs 40, no. 12 (Dec. 2021): 1830-35.

“Overwhelmed” Volunteers Struggle to Fix Log4j Bug in Open Source Software

In Openness to Creative Destruction, I argue that open source software has severe drawbacks, compared to a system where firms receive higher profits for selling better software. The severe Log4j bug, discussed in the quoted passages below, is an example that strongly supports my argument. Blog entries posted on Dec. 17 and on Dec. 25 also discussed the Log4j bug.

(p. B6) Gary Gregory, a volunteer for the Apache Software Foundation, is spending time off from his day job glued to his computer, striving to help contain the harm from a security flaw in the Log4j tool underpinning much of the digital economy.

. . .

Mr. Gregory, who works from the dining-room table in his Ocala, Fla., home, fueled by black coffee and accompanied by his hound-pit-bull mix, Bella, said he is overwhelmed with hundreds of requests for help from businesses. While Apache is trying to assist companies in updating their systems, he said, the nonprofit’s resources are limited.

“This puts to the forefront the whole issue with open-source [software] and commercial users,” said Mr. Gregory, who is on the Apache Logging Services Project Management Committee of 16 elected members who vote on changes to the software. “The expectations are somewhat out of whack.”

. . .

Many developers rely on the free Log4j framework to help record data such as users’ behavior and applications’ activity in software built with the Java programming language. Cybersecurity experts say the inclusion of the open-source logging tool within so much interconnected software—often embedded without developers’ knowledge—yields a threat that spans economic sectors and national borders.

. . .

Cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc. said it has observed Chinese government hackers trying to exploit the flaw.

After Apache released its planned patch on Friday, Mr. Gregory said he worked through the weekend on a new update along with other volunteer software developers in Japan, New Zealand, Virginia and Arizona. Unveiled Monday, the new version disabled a problematic software module by default and removed a message-lookup feature that could be used to exploit the flaw.

The Apache volunteers are designing another update to Log4j for users who rely on an older version of the Java programming language, meaning more work for Mr. Gregory while he is on vacation from his day job.

“That translates to me getting five hours of sleep last night,” he said of his time off. “Some of the other guys got two or three.”

For the full story, see:

David Uberti. “Fight Against Bug Relies on Volunteers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 16, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 15, 2021, and has the title “Global Fight Against Log4j Vulnerability Relies on Apache Volunteers.”)

My book, mentioned above, is:

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