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Commercialising neuroscience: Cognitive training may be a moneyspinner despite scientists’ doubts

Commercialising neuroscience: Cognitive training may be a moneyspinner despite scientists’ doubts

Aug 10th 2013 | NEW YORK |From the print edition

“OUR primary goal is for our users to see us as a gym, where they can work out and keep mentally fit,” says Michael Scanlon, the co-founder and chief scientist of Lumos Labs. For $14.95 a month, subscribers to the firm’s Lumosity website get to play a selection of online games designed to improve their cognitive performance. There are around 40 exercises available, including “speed match”, in which players click if an image matches a previous one; “memory matrix”, which requires remembering which squares on a matrix were shaded; and “raindrops”, which involves solving arithmetic problems before the raindrops containing them hit the ground. The puzzles are varied, according to how well users perform, to ensure they are given a suitably challenging brain-training session each day.

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Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty

The Johnson & Johnson dynasty: A headache-inducing biography of the Johnson family

Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition

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Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty. By Jerry Oppenheimer. St Martin’s Press; 496 pages; $27.99 and £18.99.Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

“CRAZY RICH” ought to be good. It has a bestselling author, Jerry Oppenheimer. It has a fascinating subject, the family that founded Johnson & Johnson, the company that invented Band-Aids and now peddles everything from painkillers to antipsychotics. The Johnson scions include drug addicts, a sculptor and the owner of the New York Jets football team. Yet somehow this book is unreadable. The problem is hardly the raw material. Robert Wood Johnson, the son of a poor Pennsylvania farmer, founded Johnson & Johnson with his brothers in 1886. After his death in 1910, his brother James led the company’s expansion during the first world war, creating the plasters and gauze used by soldiers at the front. Robert Wood Johnson’s son, named after his father, may have been the company’s most forceful leader. He steered it through the Depression and oversaw its initial public offering in 1944. He served in the army for a few months during the second world war and called himself “General Johnson” for the rest of his life. His son Bobby (Robert Wood Johnson III), was the firm’s president for just four years before the General helped oust him in 1965. They were the last Johnsons to be in the family business. The book’s many other characters include Evangeline, the General’s sister. She had three husbands and, if Mr Oppenheimer is to be believed, a lesbian lover. There is the strange case of J. Seward Johnson junior, whose wife shot an investigator hired to track her. There is Keith Johnson, who parked his BMW on a beach, dropped acid and then watched the tide carry away his car. The most delectable titbits involve Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, who owns the Jets and was a leading supporter of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate last year. His public persona has been rather staid. Mr Oppenheimer paints him as a dolt. He earned poor marks at the University of Arizona, hardly a bastion of academic rigour. When drunk once, he fell off a bridge and severely injured his back. As a young man in Florida, he courted a business partner by supposedly saying, “My dad told me that I have to learn business from somebody who made their own money without inheriting it, and preferably he should be a Jew.” All this should make for juicy reading. But “Crazy Rich” is all guilt and no pleasure. The sources for this “unauthorised biography” are patchy. Mr Oppenheimer’s long sentences are packed with clichés. The narration ranges from sloppy to preposterous. Must he compare the Johnsons to a Greek tragedy twice in two pages, or to the Kennedys even more frequently? When Woody Johnson’s daughter criticised a family member in a tabloid, Mr Oppenheimer opines that she “was now considered a tabloid terrorist, and her act of vengeance their own personal 9/11”. The Johnsons have had many sad stories, including drug overdoses and fatal accidents, not to mention ugly fights over inheritance. One might think this would inspire sympathy, or at least greater interest in its subjects. Yet “Crazy Rich” arouses few feelings other than the desire for it to end. Best then not to start it in the first place.

Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty Hardcover

by Jerry Oppenheimer  (Author)

From the founders of the international health-care behemoth Johnson & Johnson in the late 1800s to the contemporary Johnsons of today, such as billionaire New York Jets owner Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, all is revealed in this scrupulously researched, unauthorized biography by New York Times bestselling author Jerry Oppenheimer. Often compared to the Kennedy clan because of the tragedies and scandals that had befallen both wealthy and powerful families, Crazy Rich, based on scores of exclusive, candid, on-the-record interviews, reveals how the  dynasty’s vast fortune was both intoxicating and toxic through the generations of a family that gave the world Band-Aids and Baby Oil. At the same time, they’ve been termed perhaps the most dysfunctional family in the fortune 500. Oppenheimer is the author of biographies of the Kennedys, the Clintons, the Hiltons and Martha Stewart, among other American icons. Read more of this post

Is China’s great wall of capital controls keeping money in or out?

Is China’s great wall of capital controls keeping money in or out?

Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition

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AT ITS recent mid-year meeting, China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), which helps to regulate the flow of capital across the country’s borders, weighed the task ahead. China is committed to making its currency, the yuan, fully convertible, relaxing the controls that keep foreign money out and domestic money in. A plan is expected this year. At its meeting, SAFE concluded that the next phase of foreign-exchange management will be “glorious and arduous”. It will certainly be the latter. China first promised to make the yuan fully convertible in 1993, setting the end of that decade as a deadline. Back then the Asian financial crisis helped undermine the case for quick and early capital-account liberalisation. But China’s peculiarities have also reduced the sense of urgency. Most emerging economies relaxed capital controls because they wanted to invite money in. By importing foreign capital, poor countries could invest more than they themselves could afford to save. Read more of this post

China’s Guangdong Province Confirms Bird-Flu Case; The Confirmation Raises Concerns That the Virus May Be Resurfacing

August 10, 2013, 8:54 p.m. ET

China’s Guangdong Province Confirms Bird-Flu Case

The Confirmation Raises Concerns That the Virus May Be Resurfacing

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HONG KONG—Southern China’s Guangdong province confirmed its first case of H7N9 bird flu on Saturday, rekindling concerns that the virus may be resurfacing and could spread to Hong Kong and elsewhere. Authorities in Guangdong said a 51-year-old woman surnamed Chen living in Boluo county, about 80 miles east of the capital Guangzhou, had contracted the disease. She is in critical condition after having been admitted to a hospital on Aug. 3 following signs of a fever. Read more of this post

A new prescription: New Zealand’s plan to regulate designer drugs is better than trying to ban them and failing

A new prescription: New Zealand’s plan to regulate designer drugs is better than trying to ban them and failing

Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition

AS THE world’s drug habit shows, governments are failing in their quest to monitor every London window-box and Andean hillside for banned plants. But even that Sisyphean task looks easy next to the fight against synthetic drugs. No sooner has a drug been blacklisted than chemists adjust their recipe and start churning out a subtly different one. These “legal highs” are sold for the few months it takes the authorities to identify and ban them, and then the cycle begins again. In June the UN reported more than 250 such drugs in circulation.

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Can China clean up fast enough? The world’s biggest polluter is going green, but it needs to speed up the transition

Can China clean up fast enough? The world’s biggest polluter is going green, but it needs to speed up the transition

Aug 10th 2013 |From the print edition

“HELL is a city much like London—a populous and a smoky city,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1819. It is a description that would suit many Chinese cities today for, like Britain in the early 19th century, China is going through an industrial-powered growth spurt. Like Britain back then, the urge to get rich outweighs the desire for clean air, so the Chinese are chucking all manner of filth into the atmosphere. And, rather sooner than Britain did, China is beginning to clean up its act (see article).

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Years of crisis have reinforced the pressure on Italy’s once-envied industrial base

Years of crisis have reinforced the pressure on Italy’s once-envied industrial base

Aug 10th 2013 | ROME |From the print edition

THE traditional August shutdown of Italian factories usually lifts the spirits of blue-collar workers, who can look forward to up to four weeks away from toiling on the production line. In recent years, however, many have spent their holidays wondering if there will be a job to come back to at the end of summer. Almost one manufacturing firm in five shut between 2009 and 2012, and the carnage continues unabated. Italy has long been Europe’s second-biggest manufacturing power, beaten only by Germany. It still is, just about, but its production base is being jeopardised by competition from abroad and the downturn at home. Read more of this post

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