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  Can Gen Y (Why?) Save the World?

By Shlomo  Maital     


 Gen Y is the cohort of people, twenty-somethings,  born roughly between 1980 and 1994.  They were preceded by Gen X (1966-80), the boomers  (1946-1965) and my generation Gen Baby Bust (born in the Depression and WWII). 

  There are very big differences in values across the generations, as scholars like Neil Howe and the late William Strauss (U.S.) and Tamar and Oz Almog (Haifa Univ., Israel) have found.  It’s not just because we older folks forget what it was like to be young, either.  Gen Y has the most names of any generation so far, and the names are revealing:  the Millenials, Internet Gen, Global Gen, Boomerang Gen (they come home to their parents after college), Gen Me (they are narcissistic), Peter Pan Gen (they don’t want to grow up), Gen Now (they live in the present), Gen F (Facebook).  

    The Almog’s will soon publish an 800-page study of Israeli Gen Y’s.  Their main findings, which seem to translate to other countries, because Gen Y is highly global:

* Narcissistic:  Oxford English Dictionary chooses a ‘hit’ word each year. This year’s word: Selfy.  Perfect.  A selfy, for Gen Old, is photographing yourself with a cell phone camera.  Gen Y’s do it all the time, instead of seeking autographs. 

  * Lack resilience: Gen X and the boomers hover over Gen Y, as ‘helicopter parents’, so Gen Y rarely have to engage in tough struggles. 

  * Lack testosterone:  The Almogs note that Gen Y is far less eager to go to war than Gen X; they are less driven by testosterone.  Perhaps in future we will have fewer conflicts as a result. Gen Y is also less nationalistic, less patriotic, more global.  This is true of the large Gen Y population in Arab countries as well.

*  Footloose:  Gen Y will not stick at a job they dislike.  Employers are beginning to adapt to this.  Gen Y will not sacrifice family for work, and give loyalty to themselves, not their employers. 

*  Connected: Gen Y do not make decisions on their own. They are permanently connected with others, and can quickly consult with parents, friends, peers, before deciding anything. 

*  Collective:  Gen Y are collective, almost socialist.  They like working in groups and are good at it.  Competitive capitalism will have to change to adapt to this. For example,  Gen Y in Israel is returning to the kibbutz to live.

* Unisex:  Gender differences are far smaller among Gen Y.  There is far more gender equality among them.  For some Gen Y women, this may be a problem (“I can’t find a REAL man!”, said one). 

 * Gen Why?   Gen Y questions everything.  They do not swallow whole the values of Gen X. 

   There is much hope for the future.  The Great Generation, born in the ‘20s, fought and sacrificed for freedom.   The boomers and Gen X ruined our planet.  The Almogs believe Gen Y may be another Great Generation; they may save our planet, because they care about it.      

  Monarch Butterflies Are in Trouble!

By Shlomo  Maital    

        Monarch 2               

After blogging about the incredible monarch butterly and its 8,000 km. migration,  I am saddened to learn that the Monarchs are in trouble, because of us humans of course.  

    The annual migration south of the butterflies should have brought 60 million of them to their feeding grounds in Mexico. Instead only 3 million have arrived!   Yikes.  Why?

     Partly because farmers use tons of Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, which kills everything but genetically modified plants, engineered to resist it.  This means it also kills milkweed, which is exclusively what Monarch larvae eat. (Why? As I wrote – to make them poisonous and not tasty for birds). 

    Writing in the New York Times,  VERLYN KLINKENBORG summarizes the terrible threats to the Monarch butterflies:   “For the past 15 years, scientists have been watching monarch numbers plummet, as much as 81 percent between 1999 and 2010. They reached nearly catastrophic lows in the winter of 2009-2010 and have barely recovered since.   One recent study suggests that the long-term survival of the species may be in doubt. A few weeks ago, one of the scientists devoted to studying monarchs, Ernest Williams at Hamilton College, summarized for me the threats that have been reported in recent studies.   Nearly every link in the monarchs’ chain of being, he said, is at risk. Illegal logging in Mexico has reduced their winter habitat — an already vanishingly small area, which is itself being altered by the warming climate. Ecotourists who come to witness the congregation of so many butterflies disturb the creatures they have come to see. But perhaps most damaging is the demise of milkweed. What looks like agricultural success, purging bean and corn fields of milkweed (among other weeds), turns out to be butterfly disaster. This is the great puzzle of species conservation — it has to be effective at nearly every stage of a species’ life cycle. And this, too, is the dilemma of human behavior. We live in a world of unintended consequences of our own making, which can never be easily undone.”

     Over millions of years, Nature has evolved incredibly delicate, complex ecosystems.  When we damage one tiny part of it – a fragile butterly, an amazing bee – the whole system is endangered.  My grandchildren may one day see Monarch butterflies – in museums, on pins.  Alas. 


Has Capitalism Run Out of Gas?

By Shlomo  Maital

                car wreck            

  Capitalism – free market economics – has run out of gas.  Here is why.

   We continue to blame the ongoing financial crisis. But in the U.S. that ended a while ago, and American banks have cleaned up their balance sheets, and J.P. Morgan has even agreed to pay a $13 b. fine (a tiny indication of how much money they’re making anyway).   But the ‘recovery’ is stalled, the government shutdown made it worse, and a nagging question arises: Has capitalism run out of gas?

   As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman asks in his latest column, “what if the world we’ve been living in for the past five years [unemployment, stagnation, shrinking trade] is the new normal? What if depressionlike conditions are on track to persist…but decades?”

    U.S. household debt is again at record levels and continues to rise, as Americans try to maintain living standards despite stagnant incomes, by borrowing – even though businesses are deleveraging (shedding debt).  GDP growth is anemic. 

    Krugman cites economist Larry Summers, who told the IMF’s annual research conference that even WITH the housing bubble, U.S. economic growth was not that great –let alone without it. 

    What is going on?

    I think the answer is clear.   With nearly 75 per cent of GDP coming from personal consumption, America’s capitalist system needs people to keep on spending and spending, to buoy the economy.  But we are beginning to wake up to a bitter fact – we work harder and harder, longer and longer, to earn more and more, to buy stuff that brings us no satisfaction or sustained wellbeing, and lose twice – we lose quality time with our families, and find the price we pay for the resulting income,  the useless stuff we cram into our closets,  brings no compensation.  Two-time losers.

     There is a solution.  If we could replace some of the wasteful personal consumption with useful business investment, in infrastructure, schools, highways, fast trains, public transportation, universities, airports, fast broadband —   all the stuff that could repair America’s obsolete  infrastructure —  the economy would indeed grow.  But businesses are simply sitting on their cash, holding it mostly abroad, seeing no reason to invest if consumers are not spending much.  It’s a doom loop closed circle.  China resolved it by having the government undertake infrastructure investment.  In America this is called ‘socialism’ and even Democrats dislike it.  Too bad.

     We need to rethink the whole capitalist system.  When it runs out of steam, because people tire of buying the same old stuff and nothing really new comes along,  we are all in trouble.  Nothing any individual does can help much.  We need to get together, rethink the system, and invent a new one that truly does focus on the wellbeing of individuals and families, on the question, what truly brings sustained happiness?  Here is a clue – you can’t find it in a shopping center.

Putting China Into Perspective

By Shlomo  Maital   

                 chinamanufacturing 1          

   Writing in The Atlantic (August issue),  Matt Schiavenza (“China’s Dominance in Manufacturing  – in One Chart)  helps us put China’s massive industrial capacity into perspective.  In just over 3 decades after launching free-market reforms, China massively dominates global manufacturing.   Here are a few of the numbers:

 ●   China makes 320 m. PC’s every year, 91% of world output!

●  China makes 109 m. air conditioners (80% of world output), 320 m. energy-saving lamps (also 80% world market share),  21.8 gigawatts of solar cell production capacity (74% of global market),

●   1.1 b. cell phones, (71%),  12.6 b. pairs of shoes (nearly two pairs for every human being alive on the planet, or 63 % of world output), 

●  1.8 b. tons of cement (60% of world output),  51.5 m. tons of pork (half of world output), 1.8 b. tons of coal (half again),  and 77 m. metric tons of shipbuilding capacity (also half). 

     So in virtually all the world’s key manufacturing areas, China produces at least half of world output.  And now, China is designing a new jet liner, to be created and produced in China, to compete with Boeing and Airbus. 

      Rising wages are pricing China out of manufacturing?  Don’t hold your breath, Schiavenza counsels.  China has many advantages still, and in addition, a huge domestic market, that can replace any export demand that flags.  

How a Tiny Butterly Does the Impossible…So Can You!

By Shlomo  Maital    

     Monarch 1  Monarch 2                       


   Consider the amazing Monarch butterly, shown above.  They weigh only 0.4 grams  each, on average. This is a bit more than one one-hundredth of an ounce!  Yet they are able to engage in an annual migration of some 8,000 kms. (4,800 miles!).  The trip north to coastal California and Washington from Mexico each spring requires three to four generations, as eggs are laid on the way in spots where milkweed grows, caterpillars emerge, spin chrysalises, and become butterflies. 

   How in the world do light-as-air butterflies manage to fly so far, even through three or four generations?  They are very clever at using updrafts of warm air and air currents.  How do they avoid being eaten, as they fly in large butterly clouds?  Simple.  They eat milkweed.    Milkweed contains a toxic poison. So birds avoid Monarch butterflies, easily identifiable by the coloration, because eating them gives them a stomach ache, which birds learn the hard way.   The toxic poison is called cardiac glycosides, steroids that act like digitalis and stop the heart.  Not only do Monarchs have poison, they concentrate the poison in their wings, where birds tend to attack.  Monarchs have also evolved to mimic the viceroy butterly, in coloration, which is even more poisonous.

   Monarch butterflies live only for about 30 days.  But what a 30 days!  They are the only butterfly to do a north-south migration, flying north in the spring and south toward winter.   They migrate in huge clouds of millions of butterflies, an amazing sight.

     Monarch butterflies evolved through evolution, and are   proof of how wonderfully Nature does experiments that generate incredible creatures.  There are endless miracles like Monarch butterflies.  They should all, together, make us far more respectful of the wondrous planet in which we live,  which alas we seem intent on polluting and ruining.   How much we can all learn from a tiny fragile creature that weighs nothing yet has learned to survive by making an impossibly long journey every year. 

How an 8-Year-Old Changed the World, with Twitter

By Shlomo  Maital    


Vivienne Harr 

Nine-year-old Vivienne Harr, shown above in the blue “Princess” dress, was chosen by Twitter as one of three key Twitter users to ring the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, after Twitter launched its path-breaking initial public offering of stock (IPO).

    Why Vivienne?  Why a nine-year-old?   The New York Times reports that when she was 8, her parents showed her a photo of two young Nepalese boys hauling huge rocks down a mountain.  The whole quarry was filled with child slaves forced to do this work every single day.  Vivienne started a lemonade stand to raise money to end child slavery, with the goal of $100,000 by selling lemonade for a year.  By day 173, she hit her mark, giving $101,320 to the charity Not for Sale.

     Vivienne’s father Eric Harr is a social media expert.  He led a media-savvy Twitter campaign that attracted national attention for Vivienne’s cause – and made it possible for her to raise the huge sum.

    Then, the story gets better. The Harr’s built a business around the Nepalese cause.  Harr raised $982,000 in financing and incorporated Make a Stand.  The company sells fair-trade organic lemonade. Using special Washington State laws,  Make a Stand will give five per cent of its profit to charities that combat child slavery.   The business model?  Customers have no set price for the lemonade. They pay what they wish.  This is pure marketing genius.  Harr says, “no-one ever pays less” because of the cause – they pay more.   People don’t want a product, these days, he says, they want a cause. In other words, today, people buy WHY you make the product, not WHAT you make. 

    Vivienne is only 9 years old. And she has already made the world better for many Nepalese children.   What about us adults?  What are we doing to achieve just a fraction of what Vivienne has done so far?   Check out Make a Stand’s website.

Record corporate profits: As usual, workers pay the price

By Shlomo  Maital   

     Corp Profits


The Economist’s Buttonwood column, Nov. 2,  features a striking graph (see above), showing that “American corporate profits have defied gravity” and now are at record levels, at 11 per cent of GDP, well above levels seen since 1945. 

  If things are so bad, if the US economy is so weak, why are companies making so much money? 

   Well, interest rates are low, so their finance costs are small.

   But the main reason is low wages.  Pay has not kept pace with productivity.  With a weak labor market, employers squeeze ever-higher productivity and work out of workers, terrified of losing their jobs.  But pay has not kept pace with higher productivity. So all the gains have gone to capital.  All over the world, labor’s share of national income has fallen.  Capital’s share has risen. 

    Another cause, notes Buttonwood, is share buybacks.  CEO’s get share options that ‘vest’ (i.e. can be cashed in)   in four years.  So when they take the top job, they have an interest in maximizing share prices, cashing out, and scramming.  To do this, they engage in ‘share buybacks’ – they use corporate money to buy the company’s own shares.   This is a terrible idea for the long run, because businesses should have far better things to invest in (R&D, equipment, technology, human capital) than their own shares.  But myopic shareholders love it, CEO’s love it – and the practice is widespread.  Share buybacks reduce the number of shares outstanding, raise earnings per share,  and boost profit margins.   Often companies borrow money to buy back their own shares. This is definitely NOT what the Fed had in mind, when it slashed interest rates. The idea is to get businesses to invest. Instead they use their lending to buy their own shares.    Workers, as usual, are getting ripped off.


“Matryoshka” Battles Breast Cancer

By Shlomo  Maital  


     The Nov. 2 issue of The Economist (p. 74, ‘science and technology’) reports on how a brilliant MIT cancer researcher named Paula Hammond may have found a way to defeat triple-negative breast cancer, using a matryoshka doll approach.

  Triple negative cancer is hard to treat and is nearly always fatal.  Its cancer cells are armed with ‘molecular pumps’ that remove anti-cancer drugs used to treat them, by getting inside the cancer cells.  Here is how Hammond’s approach works.

   She created triple-layered chemical bombs, each a few nanometers across.  The outer layer is hyaluronic acid, a sugary polymer that cancer cells love, hence it accumulates inside them.  This homes in on cancer cells and gets inside them, like a Trojan Horse.

   Next layer is made of RNA, or SIRNA, small interfering RNA, tiny genes that interfere with protein production – specifically, in this case, the protein used by the cancer cells to pump out anti-cancer drugs.

  Finally, the inner layer, the payload of the ‘bomb’,  is a standard chemotherapy drug, doxorubicin.  Once the hyaluronic acid gets into the cell, and the SiRNA turns off the protein, the anti-cancer drug blows up the cancer cell. 

   It has been proven to work in mice.  In mice, it shrank the tumors or destroyed them entirely.   Let’s hope Hammond’s matryoshka doll invention gets to market soon, to help women suffering from the worst form of breast cancer.   


Alice Waters: Don’t Just Walk On By!

By Shlomo  Maital     

                Watersedible schoolyard


 Alice Waters is the founder of the iconic Berkeley, CA. restaurant, Chez Panisse, where you get wonderful, simple organic food beautifully cooked,  and the author of the book The Art of Simple Food. Here is a small story that perhaps can inspire us.

   On her way to her restaurant, each day, Alice passed a school, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.  It looked neglected.  She mentioned this to a local newspaper.  The principal Neil Smith read this and reached out to Waters. Waters went to see Smith. On the spot, off the top of her head, she came up with the Edible Schoolyard project.  “I saw this huge expanse of land (school grounds) and then this unused mess of a cafeteria, and I told Neil, ‘We have to grow food here, serve the food in free, healthy school lunches, and then the kids can be involved in the cooking.” 

   The result:  An asphalt wasteland was converted into the first Edible Schoolyard. 

   Today:  2,000 schools in all 50 states of the United States, and 29 other countries, are following Waters’ original model!

   Lesson:  Don’t just walk on by.   Do something. Act.   Creative thought is wonderful. Creative thought without action is like love without sex. 

    Thanks Alice! 

Tweetie, Twitter & the Secret of Tweets

By Shlomo  Maital    


        Yesterday, Thursday Nov. 7, Twitter launched its IPO. Its stock started at $26, rose to over $50 and ended at around $44.  Twitter began its stockmarket life with a market capitalization of $25 b., bigger than that of half the  companies on the S&P 500 index. It raised billions in capital, that it will use to make acquisitions and to scale up its activities.

   What is Twitter’s secret?  What’s so great about ‘tweets’ that 200 m. people follow them?  Why does Justin Beeber have 46 million true believers?  And – what would Tweetie Pie say about Twitter, if she just had a rest from Sylvester’s pursuit?  Are we in another IPO bubble, like the bubble?  Is Twitter really worth $44?

   I recently had the privilege of meeting Greg Pass, former CTO of Twitter, in New York City.  Greg designed the technology.  Here is how Paul Ford analyzes Twitter’s amazing behind-the-scenes technology, in Bloomberg Business Week today.  His explanation is rather long, 857 words, but worth reading, it shows how clever inventors shape technology to the lifestyle, values and culture of today’s young people:


●  “Consider the tweet. It’s short—140 characters and done—but hardly simple. If you open one up and look inside, you’ll see a remarkable clockwork, with 31 publicly documented data fields. Why do these tweets, typically born of a stray impulse, need to carry all this data with them?  While a tweet thrives in its timeline, among the other tweets, it’s also designed to stand on its own, forever. Any tweet might show up embedded inside a million different websites.   It may be called up and re-displayed years after posting. For all their supposed ephemerality, tweets have real staying power.

● “Once born, they’re alone and must find their own way to the world, like a just-hatched sea turtle crawling to the surf. Luckily they have all of the information they need in order to make it: A tweet knows the identity of its creator, whether bot or human, as well as the location from which it originated, the date and time it went out, and dozens of other little things—so that wherever it finds itself, the tweet can be reconstituted. Millennia from now an intelligence coming across a single tweet could, like an archaeologist pondering a chunk of ancient skull, deduce an entire culture.  

● “All tweets share the same anatomy. To examine the guts of a tweet, you request an “API key” from Twitter, which is a fast, automated procedure. You then visit special Web addresses that, instead of nicely formatted Web pages for humans to read, return raw data for computers to read. That data is expressed in a computer language—a smushed-up nest of brackets and characters. It’s a simplified version of JavaScript called JSON, which stands for JavaScript Object Notation. API essentially means “speaks (and reads) JSON.” The language comes in a bundle of name/value fields, 31 of which make up a tweet. For example, if a tweet has been “favorited” 25 times, the corresponding name is “favorite_count” and “25” is the value. 

● “From a single tweet and with no other information, you can extract a sense of social influence—how big a voice an individual has, the number of people they reach, the number of people who engaged with this particular tweet. Tweets themselves are just regular text (although text on a computer is anything but regular; there are dozens of abstractions that make it possible for an “a” to appear on a screen—but it’s safe to gloss over that). Here it is, 140 characters, a plain little beastie. You might be fooled into thinking there’s hardly anything there.  That’s the genius of Twitter. All of this scaffolding has emerged around a very basic human impulse. A tweet is the manifestation of the human desire to communicate with many other humans at once—to exercise some influence, to inform, amuse, or outrage.

   ● “Of course, people have been informing, amusing, and outraging each other forever.  First, Twitter discovered that blogging is hard. At the time of its birth in 2006, many people in traditional media mistakenly thought that blogging was too easy, and would lead to a profligacy of voices and perhaps even the downfall of polite society. But creating and maintaining an old-fashioned blog took time, effort, and an audience. Twitter democratized blogging by redefining it—the term “microblogging service” is today as meaningless as “microcomputer,” but that’s what Twitter was. It gave millions of people voices they might not have known they possessed—and now is in position to sell a place among those voices to advertisers.  Another of Twitter’s discoveries was that mobile phones could work as a broadcast platform. This was something of a miracle of timing: A massive proportion of its traffic today comes from mobile devices. The short length of the tweet was perfect for celebrities in limousines to communicate with thousands, and later millions, of followers. The tiny payload of tweets could be easily jammed into narrow mobile phone data streams, giving people a real-time flow of information.

   ● “Twitter started with a very simple form—a single box on the Web with a limit that kept people from inserting too many characters—and through tens of billions of repetitions became a network unto itself. It’s embedded within the Web’s culture, but it’s also so large that it’s separate from the rest of the Web. The technologies that go into building Twitter today are not the same technologies one uses to build a typical website. The tweet is the social network’s building block in the way that Web pages built the Web in the mid-1990s.  Twitter’s founders recognized that encouraging people to use a very small number of very tightly controlled forms, billions of times over, creates huge, deeply interconnected, highly creative, and potentially profitable new spaces.

● “It’s as if you could, with exactly the right kind of bricks, build a skyscraper that was infinitely tall. Twitter, like its half-sibling Facebook (FB), became so powerful that people now use it to log on to other websites; your Twitter identity is a major component of your Web identity. And today major news properties and blogs increasingly look like Twitter: infinite streams of data, tags, and voices.”




Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
November 2013