What Will 2023 Bring?

By Shlomo Maital   

(The Daily Courier)

   So, what will 2023 bring?

   This is based on listening to Ken Rogoff, Harvard professor of economics and former chief economist of the IMF.  Also based on what the current  IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva just predicted. 

    As I often counsel in this blog – set aside some money.  Spend a bit less. You may need it. 

     Why?   Let’s think of two scenarios.

    One:  The US Federal Reserve recognizes its responsibilities to the world, rejects Trumpian MAGA only-America insanity, and stops hiking interest rates.  Maybe, a bit more inflation for the US. A lot less pain for the rest of the world, forced to hike rates steeply as well.  The US resumes its old role of global locomotive, buying things from other countries and stimulating demand.

      The world economy slows down in 2023, but not that badly.  How likely is this?  The US Fed still seems intent on covering its behind, after pooh-poohing inflation and hiking rates belatedly.  Fed Chair Powell is a Trump appointee. 

     Scenario Two.  US Fed keeps on bashing interest rates higher.  Other countries follow.  And, as wise Rogoff points out, we start to see all the debt dirt swept under the rug, during years and years of near-zero interest rates.  We start to see companies and whole countries struggle to pay back debt.  Like Italy.  We see bad debts emerge from under the rug in places we never knew about or realized.  We see borrowing done at zero interest rates, that made no sense, suddenly become catastrophic at 8 % interest rates.

    Will the EU bail out Italy again? Or will it do an every-country-for-itself saga,  MEUGA, Make EU Great Again, after a cold energy-scarce winter, where Hungary cut private deals with Russia? 

    So, Rogoff counsels, keep your eye on Japan and Italy.    As rates rise, try to limit debt.  Get on top of your credit card debt.  It is rising alarmingly.  Think hard about what to do if the US and world recessions are a) mild, b) moderate and c) severe.  All three are possible.  

     We are in a cycle where companies and countries stop paying back what they owe, because they no longer can.  But at the same time, we are seeing inflation erode the real economic value of debt and moderate its pain.  For governments, especially. 

      2023 will be painful and chaotic.  The recession will be moderated, by people eager to spend money and travel after two or three years of pandemic lockdown.  But it could be made worse if they do this by borrowing instead of spending savings. 

      Two words will dominate.  Resilience.  Ability to bounce back from unexpected hits.  Partly, by preparing for it in advance. And Agility.  Ability to respond fast, to unexpected events. 

       That’s my crystal ball.  Not very helpful.  And very very foggy.   

 Marjorie Taylor Greene:  Gazpacho Police

By Shlomo Maital   

      You could not make this up if you tried.

       NBC News reports:   Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who has become known for her love of conspiracy theories and angry outbursts at Democratic leaders, apparently meant to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Gestapo police tactics in an interview Tuesday.

       But it didn’t quite come out that way, and the mistake she made immediately set off a chorus of delighted ridicule from her critics on social media.   Rather than compare Pelosi’s tactics to the Nazi secret police, she instead compared them to a bowl of chilled soup.

       “Now we have Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police spying on members of Congress, spying on the legislative work we do, spying on our staff and spying on American citizens,” Greene said on One America News Network’s “Real America” program.   

       MTG is a ‘far-right conspiracy theorist’  who has served as the U.S. representative for Georgia’s 14th congressional district since 2021 and was re-elected in November 2022. This district in Georgia is one of the most heavily Republican in the nation.  The real contest was in the Republican primaries.  She was strongly supported by Donald Trump.

       Next time you buy tomato soup and cucumbers, be sure to look over your shoulder.  MTG may be there, with a warrant.  You are under arrest for…uh, Gespacho? Geshtako? Gustavo? Gesundheit? Gestalt? Gashpachtal? I can’t spell it, she admits; but you’re under arrest anyway.

         Voters of Georgia’s 14th congressional district:  You voted for her.  So, enjoy.  She will be your representative in Congress for many years.  And, lay off the gazpacho.  And chicken soup, which is Jewish (MTG is not fond of us Jews).  And bouillabaisse, which she can’t pronounce.  In fact, lay off soup in general.  Only elitist educated Democrats eat soup. 

       Ignorance is back.  Yeah.

Spotting Kids’ Talents

By Shlomo Maital

  I am listening to an NPR podcast Open Source, hosted by Christopher Leiden, about Mozart.

   Mozart was a wunderkind – a child prodigy.  He was the son of musician Leopold Mozart.  That was fortunate.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s dad spotted his little son’s talent early.  Mozart was improvising, composing, sight-reading well before he was eight years old.  He travelled through Europe with his dad, displaying his talents. 

    What is Mozart had been born to a non-musical family?  Would his genius have been spotted and encouraged, developed, expanded?

     My wife and I have four children and 17 grandchildren – and a little great granddaughter.  Every human being on earth is unique, with unique talents.  But more often than not, people themselves are not fully aware of either their passions or their talents (the two sometimes diverge).  You need to experience the world to find out – yet we are channeled into ‘bins’ at an age few have full self-awareness. 

     So, my wife and I spend time with our grandchildren, helping them identify their passions and talents and opening windows for them.  Sometimes, the process is easy. Mostly, it is a long winding road. 

     Like my own.  I chose at random a profession unsuited for whom I am – economics – simply because I got a good grade in Econ 4.  It has given me a great life.  But at age 80, I am about to write a novel – which is what I wanted to do when I was 18. 

      Mozart died at 36.  He left an incredible legacy for all of us.  That was fortunate.  His brilliant musical light might not have been exposed had he been born to a different dad or mom.  

         In general,  there are lots of kid Mozarts out there.  Some get lost in the rigidity of schools.  I had a student in Shantou, China, father of two little girls, who saw this clearly and tried to start a less rigid school so his daughters could fulfill their talents.

           Nietzsche once wrote, “become who you are”.  Are we doing all we can to help our children and grandchildren become who they are?  And what they want to become? 

 Multiple Myeloma:  Some Good News!

By Shlomo Maital

    Multiple myeloma is an incurable blood cancer that affects cells inside a patient’s bone marrow. Nearly all multiple myeloma patients will relapse at some point in their treatment, becoming resistant to first one, then another frontline intervention.  

    Globally, multiple myeloma affected 488,000 people and resulted in 101,100 deaths in 2015. In the United States, it develops in 6.5 per 100,000 people per year and 0.7% of people are affected at some point in their lives. It usually occurs around the age of 60 and is more common in men than women. 

   According to the latest edition of Science Friday, “a new kind of [multiple myeloma] therapy, a bispecific antibody called Talquetamab, has been showing promise in clinical trials—both in treating the cancer, and keeping patients in remission longer. A bispecific antibody works as a kind of bond between a T-cell that might otherwise not be doing its job and the myeloma cell itself, forcing the T-cell to attack the cancer.”   An amazing 70% of patients who got the treatment went into remission, including ones seriously ill. 

  How does it work?  The powerful antibody has a “Y” shape.  One branch of the “Y” latches on to cancer cells (it’s designed to do this – that’s why this technology is called ‘designer antibodies’).  The other branch of the “Y” latches on to the body’s immune system T cells, that kill cancer.  When the T cells and cancer cells are in proximity, the T cells emit chemicals that penetrate the cancer cell and kill it.  Basically, this treatment is like a smart deputy sheriff, who rounds up the bad guys, and puts them in a cell so the sheriff can book them and prosecute them. 

    This approach is promising, because it is far less expensive than the designer CAR-T cell approach and is available at leading academic medical centers. CAR-T has to be tailored to each individual. Talquetamab works on everyone.

      Dr. Ajai Chari led the clinical trials of Talquetamab.   He is in charge of hematology oncology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.  For follow-up, go to the Mt. Sinai Hospital website.

Creativity’s Fuel: Motivation

By Shlomo Maital

    A friend and neighbor cleaned out her bookshelves and offered me a book first published in 1953 —  69 years ago.  Except for the classics, not many non-fiction books remain relevant for 7 decades.  This one is, in spades.

    It is Applied Imagination, by Alex F. Osborne.  Osborne was co-founder of what became the leading advertising agency,  BBDO,  or Batten Barton Durstine and Osborn.  His focus is effective creativity – creative ideas that have impact. 

    What truly drives creativity?  Motivation.  Or “mental energy”.  The desire to makes things better.  This is Osborne’s insight.  “The fact is,” Osborne wrote, “is that nearly all of us have far more mental capacity than we ever use.”  

    Osborn explains why New Englanders are so creative.  From early days, the settlers had to deal with famine, drought, winter freezes, rocky soil.  The tough environment, and human evolution, selected the most creative people good at solving problems. Because, creativity, in the end, is solving problems.  Entrepreneurship begins not with technology but with a problem that technology may solve. 

      This is why I am optimistic. The world today is in great trouble.  We have polluted our planet, used up our air and water, engaged in pointless wars, ruined so many species of birds and animals, driven a huge gap between rich and poor, tolerated racism and hatred, and pitted one religion against another.  In the past, when things got really tough, human creativity rose markedly – driven by extra super-duper motivation,  a sparkplug of creativity. 

     After the onset of the Great Depression, there was a huge outburst of creativity.  I think it may happen again.  We will find ways to sequester carbon, desalinate water, and maybe, just maybe,  live together, all of us, in peace, on this beautiful planet, the only one we have.

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?

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital