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Nancy Skinner: COP 15: Cities, States, Grassroots Transform Nopenhagen to Hopenhagen

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

I traveled to Copenhagen, where nations of the world met to tackle the single greatest challenge of our time. It is the 15th time world leaders have convened as the ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP), parties referring to each of the 192 nations that, under the auspices of the United Nations, agreed to work together to address climate change.

This is the 11th international negotiation I’ve attended. For the first time every major emitting country – including the United States, China, India and Australia – came to the table with commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. I’m frustrated it has taken 15 COPs to get to this point, while Pacific Island nations lose habitable land due to sea level rise and atmospheric concentration of CO2 now exceeds 350 parts per million, but it is still a huge breakthrough.

Press reports will be more pessimistic, focusing on how COP 15 ended without legally binding emission reduction goals. True and a legitimate side of the story, but it’s a story that doesn’t capture the tremendous movement already underway.

This is a movement begun at the grassroots level: by states, cities, provinces, non profit groups, and businesses, a movement that is gaining momentum, taking substantive action, and beginning to show some impressive results.

Mayors from New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Johannesburg and 100 other major cities –all of which have adopted ambitious emissions reduction targets– also gathered in Copenhagen. What the cities have accomplished makes the national government commitments seem paltry in comparison.

My attendance is with a delegation of over 40 officials from states and Canadian provinces. Each of us represent governments that are also implementing climate action plans. We have come to COP15 to make it clear that subnational governments are not sitting idle.

ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability is an organizer of the city delegation. I speak to Harvey Ruvin, an official from Miami Dade County. He informs me that ICLEI recently documented climate protection commitments from over three thousand local governments from around the world.

At a state leader event organized by the Center for Climate Strategies I learn that 32 US states have adopted or are actively developing climate action plans. Tom Peterson, President of the Center, presents data on 23 climate policy actions underway in these states. Fully implemented the state actions would reduce US emissions by between 16% (low estimate) to 25% (aggressive implementation) below 1990 levels, reductions that surpass the targets proposed in the current bills being debated by Congress.

From my point of view the accomplishments by the grassroots NGOs and our subnational governments will help turn the post mortem on COP 15 from Nopenhagen to Hopenhagen. I am particularly proud that California is one that is truly leading the way.

On Tuesday I sat in the COP 15 conference center as our governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, delivered a speech highlighting California’s leadership.

Right now we are implementing Assembly Bill 32, authored by my good friend Fran Pavley, which requires a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020.

We have also passed the world’s first Low Carbon Fuel Standard and tailpipe emissions standards, which the Obama Administration has now adopted.

Governor Schwarzenegger describes partnerships California is forming with other states, provinces and cities in America, Canada, China, Mexico and Europe. And how California is working with the U.N. to assist developing nations, especially in Africa.

California’s leadership is not just great environmentally. It is giving our state a tremendous competitive edge in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

A report released earlier this month shows that over the last decade, green jobs in California surged 36 percent; more than triple the rate of our total job growth. And these are good-paying jobs in energy efficiency, clean technology and renewable fuels.

Before leaving I toured a cluster of green business start-ups in my home city, Berkeley. Seeo Inc, developing a new generation of batteries for electric vehicles, is typical of the companies I’m meeting. For the last three years Seeo has hired additional employees and experienced an increase in venture capitol investment.

California has never been so well poised to be at the competitive edge of the low carbon economy. I am proud that California is leading the way toward a cleaner and more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren. Even in these difficult times, we will continue to push ahead, because we know our innovative green policies are the key to accelerating our economic recovery.

CA State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner chairs the Assembly Natural Resources Committee overseing implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32. Ms. Skinner is a founder of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and former US Director of The Climate Group. View her blog from Copenhagen at nancyskinner.blogspot.com/2009_12_01_archive.html

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Sheng T108 brushed aluminum netbook appears

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

Hey, now this isn’t your average, everyday, boring netbook now is it? Well, at least not in looks, anyway. The Sheng T108, which has recently been spotted in Shenzhen, China, has a brushed aluminum chasis that makes it stand out from the crowd, to be sure. Internally, you’ll find this 10.1-incher boasting an Intel Atom N280 CPU, 2GB of DDR2 memory, and a 250GB hard drive — nothing volcanically surprising, but not too shabby either. It’s also got a 3-cell battery, a VGA port, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi support, a built in webcam, and a SIM card slot for 3G connectivity. The pricing is said to be somewhere in the realm of $300, and while there’s no word on availability of this puppy outside of China, we’ll certainly keep our eyes peeled for you. One more shot after the break.

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Germs, Viruses, and Secrets: How The Obama Administration is Addressing Biological Threats

December 28th, 2009 admin No comments

When most of us think of “Cold War history”, we think of the Soviet Union and the United States building up massive nuclear arsenals, staring each other down over missiles in Cuba, or former Eastern and Western Europe. We think of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev, and Reagan.

But what most people don’t remember, or may not even know, is that the United States once had a biological weapons program, and that the former Soviet Union did too. I like to think of this as the “forgotten” legacy of the Cold War arms race. Just because the Cold War is over, doesn’t mean that the weapons programs’ legacy is nothing we need to worry about anymore.

So, let’s look at a little bit of history before we talk about the legacy of these weapons programs, and how they affect the world today.

History: Renouncing Biological Weapons… or not.

In November 1969, President Richard Nixon made the following announcement:

Biological weapons have massive, unpredictable and potentially uncontrollable consequences. They may produce global epidemics and impair the health of future generations. I have therefore decided that:

  • The United States shall renounce the use of lethal biological agents and weapons, and all other methods of biological warfare.
  • The United States will confine its biological research to defensive measures such as immunization and safety measures.
  • The Department of Defense has been asked to make recommendations as to the disposal of existing stocks of bacteriological weapons.

Nixon followed up his announcement with an executive order in 1972, formally terminating the United States’ biological weapons program. The United States, as well as the former Soviet Union both signed the “Biological Weapons Convention“, which formally went into effect in March 1975.

But there was one very big problem with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which has not yet been corrected:

The greatest weakness of the Convention has been its lack of mechanisms to verify the compliance of the States Parties. Unlike the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], the BWC does not contain verification mechanism. As a result, there is less confidence that all members are in compliance, eroding the overall trust in the effectiveness of the BWC regime.

There are several examples of this “erosion of trust”; the most obvious one is the former Soviet Union’s absolutely massive biological weapons program, which continued beyond the end of the Cold War, into the 1990s. You can read more about it in David E. Hoffman’s recent book, The Dead Hand; he also described it in an interview I did with him several weeks ago.

The Evolving BWC

Since the BWC went into effect, there has been an ongoing effort to strengthen it, as well as to assess how best to address biological security threats through the convention framework. There have been review conferences every five years starting in 1980; you can read about the details of each conference here.

One critical result of these meetings was the establishment of an Ad Hoc Group that, in part, “focused the efforts of States Parties on some difficult issues, in particular the absence of a legally-binding verification mechanism.” In 2001, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Group issued a lengthy document [pdf] that proposed some critical changes:

  • the establishment of an Organization for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW), with relevant bodies to monitor the implementation of the Convention and the Protocol
  • mandatory declarations of all relevant facilities and activities, including those in the area of biodefense
  • inspections that would take place at random, in order to make clarifications, and following allegations of noncompliance

However, to make a long story short, in July 2001, the Bush administration completely rejected these ideas, and subsequent talks collapsed that Fall in Geneva.

Then, of course, we all know what else happened in the Fall of 2001. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States became acutely aware of the concept of biological terrorism, when seven letters laced with anthrax spores were mailed to multiple locations, including the US Senate offices of former Senator Tom Daschle. Ten people died, and millions of dollars were spent on clean-up efforts.

By 2002, “Homeland Security” concerns and US biological defense efforts had become intertwined with their opposition to the protocol proposed by the Ad Hoc Group. The history is obviously complex, and there are no easy answers.

The Obama Administration and the BWC

At this point, it should be obvious why arms control experts have been interested to see how the Obama administration would address the ongoing issues, and they got their answer several weeks ago, when the Obama administration announced its “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats” [pdf].

In order to better understand the significance and the details of the new national strategy, I had a lengthy chat with Dr. Jonathan Tucker, who is a Senior Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is an expert in biological and chemical weapons, as well as the author of several books, including War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda, and Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox.

I asked Dr. Tucker what the difference was between the Bush administration’s approach, and the Obama administration’s new strategy. He said:

Because Bush administration officials didn’t think it was possible to prevent a bioterrorist attack with any degree of likelihood, they focused on mitigating the consequences of an attack by beefing up domestic biodefense capabilities. In contrast, the Obama people view prevention as a major priority and plan to devote a lot of resources to it. That’s an important departure.

A second difference is that the Obama approach involves a much greater emphasis on multilateral engagement.

A third difference is that rather than focusing narrowly on the deliberate use of biological agents as weapons, the Obama strategy covers the full range of biological threats, from natural outbreaks of infectious disease (such as H1N1 influenza and SARS), to accidental releases from high-containment laboratories working with dangerous pathogens, to deliberate use by states or terrorist groups.

The specifics of what’s new and different with the Obama strategy are interesting. Tucker told me that:

One new development is that under the mantle of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Obama administration plans to assist poor countries to meet their obligations in the revised International Health Regulations (IHR), which were adopted in 2005 by the World Health Organization (WHO). These rules require all WHO member states to detect and rapidly contain outbreaks of infectious disease on their territories—whether natural or deliberate in origin—that could potentially cross national borders and affect other countries.

The Obama administration’s plan to help developing countries implement their IHR obligations under the auspices of the BWC is a significant departure.
Until recently, the WHO was wary of getting involved with security issues, particularly those involving biological weapons. The organization created a small unit in Geneva responsible for preparedness and response to bioterrorism, from a strictly public health perspective, but didn’t want to be politically tainted by getting involved with the BWC. That attitude now appears to have changed, and it’s a real paradigm shift. Conversely, the BWC process used to focus narrowly on security concerns but is now addressing the full spectrum of biological threats, from natural to accidental to deliberate. The new U.S. strategy document clearly reflects this holistic approach, which is a positive development.

However, there are some critical weaknesses. These, of course, have to do with verification and compliance. Tucker explained:

The main weakness of the Obama strategy is in dealing with BWC compliance concerns. Undersecretary Tauscher’s speech called for building confidence in compliance through greater transparency, but she mentioned only a few token transparency measures that the U.S. is prepared to take, such as inviting an international official to tour the National Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick and posting U.S. confidence-building measure declarations on the Internet. Those steps are extremely modest. In fact, much more needs to be done to increase the transparency of the U.S. biodefense program, which has expanded dramatically since 2001 with a cumulative expenditure of roughly $50 billion. In view of growing international suspicions about the U.S. biodefense program, the Obama administration should take more meaningful steps to increase transparency than simply invite one foreign official to tour Fort Detrick.

So efforts toward transparency need to be stronger. Again, the critical weakness has to do with the lack of ability to verify non-compliance. We (or any other nation) can have all the suspicions we want, but there’s no way for us to prove anything. Just to stress his point, Tucker told me more:

A weakness of the Obama administration strategy is that it doesn’t include new measures for addressing the fundamental weakness at the heart of the BWC—the inability to detect and deter non-compliance. Although the U.S. has made public allegations that several BWC members (including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia) are violating the treaty, at present there are no effective mechanisms for clarifying such allegations and compelling states to comply.

I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is that the BWC is, in some ways, a far more complex issue than discussing nuclear treaties and compliance. Those are relatively clear-cut; since the BWC does not address verification and compliance, it’s not so easy to draw lines in the sand. In particular, Dr. Tucker and I discussed the dual-use nature of biotechnology. He gave a startling example, from personal experience:

Biotechnology is dual-use. Nearly every item of equipment one needs to produce biological weapons has some legitimate, non-weapons-related application. Although a few specialized procedures for weaponizing biological agents are not dual-use, all of the items of production equipment — fermenters, concentrators, spray-driers, and so forth – have legitimate uses in research and industry.

In 1995, as a member of a UN bioweapons inspection team in Iraq, I visited an industrial microbiology plant outside Baghdad called Al Hakam, which was ostensibly producing single-cell protein in yeast as an animal-feed supplement. Just by looking at the facility, there was no way of knowing that it was a bioweapons plant: the fermentation tanks were exactly what you would expect for the declared use. But UN inspectors later determined on the basis of other evidence that before the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqis had produced large quantities of anthrax spores at Al Hakam for military use. As a result, the plant was razed to the ground in the summer of 1996.

To manufacture a military significant stockpile of chemical weapons, in the hundreds of metric tons, you would need one or more large chemical plants. Producing highly toxic and corrosive chemicals also requires certain types of equipment that are not commonly used in the commercial chemical industry, such as corrosion-resistant reactors and pipes made of a high-nickel steel alloy called Hastelloy, special air-handling systems, and so forth. In contrast, all of the production equipment in a bioweapons plant would be dual-use, although you might want to install specialized air-handling equipment to reduce the risk of accidental releases of deadly infectious agents into the surrounding environment.

Even here, however, Iraq cut corners on safety in order to avoid detection. For example, the Al Hakam factory had no air filters or specialized ventilation systems designed to create negative pressure and prevent dangerous pathogens from escaping. Because the Iraqi regime wanted to minimize the signatures of illicit bioweapons production, they were willing to sacrifice some of their workers and put nearby communities at risk in order to conceal the true nature of the facility. Thus, if countries seeking biological weapons are sufficiently ruthless in the way they go about it, it’s very difficult for outsiders to determine what is going on.

Finally, we discussed a parallel — and very related — concern. Our own biodefense program has the potential to cross some lines. I’ve written about this before, which is why I was curious about Dr. Tucker’s point of view. He said:

The dramatic expansion of the U.S. biodefense research complex over the past decade has raised a number of concerns. The 2001 anthrax letter attacks greatly heightened the nation’s preoccupation with biological threats and caused the Bush administration to make a huge investment in biodefense research, with an emphasis on biological threat assessment and the development of medical countermeasures. This effort soon acquired a life of its own, and states and localities began competing to get one of the expensive new biodefense labs. Yet there was no net assessment of how much high- and maximum-containment research space the nation really needs to deal with the spectrum of biological threats.

In recent years, biodefense has been one of the few areas of science to enjoy a sustained increase in U.S. government funding. As a result, the field has drawn a lot of microbiologists and other scientists away from research on infectious diseases of public health concern, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, to work on those that are chiefly of biodefense concern, such as anthrax, plague, and brucellosis—infections that don’t kill many people naturally. Thus, one consequence of the biodefense boom has been a distortion of research priorities.

Another concern is that because of the thousands of scientists that have been drawn into biodefense research by the availability of generous funding, there’s a risk that a few of them may be “bad apples.” Indeed, after a seven-year investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the FBI now believes that the perpetrator was an insider – a government microbiologist working at Fort Detrick, the Army’s premier biodefense lab. So it turns out that “the enemy is us.”

It’s a great irony is that the anthrax letter attacks apparently came from within the U.S. government biodefense complex, because in response to that incident the Bush administration tripled the size of the complex. Today, some 14,000 people are authorized to work with pathogens and toxins of bioterrorism concern, known as “select agents.” By greatly increasing the number of people who know how to work with dangerous pathogens in order to develop defenses against them, we’ve increased the statistical risk that some of these individuals—for personal or ideological reasons—may decide to use their specialized know-how for harmful purposes. Thus, the biodefense boom has arguably increased the risk of an attack.

Beyond that, the sheer size and scope of the U.S. biodefense program has aroused suspicion on the part of other countries. There’s now a National Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick that includes three maximum-containment labs: the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the Integrated Research Facility run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) under the Department of Homeland Security. Because NBACC does classified research, even some people I know at USAMRIID have no idea what goes on there. If U.S. Army scientists have questions about the secrecy surrounding NBACC, then the Russians and the Chinese must assume that the lab is involved in offensive research. I personally believe that those suspicions are unfounded, but they could still cause other countries to start hedging their bets, and soon we could find ourselves in the middle of a biological arms race.

The point is that in our efforts to defend against an attack, we may have increased the probability of one, plus the lack of transparency with biodefense research doesn’t exactly increase the “trust” factor with other countries.

Biological weapons, biological terrorism, and biological defense are all tied together as part of the incredibly complex national security picture that has been etched by the events of the past decade. It’s good to know that the Obama administration has a broader, more multilateral, inclusive approach to addressing biological threats, but the biggest problem remains, and I’ll paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s favorite quote:

Without verification, there cannot be trust.

There’s a lot of work to do in the future.


Randall Amster: Schlock Doctrine: Where, and by Whom, was Your Christmas Made?

December 28th, 2009 admin No comments

Nothing against our friends and neighbors in the Far East, but it seems as if just about everything that came down the chimney for Christmas this year bore a “made in China” label on its underbelly. Even the items that appear to be iconically American in their logos and characters have been shipped here from across the planet. This is the stark reality of globalization.

Children’s toys in particular present a unique ethical conundrum. On the one hand, we want our kids to have stimulating new things to play with and expand their repertoires of dexterity and cognizance. On the other hand, we cannot escape the fact that another kid on the other side of the planet might be toiling in a factory somewhere to make the stuff that potentially enhances our kids’ lives. This is especially the case when nearly every toy — even supposedly “green” ones — seemingly comes from the Middle Kingdom.

Sweatshop labor of course is no secret, but it remains something of an abstraction through the insulation of our lives in the West. That fell apart around here this year, when I noticed that some of the boxes in which our purchases arrived had actual names of people next to the “Made by” category inscribed on them. They also listed factory numbers and product designations in many cases as well, such as “Item #2572 of 32525.” If it’s indeed the case (as Vegan Peace observes) that “the average North American toy maker earns $11 an hour [while] in China, toy workers earn an average of 30 cents an hour,” then someone is obviously making a pretty penny on this system just in the rate of labor exchange alone.

These realities have been thoroughly understood for some time now, as evidenced by this 2005 article in which the complexities of the problem are well documented:

“The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that of the 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, 61 percent are in Asia. Although we live in an extremely modern age, there is, in fact, child slave labor present in China . Some of these children work in sweatshops. A sweatshop is a workplace where workers are subjected to extreme exploitation, including the lack of a living wages or benefits, poor and dangerous working conditions, and harsh and unnecessary discipline, such as verbal and physical abuse. Sweatshop workers are paid less than their daily expenses, thus they are never able to save any money to invest in their futures. They are trapped in a never-ending cycle.”

Disney products specifically have been singled out in the past for their imbrication in this oppressive system. Wal-Mart, which the United Food and Commercial Workers Union notes is “the largest importer of Chinese goods,” has repeatedly asserted its innocence in such matters, yet speculation continues. Even some Sesame Street products, which discerning parents will often embrace due to the items’ perceived educational qualities and general familiarity, have been implicated in recent years. The full ramifications of this global trade in exploitative toys have not been lost on analysts and activists, including this introduction to a 2008 report from the National Labor Committee:

“In China , the busy toy season is already in full swing as thousands of factories work around the clock churning out millions of holiday toys, which will start arriving in the United States and Europe by September. Like last year and the years before, the American people will spend over $21 billion on 3.6 billion toys this holiday season. At least 85 percent of these toys are made in China by three million mostly young women workers toiling long hours in 8000 factories. And these are only the factories that have export licensees, leaving aside the many smaller subcontract toy plants.”

There are certainly many alternatives for purchasing products with greater ethical standards (the website Vegan Peace, among other sources, provides links to a number of them). But let’s face it — parents are busy, disposable incomes are tight, children need stimulation, time is money, and this is America . In other words, even with the best of intentions, it’s a great challenge to be purists in our parenting. Furthermore, most folks out there don’t give these is sue s a second thought at all, leaving the few making more deliberate choices merely a small drop in a high-volume bucket. Finally, there really isn’t a foolproof, diplomatic way to fully screen out gifts from well-meaning others.

And then, inevitably, the stuff will soon break. I estimate about a one-month shelf life for any new toy given to a child under five. Some items retain functionality with missing buttons and lost pieces, whereas many others wind up in landfills — or, in a feat of wonderful irony, recycled and shipped back to China to be turned into more short-term consumer goods. Thus, in many cases, the things we buy are almost literally garbage.

The most apropos description of this cycle of inherent decrepitude is perhaps the Yiddish word schlock, meaning something “cheap, shoddy, or inferior.” While I would love to claim sole authorship of the ironic phrasing in the title of this piece, it has actually appeared previously in a few places, including in an amusingly caustic critique of Naomi Klein’s persuasive book The Shock Doctrine in which she argues that capitalism foments and (of course) capitalizes upon crises, thus cleverly making a buck both coming (i.e., problem) and going (i.e., solution). Referring to Klein as “the Ann Coulter of Canada — a demagogic sycophant who has parlayed her political shtick into a lucrative business,” this sophomoric article with its sarcastic mien actually almost got it right in the end:

“We Americans and our evil multinationals, it seems, champion a brand of heartless free-market piracy, which robs the good people of the developing world of the fruits of their labor, and forces them to toil in hot, miserable working conditions, just to make our garments and sneakers. Our big multinationals assimilate or obliterate anything in their path towards global domination.”

The author of this 2008 missive likely didn’t intend to validate Klein’s logic. But to critique a thesis one must be able to articulate it cogently, hence arguing for its utility as a point of critical reference. In a similar sense, the lesson of this holiday season may well be that the ethical implications of our choices are so woven into the fabric of ordinary commerce that we almost can’t help but be pulled into orbit around a set of values that most would deem both schlocky and shocking at the same time. And so, in explicating the aesthetic of schlock and its uncritical acceptance among many consumers, perhaps we have uncovered something uniquely “made in America ” after all.

More on Green Living


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‘World’s Fastest Train’ Unveiled In China

December 27th, 2009 admin No comments

BEIJING (AFP) — China on Saturday unveiled what it billed as the fastest rail link in the world — a train connecting the modern cities of Guangzhou and Wuhan at an average speed of 350 kilometres (217 miles) an hour.

The super-high-speed train reduces the 1,069 kilometre journey to a three hour ride and cuts the previous journey time by more than seven and a half hours, the official Xinhua news agency said.

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Polling and Political Wrap-Up, 12/24/09

December 25th, 2009 admin No comments

The Wrap puts aside gift-wrapping and toy-assembling long enough to put together a Christmas Eve edition. There is but one new poll to report (and don’t expect any through the weekend, either), although there actually are a handful of campaign stories to report.

CT-Sen: America Not Feeling Lieberman As Kingmaker
Connecticut “Independent Democrat” Joe Lieberman was one of the biggest names in the recent health care debate, and he clearly delighted in his role as kingmaker. But did his machinations actually hurt his standing with the American people? According to new national numbers courtesy of CNN (PDF File), we can see that it did. Just three weeks ago, Lieberman had a net +12 favorability with the American people (40/28). Today? His favorabilities sit at a slightly chillier net of negative three (31/34). That is a fifteen-point shift in net favorability. In three weeks. Happy Holidays, Senator!!

IN OTHER NEWS….

  • Follow me over at Twitter. If you did, you’d know that I know a lot more about politics than I do college football (isn’t everybody 1-4 in their bowl pools right now?).
  • RI-Gov: As was predicted here days ago, it looks like the Rhode Island GOP is cuddling up to a familiar face in order to put a credible candidate into the mix for 2010. State GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione met with 2006 Senate candidate and former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey on Wednesday, gauging his interest in a gubernatorial bid. While Cicione said he was not in a position to play kingmaker, he did offer that “we will do whatever we can to help him.” Which is different from handpicking candidates…how, exactly? Cicione’s romancing of Laffey might have something to do with the fact that Republicans do not have a single candidate (let alone one of Laffey’s caliber) committed to the contest.
  • PA-10: It seems that some state GOP officials in Pennsylvania are not feeling the Christmas spirit. After all, they have the burden to trying to recruit a legitimate candidate after the high-profile failure of the national GOP to lure Democratic Congressman Chris Carney to switch parties. Less than 24 hours after that attempt to pull Carney across the aisle came up snake-eyes, the state GOP wanted it made perfectly clear that they had nothing to do with the recruitment effort. Meanwhile, one of the local GOPers already committed to the race, county commissioner Malcolm Derck, was livid, calling the effort to recruit Carney a “slap in the face.”
  • VA-Sen: It’s not until 2012, but here is a quick item for the “Holy Crap!” file. Jim Webb already has a Republican who is casting at least one eye on a challenge for the U.S. Senate. The GOPer coveting a shot at Senator Webb? None other than former Senator George Allen. That’s right…Senator Macaca is contemplating a comeback:

    “Many people have encouraged me to run,” Allen said in a telephone interview. “Susan and I have heard that from many people. And the answer is: perhaps.”

    It is not beyond the realm of possibility, of course. Despite a Democratic year and the gaffe heard ’round the world, Allen did tally 49% of the vote in his narrow defeat at the hands of Webb.

  • MSNBC’s First Read puts together an intriguing list for your holiday reading pleasure: their list of the top ten political speeches of the decade


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Richard Grenell: Obama’s Popularity Isn’t Translating Into Progress

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

The White House staff should never allow Barack Obama to go to Copenhagen again. The last time Obama went to Copenhagen the United States was turned down from the 2016 Olympic bidding process in the first round. This last week, Obama went to Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference and he came up short on his goal for an international agreement on one of his priority issues. If Obama can’t convince the international community to go along with one of his signature issues then the President’s clout isn’t what some Americans claim it to be. Other than health care reform, President Obama has talked about global warming and climate change issues more than almost any other issue during the campaign and since taking office. The Copenhagen disaster is a real sign of Obama’s shallow influence internationally.

The biggest news coming out of Copenhagen, but not covered by the American media, is that Obama hasn’t been able to convince other countries to act even though he is the most popular head of state. We’re one year into Obama’s presidency and the international community has yet to take action on any U.S. priority. You have to wonder why world leaders claim to love him but won’t follow him.

Obama’s popularity and charisma failed to convince the world to bring the Olympics to the U.S., to sign the Copenhagen agreement, to produce new additional NATO troops for Afghanistan or Iraq, to produce any additional action on confronting Iran’s continued uranium enrichment and even to convince his own Democratic party to support some of his priority issues.

Candidate Obama received the media’s overt support throughout the primary and general elections and became an international superstar. Today, Barack or Michelle Obama continue to appear on large and medium sized magazine covers from health and fitness publications to news periodicals to cooking and sports magazines and in nearly every language.

But Copenhagen has shown that we shouldn’t confuse Obama’s popularity with progress. He is clearly popular in other countries but it is because he isn’t asking them to act. Or if he is, he isn’t strong enough to convince them. They love the easy ride.

Iran’s illegal enrichment of uranium is a perfect example of Obama’s weakness. During the Bush administration, the president and his team were able to isolate Iran and organize the international community to produce Security Council sanctions and a total of three UN resolutions. Although forcing the Security Council to negotiate and ultimately vote on tough resolutions is never easy and always unpopular, it is an important leadership test. China, Russia and others weren’t happy to be forced to confront Iran — but ultimately Iran sanctions were passed with unanimous support.

The Obama team has chosen to take the easy and popular path. There has been no increase in sanctions or additional UN resolutions on Iran since the Bush administration ended. In fact, multiple deadlines have passed without repercussions for the government of Iran. Enrichment continues at multiple sites in Iran even though the UN Security Council has demanded the government suspend enrichment with verification.

Obama’s popularity may produce large crowds and warm compliments, but one thing I learned while serving 8 years at the United Nations is to be suspicious when you are the most popular guy in a room full of international negotiators.

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Steve Parker: Our Top Ten auto industry stories, 2009

December 24th, 2009 admin No comments

1- GM – The bankruptcy (which is ended) and the ongoing revolving door for top executives at GM haven’t give the public a lot of confidence in the company. It’ll take two to three years of stability for GM to have a chance of staging a big comeback. The corporation closed Saturn after a failed sale involving Roger Penske, sold Hummer to a Chinese company, cancelled the sale of Opel to the German government and unions, is closing Saab and shuttered Pontiac and now consists of Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC. The irony? GM is making the best cars and trucks they’ve ever produced.

2- The entire family of Ford Fusion cars won the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year award. I think that’s the only award people pay attention to because it’s the oldest and the advertising for cars and trucks which win it runs all year mentioning the award. Ford didn’t need a federal bailout and is headed in the right direction, showing a profit the past two quarters. One of the most anticipated cars coming from Ford is their new 2011 Fiesta, based on the Euro version of the car, one of the most popular over there. Ford also responded quickly to the V6 300-horsepower Camaro, coming out with their own Mustang V6 matching the Camaro in horses. Rumor is a new V8 will be introduced at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show to challenge Camaro’s 400-hp unit. Ford has also just sold Volvo to China’s Geely.
2009-12-24-FordFocusCCC.jpg Ford Focus in rally racing trim

3- Chrysler has only one new model for 2010, but the new 2010 Ram truck won Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year prize. Chrysler cold use a boost and Motor Trend gave them a big one. The company, now controlled by Fiat, will concentrate on building mid- and large-size cars to be marketed by Fiat worldwide. Fiat will build small cars for Chrysler to market. Just announced, Chrysler will display an electric Fiat 500 at the Detroit Auto Show. The 500, or Cinquecento, is essentially the Italian version of the Mini. Jeeps will now be built on the all-wheel drive Fiat Panda platform, so you hard-core off-roaders should get your hands on a Rubicon edition and fast — it’s the last “real” Jeep.

4- Toyota has gone through a year from PR hell. As GM found out, being the world’s biggest carmaker can lead to slips in quality. Toyota’s now the world’s biggest, and they might be having that same problem. They announced the biggest recall in US history (almost 4 millions cars and trucks for acceleration problems), another for rust problems with their Tundra pickup and more. What the company said was a problem with the driver’s side floor mat catching the gas pedal and holding it open, the company looked bad when the government said the problem stemmed from the throttle-by-wire system. The company’s sales continue strong, and their announcement of a plug-in Prius hybrid coming next year caught everyone’s attention.

5- Nissan is spending the next few months displaying a close-to-production version of their Leaf electric car throughout the US. Leaf is on-track to become the first mass-produced EV which does everything a “regular” five-door hatchback can do. Company chief Carlos Ghosn made a decision years ago to skip developing their own hybrid and jump right into EV R&D and production. Late next year, sales will begin, with the car initially being made in Japan, the UK and Tennessee.
2009-12-24-130.JPG Nissan’s Leaf EV at its first coming-out party in the US, in Santa Monica, CA

6- GM’s Volt will go on-sale late next year. Volt is an “extended range hybrid”; a small gasoline engine keeps the batteries charged in this five-door hatch. There is no connection between the battery system and the Volt’s (front) drive wheels; that’s all done EV-style with an electric motor. GM says Volt allay “range anxiety” (my favorite new auto term of the year), which people worry about in EVs but GM says Volt will get over 340 miles per thankful of gas. I’ve driven Volt and it could be a huge winner for GM and help get the company back on track as an innovator. We hope that happens.

7- Korean car-makers are thriving in a down market. Hyundai was the only car-seller in the US to see a rise in their sales this year. What’s the secret over at Hyundai/Kia? It took a few years, but those cars and trucks have risen in quality to that of Japanese vehicles. Also, and perhaps most important, prices are kept low versus comparable cars made in other countries. One more thing: their new cars and trucks are damn good-looking. “Hyundai” is no longer the butt of jokes across America.

8- Chinese EVs are going on-sale in the US, probably next year. BYD is one of the best-known EV makers and has grown into a gigantic auto and electronics conglomerate in less then ten years. The company sells their cars for much less than competitors. BYD’s secret to keeping their costs lower than other EVs? The company is making the batteries and other components by hand, not on assembly lines with robots as most other makers do. The employees are happy to have jobs and the Chinese minimum wage is just that – minimum.
2009-12-24-_mg_0652.jpg Chevy’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf and Toyota’s Prius plug-in hybrid all go on sale in 2010

9- Smart car sales have dropped 38% in the US this year. The tiny, quirky cars are distributed in the US by Roger Penske. Sold in the “smile belt” from Southern California to Florida, the drop in sales indicates most people feel gas prices have stabilized. Pickup truck sales are traditionally used to gauge the economy; dropping sales of small, very high-mileage cars shows gasoline is steady for the time being. I still wouldn’t want to be on the I-10 with a big rig trying to pass me in one of these.

10- There’s not much doubt that North American-built cars and trucks are at least as high-quality as imports. It’s taken 35 years, but Ford and GM have plenty of vehicles high on the quality surveys. At Consumer Reports, some 90% of Dodge Challenger owners surveyed said they’d buy another – possibly the highest number in CR’s history.
2009-12-24-2010cadillacsrx.jpg Cadillac’s all-new 2010 SRX

What did we leave out? What should not be on the list? And happy, safe holidays.

Alvaro Fernandez: Why You’ll Need A Personal Brain Trainer

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Recently I had the fortune to interview Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research, in his office at UCSF. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant, and later founded Scientific Learning Corporation and Posit Science. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV specials, multiple media appearances, or neuroplasticity-related books. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and to the Institute of Medicine this year.

Neuroplasticity-based Tools: The New Health And Wellness Frontier

Dear Michael, thank you very much for agreeing2009-12-20-sharpbrains_summit_logo_web.jpg to participate in the inaugural SharpBrains Summit in January, and for your time today. What are, in your mind, the likely implications of your work and that of other neuroplasticity research and industry pioneers? specifically, given that there are many different technology-free approaches to harnessing neuroplasticity, what is the unique value of technology?

It’s all about efficiency, scalability, personalization, and assured effectiveness. Technology supports the implementation of near-optimally-efficient brain-training strategies. Through the Internet, it enables the low-cost distribution of these new tools, anywhere out in the world. Technology also enables the personalization of brain health training, by providing simple ways to measure and address individual needs in each person’s brain-health training experience. It enables assessments of your abilities that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effectively addressed.

Of course substantial gains could also be achieved by organizing your everyday activities that grow your neurological abilities and sustain your brain health. Still, if the ordinary citizen is to have any real chance of maintaining their brain fitness, they’re going to have to spend considerable time at the brain gym!

Having said this, there are obvious obstacles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of understanding of what these new tools can do. Cognitive training programs, for example, seem counterintuitive to consumers and many professionals – why would one try to improve speed-of-processing if all one cares about is “memory?” A second obvious problem is to get individuals to buy into the effort required to really change their brains for the better. That buy-in has been achieved for many individuals as it applies to their physical health, but we haven’t gotten that far yet in educating the average older person that brain fitness training is an equally effortful business!

Tools for Safer Driving: Teens and Adults

Safe driving seems to be one area where the benefits are more intuitive, which may explain why.

Yes, we see great potential and interest among insurers for improving driving safety, both for seniors and teens. Appropriate cognitive training can lower at-fault accident rates. You can measure clear benefits in relatively short time frames, so it won’t take long for insurers to see an economic rationale to not only offer programs at low cost or for free but to incentivize drivers to complete them. Allstate, AAA, State Farm and other insurers are beginning to realize this potential. It is important to note that typical accidents among teens and seniors are different, so that training methodologies will need to be different for different high-risk populations.

Yet, most driving safety initiatives today still focus on educating drivers, rather that training them neurologically. We measure vision, for example, but completely ignore attentional control abilities, or a driver’s useful field of view. I expect this to change significantly over the next few years.

Long-term care and health insurance companies will ultimately see similar benefits, and we believe that they will follow a similar course of action to reduce general medical and neurodegenerative disease- (Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkinsons-) related costs. In fact, many senior living communities are among the pioneers in this field.

Boomers & Beyond: Maintaining Cognitive Vitality

Mainstream media is covering this emerging category with thousands of stories. But most coverage seems still focused on “does it work?” more than “how do we define It”, “what does work mean?” or “work for whom, and for what?” Can you summarize what recent research suggests?

We have seen clear patterns in the application of our training programs, some published (like IMPACT), some unpublished, some with healthy adults, and some with people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). What we see in every case: 1) despite one’s age, brain functioning can be improved, often with pretty impressive improvement in a short-time frame and limited time invested (10 or 20 or 30 or 40 hours over a period of a few weeks up to two or three months). 2) Basic neurological abilities in 60-90 year olds that are directly subject to training (for example, processing accuracy or processing speed) can be improved to the performance level of the average 20 or 30 or 40 year old through three to ten hours of training at that specific ability. 3) Improvements generalize to broader cognitive measures, and to indices of quality of life. 4) Improvements are sustained over time (in different controlled studies, documented at all post-training benchmarks set between three to 72 months after training completion).

In normal older individuals, training effects endure — but that does not mean that they could not benefit from booster or refresher training — or from ongoing training designed to improve other skills and abilities that limit their older lives. Importantly, a limited controlled study in mildly cognitively impaired individuals showed that in contrast to normal individuals, their abilities declined in the post-training epoch. These folks had improved substantially with training. Even while there abilities slowly deteriorated after training, they sustained their advantages over patients who were not trained. We believe that in these higher-risk individual, continued training will probably be absolutely necessary to sustain their brain health, and, if it can be achieved (and that is completely unproven), to protect them from a progression to AD. Moreover, for both these higher-risk and normal individuals, interventions should not be thought of as one-time cure-alls. Ongoing brain fitness training shall be the way to go.

A major obstacle is that there is not enough research funding for appropriate trials to address all of these issues, especially as they apply for the mildly cognitively impaired (pre-AD) or the AD populations. We’d welcome not only more research dollars but also more FDA involvement, to help clarify the claims being made.

Next Generation Assessments

A key element for the maturity of the field will be the widespread use of objective assessments. What do you see in that area?

Unfortunately, most researchers and policy initiatives are still wedded to relatively rudimentary assessments. For example, I recently participated in meetings designed to help define a very-well-supported EU initiative on how cognitive science can contribute to drug development, in which most applied assessments and most assessments development were still paper-based. This is a major missed opportunity, given the rapidly growing development and availability of automated assessments.

I believe we will see more independent assessments but also embedded assessments. For instance, in Scientific Learning we routinely use ongoing embedded assessments and cross-referenced state test achievement scores to develop models and profiles designed to determine the regimes of neuroplasticity-based training programs that must be applied so that individual students, school sites and school districts may achieve their academic performance goals.

What’s Next?

This has been a fascinating conversation, and a great context to the themes we will cover in depth in the summit. What else do you think will happen over the next few years?

First, I believe we’ll need to focus on public education, for people to understand the value of tools with limited “face value”. One important aspect of this is the need to find balance between what is “fun” and what has value as a cognitive enhancer — which requires the activities to be very targeted, repetitive and slowly progressive. Not always the most fun — people need to think “fitness” as much or more than “games.”

Second, I believe the role of providing supervision, coaching, support, will emerge to be a critical one. Think about the need for having a piano teacher, if you want to learn how to play the piano and improve over time. Technology may help fill this role, or empower and richly support real “coaches” who do so.

Which existing professional group is more likely to become the “personal brain trainers” of the future? or will we see a new profession emerge?

Frankly, I don’t know. To give you some context, at Scientific Learning we experimented with offering free access to therapists for a two-month training. At Posit Science we first experimented with virtual ‘coaches’ that many people seemed to hate, and later encouraged people who had completed the program to volunteer and coach new participants. Results were mixed. We’re now exploring other possibilities.

Let me mention a few other aspects. I believe we will also see a growing number of applications in languages other than English, which will be key given growing interest in South Korea, Japan and China on aging workforce issues (until now they have been mostly focused on childhood development, using English-based programs). We will also see the programs widely available to people who may not have computers at home. For example, Posit Science recently donated software equivalent in value to one million dollars to the Massachusetts public library system, as a model of how wider access (in this case, to help older drivers) might be provided.

My dream in all of this is to have standardized and credible tools to train the five to six main neurocognitive domains for cognitive health and performance through life, coupled with the right assessments to identify one’s individual needs and measure progress. For example, I’d like to know what the 10 things are that I need to fix, and where to start. Assessments could either measure the physical status of the brain, such as the degree of myelination, or measure functions over time via automated neuropsych assessments, which is probably going to be more efficient and scalable and potentially be self-administered in a home health model.

Mike, thank you very much once more for your time and insights.

My pleasure. I am looking forward to the very innovative Summit that SharpBrains is putting together to convene our little growing community.

______

Please note that this is an excerpt of the full interview published on December 17th by SharpBrains. If you want to read full interview (with extended focus on medicine, mental health and clinical aspects) you can read Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers.

To learn more about the inaugural global and virtual summit 2009-12-20-sharpbrains_summit_logo_web.jpgon Technology for Cognitive Health and Performance, January 18-20th, 2010, click on SharpBrains Summit. The Summit will gather over 30 speakers from leading universities and companies.

More on The Balanced Life


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Alvaro Fernandez: Why You’ll Need A Personal Brain Trainer

December 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Recently I had the fortune to interview Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research, in his office at UCSF. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant, and later founded Scientific Learning Corporation and Posit Science. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV specials, multiple media appearances, or neuroplasticity-related books. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and to the Institute of Medicine this year.

Neuroplasticity-based Tools: The New Health And Wellness Frontier

Dear Michael, thank you very much for agreeing2009-12-20-sharpbrains_summit_logo_web.jpg to participate in the inaugural SharpBrains Summit in January, and for your time today. What are, in your mind, the likely implications of your work and that of other neuroplasticity research and industry pioneers? specifically, given that there are many different technology-free approaches to harnessing neuroplasticity, what is the unique value of technology?

It’s all about efficiency, scalability, personalization, and assured effectiveness. Technology supports the implementation of near-optimally-efficient brain-training strategies. Through the Internet, it enables the low-cost distribution of these new tools, anywhere out in the world. Technology also enables the personalization of brain health training, by providing simple ways to measure and address individual needs in each person’s brain-health training experience. It enables assessments of your abilities that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effectively addressed.

Of course substantial gains could also be achieved by organizing your everyday activities that grow your neurological abilities and sustain your brain health. Still, if the ordinary citizen is to have any real chance of maintaining their brain fitness, they’re going to have to spend considerable time at the brain gym!

Having said this, there are obvious obstacles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of understanding of what these new tools can do. Cognitive training programs, for example, seem counterintuitive to consumers and many professionals – why would one try to improve speed-of-processing if all one cares about is “memory?” A second obvious problem is to get individuals to buy into the effort required to really change their brains for the better. That buy-in has been achieved for many individuals as it applies to their physical health, but we haven’t gotten that far yet in educating the average older person that brain fitness training is an equally effortful business!

Tools for Safer Driving: Teens and Adults

Safe driving seems to be one area where the benefits are more intuitive, which may explain why.

Yes, we see great potential and interest among insurers for improving driving safety, both for seniors and teens. Appropriate cognitive training can lower at-fault accident rates. You can measure clear benefits in relatively short time frames, so it won’t take long for insurers to see an economic rationale to not only offer programs at low cost or for free but to incentivize drivers to complete them. Allstate, AAA, State Farm and other insurers are beginning to realize this potential. It is important to note that typical accidents among teens and seniors are different, so that training methodologies will need to be different for different high-risk populations.

Yet, most driving safety initiatives today still focus on educating drivers, rather that training them neurologically. We measure vision, for example, but completely ignore attentional control abilities, or a driver’s useful field of view. I expect this to change significantly over the next few years.

Long-term care and health insurance companies will ultimately see similar benefits, and we believe that they will follow a similar course of action to reduce general medical and neurodegenerative disease- (Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkinsons-) related costs. In fact, many senior living communities are among the pioneers in this field.

Boomers & Beyond: Maintaining Cognitive Vitality

Mainstream media is covering this emerging category with thousands of stories. But most coverage seems still focused on “does it work?” more than “how do we define It”, “what does work mean?” or “work for whom, and for what?” Can you summarize what recent research suggests?

We have seen clear patterns in the application of our training programs, some published (like IMPACT), some unpublished, some with healthy adults, and some with people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). What we see in every case: 1) despite one’s age, brain functioning can be improved, often with pretty impressive improvement in a short-time frame and limited time invested (10 or 20 or 30 or 40 hours over a period of a few weeks up to two or three months). 2) Basic neurological abilities in 60-90 year olds that are directly subject to training (for example, processing accuracy or processing speed) can be improved to the performance level of the average 20 or 30 or 40 year old through three to ten hours of training at that specific ability. 3) Improvements generalize to broader cognitive measures, and to indices of quality of life. 4) Improvements are sustained over time (in different controlled studies, documented at all post-training benchmarks set between three to 72 months after training completion).

In normal older individuals, training effects endure — but that does not mean that they could not benefit from booster or refresher training — or from ongoing training designed to improve other skills and abilities that limit their older lives. Importantly, a limited controlled study in mildly cognitively impaired individuals showed that in contrast to normal individuals, their abilities declined in the post-training epoch. These folks had improved substantially with training. Even while there abilities slowly deteriorated after training, they sustained their advantages over patients who were not trained. We believe that in these higher-risk individual, continued training will probably be absolutely necessary to sustain their brain health, and, if it can be achieved (and that is completely unproven), to protect them from a progression to AD. Moreover, for both these higher-risk and normal individuals, interventions should not be thought of as one-time cure-alls. Ongoing brain fitness training shall be the way to go.

A major obstacle is that there is not enough research funding for appropriate trials to address all of these issues, especially as they apply for the mildly cognitively impaired (pre-AD) or the AD populations. We’d welcome not only more research dollars but also more FDA involvement, to help clarify the claims being made.

Next Generation Assessments

A key element for the maturity of the field will be the widespread use of objective assessments. What do you see in that area?

Unfortunately, most researchers and policy initiatives are still wedded to relatively rudimentary assessments. For example, I recently participated in meetings designed to help define a very-well-supported EU initiative on how cognitive science can contribute to drug development, in which most applied assessments and most assessments development were still paper-based. This is a major missed opportunity, given the rapidly growing development and availability of automated assessments.

I believe we will see more independent assessments but also embedded assessments. For instance, in Scientific Learning we routinely use ongoing embedded assessments and cross-referenced state test achievement scores to develop models and profiles designed to determine the regimes of neuroplasticity-based training programs that must be applied so that individual students, school sites and school districts may achieve their academic performance goals.

What’s Next?

This has been a fascinating conversation, and a great context to the themes we will cover in depth in the summit. What else do you think will happen over the next few years?

First, I believe we’ll need to focus on public education, for people to understand the value of tools with limited “face value”. One important aspect of this is the need to find balance between what is “fun” and what has value as a cognitive enhancer — which requires the activities to be very targeted, repetitive and slowly progressive. Not always the most fun — people need to think “fitness” as much or more than “games.”

Second, I believe the role of providing supervision, coaching, support, will emerge to be a critical one. Think about the need for having a piano teacher, if you want to learn how to play the piano and improve over time. Technology may help fill this role, or empower and richly support real “coaches” who do so.

Which existing professional group is more likely to become the “personal brain trainers” of the future? or will we see a new profession emerge?

Frankly, I don’t know. To give you some context, at Scientific Learning we experimented with offering free access to therapists for a two-month training. At Posit Science we first experimented with virtual ‘coaches’ that many people seemed to hate, and later encouraged people who had completed the program to volunteer and coach new participants. Results were mixed. We’re now exploring other possibilities.

Let me mention a few other aspects. I believe we will also see a growing number of applications in languages other than English, which will be key given growing interest in South Korea, Japan and China on aging workforce issues (until now they have been mostly focused on childhood development, using English-based programs). We will also see the programs widely available to people who may not have computers at home. For example, Posit Science recently donated software equivalent in value to one million dollars to the Massachusetts public library system, as a model of how wider access (in this case, to help older drivers) might be provided.

My dream in all of this is to have standardized and credible tools to train the five to six main neurocognitive domains for cognitive health and performance through life, coupled with the right assessments to identify one’s individual needs and measure progress. For example, I’d like to know what the 10 things are that I need to fix, and where to start. Assessments could either measure the physical status of the brain, such as the degree of myelination, or measure functions over time via automated neuropsych assessments, which is probably going to be more efficient and scalable and potentially be self-administered in a home health model.

Mike, thank you very much once more for your time and insights.

My pleasure. I am looking forward to the very innovative Summit that SharpBrains is putting together to convene our little growing community.

______

Please note that this is an excerpt of the full interview published on December 17th by SharpBrains. If you want to read full interview (with extended focus on medicine, mental health and clinical aspects) you can read Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers.

To learn more about the inaugural global and virtual summit 2009-12-20-sharpbrains_summit_logo_web.jpgon Technology for Cognitive Health and Performance, January 18-20th, 2010, click on SharpBrains Summit. The Summit will gather over 30 speakers from leading universities and companies.

More on The Balanced Life


Categories: World Tags: , , , , , , , , ,