Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller: I don’t expect a sharp turn in the housing market

Robert Shiller

The housing market may be slowing down, but Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller told CNBC he isn’t fearful that a big downturn is ahead.

During the financial crisis, the fluctuation of home prices was the sharpest anyone had ever seen — and the word “housing bubble” entered the vocabulary, the Yale economist said.

Now, “you can call it a bubble” because home prices have been rising since 2012, “but it’s not the same. It’s more placid,” he said on “Power Lunch.”

“I don’t expect a sharp turn in the housing market at this point,” added Shiller, the co-founder of the Case-Shiller Index, which tracks home prices around the nation.

The impact of rising mortgage rates is already being felt on the housing market.

Rates started climbing in September and are now approximately a full percentage point higher than they were a year ago. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is now around 5 percent.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Census reported that sales of newly built homes dropped 5.5 percent in September compared with August and were 13 percent lower compared with a year ago. The slowdown is worse than had been predicted, even with higher rates factored in.

The reading prompted Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, to write in a note to clients: “Anyone watching home builder stocks or watching the data all year should not be surprised but it’s clear this important area of the US economy, highly sensitive to price and rates, has obviously slowed sharply.”

The latest S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, released last month, showed a slowing of the rate of price increases for July.


Poor healthcare in jails is killing inmates, says NHS watchdog

Overcrowding and staff shortages are making it difficult to care for prisoners’ health needs.

Almost half of England’s jails are providing inadequate medical care to inmates, whose health is being damaged by widespread failings, the NHS watchdog has told MPs in a scathing briefing leaked to the Observer.

Healthcare behind bars is so poor in some prisons that offenders die because staff do not respond properly to medical emergencies, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) says.

Mental health services for the 40% of inmates who have psychological or psychiatric problems are particularly weak, which contributes to self-harming and suicides among prisoners, according to the care regulator’s confidential briefing to the Commons health and social care select committee.

It blames chronic understaffing, problems getting to medical appointments and guards knowing too little about ill health to recognise problems.

The mixture of NHS and private companies that provide healthcare in England’s 113 adult jails and young offender institutions “frequently struggle to deliver safe and effective services”, the commission tells MPs.

However, it adds, this is often “due to issues outside of their control” such as shortages of prison and healthcare staff and the environment of jails not offering suitable space for consultations.

It adds: “In 2017-18 we completed 41 joint prison inspections [with the prisons inspectorate]. We found breaches of [CQC] regulations in 47% (19) of these inspections and took corresponding regulatory action, in some cases against more than one registered provider.”

The CQC ordered providers to take remedial action because the care offered to inmates was unacceptable in its quality or safety and breached the watchdog’s five fundamental standards that require providers to ensure services are safe, caring, effective, responsive and well led.

The document details a litany of problems including:

Mental health nurses are unable to assess, care for and treat prisoners because they are too busy responding to inmates having breakdowns or being given drugs.

Shortages of prison guards to escort them means prisoners are missing out on NHS appointments outside the jail.

Inspectors frequently find “inadequate mental health awareness among prison staff and their inability to recognise mental health issues and seek appropriate support for prisoners”.

Incarceration can worsen prisoners’ existing conditions or lead to them developing new problems as a result of “limited exercise and exposure to sunlight (causing vitamin D deficiency), poor diet, illicit drug availability, assault/injury, exposure to communicable diseases, psychological deterioration, self-harm and suicidal ideation”.

Follow-up inspections frequently reveal “poor progress in achieving the intended improvements”.

The charity Inquest said it was concerned about “repeated failings [by prison healthcare providers] around communication, emergency responses, drugs and wider issues of mental ill health and healthcare provision resulting in death.

“Evidence from our casework, supporting families whose relatives have died in custody, indicates that prisons are unhealthy and unsafe environments. A patient in prison has very little autonomy, control and access to medication and appointments. Prisons, at their core, are environments of toxic, high health risk,” said Rebecca Roberts, its head of policy.

In oral evidence to the committee in July Peter Clarke, England’s chief inspector of prisons, painted a bleak picture of inmates’ health and healthcare provision behind bars. Prisoners’ mental health was suffering because overcrowding means that many thousands do not have a cell to themselves, and cells must serve as living room, dining room, kitchen and toilet.

The illicit drugs trade in jails has led to a toxic mix of violence, fear, debt and bullying for many prisoners, Clarke added. As a result “they self-segregate and self-isolate, and instances of self-harm and suicide tragically flow from that”. Inmates’ inability to get to medical appointments, due to staff shortages, has produced “an inevitable knock-on effect on their health and wellbeing”.

Paul Williams, a Labour member of the select committee, which will publish a report into prisoners’ health next week, said: “In too many prisons a profoundly unhealthy environment and woefully inadequate staffing results in prisoners’ health getting much worse because of their time inside. Missed appointments lead to missed cancers, and severely mentally ill people are kept in cells instead of hospital wards.”

Professor Steve Field, the CQC’s chief inspector of primary medical services and integrated care, added: “During our programme of inspection in partnership with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, we have found some poor care and I have serious concerns that the issues we have found are affecting the health of some the most vulnerable people in society.

“I’m anxious that the issues highlighted in our evidence around mental health provision, staff training, particularly nurse and doctor training and inadequate pharmacist oversight of prescribing are dealt with as a matter of urgency.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are investing tens of millions of pounds extra in prison safety and decency. We are spending an extra £40m to improve safety and tackle the drugs which we know are fuelling violence and healthcare problems, including X-ray scanners and drug-detection dogs. Over 3,500 new prison officers have been recruited in the last two years which will help improve access to healthcare services.”


Competition Commission’s policy prescriptions to make healthcare transparent, affordable

Earlier this week, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) released a first of its kind policy note on “Making Markets Work for Affordable Healthcare”. The statutory body, which has so far received 52 cases about anti-competitive practices in pharmaceuticals and the healthcare sector, has prescribed some policy and regulatory action to address the issues.

Here are some of the key recommendations made by the CCI:

Role of intermediaries in drug price build-up

One major factor that contributes to high drug prices in India is the unreasonably high trade margin, which is a form of incentive and an indirect marketing tool employed by drug companies. Trade associations contribute towards high margins as they control the entire drug distribution system to reduce competition.

CCI suggests that efficient and wider public procurement and distribution of essential drugs to circumvent the challenges arising from the distribution chain, supplant sub-optimal regulatory instruments such as price control and allow for access to essential medicines at lower prices.

The competition watch dog also suggests electronic trading of drugs, with appropriate regulatory safeguards, can bring transparency and spur price competition.

Quality perception behind proliferation of branded generics

Worldwide, generic drugs are seen as a key competitive force against patent-expired brands marketed at monopoly prices. In India, the pharmaceutical market is dominated by “branded generics” that limit generic-induced price competition. The branded generic drugs enjoy a price premium owing to perceived quality assurance that comes with the brand.

However, CCI observes that the brand proliferation is to introduce artificial product differentiation in the market, offering no therapeutic difference, but allows firms to extract rents.

The competition watchdog suggests a regulatory apparatus to address the issue of quality perception by ensuring consistent application of statutory quality control measures and better regulatory compliance.

Regulation and competition

Due to multiple regulators governing the pharmaceutical sector at the state and centre levels, implementation of regulations is not uniform across the country. This has resulted in multiple standards of the same product and different levels of regulatory compliance requirements.

The CCI has called for a mechanism to be devised by CDSCO to harmonise the processes followed by state licencing authorities to ensure uniformity in interpretation and implementation. The commission has asked for making approvals of new drugs time-bound along with publication of detailed guidelines governing each stage of the approval process.

The body advocates one-company, one-drug, one-brand name price policy.

Vertical arrangements in healthcare services

In view of the incentive-based referral system that pervades the healthcare landscape, CCI recommends issuing of periodic validated data by hospitals relating to mortality rate, infection rate, number of procedures etc, which could help patients make informed choice.

It has also recommended regulation of in-house pharmacies of super specialty hospitals, which are completely insulated from competition as inpatients are typically not allowed to purchase any product from outside pharmacies.

The competition body has recommended the government to ensure all accredited diagnostic labs meet the same quality standards in terms of infrastructure, equipment and skilled manpower to ensure the same degree of reliability and accuracy of test results across labs.

It has recommended regulatory framework to ensure portability of patient data, treatment record and diagnostic reports between hospitals.

It has said that lack of portability constrains patients in switching from one hospital to another and creates a lock-in effect. Portability of patient data can help ensure that a patient is no longer locked into data silos and do not bear additional cost for switching medical services and that doctors and hospitals can have timely access to patient data.

Will they be ever implemented?

It’s commendable for India’s competition watchdog to come up with a set of policy prescriptions that impede competition and thereby make healthcare expensive. It makes a strong case for the government to act.

But most of these recommendations are anything but new, healthcare policy makers and activists have been raising these issues of information asymmetry, market distortion and profiteering in healthcare for years.

To be sure, there were some well-meaning efforts in the past to regulate the exploitative practices, but these attempts were diluted or nipped in the bud by well entrenched lobbies.

An overwhelming 62 percent of healthcare expenses in India are met by out of pocket expenditure by the individual, and healthcare expenses are cited as one of the primary reasons in India for families falling into debt traps and poverty. India needs not piecemeal but structural reforms in healthcare.


A vegetarian’s guide to Prayagraj’s street food

Food in Allahabad. Photo: Anubhuti Krishna

At 6:30am the fire has been lit. A pot-bellied halwai swiftly beats yeasty batter, a young man fills pastry dough with spicy potato mix, a small crowd meanwhile has already gathered in anticipation of their breakfast—crispy jalebis and spicy samosas. Welcome to Allahabad—or should we say Prayagraj?—the land of early morning breakfasts and Ganga-Jamuni flavours.

Food is everywhere here—from the bylanes of the Old City that come alive every evening with hawkers, shoppers and gourmands, to the small shacks sprinkled all over the town, and carts loaded with churmura and chaat. “I remember going to Allahabad every summer,” reminisces Anahita Dhondy, the chef manager of SodaBottleOpenerWala NCR and Bengaluru, who spent a part of her annual holidays in the city. “The first thing we always did when we got there was to go to Civil Lines for chaat. I especially liked the white matar with sonth ki chutney and of course the aloo ki tikki.”

Chaat in Allahabad. Photo: Anubhuti Krishna

Chaat in this city, much like the rest of Uttar Pradesh, is the mainstay of the street food. It is also a great leveler—from the poorest man on the street to the richest person in town, everyone loves this spicy mish-mash prepared by skilled hands. Suhal ki chaat, made with a triangular patty, boiled white peas, sonth (tamarind) ki chutney, whipped yoghurt, and julienned ginger is an local specialty, as is tamatar ki chaat made with tomatoes, boiled potatoes and seasoning. Pani ke batashey and aloo tikki meanwhile are universal favourites, even though here they are smaller, crispier and spicier than anywhere else. Nirala Mishthaan Bhandar in Loknath lane remains one of the most popular places in town for chaat. Tikonia’s Chaat at Bairahana and Guruji’s Chaat in Colonelganj are other well-known places to sample chaat in Allahabad.

“My favourite part of the food here are the dahi vadas,” says Ruchi Srivastava, producer, Greed Goddess Media, who loves the local vadas for their creaminess. Unlike other places, the dahi vadas in Prayagraj are pre-soaked in smooth yogurt and dressed again in mildly-sweet curd before serving with red and yellow chilies and sonth ki chutney “I am also biased towards Netram ki kachori from Netram Mulchand & Sons. Those are outstanding, and they retain their flavour even after travelling all the way to Mumbai with me,” she adds cheerfully.

While the chaat and kachori stalls have their fans, they aren’t the only places that serve up noteworthy snacks. In the Old City, the shops may be old and crumbly but they arguably make some of the best food you would ever taste—within or outside of the city. The small samosas from Hira Halwai in Civil Lines, for example, are crisp and spicy and hit you with the intense flavour of asafoetida and ghee; dalmoth—a namkeen made with lentils, fine sev and peanuts—is soft, crunchy, spicy, and tangy in equal measure. While every second shop in the city makes scrumptious dalmoth, the best place remains Hariram in Chowk. Added bonus—the gulab jamuns here are considered among the best in the country.

Small samosas from Hira Halwai, Allahabad. Photo: Anubhuti Krishna
Samosas at Hira Halwai, Allahabad. Photo: Anubhuti Krishna

Sangetha Khanna, noted food writer and culinary consultant, agrees.“There is no doubt that the city has the best gulab jamuns,”she says, swearing by the ones from Dehati and VIP sweets in Sobatia Bagh. “The sweet makers here use age-old methods plus the quality of milk is unparalleled, which results in a dense, soft, and grainy texture,” she explains. The milk could also be the reason for the creamy khurchan and luscious rabri. A trademark preparation, khurchan is made by boiling milk on charcoal flame and carefully separating the malai layer after layer. This daylong process ultimately results in a thick creamy reduction served slightly sweet. The rabri, made similarly, is not as firm and is a tad sweeter. Together they demonstrate the mastery of the maker over his ingredients, something one would witnesses very often in the food of the region.

“Allahabadis are real connoisseurs of food, but they are also big critics. If they do not like something, they will say it to your face.” Naresh Rai, a noted restaurateur and the owner of the city’s oldest restaurant, El-Chico, tells us while discussing the culinary culture of the town. “Our food has had various influences—British, Parsi, Muslim, Khatri, even Bengali,” says Rai, “and so the flavours here are uniquely distinct and yet simple” he explains. Nothing showcases his point better than the humble churmura. An authentic local snack found all over the town, churmura is made with puffed rice, diced boiled potatoes, peanuts, sev, and aam ki khatai ka pani that borrows from the Bengali jhaal muri, parsi sev and aam ki khatai of Uttar Pradesh. Just like the mixture leaves a lingering after taste on the palate, the flavours of the city stay alive in your mind forever.

[“source=Condé Nast Traveller India“]

Violence Foreshadowed in Social Media

Police officers guard the Tree of Life synagogue following a shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018.

Two acts of hatred in recent days have again exposed the way social-media services can be platforms for dangerous people to disseminate threats and intolerance that publicly foreshadow their violence.

Before suspected gunman Robert Bowers allegedly opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, killing 11, he posted anti-Semitic and holocaust-denying messages on, a social-media site popular on the alt-right.

And before Cesar Altieri Sayoc, the suspect in a spate of attempted bombings, allegedly mailed explosive material to prominent democrats over the past week, he sent threatening messages on Twitter to a political analyst. She reported the tweet to the company, which left the message up—a decision it apologized for this weekend.

The episodes show how the perpetrators of mass acts of violence often are quite open in expressing their hatred, and sometimes their intentions, on internet platforms. That raises questions about the platforms’ responsibility for detecting and acting on such hate speech before they escalate to violence.

“We lead more and more of our lives online, so you have more and more of these digital crumbs that reveal what we are both thinking and capable of doing, whether it is our dating intentions to our voting intentions to our buying intentions to our violent intentions,” said P.W. Singer, co-author of the book “LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media” and senior fellow at New America, a think tank in Washington, D.C. He said sites need to do more to combat far-right extremism like that apparently behind the most recent incidents.

Gab launched in 2016, drawing many alt-right users, including neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, who were upset by efforts by Twitter and other social platforms to clamp down on hate speech and other abuse. Gab in 2017 said it had more than 225,000 users, and calls itself the “social network for creators who believe in free speech.”

Members and supporters of the Jewish community come together for a candlelight vigil, in remembrance of those who died earlier in the day during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, in front of the White House in Washington, DC on October 27, 2018.
Members and supporters of the Jewish community come together for a candlelight vigil, in remembrance of those who died earlier in the day during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, in front of the White House in Washington, DC on October 27, 2018. Photo: andrew caballero-reynolds/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Bowers appears to have used the site to spew anti-Semitic hatred openly. “Jews are waging a propaganda war against Western civilization and it is so effective that we are headed towards certain extinction within the next 200 years,” reads one message on Gab that Mr. Bowers reposted.

The account also posted an image of the entrance to the Auschwitz extermination camp where Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. The image was manipulated so that the entrance said “lies make money.”

Gab said in a statement Saturday that it contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately after discovering an account linked to Mr. Bowers.What’s News

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“Gab unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence,” the company said. It said it prohibits calling for acts of violence against others and threatening language that “clearly, directly and incontrovertibly infringes on the safety of another user or individual.”

Other companies signaled that Gab didn’t do enough to govern its content. Payments firm PayPal Holdings Inc. said on Saturday that it had canceled Gab’s account, and was in the process of booting Gab before the shooting on Saturday. “When a site is allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action,” a PayPal spokesman said.

Gab had run on Microsoft ’s Azure cloud-computing service, but a Microsoft spokesman said the companies agreed to end that deal last month after Microsoft received complaints about Gab.

As of late Saturday, Gab’s site was down. The company couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In the case of Mr. Sayoc, a Twitter account that is believed to belong to him earlier this month tweeted at a political analyst after she appeared on Fox News. The message told the analyst to “hug your loved ones real close every time you leave you home” (sic). The analyst said that she had reported his messages to Twitter, although Twitter told her at the time that the post didn’t violate the company’s rules.

Twitter said in a statement late Friday that it had made a mistake. “The Tweet clearly violated our rules and should have been removed. We are deeply sorry for that error,” Twitter said in the statement.

Social-media companies have struggled to come up with rules that catch harmful behavior, and to enforce their own standards consistently.

Twitter has attempted to crack down on abuse on its platform and is working on a policy to address dehumanizing language on its site that can have repercussions off its site, such as normalizing violence.

Often the task of moderating content on these sites is left to algorithms that aren’t yet up to the task, and contract workers in foreign countries who sometimes don’t understand the cultural context behind messages that could be perceived as threatening.

[“source=Wall Street Journal“]

Real Estate Dealer Shot In Kolkata, Locals Suspect “Syndicate Raj”

Real Estate Dealer Shot In Kolkata, Locals Suspect 'Syndicate Raj'

A real estate dealer was shot in Kolkata on Saturday morning while he was showing potential clients some apartments for sale in an under-construction building.

The incident took place in the South Dum Dum civic area, not far from Nagerbazar where a bomb blast on October 2 killed an eight year old boy on the spot and two others died in hospital.

Panchu Roy, chairman of South Dum Dum Municipality, said, “It’s nothing new. There is a lot of construction going on here, lot of investment coming in. If you think such things won’t happen, then you are living in a utopia.”

Real estate dealer Shekhar Poddar was showing the group of clients a four-storey under construction building around 11 am when two motorcycle-borne men shot at him.

“They sounded like firecrackers,” said a local resident, “but when we stepped out of our house to see, I saw two men drive away in a motorcycle and they had guns in their hands.”

Mr Poddar was hit in his right hand and rushed to hospital.

The police say they are investigating who the attackers were but locals suspect it is the fallout of “syndicate raj”.

“Maybe Mr Poddar did not buy sand and cement and stone chips from the local people when he built the building. Now they are taking revenge,” said a local resident, requesting not to be named.

The chairman of the South Dum Dum Municipality however did not beat about the bush, calling it “utopian” to expect such incidents will not take place.

On October 2, when a bomb explosion at the Nagerbazar area killed a child on the spot, the same chairman, Panchu Roy, claimed he was the target of the bomb attack. He had an office in the building in front of which the blast had taken place.


Your mobile phone is a major contributor to toxic e-waste in the country

The Indian obsession with mobile phones is massively contributing to the generation of toxic electronic waste (or e-waste), which is poorly handled and discarded in the country.

India is the second largest smartphone market in the world after China — it has about 650 million total mobile users, as per the telecom analysis firm Counterpoint Research.

Around 40 per cent mobile users replace their phones in less than a year, according to 2017 survey by e-commerce site Quikr Bazaar.

This, experts say, is a major chunk of the over 2 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (or e-waste) India generates annually. “By number or in terms of quantity, mobile phones are the biggest contributors to e-waste,” says Priti Mahesh of environmental NGO Toxics Link.

While Mahesh says that 80 to 85 per cent of a particular discarded mobile phone can be recycled, a majority of this total recyclable e-waste is dangerously handled by the informal sector, with little regulation.

The remaining 15-20 per cent that cannot be recycled, which may include broken glass, crushed plastic and evaporating metallic compounds, end up as landfill or are tossed into nearby drains and waterways, Mahesh says.

The Indian e-waste sector is estimated to be worth $3 billion annually, as per the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation.

Apart from mobile phones, the sector is primarily driven by e-waste from discarded desktop computers, cables, printers, refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, electronic and electrical devices.

While plastics make up 30-40 per cent of the total e-waste by weight, and iron 30-35 per cent, the rest of it is constituted by glass and precious metals, including gold.

Akshay Jain, Managing Director of Namo eWaste Management, says recyclers sell the recovered metals to smelters at global market prices.

According to the Roorkee-based Attero Recycling, a million recycled smartphones yield approximately 16,000 kg of copper, 350 kg of silver, 34 kg of gold and 15 kg of palladium.

Jain says the selling rate for 20 karat gold is about Rs 30,000 per 10 grams, copper is sold between Rs 350 and Rs 500 a kilogram; aluminium for between Rs 90 and Rs 120 a kilogram, while iron is sold for between Rs 20 and Rs 26.

Plastic is sold at cheaper rates, between Rs 2 to Rs 35, based on the quality and grade of the product.

The problem, however, is the methods of extracting such precious metals, which can lead to health hazards such as cancer and respiratory illness. Worse, there seems to be little awareness of the consequences of ill-managed e-waste in the country.

Little regulatory oversight

According to Pranshu Singhal, founder of e-waste management solutions provider Karo Sambhav, one in four Indian e-waste handlers in the informal sector suffer from tuberculosis or cancer due to unsafe handling. “Some ways of managing e-waste in the informal sector really are dangerous and hazardous to health,” he said.

Experts say 95 per cent of e-waste is handled by informal sector filled with poor workers who have no other income and are either unaware or can ill-afford to pay heed to the health consequences of mismanaging e-waste.

The workers extract gold and copper from circuit boards by dousing them in open acid baths, which releases more heavy metals, and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). They have little protective gear.

In the informal sector, the circuit boards are taken some distance away from the townships, piled up and burned during the night. The workers come back in the morning to collect the metals.

A 2013 Lancet study found that exposure to e-waste contributed to a number of illnesses. “Most studies showed increases in spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and premature births, and reduced birth-weights and birth lengths associated with exposure to e-waste,” it said.

“People living in e-waste recycling towns or working in e-waste recycling had evidence of greater DNA damage than did those living in control towns,” it added.

In India, the e-waste hubs are in Delhi’s Seelampur and in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad.

The government, however, has taken steps to end the toxic status quo of e-waste in India.  It released the E-Waste Management Rules, 2016, which among others, says manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment must have environmentally friendly and safe plans to manage the e-waste their products may generate.  The plan must be first approved and authorised by the Central Pollution Control Board.

Firms cannot sell their electronics and electrical equipment without this authorisation.

Pranshu Singhal of the e-waste management solutions firm, Karo Sambhav, says the rules are a positive step towards reducing the safety hazards in the informal sector.


The Dangers of the Internet of Things (Infographic)

The Dangers of the Internet of Things (Infographic)

According to an infographic by Cyber Security Degrees, 62 percent of Americans own at least one smart device. The most common of these is a smart TV, which nearly half of American adults own. These devices, like a smart watch or a connected car, can sync with the internet or your mobile device and make your life easier.

However, they also come with plenty of risks. This infographic breaks down some of those dangers, which include:

  • Malicious endpoints
  • The Mirai botnet attack
  • The Senrio devil’s ivy attack

By making yourself aware of these pitfalls, you can secure the devices that mean the most to you and make sure that others can’t take advantage. Check out the infographic to learn more about the dangers involved with the internet of things and how you can be safer.

The Dangers of the Internet of Things [infographic]


Amazon’s health-care ambitions shouldn’t be underestimated, says industry veteran

Gary Gottlieb, executive partner with Flare Capital Partners

Gary Gottlieb is in a prime spot to see how technology companies are shaking up health care.

A trained psychiatrist who previously ran Partners Healthcare in Boston, one of the largest hospitals in the country, Gottlieb is currently CEO of Partners in Health, which focuses on taking care of poor people around the world. He’s also an executive partner at venture firm Flare Capital Partners, working in an advisory role.

He pays close attention to how tech companies are jumping into the space where he has spent his career.

“Their excitement and interest in health care is wonderful,” said Gottleib, in an interview.

Gottlieb’s enthusiasm isn’t shared by many of his peers, who are skeptical of the types of moves that Apple and Amazon are plotting in the medical space, ranging from breakthrough medical devices to mail-order pharmacies.

On a recent earnings call, Walgreens CEO Stefano Pessina summed up this position, telling analysts that Amazon has many “opportunities around the world and in other categories, which are much, much simpler than health care.” In other words, Amazon will probably do a lot of other things before diving into the complex world of health care.


Everything You Wear Is Athleisure

In 1997, a retail entrepreneur in British Columbia named Chip Wilson was having back problems. So, like millions of people around the world, he went to a yoga class. What struck Wilson most in his first session wasn’t the poses; it was the pants. He noticed that his yoga instructor was wearing some slinky dance attire, the sort of second skin that makes a fit person’s butt look terrific. Wilson felt inspired to mass-produce this vision of posterior pulchritude. The next year, he started a yoga design-and-fashion business and opened his first store in Vancouver. It was called Lululemon.

As a spiritual practice, yoga has been in existence for more than 2,500 years. But in strictly financial terms, Chip Wilson’s 1997 session may have been the most consequential yoga class in world history. In the past two decades, Lululemon has sparked a global fashion revolution, sometimes called “athleisure” or “activewear,” which has injected prodigious quantities of spandex into modern dress and blurred the lines between yoga-and-spin-class attire and normal street clothes. According to one survey, the share of upper-income teenagers who say that athleisure stores like Lululemon are their favorite apparel brands has grown by a factor of six in the past decade. (Incongruously, athleisure has grown in popularity among teens at the same time that American youth sport participation has declined significantly.)

As someone who doesn’t attend yoga or spin classes, my interest in athleisure doesn’t have much to do with practicality—or style. I’m a fairly boring jeans-and-button-up kind of guy. But for years, I’ve been wondering what athleisure’s rise says about modern culture and the way groups decide to embrace one idea and discard another. Yoga’s been around for millennia. Stretchy fabrics have been around for decades. So, what made athleisure take off so suddenly?

Deirdre Clemente has an answer. A fashion historian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, she says athleisure is the culmination of three long-term trends. First, technological improvements to synthetic fiber have made products like spandex more flexible, durable, and washable than natural materials. Second, the modern fixation on healthy appearance has made yoga pants an effective vector for “conspicuous consumption,” Thorstein Veblen’s term for products that confer status—like “extremely healthy person”— upon their owners. Finally, the blurring of yoga-studio fashion and office attire snaps into the long decline of formality in American fashion.

“One hundred years ago, you would have day clothes for the street, dinner clothes for the restaurant, theater clothes, and so many genres of dress,” Clemente said. “Those barriers have come down. Athleisure is the ultimate breaking down of barriers.”

To Clemente, the athleisure story doesn’t begin in the late 20th century, with the birth of Lululemon. It begins in the late 19th century, a sort of Cambrian Explosion moment for basic fashion when sports changed the way young people dressed—both on the field and in the classroom.

In other words, when I asked Clemente to explain the sudden rise of athleisure, my request was one word too long. There is nothing sudden about the influence of sports on the way Americans dress. In fact, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that all modern fashion is athleisure.

The late 19th century was transformative for two reasons.

In 1892, the U.S. Rubber Company began producing shoes with rubber soles, and its target consumers were athletes. The friction of rubber offered superior grip for fin de siecle sportsmen in lawn sports and on tennis courts; hence, the name tennis shoe. (The long-standing alternative sneaker allegedly refers to the fact that rubber-soled shoes don’t click and clomp on hard surfaces, which allows their wearers to sneak up on people.) Although the popularity of tennis has been declining for decades, today almost all of the best-selling shoes in America are sneakers. Like yoga pants, tennis shoes are sportswear that have transcended their sport.

Around the same time as the invention of the rubber sole, intramural sports took off at American universities, Clemente told me. That meant more young men playing tennis, golf, polo, and croquet. But lacking the means or inclination to fill their wardrobe with non-sports clothes, many of these men simply kept their athletic attire on for class. Athleisure dropped the prefix and became, simply, leisure.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples beyond tennis shoes: sport coats, polo shirts, and shorts. For each item, the influence of athletics sticks out like a popped collar.

The first sport coats were adopted by 19th-century Europeans and Britons who enjoyed hunting or horseback riding but found such activities difficult in a typical suit jacket. Young American students borrowed the style with a few tweaks, sometimes pairing sport coats with non-matching pants to play outdoor sports like golf.

What we call a “polo shirt” was originally known as a “tennis shirt.” In the 1920s, the Frenchman René Lacoste was a Grand Slam–champion tennis player who was dissatisfied with the era’s typical athletic garb, which featured long sleeves. To make it easier to scamper around the courts of France, he designed a short-sleeved cotton shirt that could be loosened by unbuttoning part-way down the front, with a starched collar that players could turn up to protect their necks against the sun. (Most recognizably, Lacoste, who was known as “the crocodile” on the court, emblazoned the left breast of the shirt with an image of his nickname.) The shirt was a hit. Other companies, like Brooks Brothers in the United Kingdom, adopted a similar design for polo players, who sought the same breathable shirt. When Ralph Lauren launched his clothing line in the 1970s, he put an image of a polo player on the breast pocket. Thus, a shirt designed for French tennis was co-opted for British polo and gobbled up by preppy Americans, who now use the term polo shirt to describe, without a second’s thought, an everyday article of clothing that is as athletic in its origins as “yoga pants.”

Shorts were perhaps sportswear’s most popular offering, Clemente writes in Dress Casual, a history of early-20th-century American style. Shorts started as gym garb, adored by coeds and despised by their elders. In 1930, a group of newspaper editors at Dartmouth College organized a campus-wide Shorts Protest calling for men to “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.” Readers were encouraged to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged.” They brought forth, alright. By mid-century, shorts on American men were nearly as ubiquitous as buzz cuts.

Sportswear has been equally revolutionary for women, who started from a far less comfortable place. Between European girdles and East Asian foot-binding rituals, women’s fashion history is strewn with grotesque attempts by male-dominated cultures to physically warp women’s bodies to meet unnatural definitions of beauty.

Through most of the 19th century, long dresses were the norm for female athletes on courts and fields. What really shook things up was the bicycle, which became a national craze in—naturally—the 1890s. It was difficult (and dangerous) for women to ride in a long skirt that could get caught in the spokes, which led to a demand for more sensical outfits for modern living.

Fashion companies gradually offered more “kinetic” outfits for young female athletes, including shorter skirts to go with button-down tops. Thus, the modern field-hockey uniform, with its gored skirts and polo shirts, became a common sight on women. More revolutionary were divided skirts, pantaloons, or even (gasp) shorts, which allowed women to safely churn their bike pedals. Still, the acceptance of feminine shorts was slow-coming. Even by the 1950s, Clemente finds that colleges such as Penn State tried to limit when and where shorts could be worn.

Sweatshirts also originated in collegiate male sports in the late 1800s and conquered the campus before becoming mainstream—all while cultural critics bemoaned their popularity among women. The first modern sweaters—as opposed to animal pelts worn for warmth and the like—were essentially sports jerseys worn by guys on the rowing or golf team to produce sweating and reduce weight (hence the word sweater.) Around campus, these young men—and, soon, young women—might wear “letterman’s sweaters” to signal their participation in a campus sport. But sweaters were simply too comfy to reserve for the golf course, and students started wearing them all over the place.

Like yoga pants a century later, the purpose of the sweater evolved. Originally, it was about demonstrating athletic participation, but it soon became more about showing appreciation for a generally active way of life. In 1939, Vogue magazine estimated that most college women owned up to 15 sweatshirts (in case you thought a dozen Lululemon leggings was overdoing it). Just about every scandalous thing students wore to the gym around the turn of the century became accepted casual wear by the middle of the century.

Not everybody appreciated the demise of formality. “Females who don track shorts and jerseys and run and jump in track meets are just wasting their time, and ours,” one Esquire columnist wrote in 1936. “They weren’t built for that sort of costume.” Nevertheless, in the past 80 years, shorts have gotten shorter and tighter, as advances in synthetic fibers have made them more elastic and more flexible.

The theme of the past century of Western fashion is this: We take clothes designed for activity, and we adapt them for inactivity. And that’s true beyond the world of sports. For decades, Levi Strauss jeans were worn mostly by men working in factories and farms; today, denim is for loungers. Wristwatches were pioneered in World War I to keep soldiers punctual; today, we embrace them as peacetime jewelry.

After I spoke with Deirdre Clemente, I opened my closet. I didn’t see a square inch of spandex in there. Instead I counted three polo shirts, four pairs of shorts, two pairs of jeans, five sweaters, four tennis shoes, and three sport coats. Athleisure isn’t the future of fashion. It’s the whole damn thing.