Weary and Angry with Lockdowns in China, “Everyone Is Scared”

(p. A12) In the hours before the southern Chinese city of Chengdu entered a coronavirus lockdown, Matthew Chen visited four vegetable markets in an attempt to stock up on fresh food. But seemingly the entire city had the same idea, and by the time he got to each place, most of the shelves had been stripped bare, except for hot peppers and fruit, he said.

Mr. Chen, a white-collar worker in his 30s, managed to scavenge enough cherry tomatoes, meat and greens for about one day, and since then has been ordering grocery deliveries to tide him through the lockdown, which began on Friday. But he worries about whether that supply will remain stable, and how much longer he will have to rely on it.

“The longer a lockdown goes, the more problems emerge, and the harder it is to tolerate it,” he said, noting that the Chengdu government had not given a timeline for reopening.

. . .

The challenges in enforcing such extensive controls are daunting, perhaps more so now than at any other point in the pandemic. Nearly three years of on-and-off lockdowns have lashed the economy, sending unemployment soaring, especially among young people. The country is increasingly isolated, as the rest of the world largely abandons Covid restrictions. New subvariants are ever more transmissible. And the seemingly endless restrictions leave more ordinary Chinese people wearier by the day.

. . .

Chengdu officials themselves have already tested residents’ trust, after the authorities last week ordered a man detained for 15 days, accusing him of spreading false rumors on social media about a looming lockdown. Two days later, when the city did actually lock down, social media erupted with support for the man and anger at the government.

“Everyone is scared, scared that the situation will become like Shanghai,” said Mr. Chen, the office worker, who had traveled to Chengdu on business before becoming trapped there by the restrictions.

Still, he saw little alternative but to bear with the situation. “Personally, I’m extremely fed up with and not supportive of these policies. But there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “I can only wait.”

For the full story, see:

Vivian Wang. “As Beijing Imposes More Covid Lockdowns Across China, ‘Everyone Is Scared’.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 6, 2022): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 5, 2022, and has the title “As China Imposes More Covid Lockdowns, ‘Everyone Is Scared’.”)

“The Car Emancipated the Masses”

(p. 11) Ear-shredding noise, toxic air, interminable traffic jams, chaos and death — all the result of untrammeled population expansion. Is this a description of a contemporary urban nightmare? Not quite: We’re talking about 19th-century London, although the situation in Paris and other major cities wasn’t much better. And the cause of all this misery was … the horse.

As recounted by Bryan Appleyard in his compelling new book, “The Car,” by 1900 the 50,000 horses required to meet London’s transportation needs deposited 500 tons of excrement daily. Hooves and carriage wheels threw up curtains of fetid muck. Accidents caused by mechanical failures and spooked animals were often fatal to passengers, drivers and the horses themselves. New York City employed 130,000 horses and predictions were made that by 1930 that city’s streets would be piled three stories high with dung. Yet another dire prophecy fallen victim to the continuity fallacy — the belief that a current trend will endure forever.

Things change because when problems arise, people work at solving them, and sometimes they arrive at solutions. The answer to the psychosocial and physical degradation brought on by too many people employing too many horses in the burgeoning Industrial Age was, of course, the development of the motor vehicle. Specifically, one powered by the internal combustion engine.

. . .

For all the carping and finger-pointing leveled at traditional automobiles — much of which Appleyard acknowledges as valid — he is unabashed about his appreciation for the most important machine in human history. As he points out, “The car emancipated the masses far more effectively than any political ideology; that it did so at a cost should not obliterate the importance of that freedom.”

Well said. Vroom.

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Kellerman. “Auto Erotica.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 25, 2022): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 23, 2022, and has the title “How the Car Created the Modern World.”)

The book under review is:

Appleyard, Bryan. The Car: The Rise and Fall of the Machine That Made the Modern World. New York: Pegasus Books, 2022.

“In the Face of the Sickles, What Can the Wheat Do?”

(p. ??A1) A low-budget movie depicting a poor couple’s struggle in rural China surprised many with a run at the Chinese box office that dwarfed some blockbusters. Now, many are wondering why they can’t watch it.

“Return to Dust” depicts two outcasts, a woman with a physical disability and a farmer too poor to marry, who get together in a marriage arranged by their families. With a realistic style, Li Ruijun, the director, tells the story of the hardships they face.

The movie, which features mostly locals in China’s western Gansu province rather than professional actors, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and started screening in China in July. It quickly gained a following on social media. By early September, daily ticket revenue topped 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), surpassing big-budget movies such as “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

. . .

The movie’s disappearance came just ahead of a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in mid-October, at which President Xi Jinping is expected to secure a third term in power.

Hashtags about the movie and its removal on social-media platform Weibo became unclickable, a sign that the discussion was considered sensitive. Some blog posts on China’s do-everything app, WeChat, that asked why the movie was removed online also disappeared.

Weibo didn’t respond to a request for comment. iQIYI and Huawei Technologies Co., which operate major streaming platforms, didn’t reply to requests for comment. Tencent Holdings Ltd., which owns Tencent Video and WeChat, also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

China’s National Radio and Television Administration, the country’s broadcasting authority, didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

. . .

Many social-media discussions centered on how the lives of the couple in the movie were exploited by those in power. For example, in one scene, a wealthy man in the village pressures the husband to donate blood for his sick father.

In a line from the movie widely cited by social media users, the husband says, “In the face of the sickles, what can the wheat do?”

For the full story, see:

Liyan Qi. “???Chinese Fans of Popular Movie ‘Return to Dust’ Wonder What Happened to It.” The Wall Street Journal (??Tuesday, October ?, 2022): ?A1 & ?A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version was updated ??Sept. 14, 2022, and has the title “Chinese Fans of Popular Movie ‘Return to Dust’ Wonder What Happened to It.” As of 10/4/22, the article had not yet appeared in print.)

Flexible Entrepreneurial Rancher Uses Beavers “As Furry Weapons of Climate Resilience” to Create Water Storage

(p. A1) As global warming intensifies droughts, floods and wildfires, Mr. Smith has become one of a growing number of ranchers, scientists and other “beaver believers” who see the creatures not only as helpers, but as furry weapons of climate resilience.

Last year, when Nevada suffered one of the worst droughts on record, beaver pools kept his cattle with enough water. When rains came strangely hard and fast, the vast network of dams slowed a torrent of water raging down the mountain, protecting his hay crop. And with the beavers’ help, creeks have widened into wetlands that run through the sagebrush desert, cleaning water, birthing new meadows and creating a buffer against wildfires.

. . .

(p. A15) . . . Mr. Smith decided to try a different approach to cattle management, moving them around his land and letting them spend less time around the creeks. That allowed shrubs and trees to grow in along the banks, making the whole area more stable. Eventually, if the beaver dams did give way, they would do so at the center, and the surge of water would stay in the channel.

. . .

Part of what has made the partnership successful is Mr. Smith’s flexibility. For example, beavers have completely rerouted one section of creek. But Mr. Smith doesn’t see the change as good or bad, “just different.” The most important thing, he said, is how much water they’re storing on the land.

Now more than ever, he said, “water is liquid gold.”

For the full story, see:

Catrin Einhorn and Niki Chan Wylie. “A Nevada Rancher Made a Truce With Beavers, and It Paid Off.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 6, 2022): A1 & A15.

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

(Note: the online version was updated Sept. 14, 2022, and has the title “It Was War. Then, a Rancher’s Truce With Some Pesky Beavers Paid Off.”)

Young Men in Russia Vote with Their Feet Against Putin’s Tyranny

(p. A12) A little more than 12 hours after he heard that Russian civilians could be pressed into military service in the Ukraine war, the tour guide said he bought a plane ticket and a laptop, changed money, wrapped up his business, kissed his crying mother goodbye and boarded a plane out of his country, with no idea when he might return.

. . .

“I was sitting and thinking about what I could die for, and I didn’t see any reason to die for the country,” said the tour guide, 23, who, like others interviewed for this article, declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Since President Vladimir V. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday of a new troop call-up, some Russian men who had once thought they were safe from the front lines have fled the country. And they have done so in a rush, lining up at the borders and paying rising prices to catch flights to countries that allow them to enter without visas, such as Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey.

. . .

In principle, European Union officials say they stand in solidarity with the men who don’t want to fight. “Russians are voting with their feet, basically, ” said Peter Stano, a spokesman for the European Commission.

. . .

A 26-year-old merchant mariner who gave his name only as Dmitriy said he would wait in Turkey until his next ship job began in December [2022], to ensure that he would not be drafted in the meantime.

. . .

The mariner said that most of his friends had stayed in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, believing the war would not affect them much. He said most were rushing to get out.

“Lots of people want to leave Russia now because they don’t want to fight for the opinion of one person,” he said, dismissing the invasion as a personal project of Mr. Putin.

“It is not about defending your family,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Ben Hubbard. “Fearing a Military Call-Up, Men Rush to Leave Russia.” The New York Times (Friday, September 23, 2022): A12.

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

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 22, 2022, and has the title “‘A Lot of Panic’: Russian Men, Fearing Ukraine Draft, Seek Refuge Abroad.”)

Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier Is Melting at Only Half the Peak Rate of the Past 200 Years

Barbara Rush’s honest acknowledgement that the scientific evidence suggests slower glacial melting than the popular doomsday predictions claim, is especially powerful and credible coming from the author of an earlier book praised by environmentalists for its sensitive portrayal of the harms of rising sea levels.

(p. 7) If Antarctica is going to lose a lot of ice this century, it will likely come from Thwaites. If it disintegrated, it would be responsible for over two feet of sea level rise, and its collapse could destabilize the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, causing global sea levels to jump 10 feet or more. In terms of the fate of our coastal communities, this particular glacier is the biggest wild card, the largest known unknown, the pile of coins that could tip the scales one way or another. Will Miami even exist in 100 years? Thwaites will decide.

At least that is what many scientists think, which is why Rolling Stone called Thwaites the “doomsday glacier” in 2017. But many of our predictions about just how much ice will enter the ocean from Thwaites and just how quickly this will occur are just that: predictions. That’s because before our mission, we had next to no observational data from this part of the planet, very few bits of raw information on which to base models.

When I read about the collapse of Antarctica’s great glaciers, I feel I am being encouraged to jump to a conclusion: that no matter what we do now, what lies ahead is bound to be worse than what came before.

This kind of thinking not only undermines our ability to imagine a climate-changed world that is more equitable than the one we currently live in; it also turns Antarctica into a passive symbol of the coming apocalypse.

. . .

This week Nature Geoscience published a paper analyzing the data from that submarine. The authors, many of whom were on board the vessel with me, suggest that sometime over the past couple hundred years, Thwaites retreated at two to three times the rate we see today. Put another way: At the cold nadir of the planet, one of the world’s largest glaciers is stepping farther outside the script we imagined for it, likely defying even our most detailed projections of what is to come.

For the full story, see:

Elizabeth Rush. “What Antarctica’s Disintegration Asks of Us.” The New York Times, SundayOpinion Section (Sunday, September 11, 2022): 7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The academic article published in Nature Geoscience, and mentioned above, is:

Graham, Alastair G. C., Anna Wåhlin, Kelly A. Hogan, Frank O. Nitsche, Karen J. Heywood, Rebecca L. Totten, James A. Smith, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Lauren M. Simkins, John B. Anderson, Julia S. Wellner, and Robert D. Larter. “Rapid Retreat of Thwaites Glacier in the Pre-Satellite Era.” Nature Geoscience (Sept. 5, 2022), DOI: 10.1038/s41561-022-01019-9.

Rush’s book mentioned above is:

Rush, Elizabeth. Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2018.

Covid-19 Health Effects Will Keep Reducing Labor Force

(p. A1) As the United States emerges from the pandemic, employers have been desperate to hire. But while demand for goods and services has rebounded, the supply of labor has fallen short, holding back the economy.

. . .

(p. A20) Morning Consult found in August [2022] that prime-age adults who aren’t working cited a variety of often overlapping reasons for not wanting jobs. In a monthly poll of 2,200 people, 40 percent said they believed that they wouldn’t be able to find a job with enough flexibility, while 38 percent were limited by family situations and personal obligations. But the biggest category, at 43 percent, was medical conditions.

Other data suggest some of that is due to long-term complications from Covid-19, although estimates of how many people have been knocked out of the work force by Covid range tremendously.

Katie Bach, a Brookings Institution fellow, put the impact at two million to four million full-time workers, based on her interpretation of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and other research. (The total affected may be larger, with many who suffer from long Covid reducing their hours rather than stopping work.) A Federal Reserve economist didn’t specify a number, but observed that even as Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths receded, the share of people saying they were not able to work because of illness or disability had remained elevated in Labor Department data after spiking in early 2021.

Another analysis, in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that people who’d taken a week off for health-related reasons in 2020 and 2021 were 7 percent less likely to be in the labor force a year later — which equates to about 500,000 workers.

Whatever the magnitude, the effects are likely to be significant and long-lasting. Vaccines provide imperfect protection against getting long Covid, studies suggest, and other post-viral diseases have proven difficult to recover from. “I certainly don’t think the worst is behind us,” Ms. Bach said.

For the full story, see:

Lydia DePillis. “Pool of Labor In U.S. Stays Bafflingly Low.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 13, 2022): A1 & A20.

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

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 12, 2022, and has the title “Who Are America’s Missing Workers?”)

The NBER paper mentioned above is:

Goda, Gopi Shah, and Evan J. Soltas. “The Impacts of Covid-19 Illnesses on Workers.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 30435, Sept. 2022.

An Electric Prayer

(p. A4) BEIRUT, Lebanon — The second the light above Hasmik Tutunjian’s bed came on at midnight, she said a prayer of thanks and got up quickly. She did not know how much time she had before she would be plunged back into darkness.

First, Ms. Tutunjian, 66, stripped the sheets off the bed — soaked with sweat from Beirut’s stifling and humid heat. She grabbed a phone charger hanging on a hook next to a tote bag that reads, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and plugged it in. Then she moved into the living room to plug in three chargeable lights. Finally, she put in the first of as many loads of laundry as the electricity would allow.

. . .

Power cuts have long been a part of life in this country because of a dysfunctional electricity sector. But over the past year, they have worsened with acute fuel shortages leading to severe blackouts across Lebanon and state-supplied power coming on for only an hour or two a day — at most — and on no set schedule.

. . .

. . . with Lebanese inflation rising to 168 percent in the year that ended in July [2022], and unemployment skyrocketing, a dwindling number of people can afford the extra generator power. And some of the generators provide only a few amps — enough to power a refrigerator, a fan and the television.

Ms. Tutunjian cannot afford any amps.

She has a chargeable fan, but the power does not come on long enough to fully charge it. She tries to cool herself with a folding fan, which does little to fight the suffocating heat of a Beirut summer.

“Sometimes I tell myself I’m not going to get sad, but I can’t help it,” she said, sitting in her living room. “At night, I get into bed angry, I cry.”

. . .

Last month, an armed 42-year-old man held a Beirut bank hostage for hours, demanding that he be allowed to withdraw his entire life’s savings — more than $200,000. But the amount far exceeded the paltry caps on cash withdrawals.

He said he needed the money to pay for an operation for his father, and threatened to kill everyone inside the bank and to set himself on fire.

“That man, good what he did,” Ms. Tutunjian said.

Eventually, he was allowed to take out a small portion of his savings in exchange for his surrender and arrest. He became an instant hero, capturing a nation’s frustrations, and was released days later amid an outpouring of public support.

“He said he’ll do it again,” Ms. Tutunjian said.

For the full story, see:

Raja Abdulrahim and Laura Boushnak. “Chasing a Few Hours of Electricity In the Middle of the Night.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 13, 2022): A4.

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

(Note: the online version was updated on Sept. 21, 2022, and has the title “Oppressive Blackouts Force Lebanese to Change Rhythm of Life.”)

Paddington Bear Condemned as an Unsustainable Tribute to Queen

(p. A12) Amid the outpouring of grief after the death of queen Elizabeth II at 96, Britons have laid many a tribute in parks and outside palace gates in England. But the charity responsible for all the royal acres in the land has a plea: Bouquets of flowers are ever so lovely, but please skip the teddy bears and balloons.

The charity, Royal Parks, asks well-wishers to bring only “organic or compostable material” . . .

Mourners have already contributed stuffed Paddington Bears, . . .

Paddington is an especially popular tribute because of a video released around the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee in June [2022], in which the queen and the bear have tea and discuss keeping marmalade sandwiches on hand for emergencies. (He keeps one in his hat; she, supposedly, kept one in her purse.)

But Royal Parks says mourners should choose their tributes “in the interests of sustainability.”

For the full story, see:

JOSEPH, YONETTE. “Flowers, Yes. But Bears? Please Don’t.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 13, 2022): A12.

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

(Note: after substantial search, I could not find that the article had been posted online by the NYT.)

Both Insourcing and Outsourcing Can Be Successful Strategies

(p. A13) In “Profit From the Source,” four Europe-based partners at Boston Consulting Group—Christian Schuh, Wolfgang Schnellbächer, Alenka Triplat and Daniel Weise—make the case for drastic change. Procurement, they assert, has been badly neglected: “When the boss offers someone a job in procurement, they know they’re on the fast track to nowhere.” Top executives, they claim, spend far too little time with suppliers, even though purchasing swallows more than half of the average company’s budget. “That’s a mismatch with potentially existential consequences,” they write. Instead, they insist, companies should put procurement at the center of corporate strategy.

. . .

Serving up familiar stories about the likes of Apple and Tesla, the authors write admiringly: “The world’s most successful companies . . . make virtually nothing themselves. They are, in effect, the consumer-facing, brand-owning centripetal force at the core of a business ecosystem.” But many companies have been moving in the opposite direction. In recent years, Facebook (now Meta) began designing chips for the servers in its data centers; Costco built a slaughterhouse to ensure its stores’ supply of chickens; and Cleveland-Cliffs bought steel mills to supply from its iron mines. Much of the business world seems to think that outsourcing has gone too far. Should the chief procurement officer help identify ways to bring parts of the supply chain back in house? The authors don’t say.

For the full review, see:

Marc Levinson. “BOOKSHELF; Consider The Supplier.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 29, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 28, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Profit From the Source’ Review: Consider the Supplier.”)

The book under review is:

Schuh, Christian, Wolfgang Schnellbacher, Alenka Triplat, and Daniel Weise. Profit from the Source: Transforming Your Business by Putting Suppliers at the Core. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2022.

Proposed 20 Years Ago, Heart Polypill Is Safe, Effective, and Easier to Take, but Is Not Allowed by FDA

(p. A7) Heart disease kills more people than any other condition, but despite advances in treatment and prevention, patients often do not stick to their medication regimens. Now researchers may have found a solution: a so-called polypill that combines three drugs needed to prevent cardiovascular trouble.

In what is apparently the largest and longest randomized controlled trial of this approach, patients who were prescribed a polypill within six months of a heart attack were more likely to keep taking their drugs and had significantly fewer cardiovascular events, compared with those receiving the usual assortment of pills.

The participants also experienced one-third fewer cardiovascular deaths, although their overall risk of death from all causes was not significantly changed.

The study of more than two thousand heart patients, who were followed for three years, was published Friday morning in The New England Journal of Medicine, as the findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona.

. . .

The polypill combines a blood-pressure medication, a cholesterol-lowering drug and aspirin, which helps prevent blood clots. The idea was first floated two decades ago in a more radical form: Advocates proposed giving a daily polypill to everyone once they turned 55, saying it would slash cardiovascular events globally by 80 percent.

. . .

The polypill used in the study has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is not available to patients in the United States right now. Dr. Fuster said the results of the new trial would be submitted to the agency shortly in an effort to obtain approval.

He called the results of the new study “striking,” and said the benefit of the polypill for prevention rivaled that of low-dose aspirin, which is now routinely prescribed to people who have already had a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

And since participants became even more likely to keep taking the polypill over time, he said, “The potential results could be even better with more follow-up.” Several studies have shown that only about half of patients, or even less, take all their medications as instructed.

The new study, a randomized controlled clinical trial, enrolled just under 2,500 patients at 113 sites in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

. . .

Over three years, 12.7 percent of the patients taking an assortment of pills experienced another heart attack or stroke, or died of a cardiac event or needed urgent treatment to open a blocked artery, compared with 9.5 percent of patients taking a polypill, for a relative reduction in risk of 24 percent.

There was no difference between the two groups in overall mortality, however, as the reduction in cardiovascular deaths in the polypill group was offset by deaths from other causes.

For the full story, see:

Roni Caryn Rabin. “Heart Disease Patients Are More Likely to Stick to a One-Pill Daily Regimen, Researchers Say.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 27, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2022, and has the title “How to Get Heart Patients to Take Their Pills? Give Them Just One”)