It turned out that abruptly closing a restaurant is a weeklong, full-time job. I was bombarded with an astonishing volume of texts. The phone rang throughout the day, overwhelmingly well-wishers and regretful cancellations, but there was a woman who apparently hadn’t followed the coronavirus news. She cut me off in the middle of my greeting with, “Yeah, you guys open for brunch?” Then she hung up before I could even finish saying, “Take care out there.” Ashley spent almost three days packing the freezers, sorting the perishables in the walk-in into categories like “Today would be good!” or “This will be good for the long haul!” We tried burying par-cooked chickens under a tight seal of duck fat to see if we could keep them perfectly preserved in their airtight coffins. She pickled the beets and the brussels sprouts, churned quarts of heavy cream into butter. I imagined I would tackle my other problems quickly. I emailed my banker. For sales taxes, liquor invoices and impending rent, I hoped to apply for a modest line of credit to float me through this crisis. I thought having run $2.5 million to $3 million through my bank each year for the past two decades would leave me poised to see a line of credit quickly, but then I remembered that I switched banks in the past year. Everyone in my industry encouraged me to apply for an S.B.A. disaster loan — I estimated we wouldn’t need much; for 14 days, $50,000 — so I sent in my query. [...] But the very first time you cut a payroll check, you understand quite bluntly that, poetic notions aside, you are running a business. And that crew of knuckleheads you adore are counting on you for their livelihood. In the beginning I was closed on Mondays, ran only six dinner shifts and paid myself $425 a week. I got a very positive review in The New York Times, and thereafter we were packed. When I added a seventh dinner in 2000, I was able to hire a full-time sous chef. When I added weekend brunch, which started as a dreamy idea, not a business plan, it wound up being popular enough to let me buy out all six of the original investors. I turned 43 in 2008 and finally became the majority owner of my restaurant. I made my last student-loan payment and started paying myself $800 a week. A few years later, when I added lunch service on weekdays, it was a business decision, not a dream, because I needed to be able to afford health insurance for my staff, and I knew I could make an excellent burger. So suddenly, there we were: 14 services, seven days a week, 30 employees. It was a thrilling and exhausting first 10 years with great momentum. But Prune at 20 is a different and reduced quantity, now that there are no more services to add and costs keep going up. It just barely banks about exactly what it needs each week to cover its expenses. I’ve joked for years that I’m in the nonprofit sector, but that has been more direly true for several years now. This past summer, at 53, in spite of having four James Beard Awards on the wall, an Emmy on the shelf from our PBS program and a best-selling book that has been translated into six languages, I found myself flat on my stomach on the kitchen floor in a painter’s paper coverall suit, maneuvering a garden hose rigged up to the faucet. I’d poured bleach and Palmolive and degreaser behind the range and the reach-ins, trying to blast out the deep, dark, unreachable corner of the sauté station where lost egg shells, mussels, green scrubbies, hollow marrow bones, tasting spoons and cake testers, tongs and the occasional sizzle plate all get trapped and forgotten during service. There used to be enough extra money every year that I could close for 10 days in July to repaint and retile and rewire, but it has become increasingly impossible to leave even a few days of revenue on the table or to justify the expense of hiring a professional cleaning service for this deep clean that I am perfectly capable of doing myself, so I stayed late and did it after service. The sludge of egg yolk seeped through the coverall, through my clothes to my skin, matted my hair and speckled my goggles as my shock registered: It has always been hard, but when did it get this hard? Two weeks after we closed, Ashley still had not got through to unemployment, and I had been thrice-thwarted by the auto-fill feature of the electronic form of the loan I was urged to apply for. I could start to see that things I had thought would be quick and uncomplicated would instead be steep and unyielding. No one was going to rescue me.
The Deepwater Horizon well spewed oil for 87 days; it was one of the largest environmental disasters in American history. The Gulf’s oyster beds were wiped out, as were 100,000 birds, many of whom died from consuming oil as they fed or preened. The region was already one of the nation’s poorest, and its three major industries—seafood, tourism, and oil and gas—were ravaged. Scientists were uncertain how long the environment would need to recover, and residents didn’t know what to expect or how to cope—whether to wait for the cleanup or find another job; whether to eat their catch or throw it out; whether to teach their children to fish or sell their boats. Many of the unemployed, unable to qualify for loans, turned to payday lenders. Tensions festered and flared. That spring and summer, calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline from Louisiana rose by 21 percent. In the seafood industry, no one was hit harder than the Vietnamese, who account for up to half of its workforce on the Gulf Coast. Many had come to America as refugees after the fall of Saigon. Shrimpers in their homeland, they sought the familiar climate of the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. [...] Nearly two years later, in March 2012, the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee settled with the oil company and created a $2.3 billion fund solely for seafood workers, including oyster shuckers, crab pickers, and Watts’s captains and deckhands—who accounted for three-quarters of all the seafood claimants. That meant something like $1.3 billion was headed to Watts’s clients—an average of $32,000 per person, if the money was divided equally, which wasn’t likely—and $400 million in contingency fees for him and his investors. There was one problem, however: His fishermen didn’t exist. [...] When Tran filed for the third payment for Nguyen, in September 2011, a claims administrator told her that he wasn’t eligible: He was already a client of Mikal Watts. This came as a surprise to Nguyen, who’d never heard of Watts, but not to Tran. Dozens of others had already come to her in a similar predicament; eventually, she would represent 439 people who’d been claimed as clients of Watts’s without their knowledge. She was convinced that the wealthy lawyers were targeting her clients because they were Vietnamese. “They think we are stupid,” she said. “They think we don’t fight!” Determined to disprove this, Tran began building a class-action suit against Watts for identity theft. Eighteen parties, including Nguyen, signed on.
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The Price of the Coronavirus Pandemic / New Yorker
The investor who calls himself the Australian headed out for a walk on his farm in the Alps of New South Wales, three hundred miles south of Sydney. This was a morning in late March. He’d been holed up there for a month with his wife and three kids, plus two portable oxygen units and a store of hydroxychloroquine. “But my intention is not to get it,” he said, of covid-19. “I don’t plan to see anyone until October.” He was talking on a cell phone. You could hear the caw of crows in the background, and the luffing of the wind. “I only see four other people in the valley. If I need to kill them, I will.” One assumed, from the way he laughed, that this was a joke. [...] “So I had pandemics and plagues in my head,” the Australian said. “In December, I started seeing the first articles about this wet-market thing going on in China, and then in early January there was a lot on Twitter about the shit in Wuhan.” He was in Switzerland on a ski holiday with his family, and he bought all the surgical masks and gloves he could find. On the flight back to Australia, he and his wife wore some, to the bewilderment of other passengers. He quickly put some money to work. He bought a big stake in Alpha Pro Tech, one of the few North American manufacturers of N95 surgical masks, with the expectation that when the virus made it across the Pacific the company would get government contracts to produce more. The stock was trading at about three dollars and fifty cents a share, and so, for cents on the dollar, he bought options to purchase the shares at a future date for ten dollars: he was betting that it would go up much more than that. By the end of February, the stock was trading at twenty-five dollars a share. He shorted oil and, as a proxy for oil, the Canadian dollar. (That is, he bet against both.) Finally, he shorted U.S. equities. “You don’t know anyone who has made as much money out of this as I have,” he said over the phone. No argument here. He wouldn’t specify an amount, but reckoned that he was up almost two thousand per cent on the year. [...] It was one such moron, an old friend of mine, who had introduced me to the Australian. They’d overlapped at Goldman Sachs. I’d been eavesdropping for a week on the friend’s WhatsApp conversation with dozens of his acquaintances and colleagues (he called them the Fokkers, for an acronym involving his name), all of them men, most of them expensively educated financial professionals, some of them very rich, a few with connections in high places. The general disposition of the participants, with exceptions, was the opposite of the Australian’s. Between memes, they expressed the belief, with a conviction that occasionally tipped into stridency or mockery, that the media, the modellers, and the markets were overreacting to the threat of the coronavirus—that it was little more than another flu, and that effectively shutting down the economy to prevent, or at least slow, the spread of the virus would turn out to be far more harmful, in the long run, than the virus itself. “The biggest own goal in memory,” one Fokker wrote. “Suicide due to innumeracy,” another noted.
Amish people spend only a fifth as much as you do on health care, and their health is fine. What can we learn from them? [...] The Amish outperform the English on every measured health outcome. 65% of Amish rate their health as excellent or very good, compared to 58% of English. Diabetes rates are 2% vs. 8%, heart attack rates are 1% vs. 6%, high blood pressure is 11% vs. 31%. Amish people go to the hospital about a quarter as often as English people, and this difference is consistent across various categories of illness (the big exception is pregnancy-related issues – most Amish women have five to ten children). This is noticeable enough that lots of health magazines have articles on The Health Secrets of the Amish and Amish Secrets That Will Add Years To Your Life. As far as I can tell, most of the secret is spending your whole life outside doing strenuous agricultural labor, plus being at a tech level two centuries too early for fast food. [...] Fourth, the Amish never sue doctors. Doctors around Amish country know this, and give them the medically indicated level of care instead of practicing “defensive medicine”. If Amish people ask their doctors to be financially considerate – for example, let them leave the hospital a little early – their doctors will usually say yes, whereas your doctor would say no because you could sue them if anything went wrong. In some cases, Amish elders formally promise that no member of their congregation will ever launch a malpractice lawsuit. [...] Eighth, for the same reason, Amish try not to overspend on health care. I realize this sounds insulting – other Americans aren’t trying? I think this is harsh but true. Lots of Americans get an insurance plan from their employer, and then consume health services in a price-insensitive way, knowing very well that their insurance will pay for it. Sometimes they will briefly be limited by deductibles or out-of-pocket charges, but after these are used up, they’ll go crazy. You wouldn’t believe how many patients I see who say things like “I’ve covered my deductible for the year, so you might as well give me the most expensive thing you’ve got”, or “I’m actually feeling fine, but let’s have another appointment next week because I like talking to you and my out-of-pocket charges are low.”
My last post didn’t really go into why I dislike the way we do health insurance so much. Of course, there are the usual criticisms based on compassion and efficiency. Compassion because poor people can’t get access to life-saving medical care. Efficiency because it’s ruinously expensive compared to every other system around. I agree with these arguments. And they’re strong enough that asking whether there are any other reasons is kind of like the proverbial “But besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” But I had already internalized the compassion and efficiency critiques before becoming a doctor. After starting work, I encountered new problems I never would have expected, ones which have yet to fade into the amorphous cloud of injustices we all know about and mostly ignore. Most of my patients have insurance; most of them are well-off; most of them are intelligent enough that they should be able to navigate the bureaucracy. Listen to the usual debate around insurance, and you would expect them to be the winners of our system; the rich people who can turn their financial advantage into better care. And yet barely a day goes by without a reminder that it doesn’t work this way. [...] Here are some people I have encountered – some of them patients, some of them friends – who have made me skeptical that our system works for anyone at all: The elderly man who had a great relationship with his last psychiatrist, who saw him for twenty years, and who knew every detail of his issues. He switched jobs, got a new insurance, the old psychiatrist was no longer in network, and so he had to see me instead. I know nothing about him and it will take several evaluation sessions before I can even consistently remember who he is and what he needs from me. [...] The would-be entrepreneur who wanted to save up enough money to live on for a year or two, quit her dead-end job, and start a startup – but who wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance outside of her dead-end job’s plan. She is still at her dead-end job. [...] The young woman in a not-quite-abusive but far-from-acceptable marriage, who stays in it because she’s on her husband’s insurance and has no good alternative.
I have been practicing emergency medicine for 30 years. In 1994 I invented an imaging system for teaching intubation, the procedure of inserting breathing tubes. This led me to perform research into this procedure, and subsequently teach airway procedure courses to physicians worldwide for the last two decades. So at the end of March, as a crush of Covid-19 patients began overwhelming hospitals in New York City, I volunteered to spend 10 days at Bellevue, helping at the hospital where I trained. Over those days, I realized that we are not detecting the deadly pneumonia the virus causes early enough and that we could be doing more to keep patients off ventilators — and alive. [...] And here is what really surprised us: These patients did not report any sensation of breathing problems, even though their chest X-rays showed diffuse pneumonia and their oxygen was below normal. How could this be? We are just beginning to recognize that Covid pneumonia initially causes a form of oxygen deprivation we call “silent hypoxia” — “silent” because of its insidious, hard-to-detect nature. [...] A major reason this pandemic is straining our health system is the alarming severity of lung injury patients have when they arrive in emergency rooms. Covid-19 overwhelmingly kills through the lungs. And because so many patients are not going to the hospital until their pneumonia is already well advanced, many wind up on ventilators, causing shortages of the machines. And once on ventilators, many die. Avoiding the use of a ventilator is a huge win for both patient and the health care system. The resources needed for patients on ventilators are staggering. [...] There is a way we could identify more patients who have Covid pneumonia sooner and treat them more effectively — and it would not require waiting for a coronavirus test at a hospital or doctor’s office. It requires detecting silent hypoxia early through a common medical device that can be purchased without a prescription at most pharmacies: a pulse oximeter.
Once thought a relatively straightforward respiratory virus, covid-19 is proving to be much more frightening [...] One month ago when the country went into lockdown to prepare for the first wave of coronavirus cases, many doctors felt confident they knew what they were dealing with. Based on early reports, covid-19 appeared to be a standard variety respiratory virus, albeit a contagious and lethal one with no vaccine and no treatment. They’ve since seen how covid-19 attacks not only the lungs, but also the kidneys, heart, intestines, liver and brain. Increasingly, doctors also are reporting bizarre, unsettling cases that don’t seem to follow any of the textbooks they’ve trained on. They describe patients with startlingly low oxygen levels — so low that they would normally be unconscious or near death — talking and swiping on their phones. Asymptomatic pregnant women suddenly in cardiac arrest. Patients who by all conventional measures seem to have mild disease deteriorating within minutes and dying at home. With no clear patterns in terms of age or chronic conditions, some scientists hypothesize that at least some of these abnormalities may be explained by severe changes in patients’ blood.
‘The Last Dance’ is here. With Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates back in the spotlight, let’s revisit Pippen’s standing on the ‘Book of Basketball’ Hall of Fame Pyramid. [...] Every time I tried to talk myself out of putting Pippen in the top 25, I kept thinking about the time Chicago’s soon-to-be-legendary ’96 team cruised through Boston right before Christmas. They were 19-2, working on a 10-game winning streak and generating the first wave of “greatest team ever” buzz, a complete affront to everyone who loved the ’86 Celtics in Boston. Come on, they couldn’t be that good, right? Then Jordan and Pippen came out and whupped our crummy team for two-plus hours. This was like watching Andre the Giant in his prime, when he’d come out smiling for a battle royal as the crowd went bonkers, then disdainfully tossed jabronies out of the ring for the next 20 minutes. By the fourth quarter, two-thirds of the crowd was rooting for Chicago under the rarely seen and entirely defensible “not only is our team reprehensible, but we used to root for a great team, we know greatness, we understand greatness and this is greatness” corollary. Jordan and Pippen finished with 37 points apiece. Scottie chipped in 12 assists and nine rebounds for good measure. Then they flew to the next city and kicked the shit out of somebody else. Don’t tell me that Scottie Pippen wasn’t great.
The emergence of Covid-19 dramatically changed what I do. I now call 10 to 20 patients a day to inform them of their positive Covid-19 test results. It isn’t a one-way flow of information. The patients almost always tell me about themselves and ask questions, some that are difficult to answer. In the span of two weeks, I’d called more than 60 patients. By the end of March that represented almost 10% of the Covid-19 patients in Washington, D.C., where I work. I’ve met these patients in a starkly different way than I would have during face-to-face encounters in the emergency department. I’ve called people from all walks of life, from highly paid executives to minimum-wage workers and the unemployed. The responses to the news I deliver is as varied as they are.
It was, at first glance, hard to understand how anyone could be upset at the idea that It’s Time to Build. That’s the title of a recent essay by Marc Andreessen, and of course I agree. [...] Software eating the world, with zero marginal costs, all from Silicon Valley. This, as far as I can tell, is where the disconnect for some comes with It’s Time to Build. The sort of building Andreessen calls for is very much in the real world, costs real money both up-front and on a marginal basis, and would surely make the most sense anywhere but Silicon Valley. [...] This leads to the core question about Silicon Valley and its relationship to Andreessen’s essay: has tech — specifically the software-centric tech that Andreessen has done more than anyone to proselytize — been the primary source of American innovation because it represented the future? Or has it been the future because it was the only space where innovation was possible, because of things like inertia and regulatory capture in the real world?
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The Worst Rebrand in the History of Orange Juice / Medium
They paid $35 million to then lose $20m in sales
Thanks to film shot by cinematographer Claude Friese-Greene in 1927, as well as film shot by London-based director Simon Smith almost 90 years later, we have been blessed not just with a trip down memory lane, but also a look into how society has changed over the years. The original footage was revived, restored and released by the BFI across their social media channels, where it was viewed by thousands of people (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here). Many surely also had the great idea to recreate the journey the original film takes but, like most things, there was just one person who rose up and took on the challenge — thank you, Simon.
Just because you have to respect the rules of social distancing doesn't mean you can't knock each other out.
This short film profiles a small company in Somerset, England called Two Rivers Paper. Using water power, the company makes paper by hand for artists and designers, and they have a healthy appreciation for the unpredictability of their product. "Anything that’s made by a craftsman is imperfect. So, a hand-forged nail will be imperfect — every one will be slightly different. Handmade paper — every sheet is slightly different. So if you want perfection, if you want uniformity, then it has to be done by a machine. I often tell people that we sell imperfection, that’s what we do."
Using data from the Correlates of War Project and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, this bar chart race shows the annual military spending of the world’s top spending countries from the start of WWI in 1914 to 2018.
Preston Reid re-enacts the common Zoom personalities everyone encounters on the service.