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Amish culture prizes peace − but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from a stop in Amish Country tourist towns

Much of the tourism industry that’s sprung up around Amish areas says more about Americans’ own identity than Amish values, a scholar writes.

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Gift items for sale in Walnut Creek, Ohio, in May 2023. Susan Trollinger

Ohio’s Amish Country, located in the northeastern part of the state, draws over 4 million visitors every year – second only to Cedar Point amusement park as the Buckeye State’s most popular tourist attraction.

October, with its cooler temperatures and spectacular colors, is the region’s peak month for tourist traffic. Hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the area in the fall to shop for Amish-made furniture, enjoy buggy rides and visit small towns that many Americans romanticize as bucolic escapes from the world.

And what will they find in the shops that line the main streets of towns like Berlin, Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek? Among other things, a plethora of items that feature Christian nationalist motifs, intense patriotism and ominous suggestions of violence – all antithetical to the core values of the Amish.

The reality is that Amish Country tourism has long been at odds with the plain and simple life of the Amish – a discrepancy at the heart of my 2012 book “Selling the Amish: The Tourism of Nostalgia.”

A life apart

Descended from Anabaptist immigrants who fled religious persecution in Europe, the Amish typically live in rural areas where they seek to live a different sort of life, resisting aspects of contemporary American culture that undermine their commitments to church, family and community.

A simple, open-top horse-drawn carriage with a man and woman inside, going down a paved road.
An Old Order Amish couple drive their buggy through an intersection in Berlin, Ohio. Susan Trollinger

To live at a slower pace, they drive horse-drawn buggies instead of cars. To pursue their calling to follow Jesus rather than chase personal ambitions, they stop school after eighth grade. To avoid the distractions of consumer culture, they prohibit TVs and internet connections in their homes. And to keep themselves humble, they yield to communal rules about dressing plainly, living in modest homes and keeping their businesses small.

Seeking to follow Jesus, they embrace nonviolence and find inspiration in the story of a 16th-century Anabaptist, Dirk Willems, who was imprisoned for his faith. He escaped, but because of his commitments to love his enemy, he turned back when he saw that his captor had fallen through the ice. His captor survived to witness Willems being burned at the stake.

Out of their deep commitment to separation between church and state, the Amish refuse to swear oaths, receive Social Security benefits or join the military. That’s why you won’t see an American flag in an Amish school or hear Amish students recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The ‘Amish brand’

Yet tourist towns capitalizing on what has become the “Amish brand” are full of gift shops selling merchandise you would not expect to find in an Amish home – Uncle Sam cutouts, Mickey Mouse yard flags, ornate lace curtains and Elvis Presley figurines.

As a scholar of rhetoric and religion, I’ve long been curious about Amish Country tourism, since it seemed – at least on the face of it – to have so little to do with the Amish themselves. “Selling the Amish” was my attempt to explain why many Americans found Amish Country so compelling.

My answer was that Amish Country tourism afforded visitors a nostalgic experience of a “simpler time” when Americans could imagine that they were in control of technology; that men were “men” and women were “women”; and that families sat down to Mom’s home-cooked meal every evening.

The region’s tourist towns play into this nostalgic desire that visitors have for a future that resembles an imagined past. In that imagined future, they would, like the Amish, escape cultural forces that they think have compromised America’s ability to be the Christian nation it supposedly once was.

A glimpse of real life

Since 2008, I’ve taken students from the University of Dayton to the Amish settlement located in Holmes and Wayne counties in northeastern Ohio.

A simple sign advertising homemade goods and candy outside a white farmhouse.
A Swartzentruber Amish farm in Wayne County, Ohio, where tourists can purchase homemade treats and handwoven baskets. Susan Trollinger

In the course of the day, we visit a two-room school run by New Order Amish, whose rules for daily life are among the least strict among the Amish. Then we’re off to a candle shop owned and operated by five Old Order Amish sisters, followed by a visit to a Swartzentruber Amish farm. The Swartzentruber are among the strictest Amish groups. In the small shop located between the house and a woodworking shop, a young woman sells woven baskets, homemade preserves and wood furnishings crafted by her father. We also enjoy meals and conversation at two Amish homes.

Of course, the stops we make are part of the tourism industry. And many Amish make their living from that industry, whether they are crafting solid wood furniture, serving diners in Amish-style restaurants or preparing hotel rooms for guests.

Importantly, the Amish don’t own the big Amish-style restaurants or gift shops or hotels. And because I want my students to have conversations with the people they have been studying, we spend very little time in these tourist towns.

When I was invited to present a paper last summer on Amish Country tourism – an update of “Selling the Amish,” as it were – I was obliged to spend some time in those tourist towns.

Guns and crosses

What I saw blew me away. There I was in the heart of the biggest Amish settlement in the world, when measured by the number of congregations. This area is home to nearly 40,000 Amish people deeply committed to pacifism: people who would rather suffer solitary confinement and reduced rations – as some did during World War I – than participate in “the war machine,” and who would never sing the national anthem.

Store shelves show pointy, bullet-shaped silver and gold items next to novelty mugs.
Beverage containers and coffee mugs for sale in Berlin, Ohio, on May 30, 2023. Susan Trollinger

Yet, I saw the Stars and Stripes everywhere: on T-shirts, ball caps, decorative wreaths, candles and, perhaps most strikingly, wooden crosses. There were concrete statues of soldiers kneeling at crosses, patriotic bunting and images of the Founding Fathers, with facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence, the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance nearby.

A large display in one Berlin shop featured merchandise from “Hold Fast,” a company whose website says its merchandise is designed “for freedom loving Americans who want to see Biblical values preserved and are taking a stand and letting their voices be heard.” Flags figure prominently across the merchandise, along with messages like: “One nation under God. Psalm 33:12. Hold Fast.”

I was even more taken aback by home decor items announcing that the “2nd Amendment is my gun permit,” along with thermoses challenging government authorities to “come and take it” – “it” being a gun – and coffee mugs that listed gun calibers (.22, .380, 9 mm, .40, .45) and proclaiming, “All faster than dialing 911.”

Amish Country tourism has never simply been about the plain and simple life of the Amish. But these days, sites that fuse Christian symbols and sacred texts with a brand of nationalism that celebrates masculine bravado, guns and the military marks a further and dramatic remove from the character of Amish life.

Still, if one ventures down a back road and ends up behind a slow-moving buggy, or ducks into an Amish-owned shop selling bulk foods, handmade brooms or half-moon pies, they can still encounter a people whose life is wildly at odds with so much that characterizes mainstream America today.

Susan L Trollinger does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.

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Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 

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This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

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With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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