Is “A Chinese Spy Balloon” Just The Latest Punchline In The World Of International Spying?

I am shocked and horrified at the Chinese weaponization of balloons, and their use against innocent Americans. But it was inevitable. With the growing influence of Chinese financial institutions, our political and business leaders should have predicted that American families would be dangerously vulnerable to inflated balloon payments on their home mortgages. While it is difficult to say why China chose this moment to inflict damage on the U.S., pundits will be quick to… what? Not balloon payments? An ACTUAL balloon? You’ve got to be s#!t!ng me.

Ah. Yeah. Right. Balloon warfare in the 21st Century. Somewhere in Washington, a group of highly paid experts is considering the dangers of balloon warfare and the perils of the “Balloon Gap” with China. I GUARANTEE that whatever solutions they find MUST include the development of a multi-billion dollar air-superiority balloon, with stealth. Yeah… it’s coming.

OK, let’s back on track. News stories have pointed out that balloons were used extensively in America’s Civil war, and were probably first used in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Two centuries ago. True, during WW II the Japanese did try floating balloon firebombs over the US. But they sent over 9,000 of these “Fu-Go” bombs. If it’s for spying or as a weapon, you need to use a LOT of balloons. Why? Because you can’t steer balloons; they get blown around by the wind. A bomb or a spy device usually needs to go somewhere specific. A lone balloon floating thousands of miles is very unlikely to find a specific target.

On the other hand, if you plan to use THOUSANDS of balloons, you’re guaranteed that at least a few will reach the right continent. Not exactly state-of-the-art spycraft. China has satellites, drones, and a ton of spies around the world. Why use a balloon? If China wants plain old aerial photography, Air China flies to New York, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. I’ve never flown on an Air China flight, but just about every modern plane I’ve flown on for the last 10 years has cameras on the plane pointed forward and downward. Passengers can use their seat-back monitors to check out these cameras at any point in the flight. I’m sure that there’s some special office of Chinese Intelligence that combs over these images for anything important.

While I believe with all my heart that there is virtually nothing that China won’t do to spy on the U.S. And it was a REALLY BIG balloon. Still, America launches 800 weather balloons EVERY DAY. And other nations launch another 1,000 weather balloons daily. With hundreds of thousands of balloons floating in the skies, it is just barely possible that one Chinese weather balloon made it to the US. In fact, I suspect that many foreign weather balloons have landed (or fallen) in obscure places around the US. But if you’re spying, why make a super gigantic balloon that’s easier to spot?

Alternatively, the US and China are conspiring to hide a UFO invasion. Well, invasion by incredibly advanced aliens that build incredibly flimsy spacecraft. Perhaps this is evidence that even the most advanced civilizations use “lowest-bid” government contracts?

Of course, if some midwest farmer tells us, “Those floaty things? Why a dozen have been driving by every day for the last 10 years”, then it’s time the US builds its Global Balloon Defense System. It will give the U.S. Space Force something to do.

What do you think? Balloons are the most dangerous spy machines? The Chinese Communist Party is developing a sense of humor? It’s been a slow news day?

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Armored Tanks Aren’t Dead Yet, But Unmanned Armored Vehicles Have Arrived

Russian Tanks have NOT lived up to their reputation!

The war in Ukraine continues to drag on, and China seems ready for a copycat war with Taiwan. Every week we see weapon systems in the news. Today’s front-page stories resemble those of the Cold War era. Whether they are real, exaggerated, or imagined… military threats are always newsworthy! Especially when full-scale war with Russia or China is just a small insult or political incident away. If you loved the Cold War, then it’s Deja Vue all over again as big weapon systems are our top news story!

By now everyone is familiar with Russia’s failed tanks. Russia had similar failures in the Air and on the Sea, but tank wreckage is just a lot easier to see. Planes and helicopters tend to disintegrate before they hit the ground. Sunken ships end up inconveniently on the bottom of the sea. The blown-up and burnt-out carcass of a tank is a much better photo-op. One picture and the story just writes itself. A smiling Ukrainian farmer with a wrecked Russian tank in their front yard requires little explanation.

Until the Ukraine war, the West (and Russia) had very-high opinions of Russian tanks. Yet, at the same time, the West said that Russia’s massive corruption was undermining its military. Even well-designed military equipment was poorly manufactured. And anything that went into storage was usually stolen. The tanks that Russia has put into service were broken before they even reached the battle. Once on the battle line, 1,000 – 2,000 Russian tanks were destroyed. The 10,000 “reserve” tanks that remain are probably in worse shape. Rumors that Russia’s warehouses filled with spare parts hold little more than empty boxes.

Russia’s defense plans are heavily based on tanks. Without those tanks, Russia is in a VERY vulnerable position. In 2010 Russia planned to completely replace their old tanks with 2,500 Armata 14 tanks. These very modern tanks would make Russia capable of fighting the US and Europe. Only, the money allocated for the tanks… ahhh… disappeared. Only an estimated 20 prototypes were built. With no new tanks, and with a failed tank strategy against a much weaker opponent, Russia’s Army no longer has the ability to fight any off NATO.

Russian military equipment was often considered second-rate, especially the equipment they sold to the International Arms markets of the world. But their products were cheap. Half the price, or less, than US or European alternatives. Third-world dictators could always buy Russian tanks secure in the knowledge that they could at least reliably fight against unarmed civilians. But the war in Ukraine has proven that even a simple drone that costs a few thousand dollars can kill a $500,000 “economy” Russian tank. If you’re trying to suppress Democracy on a budget, Russian tanks just aren’t the bargain they used to be.

All of this is quite disappointing for Russia, since they are the #2 arms dealer in the world, and their products are (quite literally) being destroyed on the evening news just about every night. That’s really bad for sales. I’m guessing that a lot of former customers are thinking of a trade-in.

While it is not the end of the tank, it may be the end of the cheap tank. Next year, the biggest arms show in the world, the Defence and Security Equipment International Show, will take place in London. We can expect to see new tank models with bigger guns and thicker armor. But we may also see a new type of tank. A tank without a tank crew.

A traditional tank is basically a heavily armored box with a big gun on top. In Europe, tanks are limited to around 50 tons. Any heavier, and bridges will collapse. Europe has a LOT of rivers and lakes and mountain passes that can only be navigated by bridges. Interestingly, Israel has one of the most highly rated tanks in the world, the Merkava IV. But they have zero sales in Europe. Why? This 65-ton monster would collapse most European bridges. But in Isreal, with very few rivers or lakes, the Merkava reigns supreme.

If you remove the crew (2 to 6 soldiers) the size, weight, and cost of tanks drop. A crewless tank could be 10 to 20 tons lighter, even with the same gun and armor thickness. A lighter tank would be faster, more maneuverable, and could operate in more environments. A lighter tank would also be easier to move around by air in a war zone. And, without a crew, the politics of tank warfare would change. Using tanks without the risk of killing your citizens would revolutionize tank warfare. Perhaps, in a very, very bad way.

Without a crew, how do you operate the tank? Well, if we believe that self-driving cars are possible, why not self-driving tanks? We’ve been using self-flying sky drones for decades. A crewless tank could be run remotely, from secure facilities. If drones lose the connection to their operators, then they can drive themselves… at least until they can get the signal back.

Once crewless tanks are perfected, much smaller tanks would be possible. A 10-20 ton tank might have a smaller cannon, or it might drop the cannon and carry a small fleet of flying drones. Crewless tanks under 10 tons, perhaps as light as 1 ton, could mount a heavy machine gun, carry supplies, or even act as an armored ambulance for wounded soldiers. The more ground drones are deployed, the fewer actual soldiers will be needed in war zones. That would reduce casualties (a good thing), but without the messy politics of dead citizens, a more automated tank corps could mean more border skirmishes between unmanned weapons and more wars.

The rise of drones and high-tech weapons from the US and Europe, along with the abysmal performance of Russian weapons, will have a big impact on future weapons sales. Much of Russia’s $40 billion in annual weapon sales will transfer to the coffers of other major weapons manufacturers, like the US, Germany, and the UK. If autonomous driving systems become the differentiator between tank manufacturers, we will see new weapons manufacturers entering the market. Tesla is already dominant in self-driving consumer cars, and in commercial launch vehicles. Is a Tesla Tank by 2025 that much of a stretch?

Will the next super tank be based on a bigger cannon and stronger armor? Or will the intelligence of the tank decide who wins and loses in a tank war? Give us your opinions, our readers want to know what you think!

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Tanks But No Tanks: Did The Ukrainian War Put An End to the Armored Tank?

This armored prototype is electrically powered and remote-controlled. Is it still a TANK?

The battle protection (armor) and destruction (arms) is as old as time. At first, hiding behind a tree, a big rock, or (much later) a wall was good enough. But hiding sacrificed mobility. When armies came out from behind walls, they needed armor. Layers of padding and leather, and bits of metal helped. Later, helmets and shields were added. But weapons also improved. After thousands of years, the fully armored “Knight in Shining Armor” became the apex of protection.

But good armor is heavy armor, and once again we’ve lost mobility. Horses could become the battle platform a Knight needed. With a Knight firmly seated on his saddle and stirrups, he could effectively fight (and stay) on horseback. That worked for a while, but guns had arrived and were rapidly evolving. Traditional armor became ineffective. We kept our metal helmets, but the rest shrank away and disappeared.

At the start of WWI, armor was out of fashion. Yet the lethality of the battlefield (accurate snipers, machine guns, modern artillery, grenades, and landmines) grew so quickly that the territory between opposing armies was soon called “No Mans’ Land”. When either side made a charge against the other side, thousands of soldiers could be killed within hours. The war was bogged down in “Trench Warfare”. The soldiers on both sides build long trenches that they lived in for months at a time. Just popping your head up over the trench to see if anything was happening could get you killed.

In WWI nearly 6 million horses were deployed. But the battlefield was just as deadly to horses as it was to humans. They died of wounds, starvation, and disease, or they froze on the Eastern Front. Motorized vehicles were a new technology, but they had promise. They were faster, stronger, and more durable than horses. Civilian cars were soon armored, and all nations tried adding cannons and machine guns. But the added weight would blow out the flimsy tires of the day, and these heady vehicles were often bogged down on muddy roads. After replacing wheels with tractor treads, the modern tank was born. On September of 1916, the “Tank” entered the battlefield and the race between arms and armor was on once again.

Development may have started in WWI, but the modern tank as we know it truly developed during WWII. Within a few years, almost every developed nation was working on its own tanks or was ready to buy them from other nations. Of course, if you were a small nation, tanks were expensive. Rather than investing in tanks, smaller nations could invest in “tank killers”.

WW II introduced “hand-held” devices like the “bazooka”, as well as land mines. A single soldier could carry a weapon that could stop a tank. But you needed to plant a land mine where a tank would pass over it, and a bazooka had a limited range and was less than accurate. By the 1970s, improved shoulder-launched missiles had greater range and more powerful warheads. And they could track a tank by its heat signature. Today, anti-tank drones with sophisticated artificial intelligence can “loiter” in the sky for 30 or 40 minutes and hunt down tanks and other targets.

Modern tanks have defenses against these weapons, yet Russian tanks failed against even outdated tank killers. How can the second most powerful military in the world, fail so badly? Let’s take a look and see…

Playing Defense: Young Russian recruits were told for months that there would be no invasion. Then, 100,000 Russian soldiers were told to fight a foreign soil, in towns where their grandmother lives. Imagine passing destroyed Russian tanks and dead crews. Why are you here? What are you fighting for? If you run out of gas or something broke, would you fight to the death to defend your tank? Rumors of recruits deserting their tank may be true. Alternatively, Ukrainians were told for months that the Russians were coming. The dead in the streets are people you know. Ukrainians are far more motivated to lay down their lives. Local defenders are almost always more effective than invading military leaders expect.

Financial Crisis: The Russian military has been chronically short of funding. For decades, the Russian navy has scrapped old ships, without replacements. Russia was supposed to replace tanks with their new Armata T-14 between 2015 to 2020. The upgrade did not happen. Only a few prototypes were built. GPS systems have been on US (and most other nations) tanks since the 1990s. Russian tanks were ASSUMED to use GPS, but no GPS systems were found on wrecked Russian tanks.

Design vs. Delivered: Russia has very capable weapon designers and engineers. However, Russian factories are notorious for supply shortages and substandard manufacturing. Historically, Russia’s military strategy favors quantity over quality. For example, the Russian T-34 was one most influential tanks of all time, but not because it was a great tank. Instead, it was because Russian factories could build them in great numbers. It was the tidal wave of T-34s that won WW II for Russia.

Corruption: When the Soviet Union became the Russian Republic, Putin’s and his generation of Soviet leaders raided the economy and took over every valuable business and asset. It was a gold rush for the new Russian mob. However, having career criminals run the economy led to a decline in all economic sectors. With only friends of Putin receiving government contracts, stories of broken and non-existent products seem credible.

Propaganda?: Stories of Russian incompetence are so staggering it’s hard to believe, even with evidence. In images of wrecked Russian tanks, shoebox-sized boxes are attached near the turret or lying on the ground. These are “reactive armor”. When missiles and shells approach, reactive armor explodes, knocking incoming projectiles off course. When examined, the boxes are empty. No explosives, fuses, or sensors. Bullet-proof proof vests retrieved from Russian soldiers should have steel or ceramic plates; instead, sheets of cardboard have been found. Perhaps this is a rare case, or the reports are exaggerated. But no functional military can operate when equipment is systematically stolen.

Replacement: In theory, Russia started the war with warehouses filled with spare parts. Many of these warehouses appear to be empty. Tanks and trucks are often stored for years at a time, and require regular maintenance. Without maintenance, parts will rust or rot away. Abandoned tanks in Ukraine may have simply broken down and were later discovered and destroyed by Ukrainians. Can Russia fix these supply problems? Probably not. Sanctions have made Russian mobsters government leaders cash hungry. If the government can find the money for supplies and maintenance, that money will “get lost” long before any new supplies reach Russian forces.

Conclusions: Is the tank dead? Probably not. However, the abysmal performance in Russia will kill the Russian Military Industry. Russian tanks, armor, missiles, and warships generated $25 billion in revenue in 2020. New sales will fall sharply in 2023. On the other hand, weapons from Ukraine, the UK, Germany, and the US will probably rise. And the Russian Invasion has caused a LOT of nations (not just Finland and Sweden) to think about big military buildups.

While Putin never intended to make NATO the “cool kids club”, nor start a new arms race, it is what Putin accomplished. Russia’s strategy focused on tanks and cold war strategy. Ukrainians showed the power of technology, mobility, and flexible low-cost weapons. Finland and Sweden may eventually become nato nations. A new NATO needs to think about a new strategy and a new generation of armored vehicles.

The tank has become a beast of a machine because it needs to protect the soft and vulnerable humans that it carries into battle. Just as drones are becoming the next generation of air support, it makes sense to have self-driving electric tanks. If you remove the people, you can drop a lot of the size, weight, and cost of a tank. An electric engine has 5 or 10 parts, while a diesel or gasoline engine has around 1,000 parts. Tanks often run out of gas, but a tank can tap into the local power grid, or wait for a slower recharge from solar power.

If we break away from old tank designs, we could have big battle tanks and little support tanks. The big tank might have a big (or at least big-ish) gun. But it would also carry drones like the switchblade, which has killed Russian tanks, helicopters, and soldiers. Interestingly, one switchblade drone cost about as much as one shell for most US/European tanks. The next generation of battle tanks could trade a lot of armor for stealth. Modern fighter jets have been doing this for the last decade They are slower and less heavily armed than in the 90s, but these planes are virtually invisible to detection. Not getting shot at is even better than armor. Electric motors would produce a small fraction of the heat used by today’s tanks, and it is this heat signature that is used to track and kill tanks.

What about those little tanks. Imagine a small (1,000 lbs. or so?) electric tank with a small cannon or a large machine gun, carrying a LOT of ammo. It might also carry supplies for troops. It could even carry a wounded soldier back to camp. Over time, these little tanks will become more capable, independently patrolling some of the most inhospitable deserts and mountaintops. Eventually, the little tank could reduce the number of live soldiers needed in a military engagement. A typical squad of 7 to 14 human soldiers might be replaced by a Sargent and 2 or 3 soldiers, with specialized drones tanking on the remaining responsibilities.

If you examine how technology has progressed, machines tend to displace human labor in the most dangerous jobs. You can’t get more dangerous than a war! The newest air drones look a lot like the next generation of fighter planes. It is inevitable that tanks will go through a similar transition. After all, if commercial trucks and consumer cars will eventually be self-driving, it’s not too far a stretch to imagine self-driving tanks. Who knows, maybe Elon Musk has some ideas about how to build a 21st Century tank!

What do you think? Will the development of tanks be driven by cold-war thinking, or will the drive to expand NATO lead to new strategies and new tank designs? Let us know!

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The Sinking Of The Moskva: Lessons Not Learned From Previous Wars

Warships: the most powerful, the most expensive, and the most vulnerable machines ever created.

War is a business. This business is driven by changing trends and new technology, but it is also a seasonal business. Sometimes war factories run full blast; sometimes they are on vacation. When a war is near, the military starts to wake up. But it often stumbles around a bit before it can find its footing. While everyone was sleeping, tastes may have changed. Old menu items may not be as appealing, or something new may be in or out of fashion.

During WWII big warships were very popular. True, Battleships lost their appeal and Aircraft Carriers replaced them as the most valuable (and deadly) thing afloat. But after that war, the new Cold War had new favorites. Nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines, ballistic missiles, supersonic jets, computers, and satellites. Even later, when the U.S.S.R. collapsed it even made sense for the new Russia (and their old client nations) to destroy their immense stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Spy wars and even Cyberwarefare was in!

There were big clashes between the US and Russia, but it was largely proxy wars for the US and fights with much smaller and less developed nations for Russia. Recently Russia has been rattling its saber and rolling out a new generation of hypersonic missiles and updated nukes, but these work best to threaten Western Europe and America. If Russia wants to invade a border nation, we’re going back to troops, tanks, and maybe a few warships.

This brings us to Ukraine. Here, we see something close to Russia’s best effort, against a far smaller but technologically competent nation. In 2014 Russia ran over Ukraine before they knew what hit them. And before the West could agree on a defense plan. The Russians never really left. The fighting never really stopped. But aggression dropped to a point where both sides could largely leave the fighting to local forces, with some technical and weapons support.

Now, Russia has moved in a significant part of its army, tanks, ships, and air support. Given the massive infusion of Russian equipment and personnel, the West has been surprised at how little progress the Russians have made. Surprise turned to shock when Ukrainian forces destroyed Russia’s Black Sea Flag Ship, the Moskva. This is (theoretically) a big, capable, tough world-class warship. On paper, it is impossible for Ukraine to sink the Moskva. They don’t have a weapon that can do the job. Yet, the Moskva is dead, and it was killed by a Ukrainian manufactured missile. In the media, Russian cannot even bring itself to say that Ukrainians were responsible, preferring to leave the impression that it was a combination of chance and incompetence. What happened?

Lesson One – Asymetic war is the new normal: Militaries build battleships to fight battleships and tanks to fight tanks. But if the enemy doesn’t have battleships or tanks, they get desperate and use whatever they have. Technology has given us a lot of ways to inexpensively destroy expensive enemy equipment (missiles, drones, bazookas). A $6,000 hand help missile can destroy a $5 million helicopter (and the crew). A richer, more powerful opponent can make war too expensive for a more powerful nation. The sinking of the Moskva may be the highest asymmetric cost ever, with a billion-dollar ship sunk by a few thousand dollars worth of missiles.

Of course, losing a big warship was nothing new. In 1982s, the US and Argentina fought an undeclared war over some barely occupied islands off the coast of Argentina. The UK decided to end this nonsense with an overwhelming response, sending a fleet of modern ships to the area. The US announced that the antiquated Argentinian Navy was neutralized. And then on May 2, the UK lost its first ship since WWII, the HMS Sheffield. It was struck by a French Exocet missile.

The Sheffield’s superior electronic defenses supposedly made it invulnerable to missile attacks, and the Argentinians didn’t have any missiles that could reach it. Does any of this sound familiar? Well, the Argentine forces knew that the Exocet could not hit the Sheffield even if it was launched from a jet. But a desperate military might use an untested in-air refueling system to get a bit more range. Back on the Sheffield, the crew had been repeatedly told that no missiles can reach them. When all of the alarms designed to warn them of incoming missiles started to go off, that crew might be only mildly curious if something was wrong with the system or if it was a drill. No action was taken, the ship was hit, it caught fire, and then it sank.

Lesson Two – Pride and boredom can sink ships: If you didn’t believe that your giant warship will protect you, you would probably try to escape the ship every chance you got. But if you do believe it is safe, after a few weeks of RED ALERT drills, your attention drifts, and your efficiency falls. You don’t follow safety procedures, you leave fireproof doors open, etc. Without a shooting war against a near-peer opponent, procedures tend to be sloppy, equipment is not maintained, and catastrophic “accidents” happen frequently when a real war arrives. And world-class militaries make inexcusable mistakes.

Warships are the world’s most complex machines. Each has thousands of smaller systems, millions of parts, and thousands (or tens of thousands) of technicians and sailors who operate and maintain these machines. The failure of just one system (or technician) can lead to disaster. This is why warships have (or are supposed to have) redundant and overlapping systems.

For example, the Moskva had multiple radar systems that would identify threats while they were more than 100 miles away. And, Russian Satellites, other ships, etc. should have an eye on incoming threats. Once a threat has been identified, we move from detection to defense… long-range anti-missiles (100+ miles). short-range anti-missiles (20 miles), and high-speed guns (under 5 miles). But satellite images show that NONE of these weapons were fired, or even pointed at the two incoming missiles.

After defense systems, we have damage control. Since WWI, warships are divided into watertight compartments that prevent or slow the spread of damage (incoming seawater, spreading fires). Clearly, this failed. As did the pumps that address flooding, and the fire suppression system. The Moskva Should have easily survived multiple missile hits. Yet, the Moskva still sank.

Lesson Three – Systems fail when technicians don’t understand or perform their duties: The Moskva sank too quickly. Normally, when a ship is flooding on one side, you seal off and flood compartments on the other side to keep the ship upright. It might save the ship, but it can also slow the rate of sinking. That didn’t happen. Rather than all of the system failing, it appears that the crew got off of the ship the minute it was damaged. That hints at a massive lack of morale and training. Presumably, the crew of a powerful warship parked many miles from Ukraine is at least as good or better than the morale of the troops fighting in Ukraine. Untrained troops with low morale fight poorly and quickly abandon their nation’s military assets.

Supplies and resources can be as important as soldiers in winning a war. As WWII progressed, Germany and Japan were running out of resources. New ships weren’t built as well as older ships and spare parts were hard to come by. Technical training was cut short to get more recruits into planes, ships, and front lines. Practice (fire drills, shooting practice, etc.) virtually disappeared because any meaningful practice meant using resources.

For decades, equipment shortages, low pay for the military, canceled military programs, general corruption, and little training have been common complaints in Russia. This produces equipment that falls apart when used, empty warehouses that are supposed to be full of spare parts, and perhaps warships with fire-fighting equipment that doesn’t work. Big corporations sell the government state-of-the-art firefighting equipment that doesn’t work, while entrepreneurial crew members sell off fire extinguishers and any other equipment they can find.

Lesson 4 – Underfunded militaries often underperform: Without proper funding, equipment, and morale a military’s ability to fight or even defend itself rapidly degrades. When demoralized soldiers no longer care about the outcome of a war, attention shifts to complaining about their low pay and schemes to stealing whatever they can to supplement that pay. Troops perform their duties poorly while hollowing out the effectiveness of their own forces. Russia is not alone in this vicious cycle of military degradation, but they have a long tradition of military corruption and mismanagement.

The 20th Century was the century of the Big Warship. The bigger and more powerful the ship, the more that a nation touts its power and invincibility. National pride was invested in Flagships. That pride was very helpful in justifying the enormous cost of building and operating these behemoths, especially in peacetime when it’s more difficult to justify these costs. In War, especially the early days of a war, these ships were targets for every enemy fleet admiral, submarine captain, and fighter pilot. The California, Flagship of the US Pacific Fleet, was sunk at Pearl Harbor. The Hood, Flagship of the Northern Fleet, was disintegrated by a direct hit. The Yamato, the most gigantic Battleship ever built, hid away from battle until the final days of the war, fearful of the political consequences if it entered a battle, and could not claim a massive victory.

After each ship’s destruction, there were major political consequences. While the Sheffield was not a Flagship, nor was it the most powerful ship in the UK navy, it was a new and greatly hyped type of destroyer. Even more importantly, it was a weapon that the UK was actively selling to other nations. The UK was in the middle of selling a large number of these destroyers when the Sheffield was sunk. The officers and crew of the Sheffield made many mistakes and some exhibited court marshall level incompetence. However, due to those pending sales, no one was put on trial, and the facts of the case were sealed for 30 years.

Lesson Five – War is always political: Battles can be won and wars lost if you lose control over the information your citizens recieve. Since WWI, when developed nations started to have developed mass media, public opinion matters. In the face of a major military loss, nations lie and do their best to minimize the loss. Russia admits that the Moscka sank. They focus on fire and the weather. Even using incompetence as an excuse may be better than admitting to a substandard ship, untrained crew, or a more effective than expected enemy.

Mark Twain once said that it is untrue that history repeats, but… he added… sometimes it rhymes! Russia is making its own unique combination of bad decisions and uninformed strategies. Big tanks and Big ships are Big targets for modern asymmetric warfare. Ukrainian doesn’t have a lot of high-value military targets, and Russia keeps moving its high-value targets into the range of advanced Ukrainian weapons. That doesn’t mean that Ukraine will have an easy job, but it does mean that young Russian soldiers are going to pay the price for every foot of Ukrainian soil they take.

What do you think? Will Russia stop and think about its strategy, or does Russian pride (and fear of informing Putin) stand in the way of logic? Let us know your opinion!

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Are We There Yet – When Will Schools Be Back To Normal?

How far do we have to go to reach “Normal”?

The last couple of years has been a bumpy ride, for everyone. Masks, vaccinations, closed restaurants, toilet paper shortages, remote work, ships stuck in the Suez canal, droughts in the west, and the earth actually being on fire in the West. It’s a lot to take in for anyone to take. But for kids, it’s worse. It is… traumatic. Adults want to get back to normal, but younger kids never got a chance to learn what normal means. But, we hope, in September of 2022 we’re all going to get a taste of normal when the COVID restrictions are rolled back for the new school year.

Parent’s across America are hoping that we start the new school year just a little closer to “Normal”. Our New Normal… whatever that is. Maybe students can visit their friends again, and have a birthday party or two. Remember field trips? Fingers crossed that museums, libraries, parks, pools, sports events, and other kid venues will be back in full swing. And home can go back to being more like your home, and less like a makeshift school.

How about a New Normal where schools rules don’t change every couple of months, and parents can go back to their old lives? Not all parents were able to transition to remote work. Some have been working around their children’s schedules and have only been able to do “flex-work”, taking part-time gigs like Door Dash or other delivery services.

Some families, with higher incomes or higher-level positions, have been able to reimagine their jobs and work remotely. But what happens to these jobs as the Pandemic recedes? Will they be permanently remote, or will they return to being on-site? Or will the work just go away? Whatever happens, it is sure to cause more disruption for these many of these families.

Before COVID, kids could be unexpectedly absent from school. Little kids often have last-minute emergencies, from a stomach ache to a sleepless night or a problem with their teeth. Or a thousand other little things that need immediate care. Older kids, however, discover truancy. In high school juniors and seniors can yearn for freedom, slip out of school. Besides, even a group of 17-year-olds can blend into a busy city; even if a group of unescorted 7 year-olds can get out of school, they will stand out and, will quickly be questioned.

Student absenteeism isn’t just a matter of children skipping a day or two of school. Chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10% of school days) is both a personal and a school-wide issue. Chronically absent children are also disproportionally poor, often minority, and usually underperform in school. Trauma at home (violence, addiction, abuse), chronic sickness, and other significant issues prevent these students from attending school.

Ironically, students with violence and abuse at home might have once viewed their school as a secure refuge, an escape from their home life. But COVID kept these students locked away at home for two years. Whatever problems these students had before COVID, home trauma may have become far worse. With new rules for “school at home”, and ever-changing COVID protocols, student attendance has been difficult to accurately measure, with reported numbers dramatically rising and falling from one count to the next. According to Bloomberg, school enrollment in New York City has plunged to the lowest level in years.

The budget of a school is based on a number of factors, but the most important is the number of days students attend classes. Every absent day or missing student costs a school some funding. In New York City, a lost student reduces funding by $28,000 a year. Even a single day of absence costs a school $156. Absentee penalties can cost your child’s school hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

That’s a lot of money. More than most schools can afford to lose. Some schools, before the COVID outbreak, already had high absenteeism. It seems inevitable that when schools open in September the pressures of COVID and the stress of re-entering school will boost absenteeism. Add to that the stress that teachers have had. According to a 2022 study by the NEA (National Education Association), 55% of teachers plan to resign, 90% say they are burned out.

The new normal, or at least 2022 normal, may be exhausted parents, traumatized students, and burned-out teachers on the verge of quitting. It’s going to be a perfect storm of problems, and it will probably result in student behavioral issues and more burnout from teachers. It seems inevitable that attendance will be a growing problem throughout the school year.

The last two years have been like a long, long car ride. Later this year we may end up in Normal Tennessee (just outside of Memphis) or we could land in “More of the Same”, USA. Have you already seen signs of stress in your children? Does your school have a plan on how to reintegrate students back into full-time school? Tell us what you’re seeing. And tell us what you think the new school year will look like… we would all like to know what you’re thinking!

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Can Maslow’s Hierarchy Explain the Great Resignation?

Have your basic needs been met?

In the 1940s, the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow formed his theory of “Hierarchy”, that the major decisions in our lives (school, work, friends, family) were driven by our internal needs. These needs form a pyramid, with the most basic and immediate needs at the base, and our highest aspirations at the peak. We all need that base to survive. Not everyone, however, will climb the entire pyramid to attain the highest level… “self-actualization”.

The theory is that we all want to climb this pyramid. However, economic circumstances (a lost job or bad investment), trauma (family in the death, divorce, etc.), and other life-event can get in the way. Perhaps the rewards at the peak of the pyramid just don’t interest you. Still, there is always an upwards attraction by the rewards offered on the next level.

You may want a new car, a bigger house, or higher status. Most of us will want to ascend, climb, and achieve more. New achievements create bonds with work, school, the community, and your family. These bonds incentivize you to climb, and they support you. This prevents a small slip in your climb from throwing you back to the beginning, at the base of the pyramid.

However, Maslow’s Hierarchy is a product of 1950s American society. It is filled with the assumptions of the “American Dream”. One of those assumptions was that America was the freest nation in the world. Which may have been true, for white males. The aspirations of minorities, women, individuals with disabilities, even seniors were seen in this suburban Dream.

The Hierarchy and the Dream focused on consumer goods, big cars, and big houses. Big corporations and the U.S. government were trusted “partners”. Over the decades, corporate scandals, environmental awareness, and political corruption tainted the Dream. as the American dream faded through the years, the foundation on which Maslow’s pyramid was built, became increasingly less secure.

Do we still have the same beliefs and the same goals? Perhaps the Great Resignation is a result of Maslow’s crumbling foundation and needs more than just better pay and time-off to repair. Let’s dig a little and see what we find…

THE PAY GAP: Corporations, government agencies, and think tanks all attempt to predict employment trends. The Pew Foundation is a think tank that has been very vocal about a coming “labor crisis”, pointing to the stagnant wages of most American workers. Paychecks have become larger, but the real buying power stopped growing in the mid-1960s.

Since 1950 American workers have become 3 times more productive. In the early years after WWII, when productivity rose, so too did worker wages. After all, don’t workers make the goods and provide the services that create profit? But by the 1970s, increases in productivity no longer led to higher wages. If higher efficiency and profit were no longer going to workers, where was the money going?

EXECUTIVES: In the 1950s a CEO was paid 20 times more than the average worker. That is a lot, but not compared to CEOs today. In 2020 CEOs paid themselves 351 times more than the average worker. Did CEOs and executives become that more productive than their 1960s and 1970s counterparts? Probably not.

While executives are taking much more of the profits made in America, independent research shows that higher CEO pay does not result in higher productivity. If consultants made the same finding for lower-level employees… that their productivity did not rise with higher wages… their wages and benefits would immediately be cut. Yet, CEO compensation continues to rise.

WORKERS: During WWII, labor unions helped America win the war. After WWII, corporate America was increasingly uneasy in its “partnership” with labor unions. Corporations argued that outdated union work rules held back efficiency. Corporations wanted to introduce more automation and move work to lower-paying U.S. (and later offshore) locations. Corporations argued that without union interference, they could raise profits, raise worker pay, and offer superior benefits. Unions argued that benefits resulted from their battle against corporate greed, and not from corporate generosity. Take away the unions, they argued, and pay will fall and benefits will be cut.

As stated earlier, Executive pay and corporate profitability became unlinked from worker compensation. This marks a critical shift in the social contract between workers and corporations. Previously, worker productivity was carefully measured and was a critical factor for annual raises and promotions. Now, productivity (efficiency, profits) was almost solely credited to the CEO and a few key executives. Workers became a simple “cost”, like a piece of equipment. The generous bonuses Executives were given for cost reductions increased their conflict with workers. Without unions for protection, individual works had reduced negotiating power, and compensation stagnated.

Unions were already in decline by 1980, when Ronald Regan was elected President, and the Republicans shifted to the political right. Corporations and conservative politicians targeting the elimination of labor unions, and largely succeeded. In the 1950s 40% of jobs were unionized; by 2020 just 9% of workers. Corporations did become more profitable. Executive pay skyrocketed. But promises of higher pay and benefits for workers got lost in the shuffle.

SECURITY: Few workers today believe that hard work will earn them a secure job. COVID was the straw that broke the workforce’s back, but worker security has been falling for many years. Automation, at first, was only effective on the factory floor. But as jobs moved from factories to offices, automation followed.

Technical and political issues have kept most self-driving trucks off public roads, but on private timber roads, mines, and seaports automated trucks are commonplace. Self-driving tractors, harvesters, and heavy equipment are common sites on farms. And of course, the military has been using drones and remotely operated vehicles since the 1990s. Robots are, or soon will be, everywhere.

Peter Drucker was the father of the modern efficiency movement. He once said that if corporate offices were as efficient as farms or factories, we could eliminate 90% of employees. Does it still make sense to go to school for two decades, and get deeply in debt, for a career that may only last a few years? An “investment” in Maslow’s pyramid once offered a guaranteed return. COVID made “Zoom” and “working remotely” a part of our vocabulary. Will the coming round of remote work make our jobs more secure, or will it lead to the largest wage of automation and outsourcing in history?

FAMILY: The family is fundamental to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Americans once believed that a “serious adult” must be married, have children, and own a big house and car. Yet, there are fewer marriages, more divorces, and far fewer children. The traditional family is fading away. Is the workforce too underpaid to afford children? Or is it that two-career households don’t have enough time to manage a career and raise children? Whatever the reason, traditional families are fading away.

Families are also disappearing in Japan. The population has been declining for 15 years, leaving small towns deserted. Dating, intimacy, and marriage are increasingly rare for young workers as they focus on “more important” issues. That may boost their connection to Maslow’s Hierarchy while they are on the lower-lower levels, but without the demands of family, will Japanese workers be as motivated to climb to the top? Or will it even matter? Experts predict that Japan will lose half of its population by the end of this century. Clearly, as families (and the workforce) disappear, a lot of assumptions need to change.

Then, we have China, which rapidly evolved from agriculture to industry, and is now on the way to being a service economy. Overwhelmed young workers are rebelling, choosing “tang ping”, or “lying flat”. Do just enough to live and no more; reject marriage, dating, ambitions at work, and even a place to live. You can always sleep in a 24×7 cafe. That’s even more radical than America’s Great Resignation! Workers see themselves as mere cogs in a machine and have lost motivation. Is Bernie Sanders right… do we need Capitalism 2.0?

ENVIRONMENT: “The American Dream” is a house in the suburbs, a car in the garage, a smiling mother and father, and a couple of children. We didn’t think about pollution from the car, a house made of non-sustainable materials, or if Daddy paid the bills by working in a diverse workplace. We were constantly told that money doesn’t grow on trees, but we never asked if making money could kill all the trees.

Maslow’s pyramid is based on the desire for consumer goods. We now know that it takes more than money to pay for the American Dream. Young workers today talk about a net-zero carbon footprint, living in tiny houses, and of course… electric cars. They don’t trust corporations, and they don’t want to work for a corporation that does not contribute to the overall social good. To hire today’s workforce, corporations need a far more open, support greater diversity, and not destroy the environment…. and provide tangible evidence that this is indeed how they operate.

CONCLUSION?: Pundits are recommending higher pay to retain workers. Some even say that benefits should be offered. All good ideas, but it misses the big point. The old contract between workers and employers is pretty much dead. It has been for years. Unions and worker protections have eroded. Corporations promised a better workplace once unions were gone, but they failed to deliver. And distrust between workers and employers has never been lower.

If we want to get the workforce climbing again, we need three agreements. First, new and more relevant goals for the Pyramid. Even homeless individuals have mobile phones, while well-paid individuals are turning away big suburban homes and gas-guzzling cars. That’s definitely a new Hierarchy. Second, workers want transparency in how their company makes decisions and what happens to the profits it makes. Third, they want a meaningful voice; essentially they want a partnership with their employer. This is a new contract with American corporations. Pay and benefits? If these three changes are honestly pursued, then they should take care of themselves.

What do you think? Tell us how you feel about what it’s like to work today? Or, how you would like your workplace to operate!

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Can Jeff Bezo’s Massive Bet On A “Lord of the Rings” Series Actually Pay off?

Rings? Who said Rings? Amazon passed on LotR and bought rights to an obscure history book.

In case you’ve missed it, a Cambridge professor of language once wrote a story about a ring, a quest, elves, and magic. Spoilers! The quest is to destroy the ring, and that’s what they did. This story, “Lord of the Rings” (LotR), sold… well. By “well”, I mean hundreds of millions of copies. It also spawned generations of readers, launched a $3 billion movie trilogy, inspired nearly every fantasy book, movie, or comic for generations, and gained the status of holy relics among its fans. Now, Amazon Prime wants to go to the next level spending one billion dollars to produce a new streaming series. Is this just a vanity project or is it something more? We’re about to find out!

Amazon’s series will cost more, FAR more, than any other series in history. The last year of Game of Thrones (GoT) was the most expensive in the long-running series, costing a mere $100 million (just three years ago). This was recently beaten by Netflix’s mega-project, Dune, at $165 million. Amazon Prime turns up the finances to 11 by paying a billion-dollar, just for season one, which is expected to be 8 episodes. Each episode of the Amazon series will cost more than an entire year of GoT. That’s a big bump in the increasingly high-stakes world of streaming media.

Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, made it clear that he is personally interested in the success of the series. The official Amazon mythology is that Bezos greenlighted the record-breaking price tag because Amazon Prime needs its own Game of Thrones. Any accountant for Amazon Prime will tell you that’s not a good sign. When the “big boss” tells his organization that he really (really) wants something, cost controls will fall by the wayside, and consumer feedback is often ignored.

Hollywood is littered with loss-leader projects that blew past agreed-to budgets. “Water World”, a 1995 movie ended up spending twice the agreed-to-budget and tanked at the box office. Two years later, “Titanic” followed the same script, spending twice the budget. Titanic, however, was a huge, profitable, and critically successful hit. Not every bloated budget spells failure, but overspending is generally not a good thing. Keep in mind that Titanic cost $200 million, $350 with inflation. A mere third of the cost of the first year of Amazon’s project.

Will Jeff Bezos be impervious to warnings about his Game of Thrones clone? Keep in mind that Bezos recently went on a trip into space because… he could. It’s a pretty good bet that he wants, no matter what it costs. But will people watch it? Making a series based on Tolkien’s has a lot more issues than the fanbase or the accountants are aware of. It’s not just the cost, Amazon is facing perhaps insurmountable creative and marketing issues that make this series the biggest gamble in the history of entertainment! Consider the following…

Missing Characters: The world has changed since LotR was published in 1954. The books have almost no female characters. Keep in mind that Tolkien uses “race” to describe the people (and things) of this world. There are a few humans and Elf women, but most major races have no female characters. Dwarves are major characters, but not a single female character appears. Wizards are pivotal to the story, but there are no female Wizards. Even the bad guys (Orcs, Nazgul, trolls, giants,) have no females. Ents, walking tree people, are one of the most loved races. Ent females exist, but they wandered off and the male Ents couldn’t find them. Needless to say, this is going to be a big, big issue.

Racism: Not just women are absent from the tale. Major characters are “good” and virtually always white. Evil creatures, races, and monsters are not (and usually must live in “blackness”). Tolkien organizes his world and its characters by “race”, which determines WHAT you are (skills, temperament, and lifestyle). Characters always follow their stereotype. The exceptionally white Elves are the best race, “immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings”. Baddies like the Orcs lack any positive qualities. In the entirety of LofR (all 1,200 pages) you meet a lot of Orcs, but not one is a “good Orc”. When you label all characters by race, and characters only operate within their label, is this Racism? Yes, it is. The fan base is at war with itself over how to “fix” the source material, break stereotypes and add diversity, while still delivering a “true” LotR experience.

Faithfulness: At the other end of the fanbase, we have purists. It is what it is, just leave it alone. The problem is that Tolkien is a VERY consistent and comprehensive author. There’s not a lot of wiggle room to add or remove anything. Pull one thread and the whole story can fall apart. Fans were thrilled that the movies, with $3 billion in revenue ($6 billion if you count overseas and DVD sales), remained faithful to the books. They didn’t add characters, change key plot points or write new dialogue. The movie focused on trimming what would not fit into the 9 hours of screen time. For LotR, faithfulness is bankable. Departure from the original story, adding characters or dialogue, or tampering with Tolkien’s style could spell financial doom.

Story Rights: Amazon’s press release highlights “Tolkien” and “Lord of the Rings”. Yet, Amazon did not buy the rights to LotR. They bought “The Silmarillion”. LotR was a fun adventure story with rich dialog, a huge number of characters, and a writing style that has enchanted readers for decades. The Silmarillion is a history book that tells the 4,000 year back story to LofR, with few characters and less conversation.

Chris Tolkien: The Silmarillion is comprised of unfinished stories and notes that were compiled and written by Chris Tolkein, J.R.R. Tolkein’s son. It is also the worst-selling of Tolkien’s major works, with sales of just 1 million after 45 years of publication. Compare this to over 150 million book sales for LotR. A decade later Chris Tolkien released the 12 volume, “History of Middle Earth”, which sold even less. Why did 99% of the Tolkein fanbase reject the Silmarillion? Perhaps Chris chose the wrong stories. Perhaps his writing style clashes with that of this father. Or it may be that Chris Tolkien is not J.R.R. Tolkien, and that is the end of the story for the fans.

Screen Time: The movie trilogy turned the 1,200 pages of LotR into 9 hours of screen time. However, If the Amazon series is to match the 63 hours of screen time of Game of Thrones We have another problem. The Silmarillion is less than 400 pages. The trilogy averaged 130 written pages of LotR for every hour of screen time. The series gets just 6 pages per hour. I hate to use math to explain the creative process, but 95% of what we will see on the screen has to come from the creative team. That writing must keep the series running for 5 to 10 years and build the biggest audience in history. While there’s at it, they might as well win every critical award for the next decade. Does the writing team get bonus guarantees?

Style Gap: Game of Thrones is the series to beat, and their audience will be the new infusion of subscribers to justify this project. No problem! Just perfectly mimic GoT’s award writing style. Wait… has anyone considered the “style gap”? GoT, published 40 years after LotR, and has a gritty, realistic style. Well… realistic if you ignore the giants and the dragons. Tolkien is more… chaste? Foul language is never used. No one is ever naked. The most passionate scene is when Aragorn (the future king) kisses an Elf, after about 1,000 pages of build-up. GoT episodes frequently involve nudity, sex, profanity, incest, brothels, prostitutes, rape, and horrific violence. You just can’t “split the difference” in tone. What’s it going to be Amazon, a family-friendly “G” rating or a mature NC-17?

Revenue Streams: GoT, had successful DVD sales, at least in the early years. The LotR movies could depend on money from theater tickets, DVD sales (nearly $800 million), and streaming revenues. Since then, the DVD market has crashed. Since 2008, DVDs sales have fallen by 90%. Why bother with DVDs when everything you want is now streaming? If DVDs are dead, did Amazon Prime exclude DVD sales from their financial model? With only streaming revenues to rely on, can the most expensive series ever recover its costs?

Secret Strategy?: If it looks like Bezos is on a crazy quest, maybe this isn’t his real quest? Even before COVID, there has been a 20-year decline in theater revenues. Broadcast ad revenues have also fallen. Streaming has been waiting to take over the world. But as media giants spun off streaming platforms (Disney Plus, HBO Max, and Paramount+), and newcomers (Hulu, YouTube, Peacock, Apple TV, Crunchyroll) scramble for new revenues, the market is getting crowded. What if you could raise the barrier for new entrants while converting theater revenues into new streaming subscribers? Netflix might invest $165 million in Dune, elevated streaming content (or budgets?) into Hollywood Blockbuster territory. Amazon might raise the bar even higher, to limit competition. A billion-dollar project sounds about right.

If Amazon’s bet pays off, this might be the launch of the long-anticipated transformation of the entire entertainment industry. DVD is gone, but traditional TV can be replaced with “live” events and binge viewing. Theaters were terrified that movies will be released on streaming and Theaters simultaneously. But what if the most-watched content begins as a series, instead of a movie? t the same time. movies will show up first on stAnd then merges theaters with home entertainment. I wonder if Amazon’s “The Rings of Power”, will be eligible for an Emmy and an Oscar?

Whatever Amazon Prime is up to, they are definitely playing at the high rollers table. They are betting big stakes, and need a big win. Can Amazon pull it off? Will the writers for “Rings of Power” win over the fans or will they be disappointed? If Amazon builds it, will the audience come? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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Will Our Future Be Little More Than An Endless Succession of Pandemics?

You get to go home, but it’s Ground Hog day for medical workers!

Well, yeah. It’s looking that way. Since the beginning of the 21st century we’ve lived through MANY pandemics. We just haven’t noticed all of them. It’s like asking a fish, “Do you know you’re wet?” Do fish even know what it’s like to not be wet? Pandemics have become a part of our way of life.

In the past, most of what you saw, what you ate, and the people you knew were… local. It was too expensive and time-consuming to regularly travel the world. Immigrants may reminisce about the food they had in the old country, but you learned to like American foods. Apples, strawberries, and melons may not be the same as the ones from your childhood, but it’s too expensive to ship fresh fruit halfway around the world. Besides, it would rot before it got here.

In the 21st century, however, we are global. Travel and transportation is cheap, reliable, and fast. Instead of taking months, strawberries could arrive from Europe in a week or two. If you must have some super-premium fruit, you could get it the next day via air-express.

Mountains, jungles, oceans, different climates… are all barriers. Barriers used to define our world, and prevented people, animals, and plants from easily spreading. In the 21st Century, these barriers are melting away. Not just strawberries, but bacteria, viruses, molds, insects, and other dangerous “hitchhikers” can arrive in any one of the 200 million cargo containers that reach U.S. every year. A scrap of leaf, a half-eaten sandwich, or an infected passenger can easily carry a new and deadly pathogen to America.

If pandemics are so common, why aren’t they headline news every day? Because not every pandemic kills humans, and some pandemics only take a toll years after the victims are infected. Pandemics also devastate plants and animals. In the 1950s, the “Panama virus” killed off the world’s commercial bananas. It took decades, and cost billions of dollars, to find a virus-resistant replacement. But that virus has continued to mutate. New versions are appearing and farmers expect that the banana industry could be wiped out in as little as 5 or 10 years.

A few decades earlier, America had 3 to 4 billion Chestnut trees. Chestnut was the primary wood for making furniture in the early 20th century. Except for a few thousand trees, the American Chestnut has gone extinct, killed by a fungus from imported Chinese Chestnuts. This “hitchhiker” innocently brought to the U.S., shows how easily Pandemics can start.

An industry-destroying bacteria from China arrived in Florida in the 1990s. Florida was renowned for its citrus fruits, supplying 80% of America’s orange juice. Today the “greening virus” infects every citrus grove in Florida, and was recently spotted in California. The virus doesn’t kill citrus trees, but it makes their fruits inedible. The only option for a citrus farmer is to burn infected trees. Florida’s share of the orange juice market is now barely 40%. If the greening virus continues to spread, the U.S. citrus industry may only last another 10 years.

China has no monopoly on pathogens. It’s merely that as physical barriers between nations go away, China is still on the other side of the world. Many diseases in China and Asia are nearly unknown in the Western hemisphere. Without previous exposure, our plants and animals have little or no immunity to these foreign invaders. But that is rapidly changing, which is why Pandemics are on the rise.

While plant diseases can destroy an economy, they are unlikely to infect a human being. Cows, pigs, and poultry, however, are more closely related to us and fatal animal diseases can “cross-over” to infect humans. A few years ago this happened with Mad Cow disease. Mad Cow may have originated in goats, spread to cows, and then infected humans through diseased meat. When infected cows acted strangely, their diseased meat wasn’t sold as human food. Instead, it was sold as cat food. Soon, cats were also acting strangely, alerting health care officials that something strange was going on.

Millions of heads of cattle were killed to stop the spread, but the real culprit was a new “efficiency” in farming. When a cow died before it was butchered, it was ground up and fed to the rest of the herd. But because we were alerted by those cats, only a few hundred Americans and Europeans died from Mad Cow disease. If not for those cats, millions would have slowly gone insane as the disease ate through their brains.

American farming practices may be dangerous, but they are considered to the be most efficient (and profitable) in the world, making American-style farming the model that other nations want. What exactly is our system? Think of a “chicken coop”. Do you have an image of a dozen chickens running around a farm, living in a small shed? Not quite. American poultry farms could have 20,000 chickens in just one coop. Chickens never leave the coop, and rarely have enough space to even turn around. Movement is minimized to reduce the calories burned. That provides maximum profits.

When so many animals are packed into so little space, animals frequently get sick and die. That’s bad for profit. The solution is to use large quantities of antibiotics and other medicines. However, the more drugs we use, the faster diseases gain immunity. Drug-resistant diseases are often more virulent. It is only recently that we learned that different types of viruses and bacteria teach each other their immunity tricks by exchanging DNA. This speeds up the cycle of drug-resistance. If that “super-bug” infects a human being, we have the start of a Pandemic. Not a good thing, if our most effective medicines lost all of their potency on a farm.

This process of population crowding, high levels of drugs, and the rapid spread of dangerous diseases is the foundation of American agriculture. The profitability of this model has made China very interested in replicating it. China has bought some of our largest pig and chicken farms to accelerate their conversion to this model. This will massively increase the potential of cross-over diseases. SARS and Bird Flu outbreaks started in poultry farms. Swine Flu came from pig farms. But our agriculture system rapidly turned an animal disease into human pandemics.

Interestingly, the same conditions that make farms superspreaders of pandemic diseases, also exist in the American healthcare system. Hospitals take individuals with infectious diseases and put them in very crowded environments where they are then given massive amounts of antibiotics and other drugs. Many of the patients have their skin broken by needles, IVs, and other devices that provide access to opportunistic diseases. Not surprisingly, hospitals around the world are rapidly breeding deadly diseases that can resist every drug we have.

Staphylococcus was a major killer in the early 20th century. Staph is making a big comeback. Simply put, Staph turns your flesh into oozing pus. You dissolve. Before antibiotics, all a doctor could do was slice away chunks of flesh and muscle, arms and legs, faster than the infection could spread. MERSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is 21st century Staph. MERSA has been spotted in hospitals around the world, with newer more deadly versions being reported. A few antibiotics still work (sometimes), but MERSA could soon turn into a death sentence. Tuberculosis and pneumonia are following this same deadly path of evolution.

This is our world of Pandemics! Our excessive use of drugs in farms and hospitals forces killer diseases to evolve and mutate. Once that process gives birth to a true killer, our global transportation network then provides a highway for people and products to swiftly move around the world… with the next Pandemic hitchhiking along.

For over 100 years modern medicine, advances in transportation, and an incredibly productive agriculture system served us well. We cured diseases that would have killed millions of Americans, and fed a nation. But when miracle drugs got mixed in with high volume agriculture and a lax medical system, we started an age of Pandemics. Can we overcome the flaws in the systems we’ve created? Or will the spread of American-style agriculture make Pandemics even more frequent? Tell us what you think! What does the future look like to you?

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Will We Ever Learn The Secret of India’s Ivermectin Miracle?

Something happened in India’s most populous state. Was it Ivermectin?

Have you heard about the “miracle” in India? Since the start of the Pandemic, India has been featured in a lot of doomsday discussions. It’s the second-most populous nation on Earth, with a vast number of poor. India could be devastated by COVID. They night suffer more deaths than the rest of the world combined. Or so the discussion goes.

Unexpectedly, in the most populated state in India… Uttar Pradesh, with over 200 million citizens… the rising level of infections drops to almost zero. COVID infections and deaths just stop. Yet in other states, infections continue to rise. COVID cases in Uttar Pradesh are less than 1% of other Indian states. And that, dear readers… is miraculous! If it’s real.

If the numbers are true, and they do appear to be, something very important is happening. The “problem” is that many, including officials responsible for managing the COVID crisis in Uttar Pradesh, attributed the miracle to Ivermectin. That’s right the “horse paste” that kills parasites. So, we have believers on one side that are now sure that Ivermectin is a cure for COVID and skeptics on the other side that say it will take a miracle for them to believe this story. Let’s dive in and see what’s really going on.

The Internet is filled with stories about miracles, which often prove to be false or missing key information. Yet, there are cases where the most unlikely explanations are true. If there is even a slight chance that there is a super cheap and effective drug that is available today, then we should be at least testing it. The problem is that there are a lot of ethical concerns about giving patients an untested medicine. Even if it does not harm them, it may stop them from taking approved medicines, like a COVID vaccine. But in India where the potential of death from COVID is so immense… should the rules be a bit different?

This was the thinking in Uttar Pradesh. They don’t have a big budget for the Pandemic. They don’t have enough vaccines for everyone. And Ivermectin is well known, well understood, and legitimate medical treatment for parasites (worms, lice, scabies). It may or may not help, but it’s not likely to kill. And the same is true with some other possible miracle cures. So the government of Uttar Pradesh sent around a box of miracles to everyone in the state, and one of the miracles in that box was Ivermectin. What else was in the box? We’ll get to that in just a little bit.

Just to be clear, there is no evidence, not a single legitimate study that shows that Ivermectin can help COVID patients. There is one study that looked like it could support claims that Ivermectin was a legitimate therapeutic drug for Invrmectine, but it was withdrawn earlier in the year when it was found to have been faked.

Is the lack of data for Ivermectin a problem? Not necessarily. For decades, universities and Pharmaceutical companies have examined studies on older and established medicines to see if they can do… more. This practice, called drug repurposing, can be cheaper and quicker than traditional drug development for developing breakthrough drugs. Researchers examined notes from old studies on heart medicine. Patients were reporting interesting side effects, which led to Viagra, the world’s best-selling drug for erectile dysfunction. Minoxidil (Rogaine) began life as a treatment for heartburn. But buried in the notes were reports of hair growth.

We should also note that modern healthcare is HIGHLY dependent on “off label” use. Have you been told by a doctor, “While it’s not one of the official uses, this is frequently used by patients like yourself. It’s not toxic. It has few side effects. And other patients tell me it really works. Would you like me to write up a prescription?” As much as 20% of all prescriptions Americans use are off-label.

A medical researcher I know developed a database that shows the research behind every medical procedure and drug used in America. It shows which treatments are off-label (no official research), which are “double-blind” (the gold standard), and which fall somewhere in-between. Only 10% to 20% of treatments in the US are supported by double-blind studies. Telling Ivermectin supporters to go away and spend a few years doing a double-blind study does seem just a bit hypocritical. It’s good advice, but it may not be reasonable advice for any family that contracts COVID.

You can’t fault researchers for digging around for new ways to use existing drugs. Especially if it can save millions of lives. But you also can’t fault medical regulators for not prescribing medicine for 7 billion people, when no one even knows what dosage they need. In the past, there were accidents in medicine that were so horrifying that we created all of these rules about testing.

For example, Thalidomide was a popular sedative in Europe after WWII. Taking advantage of a strong dollar, many Americans honeymooned in Europe. Newly pregnant American women took Thalidomide to calm morning sickness. Months later, a wave of armless and legless children was born in America. Imagine the horror and the guilt of the mothers of those children. If they had known the result they might have just taken some other prescription, or suffered through their morning sickness. A cure for COVID just might justify some pretty dire consequences.

What did happen in Uttar Pradesh? There is a lot of missing information, a lot of assumptions, and a ton of bad and misleading statements. Normally, I’d footnote the key facts, but the sources are too fragmented and there are too many contradictions. So, this is my attempt at a reasonable reading of the facts…

  • The Miracle In Uttar Pradesh: On May 12th (2021), India Express (along with other newspapers), reported that Uttar Pradesh was free of new COVID cases and death. The local government credited the results to the “prophylactic and therapeutic” use of Ivermectin. On November 8th (2021), the same officials reported that rates of infection were still low. But, they no longer attribute the reduction to Ivermectin, and no longer advise the use of Ivermectin for COVID.
  • No Miracle In Goa: Goa is India’s biggest vacation spot. The governement feared that vacationers would spread COVID around India. So, Goa officials gave Ivermectin to everyone in the state… a year before Uttar Pradesh. The result? Nothing. The miracle in India only happened in Uttar Pradesh. If Invemectin failed in Goa, why should we assume that it will work anywhere else?
  • The Magic Box: Ivermectin was just one thing in the “magic box” that was sent out in Uttar Pradesh. Along with the Ivermectin tablets, there was Doxycycline (an anti-biotic), multi-vitamins, gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. What about those multi-vitamins? Millions of people believe that suceptability to COVID comes from chronic undernourishment. And then there’s…
  • Doxycycline: This is an antibiotic that some beleive treats COVID. Yet, medical officials haven’t found any link between Doxycycline and COVID. Since antibiotics have no effect on viruses, Ivermectin supporters dismiss it. But Ivermectin is only proven to kill parasites; shouldn’t it too be dismissed? If a single drug that can’t kill a virus can be dismissed, should we instead take TWO drugs that can’t kill a virus? That’s what supporters of Ivermectin PLUS Doxycycline believe.
  • Gloves and Masks?: Uttar Pradesh had an ample supply of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Why not credit this combo for the lower infection rates? Just by giving these to everyone, behavior may have been changed. Like social distancing. Americans prefer a personal space of 1-2 feet (or more). In India, people stay closer together. That’s perfect for spreading COVID. But masks and gloves might remind people to stay apart.
  • Vaccines Rates: Ivermectin failed in Goa but succeeded in Uttart Pradesh. What could have been different? Maybe it’s the high vaccination rate a year later in Uttar Pradesh. More than 50% of the population is vaccinated. And they use a mix of vaccines – one created locally, one from Europe, and the Sputnik vaccine from Russia. The mix of vaccines is constantly changing, depending on avaiability and cost. Maybe Ivermectin only works if you’re already vaccinated?
  • Invemectin Experts: Have you heard that William Campbell, one of the discoverers of Ivermectin, said that it was effective against COVID? It’s all over the Internet, but this is false. Campbell has repeatedly said that it is a fake and has never recommended that the drug he discovered can be used for COVID.
  • MERCK: Merck is the company that makes Ivermectin. Needless to say, Merck has sold a LOT of Ivermectin recently. What does Merck say about using their drug for COVID? They say that there is no scientific evidence that it does anything for COVID, and that we shouldn’t use it.
  • Uttar Pradesh Speaks (again): Months after officials in Uttar Pradesh announced their support for Invemectin they recanted their support. They’ve found no evidence that it reduced infections or provided any other benefit. Instead, local officials believe the Miracle is a result of intense monitoring. Devoting a large amount of resources to identifying the infected, following up with vaccines, quarantining the sick, educating families, and providing enough masks, gloves, and sanitizer… results in far fewer COVID infections. That’s the miracle.

When information is sketchy everyone can (and will) believe what they like. Ivermectin just doesn’t have the facts to support its claims. It failed in Goa, authorities that once supported it have abandoned it, its inventor says “wait for the research”, the manufacturer says it has no proof that it works, and there are no theories as to how an anti-parasite drug can explain the Miracle in India.

Repurposing existing (and inexpensive) drugs is not a crazy idea. But as in all drug development, most drugs fail to perform somewhere during the testing process. Drug repurposing is a powerful tool, but when drugs appear just when we need them to do just what we need… be skeptical. When it looks too good to be true, it usually is.

What do you think? Are you holding off on vaccination because you’ve heard of a better solution? Has Big Pharma made so many mistakes in recent years that you can’t trust them? Do you see mainstream medicine as the best way to deal with COVID and future global health issues? Share your opinions with us!

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Happy Thanksgiving to Hard Working Americans Everywhere!

Target will permanently stay closed on Thanksgiving. Is this a sign of happier days for overworked Americans?

Did you have a happy Turkey day? Or at least a day off? Did you get a chance to spend time with your family? Believe it or not, there was once a time in America where everyone expected a (paid) day off on at least Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Your family’s major holidays may differ, but Americans used to believe that everyone needs some time off, and we all have family obligations. National Holidays and paid time off were a way that we all connected. When we did get back to work, “what did you do for Thanksgiving” was the subject of water cooler talk for weeks to come. Holidays and paid-time-off (PTO) was an acknowledgment from your employer and your customers that it’s OK to have a life outside of work, it is even desirable. An overwhelming number of workplace studies agree!

Today, let’s see how our view of how time off (and time in general) has changed at work. So, sit back. Have a hot chocolate. And grab some leftover turkey (or tofurkey if that’s your thing), and let’s see how our time at work has changed and will continue to change.

The US view of work was formed before the US was created. A century before the American Revolution, the Pilgrims were translating Biblical verses into the legal restrictions that we call, the Blue Laws. All religions have calendars that in some way tell you what you are supposed to do and when. In cities and states across America, communities put restrictions on what you could do on a Sunday. This usually limited which businesses could be open, or at least could be open BEFORE church services were over. Hospitals can stay open on Sunday, but most businesses will close.

In the earliest days, Blue Laws ensured that you could attend Sunday services. Later laws ensured that the workforce was well-rested and sober by Monday morning. By the mid-1970s, most Blue Laws were either repealed or o the way out. Working on a Sunday became common, but it only affected a few workers, mostly in cities. But by the early 80s, suburban shopping centers were everywhere. It made economic sense for businesses to pay for one more workday in exchange for more customers from nearby cities. Blue Law restrictions in cities helped to grow the malls that spread across America.

However, smaller businesses near malls weren’t that keen on adding another workday. Sure, malls might attract customers from the city. But small stores outside of the malls wouldn’t benefit nearly as much, yet would still need to pay as much for extra labor. Small businesses were aware that it wasn’t a real choice. If small stores stayed closed on Sundays, Malls would steal even more business. Maybe it didn’t matter. In a few years, local retail stores would be shuttered by Mega-Stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes & Nobel, and Toys R Us.

If that wasn’t enough, Black Friday wrote this consumer culture into the bedrock of America. A big sale directly after Thanksgiving and before Christmas had been around for years, under different names. But by the late 1980s, Black Friday became a part of our language. Soon, small business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and other sale days joined in. Soon, Black Friday sales tried to start earlier in the holiday season, making all of November and December one gigantic sale, and kickstarting a new “work all the time” culture.

Up until now, longer work hours was a result of strategy. New corporations wanted more businesses, so they changed how they worked. But by the late 20th century, technology took these changes even further. In the mid-90s a humble online used-book store created the model for an online marketplace that would eclipse the malls and the big box stores. This new player, Amazon, would grow into the world’s largest retailer and the last generation of biggest and best would scramble to keep up. And so too would America’s workers.

To differentiate themselves from the shopping experience in brick and mortar malls, online shopping introduced free shipping and 24 x 7 shopping. Delivery “soon” became 2-day delivery, which became overnight and Sunday deliveries. Today, Amazon owns a fleet of air carriers and is considering delivery by drone.

The online revolution didn’t come cheap. It is quite literally not humanly possible to keep up with the delivery schedule Amazon created. Automation, computers, and a LOT of robots are needed to keep the goods flowing and make Amazon’s mega-warehouses function. The technology that Amazon funded, and the pace of change at work that resulted, is now moving into the rest of the world. This new consumer age may have been started by our craving for $400 sushi knives at 3 o’clock in the morning, but it made us want more immediacy in everything. Evermore capable ATMs made 24×7 banking possible, but mobile phone banking meant that YOU are whatever service you want whenever you want it. Airlines, employment services, real estate agents, insurance, streaming media… even the post office… are now online.

Many more innovations… especially automation and outsourcing… pushed us towards greater efficiency and higher productivity. 20th-century factories dealt with the same issue of management wanting more productivity without higher wages. But unions could negotiate with company owners to set new production goals, and it would be a part of negotiations over wages and work conditions.

But unions have all but disappeared in America. And the never-ending onslaught of mergers and buyouts… with their promises of higher profits… require ever more productivity from workers. After a merger, workers may keep doing the same work, but will often become “contracted workers”, losing their benefits and paid time off.

And so it was, until COVID hit. Frontline workers became heroes. We all had a lot of time at home to rethink our priorities. Maybe we expected more respect at work. Maybe we just want to be told that we went above and beyond, when we didn’t need to. But, after a lot of COVID-inspired soul searching, millions of American’s are refusing to go back to work.

Amazon has not just become an advocate of the $15 minimum wage, they offer health insurance, tuition payments, and other benefits. This may be the biggest signpost ever that we’re now leaving the land of too man billionaires and entering the land of too few workers.

A year from now, I’d like to hear that all of you have paid time off for the Holidays. But for now, just tell me what you’re thinking. Are you about to join the great resignation? Share your ideas and opinions with the rest of us. And make a little room for that extra slice of pie on Christmas!

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