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COVID-19 Leaders: Listen to the Women

By Shlomo  Maital 

  I’ve written this before – but now, today, with the coronavirus raging in the US and EU – it bears repeating.  Women have done far far better than men, as national leaders in the fight against the pandemic.   Question is – why? *

  * see Arwa Mahdawi, “the secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus: women”.  The Guardian, April 11 2020.

    * Tsai In-Wen, a former lawyer, Taiwan’s first female President elected in 2016, has effectively limited the pandemic in her country, from the start.

    * Jacinda Arden has virtually eliminated the coronavirus in New Zealand and won resounding re-election, with a parliamentary majority.

      * Angela Merkel,  lame-duck German Chancellor, has been a voice of calm and reason, in the face of neo-Nazi demonstrations in her country.  She is herself a scientist, and not only listens to the science but truly deeply understands it.

      * Denmark, led by PM Mette Frederiksen, and Finland, led by PM Sanna Marin, have both done well in limiting the pandemic in their countries. 

     * As of 27 September 2020, Norway has performed 1,034,670 tests and reported 13,741 confirmed cases and 274 deaths.   A senior Norwegian Institute of Public Health consultant said one of the major reasons why the mortality rate was significantly lower than in other European countries (such as Italy, Spain, the UK) was the high number of tests performed in Norway.  Erna Solberg has been Norwegian PM for over 6 years.

    *  Iceland joins Taiwan,  mong a group of countries which adopted a cooperative strategy early on in the pandemic, bringing together multiple organizations to tackle the challenges in containing COVID-19.  Katrín Jakobsdóttir is  erving as the 28th and current Prime Minister of Iceland since 2017.

    Seven brilliant women, who have led their countries to safe shores.  Concidence?  When the three biggest failures in controlling the pandemic were led by men:  Trump (US), Bolsinaro (Brazil) and Johnson (UK)? 

    I could list some speculative theories about why women have been far more successful than men in controlling the pandemic crisis. 

    But I leave it to the reader.  Because – you, dear reader, know why. 

Leadership: Give the Keys to Young Educated Women

By Shlomo Maital  

   Of some 200 countries in the world – which have had leaders most competent and successful in leading responses to the pandemic?

   Let’s begin with the losers. Aging autocratic poorly-educated men, in denial, who missed the boat. The ‘orange haired narcissist’, as NYT columnist Roger Cohen calls him, Donald J. Trump. The whacko Brazilian president Jair Bolsinaro, possibly facing impeachment (like his mentor Trump).  “So what?” was his response, when asked about Brazil’s death toll, highest in South America. Vladimir Putin, who cowardly shelters and lets others take the blame. Erdugan, who despite the crisis pursues his foes with paranoid insanity.

   And now for the winners. Young educated women. 39-year-old Jacinda Ardern, who saw what was happening and shut down New Zealand with only 53 proven cases. Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, one of the youngest political leaders in the world. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. (She’s 59, tough, “Iron Erna”, and young in spirit). And never forget German Chancellor Angela Merkel – not young, like the others, but educated, a scientist, and quietly compassionate and competent.  In Iceland, Katrin Jacobsdottir, 44, who organized free COVID-19 testing for all!  And don’t forget Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, 64.

     Now, a Yiddish saying goes, “for instance is not a proof”. But a spate of terrific female Prime Ministers who have led their country with bravery courage and excellence – this is not an accident, in the face of aging despot men who have utterly failed.

   So suppose the world was a locked house, with a set of keys. Who should get the keys? Smart competent women, who have fought their way up the political ladder against all the odds. Educated women, who speak well, do their homework, listen to experts, and win the trust of their people. Compassionate women, who understand human suffering and communicate this compassion.

     And the despotic men? As Trump loves to say,   “lock ‘em up”. Fast.   Before it’s too late. Figuratively, of course – at the ballot box. Tuesday Nov. 3, 2020, a crucial date for the US and the world. Bye bye, orange-haired narcissist. Hello, Democrat female educated courageous well-spoken Vice President. And future President.

Why Is Mercury, a Metal, Liquid at Room Temperature?

By Shlomo  Maital

Mercury Peter Schwerdtfeger

 Ever wonder why mercury, a metal, is liquid at room temperature – the only metal to be have so?   I’m sure most of us have seen mercury, have realized it is a metal, yet one man followed up to find the answer.  His name is Peter Schwerdtfeger, and he won the Rutherford Medal this year, New Zealand’s highest science prize. Schwerdtfeger is on the faculty of Auckland’s Massey University (where my wife spoke on Friday).

     According to Schwerdtfeger, the reason gold is golden in color and mercury is liquid has to do with quantum effects. 

    According to Schwerdtfeger:  “For a very long time people believed that relativistic effects are of no importance to chemical systems because from Einstein’s special relativity we know that if particles reach very high velocities close to the velocity of light, then special relativity becomes important. People thought that for electrons in the valence shell, which are important for doing all the chemistry but move rather slowly, that you wouldn’t expect that relativity effects would be important.”   But they are.  Hard for me to understand and explain in a short blog what those special relatively effects are – enough to understand that Schwerdtfeger took on the physics establishment and proved that relativity is important even for electrons travelling very slowly.

   “With increased computer power and a team of collaborators, including a bold doctoral student, he was able to show that without the effects of relativity, mercury would be solid at room temperature and melt at 82 degrees Celsius.”

         It took him years to get his breakthrough paper published.   When he submitted the first, the reviewer told him there had to be a mistake – because it violated what was known at the time.   Eventually it was published. 

      There are several lessons here. First, if you are a doctoral student, pick a really big touch hairy hard question to research.  I myself failed to do this and regret it ever since.

      Second,   Schwerdtfeger says:   ‘If you only invest in commercial science and completely neglect basic science you probably get neither of them.”   Under the current Conservative government of PM John Key,   government spending in New Zealand has been slashed to the bone, university lecturers have been fired, research grants cut back.  Key is vastly unpopular here, but democracy’s wheels grind slowly.   Until the wheel of democracy comes around, great damage will have been done to New Zealand’s universities.



Creativity & Innovation in Remote New Zealand

By Shlomo  Maital


 My wife Sharona and I are in New Zealand, on the very last leg of a world tour that has taken us around the world, from Brazil, to Boston, France, Singapore, Vietnam, Guangzhou and Shantou China, Hong Kong and now Auckland.   It’s been a great adventure – we combined touring with lecturing, teaching, research and meeting the local Jewish communities on the Sabbath.

    Here, I visited GridAKL, a local incubator located near Auckland Harbor, in the Wynyard Quarter,  and designed to foster technological entrepreneurship.  I met with Eva Perrone, whose title is “activation manager” and she showed me the facility.  The first floor is an open ‘events’ area, where companies outside and inside the incubator can stage workshops, meetings, etc.   The second floor is the incubator, designed as open space, with quiet areas, kitchens, and lots and lots of light. 

    Some of the entrepreneurs in GridAKL are from Aukland University of Technology (AUT), a fine university with entrepreneurial spirit. 

     Despite New Zealand’s remoteness from the world, it is super-connected, with fast broadband.  Many of the startups in GridAKL are IT and software startups.  New Zealand itself makes a living from tourism and dairy and food exports, but is eager to expand its portfolio and build a startup culture. 

   In our travels, from Brazil to Vietnam, to China, Hong Kong, and now New Zealand, we have seen young people eager to start businesses and change the world.  This is an extremely positive trend.  It is also one that should accelerate the heartbeat of an entrepreneur and pump a few grams of adrenaline.   Today if you have a great idea, chances are so does someone else, who could be anywhere in the world, including places you might not think of.  

     Here in New Zealand, we saw an amazing site – the glow-worm cave (see my next blog),  where Nature and Darwinian evolution has created incredible worms that glow in the dark inside the cave ceiling,   and actually create tiny long ‘fishing lines’ that they use to catch their food (mosquitos and bugs).   The ‘glow’ attracts the bugs.    Evolution has produced amazing things, as species compete to survive.  Entrepreneurship can do the same.  The fierce competition  among ideas and resources can generate truly wonderful new creative things that create value for the world and literally, produce something from nothing.   And all it takes is a few young people (or young in spirit),  some open spaces, accessible food (this is the key to a great incubator, Eva Perrone assured me, and I told her about Google’s executive restaurants in their Mountainview, CA campus), strong networking and a great university.      

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital