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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The Infrastructure Bill: President Biden’s Quiet Fight For American Housing


All Rights: zimmytws/stock.adobe.com

Biden’s Infrastructure bill is being debated in Washington. Make that debated, and debated, and debated. The bill has become a Rorschach test for Democrats and Republicans, who each see something different. Does a line item look like vitally needed Infrastructure? Or does it look like political pork? Infrastructure is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Still, the debate is getting a lot of politicians to reconsider what “infrastructure” actually means.

Politicians generally agree that roads, trains, and airports are Infrastructure. And they agree that Infrastructure often requires government funding. Not just in the US, but other nations as well have deep government involvement in building out Infrastructure.

Of course, a business might build a road or two on their own property, or a few businesses could get together to build a bridge or two to make it easier to move goods in and out of a city. But beyond that, they’re not interested. Infrastructure projects are just too expensive, and few companies have business interests in every city or every state.

Difficult as it may be to believe today, the government once spent considerable time and effort thinking about the future and funding the right Infrastructure to support economic development. A century ago, the Federal government realized that America’s poorest regions had the worst infrastructure. Improve the infrastructure and you just might lift an entire region out of poverty.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a great example. In the 1930s, half of Tennessee was swamp and untamed wetlands. Paved roads were few and far between. With virtually non-existing Infrastructure, corporations were reluctant to invest in the area, and well-paid jobs were scarce. The TVA was formed to fix all that. Dams were built to generate power. Swamps were drained. Millions of acres of new farmland became available and cheap hydroelectricity attracted new industry. It took time, but the TVA slowly erased the image of Tennessee residents as barefoot hillbillies.

We should also consider President Eisenhower’s 1956 Federal Highway Act. This was the most expensive building project in the history of the USA. In today’s dollars, the Federal Highway Act cost $500 billion. That’s in the same ballpark as Biden’s Infrastructure plan.

Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in WW II. He spent considerable time in Germany and was impressed by their highway system, the Autobahn. Germans could drive faster and more safely than their US counterparts. Eisenhower realized that the lack of good roads was holding back the US economy. Big but underdeveloped states like California, Texas, and Florida could grow dramatically with a better road system.

The Highway Act added 41,000 miles of high-quality paved roads and tens of thousands of bridges. California, one of America’s most car-dependent states, grew from 10 million residents in 1950 to 40 million today. Analysis of the project shows that every $1 invested in the Highway Act delivered $6 in economic benefit. Infrastructure spending doesn’t just develop the economy, it pays for itself.

While most of Biden’s Infrastructure bill will fund roads, bridges, power stations, we also need to invest in innovative ideas that ensure future economic growth. Biden’s most innovative investment idea could be… low-income housing. Huh? Housing? What has that got to do with the economy? Housing may be important, but it’s usually considered a social issue. Not an economic issue. And certainly not infrastructure!

The TVA and the Highway Act were both visionary and successful! But at that time they had their detractors. Some could not see the value of projects that take decades to complete. Others say business issues should be handled solely by businesses. And, of course, we have individuals who see any big government projects as pure socialism. This brings us back to housing.

America has been dealing with a low-income housing crisis for at least 50 years. America built a lot of homes and luxury apartments, but young workers just entering the workforce need low-income housing. They can’t afford much, and they probably need to pay off student loans and start saving money if they want to have children. Compared to 1990, twice as many adults 25 to 34 years old share their living space with roommates, and nearly twice as many live with their parents. Young and entry-level workers have had a declining standard of living for decades.

You might say, “That’s unfortunate, but housing is not really an economic issue or an Infrastructure issue. Young workers are just making the wrong choices. Wrong college degree, wrong job, wrong place to live.” Maybe. But if this is a national trend… and it is… then how will your company get the people you need if those people cannot afford to live anywhere near your business?

It’s not just about the workers that you personally hire. Every worker in a factory or corporation depends on other workers. For example, teachers and daycare workers to look after the children of employees. For workers to be fully focused on their work, they need nearby supermarkets, and restaurants when they have to work overtime. And an army of other workers to provide basic services. Without that, you’re going to need to pay workers a lot more, especially couples and single mothers.

If you don’t think it takes that much time to manage household responsibilities, you need to understand how much the workforce has changed. Back in 1960, only 25% of family households had dual incomes. Today, dual-income earners are 50% to 60% of all households. Today’s families order take-out or eat out much more often. They also use more cleaning services, babysitters, 24 x 7 pharmacies, urgent care, and other “support services”. These services in turn need a LOT of entry-level workers. No low-income housing means no support workers. Ultimately that means no workers for all of the factory and office jobs we’re supposed to create with the Infrastructure bill.

Some readers may think this is too theoretical. Of course, talented young workers will continue to go to college, and build up crippling school loan debt, for a chance to get a high-paying job at a big corporation. Maybe, but not for much longer. The Great Resignation, a massive wave of resignations in just about every industry, will roll on for years to come. The COVID pandemic did not create today’s job market, but it did make it a bit worse and it gave a lot of employees a chance to think about what matters to them. Employees no longer agree with Employers about the future of work. Or how housing should work.

If we look at San Francisco, we may be able to see the future of housing in America. San Francisco has grown dramatically. SF’s “silicon valley” attracted high-tech companies that paid staggering compensation. It made SF the city with 3rd largest number of billionaires. All of that successful capitalism pushed up the cost of housing, by as much as 500% over the last 30 years. That’s good for retirees who want to sell their homes and move out of the area, but what about workers who want to move in?

Other cities may currently have more affordable housing than San Francisco, but they are on the same path as SF… building very little low-income housing. And it’s understandable. If a real estate developer has an opportunity to build on a piece of land, low-income housing is usually the least profitable option. Not just in the US, but in virtually every nation on earth. If you want low-income housing, you need some sort of support form of government support.

San Francisco shows us what happens when low-income housing is in short supply. In SF even highly paid professionals cannot afford housing. One study showed that only 30% of doctors can afford a house. Perhaps doctors could afford housing if they would settle for something less desirable? But if you are a doctor, why not just leave and set up shop somewhere else? What about first responders? Only 2.4% can buy a house. Only 0.7% of teachers and 0.1% of restaurant workers can buy a house. That’s pretty much an invitation to move somewhere else.

That’s why Biden’s Infrastructure bill includes $300 billion for low-income housing. There’s a pretty good argument for building the housing we need to ensure that the US workforce can grow. And history tells us that it is also a good investment. As the Great Resignation continues, issues like housing could determine which parts of America will prosper and which won’t.

What do you think? Do you consider housing as vital a part of our Infrastructure and roads or bridges? Is housing important, but not quite as important as other Infrastructure, or is putting housing in the Infrastructure bill government over-reach?

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Navigating The New Standards of Beauty; Lessons From Victoria’s Secret


Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2017 Photo: Corey Tenold

The highest-earning salespeople are often the most attractive. It’s a difficult metric to quantify but study after study confirms the relationship between appearance and income. Are attractive people drawn to positions where good looks earn them more money? Perhaps these individuals aren’t that attractive, but they invest in better clothes, expensive haircuts, and frequent grooming?

That’s certainly the message from the fashion and beauty industry, and it’s how they sell their products. From clothing, to hair products, to plastic surgery, our pursuit of looking our best has become a massive industry. But what happens when the image of beauty becomes so rare, so aetherial, that no mere mortal can achieve it? No other company can tell us more about that pursuit of impossible beauty standards than Victoria’s Secret, and their army of Angels!

Beauty has always mattered to human beings. The Egyptians were famously fascinated by beauty and largely created what we now call cosmetics. The word cosmetics is derived from a Greek term for “dress and ornament” and “skilled in arranging”. If you’ve ever seen models getting ready for a strut on the catwalk, you can see the art of make-up is about more than dumping some production on your face. Different models or different venues require different make-up.

Of course, beauty changes with the times. A couple of centuries ago and beauty (and celebrity) was defined by royalty. Who else had the prestige, the wealth, the magnificent jewelry, and the fantastically expensive clothing to capture our imaginations? Famous artists pre-dating photoshop created paintings and sculptures of unearthly beauty. At a time when your next meal was not always guaranteed, Rubens celebrated a plumber, curvier standard of female beauty that carries his name even today… Rubenesque.

Male beauty was not completely overlooked. Consider Franz Liszt, a 19th-century composer and pianist. His secret to filling concerts hall was partially his extraordinary artistic skills, and partially his dramatic good looks. As portraiture gave way to photography, lesser celebrities defined the male image. War heroes were picked up by newspapers, Broadway stars, Hollywood actors, and Rock Stars. They all had talent or at least accomplishments, but becoming a superstar meant having a certain attitude and the right looks.

Free But Profitable: In the 1990s, something new happened. Blame it on cable TV, and later the Internet. Fashion shows have been around since before the 20th century. But they were for industry insiders. Watching models walk from one end of a stage (the catwalk) and back, then go backstage, change, and repeat…. wasn’t exactly thrilling. But the nightly news might… on a slow news day… take a minute or two to talk about some outrageous fashion trend. But fledgling cable channels were struggled to fill up their air time, and (at least in the beginning) it didn’t cost anything to broadcast a fashion show.

Celebrity Without Talent?: While some models can act, sing, or dance most just have the right genes to be tall and slender, proportions to fit into fashion clothing, and the talent to walk without tripping. I’m not trying to be harsh, just realistic. Models today have changed. Many do have talents and abilities for their NEXT career. But modeling? Fit into the clothes, walk down the catwalk with a bit of attitude. And, of course, stay thin.

As cable networks expanded, fashion shows became popular. Models evolved into Super-Models, which was a big deal! Super Models could demand unheard-of fees. A SuperModel franchise is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But modeling has a dirty little secret. The ideal proportions of a model are those of a thin adolescent. No matter how you starve yourself, very, VERY few modeling careers can survive past the early twenties. But a Super Model might convert their celebrity into a Hollywood career, a music career, or some other area where good looks can make you rich.

Underaged Models: Let’s go back to that “ideal” body. At age 16, the female body is not fully grown, but the bone structure is largely complete, providing an “adult look” to the face. Supposedly, modeling careers start at 16, but many Super Models started at 12… or younger! Past 16, women will continue to fill out and gain weight, especially around the waist and hips. Usually, designers do not want models that emphasize these areas. It doesn’t take super-human effort to stay this thin, it takes eating disorders. Or some truly unusual genetics…. but mostly eating disorders. Typical super-thin models have too little body fat to be healthy. This causes life-long health issues for teens trying to break into modeling..

Super Models Go Mainstream: Let’s return to Victoria’s Secret. VS is not that different than other fashion houses. They were just a bit ahead of their competitors in making fashion shows more accessible and consumer-friendly. But over the next 20 years, they managed to associate themselves with a highly unrealistic form of feminine (and sometimes masculine) beauty.

One of Victoria’s Secret’s innovations was creating an army of branded models. One 6 foot tall, 120 lbs model is… a statistical anomaly. But churning out an army of just too tall and too thin to be human models was something new. In 1998 VS turned the volume up to 11, when they renamed their models… “Angels”. Just to make sure that we got the message, their models began wearing elaborate feathery wings on the catwalk and at other events. Taller and thinner than normal (6′ models weighing under 120 lbs), these Angels did have an other-worldly look, so… Angels? Why not.

Another big innovation by VS was marketing to men. Men? Yep! Roy Raymond, the founder of Victoria’s Secret, started the firm in the 1970s just when malls were becoming a staple of American life. He realized that men were lost in malls, especially in the “lady’s department”, which was not men friendly. According to Wikipedia, Raymond wanted, “a store in which (straight) men could feel comfortable buying lingerie.” While the culture has changed a lot since the 1970s, a male-led lingerie firm explains a lot about the evolution of the VS body type, the look of their fashion shows, and the latest projection of $90,000,000 to settle sexual harassments suits.

New Technology: The latest issue, perhaps the last straw was Photoshop. Super Models can be unusually tall and thin. So tall and thin that their proportions are exceedingly rare. Still, these rare individuals actually exist in the real world. But even Angels have small imperfections. Perhaps a model’s eyes are not perfectly symmetrical, or that smile is a bit crooked, or there is a small blemish on your arm or leg. Enter Photoshop. Blemishes disappear, symmetry returns, and waistlines become ridiculously tiny. But fans noticed that popular models had morphed into big-eyed Japanese anime stars. A firestorm on social media soon followed.

What Is “Realistic”: After years of pressure from health and youth advocacy groups, the fashion world started has begun to hire models with realistic body types. Of course, “realistism” in the fashion world is… special. The industry standard for “Plus-Size” starts at size 12, yet the average American woman is size 16. Fashion may always exist in an alternative universe, but it is a small step down the catwalk of fashion reform.

Models will never… can never… look like average Americans. Fashion models are supposed to look better than the rest of us. If not, why buy fashion and beauty products? The real question is if models can at least look healthy. To its credit, Victoria’s Secret is hiring models with more realistic bodies. After all, the standards for beauty do change over time. But what is the next standard for Super Models?

New Beauty Standards: Beauty and rarity tend to go hand in hand. Not everything that is rare is considered beautiful, but What are the rare qualities that we value today that can translate into the next standards of beauty? Well, Americans have never been as overweight and under-exercised. Perhaps our next standard of beauty will be “athletic”? Athletic perfection would still be rare. Not everyone will be able to look like an athlete. But a young adult aspiring to run faster, jump higher, or spend more time in a gym, might be a lot healthier than trying to meet today’s beauty standards.

Victoria’s Secret seems to get it. There are still a lot of Angels on the VS payroll, but so too is soccer star Megan Rapinoe. VS also wants to hire more diverse models. Like Priyanka Chopra. To me, the most fascinating thing about Priyanka is not her Indian background, but her more diminutive height (5’5″) and her age (39 years old), both of which would have disqualified her from becoming a VS model just a few years ago.

What’s Next?: A lot! Victoria’s Secret knows it’s time for a change. They’ve told the media that they want to change. Unrealistic body types and “Angels” are out. Diversity, realistic body types, and “Ambassadors” are in. Angels were supposed to be the beauty customers aspired to. Ambassadors are … I think… examples of the natural beauty that all women have. Politically correct, but is that what beauty products are about? Getting the looks you already have? Then why do you need VS? Being both realistic and hyper desirable is not an easy catwalk to tread!

And diversity creates another big hurdle. Like everyone else, VS wants to conquer the Chinese market. Both for diversity in the US and for moving into the Chinese market, expect to see more Chinese and Asian models. But the latest Super Models in China, models that have been hired by VS, appear to be even thinner than Angels. China (and Japan, and South Korea) is not on board with the American idea that beauty should be realistic… if only some of the time.

Can American have a diverse and realistic standard of beauty? And is that what customers really want? What do you think? Share your opinions with your fellow readers!

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We Need To Fix The Police, Not Destroy Public Trust


What do police actually do with their time? (“Intelligence-Led Policing”, by Jerry Ratcliffe)

As you can see, from the graphic above, Police departments perform a wide variety of functions. Not surprisingly, different people want the police to focus on different tasks. On the conservative side, there is a demand for Order. Keep it quiet, keep the streets clean, keep teens from hanging out on the streets. On the liberal side, the demand is for Justice. Understand the history of each neighborhood, but ensure that all requests and complaints are addressed respectfully… regardless of race or sex.

Balancing both sides is quite a task. San Francisco, known for seeking social justice, unintentionally created “tent cities” with thousands of homeless living on the streets. Some towns that believe in strict order, can have police departments that kill a disturbingly large number of their citizens. Often those killed are minorities. And almost no police are sent to jail or even lose their jobs.

Both sides believe that police departments are broken. Unfortunately, police departments… good or bad… are caught in the middle. But police will not be able to solve these problems until WE (the citizens) decide what we want from the police. For example…

HISTORY: WHAT a police force does depends on WHEN they do it. After the Civil War, millions of southerners became economic refugees, migrating to the industrial North seeking work. In the 1930s the combination of the Dust Bowl and the Depression created more economic refugees. Early 20th Century police spent a great deal of time making sure that these migrants… moved on. Enforcing vagrancy laws became very important in those dangerous and violent times.

Overlapping with all of the problems above, was the rise of organized crime. The 18th Amendment (the Prohibition) banned the sale of alcohol, but as alcohol became harder to obtain prices skyrocketed, making bootlegging highly profitable. Police militarized, creating special “anti-Mafia” units, but the newly rich Mafia fought back. In 1971, the “War on Drugs” followed the same plan the price of drugs rose, providing vast profits to international drug cartels. Violent cartels now had the money to go to war with drug enforcement agencies. Drug dealers soon became a common sight in major cities.

21st century America is different. We still have homeless individuals and families, it is domestic violence and mental illness are the usual reasons. Violent crimes and robberies have almost disappeared. Cybercrimes are on the rise, but these crimes are rarely handled by local police. In many cities, police deployment is no longer aligned with the needs of the community. Consider…

STANDARDS: America has nearly 18,000 separate police departments. There are no national standards for training, job performance, or pay. On average, police spend 500 hours in training. Smaller and poorer police departments often receive MUCH less training. The most common form of training is on how (and when) to use a gun. While gun training averages 60 hours, compare that to de-escalation (how to deal with a tense or potentially violent situation) which gets just 8 hours of training… IF they receive any of this training at all.

For this discussion, the most important part of gun training is WHEN to use a gun. How aggressively should force be used? It’s hard to compare training, but it’s much easier to compare results.

New York City is generally considered a difficult city to police. Yet, NYC’s police kill only 1.2 out of every 1 million citizens. Compare this to 16.9 in St Louis. Or 10.4 in Oklahoma City. In one study, 100 US cities had higher rates of killings by police than New York. Why would so many cities have police that kill so many citizens? Could it be…

TRAINING: American police have far less training than counterparts in other developed nations. Basic training in England lasts 2,500 hours. Australia and Germany spend 3,000 to 4,000 hours, and Finland requires over 5,000 hours of training. That makes our 500 hours of training look pretty inadequate.

But more training doesn’t always mean better results. In America, about 1,000 citizens are killed annually by the police, and tens of thousands more are shot or injured. That’s 35 of every 10 million US citizens. The comparable number for Australia is just 12. In Germany it is 2, and in England it is less than 1.

Better training and management would save some of these lives. Why don’t US police departments adopt the training used in every other developed nation? Well, in the US we often say that we’re different because we have a special problem with…

VIOLENCE: The height of violent crime in the US was in the 1990s. New York City was called, justifiably, “Crime City”. In 1990 NYC had 2,262 homicides. But by 2020 homicides dropped to just 468. Robberies fell from 100,280 to 13,108. That’s a drop of 85%. Burglaries fell from 122,055 to 15,478. These are unprecedented declines in crime! Most American cities saw similar declines in violent crime. But most police departments still act (and train, and staff) as if violent crime is still a major issue.

Let’s go back to the graphic at the beginning of this article. If we combine assaults, burglary, homicides, even rape it’s just a small part of the total police workload. As violent crimes go away, how should cities adjust the way police are trained and armed? However, there is another type of violent crime that deserves special notice…

DRUGS: In 1971 President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs”. This war has raged for 50 years, costing $50 billion every year. Yet, after 50 years, Americans consume more drugs, of higher potency, and greater addictiveness, resulting in far more deaths from overdoses than before the “war” began. Since just 1999, deaths from opioids are up 600%, deaths from heroin are up 750%, and deaths from Amphetamines are up 3,000%.

But this flood of drugs did not start in Columbia or Mexico. Instead, it originated in the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. After nearly 30 years, the FBI finally charged these firms (especially Purdue Pharma, Insys), and courts have issued multi-billion dollar fines (alas, the US rarely imprisons executives when they commit the same crimes as drug cartels or the Mafia).

These crimes are pursued by the DEA, the FBI, and federal law enforcement agencies. There is little if any room for participation by local police. As street drugs decline, how are police redeploying these resources? What are drug and vice units doing now that these crimes are leaving the streets? Perhaps, police should spend more time on…

SAFETY: Police always had a responsibility for citizen safety. Paramedics have more medical equipment and training, but some police departments are trained in CPR or wound care. It makes a big difference, especially because police are highly visible and well distributed throughout the community. Simply keeping an individual alive until they can receive medical care would make a big difference.

By one estimate, 100,000 to 200,000 lives could be saved every year if more people were trained to deliver CPR. In other developed nations, police already save the lives of overdose victims by using Narcan. This nasal spray disrupts overdosing and prevents the often fatal side-effects of an overdose. If the police were trained and equipped with Narcan, some of the 71,000 deaths from overdose could be avoided.

CYBERCRIME: According to the Harvard Business Review, America (and the world) are going cashless. Most Americans have credit or debit cards, and many also own BitCoins or other e-cash. Paper money is the least secure form of payment and the most vulnerable to crime. Less cash means less robbery, fraud, pickpocketing, and bank robberies.

Technology eliminates many crimes. Cameras are everywhere. They document crimes and track criminals to their hiding places. Databases and DNA tests provide conclusive identification of criminals. Electronic ignitions, security systems, and GPS tracking make it more difficult for criminals to steal a car, and easier for police to find car thieves. It may soon be common for police to remotely take over a stolen car. Traditional crimes no longer pay.

Of course, new crimes arise all the time. Individuals and major corporations are the targets of e-criminals. Ransomware, stolen identities, and password thefts have become common. Cyberextortion is probably more common than we think, since corporations that admits to failed security, will almost surely see their stock prices plunge.

HOMELESS: Big cities will always have homeless individuals, or people who are just “passing through”, but have no money. Migrations from the Dust Bowl and the Depression created something like today’s homeless crisis, especially if your city had railroads or one of the few highways of that time. Even in the 1920s and 1930s there were “tent cities”, but today’s homeless are very different.

Today there are as many as 500,000 log-term homeless in America. Nearly a third of these individuals are families, and half of the homeless are fleeing domestic violence. 45% have mental illnesses. Telling the homeless to move along, or waiting for the economy to improve doesn’t have much impact. Solving these issues requires specific skills and training, that few police departments possess. Yet, police are often held responsible for “controlling” homelessness.

For police to be EFFECTIVE, and to avoid potentially deadly altercations, police, shelters, and hospitals must be trained together and work together in teams. A true team requires significant training… for months or even years. That team would including police, housing, shelter, and hospital members. They would perform daily patrols, and track homeless individuals over time. It might make sense for this to be a separate unit dedicated to this issue, but it could be managed in any number of ways.

CONCLUSION: As you can see, police departments have many duties, which constantly change. While many 20th Century crimes have faded away, few police departments have updated their mandates and training. This has created a mismatch between the actions of the police and needs of the community.

Police departments can become less dependent on guns. The number of citizens killed by the police every year can be reduced. It all comes down to what we, America’s citizens, want and what we are willing to pay for it.

What do you think? Should America’s police follow the same plan as England, Germany, Scandinavia and other developed nations and create national policing standards and a police training curriculum? Should police shift their work to match new forms of crime? How responsible should the police be for maintaining public safety? Tell us what you think!

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