And Then They Came for Me …

Yesterday was Halloween in the United States where children dress up and try to scare people as they “trick-or-treat” for candy. Yet the only horror I experienced was watching Peter Thiel stand in front of a national media audiences and re-endorse Donald Trump for President.

In his defense he made it clear that he didn’t agree with the all of the things Trump had said (or done?) but that, “The big things he’s right about” and Thiel continued to publicly support the unsupportable.

You don’t get to be “right” about policy issues when you have been a race-baiting, misogynistic, intolerant demagogue. Trump is not a normal politician who can be rationalized and accepting him is a Chamberlain level of appeasement.

You don’t get to pretend for 5 years that the first African American president in US history wasn’t born in the United States and then get a free pass on running for the presidency. This act was not only racist in and of itself but also gave air-cover to the most irrational conspiracy theorists and white supremacist groups in the United States. Peter, this racist act perpetrated over a 5-year timeframe was disqualifying, whatever you think of his other “policies.”

You don’t get to launch your campaign saying illegal Mexicans are “rapists and murderers and some, I assume, are good people.” That is racist and fear mongering and stoking the flames of those who want to vilify “the other” which has been done throughout our country to the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, Italians and yes — the Germans — and every other immigrant population throughout history. Racism is disqualifying. Immigration and assimilation are two of the unique features that have made America so great over its centuries.

You don’t get to call for a religious test to enter our country, potentially denying access to more than 1 billion Muslim people in the world including very large populations in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. You don’t get to create a division between the 3.3 million Muslims living peacefully in the United States and “the rest of us” because that is called “religious intolerance” and was precisely the kind of governmental prejudice our Founding Fathers tried to protect against.

You don’t get to say out loud that you would kiss women against their will or grab them against their will. That isn’t “locker-room talk” it is sexual assault and you don’t get to normalize that talk and then be president of our country. There are now more than a dozen women coming forward saying that Trump actually did what he said he did and groped them or kissed them against their will. These cases haven’t been proven but it’s hard to discount them when the person who said that Trump did this was … Donald Trump, himself!

You don’t get to pretend that you “just don’t know anything about” David Duke especially when there is this pesky fact of public record that you DO know about David Duke. Legitimizing David Duke and his vile group of supporters in order to run up the score on your votes is disqualifying in running for the presidency of the United States. Yes, THIS David Duke, Peter. This one, from just this past week …

I’m guessing you can imagine but in case your mind doesn’t go there, Peter, that second image is trying to say “Hillary is like the Jews.” Perhaps that nose looks a bit like mine, Peter? Or maybe you need the more explicit comments in the Tweet above it to be convinced?

Trump didn’t say these things, but he legitimized them by looking the other way and pretending they weren’t said and that he didn’t know about David Duke. Peter, this is precisely what you’re doing in legitimizing Trump. You’re saying you agree with him on policy while saying the press is taking him too literally for his 5 years of racist “birtherism” or his anti-Mexican comments or his sexual assault comments.

Or how about if we take what Trump actually says, Peter? Perhaps you’re not as finely attuned as I am to the alt-right references to “international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in oder to enrich these global financial powers” but let me translate in dog-whistle to English for you — that’s referring to Jews. We are the global cabal who control finance, media and governments in the eyes of the conspiracy theorists.

But what about Trump’s policies, Peter, do you find attractive?

The fact that he called on nations like South Korea or Saudi Arabia to have their own nuclear weapons? Or that he would consider a first-strike nuclear policy for the United States? Or is that one of the things you can overlook because we shouldn’t take it so literally?

Are you for “bombing the shit” out of ISIS’s oil operations and then “taking the oil” as Trump says or pulling out of NATO as Trump has threatened? Or is that hyperbole? Do you think if we bomb the shit out of oil fields in Iraq and then take their oil we will create more terrorists who hate us or fewer?

Are you troubled that he hasn’t released his tax returns and we’re one week from the election? Or is this ok and you’re pro the tax dodges he has openly hinted at or the more dubious ones that are now becoming public?

I heard you speak eloquently yesterday about the need to have a competent government capable of building the interstate highway system or the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program. I agree! We need a government that invests in and completes big things like public schooling, infrastructure and scientific research. But how can we fund all of these if we don’t pay our taxes, Peter? Can you see the slightest hypocrisy in supporting a candidate who is a tax dodger and provides no transparency of what he has actually done with his taxes while also saying you want a government capable of completing big, important projects?


I have many friends on both sides of the aisle. I have rabid Bernie Sanders supporter friends — yet I was never persuaded he had the right solutions for our country. He is populist so I see why people find his policies appealing but I find them not to be realistic. You can’t put global trade back in a bottle and pretend all manufacturing jobs will return to the US. You must instead invest tax dollars in helping affective communities through education, retooling, infrastructure investment (like clean water) and job stimulation.

I have many friends on the right side of the aisle who may have policy differences with me on issues ranging from pro choice (which I am) vs. pro life or drug policies or tax structure or our penal system.

I happen to be very socially liberal and prefer our country to move towards tolerance and equality for all people regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. I abhor policies that make it difficult for low-income women to get reproductive care or that applies religious tests to the kind of care they can receive. I am pro liberalizing failed drug policies and incarceration policies and similar initiatives.

I happen to be fiscally moderate and believe in global trade, moderating the size and influence of government and being careful about the “laws of unintended consequences” of government tax policies and social spending programs. I am pro worker protection and a fair wage and am willing to increase the minimum wage but I also see some of the downsides of unions that make some industries or situations anti-competitive.

I know that there are policy nuances and that my positions aren’t “right” they are positions worthy of debates with my friends who disagree and at times I find myself persuaded and change my views.

I’ve sat in your house, Peter, eating dinner with a small crowd of thinkers and heard you advocate strongly for positions I hadn’t considered and found myself moved by your counter-intuitive logic on some key issues. I love policy debate with smart people because it forces me to figure out where my own lines are. I respect your willingness to advocate strongly for positions and forcing me to think harder about where I stand.

But on issues of racism, race-baiting, religious intolerance, misogyny, sexual assault, white supremacy and demagoguery — there can be no gray area, Peter. These are disqualifying issues and you are completely wrong to support Donald Trump.

If we accept leaders who embrace demagoguery, intolerance and groups of citizens who would turn on each other and vilify “the other” then eventually they will turn on us, Peter. I am the straight son of an immigrant father from South America whose parents on both sides are Jewish and who proudly thinks of myself as an American first and foremost and everything else second. You were born in Germany and an immigrant to the US at 1-year old and are gay and now proudly open about that as you said it on a national stage at the Republican convention.

We both have voices and megaphones and resources but if we appease leaders who have shown a penchant for supporting intolerance, hatred and racism — eventually they will come for us.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— Pastor Martin Niemöller of Germany in reference to the Nazis


Thiel Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

And Then They Came for Me … was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Entrepreneurship Blogs


From Robo Doctors to Mood Trackers, Emotion Sensing Is Coming

Brain sensing

The proliferation of smartphones and wearable devices has enabled people to track all kinds of data about their physical health, from heart rate to steps walked in a day. Now, tech companies have their sights set on helping us—and perhaps others—monitor our mental health.

“We’ve gotten very good at quantifying the physical self,” said Affectiva chief marketing officer Gabi Zijderveld. “For the most part in consumer health, mental well-being is still missing from that equation. … Looking out to the future, what personally excites me is it’s almost an inevitable path that we’re going to get better at quantifying mood and mental health.”

Zijderveld’s startup is among those working on that. She spoke on a panel in Boston Thursday with representatives from other companies developing emotion-sensing technologies, including Microsoft researcher Mary Czerwinski and Sensoree founder Kristin Neidlinger. The discussion was part of the annual Connected Health Symposium organized by Partners HealthCare.

The conversation made it clear that emotion-sensing technology has a long way to go, particularly in applying it to healthcare. But the field is progressing quickly, and there are a lot of ideas for how the technology could make our lives better.

Waltham, MA-based Affectiva, which spun out of the MIT Media Lab in 2009, has built its business primarily by selling its emotion-recognition software and analysis tools to brands and businesses that use it to make marketing and advertising content more engaging for target customers, Zijderveld said. But in recent years, Affectiva has branched out into video games, online education, the automotive sector, robotics, and healthcare, she said. The company now licenses its technology to other companies that can embed the software into their products.

In healthcare, Affectiva envisions its technology being used in telemedicine, so doctors could track patients’ moods and communicate better. It could also help monitor the mental health of people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, or serve as a check against biases of patients reporting how well an experimental treatment is working, Zijderveld said.

“Healthcare is a bit early days for us,” she said. “There’s a lot of research being done using our technology. To date, there’s not a lot of solutions in the market, but we expect that’ll change in the next couple of years.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s research arm has launched a number of emotion-tracking projects in recent years, experimenting with smartphone sensors, biometric sensors, Microsoft’s Kinect sensors, voice analysis, and more, Czerwinski said.

“We’ve tried all these different ways of sensing, and then what you try to do is just-in-time interventions,” Czerwinski said. For example, if a mobile app senses a person’s stress might be escalating, it could suggest an activity—such as a breathing exercise, or taking a walk to cool down—to counter those anxious feelings.

Or, perhaps a software program could log data on stress patterns over time. Using context, it could help a person understand what triggers stress, such as work meetings or hanging out with certain people. Those are “things you might not be aware of,” Czerwinski said. (Some other companies working on tracking mental health are Boston-based Neumitra and San Francisco-based Ginger.io.)

Sensoree, based in San Francisco, sits at the intersection of healthcare and fashion. It designs clothing equipped with a variety of biometric sensors that aim to track the wearer’s current mood and communicate it through visual or tactile displays on the garment.

During the panel discussion, Neidlinger brought out a data scientist, Rachel, wearing one of Sensoree’s products, a “mood sweater.” It features a bowl-shaped collar that lights up in different colors based on the sensors’ interpretation of how the wearer feels. It turned pink as Rachel walked out on stage, which Neidlinger said indicated she was “a little excited and ruffled.” (It later turned blue, indicating she had calmed down.)

Of course, some might not like the idea of literally wearing their emotions on their sleeve, collar, or other article of clothing. But Sensoree’s products could help caregivers get a better read on how patients feel, Neidlinger said. The clothing could also help people who have trouble identifying and understanding their emotions to know when their mood is “dipping down,” Neidlinger said—like a Pavlovian signal for sadness, she said.

“We help people who might have a hard time communicating how they’re feeling, or even knowing how they’re feeling,” Neidlinger said.

Microsoft’s Czerwinski said intelligent virtual assistants present a big opportunity for emotion-sensing tech. Think Siri (or in Microsoft’s case, Cortana), but with empathy and deep medical knowledge. Companies such as Wisconsin-based iDAvatars are already working on this.

“Conversational agents could be your teledoctor, your teletherapist—someone who just knows you really well … and can help take care of you,” Czerwinski said. The personal virtual assistant would relay important information to loved ones and healthcare providers. The key, she added, would be … Next Page »

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Ex-Celgene Dealmaker Tom Daniel Charts a New Course Advising Biotechs

Celgene facility in San Diego

For close to a decade, Tom Daniel and George Golumbeski comprised perhaps one of the best-known dealmaking duos in biopharma, striking a slew of alliances that established Summit, NJ-based Celgene as one of the more creative, nimble biotech partners in the business.

“We think alike,” Daniel says. “We can pretty much finish each other’s sentences.”

No longer. Xconomy has learned that Daniel stepped down from his role as president of research & early development at Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) over the summer, a position that has since been filled by Rupert Vessey. Daniel is now the founding executive director of what he calls a “shell” advisory group in San Diego named Catalysis Advisors, from which he’s advising some biotechs and venture firms and acting as a “founding consultant” to other startups.

“I’m still in the game,” Daniel says, “just trying to create a bit of a different role.”

Daniel says that exact role is something he’s figuring out as he goes, but he definitely won’t be a hands-on operational executive as he was in the past at Celgene, Ambrx, Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), and Immunex before that.

For now, he’s working with venture capitalist colleagues on some new companies that have yet to be officially launched. He’s joining the board of a nascent startup in Boston (he wouldn’t disclose the name) that is working in a space that is “highly complementary” to the advancing cell-based, CAR-T cancer immunotherapy treatments, he says. Another new startup he’s involved with is focused on the neurobehavioral field, he says. Daniel is also on the boards of Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) and Zafgen (NASDAQ: ZFGN), and still contributes to some of Celgene’s scientific work.

“For me, this is a rich time to think ahead, try to figure out how the forces will play out over the next decade and where to try to contribute,” he says.

Daniel joined Celgene in 2006. Golumbeski (then the head of business development and now Celgene’s executive vice president) followed three years later, and the two became the chief architects of what’s become a sprawling network of collaborations with early-stage biotechs. Under their watch, Celgene became known for its creative alliances, customizing deals with young biotechs to fit each specific situation, rather than following a standard template. These partnerships were a mix of option-to-buy deals, broad alliances on a variety of drugs, and more, but the common theme was a hands-off approach that left the smaller company enough freedom to share in its own upside. (For more, check out this chat with Golumbeski about Celgene’s dealmaking strategy back in 2013.)

“We never had the big company hubris about our collaborators,” Daniel says. “George and I worked very, very hard to create relationships with people first with whom we had affinity, and secondly in such way that both sides really saw the win-win.”

As a result of that flexibility, Celgene got in early on a variety of biotechs that since become publicly traded companies with promising futures. Among them: Agios Pharmaceuticals, Acceleron Pharma, Bluebird Bio, and Juno. Celgene’s pipeline is littered with experimental drugs that are a result of these tie-ups, and many of them are progressing their way through the clinic. Celgene, for instance, has said it intends to file for FDA approval of enasidenib, an experimental cancer drug discovered by Agios, by the end of the year.

Daniel looks to the 2009 Agios deal, a wide-ranging collaboration that included a $ 130 million upfront payment—a significant amount considering Agios was years away from its first clinical trials—as the bellwether deal from his tenure. Celgene spent plenty of time negotiating with the Agios team and figuring out how to construct a deal that would represent a big bet on early science while best respecting Agios’s boundaries and motivations, he says. Celgene later did some things Daniel called unusual, such as helping set up opportunities for Agios to get more funding, he says.

“Every company kept coming in telling us they wanted an Agios-like deal,” Daniel says.

Daniel left Celgene in July because he felt that he’d accomplished many of the goals he’d set out. He spent a long time trying to recruit Robert Hershberg, the co-founder of VentiRx Pharmaceuticals (another Celgene partner) who is now Celgene’s chief scientific officer, and Vessey to replace him. He enjoys working with small, focused companies rather than managing large portfolios as he did at Celgene.

“A decade is a long time in a role,” he says. “I think the organization needed some fresh blood.”

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