Saturday, 19 August 2017

Must We Allow The Balkanization Of Our Homeland Ghana?

Sometimes it is pretty hard to understand the motivation that drives some of the members  of our nation's political class.

Take the New Patriotic Party's (NPP) obsession with dividing up some of Ghana's existing regions. What is  the point in balkanising our homeland Ghana so? Haaba.

In one breath the government in power talks (sensibly) about the need to cut costs in the public-sector - and getting value for money in all government expenditures (a fantastic nation-building idea).

Yet, that selfsame government is also bent on embarking on the creation of yet more regions - a needless and expensive enterprise that will only increase the burden on hapless taxpayers and revive unnecessary ancient tribal rivalries: a threat to the stability of our country if ever there was one. Ebeeii. Why - and to what big-picture,  grand-idea-end, one wonders?

This is the 21st century: It is an initiative that simply doesn't make sense - unless of course it is driven entirely (as some allege) by the same secret  tribal-supremacist agenda that motivated the leadership of the colonial-era pro-Akan political organisation, the murderous National Liberation Movement (NLM) of infamy.

The question is: Why are some NPP members' collective worldview still influenced by that vile and violent colonial-era political grouping whose leaders (and their political progeny since independence in 1957) always sought to dominate  Ghanaian society by stealth - because in their view dominating our nation and lording it over the masses was (and is) their birthright? What perfidy.

Breaking up some of Ghana's regions makes no sense at all from a national cohesion standpoint in the digital age. It is like chasing fool's gold - and the political equivalent of seeing a mirage as the discovery of a new source of water in a parched landscape.

As an old  wag I know said to me a few days ago: "Kofi, in an age when thousands of young Ghanaians take online degree courses from universities located  in faraway places such as the U.S., whiles others too even trade online serving consumers living in nations across the vast expanses of some of the world's oceans,  the curious argument that breaking up some of our ten regions will save ordinary people  from having to cover great distances in order to access public services, makes little sense. No deep thinker will agree with those making that argument. And, furthermore, nothing good will ever come out of it, for sure."

That is a bit extreme perhaps - but he might  have a point.

The time has come for our leaders to leverage cutting-edge solutions to providing public services - such as the use of the free "what3words" app by district planning officers: which will revolutionize the provision of sundry services by District Assemblies across Ghana. It will also empower Ghana Post - and private sector entities such as banks -  to serve the system and Ghanaian society in myriad ways.

The question is: Are those who support the idea of breaking up some of Ghana's existing 10 regions - because in their view it will eliminate the need for ordinary citizens to cover great distances to access public services  there - wrong to support the policy of breaking up those existing regions? Perchance are they  making an egregious error of judgement in so  doing?

Or, worst of all, is the motivating factor really the furtherance of a secret tribal-supremacist  agenda set by some of those now ruling our country - as some of its more cynical critics allege?

Whatever be the case, surely, we must not allow the  balkanisation of our homeland Ghana by any group of politicians in the united African nation of diverse-ethn//wicity that President Nkrumah of blessed memory bequeathed to Ghanaians? Food for thought.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Absa Bank Limited refinances and upsizes Harmony Gold Limited’s existing Term Debt Facility

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, August 18, 2017/ -- Absa Bank (www.Absa.co.za) has successfully refinanced and upsized Harmony Gold Limited’s existing USD 250,000,000 Term Debt to a 3 year USD 350,000,000 facility. Absa Bank acted as Bookrunner, Co-ordinator and Mandated Lead Arranger. The transaction was oversubscribed with the debt syndicated to a total of 8 Lenders, including 3 new Lenders. This allowed Harmony to broaden its banking group, bolster liquidity and achieve its global growth ambitions. Absa Bank is the largest lender in the new Term Debt which further cements their position as one of Harmony’s core relationship banks. 



An oversubscription on Harmony’s debt raising is a fantastic result for Harmony. Bank liquidity has strengthened for the mining sector despite a challenging operating environment given the local policy uncertainty, so the oversubscription talks to the depth of Harmony’s bank relationships and the right market read on transaction price and structure.

Harmony’s previous facility was set to mature early in 2018, and the gold mining company was looking to refinance its existing facility to allow it to expand its scope to fund its capital expenditure and growth plans in both South Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Ultimately, this transaction is a demonstration of how Absa partners with clients to help them realise their growth ambitions. The bank is able to deliver on its mandate and has the capability to sell syndicated facilities to local and international financial markets. Most importantly, it also indicates that there is still investment appetite for South African mining companies from offshore investors.

Distributed by APO on behalf of Barclays Africa Group.



For further information, please contact:
Calvin Mashigo
Absa Group Media Relations 
011 350 4663
076 400 9349
Calvin.Mashigo@BarclaysAfrica.com
PRmedia@Absa.co.za

About Absa:
Absa Bank Limited (Absa Bank) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group Limited, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and is one of Africa’s largest financial services groups. Absa offers a range of retail, business, corporate and investment banking and wealth management products and services primarily in South Africa and Namibia.
Barclays Africa is 23.4% owned by Barclays Bank PLC (Barclays). We operate in 12 countries with about 40 thousand permanent employees and we serve close to 12 million customers.
For further information about Barclays Africa, please visit our website www.BarclaysAfrica.com.

SOURCE
Barclays Africa Group

Science Daily/Queen Mary University of London: Candy cane supercapacitor could enable fast charging of mobile phones

Science News
from research organizations
Candy cane supercapacitor could enable fast charging of mobile phones

Date:
    August 16, 2017
Source:
    Queen Mary University of London
Summary:
    Supercapacitors promise recharging of phones and other devices in seconds and minutes as opposed to hours for batteries. But current technologies are not usually flexible, have insufficient capacities, and for many their performance quickly degrades with charging cycles. Researchers have found a way to improve all three problems in one stroke.
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Candy cane supercapacitor.
Credit: Stoyan Smoukov

Supercapacitors promise recharging of phones and other devices in seconds and minutes as opposed to hours for batteries. But current technologies are not usually flexible, have insufficient capacities, and for many their performance quickly degrades with charging cycles.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and the University of Cambridge have found a way to improve all three problems in one stroke.

Their prototyped polymer electrode, which resembles a candy cane usually hung on a Christmas tree, achieves energy storage close to the theoretical limit, but also demonstrates flexibility and resilience to charge/discharge cycling.

The technique could be applied to many types of materials for supercapacitors and enable fast charging of mobile phones, smart clothes and implantable devices.

The research was published in ACS Energy Letters.

Pseudocapacitance is a property of polymer and composite supercapacitors that allows ions to enter inside the material and thus pack much more charge than carbon ones that mostly store the charge as concentrated ions (in the so-called double layer) near the surface.

The problem with polymer supercapacitors, however, is that the ions necessary for these chemical reactions can only access the top few nanometers below the material surface, leaving the rest of the electrode as dead weight. Growing polymers as nano-structures is one way to increase the amount of accessible material near the surface, but this can be expensive, hard to scale up, and often results in poor mechanical stability.

The researchers, however, have developed a way to interweave nanostructures within a bulk material, thereby achieving the benefits of conventional nanostructuring without using complex synthesis methods or sacrificing material toughness.

Project leader, Stoyan Smoukov, explained: "Our supercapacitors can store a lot of charge very quickly, because the thin active material (the conductive polymer) is always in contact with a second polymer which contains ions, just like the red thin regions of a candy cane are always in close proximity to the white parts. But this is on a much smaller scale.

"This interpenetrating structure enables the material to bend more easily, as well as swell and shrink without cracking, leading to greater longevity. This one method is like killing not just two, but three birds with one stone."

The Smoukov group had previously pioneered a combinatorial route to multifunctionality using interpenetrating polymer networks (IPN) in which each component would have its own function, rather than using trial-and-error chemistry to fit all functions in one molecule.

This time they applied the method to energy storage, specifically supercapacitors, because of the known problem of poor material utilization deep beneath the electrode surface.

This interpenetration technique drastically increases the material's surface area, or more accurately the interfacial area between the different polymer components.

Interpenetration also happens to solve two other major problems in supercapacitors. It brings flexibility and toughness because the interfaces stop growth of any cracks that may form in the material. It also allows the thin regions to swell and shrink repeatedly without developing large stresses, so they are electrochemically resistant and maintain their performance over many charging cycles.

The researchers are currently rationally designing and evaluating a range of materials that can be adapted into the interpenetrating polymer system for even better supercapacitors.

In an upcoming review, accepted for publication in the journal Sustainable Energy and Fuels, they overview the different techniques people have used to improve the multiple parameters required for novel supercapacitors.

Such devices could be made in soft and flexible freestanding films, which could power electronics embedded in smart clothing, wearable and implantable devices, and soft robotics. The developers hope to make their contribution to provide ubiquitous power for the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which is still a significant challenge ahead.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Queen Mary University of London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

    Kara D. Fong, Tiesheng Wang, Hyun-Kyung Kim, R. Vasant Kumar, Stoyan K. Smoukov. Semi-Interpenetrating Polymer Networks for Enhanced Supercapacitor Electrodes. ACS Energy Letters, 2017; 2014 DOI: 10.1021/acsenergylett.7b00466

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Queen Mary University of London. "Candy cane supercapacitor could enable fast charging of mobile phones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170816100226.htm>.

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Science News/Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering: Tough, self-healing rubber developed

Science News
from research organizations
Tough, self-healing rubber developed
Potential applications include more durable tires, wearable electronics, medical devices

Date:
    August 16, 2017
Source:
    Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Summary:
    Imagine a tire that could heal after being punctured or a rubber band that never snapped. Researchers have developed a new type of rubber that is as tough as natural rubber but can also self-heal.
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Self-healing rubber links permanent covalent bonds (red) with reversible hydrogen bonds (green).
Credit: Image courtesy of Peter and Ryan Allen/Harvard SEAS

Imagine a tire that could heal after being punctured or a rubber band that never snapped.

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a new type of rubber that is as tough as natural rubber but can also self-heal.

The research is published in Advanced Materials.

Self-healing materials aren't new -- researchers at SEAS have developed self-healing hydrogels, which rely on water to incorporate reversible bonds that can promote healing. However, engineering self-healing properties in dry materials -- such as rubber -- has proven more challenging. That is because rubber is made of polymers often connected by permanent, covalent bonds. While these bonds are incredibly strong, they will never reconnect once broken.

In order to make a rubber self-healable, the team needed to make the bonds connecting the polymers reversible, so that the bonds could break and reform.

"Previous research used reversible hydrogen bonds to connect polymers to form a rubber but reversible bonds are intrinsically weaker than covalent bonds," said Li-Heng Cai, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and corresponding author of the paper. "This raised the question, can we make something tough but can still self-heal?"

Cai, along with Jinrong Wu, a visiting professor from Sichuan University, China, and senior author David A. Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, developed a hybrid rubber with both covalent and reversible bonds.

The concept of mixing both covalent and reversible bonds to make a tough, self-healing rubber was proposed in theory by Cai but never shown experimentally because covalent and reversible bonds don't like to mix.

"These two types of bonds are intrinsically immiscible, like oil and water," said Cai.

So, the researchers developed a molecular rope to tie these two types of bonds together. This rope, called randomly branched polymers, allows two previously unmixable bonds to be mixed homogeneously on a molecular scale. In doing so, they were able to create a transparent, tough, self-healing rubber.

Typical rubber tends to crack at certain stress point when force is applied. When stretched, hybrid rubber develops so-called crazes throughout the material, a feature similar to cracks but connected by fibrous strands. These crazes redistribute the stress, so there is no localized point of stress that can cause catastrophic failure. When the stress is released, the material snaps back to its original form and the crazes heal.

Harvard's Office of Technology Development has filed a patent application for the technology and is actively seeking commercialization opportunities.

The self-healing ability is appealing for a wide variety of rubber products.

"Imagine that we could use this material as one of the components to make a rubber tire," said Wu. "If you have a cut through the tire, this tire wouldn't have to be replaced right away. Instead, it would self-heal while driving enough to give you leeway to avoid dramatic damage."

"There is still a lot more to do," said Weitz. "For materials science, it is not fully understood why this hybrid rubber exhibits crazes when stretched. For engineering, the applications of the hybrid rubber that take advantage of its exceptional combination of optical transparency, toughness, and self-healing ability remain to be explored. Moreover, the concept of using molecular design to mix covalent and reversible bonds to create a homogenous hybrid elastomer is quite general and should enable development of tough, self-healing polymers of practical usage."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Original written by Leah Burrows. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

    Jinrong Wu, Li-Heng Cai, David A. Weitz. Tough Self-Healing Elastomers by Molecular Enforced Integration of Covalent and Reversible Networks. Advanced Materials, 2017; 1702616 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201702616

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Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Tough, self-healing rubber developed: Potential applications include more durable tires, wearable electronics, medical devices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170816122342.htm>.

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Science Daily/Carnegie Mellon University: Moving beyond nudges to improve health and health care policies

Science Daily

Science news from research organizations

Moving beyond nudges to improve health and health care policies

Date:
    August 16, 2017
Source:
    Carnegie Mellon University
Summary:
    With countries around the world struggling to deliver quality health care and contain costs, a team of behavioral economists believes it's time to apply recent insights on human behavior to inform and reform health policy.
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With countries around the world struggling to deliver quality health care and contain costs, a team of behavioral economists led by Carnegie Mellon University's George Loewenstein believes it's time to apply recent insights on human behavior to inform and reform health policy.

A report published in Behavioral Science & Policy outlines how behavioral science could be used to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of American health care. To do this, the research team argues that policies targeting individual behaviors -- nudges -- need to be augmented with more far-reaching and systemic interventions.

The report proposes interventions based on the most promising applications of behavioral insights, including ways to encourage individuals to pursue healthier lifestyles and enroll in suitable insurance plans. Recommendations for employers feature ways in which they can design and test corporate wellness plans and what insurance plans they should offer to their employees. Advice for insurers and health practitioners focuses on promoting cost-effective treatments and dissuading the use of ineffective procedures; and policymakers will find ideas for increasing organ and other medical donations and improving end-of-life care.

Physician offices around the country are adopting electronic medical records. These offer particularly promising opportunities to discourage ineffective use of antibiotics and encourage the use of equivalent but cheaper treatments, like the use of generics.

"There can be no real progress on healthcare without tackling the problem of costs," said Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology and co-founder of the behavioral economics field. "But what is often lost is that cost reduction does not mean depriving people of the care they need. In fact, many commonly performed and costly surgeries can make patients worse off."

Another major focus of the report is on how to reduce the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and poor diet, which collectively account for nearly 40 percent of premature deaths in the U.S. Researchers have tested behaviorally-inspired interventions, including incentive programs, but the results have often been short-lived. Responding to the lack of programs of proven effectiveness, the report outlines the kind of research that is needed to advance the science of behavior change.

"The belief that big problems require grandiose solutions can be debilitating," said David Hagmann, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences. "We do need to think big, but we should also be targeting big problems with smaller, evidence-based interventions. Cigarette taxes alone, for example, cannot explain the decline in smoking over the past decades. But they signaled that the behavior harmed the smoker and others nearby and, in combination with restrictions on advertising and smoking in public spaces, led to a cultural change in how smoking is viewed, and to major changes in behavior."

Simply increasing the share of resources devoted to health care does not guarantee better outcomes. In 2016, $1 trillion was spent on unnecessary and ineffective care. At the same time, 28 million nonelderly Americans currently lack insurance and with it access to care that could substantially improve their health. Improving the administration of health insurance -- simplifying health insurance to make it more understandable, and reducing the burden and complexities of signing up for health insurance -- is one of the many ways that behavioral insights could lead to better medical care.

"A key feature of behavioral insights is that they are often cost-neutral or cost-saving to implement. Leveraging behavioral insights as we continuously modify and create health policy can help bring the efficiency and cost savings that our healthcare system will always need," said Janet Schwartz, assistant professor of marketing and Tulane University.

Health care reform has been a vexing political issue in the United States and around the world. Costs are increasing at alarming and unsustainable rates even in countries in which the government targets cost containment. This report presents a new, evidence-based, and nonpartisan avenue for delivering effective medical care. The policy recommendations suggest ways to improve the health and wellbeing of people at the same or reduced cost, while guidance for policymakers on how to better enable research in the health domain could lead to many more insights in the years to come.

Find the report online at: https://behavioralpolicy.org/articles/the-costs-of-poor-health-plan-choices-prescriptions-for-reform/

Story Source:

Materials provided by Carnegie Mellon University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Carnegie Mellon University. "Moving beyond nudges to improve health and health care policies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170816122348.htm>.

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Thursday, 17 August 2017

Entrepreneur Magazine/David Floyd: 9 Common Effects of Inflation

9 Common Effects of Inflation

By David Floyd | Updated August 15, 2017 — 2:57 PM EDT
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If you believe the hype, the Trump era could be defined by a return to inflation after a long post-crisis stint of disinflation and, in some instances, outright deflation. Since investors haven't seen significant price rises in years, it's worth brushing up on the most common effects of inflation.
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1. Erodes Purchasing Power     6. Reduces Unemployment
2. Encourages Spending and Investing     7. Increases Growth
3. Causes More Inflation     8. Reduces Employment and Growth
4. Raises the Cost of Borrowing     9. Weakens (or Strengthens) the Currency
5. Lowers the Cost of Borrowing    
1. Erodes Purchasing Power

This first effect of inflation is really just a different way of stating what it is. Inflation is a decrease in the purchasing power of currency due to a rise in prices across the economy. Within living memory, the average price of a cup of coffee was a dime. Today the price is closer to two dollars.

Such a price change could conceivably have resulted from a surge in the popularity of coffee, or price pooling by a cartel of coffee producers, or years of devastating drought/flooding/conflict in a key coffee-growing region. In those scenarios, the price of coffee would rise, but the rest of the economy would carry on largely unaffected. That increase would not qualify as inflation, since the only the most caffeine-addled consumers would experience significant depreciation in their overall purchasing power.

Inflation requires prices to rise across a "basket" of goods and services, such as the one that comprises the most common measure of price changes, the consumer price index (CPI). When the prices of goods that are non-discretionary and impossible to substitute – food and oil – rise, they can affect inflation all by themselves. For this reason, economists often strip out food and fuel to look at "core" inflation, a less volatile measure of price changes.
2. Encourages Spending and Investing

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A predictable response to declining purchasing power is to buy now, rather than later. Cash will only lose value, so it is better to get your shopping out of the way and stock up on things that probably won't lose value.

For consumers, that means filling up gas tanks, stuffing the freezer, buying shoes in the next size up for the kids, and so on. For businesses, it means making capital investments that, under different circumstances, might be put off until later. Many investors buy gold and other precious metals when inflation takes hold, but these assets' volatility can cancel out the benefits of their insulation from price rises, especially in the short term.

Over the long term, equities have been among the best hedges against inflation. At the beginning of 1962, a share of the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) cost $37.22 in current dollars. According to Yahoo Finance, that share would be worth $1,623.08 at close on November 18, 2016, after adjusting for dividends and stock splits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) CPI calculator gives that figure as $202.78 in 1962 dollars, implying a real (inflation-adjusted) gain of 445%, or just over 8% per year.

Say you had buried that $37.22 in the backyard instead. The nominal value wouldn't have changed when you dug it up, but the purchasing power would have fallen to $4.65 in 1962 terms; that's about an 88% depreciation, or roughly 1.6% per year. (Of course not every stock would have performed as well as Disney: you would have been better off burying your cash in 1962 than buying and holding a share of Houston Natural Gas, which would merge to become Enron.)
3. Causes More Inflation

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Unfortunately, the urge to spend and invest in the face of inflation tends to boost inflation in turn, creating a potentially catastrophic feedback loop. As people and businesses spend more quickly in an effort to reduce the time they hold their depreciating currency, the economy finds itself awash in cash no one particularly wants. In other words, the supply of money outstrips the demand, and the price of money – the purchasing power of currency – falls at an ever-faster rate.

When things get really bad, a sensible tendency to keep business and household supplies stocked rather than sitting on cash devolves into hoarding, leading to empty grocery store shelves. People become desperate to offload currency, so that every payday turns into a frenzy of spending on just about anything so long as it's not ever-more-worthless money.

From 1913 to December 1923, an index of the cost of living in Germany rose by 153.5 trillion percent.

The result is hyperinflation, which has seen Zimbabwean consumers hauling around wheelbarrow-loads of million- and billion-Zim dollar notes (2000s), Germans papering their walls with the Weimar Republic's worthless marks (1920s), Peruvian cafes raising their prices multiple times a day (1980s), and Venezuelan thieves refusing even to steal bolĂ­vares (2010s).
4. Raises the Cost of Borrowing

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As these examples of hyperinflation show, states have a powerful incentive to keep price rises in check. For the past century in the U.S. the approach has been to manage inflation using monetary policy. To do so, central banks rely on the relationship between inflation and interest rates. If interest rates are low, companies and individuals can borrow cheaply to start a business, earn a degree, hire new workers, or buy a shiny new boat. In other words, low rates encourage spending and investing, which generally stoke inflation in turn. (See also, What is the relationship between inflation and interest rates?)

By raising interest rates, central banks can put a damper on these rampaging animal spirits. Suddenly the monthly payments on that boat, or that corporate bond issue, seem a bit high. Better to put some money in the bank, where it can earn interest. When there is not so much cash sloshing around, money becomes more scarce. That scarcity increases its value, although as a rule, central banks don't want money literally to become more valuable: they fear outright deflation nearly as much as they do hyperinflation (see section 7). Rather, they tug on interest rates in either direction in order to maintain inflation close to a target rate (generally 2% in developed economies and 3% to 4% in emerging ones).

A more theoretical way of looking at central banks' role in controlling inflation is through the money supply. If the amount of money is growing faster than the economy, money will be worth less and inflation will ensue. That's what happened when Weimar Germany fired up the printing presses to pay its World War I reparations, and when Aztec and Inca bullion flooded Habsburg Spain in the 16th century. When central banks want to raise rates, they generally cannot do so by simple fiat; rather they sell government securities and remove the proceeds from the money supply. As the money supply decreases, so does the rate of inflation. (See also, How Central Banks Control the Supply of Money.)
5. Lowers the Cost of Borrowing

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When there is no central bank, or when central bankers are beholden to elected politicians, inflation will generally lower borrowing costs.

Say you borrow $1,000 at a 5% annual rate of interest. If inflation is 10%, the real value of your debt is decreasing faster than the combined interest and principle you're paying off. When levels of household debt are high, politicians find it electorally profitable to print money, stoking inflation and whisking away voters' obligations. If the government itself is heavily indebted, politicians have an even more obvious incentive to print money and use it to pay down debt. If inflation is the result, so be it (once again, Weimar Germany is the most infamous example of this phenomenon).

Politicians' occasionally detrimental fondness for inflation has convinced several countries that fiscal and monetary policymaking should be carried on independently. While the Federal Reserve has a statutory mandate to seek maximum employment and steady prices, it does not need a congressional or presidential go-ahead to make its rate-setting decisions. That does not mean the Fed has always had a totally free hand in policy-making, however. Former Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota wrote on November 15 that the Fed's independence is "a post-1979 development that rests largely on the restraint of the president." (See also, Breaking Down the Federal Reserve's Dual Mandate.)
6. Reduces Unemployment

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There is some evidence that inflation can push down unemployment. Wages tend to be sticky, meaning that they change slowly in response to economic shifts. John Maynard Keynes theorized that the Great Depression resulted in part from wages' downward stickiness: unemployment surged because workers resisted pay cuts and were fired instead (the ultimate pay cut). The same phenomenon may also work in reverse: wages' upward stickiness means that once inflation hits a certain rate, employers' real payroll costs fall, and they're able to hire more workers. (See also, Giants of Finance: John Maynard Keynes.)

That hypothesis appears to explain the inverse correlation between unemployment and inflation — a relationship known as the Phillips curve – but a more common explanation puts the onus on unemployment. As unemployment falls, the theory goes, employers are forced to pay more for workers with the skills they need. As wages rise, so does consumers' spending power, leading the economy to heat up and spur inflation; this model is known as cost-push inflation. (See also, How Inflation and Unemployment Are Related.)

The U.S. Philips curve.
7. Increases Growth

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Unless there is an attentive central bank on hand to push up interest rates, inflation discourages saving, since the purchasing power of deposits erodes over time. That prospect gives consumers and businesses an incentive to spend or invest. At least in the short term, the boost to spending and investment leads to economic growth. By the same token, inflation's negative correlation with unemployment implies a tendency to put more people to work, spurring growth.

This effect is most conspicuous in its absence. In 2016, central banks across the developed world found themselves vexingly unable to coax inflation or growth up to healthy levels. Cutting interest rates to zero and below did not work; neither did buying trillions of dollars' worth of bonds in a money-creation exercise known as quantitative easing. This conundrum recalls Keynes's liquidity trap, in which central banks' ability to spur growth by increasing the money supply (liquidity) is rendered ineffective by cash hoarding, itself the result of economic actors' risk aversion in the wake of a financial crisis. Liquidity traps cause disinflation, if not deflation. (See also, Why Didn't Quantitative Easing Lead to Hyperinflation?)

In this environment, moderate inflation was seen as a desirable growth-driver, and markets welcomed the increase in inflation expectations due to Donald Trump's election.
8. Reduces Employment and Growth

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Wistful talk about inflation's benefits is likely to sound strange to those who remember the economic woes of the 1970s. In today's context of low growth, high unemployment (in Europe) and menacing deflation, there are reasons think a healthy rise in prices – 2% or even 3% per year – would do more good than harm. On the other hand, when growth is slow, unemployment is high and inflation is in the double digits, you have what a British Tory MP in 1965 dubbed "stagflation."

Economists have struggled to explain stagflation. Early on, Keynesians did not accept that it could happen, since it appeared to defy the inverse correlation between unemployment and inflation described by the Phillips curve. After reconciling themselves to the reality of the situation, they attributed the most acute phase to the supply shock caused by the 1973 oil embargo: as transportation costs spiked, the theory went, the economy ground to a halt. In other words, it was a case of cost-push inflation. Evidence for this idea can be found in five consecutive quarters of productivity decline, ending with a healthy expansion in the fourth quarter of 1974. But the 3.8% drop in productivity in the third quarter of 1973 occurred before Arab members of OPEC shut off the taps in October of that year.

The kink in the timeline points to another, earlier contributor to the 1970s' malaise, the so-called Nixon shock. Following other countries' departures, the U.S. pulled out of the Bretton Woods Agreement in August 1971, ending the dollar's convertibility to gold. The greenback plunged against other currencies: for example, a dollar bought 3.48 Deutsche marks in July 1971, but just 1.75 in July 1980. Inflation is a typical result of depreciating currencies.

And yet even dollar devaluation does not fully explain stagflation, since inflation began to take off in the mid-to-late 1960s (unemployment lagged by a few years). As monetarists see it, the Fed was ultimately to blame. M2 money stock rose by 97.7% in the decade to 1970, nearly twice as fast as gross domestic product (GDP), leading to what economists commonly describe as "too much money chasing too few goods," or demand-pull inflation.

Supply-side economists, who emerged in the 1970s as a foil to Keynesian hegemony, won the argument at the polls when Reagan swept the popular vote and electoral college. They blamed high taxes, burdensome regulation and a generous welfare state for the malaise; their policies, combined with aggressive, monetarist-inspired tightening by the Fed, put an end to stagflation. (See also, Understanding Supply-side Economics.)
9. Weakens (or Strengthens) the Currency

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High inflation is usually associated with a slumping exchange rate, though this is generally a case of the weaker currency leading to inflation, not the other way around. Economies that import significant amounts of goods and services – which, for now, is just about every economy – must pay more for these imports in local-currency terms when their currencies fall against those of their trading partners. Say that Country X's currency falls 10% against Country Y's. The latter doesn't have to raise the price of the products it exports to Country X for them to cost Country X 10% more; the weaker exchange rate alone has that effect. Multiply cost increases across enough trading partners selling enough products, and the result is economy-wide inflation in Country X.

But once again, inflation can do one thing, or its polar opposite, depending on the context. When you strip away most of the global economy's moving parts it seems perfectly reasonable that rising prices lead to a weaker currency. In the wake of Trump's election victory, however, rising inflation expectations drove the dollar higher for several months. The reason is that interest rates around the globe were dismally low – almost certainly the lowest they've been in human history – making markets likely to jump on any opportunity to earn a bit of money for lending, rather than paying for the privilege (as the holders of $11.7 trillion in sovereign bonds were doing in June 2016, according to Fitch). (See also, How Negative Interest Rates Work.)

Because the U.S. has a central bank (see section 4), rising inflation generally translates into higher interest rates. The Fed has raised the federal funds rate three times following the election, from 0.5%-0.75% to 1.0%-1.25%. Even so, the dollar's rise was short-lived, and at the time of writing it has fallen below its pre-election level. (See also, Fed Projections: Where Do We Go From Here?)
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Adweek/Patrick Coffee: WPP Is the Big Winner In Pharma Giant Sanofi’s $1 Billion Global Review

Agencies   

WPP Is the Big Winner In Pharma Giant Sanofi’s $1 Billion Global Review
Havas also picks up U.S. business
By Patrick Coffee 12 mins ago

Publicis had been global AOR on the media business.
Sanofi

French pharma company Sanofi today resolved a five-month review of all of its marketing partnerships, most significantly adding WPP to its roster and assigning additional responsibilities to Havas.

WPP won the majority of the business, and GroupM’s Mindshare will be the client’s new global media agency of record, handling ad planning and buying duties for more than 60 countries around the world.

The two main exceptions are Japan, where Hakuhodo will manage media for the company’s consumer health-care division, and the U.S., where Havas will run media buying on the prescription side of the business and planning for consumer health care. Incumbent independent New York agency KWG will continue to serve as media buying agency of record for consumer products.

“Our Village vision continues to deliver fantastic results, and we are delighted to bring this transformative approach to Sanofi,” said Shane Ankeney, president of Havas Media Group North America. “This significant win for Havas Media is just the latest in our burgeoning health care practice.”

An unnamed WPP unit will now share creative duties on the business along with Havas and incumbent Publicis. The exact division of the work is not clear, but a press release notes that “each agency plays a critical role in supporting all integrated marketing services, including digital, consumer advertising, healthcare communications and public relations.”

According to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, WPP will soon form an international Team Sanofi division to handle creative.

A WPP representative could not be reached for comment today, but another source indicated the holding company went into the review in a particularly strong position due to its longtime relationship with Boehringer Ingelheim, another pharma conglomerate that Sanofi acquired in January in an asset swap estimated to be worth more than $20 billion dollars.

Sanofi, based in Gentilly, France, is the world’s fifth-largest pharmaceutical company in terms of total sales. The company produces everything from prescription drugs like Ambien to vaccines and pet medications.

When Campaign broke the news of the review in March, it estimated the company’s annual measured media spend at 900 million euros, or more than $1 billion.

Publicis, which first won Sanofi’s business in a 2003 review, would appear to be the biggest loser in today’s decision. It did not retain any of the client’s global media work.
Patrick Coffee
Patrick Coffee
@PatrickCoffee
Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
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Scientific American/Annie Sneed: Trump’s EPA May Be Weakening Chemical Safety Law

Environment

Trump’s EPA May Be Weakening Chemical Safety Law

The agency has released controversial new rules for evaluating a chemical’s risk

    By Annie Sneed on August 16, 2017

Credit: Brendan Smialowski Getty Images
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Asbestos, trichloroethylene, pigment violet 29—these are just three of thousands of chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is assessing for risks to human health and ecosystems under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Congress overhauled the chemical safety law last summer, with wide bipartisan and industry support. Many viewed the legislation as a much-needed update to old, feeble regulations. Now, though, the Trump administration may be undermining the reformed law.

After Congress amended the old chemical safety act, it tasked the EPA with writing what are called the “framework” rules for how the agency will implement the reformed law. Outside experts and environmental groups express deep concern that the EPA’s new framework rules for TSCA, which took effect in July, could seriously subvert the law’s purpose in favor of industry. “These are major rules that will set the conditions for how TSCA is implemented—potentially for the next few decades,” says Noah Sachs, director of the University of Richmond Law School’s Center for Environmental Studies.

The TSCA framework rules establish formal guidelines for how the EPA will assess tens of thousands of existing chemicals. For the most part, they specify how the agency will prioritize and evaluate chemicals for risks. The Obama administration had already proposed a version of the rules. The current administration took over and finalized them—but not without significantly rewriting them first. “The law is much, much less stringent” with the latest rules, says Rena Steinzor, a professor of law at the University of Maryland.

One of the most controversial parts of the framework is how the EPA changed a key term known as the “conditions of use.” It defines which applications of a chemical the EPA will examine in risk evaluations. For a given chemical, usages could range widely—from a consumer product like a kitchen countertop cleaner to various business and industrial applications. “Uses are critical, because they define exposure” to people and the environment, Steinzor says.

The Obama administration interpreted “conditions of use” broadly, experts say, but Pres. Trump’s EPA has significantly narrowed the term. For instance, the definition now excludes “legacy” applications—a past use of a chemical that has been discontinued. One example of this is a class of chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers used as flame retardants, which were added to furniture cushions until recently. Experts say the EPA still needs to consider exposure to these legacy uses. “When you’re assessing a chemical, it’s important to look at all the uses to understand the actual risk in the real world,” says Richard Denison, a lead senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. That’s because previous or ongoing exposure to a legacy use of a chemical could complicate a person’s exposure to the chemical’s present-day uses. “You have to recognize that the way someone responds to a new risk is partly based on what else they’ve already been exposed to,” Denison says. Sachs agrees: “Congress’s concern is about aggregate exposure, and that makes sense, because that’s what matters to human health,” he notes. “If this rule stands, it is a weakening of TSCA and not at all what Congress intended.”

Karyn Schmidt, senior director of Chemical Regulation, Regulatory and Technical Affairs at the industry group American Chemistry Council (ACC), disagrees. “It’s clear that the legacy uses are cases where EPA does not think it needs to prioritize its resources,” she says.

The framework rules do specify that EPA may consider background exposure to legacy uses of a chemical on a case-by-case basis, but Denison is skeptical about this approach. The rules “don’t provide any criteria as to how they would make that decision—when something would be considered and when it would not be,” he says.

Critics also claim the EPA is giving itself an alarming amount of discretion to decide in general what qualifies as a “condition of use” and what does not. In essence, Denison says, the agency can decide not to look at something because it does not think it is important. He notes the EPA has not provided criteria for how it would make this decision. “It could do anything it wants,” he says.

Nicholas Ashford, director of the Technology and Law Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, voices a similar concern. “A shift has been made under the present administration. They have decided not to go very far in looking at all the uses a chemical might have. They’re basically subverting the purpose of the act, which is protection.”

The EPA and industry leaders dispute that the framework rules undermine the TSCA. “I thought they were clearer, cleaner and more focused,” says Lynn Bergeson, a lawyer whose firm Bergeson & Campbell specializes in chemical issues. She adds the new rules will result in a “better use of EPA resources.” Schmidt says the law will allow the agency to focus on the highest risks, rather than getting bogged down in looking at all the different uses for a substance. “A chemical might be used in hundreds, thousands of commercial applications,” she notes. “Risk evaluations need to be driven by public health…, and also yield results on a timeline.”

The EPA maintains its rules will support TSCA. “The agency will make determinations for chemical substances in ways that are both protective and efficient,” an EPA spokesperson wrote to Scientific American in an e-mail. “This means directing greatest attention to those uses that pose the greatest potential for risk to health and the environment.”

Other experts point to the Trump administration’s pro-industry stance as well as its connections with the chemical business as motivation for rewriting the rules. “Industry wants to control what the use is stated to be,” Steinzor says. They point to Nancy Beck, who previously worked for the ACC and is now deputy assistant administrator for the EPA office that oversees TSCA. “Our concerns are magnified by the fact that…Nancy Beck, who has a reputation over many years of being very favorable toward industry…, is in charge of implementing TSCA at EPA,” Steinzor wrote in an e-mail to Scientific American. According to Sachs, Beck has “incredibly close ties to the chemical industry,” adding that with EPA personnel “coming from those backgrounds, the discretion they have will be tilted in favor of the chemical industry.”

Steinzor acknowledges that no one knows yet how the agency will actually enforce the law. But skeptics say their apprehensions are amplified by the anti-regulatory attitude of those leading the administration, including the president himself and EPA head Scott Pruitt as well as by the White House’s proposal to dramatically cut the agency’s funding. “My worries go beyond the wording of the framework rules to things like the budget and personnel who head the office,” Sachs says. Environmental groups, however, intend to make sure the EPA fully enforces the TSCA—last week the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others filed lawsuits intended to force the EPA to strengthen the framework rules.
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Investopedia/Donna Fuscaldo: Chinese Rivals Move on Facebook, Google Ad Revenue


Chinese Rivals Move on Facebook, Google Ad Revenue

By Donna Fuscaldo | August 17, 2017 — 12:42 PM EDT

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When it comes to the digital advertising market, Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOG) Google and Facebook Inc. (FB) have long been the dominate players, commanding the lion’s share of marketing dollars targeted at the internet. But three of China’s largest technology companies—Baidu Inc. (BIDU), Alibaba Group (BABA) and Tencent (TCEHY)—are chipping away at that spending, with their platforms expected to grow even more.

Market research firm eMarketer estimates that by 2019 the three Chinese companies combined will receive close to a fifth of online spending by advertisers and marketers, reported Bloomberg. It will still be a far cry from Google’s market share, which is projected to be around 32% by 2019, but it does show there are other alternatives to the social media and internet heavy hitters. (See also: Google, Facebook Dominate Digital Ads in 2017.)
China's Big 3

According to eMarketer, among Baidu, which is the leading online search company in China, Alibaba, which is China’s e-commerce giant, and Tencent, which operates the widely popular WeChat messaging app, Tencent is expected to see the fastest growth in terms of luring advertisers to its platform. Currently, Baidu attracts the most advertising dollars of the three, but eMarketer predicts the messaging app and entertainment company will surpass it thanks to WeChat.

Earlier this week, Tencent was able to report second-quarter results that surpassed Wall Street views, marking its best ever three-month period. Driving sales in the quarter was smartphone games, digital payments and online advertising. During the quarter online advertising revenue jumped 55% aided by a 61% increase in social media advertising thanks to WeChat. The messaging app hit a record of 963 million users in the June-ending quarter. Meanwhile, Alibaba reported fiscal first-quarter earnings earlier Thursday that showed a 56% jump in revenue thanks in large part to its e-commerce business. Sales for e-commerce accounted for 86% of the company’s revenue in the quarter. In the year-ago fiscal first quarter, it accounted for 73% of total revenue. (See also: Alibaba, Tencent Rise Faster Than Real Earnings.)

While the U.S. is still a huge market for online advertising it is becoming more mature, prompting the likes of Google and Facebook to launch new services to get an even larger piece of the online advertising market. It’s the reason the social media giant unveiled Watch earlier this month, which bears a resemblance to YouTube and has been designed to make it easier for users to discover videos from outside of their feed, create watchlists and follow shows created by artists, brands and publishers. According to Wall Street firm SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, China's internet population stands at 721 million, increasing 40% from 513 million in 2011. While it is now two-and-a-half times the U.S.'s market size SunTrust said internet penetration in China is just 52%. That compares to more than 80% in developed countries, underscoring the huge opportunity in that region.

STAT/Eric Boodnman: White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find

STAT Plus
Health

White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find   

By Eric Boodman @ericboodman

August 16, 2017   

White supremacist Craig Cobb found out on a daytime TV show that DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.”
Kevin Cederstrom/AP

It was a strange moment of triumph against racism: The gun-slinging white supremacist Craig Cobb, dressed up for daytime TV in a dark suit and red tie, hearing that his DNA testing revealed his ancestry to be only “86 percent European, and … 14 percent Sub-Saharan African.” The studio audience whooped and laughed and cheered. And Cobb — who was, in 2013, charged with terrorizing people while trying to create an all-white enclave in North Dakota — reacted like a sore loser in the schoolyard.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on, just wait a minute,” he said, trying to put on an all-knowing smile. “This is called statistical noise.”

Then, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he took to the white nationalist website Stormfront to dispute those results. That’s not uncommon: With the rise of spit-in-a-cup genetic testing, there’s a trend of white nationalists using these services to prove their racial identity, and then using online forums to discuss the results.

But like Cobb, many are disappointed to find out that their ancestry is not as “white” as they’d hoped. In a new study, sociologists Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan examined years’ worth of posts on Stormfront to see how members dealt with the news.

It’s striking, they say, that white nationalists would post these results online at all. After all, as Panofsky put it, “they will basically say if you want to be a member of Stormfront you have to be 100 percent white European, not Jewish.”
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But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing.

Panofsky and Donovan presented their findings at a sociology conference in Montreal on Monday. The timing of the talk — some 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — was coincidental. But the analysis provides a useful, if frightening, window into how these extremist groups think about their genes.
Reckoning with results

Stormfront was launched in the mid-1990s by Don Black, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. His skills in computer programming were directly related to his criminal activities: He learned them while in prison for trying to invade the Caribbean island nation of Dominica in 1981, and then worked as a web developer after he got out. That means this website dates back to the early years of the internet, forming a kind of deep archive of online hate.

To find relevant comments in the 12 million posts written by over 300,000 members, the authors enlisted a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, to search for terms like “DNA test,” “haplotype,” “23andMe,” and “National Geographic.” Then the researchers combed through the posts they found, not to mention many others as background. Donovan, who has moved from UCLA to the Data & Society Research Institute, estimated that she spent some four hours a day reading Stormfront in 2016. The team winnowed their results down to 70 discussion threads in which 153 users posted their genetic ancestry test results, with over 3,000 individual posts.

About a third of the people posting their results were pleased with what they found. “Pretty damn pure blood,” said a user with the username Sloth. But the majority didn’t find themselves in that situation. Instead, the community often helped them reject the test, or argue with its results.
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Some rejected the tests entirely, saying that an individual’s knowledge about his or her own genealogy is better than whatever a genetic test can reveal. “They will talk about the mirror test,” said Panofsky, who is a sociologist of science at UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. “They will say things like, ‘If you see a Jew in the mirror looking back at you, that’s a problem; if you don’t, you’re fine.'” Others, he said, responded to unwanted genetic results by saying that those kinds of tests don’t matter if you are truly committed to being a white nationalist. Yet others tried to discredit the genetic tests as a Jewish conspiracy “that is trying to confuse true white Americans about their ancestry,” Panofsky said.

But some took a more scientific angle in their critiques, calling into doubt the method by which these companies determine ancestry — specifically how companies pick those people whose genetic material will be considered the reference for a particular geographical group.

And that criticism, though motivated by very different ideas, is one that some researchers have made as well, even as other scientists have used similar data to better understand how populations move and change.

“There is a mainstream critical literature on genetic ancestry tests — geneticists and anthropologists and sociologists who have said precisely those things: that these tests give an illusion of certainty, but once you know how the sausage is made, you should be much more cautious about these results,” said Panofsky.
A community’s genetic rules

Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe are meticulous in how they analyze your genetic material. As points of comparison, they use both preexisting datasets as well as some reference populations that they have recruited themselves. The protocol includes genetic material from thousands of individuals, and looks at thousands of genetic variations.

“When a 23andMe research participant tells us that they have four grandparents all born in the same country — and the country isn’t a colonial nation like the U.S., Canada, or Australia — that person becomes a candidate for inclusion in the reference data,” explained Jhulianna Cintron, a product specialist at 23andMe. Then, she went on, the company excludes close relatives, as that could distort the data, and removes outliers whose genetic data don’t seem to match with what they wrote on their survey.

But specialists both inside and outside these companies recognize that the geopolitical boundaries we use now are pretty new, and so consumers may be using imprecise categories when thinking about their own genetic ancestry within the sweeping history of human migration. And users’ ancestry results can change depending on the dataset to which their genetic material is being compared — a fact which some Stormfront users said they took advantage of, uploading their data to various sites to get a more “white” result.

J. Scott Roberts, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, who has studied consumer use of genetic tests and was not involved with the study, said the companies tend to be reliable at identifying genetic variants. Interpreting them in terms of health risk or ancestry, though, is another story. “The science is often murky in those areas and gives ambiguous information,” he said. “They try to give specific percentages from this region, or x percent disease risk, and my sense is that that is an artificially precise estimate.”
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For the study authors, what was most interesting was to watch this online community negotiating its own boundaries, rethinking who counts as “white.” That involved plenty of contradictions. They saw people excluded for their genetic test results, often in very nasty (and unquotable) ways, but that tended to happen for newer members of the anonymous online community, Panofsky said, and not so much for longtime, trusted members. Others were told that they could remain part of white nationalist groups, in spite of the ancestry they revealed, as long as they didn’t “mate,” or only had children with certain ethnic groups. Still others used these test results to put forth a twisted notion of diversity, one “that allows them to say, ‘No, we’re really diverse and we don’t need non-white people to have a diverse society,'” said Panofsky.

That’s a far cry from the message of reconciliation that genetic ancestry testing companies hope to promote.

“Sweetheart, you have a little black in you,” the talk show host Trisha Goddard told Craig Cobb on that day in 2013. But that didn’t stop him from redoing the test with a different company, trying to alter or parse the data until it matched his racist worldview.

Eric Boodman is a general assignment reporter.
eric.boodman@statnews.com
@ericboodman
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    fuzion777
    August 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Typical of the Alt-right to reject scientific evidence when they don’t like the conclusion to which it points.

    “I’ll see it when I believe it.”
    Reply
    Matthew Hartman
    August 17, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Semi related, Trump asks a reporter if we should take down statues of Jefferson because he was a huge slave owner?

    I say yes. Founding father or not, owning human beings as property is morally and spirtually wrong and celebrating a person who practiced those ideals IS immoral, regardless if in his time it was “normalized”. What if we found out Jefferson also molested and trafficked children as sex slaves? How would we view and celebrate him then?

    Symbols like statues that represent oppression of others have no business sitting next to public buildings like courthouses that are supposed to represent all of it’s citizens, according to the ideals of the United States. Put them in a museum if they must serve as a reminder of how not to be a decent human being.
    Reply
    Matthew Hartman
    August 17, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    What many don’t realize is that the science on genetics and population shifts is not conclusive by any means. Science is still, in 2017 trying to understand the extent of cross-breading with an entirely seperate hominoid species, we know as the Neanderthals, (there are about 16 other humanoid species discovered besides Homosapien I believe, maybe more or more to be discovered) and we have missing links between the evolution chain of ape to human, let alone the invasion and cross breeding of racial groups, societies and tribes that happened countless times throughout history.

    The point is the science is not fully baked. And does that stop any of us from living a good and positive life right now? The only way one could be limited is mentally.

    Does it really matter where any of us come from that determines any kind of limitations one can’t overcome, besides perhaps geo political?

    People commonly confuse nationalism and geographical customs with genetics. By this period in our history, hardly anyone alive is genetically “pure”, unless one desries to be a Chimpanzee.

    In fact, we need to remove the word “pure” from our mental vocabulary. Genetics are about DNA and it’s variance is where the science becomes particulary interesting.

    Religion has done a lot of damage to cement ideas and concepts of “us against them”. The quicker we as a global society can remove ideas of “good vs. evil”, the quicker we can treat one another as relative to ourselves, and the quicker we will realize our full potential and strength as a species, and may have a shot at saving it.

    These white supremacist are practicing a ritual that was created before we had concrete science. Customs and ideas like this have no intelligent place in society in 2017. It’s akin to still believing the Earth is flat. It’s time to graduate.
    Reply
        Brent Holman
        August 17, 2017 at 3:15 pm

        Everyone has 3-5% Neanderthal DNA, Except Some Africans Living In Africa That Have None, Which Makes Them The Purest Form Of Homo-Sapiens
        On The Planet. Kinda Knocks The White Supremacists’ Ideology Out.
        Accident Of History Is Why White Europeans Ended Up On Top Anyway.
        The Fine Print Says Ancestry.com OWNS The DNA People Send In Forever, By The Way
    AmericanGal
    August 17, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    I used ancestry.com and discovered that I am 100% European. I wasn’t surprised about that, but I did discover that I had ancestors from Poland and Finland (which I knew), England, Russia, Ireland and Scandinavia. Very interesting.
    Reply
    Charles Ludmer
    August 17, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    These pathetic losers have nothing going for them except, hey, they were clever enough to get born. They are the schoolyard bullies, who are so insecure that they have to find something, anything, to distinguish themselves and to antagonize others. The hatred that arises from their insecurity actually reflects their recognition that others are brighter, better athletes or simply better human beings than they are.
    Reply
        Brent Holman
        August 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

        Losers Following Losers; A Lost Cause. Someone Pointed Out Nazis/Confederates Lost Wars To Other Whites & Somehow Blame POC
        Most Of Them Are 3rd Gen Euro-Trash At Best; No One Could Stand Them In Europe, Now They’re Here Causing Trouble
        My Ancestor Fought In The Civil War To Preserve The Union HIS Ancestor Helped Create In The War For Independance
        Matthew Hartman
        August 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm

        @Charles Ludmer:

        I agree about subconscious insecurities, but not all white supremacists fit that persona, and I think we should be careful in attaching a board prescription like this upon them all.

        At our core, we are all insecure or afraid of something, and we need to draw upon these commonalities to help these people get past their destructive and ignorant viewpoints. A lot of them have been indoctrinated form birth, but that does not mean they’re throw away trash. It means they need help from those of us that see what they are unable or unwilling to see. Wishing harm, hate or even death upon them closes your own spiritual path towards liberation from suffering.

        The first victim of the car that plowed into the crowd that killed a beautiful young woman is actually the driver. His karmic record is dark, and he will suffer the most, and endlessly until he choices to become more educated and more compassionate of others. It’s this type of big picture view that is needed to bring this issue this country faces to healing.

        I know this is a hard line to tow in a country that is steep in self interest, but it is the ONLY way out.
    SouthCoast
    August 17, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Setting aside the undeniable scadenfreude at the racists’ results, mistakes do happen. An African-American friend of my was identified as being exclusively Chinese and Hawaiian! No idea how that happened, but I do wonder if someone is sitting on the Big Island scratching their head in utter bafflement.
    Reply

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STAT/Charles Piller: Silicon Valley’s ambitious new bet: Brain ‘modems’ that restore sight, hearing, and speech

STAT
In the Lab

Silicon Valley’s ambitious new bet: Brain ‘modems’ that restore sight, hearing, and speech  

By Charles Piller @cpiller

August 17, 2017  


SAN JOSE, Calif. — In a warehouse district here, a few young engineers fueled by ramen and energy bars are inventing the future of mind reading.

Paradromics has big ambitions: It wants to squeeze a device the size of a mobile phone into a chip small enough to insert into a human brain, where it would “read” nerve signals and replace senses and abilities lost due to injury or diseases.

For now, the startup’s recently minted Ph.D.s are working in a small warren of scruffy offices and labs to perfect a stuffed-mouse mockup. You’d never guess that it won an $18 million Pentagon contract last month, vaulting it into the top ranks of Silicon Valley companies surging into the field of brain-machine interfaces.




It joins such titans as Facebook and Tesla’s Elon Musk, and the valley’s growing interest in neuroscience has generated considerable excitement that brain interface products will some day let the blind see, the deaf hear, and patients with ALS speak — Paradromics’s initial focus. But these are early days, and there are huge technical challenges ahead, as well as safety, privacy, and ethical considerations facing tech companies not used to going slow and playing it safe.

Paradromics CEO Matt Angle, a boyish-looking neuroscientist trained at Heidelberg University and Stanford, said with a laugh that at age 32, “by Silicon Valley standards I’m over the hill, but by biotech standards, I’m still in diapers.” He might be a biotech neophyte, but Angle has already concluded that the valley’s proclivity to do everything with speed should be dialed back when it comes to brain implants.

“You need to provide something that’s efficacious. You need to provide something that’s safe. You need to go through the FDA. And you need to build things in a very thoughtful and systematic way,” he said.
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Angle said a model of his device for animal research should be available next year, but it might be a decade before it’s ready to be sold to people. Other firms have yet to lay out a timeframe for commercialization.

Whether implanted into a person’s skull or peering inside, these two-way devices would read neuronal signals, and convey sights, sounds, and other sensations back to the brain. Facebook envisions using external brain-machine communicators to give people a form of telepathy — you could send a text message to your social network with thoughts alone — no need to pull a phone from your pocket.

Jens Clausen, a German bioethicist and coauthor of a recent paper on neuroprosthetics in Science magazine, said in an interview that “brainjacking” — or hacking into neuronal signals — through a brain-machine interface should be studied before these technologies become widely used.



“There’s nearly no way to prevent these signals from getting recorded, except for an aluminum helmet,” he quipped, referencing the archetypal tinfoil hat.

For most people trying to overcome an impairment with a brain-machine interface, the security risks seem low, he said. But hackers might target a politician or a military official, or find profit in new data generated if such tools find wider use, and become popular consumer goods.

The idea of a fast, multifaceted brain-machine interface wasn’t invented in Silicon Valley. Angle cited crucial advances from many labs, including the University of Pittsburgh — whose brain-controlled prosthetic arm that can “feel” was funded, like Paradromics, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
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DARPA’s history of world-changing successes, including funding research that led to the internet, has been based on aggressive bets on unproven, even outlandish, ideas. The agency has funded telepathy research for decades, including some bizarre failures. For example, in the 1970s, pushed by a perceived telepathy advantage for the Soviet Union, the agency tried to find psychics who could spy anywhere on the planet from the comfort of a Pentagon office.

Justin Sanchez, DARPA’s director for biological technologies, said experience has shown that some problems require urgency tempered with great care. “The brain is a very personal organ,” he said. “We have to treat it with special respect.”

Still, old habits can die hard. Agency officials will meet in September with the impatient denizens of Menlo Park’s legendary Sand Hill Road, the epicenter of venture capital, in an effort to push the work faster.

When a field commercializes, it can happen rapidly, Angle said. Then Silicon Valley’s influence rises because “it’s where money and science come together.”
Brain modems

Over the last few years, companies and academic labs have created tools — usually external headsets or electrodes that collect signals from a few neurons — to help people with disabilities use thoughts to type or control prosthetic limbs, or to enhance immersive virtual-reality games.

DARPA’s $65 million brain-machine interface program, announced in July, underwrites Paradromics and five other projects to develop devices that communicate with 1 million neurons — still a fraction of the billions in the brain — in an effort to advance the field dramatically.

Angle said he hopes to create “a modem for the brain.”

“More data is better,” he said, describing plans for a brain implant that would move signals from neurons wirelessly through the skull to a decoder. The implant — comprising four chips, each 1 centimeter square and 1 millimeter thick — would have 200,000 gold wires in all, each of which can detect signals from up to five neurons.
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For speech, connecting to that many neurons might allow greater fluency. For prosthetic arms, a wider range of motion. For vision — high definition, full-color input, just like healthy eyes.

Angle plans to get information from 1 million discrete neurons using just 200,000 wires by solving the “cocktail party problem.” A few microphones can each pick up a few voices that might sound garbled or mixed up. “Our concept is, you just need to get enough microphones in the party, space them out appropriately, and record from as many people as possible,” he said. The “voices” — neuronal signals — can be teased apart and translated by computers.

People who suffer “connectivity disorders” — blindness, paralysis, amputations — due to injury might be good candidates for such a device to be implanted, for example, in the motor cortex for paralysis, the visual cortex for blindness.

Angle hopes to have a functional brain implant that might restore sight, speech, or the ability to move objects with skill and precision, ready for clinical trials in four years. His confidence derives partly from experiments by Stanford scientists who have already proved the concept with aspirin-sized implants that let a patient with ALS move a cursor to a target on a computer screen simply by thinking about it.
Safe brain surgery?

Brain surgery carries inherent risks, but for some problems, such as a severed spinal cord, portions of the motor cortex are idle. So even if you lose some neurons due to damage caused by an implant, there is no loss of brain function, Angle said.

Still, safety and efficacy must be balanced, he said. “It’s not responsible to open up the brain and implant something that doesn’t have a high degree of function.”

Musk has created a new company, Neuralink, to build a brain-machine interface but has not announced its approach. Blogger Tim Urban, who was granted exclusive access to Neuralink’s team, wrote that the company is looking at distributed sensors including injectable neural “lace,” “dust,” and “mesh” to collect or transmit signals to neurons and wirelessly communicate with a computer or the cloud.

“The question is, how many neurons in how many brain areas do you need to reproduce an experience or perception?”

Ehud Isacoff, University of California, Berkeley

Angle said the safety of such approaches remains to be seen. “I don’t really know how that neural mesh that I’ve seen in the news is feasible,” he said. “There’s a topological problem, trying to insert what is effectively a fish net into the brain, which is effectively a bramble bush. Try to imagine opening a fish net in a bramble bush without cutting either the net or the bush.”

Another DARPA grantee, University of California, Berkeley, neurobiologist Ehud Isacoff, thinks he has a safer way to contact a million neurons: open a window to the brain — literally. Isacoff is developing a sugar cube-sized microscope that can detect “flashes” from neurons to collect thoughts and direct light at neurons to convey sensory signals —through a small barrier made from glass or another transparent material that would replace a section of the skull.

One eventual goal would be create a visual prosthetic for the blind. Isacoff said this approach can overcome a key challenge: Some brain functions are distributed, rather than localized. “The question is, how many neurons in how many brain areas do you need to reproduce an experience or perception?” he said.
‘Black Mirror’?

On the heels of the Neuralink announcement, Silicon Valley’s growing influence on the field became unmistakable when Facebook announced a major brain-machine interface program.

Last year the company recruited former DARPA director and Google executive Regina Dugan to head its secretive moonshot lab, Building 8. At an April conference, she announced plans to bring brain-machine interface devices to the masses.

Dugan said the brain produces the equivalent of 40 high-definition movies per second. “How do I get all of that information out of my brain and into the world?” she said. “To be clear, we are not talking about decoding your random thoughts. That might be more than any of us care to know. And it’s not something any of us should have a right to know.”

She’s hired more than 60 scientists — the start of a larger team — to develop a system that has “all the speed and flexibility of voice, but with the privacy of typed text” for sending messages without pulling out your phone or computer.

This would be accomplished with an external device that sees through the skull using optical sensors. Dugan acknowledged that nothing like it yet exists.

“We’ll have to ask, as a society, what kind of protections are needed.”

Matt Angle, CEO of Paradromics

She described another rudimentary project, to “make it possible to hear through your skin” — an enhanced version of tactile communications used by people who are blind and deaf.

“If we put these two things together, they suggest that one day … it may be possible for me to think in Mandarin, and for you to feel it, instantly, in Spanish,” Dugan said.

When an internet titan whose services are used by billions of people talks about translating our thoughts — even with what are described as the best intentions — some people’s thoughts might immediately turn to the television drama “Black Mirror,” an eerie showcase of near-future tech paranoia.

Angle said he worries most about legal issues. “Could a record from your neuroprosthetic be subpoenaed? We don’t really know,” he said. “We’ll have to ask, as a society, what kind of protections are needed.”

Clausen, the bioethicist, said he wondered whether the technology might lead to “brain fingerprinting” — a theoretical technique to identify unique information or characteristics in an individual’s brain that might be useful for marketing.

Facebook naturally wants to “understand how a very complex biological computer works, a computer that happens to be in the head of all the people who use its technology and from which [Facebook] earns something,” Isacoff said.

“If they are making progress and pushing the field, as a scientist I see that as a benefit,” he said. “As a citizen, as with every technology, you hope it’s used for good.”

   


About the Author
Charles Piller
Charles Piller
West Coast Editor
Charles is a California-based project and investigative reporter.
charles.piller@statnews.com
@cpiller
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medical devices

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    CPO
    August 17, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Scalable customization and personslization of voices, in real time, within and cross languages, already patented and in revenue, using neural networks and artificial intelligence, at lowest cost, in the millions of voices, is being done, as well as patented, by Speech Morphing, Inc., in San Jose, CA, on Winchreter Boulevard, http://www.speechmorphing.com
    Reply

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