Are Men and Women Different?

By Shlomo Maital

    Of course men and women are different.  Men are from Mars, right? And women are from Venus (in case you wondered, that dumb saying comes from a book by that name by relationship counselor John Gray).    Wait, not so fast.

     How do men and women differ genetically?   Obviously – female cells contain two X chromosomes, male cells each have one X and one Y.   But that is superficial.  Generically – how do male and female genes differ in general?

     Why does it matter?  It matters a lot.  Men and women get the same medicine, adjusted for weight.  But women often react differently than men.  But how?  Large-scale clinical trials with thousands of men and thousands of women are expensive.  Few drugs are gender specific in clinical trials.

     What about identical twins?  Why not compare their genes?  Problem is, identical twins are both male or female. It would be nice if one were male and one were female.  But this never happens.  No help there.

     Now, there is an answer.  Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff, head of stem cell research at Israel’s Hadassah University Medical Center has succeeded in creating human male and female cells with the same genetic code, from the same person.  This could greatly facilitate study of genetic gender differences, without costly time-consuming clinical trials.  It will enable study of male-female genetic differences in the lab,  and help develop better medicine for women.

    Reubinoff’s cells are stem cells, known as pluripotential (they can become anything).  The researchers work was published in Science.

    Doctoral student Ithai Waldhorn contributed to the study, described in Jerusalem Post by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich.

T    Let me try to explain how this was done.  The blood cells of a man with Klinefelter syndrome was used.  This rare genetic abnormality has two X chromosomes and one Y (XXY).  The blood cell donor in question was one of the few Klinefelter sufferers in the world who also had small numbers of normal male (XY) and female (XX) cells.  The researchers converted the man’s blood cells into stem cells, and then isolated cells genetically — one was male (XY) and one was female (XX).

    I hope and trust the researchers will make their unique cells available to researchers worldwide, to repair the current situation in which women often receive treatments unsuited to their hormones and genetics.

Creativity: Start by Subtracting

By Shlomo Maital    

                                                  

    Why is the technology we use daily so complicated? 

    One reason:  Innovators are very smart, usually engineers, and their mandate is to “add wrinkles” to existing stuff.  Most of the software features we have are unused and unuseful. 

     There is a better way.  Subtract, rather than add.  Start by removing the superfluous, to make room for the new, rather than stuff more and more new things in. 

     For example:  Technion Mechanical Engineering Prof. Moshe Shoham, along with Prof. David Greenblatt, have invented a radically new solution to the face-mask problem.  The invention began by asking, can we design a face mask, without the uncomfortable mask?  Subtraction.  Answer:  Create an invisible ‘air screen’ in front of the person’s face, originating from a lightweight filter-covered unit mounted on the visor of a cap. (Described in today’s Jerusalem Post, p. 1.). 

     Shoham is an amazing serial inventor.  His Mazor startup subtracted surgeon’s hands from complex back surgery, through a robotic surgeon.  Surgery without the surgeon. (There is a surgeon…but the delicate placement of screws in the back is done by the robot). 

    The ‘subtract’, don’t add, principle —   or, ‘less is more’ – applies to our lives as well.  I asked this question in 2001:  What can I STOP doing, that would be productive?  Answer:  Take early retirement.  Subtract the immense busy-work that professors have to do.  Since then, I’ve had the time to focus on much more useful things that bring much happiness. 

      So reader: What could you, should you, stop doing, in your life, that is both feasible and would make you happier and more productive?  What can you subtract?  Inertia results in more and more things being added.  It takes an act of will to subtract.  But it can be transformative.

World Cup: Global Is Not Dead!

By Shlomo Maital  

       Recently, on CNN,  Israeli historian and author Yuval Noah-Harari (“Sapiens: a Brief History of Mankind”) noted that contrary to the experts, ‘global world’ is not dead.  He points to the FIFA World Cup, where 32 nations gather to compete, under accepted rules, despite huge differences among them (Iran, US, Serbia, Cameroon).  Yes, there are frictions – the German team members cover their mouths, the England squad want their captain to wear a rainbow armband – and FIFA is a notoriously corrupt organization —   but the games go on anyway.

     Rory Smith, my favorite soccer journalist, notes in the New York Times that 130 players in the World cup event, across 32 teams, represent a country other than that of their birth.  Each of the 32 competing national teams has 26 players, including three goalkeepers.  That means, fully 15% of all players play for a country where they were not born.  For example, Cameroon striker Mbeumo, a wonderful player, born in England and starring for lowly Brentford in the Premier League.  He can play for Cameroon, because his father was born in Cameroon.  Smith notes that five members of Ghana’s dynamic squad were born elsewhere. 

     Nationalism can be an emotional force spurring conflict and even war.  It has in the past.  When national boundaries are blurred – is Mbeumo Cameroon? African?  British?  Both —   nationalism diminishes, and globalism – the understanding that we are citizens of a global interdependent world — increases. 

On Turning 80 (Me and Joe)

By Shlomo Maital

  Hey, Joe Biden and I just turned 80.  Happy birthday, Joe.

  Here are some random thoughts on turning 80. 

  But first.  Joe Biden: —  as Jenny Curran told Forrest Gump:  “Run!!!”  Run, Joe, Run.  Don’t listen to the ‘progressives’.  Run in 2024.  Please.  We need you to defeat Trump, again.  And we seniors need you to make a statement: If 82 year old Joe Biden can run America, this increasingly unmanageable mess of a country, and do it so well —  we seniors can certainly manage to tie our own shoes.

    And that reminds me.  How do you really know you are old?  (And yes, it is OK to use the word ‘old’.)  If you’re 80, you’re old.  As Churchill noted, the alternative to old is not so appealing. 

   How do you know you’re old?

   When you get praise for being able to tie, and untie, your own shoelaces…and cut your own toenails.

    When you tell which day of the week it is, by the letter on your pillbox.

     When your pills file a complaint for overcrowding.

     When you change from hoping things get better, to praying things get worse a bit more slowly.

      When  you remember your First Grade teacher (Miss Switzer), and your Kindergarten teacher (Miss Pawson) – but forget what you had for breakfast this morning.

       When you have to send a list of your medications to get Motor Vehicles to renew your driver’s license.

       When your biggest most daring adventure is eating a rich desert before supper. (In secret).

      When you are comforted to know that with each passing year, the % change in your age gets smaller and smaller.

      When on the London Tube (subway), polite young people offer you a seat …and absolutely INSIST you sit down, dammit, what kind of an old guy are you? 

      When you look forward to your next birthday, …… when you will be 92.

Bees Love to Play!

By Shlomo Maital    

    As one who researches creativity, I have long taught how we adults need to restore our childlike playfulness, in order to exploit fully our creative potential.  Creative ideas often emerge from a relaxed, playful atmosphere.

   Hence, I was pleased and astonished to hear the host of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, Ayesha Rascoe, report on a study of —   how bees love to play!  Here is a short account of this research:

     ‘Not only do bumblebees pollinate, make honey and even count, but they also seem to like to throw a ball around. A new study published in the scientific journal Animal Behaviour found that the furry little insects like to play with toys. This is the first time an insect, any insect has been observed playing with an object. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London put wooden balls near the bumblebees, giving them the option of passing them by or going out of their way to play. And many of them, pardon the pun, made a beeline for the balls, rolling them or doing somersaults while holding them.   Researchers said that because the bees like to play, it may be proof that they’re also capable of experiencing feelings – more specifically that they are able to have positive feelings. The authors noted that just like other mammals, including humans, of course, younger bees seem to be more playful than the older ones who are probably like me, just trying to go about their day. They also hope that the findings will make us appreciate the little creatures and do more to protect them and their habitat.’

   Reading between the lines: I conclude that play is how the younger bees learn about the world, while older bees ‘know it all’…. Sound familiar?

Israel’s Elections: Some Thoughts

By Shlomo Maital  

   Here are a few insights from Israel’s 5th national election, on Nov. 1, within the past three and one half years.

   *Voter turnout was high, 70.6% of the electorate. (Turnout among Arab voters was lower).  Out of a population of nearly 9 million, 4,793,461 people voted.  It was fun to see parents bring small children to the polls to see democracy in action.

   * 418,055 votes were ‘wasted’.  Let me explain.  Political parties need to get 3.25% of the total vote count, as a threshold, to elect Knesset members; in this election, that came to 154,820 votes. 

   * Two major parties failed to reach the threshold:  a left-wing party, Meretz, which came within 3,800 votes;  and an Arab party, Balad.  Had they each reached the threshold, they would have each elected 4 Knesset members.  Had this happened, the right-wing led by Likud and Netanyahu would likely not have reached a 61 MK majority in the Knesset.

    * Not a single right-wing vote was ‘wasted’.  Why? Netanyahu worked hard, as a political wizard, to unite small right-wing parties;  in the end, there were only 4 of them.   In contrast, the splintered Left failed to work together, and lost.

    * A much-ignored fact: the total number of votes for Center-Left,  and for Right-Extreme Right, were almost equal!   So why then did the Right get a majority of 64 Knesset members?  Because many Left-Center votes did not ‘count’ (see above,  ‘waste’),  and not a single Right-Extreme Right vote failed to count.

   *  Two extreme-Right leaders will be in the new Cabinet; they joined to form the Religious Zionist party, with 14 Knesset seats.  Ben-Gvir is a lawyer, and leveraged the Israeli media, gaining vast publicity by staging media events. He is very smart, a Kahana supporter, and is dangerous.  He seeks the Homeland Security ministry.  Smotrich, in contrast, has a motor mouth. He is already in hot water for making outrageous statements.  He is vile, but less dangerous, because he is far less smart than Ben-Gvir. 

   *  Because Left and Right were almost tied in the vote count, the Right/Extreme Right does NOT have a mandate to make sweeping anti-democratic changes to Israel’s legal system, as they plan.  But they will do it anyway. 

   *  Will the Center-Left finally get its act together and stop cannibalizing their own candidates?  They should – but likely won’t. 

     Israel’s democracy is alive and well, and it will overcome the latest episode.  There are ups and downs in every democracy, and this ‘down’ too will pass.    

Omicron: Some Good News

By Shlomo Maital   

     On this week’s Science Friday podcast, came some interesting good news about Omicron.  This variant of COVID-19 has become dominant – this week, I got an Omicron vaccine booster.  But it is far less virulent than other variants.  The reason, according to experts:  Omicron shifted its attack, from our lungs (lower respiratory system) to our noses and throats (upper respiratory).  This means, rather than kill us by ruining our lungs, Omicron makes us just uncomfortable, with stuffy noses and sore throats. 

    Why did evolution do this?  Apparently, it is easier for Omicron to evade immune reactions when it reproduces in our noses, than when it reproduces in our lungs.   And remember: It is still worth getting that booster shot.

    The experts explain:  Evolution does not have an omniscient godlike brain.  It does not purposely become more virulent or less virulent.  The virus simply wants to reproduce; and does whatever it takes.  Sometimes, that kills us.  Sometimes, it just makes us uncomfortable.  The virus doesn’t really care.  By the time it kills us, it has reproduced billions of times and spread elsewhere.  So it is kind of a dice roll.

    Interestingly, because of lockdowns, masking and distancing, influenza  (flu) has declined in the past two years.  And amazingly, influenza Type B (a variant) nearly disappeared!   But as we go back to normal, chances are flu will again be on the rise.  And COVID?  It may be with us for quite some time.

Why Democrats Fail

By Shlomo Maital

     Liberals, ‘progressives’, question why poor US voters who use public assistance still vote for Republicans who want to cut those very services. And why they support Trump, and will again vote for him in 2024. 

     Blame the Democrats.

     First, a caveat.  Though I have studied and worked in the US, I live and work in Israel. My views are those of an outsider. But sometimes, those outside the ring see it more clearly than those battling within it.  Sometimes.

      Working class people, often with high school education, are hit hard by inflation.  They fear most unemployment, and are the first to be fired.  Long-term, their jobs are threatened by automation. There are 1.53 million truck drivers employed in the US in 2022, at least.  How do they feel when they see autonomous driverless trucks tested on US roads? 

    These people have no wealth, actually negative wealth (debt exceeds assets).  They struggle to afford housing.  They lack health insurance or fear it will disappear when they lose their jobs (US health insurance is provided mostly via employers).  They face arrogance and scorn, or humiliation, on the part of the highly-educated elite.  They feel they are marginalized and without a voice.

     Republicans oppose Democrats.  And Democrats, for this long-suffering group, are the enemy.  So working class Americans will vote Republican, as a vote against the ‘ruling class’ that they see ignores or oppresses them. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. 

     And what about the ‘progressive’ Democrats?  They invest energy in fierce opposition to Israel.  OK, we deserve a lot of it.  But – what have the progressives done, lately, that makes an iota of difference to minimum-wage workers?  By pushing Biden into a fanciful costly piece of legislation, they ensured Biden failed to pass it.  What was passed in the end was greatly watered down.

     I greatly admire the brilliant candidates Democrats choose – educated, articulate, socially conscious.  But I know they are never going to make political inroads into the working poor.  

     There are many Great Divides in US politics.  One of the most painful is the education divide – less educated (mainly Republican) vs. more educated (mainly Democrat).  This is very very dangerous.  I see no evidence the Democrats are doing anything to remedy it or bridge it.

US Federal Reserve is Sabotaging the World

By Shlomo Maital

   Warning: Boring blog about the dollar, the Fed and interest rates.

   OK.  The US Federal Reserve has done it again.  Stuck its finger in the eyes of other countries.  Raised interest rates again by 0.75%, to 4%.  Mortgage rates will climb to 7%.  Banks will see their profits soar.  The dollar will rise again against other currencies. Other foreign central banks will have to raise their interest rates too, or see money flee their country.

   So what’s the problem?  The US has inflation. The only tool they have to fight it, is interest rates, right?  The dollar is America’s money. America has the right to do whatever the heck it wishes with its money and interest rates.

   Wrong! 

   Here is why.  A bit of history.  In July 1944, at Bretton Woods, NH, Hotel Mt. Washington, the Allies convened experts (Keynes, among them) to rethink the architecture of the post WWII economy.  Keynes wanted a global Central Bank – one that would control world credit and interest rates,  to preserve the interests of all the nations of the Free World.    But the US, whose economy at the time was 75% of the world economy (ravaged by war), refused.

     The US delegate,  Harry Dexter White, said, no, we don’t want or need a world currency. The DOLLAR will be the world currency.

     And some experts innocently asked, hmmm.  But…what if US interests and non-US interests diverge? What then?  

     No answer.

     Today they are diverging.  Europe’s economy is stumbling,  Africa is hungry and struggling; Ghana, for instance, a normally well-run nation, has seen its currency collapse.  Ghana can’t afford to borrow money at interest rates that the US is driving.  The IMF has to do a bailout.  Other African nations wait in line.

     The high US interest rates have driven the US dollar very high against other currencies.  This means, imported goods priced in dollars become expensive for Europe, Africa and my country Israel. (Israel’s shekel is 3.5 to the dollar, way down from 3.15 just a while ago).  This means the US Fed is exporting its inflation to other nations, through their higher import prices.

     I have argued that killing the US economy with impossibly expensive credit is really dumb.  Don’t believe me.  Ask Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate.  Dumb!  Not only dumb but wicked. Because other nations are paying the price of a dumb US mistake.

     This is not how the leader of the free world should behave.  History will give Jerome Powell a D- grade.  He was appointed to a second four-year term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors on May 23, 2022.  By President Biden.  A very bad mistake.   

Learning From Ophelia

By Shlomo Maital

  Columbia University Professor Jennifer Lee has written an insightful Op-Ed in today’s New York Times.  She reports on her research on Asian-American children in US schools.  Especially interesting is her story about  “Ophelia”.

     Ophelia (Vietnamese American) described herself as “not very intelligent”. She almost flunked second grade and had a straight C average through elementary and junior high school.  She failed an Advanced Placement exam.  But Ophelia’s teacher, and with her parents’ support, put her into Advanced Placement anyway. 

      Why?  Because as Asian-American, she was assumed to be highly motivated, driven,  with high potential.   Once enrolled in AP, Opelia reports, “something just clicked”.  She worked hard to prove she was indeed a good student.  And she graduated with a grade of 4.2 (4.0 is ‘perfect’).  She was accepted into a highly selective pharmacy program in college.

 Many parents are troubled by the poor schooling their kids get, both in the US and in my country, Israel.  And faced with a bureaucratic obsolete educational system, there is not much they can do. 

  But perhaps there is.  And it is simple.  Make our kids pseudo-Asian American.  Instill high expectations.  Convey that to their teachers.  Mostly to the kids.  Help them in every way to live up to that expectation. 

  Excess pressure?  Maybe.  I myself faced that growing up, as a child of immigrant parents.  In the end, it was a huge plus for me.  Jewish kids, I guess, get the same high expectation push from parents as Asian-American kids. 

 Sadly, Lee reports that “none of the white, Black or Hispanic adults we interviewed were treated similarly”.  And guess what.  This “Pygmalion” effect, as it is known, has been documented as early as 1968.  The work of Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) showed that teacher expectations influence student performance. Positive expectations influence performance positively, and negative expectations influence performance negatively. Goes for parents, too.

   Parents, I believe, can imbue their kids with high expectations and strong self-esteem.  And convey it to their teachers.  One by one, perhaps, all our kids can become “Asian-American”? 

   The dinosaurs on the conservative US Supreme Court are about to shoot down affirmative action.  What to do?  Create your own affirmative action – act to motivate, to inspire.  It’s worth a try.  And by the way – not only parents can do this.  So can grandparents.  Quietly but persistently.  Give it a shot!

At MIT summer school, I taught highly motivated Vietnamese engineers. They overcame language obstacles to excel.  I was awe-struck by them.  Why not learn from our Asian friends?  To paraphrase a famous Law:   Kids’ performances expand or contract to meet the high (or low)  bars we set for them.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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