Monthly Archives: June 2015

Greece made simple

So Greece owes $310 billion euros to a range of lenders – but note $107 billion were written off by private lenders in 2012, so this brings Greek total debt to almost a half trillion dollars:

Greek lenders and amounts lent

Note that the IMF is a relatively small lender and the “Greek Public Sector” and the EU are large.

The story is a really sad one. Maybe it traces back to 1981, when Greece joined the EU. But arguably the real beginning is 2001, when they joined the Eurozone. As the newest member of the Eurozone, they were fortunate (???) to join as the economy was picking up steam. The go-go years were 2001-2007, when lenders poured money into this promising new member – almost a half trillion dollars!

Thus is it that they were the hardest hit when the recession hit in late 2007. They have been paying a steep price for this massive credit splurge in 2001-2007.

So – – – in summary:

As with so many stories, this one has two sides:

1) a poor country fighting to get resources – to get out of poverty and build a better life for its citizens (don’t believe anyone who starts their story here with “those Greek corrupt politicians”)
2) rich countries who love being bankers – to extend their reach and influence and income while feeling good about trying to help their poor neighbors (don’t believe anyone who starts their story with “those greedy German bankers…”.

Ok, OK, so Greek pride got the best of them when they borrowed almost a half trillion dollars!!!!! 12 million people ….. borrow a half trillion dollars?????!!!!!!

OK, OK, so us rich people got a little carried away when those nice Greeks kept wanting to borrow more ….. so what’s another 100 million when everyone is feeling so fine??????

A few sources explain in ways I trust:

NYT explains
Financial Times Coverage

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/business/international/greece-debt-crisis-euro.html?_r=0

Fortune Magazine Q&A

Everything to Know About Greece’s Economic Crisis
Geoffrey Smith / Fortune June 29, 2015

How Greece and the eurozone ended up in this mess, and where they go from here

Q. How did we get here?

A. Long story. Greece’s economy was never strong enough to share a currency with Germany’s, but both sides pretended it was, as it satisfied Greek pride and Germany’s ambitions (suffused with war guilt) of building an ‘Ever Closer Union’ in a new, democratic Europe. Reckless lending by French and German banks allowed the Greeks to finance widening budget and current account deficits for six years, but private capital flows dried up sharply after the 2008 crisis, forcing Greece to seek help from Eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund in 2010.

Q. But all that was 5 years ago. How has Greece not managed to turn the corner since then, when every other Eurozone country that took a bailout has?

A. Greece was the first country to ask for help, and the Eurozone was totally unprepared for it on all levels–political, technological, emotional, whatever. The IMF, too, had no experience of dealing with a country in a monetary union. Consequently, the bailout was badly conceived (a point admitted at the weekend by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was head of the IMF at the time), focusing too much on the budget balance and not enough on fixing Greece’s uniquely dysfunctional state apparatus. In a normal recession, government spending can offset the negative effects of private demand contracting, but in this case, the budgetary austerity drove Greece into a vicious spiral. The economy contracted by 25% between 2010 and 2014, fatally weakening Greece’s ability ever to repay its debts.

Q. But didn’t Greece already get a load of debt relief?

A. Yes, €107 billion of it in a 2012 debt restructuring, the biggest in history. But it was only private creditors–i.e., bondholders–who took the hit. The Eurozone and IMF refused to write down their claims (although they did soften the repayment terms), and the new bailout agreement was based on more assumptions (since exposed as too rose-tinted) that Greece could grow itself out of its troubles. The economy continued to shrink in absolute terms and unemployment shot over 25%, forcing an ever bigger burden of taxation onto fewer and fewer shoulders. That created the political environment for this year’s crisis.

Q. You make it sound like this year is different from the previous four…

A. Victory for the radical left-wing Syriza party at elections in January completely changed the political dynamic. Previous governments had come from the political mainstream, and reluctantly played along with rules dictated in Brussels and, indirectly, Berlin. Syriza didn’t have any truck with that. It has campaigned for a 50% write-off of its debts and a relaxation of its budget targets. It has been openly confrontational and reversed key reforms made by the previous governments, despite promising the creditors in February that it wouldn’t. Syriza’s tactics–embodied by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor specializing in Game Theory–have been a gamble that the Eurozone would rather make concessions than risk the economic havoc caused by a Greek exit.

5. That gamble has failed, hasn’t it?

As of today, yes. It’s Greece, yet again, which is bearing the burden of everything: the economy had shown signs of bottoming out before Syriza came to power, with business sentiment at its highest in seven years after a very good tourist season in 2014. But the brinkmanship has destroyed confidence, and caused a sharp rise in government arrears and deposit flight, capped now by capital controls and a week-long closure of the banking system. Eurozone financial markets aren’t taking it well, but the prospect of a ‘shock and awe’ intervention by the ECB is keeping the sell-off within limits Monday morning. A real “Grexit” may yet wreak havoc on the Eurozone too, but it’s unlikely that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be around that long to reap the political rewards.

Q. Aren’t the creditors to blame too?

A. For sure, there’s plenty of blame to go round. Most people now recognize that the banks that had lent to Greece pre-crisis should have been forced to take more losses in 2009/2010. Now the Eurozone has effectively swapped the private loans for public ones, any debt write-offs have enormous political costs at home. But governments in Germany and elsewhere have made a rod for their own back by being so stubborn. When Greece defaults, they’re going to lose billions anyway, and the cost of their posturing will become clear to taxpayers who have only been told half the story. They have squandered a host of opportunities to manage that loss in a more orderly way. By failing to accommodate more willing (if still inadequate) Greek governments with debt relief earlier, they prepared the ground for Syriza’s rise.

Q. What happens next?

A. Greece will miss a payment to the IMF Tuesday, and its bailout will expire the same day. The ECB seems likely to ignore the default at least until the planned referendum on Sunday, anxious to avoid responsibility for precipitating the total collapse of the financial system. The creditors are hoping the Greek government will capitulate under the pressure, and be replaced by a new ‘government of national unity’. There’s no sign of that happening yet.

Q. But how long can the current situation go on?

A. The banks are closed until July 7, after the referendum. As long as they still have the lifeline of the ECB’s emergency credit facility (over €85 billion), the banks and the government can continue to operate, albeit in a very restricted fashion. But the government is due to repay €3.5 billion in debts to the ECB on July 20, and if it can’t do that, then the ECB will have to accept that the Greek state is bankrupt, and cancel that credit line. At that point, the banks will be insolvent, and it will only be possible to restore their solvency by re-denominating the rest of their liabilities (i.e. deposits) in a new Greek currency.

Q. How, legally, does Greece leave the Eurozone?

A. Nobody knows. Like Cortes burning his boats after arriving in Mexico, the E.U. deliberately chose not to draft rules for that eventuality when it formed its currency union. There are rules for leaving the E.U., but even Syriza doesn’t want to do that. We will be, as Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said at the weekend, “in completely uncharted waters.”

They’ll be damned choppy waterss, too.

Q. How did we get here?

A. Long story. Greece’s economy was never strong enough to share a currency with Germany’s, but both sides pretended it was, as it satisfied Greek pride and Germany’s ambitions (suffused with war guilt) of building an ‘Ever Closer Union’ in a new, democratic Europe. Reckless lending by French and German banks allowed the Greeks to finance widening budget and current account deficits for six years, but private capital flows dried up sharply after the 2008 crisis, forcing Greece to seek help from Eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund in 2010.

Q. But all that was 5 years ago. How has Greece not managed to turn the corner since then, when every other Eurozone country that took a bailout has?

A. Greece was the first country to ask for help, and the Eurozone was totally unprepared for it on all levels–political, technological, emotional, whatever. The IMF, too, had no experience of dealing with a country in a monetary union. Consequently, the bailout was badly conceived (a point admitted at the weekend by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was head of the IMF at the time), focusing too much on the budget balance and not enough on fixing Greece’s uniquely dysfunctional state apparatus. In a normal recession, government spending can offset the negative effects of private demand contracting, but in this case, the budgetary austerity drove Greece into a vicious spiral. The economy contracted by 25% between 2010 and 2014, fatally weakening Greece’s ability ever to repay its debts.

Q. But didn’t Greece already get a load of debt relief?

A. Yes, €107 billion of it in a 2012 debt restructuring, the biggest in history. But it was only private creditors–i.e., bondholders–who took the hit. The Eurozone and IMF refused to write down their claims (although they did soften the repayment terms), and the new bailout agreement was based on more assumptions (since exposed as too rose-tinted) that Greece could grow itself out of its troubles. The economy continued to shrink in absolute terms and unemployment shot over 25%, forcing an ever bigger burden of taxation onto fewer and fewer shoulders. That created the political environment for this year’s crisis.

Q. You make it sound like this year is different from the previous four…

A. Victory for the radical left-wing Syriza party at elections in January completely changed the political dynamic. Previous governments had come from the political mainstream, and reluctantly played along with rules dictated in Brussels and, indirectly, Berlin. Syriza didn’t have any truck with that. It has campaigned for a 50% write-off of its debts and a relaxation of its budget targets. It has been openly confrontational and reversed key reforms made by the previous governments, despite promising the creditors in February that it wouldn’t. Syriza’s tactics–embodied by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor specializing in Game Theory–have been a gamble that the Eurozone would rather make concessions than risk the economic havoc caused by a Greek exit.

5. That gamble has failed, hasn’t it?

As of today, yes. It’s Greece, yet again, which is bearing the burden of everything: the economy had shown signs of bottoming out before Syriza came to power, with business sentiment at its highest in seven years after a very good tourist season in 2014. But the brinkmanship has destroyed confidence, and caused a sharp rise in government arrears and deposit flight, capped now by capital controls and a week-long closure of the banking system. Eurozone financial markets aren’t taking it well, but the prospect of a ‘shock and awe’ intervention by the ECB is keeping the sell-off within limits Monday morning. A real “Grexit” may yet wreak havoc on the Eurozone too, but it’s unlikely that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be around that long to reap the political rewards.

Q. Aren’t the creditors to blame too?

A. For sure, there’s plenty of blame to go round. Most people now recognize that the banks that had lent to Greece pre-crisis should have been forced to take more losses in 2009/2010. Now the Eurozone has effectively swapped the private loans for public ones, any debt write-offs have enormous political costs at home. But governments in Germany and elsewhere have made a rod for their own back by being so stubborn. When Greece defaults, they’re going to lose billions anyway, and the cost of their posturing will become clear to taxpayers who have only been told half the story. They have squandered a host of opportunities to manage that loss in a more orderly way. By failing to accommodate more willing (if still inadequate) Greek governments with debt relief earlier, they prepared the ground for Syriza’s rise.

Q. What happens next?

A. Greece will miss a payment to the IMF Tuesday, and its bailout will expire the same day. The ECB seems likely to ignore the default at least until the planned referendum on Sunday, anxious to avoid responsibility for precipitating the total collapse of the financial system. The creditors are hoping the Greek government will capitulate under the pressure, and be replaced by a new ‘government of national unity’. There’s no sign of that happening yet.

Q. But how long can the current situation go on?

A. The banks are closed until July 7, after the referendum. As long as they still have the lifeline of the ECB’s emergency credit facility (over €85 billion), the banks and the government can continue to operate, albeit in a very restricted fashion. But the government is due to repay €3.5 billion in debts to the ECB on July 20, and if it can’t do that, then the ECB will have to accept that the Greek state is bankrupt, and cancel that credit line. At that point, the banks will be insolvent, and it will only be possible to restore their solvency by re-denominating the rest of their liabilities (i.e. deposits) in a new Greek currency.

Q. How, legally, does Greece leave the Eurozone?

A. Nobody knows. Like Cortes burning his boats after arriving in Mexico, the E.U. deliberately chose not to draft rules for that eventuality when it formed its currency union. There are rules for leaving the E.U., but even Syriza doesn’t want to do that. We will be, as Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said at the weekend, “in completely uncharted waters.”

They’ll be damned choppy waters, too.

References:

Harvard analysis of Vacation Days

HuffPost and the 3rd metric

Today’s NYT has a long story on the HuffPost, it’s acquisition by AOL, then Verizon; its toxic culture; its success why’s; and Ariana’s “third metric”: detoxing electronics, sleep, and reflection.

=============
One morning in March, a dozen Huffington Post staff members gathered around a glass table in Arianna Huffington’s office. They had been summoned to deliver a progress report to Huffington, the site’s president, editor in chief and co-founder, on a new initiative, What’s Working. It was created to help the site cover solutions, rather than focusing only on the world’s problems — or as Huffington explained in an internal memo in January, to ‘‘start a positive contagion by relentlessly telling the stories of people and communities doing amazing things, overcoming great odds and facing real challenges with perseverance, creativity and grace.’’
Huffington, who is 64, was getting over a cold, and coughed hoarsely now and then. She sipped a soy cappuccino through a straw as she asked for updates in her purring, singsongy Greek accent. One by one, staff members went through their story lists: corporations with innovative plans to reduce water use, a nonprofit putting former gang members to work, Muslims confronting radicalism. Huffington kept the pace brisk; she sounded like a person in a hurry trying hard to not sound like one. When an editor hashed out ways to present a new, recurring feature called the What’s Working Media Honor Roll — a roundup of similarly positive journalism from other publications — she suggested that he launch first and tinker later.
‘‘I think let’s start iterating,’’ she said. ‘‘Let’s not wait for the perfect product.’’
What’s Working might sound like a significant departure for a site that, like most media outlets, thrives on tales of conflict and wrongdoing. But in a sense What’s Working is not a departure at all. The Huffington Post has always been guided by the question: What works? Namely, what draws traffic? The answer has changed constantly. When Huffington co-founded the site in 2005, Facebook was still just a network for college students. Today, roughly half her mobile traffic comes from social media, Facebook above all. Arguably, this shift in browsing habits, as much as Huffington’s distaste for the media’s built-in bias toward negativity, helped inspire What’s Working. The initiative is in part an effort to get readers to share more Huffington Post stories on Facebook.
‘‘The numbers are amazing,’’ Huffington said as staff members filed out. ‘‘You’re not as likely to share a story of a beheading. Right? I mean, you’ll read it.’’
Within The Huffington Post, and away from the glass table, some staff members have fretted that What’s Working could result in a steady drip of pallid, upbeat stories (e.g., ‘‘How Hugh Jackman’s Coffee Brand Is Changing Lives’’). But it’s hard to argue with Huffington’s intuitions when it comes to generating traffic. Her site has more than 200 million unique visitors each month, according to comScore, and it is one of the country’s top online destinations for news.
Nevertheless, in May, Huffington’s tenure as editor in chief was briefly in question. The site’s corporate parent, AOL, was sold to Verizon for $4.4 billion, and Huffington was forced to spend a few weeks negotiating the terms of the site’s future with her new overlords. During that process, AOL revealed that two suitors, earlier in the year, tried to buy The Huffington Post for $1 billion, or roughly four times what Jeff Bezos paid for The Washington Post two years ago. Plainly, to certain investors, digital media companies are valuable because they deliver enormous audiences. Any difficulty turning a profit — The Huffington Post broke even last year on $146 million in revenue, according to someone familiar with the site’s finances — is considered a temporary problem that will eventually be fixed by the sheer size of the readership.
This singular focus on audience development expresses itself in different ways at different publications. At The Huffington Post, it takes the shape of an editorial mandate that, much like the universe itself, is unfathomably broad and constantly expanding. At least in theory, nothing gets past its editors and writers. They cover, in most cases through aggregation, everything from Federal Reserve policy to celebrity antics, from Islamic State atrocities to parenting tips, supplemented with a steady stream of uncategorizable click bait (‘‘Can Cannibalism Fight Brain Disease? Only Sort Of’’).
To work at The Huffington Post is to run a race without a finish line, at a clip that is forever quickening. The pace is stressful for many employees, who describe a newsroom with plenty of turnover. One former staff member I spoke with, who developed an ulcer while working there, called The Huffington Post ‘‘a jury-rigged, discombobulated chaos machine.’’
Huffington may be the Internet’s most improbable media pioneer. This is her first job as an editor or publisher, and few would describe her as a techie. But as one of the first major media properties born in the full light of the digital age, The Huffington Post has always been a skunk works for the sorts of experiments that have come to define the news business in the Internet era.
In its early days, when most visits came through Google searches, the site mastered search-engine optimization (S.E.O.), the art of writing stories based on topics trending on Google and larding headlines with keywords. The site’s annual ‘‘What Time Is the Super Bowl?’’ post has become such a famous example of S.E.O.-driven non-news that other media outlets have written half-disgusted, half-admiring posts dissecting its history.
When most sites were merely guessing about what would resonate with readers, The Huffington Post brought a radical data-driven methodology to its home page, automatically moving popular stories to more prominent spaces and A-B testing its headlines. The site’s editorial director, Danny Shea, demonstrated to me how this works a few months ago, opening an online dashboard and pulling up an article about General Motors. One headline was ‘‘How GM Silenced a Whistleblower.’’ Another read ‘‘How GM Bullied a Whistleblower.’’ The site had automatically shown different headlines to different readers and found that ‘‘Silence’’ was outperforming ‘‘Bully.’’ So ‘‘Silence’’ it would be. It’s this sort of obsessive data analysis that has helped web-headline writing become so viscerally effective.
Above all, from its founding in an era dominated by ‘‘web magazines’’ like Slate, The Huffington Post has demonstrated the value of quantity. Early in its history, the site increased its breadth on the cheap by hiring young writers to quickly summarize stories that had been reported by other publications, marking the birth of industrial aggregation.
Today, The Huffington Post employs an armada of young editors, writers and video producers: 850 in all, many toiling at an exhausting pace. It publishes 13 editions across the globe, including sites in India, Germany and Brazil. Its properties collectively push out about 1,900 posts per day. In 2013, Digiday estimated that BuzzFeed, by contrast, was putting out 373 posts per day, The Times 350 per day and Slate 60 per day. (At the time, The Huffington Post was publishing 1,200 posts per day.) Four more editions are in the works — The Huffington Post China among them — and a franchising model will soon take the brand to small and midsize markets, according to an internal memo Huffington sent in late May.
Throughout its history, the site’s scale has also depended on free labor. One of Huffington’s most important insights early on was that if you provide bloggers with a big enough stage, you don’t have to pay them. This audience-for-content trade has been imitated successfully by outlets like Thought Catalog and Bleacher Report, a sports-news website that Turner Broadcasting bought in 2012 for somewhere between $150 million and $200 million.

Throughout its history, the site’s scale has also depended on free labor. One of Huffington’s most important insights
As this more-is-better ethos has come to define the industry, shifts in online advertising have begun to favor publications that already attract large audiences. Display advertising — wherein advertisers pay each time an ad is shown to a reader — still dominates the market. But native advertising, designed to match the look and feel of the editorial content it runs alongside, has been on the rise for years. BuzzFeed, the media company started in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of The Huffington Post, was built to rely entirely on native advertising. The Huffington Post offers to make its advertisers custom quizzes, listicles, slide shows, videos, infographics, feature articles and blog posts. Prices start at $130,000 for three pieces of content. This is where size matters; top-tier sites can fetch premium rates because advertisers know their messages could be seen by millions. There have been concerns that readers might be deceived by native ads if they are not properly identified — The Huffington Post always clearly labels its sponsored content — but the ethical debate in the media world is over. Socintel360, a research firm, predicts that spending on native advertising in the United States will more than double in the next four years to $18.4 billion.
Kenneth Lerer, another Huffington Post co-founder, believes that news start-ups today are like cable-television networks in the early ’80s: small, pioneering companies that will be handsomely rewarded for figuring out how to monetize your attention through a new medium. If this is so, the size of The Huffington Post’s audience could one day justify that $1 billion valuation. But at least in cable, the ratings-driven mania of sweeps week comes only four times a year.
Even as she oversees an international news operation, Huffington spends most of her days and nights in a globe-spanning run of lectures, parties, talk shows, conferences and meetings, a never-ending tour that she chronicles in a dizzying Instagram feed. Her stamina is a source of awe to members of what she calls her A-Team — the A is for Arianna — a group of 9 or so Huffington Post staff members who, in addition to their editorial duties, help keep her in perpetual motion. Within the organization, A-Team jobs are known to be all-consuming — but also, for those who last, a ticket to promotion later on. While some stick around for years, many A-Teamers endure only about 12 months before calling it quits or asking to be transferred.
The first time I saw Huffington’s unremitting style up close was in New Haven last year, at the start of a tour to promote her self-help book, ‘‘Thrive.’’ In all of our interviews, she was warm and entertaining. She has a politician’s gift for seeming sincerely interested, having learned that nothing is so disarming as asking personal questions and then listening. She also has a comic’s timing. At a Barnes & Noble onstage chat in Manhattan, shortly before the trip to New Haven, the moderator, Katie Couric, asked her who was to blame for the merciless pace of life in corporate America. Huffington paused for a moment. Then she turned to the audience.
‘‘Men,’’ she deadpanned.
In her talk, she described her own transformation from fast-lane addict to evangelist for reflection, sleep and ‘‘digital detoxing’’ — basically, turning off your smartphone whenever possible. This is a catechism she has branded the ‘‘third metric’’ of success, with money and power being the first two. Her conversion narrative begins on the morning of April 6, 2007, when she collapsed from exhaustion. She fell to the floor in her home office, hitting her face on her desk and breaking her cheekbone. Medical tests found nothing that could explain the episode. Huffington realized that her lifestyle, which at the time was filled with 18-hour workdays, seven days a week, was wrecking her health.
‘‘By any sane definition of success,’’ she told the crowd that day in New Haven, ‘‘if you are lying in your office in a pool of blood, you are not a success.’’
The speech, which I caught a few times, is always a hit. Huffington presents herself as a redemption story, someone who overdosed on her mobile phone and survived to warn others. She looks the part, too: a Dolce & Gabbana-ed woman of a certain age, perfectly at ease, regularly brushing back a forelock of honey-blond hair with her fingers. After the speech in New Haven, people lined up to have their copies of ‘‘Thrive’’ signed. One by one, they offered Huffington variations of, ‘‘You are an inspiration.’’ Some shared their own success stories.
One woman told her: ‘‘In the horse world, I do holistic care, and I’m embarking on a barn that’s cutting-edge. It’s all about positive reinforcement.’’
‘‘We’d love you to write about it!’’ Huffington exclaimed.
Five years ago, in 2010, the site was successful, attracting nearly 25 million unique visitors a month, but it lacked the money Huffington felt it needed to expand. So it seemed fortunate when, later that year, she met Tim Armstrong, chief executive of AOL, at a media conference in New York.
‘‘He asked to meet with me privately, and he said: ‘What do you want to do with The Huffington Post?’ ’’ Huffington recalled. ‘‘And I said, ‘I want to be a global company, I want us to be everywhere in the world.’ ’’
Armstrong offered $315 million, and on Feb. 7, 2011, AOL announced the acquisition. Huffington was made the head of the Huffington Post Media Group, an entity that would control AOL’s empire of content — an odd mixture of offerings including Moviefone, TechCrunch, Engadget, MapQuest, Autoblog, AOL Music and the collection of hundreds of hyperlocal websites called Patch. In a stroke, Huffington found herself overseeing a diverse portfolio with 117 million unique visitors per month in the United States and 270 million around the world. She also managed several thousand editors, writers, bloggers and business staff members.
Initially, Armstrong and Huffington seemed like a natural match. Each is a fan of big ideas that can be executed quickly; each prizes boldness and energy. At one AOL meeting with brand managers, Armstrong ribbed his underlings by recounting how Huffington called him on a Sunday to tell him what was wrong with AOL’s home page. Why had no one else done that?
Integrating a group of such varied websites and personnel would have posed a challenge to any manager. For one who admits to having little interest in organization and planning, it was impossible. Huffington preferred to improvise, and she did so aggressively — ‘‘like a hockey player,’’ as one former AOL executive put it, with some admiration.
A clash of cultures, however, was soon evident. Many of AOL’s sites did little more than promote their sponsors; AOL Real Estate, for instance, was mainly a home for Bank of America ads, next to stories about the joys of mortgage refinancing. In an attempt to restore some semblance of editorial integrity, Huffington fired the freelancers who worked for the site and replaced them with young staff members. Many were recent graduates of Yale — her feeder of choice — whose chief qualification, aside from the obvious, was a willingness to work for a pittance. But the hiring spree was rushed and filled the sites with fledglings. Page views plunged, irking corporate sponsors.
At first, many on Armstrong’s team had been awed by her energy and range, but they quickly grasped that these didn’t always translate into results. ‘‘No one else could give a commencement speech at Smith one day, meet the prime minister of Japan on Tuesday and debate the Middle East on MSNBC on Wednesday,’’ one former executive said. ‘‘But that doesn’t mean she knows the ins and outs of running Moviefone.’’ It didn’t help that AOL stock, following the acquisition, had fallen to less than $12 by August from just above $20 at the time of the purchase half a year earlier. At some point, Huffington stopped going to meetings of AOL executives, and in April 2012, an organizational reshuffling quietly moved every AOL site except The Huffington Post out of Huffington’s portfolio. Her tenure as AOL content czar was over.
By then, Huffington was having a serious case of seller’s remorse. During a tech conference, she was overheard at a bar in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., talking to the venture capitalist Scott Stanford, then a Goldman Sachs banker. Speaking in a voice loud enough for many to hear, she posed questions like, ‘‘Who would buy The Huffington Post?’’ and ‘‘How much would it fetch?’’ Around that time, Huffington Post employees recall, she went on trips with very rich people and returned with news that the site was about to be purchased again, this time for $1 billion.
But The Huffington Post was no longer Huffington’s to sell, and AOL seemed uninterested in parting with it. By October 2012, discontent with Huffington was widespread enough that top executives at AOL were quietly strategizing about ways to ease her into a kind of ceremonial role — one in which she would only promote the site rather than running its day-to-day operations. (A source said the effort was given a one-word shorthand: ‘‘Popemobile.’’ Like the Pope in his bulletproof bubble, Huffington would glide through the world and wave.) The idea never caught on, mostly because it was clear Huffington would never agree to it, and by May of this year, when Verizon announced its acquisition of AOL, it had long been abandoned.
Verizon went after AOL principally for its ad-buying technologies, but in mid-June, Verizon’s C.E.O. and chairman, Lowell McAdam, said he was committed to keeping The Huffington Post, as incidental as its acquisition may have been. Huffington, whose contract with AOL expired earlier in the year, wanted guarantees that Verizon would finance the site’s growth and keep its hands off articles with which it may have a difference of opinion — those on net neutrality, for instance.
Soon after the Verizon-AOL deal was announced, Huffington began to negotiate her future and the future of The Huffington Post. According to two sources, Armstrong suggested closing the acquisition first and prodding Verizon to make promises about The Huffington Post later. Huffington refused, and she held out until mid-June, when Verizon pledged more than $100 million a year for ongoing operations and vowed to give the site editorial autonomy. (Others with knowledge of the talks say that no financial commitments have been made yet.) The money will allow The Huffington Post to broaden its video offerings, supporting a 24-hour online network and what Huffington called, in an internal memo, a ‘‘rapid-response satire unit.’’ Assurances in hand, Huffington signed a new four-year contract that will keep her in situ as editor in chief.
None of this necessarily means that The Huffington Post will remain in Verizon’s permanent portfolio. In fact, if Verizon’s real goal is to offload the site, it has done exactly what it should to burnish the asset for eventual sale. Were suitors to come courting again, they would surely offer less for a Huffington-less Huffington Post.
That is not to say that Huffington is inexpensive to keep around. She flies all around the planet, occasionally with members of the A-Team in tow. A-Team duties include tending to Huffington’s Twitter account, her Instagram feed and her Facebook posts; running her errands; organizing her day; planning her travel; and prepping her speeches, which, if they aren’t pro bono, cost at least $100,000. One former A-Teamer recalled loading The Huffington Post on Huffington’s computer when she showed up at the office.
‘‘Arianna doesn’t surf the web,’’ the former A-Teamer explained. ‘‘She reads stories that people send on her iPhone, and she sends and receives emails on her BlackBerry. But I’ve never seen her on a computer, surfing the web.’’ Huffington said that this is not true, and stated that she ditched her BlackBerry nearly two years ago. But more than a dozen former and current Huffington Post staff members said they had never seen her so much as open a web browser.
Some former employees file this in the category, Things at Odds With Arianna’s Public Image. Also in this category is the vibe at The Huffington Post’s downtown Manhattan office. Despite its nap rooms, meditation rooms and breathing classes, which were introduced as Huffington entered her ‘‘Thrive’’ phase, it is described as a surpassingly difficult place to work.
Much of this difficulty is inherent to life at an Internet news site, where victory means beating the competition by a matter of seconds with a post that might yield gobs of traffic. This is why so many editors and writers at The Huffington Post remain at their desks during lunch and keep an eye on the web at all times. If, while you’re offline, three new Instagram filters are announced and you’re late to post the news, that’s a problem. ‘‘Just about everyone works continuously, whether you’re at the office or not,’’ one former employee said. ‘‘That little green light that says you’re available on Gchat is what matters.’’
Low pay worsens the strain. One former employee said that some staff members take second jobs to cover their expenses. Some tutor; others wait on tables; others babysit. (A representative for The Huffington Post said the company was unaware of any moonlighting.) Many staff members rely on what has been called ‘‘HuffPost lunch’’ — Luna Bars, carrots, hummus, apples, bananas and sometimes string cheese, all served gratis in a kitchen area of the office.
Inevitably, there is burnout. At the New York office, nearly two dozen employees have left since the start of this year, either because they were laid off or found more enticing and less hectic jobs. A Gawker post in early June, written by an anonymous former staff member, said the recent departures were hardly a surprise because the place has long been ‘‘so brutal and toxic it would meet with approval from committed sociopaths.’’
A former editor told me about a period in 2013 when a series of departures left a cluster of empty desks along a wall that Huffington walks past on the way to her office. ‘‘Someone told my manager, ‘Arianna is really stressed out about the number of people leaving, so we need a bunch of people to sit at those desks in the path from the elevator to her office, to make her feel better,’ ’’ the former editor said. ‘‘So we sat there, waiting to say: ‘Hello! Greetings!’ as she walked by. It was supposed to be for two hours, but she got there at about 3 in the afternoon instead of 11 in the morning. It was absurd. I had to interrupt my workday because this woman was stressed out, because so many people had left, because they were stressed out.’’ (A Huffington Post representative denied this story, saying it was ‘‘clearly made up by someone with an ax to grind.’’)
Staff members in Huffington’s inner circle must also contend with her superhuman endurance. Her oft-repeated claim to sleep eight hours a night notwithstanding, she rarely seems to be idle. Emails from her cease, several ex-employees told me, only between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
There are staff members who have stuck it out for years and speak highly of the site as a place to work. They say they form lasting bonds with co-workers and relish the sense that they are writing for millions of readers. Some, like Daniel Koh, a former A-Teamer, speak with a reverence and fondness for Huffington herself. Koh described her as a perfectionist of exceptional intellectual wattage, a leader who never raises her voice and never holds a grudge. ‘‘Was it intense, and long hours, and did she teach me to maximize my workday?’’ he said. ‘‘Absolutely.’’
But others who have worked closely with Huffington have found it a bruising experience, saying that she is perpetually on the lookout for signs of disloyalty, to a degree that bespeaks paranoia or, at the very least, pettiness. Employees cycle in and out of her favor, hailed as the site’s savior one moment, ignored the next. (The Gawker post called the office ‘‘essentially Soviet in its functioning.’’) ‘‘Everyone’s stock is shooting up or falling at any given moment, so everyone is rattled with uncertainty and insecurity,’’ one former employee said. ‘‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’’
When I asked Huffington about criticisms of the newsroom, she was unmoved. She pointed to the nap rooms and breathing classes as evidence that she took employee well-being seriously. Only the voices of current employees were worth listening to, she cautioned, because the opinions of people who were laid off or left were likely to skew negative. I noted that she seemed unwilling to accept any responsibility for what a lot of former employees said was a vexing atmosphere.
‘‘I’m definitely a work in progress,’’ she acknowledged. ‘‘I’m not by any means saying I’m perfect. But I feel very good about our culture here, because a lot of our top leaders have embraced it.’’
The Huffington Post is hardly the only web media company with a reputation as an arduous place to work. Nor is Huffington the only editor in chief considered capricious and exasperating by employees. But she is surely the first described in those terms to install hammocks in a newsroom. Only someone with her unique combination of drive and outward placidity could run a tremendously popular, hugely productive website and then begin a second career chastening us for our addiction to the Internet. Somehow she has pulled it off. In her site’s parenting section, some of the most successful posts target moms who are checking their Facebook feeds late at night, apparently yearning to be told that they shouldn’t be on Facebook at that hour. ‘‘You know, posts about, ‘Stop procrastinating and go sleep,’ ‘Disconnect your devices,’ ’’ said Ethan Fedida, the site’s senior social media editor. ‘‘They go crazy for it.’’
It’s as though Huffington is spreading an illness while simultaneously peddling the cure. Call it hypocrisy, but it testifies to her savvy. The business of web media is figuring out what people want — and if what we want is contradictory, why shouldn’t Huffington profit from that contradiction?
Huffington may be engaged in a bit of wishful projection when she presents herself as an apostle of serenity. But it is a veneer she never drops, at least in public. At the Barnes & Noble event for ‘‘Thrive’’ last year, the one moderated by Katie Couric, a young woman rose during the question-and-answer session.
‘‘What do you say to employers who are now seeking people specifically to work in social media?’’ she asked. ‘‘Our job is to be connected 24-7, where we have to manage your Facebook, your Instagram, your Twitter, your Pinterest. How do we detox when we’re told we have to be in the social-media revolution in order to earn our living?’’
After thinking for a moment, Huffington suggested that she tell her employer that tweets can be scheduled in advance, so she doesn’t have to be awake at all hours. Remind your boss that people are paid for their judgment, Huffington added, not their endurance. Couric then asked the young woman, ‘‘You think your boss would be receptive to that?’’
‘‘No,’’ she said, flatly.
All eyes turned back to Huffington. Some bosses are toxic, she offered, so start looking for a new job. With a smile, she added: ‘‘We’re hiring.’’

Future Watch: Home Electricity Power Shaping

Like the quantified self movement (my Nike Fuel Band and my Apple Watch), and like the quantified car movement (my Tesla and my Ford Escape Titanium), I am ready for the quantified home movement.

I have a specific interest – but it falls under the general class of the “smart home” or the “internet of things”. For the latest on these trends, check out:
Business Insider on Smart Home

Specifically, I am ready for “power shaping”. Here is how it will work:

The subject is: can you take greater control of the power you consume in your home? Can you shape it to who you are and what you need?

For example:

– If I leave home for a week, can I turn the water heater down to lukewarm, and turn it back up a hour before I project I will arrive back into the home?

– If I leave home for an evening, can I turn the lights off except for three that I choose, and then turn the lights back on when my smart phone detects that I am a mile from the house?

– if peak power pricing starts at 4 and ends at 7, can I turn off my draw from the grid and turn on my draw from the PowerWall battery in my garage? And can that then trigger a recharge of the PowerWall when prices are cheapest, between midnight and 6 am?

– if the US Weather Service predicts, three days before, that the sun will be bright and hot from 9 am to 6 pm, can I plan to use solar power to the maximum? I choose to draw all of my electricity from solar during that time period, and then to add any left over to recharge my PowerWall (or sell back to the grid). In fact, I will set s goal for myself that I will be 100% solar 50 days this year, 70%+ solar 100 days, and 50%+ solar 150 days – without any inconvenience to myself or my family. Also, my goal is to be 100% “off peak draw” (only draw from the grid during off peak periods) 300 days this year.

– my goal is to reduce electricity draw by 30% and cost by 40% (by shaping my draw to off peak). This saves $1000 per year.

Process is entirely driven by default choices. The most basic default is “keep on keeping on”.

But there are other defaults – that I can buy or download.

For example, my power consumption can be driven by “expert user algorithms” that others say are awesome. I take advantage of what some geek has figured out about electricity usage.

Then, I “opt in” over time, and I learn about algorithmic capabilities, assets that I own (like solar panels), and needs that I have.

Apps are evolving to support this future. Take “COMFY”, for example.This is from NYT:

A couple of computer scientists have developed a smartphone app that proposes to solve that problem by making people the thermostats. Users can tell the app, called Comfy, whether they are hot, cold or just right. Over time, it learns trends and preferences and tells the air-conditioning system when and where to throttle up or throttle back the cooling. So far it’s used in a dozen buildings, including some of Google’s offices and some government-owned buildings, for a total of three million square feet. The developers claim Comfy-equipped buildings realize savings of up to 25 percent in cooling costs.
“We have a lot of data that people are most comfortable if they have some measure of control,” said Gwelen Paliaga, a building systems engineer in Arcata, Calif., and chairman of a committee that develops standards for human thermal comfort for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, or Ashrae.

Amazon’s Echo

See NYT article below on Amazon’s Echo (and note comparisons to other voice command systems, such as Siri, Google Now, and Cortana:

“If it moves nimbly, keeping ahead of Apple and Google, Amazon could transform the Echo into a something like a residential hub, the one device to control pretty much everything attached to your home.”

Functionality at the moment is:

– telling you the weather
– playing music you ask for
– adding stuff to your shopping list
– reordering items you frequently buy from Amazon
– giving you a heads-up about your nearing calendar appointments
– setting a kitchen timer
– answering the most basic of search queries

Amazon Echo, a.k.a. Alexa, Is a Personal Aide in Need of Schooling
By FARHAD MANJOOJUNE 24, 2015

The Amazon Echo, a wireless speaker and artificially intelligent personal assistant, can tell you the weather, play music and reorder items you frequently buy from Amazon, among other things.

THIS week, I asked a friend for help: “Alexa, can you write this review for me?”
“What’s your question?” Alexa responded.
“Can you write this review for me?”
“Review is spelled R-E-V-I-E-W.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That about sums it up.”

O.K., so Alexa isn’t perfect; far from it, in fact. If there is one glaring flaw in the Amazon Echo — the tiny wireless speaker and artificially intelligent personal assistant, a machine that one always addresses with the honorific “Alexa,” as if she’s some kind of digital monarch — it is that she is quite stupid.

If Alexa were a human assistant, you’d fire her, if not have her committed. “Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard” is her favorite response, though honestly she really doesn’t sound very sorry. She’ll resort to that line whether you ask her questions answered by a simple Google search (“How much does a cup of flour weigh?”) or something more complicated (“Alexa, what was that Martin Scorsese movie with Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro?”).

Other times, she is mind-numbingly literal. One night during the N.B.A. playoffs, I asked, “Alexa, what’s the score of the basketball game?” She proceeded to give me a two-minute, 18-part definition of the word “score” that included “a seduction culminating in sexual intercourse.” Not exactly what I was going for.

And yet, after spending three weeks testing the Echo, I really kind of love Alexa. She is just smart enough to be useful. And she keeps getting smarter. This week, after a long invitation-only preview period, Amazon began selling the Echo to the public. At $179.99, Alexa is more expensive than I’d like. (Subscribers to Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime subscription service could buy the Echo for only $100 during the preview.) But if you’re the type who enjoys taking chances on early, halfway useful tech novelties, the Echo is a fun thing to try.

And if you’re anything like me, after a week with the Echo, you may feel the device begin to change how you think about home tech. It will not seem far-fetched to expect that one day soon, you’ll have an all-knowing, all-seeing talking assistant to control your lights, thermostat, entertainment system and just about anything else at home. In Alexa, Amazon has created the perfect interface to control your home; if it adds some more intelligence, it would be quite handy.

The Echo is a stout, plain-looking cylinder, about the height of a toaster, that you can park just about anywhere you have Wi-Fi access, though it seems most useful in the kitchen. It comes with a remote control that you don’t really need, because after a quick initial setup using your smartphone, you can control pretty much everything the Echo does with your voice. (The remote does have a microphone that allows you to speak to the Echo from far away.) From there, the Echo is terrifically easy to use — say “Alexa” and ask your question.

At the moment, there are only a handful of uses for the Echo. She’s great at telling you the weather, adding stuff to your shopping list, reordering items you frequently buy from Amazon, giving you a heads-up about your nearing calendar appointments, and answering the most basic of search queries.

She is pretty good at playing music, though her main source is Amazon Prime Music, a streaming service that is included with a Prime membership. Prime Music’s selection is dreadfully limited, though, and at the moment, the Echo can’t connect to many other streaming services. Thankfully, with a few quick voice commands, Alexa can connect to your phone like any other Bluetooth speaker. That way, she can take control of music you play from most apps, including streaming apps like Spotify. You can’t call out for specific songs this way, but you can say “Alexa, pause” or “Alexa, next” and she’ll control the tunes playing from your phone.

The Echo is also a very good kitchen timer. Put your cookies in the oven; yell out, “Alexa, set timer for 12 minutes”; and she’s off. It’s far easier than fumbling with buttons on the microwave, especially when you have your hands full.

But wait a minute — can’t you do pretty much all this on your phone, your smartwatch or many other devices? Yes, you can, but Alexa is right there. She’s always plugged in. She’s always listening, and she’s fast. It’s surprising how much of a difference a few milliseconds make in maintaining the illusion of intelligence in our machines. Because Alexa is far quicker to spring into action than Siri, Apple’s digital personal assistant, especially Siri on the Apple Watch, I found her to be much more pleasant to use, even if she is frequently wrong.

Amazon says that it plans to constantly improve the Echo. During the preview period, it added a host of new features, including the ability to control some smart-home devices, built-in integration with the Pandora streaming service, and traffic information for your morning commute. I’m hoping Amazon creates an open system — what developers call an API — for the Echo, which will allow a wide variety of online services and apps to connect to the device. If it moves nimbly, keeping ahead of Apple and Google, Amazon could transform the Echo into a something like a residential hub, the one device to control pretty much everything attached to your home.

At the moment, that dream is far off. But dumb as she sometimes sounds, Alexa may be just smart enough to make it happen.

Precision Wellness at Mt Sinai

My Sinai announcement

Mount Sinai to Establish Precision Wellness Center to Advance Personalized Healthcare

Mount Sinai Health System Launches Telehealth Initiatives

Joshua Harris, co-Founder of Apollo Global Management, and his wife, Marjorie has made a $5 million gift to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to establish the Harris Center for Precision Wellness. As part of the part of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, the new center will leverage innovative approaches to health monitoring and wellness management by integrating emerging technologies in digital health, data science, and genomics to enable people’s health to be treated in precise, highly individualized ways.

A first-of-its-kind at a major U.S. academic medical institution, the precision wellness research programs will be closely tied to clinical initiatives across the Mount Sinai Health System. The Harris Center’s immediate efforts will focus on digital health, molecular profiling, and data science. The Center is evaluating the usability of wearable devices to see how effective they can measure activity, stress, sleep, cognitive functioning, mood, and environmental exposures and using sequencing technology to bring DNA, Microbiome, and immune system profiles into predictive models of wellness.

Additionally, the new Center will apply state-of-the-science analytics and machine learning to the wealth of individualized metrics to produce actionable, data-driven insights into key aspects of wellness, and to help lead the way to a nextgen healthcare that is scalable and far superior to anything now available.

Joel Dudley, PhD, a highly regarded genomics and bioinformatics expert at the Icahn Institute, and by Gregory Stock, PhD, an accomplished life-science entrepreneur and technology-innovation expert will serve as the Harris Center directors.

“We are deeply grateful to Mr. Harris for his generosity, vision, and passion,” said Dr. Dudley. “His gift will help realize the promise we see in new digital health technologies such as wearable sensors and mobile applications. By drawing upon the core competencies in genomics, multiscale biology, bioinformatics, data science, population health, and clinical trial design at the Icahn Institute, the Harris Center initiatives will further enhance Mount Sinai’s reputation as one of the world’s premier innovators in personalized healthcare. It is exciting to have an opportunity to integrate and apply these emerging technologies in a meaningful and scientific way in the pursuit of optimal wellness, vitality, and preventive care.”

ParcCare at Parc Communities

ParcCare Websire

Atlanta Retirement Living – The Parc Way
Home Parc Living Resident Life Apartments Parc Communities Contact Us Blog
Text Size
Overview | Amenities | Community | Activities | Dining | ParcCare | News | Calendar
Parc at Duluth

3315 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30096
phone: 770.622.6880
fax: 770.622.6889
Contact Us

Download our Brochure
ParcCare
Why consider ParcCare in your decision to move to Parc at Duluth?

Parc residents have the peace-of-mind knowing that ParcCare offers homecare services designed to help enrich our residents’ lives and maintain the highest possible quality of independent living. ParcCare services are available exclusively to Parc Communities’ residents. As needs arise, residents are able to create an individual program of care based on their specific or changing needs. We understand the unique challenges of aging and take pride in our ability to assist with the individual wishes of residents.

Safety and peace of mind

ParcCaregivers are licensed, insured and bonded.
Our ParcCaregivers’ screening process includes extensive background checks, drug testing, physical screening, reference checks and competency evaluations. In addition to being thoroughly trained, ParcCaregivers are consistently supervised by a licensed nurse. Rest assured that you are in the hands of highly-trained professionals whose main focus is the well-being of our residents.

We always consider your schedule

ParcCare services are available for needs ranging from only a few tasks up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All consideration is given to accommodating your individual schedule.

Our rates are designed to fit within your budget

ParcCare rates are structured to fit within your budget. Rates are based on the number of tasks performed, service hours per week and participation in shared services.

ParcCare Programs

Gwinnett senior care and elder care services are available to residents of Parc at Duluth through our ParcCare program. We have designed simple yet comprehensive ParcCare Programs for our residents specifically tailored to the individual needs of those needing senior care and elder care in the Gwinnett County and Johns Creek areas. We strive to offer the best selection of services to help you improve your health and maintain an active and independent lifestyle.

Home | Parc Living | Resident Life | Apartments | Parc Communities | Contact Us
Privacy Policy
3315 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard Duluth, GA 30096 – phone: 770.622.6880
© Copyright 2008-2015 Parc Communities, LLC, Gwinnett Retirement Communities. All rights reserved.

Parc Communities, LLC may not be held to the suitability or accuracy of the information displayed on this website. Its contents are intended for information purposes and should not be interpreted as senior care advice. Parc Communities, LLC is not responsible for any damages caused the display or use of information on this website.

Microbiome Update

My last research on this subject was in August, 2014. I looked at both microbiomes and proteomics.

Today, the New York Times published a very comprehensive update on microbiome research:

Link to New York Time Microbiome Article

Here is the article itself:

= = = = = = = ARTICLE BEGINS HERE = = = = = =

Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?
The rich array of microbiota in our intestines can tell us more than you might think.

By PETER ANDREY SMITH
JUNE 23, 2015

Eighteen vials were rocking back and forth on a squeaky mechanical device the shape of a butcher scale, and Mark Lyte was beside himself with excitement. ‘‘We actually got some fresh yesterday — freshly frozen,’’ Lyte said to a lab technician. Each vial contained a tiny nugget of monkey feces that were collected at the Harlow primate lab near Madison, Wis., the day before and shipped to Lyte’s lab on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Abilene, Tex.

Lyte’s interest was not in the feces per se but in the hidden form of life they harbor. The digestive tube of a monkey, like that of all vertebrates, contains vast quantities of what biologists call gut microbiota. The genetic material of these trillions of microbes, as well as others living elsewhere in and on the body, is collectively known as the microbiome. Taken together, these bacteria can weigh as much as six pounds, and they make up a sort of organ whose functions have only begun to reveal themselves to science. Lyte has spent his career trying to prove that gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.
Inside a closet-size room at his lab that afternoon, Lyte hunched over to inspect the vials, whose samples had been spun down in a centrifuge to a radiant, golden broth. Lyte, 60, spoke fast and emphatically. ‘‘You wouldn’t believe what we’re extracting out of poop,’’ he told me. ‘‘We found that the guys here in the gut make neurochemicals. We didn’t know that. Now, if they make this stuff here, does it have an influence there? Guess what? We make the same stuff. Maybe all this communication has an influence on our behavior.’’

Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. The two million unique bacterial genes found in each human microbiome can make the 23,000 genes in our cells seem paltry, almost negligible, by comparison. ‘‘It has enormous implications for the sense of self,’’ Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told me. ‘‘We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human. That’s a phenomenal insight and one that we have to take seriously when we think about human development.’’

Given the extent to which bacteria are now understood to influence human physiology, it is hardly surprising that scientists have turned their attention to how bacteria might affect the brain. Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety. Last year, for example, a group in Norway examined feces from 55 people and found certain bacteria were more likely to be associated with depressive patients.

At the time of my visit to Lyte’s lab, he was nearly six months into an experiment that he hoped would better establish how certain gut microbes influenced the brain, functioning, in effect, as psychiatric drugs. He was currently compiling a list of the psychoactive compounds found in the feces of infant monkeys. Once that was established, he planned to transfer the microbes found in one newborn monkey’s feces into another’s intestine, so that the recipient would end up with a completely new set of microbes — and, if all went as predicted, change their neurodevelopment. The experiment reflected an intriguing hypothesis. Anxiety, depression and several pediatric disorders, including autism and hyperactivity, have been linked with gastrointestinal abnormalities. Microbial transplants were not invasive brain surgery, and that was the point: Changing a patient’s bacteria might be difficult but it still seemed more straightforward than altering his genes.

When Lyte began his work on the link between microbes and the brain three decades ago, it was dismissed as a curiosity. By contrast, last September, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded four grants worth up to $1 million each to spur new research on the gut microbiome’s role in mental disorders, affirming the legitimacy of a field that had long struggled to attract serious scientific credibility. Lyte and one of his longtime colleagues, Christopher Coe, at the Harlow primate lab, received one of the four. ‘‘What Mark proposed going back almost 25 years now has come to fruition,’’ Coe told me. ‘‘Now what we’re struggling to do is to figure out the logic of it.’’ It seems plausible, if not yet proved, that we might one day use microbes to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, treat mental illnesses and perhaps even fix them in the brain.

In 2011, a team of researchers at University College Cork, in Ireland, and McMaster University, in Ontario, published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that has become one of the best-known experiments linking bacteria in the gut to the brain. Laboratory mice were dropped into tall, cylindrical columns of water in what is known as a forced-swim test, which measures over six minutes how long the mice swim before they realize that they can neither touch the bottom nor climb out, and instead collapse into a forlorn float. Researchers use the amount of time a mouse floats as a way to measure what they call ‘‘behavioral despair.’’ (Antidepressant drugs, like Zoloft and Prozac, were initially tested using this forced-swim test.)

For several weeks, the team, led by John Cryan, the neuroscientist who designed the study, fed a small group of healthy rodents a broth infused with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a common bacterium that is found in humans and also used to ferment milk into probiotic yogurt. Lactobacilli are one of the dominant organisms babies ingest as they pass through the birth canal. Recent studies have shown that mice stressed during pregnancy pass on lowered levels of the bacterium to their pups. This type of bacteria is known to release immense quantities of GABA; as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA calms nervous activity, which explains why the most common anti-anxiety drugs, like Valium and Xanax, work by targeting GABA receptors.

Cryan found that the mice that had been fed the bacteria-laden broth kept swimming longer and spent less time in a state of immobilized woe. ‘‘They behaved as if they were on Prozac,’’ he said. ‘‘They were more chilled out and more relaxed.’’ The results suggested that the bacteria were somehow altering the neural chemistry of mice.

Until he joined his colleagues at Cork 10 years ago, Cryan thought about microbiology in terms of pathology: the neurological damage created by diseases like syphilis or H.I.V. ‘‘There are certain fields that just don’t seem to interact well,’’ he said. ‘‘Microbiology and neuroscience, as whole disciplines, don’t tend to have had much interaction, largely because the brain is somewhat protected.’’ He was referring to the fact that the brain is anatomically isolated, guarded by a blood-brain barrier that allows nutrients in but keeps out pathogens and inflammation, the immune system’s typical response to germs. Cryan’s study added to the growing evidence that signals from beneficial bacteria nonetheless find a way through the barrier. Somehow — though his 2011 paper could not pinpoint exactly how — micro-organisms in the gut tickle a sensory nerve ending in the fingerlike protrusion lining the intestine and carry that electrical impulse up the vagus nerve and into the deep-brain structures thought to be responsible for elemental emotions like anxiety. Soon after that, Cryan and a co-author, Ted Dinan, published a theory paper in Biological Psychiatry calling these potentially mind-altering microbes ‘‘psychobiotics.’’
It has long been known that much of our supply of neurochemicals — an estimated 50 percent of the dopamine, for example, and a vast majority of the serotonin — originate in the intestine, where these chemical signals regulate appetite, feelings of fullness and digestion. But only in recent years has mainstream psychiatric research given serious consideration to the role microbes might play in creating those chemicals. Lyte’s own interest in the question dates back to his time as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 1985, when he found himself immersed in an emerging field with an unwieldy name: psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, for short. The central theory, quite controversial at the time, suggested that stress worsened disease by suppressing our immune system.

By 1990, at a lab in Mankato, Minn., Lyte distilled the theory into three words, which he wrote on a chalkboard in his office: Stress->Immune->Disease. In the course of several experiments, he homed in on a paradox. When he dropped an intruder mouse in the cage of an animal that lived alone, the intruder ramped up its immune system — a boost, he suspected, intended to fight off germ-ridden bites or scratches. Surprisingly, though, this did not stop infections. It instead had the opposite effect: Stressed animals got sick. Lyte walked up to the board and scratched a line through the word ‘‘Immune.’’ Stress, he suspected, directly affected the bacterial bugs that caused infections.

To test how micro-organisms reacted to stress, he filled petri plates with a bovine-serum-based medium and laced the dishes with a strain of bacterium. In some, he dropped norepinephrine, a neurochemical that mammals produce when stressed. The next day, he snapped a Polaroid. The results were visible and obvious: The control plates were nearly barren, but those with the norepinephrine bloomed with bacteria that filigreed in frostlike patterns. Bacteria clearly responded to stress.

Then, to see if bacteria could induce stress, Lyte fed white mice a liquid solution of Campylobacter jejuni, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning in humans but generally doesn’t prompt an immune response in mice. To the trained eye, his treated mice were as healthy as the controls. But when he ran them through a plexiglass maze raised several feet above the lab floor, the bacteria-fed mice were less likely to venture out on the high, unprotected ledges of the maze. In human terms, they seemed anxious. Without the bacteria, they walked the narrow, elevated planks.

Each of these results was fascinating, but Lyte had a difficult time finding microbiology journals that would publish either. ‘‘It was so anathema to them,’’ he told me. When the mouse study finally appeared in the journal Physiology & Behavior in 1998, it garnered little attention. And yet as Stephen Collins, a gastroenterologist at McMaster University, told me, those first papers contained the seeds of an entire new field of research. ‘‘Mark showed, quite clearly, in elegant studies that are not often cited, that introducing a pathological bacterium into the gut will cause a change in behavior.’’

Lyte went on to show how stressful conditions for newborn cattle worsened deadly E. coli infections. In another experiment, he fed mice lean ground hamburger that appeared to improve memory and learning — a conceptual proof that by changing diet, he could change gut microbes and change behavior. After accumulating nearly a decade’s worth of evidence, in July 2008, he flew to Washington to present his research. He was a finalist for the National Institutes of Health’s Pioneer Award, a $2.5 million grant for so-called blue-sky biomedical research. Finally, it seemed, his time had come. When he got up to speak, Lyte described a dialogue between the bacterial organ and our central nervous system. At the two-minute mark, a prominent scientist in the audience did a spit take.

‘‘Dr. Lyte,’’ he later asked at a question-and-answer session, ‘‘if what you’re saying is right, then why is it when we give antibiotics to patients to kill bacteria, they are not running around crazy on the wards?’’

Lyte knew it was a dismissive question. And when he lost out on the grant, it confirmed to him that the scientific community was still unwilling to imagine that any part of our neural circuitry could be influenced by single-celled organisms. Lyte published his theory in Medical Hypotheses, a low-ranking journal that served as a forum for unconventional ideas. The response, predictably, was underwhelming. ‘‘I had people call me crazy,’’ he said.

But by 2011 — when he published a second theory paper in Bioessays, proposing that probiotic bacteria could be tailored to treat specific psychological diseases — the scientific community had become much more receptive to the idea. A Canadian team, led by Stephen Collins, had demonstrated that antibiotics could be linked to less cautious behavior in mice, and only a few months before Lyte, Sven Pettersson, a microbiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published a landmark paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that showed that mice raised without microbes spent far more time running around outside than healthy mice in a control group; without the microbes, the mice showed less apparent anxiety and were more daring. In Ireland, Cryan published his forced-swim-test study on psychobiotics. There was now a groundswell of new research. In short order, an implausible idea had become a hypothesis in need of serious validation.

Late last year, Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist at the California Institute of Technology, gave a presentation at the Society for Neuroscience, ‘‘Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.’’ Someone had inadvertently dropped a question mark from the end, so the speculation appeared to be a definitive statement of fact. But if anyone has a chance of delivering on that promise, it’s Mazmanian, whose research has moved beyond the basic neurochemicals to focus on a broader class of molecules called metabolites: small, equally druglike chemicals that are produced by micro-organisms. Using high-powered computational tools, he also hopes to move beyond the suggestive correlations that have typified psychobiotic research to date, and instead make decisive discoveries about the mechanisms by which microbes affect brain function.

Two years ago, Mazmanian published a study in the journal Cell with Elaine Hsiao, then a graduate student at his lab and now a neuroscientist at Caltech, that made a provocative link between a single molecule and behavior. Their research found that mice exhibiting abnormal communication and repetitive behaviors, like obsessively burying marbles, were mollified when they were given one of two strains of the bacterium Bacteroides fragilis.

The study added to a working hypothesis in the field that microbes don’t just affect the permeability of the barrier around the brain but also influence the intestinal lining, which normally prevents certain bacteria from leaking out and others from getting in. When the intestinal barrier was compromised in his model, normally ‘‘beneficial’’ bacteria and the toxins they produce seeped into the bloodstream and raised the possibility they could slip past the blood-brain barrier. As one of his colleagues, Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘‘The scientific community has a way of remaining skeptical until every last arrow has been drawn, until the entire picture is colored in. Other scientists drew the pencil outlines, and Sarkis is filling in a lot of the color.’’

Mazmanian knew the results offered only a provisional explanation for why restrictive diets and antibacterial treatments seemed to help some children with autism: Altering the microbial composition might be changing the permeability of the intestine. ‘‘The larger concept is, and this is pure speculation: Is a disease like autism really a disease of the brain or maybe a disease of the gut or some other aspect of physiology?’’ Mazmanian said. For any disease in which such a link could be proved, he saw a future in drugs derived from these small molecules found inside microbes. (A company he co-founded, Symbiotix Biotherapies, is developing a complex sugar called PSA, which is associated with Bacteroides fragilis, into treatments for intestinal disease and multiple sclerosis.) In his view, the prescriptive solutions probably involve more than increasing our exposure to environmental microbes in soil, dogs or even fermented foods; he believed there were wholesale failures in the way we shared our microbes and inoculated children with these bacteria. So far, though, the only conclusion he could draw was that disorders once thought to be conditions of the brain might be symptoms of microbial disruptions, and it was the careful defining of these disruptions that promised to be helpful in the coming decades.

The list of potential treatments incubating in labs around the world is startling. Several international groups have found that psychobiotics had subtle yet perceptible effects in healthy volunteers in a battery of brain-scanning and psychological tests. Another team in Arizona recently finished an open trial on fecal transplants in children with autism. (Simultaneously, at least two offshore clinics, in Australia and England, began offering fecal microbiota treatments to treat neurological disorders, like multiple sclerosis.) Mazmanian, however, cautions that this research is still in its infancy. ‘‘We’ve reached the stage where there’s a lot of, you know, ‘The microbiome is the cure for everything,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I have a vested interest if it does. But I’d be shocked if it did.’’

Lyte issues the same caveat. ‘‘People are obviously desperate for solutions,’’ Lyte said when I visited him in Abilene. (He has since moved to Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.) ‘‘My main fear is the hype is running ahead of the science.’’ He knew that parents emailing him for answers meant they had exhausted every option offered by modern medicine. ‘‘It’s the Wild West out there,’’ he said. ‘‘You can go online and buy any amount of probiotics for any number of conditions now, and my paper is one of those cited. I never said go out and take probiotics.’’ He added,

‘‘We really need a lot more research done before we actually have people trying therapies out.’’

If the idea of psychobiotics had now, in some ways, eclipsed him, it was nevertheless a curious kind of affirmation, even redemption: an old-school microbiologist thrust into the midst of one of the most promising aspects of neuroscience. At the moment, he had a rough map in his head and a freezer full of monkey fecals that might translate, somehow, into telling differences between gregarious or shy monkeys later in life. I asked him if what amounted to a personality transplant still sounded a bit far-fetched. He seemed no closer to unlocking exactly what brain functions could be traced to the same organ that produced feces. ‘‘If you transfer the microbiota from one animal to another, you can transfer the behavior,’’ Lyte said. ‘‘What we’re trying to understand are the mechanisms by which the microbiota can influence the brain and development. If you believe that, are you now out on the precipice? The answer is yes. Do I think it’s the future? I think it’s a long way away.’’

Peter Andrey Smith is a reporter living in Brooklyn. He frequently writes about the microbial world.
Reporting for this article was supported by the UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship.

= = = = = = = ARTICLE ENDS HERE = = = = = = =

References:

Link to Prior JCR Micorbiome post (on proteomics), July, 2014

JCR post on microbiomes, July, 2014

Michael Brill and Bosti

Phil Tabb recently recommended Michael Brill as a source for inspiration. He likened him to Christopher Alexander – in the way that he pursued design principles.

Here is a short write-up about Michael Brill and Bosti:

MICHAEL BRILL
Michael Brill was President of BOSTI Associates for 30 years, and for 15 of those was also a Professor of Architecture at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His career successfully combined the rigorous research and design emphases of his academic background with business-based, innovative workplace solutions to organizational problems.

He led all of BOSTI’s analyses, providing major intellectual content and direction, and developed innovative recommendations solutions. Publishing more than 50 papers, articles, monographs and book sections on this work, he also authored a much consulted two-volume work, Using Office Design to Increase Productivity. Two of his other workplace publications are widely distributed and were translated into other languages: “The Office as a Tool”, and “New Offices, No Offices, Now Offices … Wild Times in the World of Office Work”. He wrote an eclectic monthly column for Interiors Magazine from 1996-1998.

He won many awards for his design-research, including the Star Award for outstanding leadership to the interior design profession from IIDA in 1999, and “distinguished author of the year” from IFMA in 1990. His projects have won 7 national awards from various design magazines. He gave hundreds of keynote speeches and lectures, and his and BOSTI’s work has been featured in the business and popular press, and in major international architectural and interior design books and journals.