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 History DOES Repeat Itself: Finland  vs. Russia 1939-40

By Shlomo Maital

Camouflaged Finnish soldiers battle the USSR

 OK, I know.   History does not repeat itself.  But, as a wag once said, it rhymes.

    “The ‘Winter War’ of 1939-1940, also known as the Russo-Finnish War, saw the tiny Finnish Army take on the might of the Soviet Union’s gigantic Red Army.   There was mistrust between the two countries. Finland believed the Soviet Union wanted to expand into its territory and the Soviet Union feared Finland would allow itself to be used as a base from which enemies could attack.

     “Finland declared itself neutral at the start of the Second World War, but the Soviet Union demanded concessions. Finland delayed, using the time to mobilise its army and seek help from Sweden and the Western Allies, including Britain and France, but with little success.

      “A faked border incident gave the Soviet Union the excuse to invade on 30 November 1939. The Red Army was ill-equipped, poorly led, and unable to deal with the Finnish terrain and winter weather. Though small and under-resourced, the Finnish Army was resilient, well-led and was able to use knowledge of the terrain to good effect.   

     “Despite the overwhelming odds, Finland resisted for three months with little outside assistance. However, it was only a matter of time before the balance of power tipped in the Soviet Union’s favor.

    “The Red Army came back strongly. Their command structure was reorganised, modern equipment was brought in and there was a badly needed change of tactics and personnel.

     “The Finns held Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov responsible for the outbreak of the Russo-Finnish War and named an improvised incendiary grenade after him. The ‘Molotov Cocktail’ proved to be a primitive but effective anti-tank weapon against Soviet forces.

       “By early February 1940, the Finnish Army was exhausted and their defensive lines eventually overrun. Outside help never materialized. Finland was forced to sign the Treaty of Moscow on 12 March 1940, which ceded 11 per cent of its territory to the Soviet Union.”

  The Finns suffered 70,000 total casualties.  The Russians:  126,875–167,976 dead or missing.  Nazi Germany saw how weak the Russian Army was, leading Hitler to decide he could invade Russia and defeat it.  Finland never did get back the territory it lost.

= = = = = =

    A lot of this script is repeating itself in Ukraine.   Including the Molotov cocktails. 

John Williams at 90!

By Shlomo Maital   

attack great white shark

  Composer John Williams (score for Jaws!, Jurassic Park, etc. etc.) was 90 years old on Feb. 8.   And he is finding new directions.  Writing in the New York Times, Javier Hernandez (Feb. 12-13, 2022) recounts that Williams, who wrote the music for a huge number of movies, is now movie-less and working on composing a violin concerto. 

      Do you remember his score for Spielberg’s movie Jaws?   Here is what Spielberg observes: “When everyone came out and said ‘Jaws’ scared them out of the water, it was Johnny who scared them out of the water.  His music was scarier than seeing the shark!”

      And indeed, it was. 

      Music is a crucial, and often not fully appreciated part, of movies and TV shows.  Try this.  At a dramatic or scary moment in the movie – press “mute’.  How does this impact your emotions?   Replay Jaws. At a scary moment, mute it.  Makes a difference, right?

       Here is a very small part of the list of movies John Williams has scored:  Jaws, the Star Wars series, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones series, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and the first three Harry Potter films.  That triumphal scene where ET on the little boy’s bike handlebars takes flight?  The music absolutely makes it!  

       Williams is super-creative. He does not repeat himself.  For Schindler’s List, he made powerful use of Mahler.  He is a hard worker, composing all morning at his Steinway, revising in the afternoon. 

        In his lovely piece, Hernandez quotes Williams as saying “Music has been my oxygen and has kept me alive and interested and occupied and gratified!”

       And he ends with a Williams story. 

     Williams once made a pilgrimage to the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, where Back once worked.  He heard the church pastor explain how he worked hard to protect Bach’s remains during WWII.  As Williams left the church, he paused.  “An organist was filling the grand space with the hymn-like theme from “Jurassic Park”.

    Williams, beaming, turned to the pastor. “Now,” he said, “I can die”.

     Not yet, John Williams.  We love your music and want more and more of it. 

Putin Drinks His Own Kool-Aid

By Shlomo Maital    

     Kool-Aid is an American brand of flavored drink mix.  It is mostly sugar. The powder form was created by Edwin Perkins in 1927 based upon a liquid concentrate called Fruit Smack.  You mix it with water and get a sticky sweet drink.  Kids used to love it – until we became more aware of the health impact of excessive sugar.

    There is an expression: X drinks his/her own Kool-Aid.  It means:  A decision-maker listens to no views contrary to his or her own. 

    This fits Putin to a “T”.  It explains his evil Ukraine folly.

     During the pandemic, Putin sheltered in his bunker.  Even lately, when he met French leader Macron, bizarrely he sat at one end of a 13 foot (4 meter) table while Macron sat at the other end.  He sat alone, and paranoia blossomed.  His grievances festered and spread in his brain, like bacteria. His views on Ukraine became twisted; in his Kool-Aid glass, there was no picture of a free democratic nation willing to fight and die on their own soul for their freedom from a hated despot.  It would be a piece of cake.   And there was no military leader or intelligence officer to say otherwise – even though they knew better.

      This is what happens when you drink your own Kool-Aid. Putin is not the first.  Nor the last. His Kool-Aid will for Russia turns to be far more like the glass of hemlock Socrates drank.   But so many people are dying as a result.

      It is heart breaking. 

Regrets? How to Manage Them

By Shlomo Maital

    In Frank Sinatra’s memorable 1969 song My Way,  Sinatra sings,  “regrets..I’ve had a few…but then again, too few to mention”. 

    Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he was known, was a great singer and actor, but he was not one to mope over regrets.  In contrast, many of us are.  I have quite a few, mostly related to becoming an economist, instead of a more meaningful profession.

     This is why I listened avidly to the TED podcast interviewing Daniel Pink.

      “Over the past two years, author Daniel H. Pink has collected a trove of more than 16,000 regrets from people in 105 countries in an effort to better understand this mysterious emotion.”  *   

      Pink has some strong practical advice for how to manage regrets.  

      It all boils down to the same four core regrets, he says, categorizing the 16,000 regrets he collected from people all over the world.

      Foundation regrets:   I did not save enough. I did not plan retirement well enough. I did not take care of my health. I did not work out and stay fit.  These are regrets related to how we acted in the present, to have a better future. 

      Moral regrets:  I stole. I cheated on exams. I lied.  I did things that were wrong, unethical.  Pink recounts how some people told him they bitterly regrated stealing a candy bar from a corner store 60 years earlier.  It gnaws at their consciences.

       Boldness regrets:  I should have gone for it. I should have taken the risk.  I should have started a business, even if would have failed.   People regret NOT taking chances, but rarely regret chances they DID take even when it did not work out.

        Connection regrets:  I should have asked her out but was afraid.  I should have called my aunt.  I should have called my colleague and apologized for hard words.  Pink has strong advice in this realm.  If you are debating, should I make contact or not?  Should I connect or try to?  You have already answered the question. You should.  Very few people regret making a contact, saying I’m sorry, asking how are you?   Many do regret not doing so.  If you are debating – do it.

      And Pink has a method that I use and embrace; in fact, I’ve used it long before hearing Pink.  I call it, the ‘back from the future’ method.

       When considering whether or not to do something – potentially creating a lifelong regret —  imagine that you do it, and then, picture yourself in 10 years, looking back. Back from the future.

      How will you feel about your decision?  Will you have a painful regret? This is what Pink calls self-distancing.  Get yourself up on the balcony, above yourself, your ego.  Look at it from outside yourself, and from the vantage of years in the future.  

       Will you think about it and have regrets?  I should have acted differently?  If so,  act differently.  Act now, so that you do not have regrets in the future.

       Believe me,  regrets are painful.  Look at all the regrets Pink collected, effortlessly.  Very few of us are Sinatra.   Best to forestall them rather than create them.   

*https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_h_pink_what_regret_can_teach_you_about_living_a_good_life     

The Orchid That Fools Bees

By Shlomo Maital  

  My grandson Aharon Feinsilver is an amateur zoologist, with a particular fondness for wildflowers.  In the garden of his parents’ home in Southern Israel, he has grown Ophrys apifera, known as the bee orchid. 

    “This is a self-pollinating orchid that has managed to devise a unique trick.   It lures male bees through mimicry (its flower looks like a female bee) and scent (its scent resembles odors the female bee emits).  [Male bees] have been observed attempting to copulate with the flowers, which emit allomones that mimic the scent of the female bee.  …. In addition to chemosensory mimicry, the labellum of the flower acts as a visual decoy that the male bee confuses for a female.  It is believed that male bees preferentially select orchids with the most bee-like labellum and attempt copulation, at which point the pollinia stick to the bee during the pseudocopulation. This achieves pollen transfer and, potentially, pollination.”

          Evolution can generate some pretty amazing tricks.  This one is especially amazing, because it is a double whammy – both scent and appearance, to lure unsuspecting male bees. 

          A tip of the hat to Ophris apifera!    May the Force be with you.  May you live long and prosper.   

Cold War in Hot Technology

By Shlomo Maital

  All eyes are now on Ukraine, and on Putin.  Will he or won’t he invade?  The consequences will be immense either way.  The Cold War has returned, with a vengeance, and threatens a Hot War.

    But as always, there are matters of enormous significance buried behind the daily reports from the Ukrainian border.

     A new Cold War is developing in the world’s hot technologies.  And I don’t think it will end well.

      As often occurs the best source for this is The Economist weekly.    Writing in the latest issue, Ludwig Siegele, European business editor and a veteran journalist, identifies a disturbing new Cold War between Russia, China and the United States, in new, powerful hot technologies.

      “America’s package of potential sanctions aimed at deterring Russian aggression includes not just financial measures such as cutting off Russian banks from the Western financial system, but also denying it access to American technology,”  notes The Economist.  Cutting off US technology could be more painful than financial sanctions.

     The Economist notes:  “Since the invasion of Crimea in 2014 triggered an earlier round of Western sanctions, Russia has sought to construct a fortress economy. In the financial realm this has involved de-dollarization: shifting contracts, reserves and borrowing to other currencies. The share of cross-border invoices paid to Russia in dollars has dropped from 80% at the start of 2014 to 54%.”

     “Less well explored is how Russia, with one eye on China, has sought to indigenize its tech industry.  Moscow is implementing a systematic plan to build what scholars of geopolitics call a “stack”: a sovereign digital space made of layers stacked atop each other like a tiered cake. These layers include hardware, the cloud, apps, identity and payments. In some areas it has made leaps. Six of the ten biggest cloud firms in Russia are now Russian, for example. The Mir payments system has a market share of 25%. Russia is building a national version of the global domain-name system. From telecoms networks to apps, more of the industry is owned by Russian firms than was once the case.

       “Whether the steps taken so far will insulate Russia from Western sanctions is doubtful. Last week my colleagues visited the boss of a big Russian tech firm in Moscow who said that the authorities “are trying to create an impression that [the industry] is self-reliant. This is not true.” His servers and systems still rely on Silicon Valley. Yet in the long run it seems likely that Russia will redouble efforts to reduce its dependence, by buying more components and software from China and by making more at home. That will lead to a less efficient but less vulnerable digital economy.”

     “We calculate that US exports of IT services to Russia rose by 183% in the five years before the invasion of Crimea in 2014, and by 0.5% in the five years after it.”

     And what about China?

     “Huawei has been the subject of an exquisite torture in the form of American sanctions and controls, limiting its access to cutting-edge chips and other services such as phone software. The cost has been severe: Huawei’s sales in 2021 dropped by 29%. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have blacklisted ever-more Chinese tech firms. A desire to escape America’s grip has in turn accelerated China’s drive to indigenize its tech industry. SMIC, the home-grown semiconductor champion, reported sales growth of 61% year on year in the most recent quarter, and this year its capex will be more than double the level in 2019.”

    And the US?   Intel is building new chip plants in Arizona and New Mexico.  It just acquired an Israeli chip maker, Tower.   Taiwan, the world’s leading chip maker, is strategically aligned with the US, while facing Chinese threats. 

     We are moving inexorably from a world system built on the principle of comparative advantage – buy from those what they do best, sell to them what you do best – to autarchy and mercantilism —  buy and build only within your borders. 

      This is very bad for the world. Here is why.  Europe fought two bloody wars within 30 years.  They made peace through trade.  Let’s grow wealthy together, European countries said, and formed the European Union.  Economic and business competition, to replace military conflict.  It has worked well.

       Closing nations off from commerce with rival nations is driven by fear and hostility.  Nations that do not trade freely and openly, may one day fight bitterly and bloodily.  By erecting high borders to technology, nations will limit communication and understanding. 

       China. Russia. United States.  A new Cold War in hot technologies.  The consequences may make an invasion of Ukraine pale in comparison.   

Rupert Murdoch – Global Damage

By Shlomo Maital  

   You have to hand it to Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. tycoon, now turning 91, one of the world’s richest billionaires.  I can’t think of another person who has unseated more worthy leaders and helped elect unworthy conservative ones, in more countries, over such a long time. 

    Here is what the New York Times summarizes about Murdoch: *

*  “In Australia, where Murdoch’s power is most undiluted, his outlets  led an effort to repeal the country’s carbon tax — a first for any nation — and pushed out a series of prime ministers whose agenda didn’t comport with his own.”     Note: Murdoch’s media outlets dominate down under.

 “In Britain, his London-based tabloid, The Sun, led the historic Brexit crusade to drive the country out of the European Union — and, in the chaos that ensued, helped deliver Theresa May to 10 Downing Street.”     

*   “His 24-hour (US) news-and-opinion network, the Fox News Channel,  fused with President Trump and his base of hard-core supporters, giving Murdoch an unparalleled degree of influence over the world’s most powerful democracy.”  Murdoch has since expressed some distaste for Trump – but Fox continues to pander to ‘the big steal’ and to Trump supporters.

    “Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs”, conclude reporters Jonathan Mahler and Jim Ruttenberg, in their intensive long research piece on Murdoch. 

     Check out his New York Post for some really mind-bending fake news.

     Murdoch is not alone in gobbling up newspapers and bending them to his views politically.  Struggling local papers are being acquired, downsized radically, flipped, or closed outright. Here are data from the University of North Carolina School of Journalism:

    * Since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth – 2,100 – of its newspapers. This includes 70 dailies and more than 2,000 weeklies or non-dailies.

    *   At end of 2019, the United States had 6,700 newspapers, down from almost 9,000 in 2004.

    *  Today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues. Half of the counties have only one newspaper, and two-thirds do not have a daily newspaper.

      As local and regional newspapers disappear, local coverage of corruption, incompetent politicians, influence-peddling and general bad government also disappear.  People increasingly get their news from biased, dubious sources. The result is threatening to democracy, which depends on voter access to accuracy and truth.    

*  “How Rupert Murdoch’s Media Empire Remade the World”, BY JONATHAN MAHLER AND JIM RUTENBERG New York Times, APRIL 3, 2019

COVID Policy: It’s All About Trust

By Shlomo Maital    

Trust, Mutual Responsibility

  CNN’s Fareed Zakaria brings incisive intelligent insight to world events.  Today, he cited an important study published in the British medical journal The Lancet.  This is a huge study, biggest of its kind, that studied COVID-19 infection and fatality rates across 177 countries.*   I looked it up.

 Here are the key findings:

 *    “Trust in government, trust in one another:  Measures of trust in the government and interpersonal trust, as well as less government corruption, had larger, statistically significant associations with lower standardized infection rates.”

*   “Willingness to be vaccinated:  High levels of government and interpersonal trust, as well as less government corruption, were also associated with higher COVID-19 vaccine coverage among middle-income and high-income countries where vaccine availability was more widespread, and lower corruption was associated with greater reductions in morbidity.”

     This is not just  a statistical correlation.   Trust SAVES LIVES.   

*    “If these modelled associations were to be causal, an increase in trust of governments such that all countries had societies that attained at least the amount of trust in government or interpersonal trust measured in Denmark, which is in the 75th percentile across these spectrums, might have reduced global infections by 12·9%  for government trust and 40·3% for interpersonal trust.”   

       Take a closer look at that last italicized number.  40.3%   If we all trusted in our government as the Danes do, and trusted in one another as the Danes do, global infections would have been 40 per cent less. 

    There have been over 400 million COVID-19 infections, and 5.8 million deaths, globally.  Had we trusted one another, helped one another, believed in one another, and trusted our government and what it told us —  perhaps more than two million deaths could have been prevented.  We would have worn masks, isolated socially, and got vaccinated. 

    Corrupt, incompetent governments are not only contemptible.  They kill.  They cost lives.  We cannot afford them.  When we need them, need public heath policies, need public spirited people – we lack them.   And we just cannot afford it.

     We have to restore a sense of responsibility toward one another.  We have to repair the adverse selection model, that funnels corrupt untruthful people into government and repels capable people of good will.  We just cannot afford to do otherwise.   What we have now is costing lives.

      =======

 Source:  Pandemic preparedness and COVID-19: an exploratory analysis of infection and fatality rates, and contextual factors associated with preparedness in 177 countries, from Jan 1, 2020, to Sept 30, 2021, The Lancet,  2022,

https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00172-6.

How Mice Help Cure Leukemia

By Shlomo Maital   

CAR-T Mouse

 Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reporter Sarah Gantz informs us:

     “The first two recipients of a groundbreaking cancer treatment developed at the University of Pennsylvania remained cancer-free a decade later, leading researchers to utter a word that’s typically taboo in cancer circles: cure.   Penn researchers in 2010 treated their first chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients with CAR-T therapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. In a paper published Wednesday [last February]  in the journal Nature, researchers report that their first two patients were still cancer-free 10 years after their treatment. What’s more, the cells were still present, protecting against future lymphoma invaders.”

     “….The therapy’s effectiveness and longevity are “beyond our wildest expectations,” one of the doctors told reporters Tuesday.”

      So:  What exactly is CAR-T therapy?

      “Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T therapy genetically modifies the body’s T-cells — the white blood cells that play a lead role in the body’s immune response to foreign particles — to attack cancer.”   In this therapy, the body’s own T-cells are removed, genetically modified  (with the help of mice – see below)  to create a kind of combined T-B cell, and then re-injected into the body.  These cells are primed to attack leukemia cells in the blood and kill them” – like Special Forces sent on a mission.

     What is most amazing – normally, the body’s own immune system will attack anything that is not totally human, totally familiar to the body itself.  But in this case, somehow, the immune system tolerates the CAR-T cells – and they quickly begin to multiply.  It’s like having an army of soldier cells that attack and kill leukemia cells on sight…and they reproduce rapidly…and forever!   

      This is indeed a cure for leukemia!  

         Gantz reports, “Doctors don’t use words like cure lightly or, frankly, very often,” said David L. Porter, the director of Cell Therapy and Transplantation at Penn. “When we started this, I don’t think we were expecting this would develop into such a powerful curative therapy.”

.  . . . . . .

      About 24,000 people die of leukemia yearly in the US – more men than women.  It is true that most cancer deaths (90% of them) are caused by ‘solid cancer’ (tumor-related).  But immunotherapy treatment for them, too, is being intensively researched and holds promise. 

         CAR T cell therapies are at present hugely expensive  — $375,000 to $475,000 per treatment.  This is because manufacturing them is expensive and because administering them requires extensive monitoring for fear of CRS  cytokine response syndrome (the kind of immunological ‘storm’ that has resulted from COVID-19, for instance).     But the cost will come down over time.

   How have mice helped?

   A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study reports:  “We established a humanized mouse (hu-mouse) model with a functional human immune system and genetically-matched (autologous) primary acute B-lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) that permits modeling of CD19-targeted CAR T cell therapy in immunocompetent hosts without allogeneic or xenogeneic immune responses.”

     A humanized mouse!   With human leukemia B-cells.  Which are then killed by CAR-T cells.  Without endangering humans, in the early trials. 

     We have pigs providing heart and kidney transplants.  And mice providing in-vivo tests for new leukemia treatments. 

     Thanks guys.   

 Putin Invades Ukraine? A Vest Pocket Analysis

By Shlomo Maital    

Spike the guns?

  The quality of media reporting on Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine has been terrible, as usual.  No real historical context, and sadly, very little authoritative voices from Ukrainians themselves.  And repeatedly, President Biden has bargained with the Russians, without any Ukrainians at the table. 

   Today, on an NPR podcast, Open Source (Christopher Lyden), at least we heard from a real Ukrainian voice (a leading novelist) and an academic Russia expert.

     Here is a vestpocket analysis of what is going on, based on what I heard.  300 words.

      Russia invaded part of Georgia in 2008.  Georgia is the birthplace of Stalin, and once a part of the USSR.  I visited Georgia and climbed a mountain there.  It has many buildings from the Soviet era – but it has its own long proud history, language, culture, and religious practice. 

      In that invasion, Russia and Putin learned how antiquated and obsolete its military had become.   The price of oil in 2008 reached $145 (!) before falling to $100.  Russia was drowning in petrodollars.

     This was a huge opportunity for Putin.  Russia has (still) a superb educational system and brilliant engineers and scientists.  The petrodollar flood could have been put to great use, to make Russia into a modern hi-tech power.  This would involve dumping the oligarchs and cleaning up the corruption — nobody will launch a startup if you know it will be stolen from you by Putin-backed tycoons. 

    But Putin chose instead to back the oligarchs, scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours.  And the petrodollar windfall went into the military.

    Today Russia has super-modern jet fighters (Sukhoi), modern tanks, electronic warfare… in some cases, American generals admit, better than the US.   The Russian invasion of Ukraine could split the country in two, taking the more Russian-speaking Eastern half including Kiev, and the Russian military will show off its new hardware.   

      NATO will not send soldiers to Ukraine, only equipment. 

       What can be done?

       Something really simple.  Germany sits weak-kneed on the fence, dependent as it is on Russian gas, in a cold winter.    

       What if the West offered to supply natural gas to Europe (LNG, liquified natural gas, shipped to Rotterdam)?  Cut off the Russians’ gas, and let the Russian people chew on bullets rather than bread.

       This is feasible.  Merely making the offer, and organizing the logistics, will deter Russia. 

     Putin turns 70 this fall. He seeks to define his legacy.  Stirring up trouble appears to him to restore Russia’s position as a world power.  There is a better way – leverage Russian brainpower to make it a world hi-tech power.  But Putin chose not to.  He blew his wad on military hardware. 

      So his legacy will be that of a paranoid who led his people down a path of war and suffering.  And he is not the first, nor the last. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital

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