Killer mushrooms!

first_imgIt is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of emperors. Inparts of California’s forests, it is everywhere.It is the deathcap mushroom, Amanita phalloides, so filledwith toxins that a single cap can kill anyone who mistakenly eats it anddoes not get medical treatment. Because it looks like an ediblemushroom, the deathcap is among those most involved in human poisoning,such as one that occurred in Newton, Mass., last fall. Through history,it has been a convenient tool for those interested in regime change,playing a key role in the Europe-spanning War of Austrian Succession inthe 1700s, which started when Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI died aftereating a plate of mushrooms, thought to be deathcaps.Though much is known about the deathcap’s toxicity — it kills byfostering liver failure — much less is understood about its generalbiology and its role in the environment. AnnePringle, associate professor of organismic and evolutionarybiology, is out to change that.Pringle has spent years in California’s forests, researching thedeathcaps that in some parts of the state make up as much as 80 percentof the local biomass of mushrooms. Pringle proved first that theCalifornia population was not native, but rather an introducedpopulation from Europe.She’s working now to understand the mushroom’s dispersal across thelandscape and its symbiotic partnership with trees. Its widespreadpresence begs the questions of whether it displaced native symbioticfungi and whether it spreads more easily as a mutualist (an organism in arelationship beneficial to both partners) than it would as a pathogen,which characterizes most known invasive fungi. She recently concludedthat it reproduces more readily through the spread of its spores, whichare released from the fleshy gills under its cap, than asexually throughfragmentation of its thready subterranean fungal body.Like most mushroom-producing fungi, much of the deathcap’s bodyactually lies under the Earth’s surface, and its mushrooms aretemporary, sent up from the underground filaments to release spores andthen fade. Even with the mushroom gone, the fungus still operatesunderground, decomposing old plant matter and, in the case of thedeathcap, partnering with tree roots, providing nitrogen in exchange forcarbon compounds.Pringle’s work, conducted through a combination of old-fashionedfieldwork and cutting-edge genetic analysis, has shown that the deathcapspreads slowly. It moves through either the slow creep of itsunderground body or the floating spread of its spores, which do notdrift far from their release point.Humans likely played a big role in the fungus’ spread. Because itlives in association with tree roots, researchers believe it wasintroduced here from Europe at least twice — once in California and onceon the East Coast — by hitching rides on trees transplanted from Europeto America.On the East Coast, Pringle and researchers from her lab haveidentified dozens of populations: in Newton, near the New Jersey PineBarrens, near Rochester, N.Y., and in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.Pringle says the populations on the East Coast are isolated, notwidespread as in California. Another difference on the East Coast is that deathcaps are associated with pine trees, not theoaks that they partner with in California and Europe. Pringle anddoctoral student Ben Wolfe said that may be because of a slightlydifferent strain being introduced on the East Coast, or it may bebecause of ecological constraints put on the population on the EastCoast by closely related native species, also from the genus Amanita.Though the deathcap may be the star of Pringle’s lab, her workincludes other fungal species, as well as lichens, a symbioticassociation of fungi and algae.Wolfe, who expects to graduate in December, is working with the U.S. Department ofEnergy to decode the genome of Amanita species related tothe deathcap. He hopes to understand the genetic roots of fungalsymbiosis with trees. A bonus of decoding the fungi’s genome, Wolfesaid, would be that, in degrading plant material, the fungi produces anenzyme called cellulase, of potential interest in biofuel processing.In talking about her work, Pringle emphasizes the importance offungal conservation. Fungi have not received the attention that plantsand animals have, so less is known about them. With the planetundergoing an extinction crisis, we may be losing fungal species beforewe even know they’re here, Pringle said.last_img read more

The backdrop on retirement funds

first_imgDavid Laibson, who serves on Harvard’s Retirement Investment Committee, spoke with the Harvard Gazette recently about upcoming changes to the University’s retirement investment options. Laibson is the Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.Gazette: On Nov. 12, Harvard will reduce the lineup of mutual funds offered through its retirement plan. “Lifecycle funds” will now be the automatic, or default, choice for employees who do not actively choose to manage their own investments. What are some of the benefits of these changes, in your view?David Laibson: With the new lineup, we’ve stripped out the funds that are really not appropriate and included only those that are people’s best options, so it’s a lot easier for them to choose wise investments. That’s one benefit.A second benefit is that lifecycle funds are easier to use in the long run. For instance, the funds automatically reduce your exposure to stocks as you approach retirement, so you don’t suddenly lose half your wealth on the brink of retirement because the market plummets. They also rebalance, as asset classes perform well or perform poorly. Let’s say your fund held 50 percent of its assets in stocks. Then prices double, and now stocks are a much larger percentage of your portfolio. Lifecycle funds automatically rebalance so that you aren’t overwhelmingly weighted to stocks just because prices went up. That’s another benefit.Another benefit has to do with fees. Funds charge an annual fee — maybe a percent or two of your total account balances — as compensation for managing your money. As the University reduces the number of funds it offers, we end up with more assets in the ones that remain. That allows Harvard to demand lower fees from the fund companies [Fidelity, Vanguard, and TIAA-CREF]. It might be only half of a percent extra return each year. But if you can get that for 40 years, it’s like increasing your final wealth by as much as 20 percent.Gazette: How are lifecycle funds better than, say, picking stocks on my own?Laibson: If you pick stocks, you could be very lucky and put your money in the Google IPO and get rich. You could also be very unlucky and put your money in a company like Enron and lose all your wealth when it entered bankruptcy. Saving for retirement should not be like buying a lottery ticket.Finance professors and economists generally believe that a diversified portfolio — one that holds foreign and domestic stocks, corporate and government bonds, and money market assets — is the best way to invest. Lifecycle funds are fully diversified. Their goal is to get the best tradeoff of risk and return.Gazette: Lifecycle funds do a lot of work for the investor. Is that a good thing? Take automatic rebalancing: If stocks are doing well, wouldn’t I want more of my money in stocks?Laibson: There’s a lot of academic work — including my own — that shows that human psychology goes in just the right way for people to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to investing. They think, “Stocks went up a lot. I want even more stocks. Stocks went down a lot. I want to dump whatever I have.” Pretty soon, their portfolio is no longer diversified. They end up doubling their exposure at the height of the tech boom — just in time for the crash. They also end up exiting stocks in 2008 and early 2009 when stocks reach their bottom, and they miss the rebound. That’s why giving people something that’s going to automatically do the right thing for them is a big plus.Gazette: The new lineup will also include a number of “core funds.” Why is Harvard offering them, and how were they chosen?Laibson: It’s all about giving people choice. If they want to be in the driver’s seat, the core funds give them that option. We’ve made sure that these funds are low cost, that they are diversified, and that they span the universe of assets that are appropriate for retirement savings. If people want even more choices, they can open a brokerage account and get access to thousands of funds. They can hold undiversified mutual funds if they really want to. I don’t recommend it, but they have that freedom.You can visit the Compensation & Benefits section of the HARVie website to get other answers to questions about the new retirement investment choices, to find out about on-campus information sessions, and to learn how to make appointments with fund representatives.last_img read more

The influence of neighbors

first_imgRyan Enos is out to prove that how people naturally organize themselves in the space they live in can have huge political significance.According to Enos, an assistant professor of government at Harvard, the space you live in and who is around you could affect your political behavior. “It’s not just where people live, it’s who else lives there with them. People spend a lot of time studying how diversity affects behavior, but we’re paying little attention to how we conceptualize the space around that diversity and that behavior.”But Enos is quick to point that this new diversity may not be all it’s chalked up to be. “People have preconceived ideas about how the diversifying of cities is going to affect interracial ideas and relations,” he said. “We have to stop and say that just because a new minority is moving into the same city doesn’t mean they’re actually going to be in the same space in that city as the old residents.”“My claim is that these neighborhoods, this natural segregation into which people separate themselves, has political significance. Who you live near can affect whom you vote for and how often you vote.”Enos put his claim to the test in 2008 and 2009 in the field of Los Angeles, where he was living at the time. “It’s a fascinating city to study,” he said enthusiastically. Los Angeles was a particularly good testing ground for Enos’ hypothesis because the population is not only rapidly diversifying but also has “meaningful levels of racial segregation.” Enos began by studying mixed neighborhoods, asking people what they thought of their new neighbors. “I had a good awareness that something was going on between the minority groups, and you didn’t have to dig far below the surface to feel the tension,” he said. “Many of the African Americans I interviewed said they vote because of fear of immigration from Latinos. Latinos are the new incoming competition for work.”Enos wanted to see how this tension would manifest itself politically. After accessing the voter files of residents in significantly African-American and Latino census “block groups” (meaning they were from the same area), he sent letters to both groups, highlighting areas on the map of the recipient’s block and the block nearby, and indicating the average frequency of voting on both these blocks.“I said nothing about race in these letters,” he said. “I made an assumption that these people would have a good enough mental image of their area to know which blocks were dominated by which ethnicities.” Enos checked the same residents’ records after the next election to monitor changes in voting behavior.Ultimately, the effect he found was that when African Americans received a letter that highlighted a Latino block close to them, and thus were more aware of the Latinos in their area, the African-Americans’ voting numbers shot up 10 percentage points. The same effect was not found in reverse; Latinos did not vote in higher numbers in either condition.“To me, this kind of reinforces the idea that these groups aren’t in conflict, but African Americans feel they are being displaced. The change in voting numbers could be pushback due to economic competition.”To Enos, and to those who witnessed the changes, the influx of Latinos to the cities closely parallels the process in the ’60s when African Americans were moving into cities, and there was a “backlash” from the new working-class whites. However, this time around, according to Enos, there’s one key difference: “African Americans have a history of knowing what it’s like to be the oppressed minority. They seem to always place themselves between Latinos and whites. They have sympathy for the new minority; they’ve been there. But they’re still competing with them for jobs.”Enos says it’s hard to see how this is going to play out. “It could have big implications. For instance, since we only have two political parties in the United States, there are necessarily a lot of different types of people in both those parties, and as the U.S. becomes increasingly diversified, so will those parties. We might see a sort of coalition of minorities.”But again, Enos notes that history repeats itself. “We saw something similar in the ’60s: the fracturing of the New Deal coalition,” he said. “Southern whites, who had traditionally made up the Democratic Party, fled to the Republicans when African Americans began to join. The Democrats saw a lot of their regular voters replaced with racial minorities who don’t vote as often, and thus we saw the decline of Democratic dominance. From 1968 onward we’ve been in a period of Republican domination of electoral politics, even with Democratic presidents.”Enos predicts the Democrats could face a similar problem moving forward. “These two groups are in conflict now, but since the Republicans have driven them out of their party, they’ve both become increasingly Democratic voters. Can they coexist? Would Latinos ever stop voting Democratic? Would African Americans ever vote Republican? It might sound crazy now, but if you go back in time, no one would have ever predicted that blacks would leave the party of Lincoln to join the party of Southern segregation.”Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the question of race will not leave the political field for a long time. “Segregation is a social factor,” Enos said, “and it’s often interrelated with political questions.”last_img read more

First-time opioid prescriptions drop by 50 percent

first_img A nation nearer to the grave Opioid epidemic top priority for surgeon general Confronting the creep of opioid abuse Adams addresses nation’s health at HSPH leadership event “The challenge we have in front of us is nothing short of intricate: curbing the opioid epidemic while ensuring that we appropriately treat pain,” said Nicole Maestas, senior investigator on the study and associate professor of health care policy in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School. “It’s a question of balancing the justified use of potent pain medications against the risk for opioid misuse and abuse.”The researchers cautioned that, because the insurance claims they examined lacked details about specifics of the clinical encounters, their analysis was not designed to determine the appropriateness of physicians’ decisions to prescribe or withhold opioids.Still, the team warned, the patterns of prescribing raise some concerns.Between 2012 and 2017, the monthly incidence of initial opioid prescriptions declined by more than half, from 1.63 percent to 0.75 percent, with fewer clinicians initiating opioids for any opioid-naive patient. The number of providers who prescribed opioids for any opioid-naive patient decreased by nearly 30 percent, from 114,043 to 80,462.Among the shrinking number of physicians who did initiate opioid prescriptions, risky prescribing — defined as either a morphine-equivalent dose of 50 milligrams per day or more, or any dose prescribed for longer than three days — persisted at an average rate of more than 115,000 high-risk prescriptions per month out of 15.9 million opioid-naive individuals. A small portion of these high-risk prescriptions were particularly alarming: More than 7,700 exceeded 90 milligram of morphine equivalents per day, a dose that places patients at a substantially higher risk of both nonfatal and fatal overdose.With the U.S. in the middle of a crippling opioid epidemic, spurred in large part by overuse of prescription opioids, the researchers set out to analyze trends in the rate at which opioid therapy was initiated among commercially insured patients. During the years covered by the study, physicians and policymakers were paying more attention to the dangers of the drugs. One major turning point during this time was the prominent release of prescribing guidelines, meant to reduce prescriptions of high-dosage and long-duration courses of opioids, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, the researchers said.For their analysis, the investigators used de-identified insurance data claims from BCBS Axis, the largest collection of commercial insurance claims, medical-professional, and cost-of-care information. They estimated the percentage of opioid-naive individuals receiving a new prescription, the percentage receiving a long-duration or high-dose prescription, and the number of clinicians who started any opioid-naive patient on opioid therapy. Over five years, the researchers every month sampled data from 63.8 million opioid-naive individuals.Above all, the findings underscore the need for further analysis into how clinical decisions are made about whether to use opioids and, if so, at what dose and for how long.“The ultimate goal should be creating interventions that promote safer prescribing by balancing the importance of pain relief with the risks of opioid treatment, rather than an all-or-nothing approach,” Maestas said.The work was supported by grants (P01AG005842 and R01AG026290) from the National Institute on Aging and a gift from Owen and Linda Robinson. Harvard Medical School participates in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Alliance for Health Research.Co-investigators included Wenjia Zhu, HMS associate in health care policy; Michael Chernew, the HMS Leonard D. Schaeffer Professor of Health Care Policy; and Tisamarie Sherry, associate physician policy researcher at the RAND Corp. Pulling our punches in opioid fight Related Another decline in U.S. life expectancy signals urgent need for more comprehensive strategy against opioids, suicide, specialist says Treatment access seen as dangerously inadequate in crisis that continues to claim dozens of lives a day As problem deepens, specialists call for more education — including for doctors A national call for restraint in opioid prescribing has yielded dramatic progress in clinician prescribing patterns, but leaves some notable room for improvement.These are the findings of a new study from Harvard Medical School (HMS) showing a drop of more than 50 percent in monthly opioid prescribing for new patients.Despite this marked decrease, the research showed, a subset of physicians have persisted in doling out prescriptions for these potent drugs at concerning dosages and lengths. At the same time, others have stopped writing any new prescriptions for opioid pain relief, raising the question of whether some patients might be getting less-than-adequate treatment for their pain.The study findings, based on an analysis of more than 86 million privately insured patients across the U.S. between 2012 and 2017, appear March 14 in The New England Journal of Medicine.The findings show a dramatic drop — 54 percent — in the rate of monthly opioid prescriptions to patients who have never used these drugs or had been off them for at least six months, a group commonly referred to as the “opioid naive.” First-time prescriptions are deemed an important gateway to long-term opioid use and misuse and have become a target for risk reduction, the researchers said.The researchers said the findings are reassuring because of the significant drop in prescriptions, but alarming because of the persistence of potentially inappropriate prescribing in some cases and the possibility of undertreatment of pain in others.last_img read more

Internal Struggles and External Goals

first_imgPhoto by: Dan Greb, Montgomery County Road Runners Club Physically speaking, there’s nothing remarkable in my running story. Millions of people take up running; millions lose weight, and unfortunately millions struggle to balance their fitness goals with the realities of injury. What makes the story meaningful for me, and I hope for others, is the transition it marked for me internally. That struggle with laziness and lack of self-discipline manifested itself in several harmful ways in my life. I flunked out of college at 19 because I couldn’t force myself to go to class instead of going out. I struggled to keep a job in my early 20s because I couldn’t see past the immediate day-to-day hassles of work-life to my eventual career goals, and as my metabolism changed into my 30s, I couldn’t steel myself against the food and lifestyle choices that joined me uninvited on the scale. Photo courtesy of Patrick Delaney There were for me those simple facts that most men know to be true about their health: I knew that I needed to change my lifestyle–for me, for my wife, for my kids; I knew I didn’t want to be the lone overweight husband in our circle of friends; I knew I had a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease and cholesterol issues; I knew I loved donuts, fried food and beer. The doctors cleared me to begin light jogging several weeks after the surgery. I ran too many miles that first week back, but am moving along now in the slow process of regaining my fitness. I’ve had plenty of donuts in these down weeks, and I’ve regained some of the weight that I had lost. The simple act of running however–of putting on my shoes and leaving the house–marks for me the time that has passed and the stage that I find myself in now. I know that it’s in me now, the ability to make myself go do it. It’s a better place I’m in, and while it’s not quite the ideal in the second photograph, it’s a pursuit in that direction. The first is on our refrigerator: a grainy selfie of my wife and I the day we brought our oldest daughter home from the hospital shows both of us tired, happy, and significantly overweight. The second, taken some years later, is an Instagram post of her best friend’s husband, shirtless on a beach in Delaware, toned and defined and approaching 40. And it all felt amazing. I lost 60 pounds in the first year. My times came down and with them my blood pressure and cholesterol. My resting heart rate was low and my V02 max was high. I felt skinny, fit and strong. People asked me what I had done to lose the weight, and when I said running, they responded with those familiar, long-held crutches of their own. I sat shirtless at the pool and beach without feeling self-confident. I felt attractive. I respected myself. I believed I had finally moved from a life that mirrored the first of the photos into one that mirrored the second. Once it took however, the running stuck. I started with a long streak of two miles each day until I was able to run the distance without walking. At that point, I progressed to three miles, then four. I joined the local run club in our Washington, D.C. suburb. I did my first road and trail half marathons. I kept a spare set of shoes and shorts under my desk at work. I bought a smartwatch and got on the run tracking apps. I ran the Cherry Blossom, the A-10, and the other notable races in the area. I made an age group podium. I bought a jogging stroller. I made obnoxious comments about running. I began looking at different marathon programs. I subscribed to active lifestyle magazines like this one. I called myself a runner. I jumped in with both feet. I think the story begins with a series of pictures. Photo by Jim Dahlem: Montgomery County Road Runners Club, of author Patrick Delaney running the Ad Astra singlet, center_img Patrick Delaney lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife and two daughters. I also knew I hated running, mostly because I was bad at it, and that made me feel like a failure. I was good at other athletic ventures, some of which I pursued with varying degrees of seriousness, but pure cardiovascular training always eluded me, just as I avoided it. I had a partial hip reconstruction when I was a small child, and throughout my teens and twenties, I used that as a crutch either to explain why I was a terrible runner, or to avoid running altogether.  I can’t pinpoint the exact motivator that pushed me into running, but when I think about how I got started, I always come back to those two photos: snapshots of where I was, and where I wanted to be. Photo courtesy of Patrick Delaney Running was hard for me, yes from a physical standpoint, but even more significantly from a mental one. For the first year, I genuinely felt that with each run I was overcoming the excuses and laziness that had dogged me up until that point. To pair that with the physical results was a genuine revelation, a personal victory, signifying that I could in fact make myself do this thing that I’d convinced younger versions of me was out of reach. But with the injury, that continued success, and with it the progress I had made to that point, seemed in real doubt. Injury of course is endemic to running. Whether it’s minor or major, athletes will all at some point face the prospect of taking time off to heal. It is then that the concept of self control becomes that much more important. For her part, my wife has gone on her own journey since that first photo was taken, empowering herself as a fitness instructor and coach for other moms. She has been a remarkable leader in our lives, and it’s through her that I understand what a mistake it is to view this whole process transactionally. If I understand eating a donut as something I can do only if I run three or four miles, the only thing keeping me from that donut is those three or four miles. That places the onus entirely on me and my self restraint in the event of an injury that keeps me from running, and when I invariably give in to the donut, the accompanying shame only makes things worse. I knew though that at the core of my aversion was a pair of simple shortcomings: laziness and a lack of at least some of the most basic elements of self discipline. I wasn’t ever able to motivate to get out there and do it, or when I was, I was still unable to force myself to stick with it long enough to get in shape. The result is that it took me more than 35 years to start running regularly.  So when the doctors told me that recovery from bilateral hernia surgery would mean no running for several months, I was legitimately concerned that I might give that all back, and that in turn worried me that I might revert to the person I was in that picture on the refrigerator.last_img read more

Operation Avalanche Hits MS-13 in Honduras

first_imgMS-13 was the focus during Operation Avalanche’s first phase because of the gang’s involvement in several violent criminal enterprises, which include extorting local businesses and transportation workers, such as taxi and bus drivers. The extortions rob hundreds of thousands of lempiras from hard-working people. MS-13, which is also being targeted along with members of the Barrio 18 gang, also partners with international narco-trafficking groups. For example, MS-13 members help transport cocaine north to Mexico and the United States. They also own businesses that launder illicit drug money, law enforcement investigations have shown. Romero is not the first municipal authority suspected of working with a criminal group. In October, police detained the town leader of the municipality of Sulaco, in Yoro department, who allegedly led a violent criminal group. In June, FUSINA captured Ramón Sarmiento, who was then the municipal head of Juticalpa, capital of Olancho department, for his alleged involvement in the illegal possession of weapons and ammunition. On March 9th, law enforcement authorities captured a town leader, Jairón Chinchilla, in a house in San Fernando, Ocotepeque department. Authorities suspect he led a band of hitmen by the name of “Los Carrillos.” It is very important how in recent years the U.S. has been supporting with personnel and donations, such as the Cesna 201 airplane, to be able to fight these criminal groups. We have to watch over the heavens of America and Latin American. From the air with eagle eyes. Which is the symbol God left to have as a model of courage and beauty.In difficult times let us take the eagle as a role model he is always above the storms and from there visualize all the surrounding area. It is very important to report on how corrupt some authorities become, when money comes easily. With no regard for the consequences We have to keep watch over the Latin American and American skies…from the air with eagle eyes. Which is the symbol left by God to have as an example of courage and beauty. The joint forces conducted simultaneous raids in the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa and in its neighboring towns of Talanga and Valle de Ángeles, as well as in San Pedro Sula and Villanueva in the northern department of Cortés. Authorities seized about $9 million — roughly 200 million lempiras — during Operation Avalanche’s initial phase, according to Ricardo Castro, head of the ATIC. By Dialogo March 15, 2016 “They are a complex criminal organization with abundant resources that permit them to invest in several industries,” explained Military Justice Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, a FUSINA spokesman. “They owned a chemical laboratory in which we found drug-making precursors, so it is evident that they were expanding the scope of their operations.” Continuing operation In addition to the arrests, law enforcement authorities and service members seized assets allegedly owned by the MS-13, including several homes; an apartment building; a commercial center; a medical clinic; a transportation company; a car junkyard; and a barber shop. At some of the properties, authorities seized two dozen police uniforms, about 20 firearms, including handguns and rifles, and bullet-proof vests. A few days later, authorities seized a soccer sports center they suspect was operated by gang members. Smith made his remarks in April 2015, when U.S. authorities designated three of the gang’s alleged high-ranking leaders – Salvadorans José Luís Mendoza Figueroa, Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, and Élmer Canales Rivera – for their suspected involvement in transnational criminal organizations. The sanctions freeze their assets in the United States and generally prohibit all U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with them. MS-13 began as a street gang and has evolved into a highly-sophisticated criminal organization. “Even college students are members of this gang, as we have seen,” Lt. Col. Nolasco stated. “The gang has permeated different areas and is operating with the involvement of people you would not expect.” “These structures are very complex and we haven’t even touched a tenth of what they are,” Pacheco stated. “This is a gang with a nationwide presence. (Operation) Avalanche took place in San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and in surrounding areas , but there are other cities we will cover.” Rooting out corruption Honduran security forces captured 15 alleged members or associates of the violent gang known as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) on February 23rd as part of the first of three phases of Operation Avalanche, a mission led by the elite National Inter-Agency Security Force (FUSINA) to dismantle violent street gangs with a particular focus on MS-13. Seven hundred members of the Armed Forces, including FUSINA, the Military Police, the National Police, the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation (ATIC for its Spanish acronym), and the Anti-Drug Trafficking Office participated in the sweep. Law enforcement authorities in the United States, an important partner nation, agree that MS-13 is an international threat. “MS-13 ranks among the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs worldwide, and poses a direct threat to communities across the United States and throughout Central America,” said John E. Smith, Acting Director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. International threat Two former authorities from the municipality of Talanga, in Francisco Morazán department, were among the suspects arrested on February 23rd: Jorge Neftaly Romero, the former municipal government leader, and Álvaro Ernesto García Calderon, former police commissioner. Honduran authorities had removed García Calderón from his post after he had failed a series of tests as part of the depuration process, which is used to root out officials suspected of corruption. “This is a big psychological blow [against MS-13] – they were not expecting such a forceful response from the state,” Honduran Security Minister Julián Pacheco told the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo. “We have hit the leadership structures, the heads of this mafia. The operation will continue through 2016 and 2017 until we are done with it.” last_img read more

10 irrefutable laws of management

first_imgMy father majored in math, with a minor in physics.  If you know my father, you wouldn’t be surprised.  He loves order.  He’s neat.  He detests discord.  He obeys rules.  He’s faithful and dependable.  His choice of study fits his character.  There are rules that govern the world, son.  And you can’t argue your way around them.And then there’s his youngest son, who majored in International Politics. And now, you could say that my career is “management.”  Not quite examples of a hard science, eh?Oh, but you might be wrong.  For there are hard rules that govern management.  As clever as you are, as skilled as you are in rhetoric and debate, you will not escape them. An open calendar invites doom. Each morning, I glance at my masterI-Phone to check my calendar.  Wow, I’d say to Mandy.  My day looks open and clear.  It is going to be a good day.  Never, ever utter those words. While I am Roman Catholic, part of me wonders if the Greek system of Gods might be in play.  For I would not be surprised if there is the God Skedulis, the God of Outlook Calendars.  When he sees an open calendar without meetings, he smiles, winks, and then asks Zeus to launch a few lightening bolts into your day. There often exists an inverse relationship involving the length of a meeting and its usefulness. I have found that “drive-by” meetings, where you pop into a colleague’s office with a few, carefully selected people, can accomplish more than any hour-long meeting with 15 people.  With flip charts.   Most folks work to live, not live to work.  We managers are a strange lot.  Many of us enjoy a good excel spreadsheet, an article on efficiency, and a quiet, yet productive, 2 hours from 6:30-8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.   We ain’t like most people. Many of our colleagues simply work to live.  They do a great job.  They work hard.  But when the whistle blows, their thoughts turn to family, church, baseball, bridge clubs, attending the opera, or watching a marathon session of The Jersey Shore.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  As much as you try to make everyone work, think, and act like you, you’re never going to do it.  Remember, these are irrefutable laws.  Much like gravity.  Only stronger.  Stay away from sarcasm.  I’m a fan of sarcasm.  You can make many a strong point using this rhetorical device.  But sarcasm is dangerous in a room where most people are not paying attention.  Which describes 87.4% of the meetings I’ve attended in my life.  And sarcasm is deadly in emails.  Which is what I seem to do with 87.4% of my time.  You need a truly engaged listener for sarcasm to work. And in today’s fast-paced environment that is interrupted by Tweets, emails, and IMs, engaged moments are becoming a rarity. If you have a message, just say it. Clearly.  People like food. Use this rule to your advantage.  Want to ensure folks come to a non-mandatory meeting?  Feed them.  Want to reward someone?  Feed them.  Heck, if you want to punish someone, I’m guessing that feeding them might work somehow.  If you don’t believe this rule, put a pile of free business-improvement books in the lunch room, and send an email telling folks they can pick one up. The next day, do the same thing, but with a fresh box of donuts.  Again folks, these are irrefutable laws. Don’t shoot the messenger.  You aren’t as good as you think you are on your good days.  But you aren’t as bad as you think you are on your bad days.  We should each hire two monkeys.  One monkey will would berate you if your head gets too big.  And the other would give you a pat on the back when you’re having a bad day. Because the truth is, your performance is likely somewhere in-between those two extremes.  The key thing is to roll up your sleeves and get to work.  Maybe you’d need a third monkey, who would remind you about that last part.   A well-delivered, imperfect decision often beats a an additional week of deliberation. Management involves making decisions.  We all want a piece of data that says “You Shall Do This, And Nothing Bad Shall Happen.”  But that data rarely exists.  And if it did, why do you think an additional week of research would uncover it?  Perhaps.  But my experience says that the decision often isn’t the key to success. It is the effective execution of that decision.  So make up your mind, but spend some extra time to make sure your decision comes to life.  And if you don’t like decisions as a manager, you’re dining at the wrong restaurant. For ye shall dine on decisions as long as ye sit where ye sit.    Man is made of wood so crooked, nothing he builds will ever be straight. This Immanuel Kant quote explains a lot of what happens in the world.  And you should never forget it.  You’ll never get 100% compliance with anything.  You’ll never get 100% attention in a meeting.  People aren’t perfect.  They lead imperfect lives.  They have imperfect spouses and kids.  And guess what – you aren’t perfect either.  So what makes you think you’re solution is infallible?  Rather than grind your teeth and wail into the night when thinking about this irrefutable law of imperfection, embrace it. Know that problems will pop up.  Corrections will need to be made.  Implementations will never go completely as planned.  But that’s the real world.  And the last time I checked, that’s where most of us live.  Beware of Charlatans who Speak of “10 Rules.” You may run across folks who say they have the 10 rules of this, or 10 rules of that.  And if you apply those simple rules, you’ll uncover the secret to success. When dealing with people, there are no simple rules.  There is no secret to success. I hope you apply this heathy skepticism while reading my blog.  Success usually involves hard work, technical skill, great colleagues, and a healthy dash of luck.There you have it. 10 9 Irrefutable Laws of Management, which are in no way irrefutable, or even laws. Management is not clean, easy, or made up of simple rules that can be numbered one through 10.  Although, if you had enough monkeys, it could be much more fun. 44SHARESShareShareSharePrintMailGooglePinterestDiggRedditStumbleuponDeliciousBufferTumblr,Anthony Demangone Anthony Demangone is executive vice president and chief operating officer at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). Demangone oversees day-to-day operations and manages the association’s education, membership, … Web: Detailslast_img read more

Estate nears end

first_imgBushland Grove sales manager Peter Loynes. Picture: Shae Beplate.ONE of Townsville’s most established residential estates is nearing completion after more than 10 years.Bushland Grove, located in Mount Low, has only two more stages left to be developed following the release of stage 13.More from news01:21Buyer demand explodes in Townsville’s 2019 flood-affected suburbs12 Sep 202001:21‘Giant surge’ in new home sales lifts Townsville property market10 Sep 2020Peter Loynes, who has been selling land at Bushland Grove for the past seven years, said the estate offered great affordability.“We have a nice quiet estate with around 87 per cent owner-occupier which means there is a great community with many neighbours building their first homes and starting families here,” he said. “We work with the most respected and trusted builders in the north and are popular with direct referrals from builders as they know the great value we offer. Word is getting out about the great value we offer in stage 13 which is particularly attractive to first time buyers with land from just $118,000 for a low maintenance home site of 384sq m. “Then of course first time buyers could also be eligible for the $20,000 first homebuyers grant, which is expected to finish on June 30.” Bushland Grove is located right near the Ring Rd extension giving residents fast and easy access to Lavarack Barracks, James Cook University and Townsville Hospital, The estate also features landscaped parks, playground and a basketball court. For more information visit read more

Italy’s ENPAM approves new charter, reports 8.35% return

first_imgENPAM, Italy’s first-pillar fund for medical consultants, has approved a new statute that streamlines its government structure and includes tighter legal requirements for board members.With the approval of the new rules, the fund’s directors also agreed to cut their pay by 20%. The changes to ENPAM’s internal regulation were announced last week along with the approval of its annual accounts, which show that the defined benefit fund recorded an 8.35% return in 2013.Total assets have now reached €15bn, making ENPAM one of the largest pension providers in the country in terms of AUM (the largest among first-pillar casse di previdenza and second-pillar industry funds).  The new charter states that, in addition to convicts, those who have pleaded guilty for a number of crimes are not eligible for election as board members.Under the new rules, board members are reduced from 27 to a maximum of 17.The fund’s executive committee, a body that held power over certain decisions but was deemed ‘redundant’, is abolished. ENPAM said the changes would bring a significant reduction in costs, adding to the board’s decision to cut their remuneration.  The charter addresses specific investment management issues, making the prudent person principle more explicit and setting new procedures for investments.It also outlines clearly what types of assets ENPAM can invest in, giving the board less discretion in terms of asset allocation.An ENPAM spokesperson said the wording of the new document implied that ALM effectively became a part of the fund’s statutory objectives.  As well as forbidding convicts to be elected as board members, the new statute establishes a ‘code of transparency’ that makes access to information regarding the funds’ investment easier.  ENPAM’s chairman Alberto Oliveti said in a statement: “With the changes to the statute, we have completed all the reforms we had planned for the 2010-15 mandate of the board. This makes us proud.“In 2011, we began reforming the investment management model, making it safer. In 2012, we reformed the provision of benefits, securing our sustainability for 20 years. Today, we are giving our members a pension fund where they can feel they have even stronger representation.”Members’ representation is heightened in the new regime, as they will be able to vote more representatives to the fund’s national assembly.More representatives, however, will not mean higher costs, as the budget set for the remuneration of representatives is kept at the same level in the new charter.A minimum of 20% of the elected representatives will have to be women.  The fund embarked on a phase of transformation that began in 2011, after being involved in a controversy that resulted in the resignation of its former chairman, Eolo Parodi.He is currently being tried for charges relating to ‘toxic’ investments with a number of former ENPAM advisers. According to a statement by the fund, ENPAM’s finances are now in good health, with current assets covering pension obligations for 12 years, higher than the minimum funding requirement of five years’ coverage.At the end of last year, the surplus generated by investments amounted to €1.53bn after expenses and taxes.Oliveti added: “We can now begin thinking about actions directed at relieving the pressure on new generations. Once the new actuarial budgets are ready, if we have available resources, we could use them to reduce the burden borne by young members.”The work undertaken in recent years to strengthen ENPAM’s governance involved a major effort to scale back on risky assets.Under the threat of large losses from risky investments such as CDOs and structured notes acquired in pre-crisis years, the scheme began monitoring the drawdown risk of that portfolio more closely.ENPAM said that now the risk of significant losses from those past investments was no longer contemplated.     The fund recently launched an international search for a new investment adviser, setting a deadline for awarding a mandate at the end of this year.last_img read more

Maersk Supply Service Wraps Up Ailsa FSO Installation for Culzean

first_imgMaersk Supply Service has completed Ailsa Floating Storage and Offloading unit (FSO) transportation and installation for the Culzean field in the North Sea.Last week, the hook up of the Ailsa FSO was successfully completed, the company informed.The project has been delivered to Total E&P UK as an integrated solution, including project management, engineering, procurement and execution of offshore work scopes. Eight Maersk Supply Service vessels and crew carried out the marine operations.“This is a significant milestone for Maersk Supply Service in delivering full-scope solutions to our customers. Leveraging the expertise, commitment and flexibility of all stakeholders involved as one on- and offshore team was key to the safe, efficient and timely completion of this challenging project,” said head of Integrated Solutions Olivier Trouvé.The Culzean field is located about 242 kilometers (145 miles) east of Aberdeen in the UK sector of the Central North Sea. First gas is expected to be produced from Culzean in 2019.last_img read more