Babies born with missing limbs – do we know why?

In today’s news, a BBC story emerges: French Ain babies: Missing limb births prompt national inquiry.

This is so sad! And it’s a story that we need to follow carefully here in the U.S. as well, on its own merit.

But now I’m going to go off on a bent.

Reid Hoffman. Founder of LinkedIn. Famously made the statement (which I’ve railed against at every opportunity): “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

For years, I’ve been saying that the problem with this statement, this philosophy, obvious to the most casual observer, is that it is infective. It’s contagious. Why just the first version of the product? Why not the second one too? You still have to beat your competitors on the development curve, don’t you? You have to get those new features into the market, or they will.

Problem: you don’t have time to fix what’s wrong with release 1 before release 2 comes out. You don’t have time to fix either release 1 or release 2 problems before release 3 comes out.

In short, you have these products with the same problems dating all the way back to their initial launch, that sometimes do not get resolved (obviously they may not be show-stoppers, so much as frustrations, limitations, things that require workarounds or corollary products to address the deficiencies), maybe ever.

I’ve watched this trend in Microsoft Office, in QuickBooks, in Gmail, and others.

But I never considered that it may be applicable to life sciences as well. Medicine. Drugs. Implants. Testing and/or therapeutic equipment. I’m forced to wonder, in the context of the above article, whether this is one of those cases. Obviously the cause of these birth defects is not yet known. Or rather, not yet publicly known. My guess is that there is someone who knows. Someone who might have known that this could happen, but chose not to or was told not to or was not in a position to be able to release that information. The truth will out.

Meanwhile: One-Third Of New Drugs Had Safety Problems After FDA Approval. After! One-third! These products have been withdrawn from the market, or warnings or new usage guidelines have been issued, or they have been revised or reformulated, etc.

So as that old saying goes, “Why is there always time to do it over, but never enough time to do it right?”

Maybe – now that we could be talking about babies, and not just computer programs – maybe people will stop and take that time to do it right the first time. There are no re-do’s in life.

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Faith restored by cinema, and the library. Thank you, Kanopy.

As one article I recently read starts out, “There’s literally never been a better time to get a New York City Library card.”

I just got mine, after not having one for at least a decade, to be able to watch Kanopy, the film-streaming service connecting libraries and educational institutions around the country with thousands of films that “truly resonate with us, that inspire us, enrich us, and challenge our perspectives” (from the http://www.kanopy.com site). I am literally moved to tears by what is available on Kanopy; it feels like I’ve been given a new lease on life amidst the dramatic downward spiral of Hollywood’s vapid offerings. Independent film houses are few and far between, there are no more video shops to rent foreign or independent films, and nearly all other streaming services are trying to out-blockbuster each other with further mindless and meaningless big-budget content.

www.kanopy.comKanopy, it seems, stands alone. And did I mention that it’s free? All you need is a library card. With that, you can watch up to 10 titles per month, so it’s not for binge-watching. But a full life should barely be able to accommodate 10 meaningful films a month… along with concerts, visits to museums and cultural institutions, and books to read, all of which are enabled, for free, with a library card.

Cutting the [cable TV] cord was the first step. The second step is using that detachment to select the material available to enrich one’s own life, on one’s own terms. With so much media and political pressure to join one bandwagon or another, the extent to which we are subject to outside manipulation is not even clear to us, even if we try hard to be vigilant against it. The fact that a group of people spends millions and millions of dollars to make the latest huge new sensational film should mean something, right? I mean, it must be important and compelling. Right?

Contrast that with someone who, with no money, no big resources or sponsors, a pocket-change and credit card budget, but with vision and purpose, would set out to make a film, to tell a story. We are so conditioned to thinking that we need to throw more money, rather than less, at every problem, in order to solve it, that going the other way is one of those things that makes us slap ourselves in the forehead and go, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?!”

So, thank you, NYPL (or any public library close to you). Thank you, Kanopy. Thank you, NPR. Thank you, PBS. Thank you to all the organizations whose purpose is to enlighten and enrich, to bring the greatest good to the most people. We need that, now, more than ever.

The breaking point is near… the breaking point is here.

José Andrés, another famous chef, went to Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria, to help figure out how to feed the people. Instead of figuring it out, he and his associates found themselves simply doing it, from the moment they landed. Actually before they landed, in calls to as many chefs as he could reach there, the plan was, “Let’s not plan, let’s not meet, let’s start cooking!” FEMA didn’t grasp the urgency of it. It wasn’t about “how to feed the people in the weeks to come.” It was how to feed the people NOW.

I am learning about this from a TED Talk (“How a team of chefs fed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria”) right now. I love TED Talks. They keep me sane.

So, the first Monday they were there, they did a thousand meals. By the following Sunday, they were doing 25,000. They kept outgrowing their spaces. 25,000 became 50,000. They moved their operation to the Coliseum. They became the biggest restaurant in the world. They were making close to 70,000 meals a day. From one location alone.

Volunteers showed up by the hundreds. At any given moment, 700 volunteers were working on feeding the hungry. This was not plastic food. It was real food, food that people recognized, food that brought comfort, as well as sustenance.

Get this: at one point, FEMA was actually asking him, “How are you able to do this? How are you able to get the food to prepare?” He replied, “Simple: by calling, and paying, and getting.”

And at this point in this Talk, I just paused and cried for a few minutes. I don’t like crying! But every day I’m simply stunned, at some point during the day, by what our current president and his administration are doing to this country. And what they are NOT doing FOR our country. And Puerto Rico is part of this country. What they did there should be enough for every one of them to be impeached at the very least, or perhaps sentenced to death. Instead, they skate by, lying their way out of one accountability after another.

When it comes to people, families, feeding people, making sure that people have roofs over their heads, that the sick are being cared for, that people have at least some glimmer of hope for a meal and a place to lay down their heads… these are the bedrocks of basic civilization anywhere, everywhere. And in this country? We don’t even think about these things, because we take them so for granted. So to look at these people here, in Puerto Rico, or the people (yes, people!) rounded up at the southern US border, separating parent from child so that we can then apply our “unaccompanied minor” handling protocol… these things are NOT the marks of a civilized country, they are NOT something to be proud of, they are NOT Christian or Muslim or Jewish or atheists’ values! They are an absence of values, an absence of morals or ethics, an absence of a backbone or a soul or a heart.

The things that our government is doing (or not doing) are not normal, not acceptable. Don’t be fooled! It’s not anyone else’s fault. It’s not Obama’s fault. It’s not the Democrats’ fault. It’s not the law’s fault. It’s the people in charge, and the people in charge right now, who are causing all of these things to happen, are Donald Trump and his administration, Paul Ryan and his party loyalists in the House, and Mitch McConnell and his loyalists in the Senate. These people don’t need to be impeached; they must be tried for treason, and, once found guilty as they are, sentenced to the same sentence given to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or to Sacco and Vanzetti. Their crimes have already cost thousands of lives, and have perhaps irreparably harmed the nation’s economy (the real economy, the people’s economy), the environment, and the entire future of the United States.

At this point, there is no idly sitting by, watching it through a lorgnette. To paraphrase even George W Bush – demonized a few short years ago, who now looks like a saint by comparison – “Everyone has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with Trump.” There is no middle ground. There is no “Let’s wait and see,” no “give him a chance.” All of that is behind us now. The wait is over. The chance has been given. At every conceivable opportunity – and more often than not, even before we were aware that there was an opportunity – the path that leads the opposite direction from all grace and goodness has been chosen as the path all of us are by implication forced to take.

Are you comfortable being labeled as the generation, or the era, or the society, that allowed this to happen? I am not. I don’t want to get arrested, or lose my job, or lose my home. I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to sit on my fucking ass either, as if there is nothing to be done. At some point, in spite of the horrendous risks, there necessarily comes a point at which no more can be tolerated. I have a high tolerance, and a lot of trust in “the system;” trust that things will work out, eventually. But this is a terrific test we are being put through. I don’t know how much more bending the entire system can take, without actually breaking. I feel that we are getting precipitously close to that threshold.

When things finally do break, as they ultimately will, it’s never a pretty sight. It’s never better than it would have been had things been arrested just prior to breaking. It’s always better to stop when it’s still bending. But we have to accept that it’s going to break. We have to accept that we are at the limit. We can’t have some say, “No, I think we are not there yet. I think we can go a little further.”

Do we really have to wait till it actually breaks before we all acknowledge that the limit was reached? Granted, there’s still wiggle room while it’s bending. He said this, she said that. “We’re not that close. It’s still in flux. It’s still working. It’s still…”

SNAP!

Is that what we’re all waiting for?

Signature Bank earnings down. That may not be so bad.

Signature Bank earnings down. That may not be so bad.

I wish we had not gotten everything so backwards.

It used to be that there were companies, who wanted to make money, and customers, who wanted to spend less (and get more). There was an old saying, “the customer is always right,” or “the customer is king.” Companies did what they could to attract and retain customers. Without the customers, they knew that they had nothing.

Now, enter stockholders. Suddenly these companies have a new source of revenue, and a new set of deliverables, that has nothing to do with whatever it is that they “look like” they do. It’s just a return-on-investment scenario. Companies are favored that are making the most money. Investors naturally think it’s a great thing if companies they have a stake in are making a lot of money. But so too do people who don’t own the stock. They get confused, and all up in the hype. Random people think it’s great for these companies to be making huge profits. They think it’s a sign of healthy economy if companies are making a lot of money.

If a company is making a lot of money, though, the customers are getting less, and paying more. There are no two ways about it. Everybody behaves as if they own shares in X Company, even if they don’t, and they all get super excited when the stock performance numbers are good. But those shareholders, or wannabe-shareholders, are the exact same people who, when wearing their consumer hats instead of their shareholder hats, will complain about the prices, or that they aren’t getting enough for their money.

It’s kind of like the “aspirational voters,” who vote Republican because that’s how they see themselves – they want to be rich people – even though every time they do so, they are actually rewarding the people who are cutting their chances of “making it,” that much more. They are voting against themselves as they actually are, and voting for themselves as they wish they were.

Signature Bank earnings down $100 million thanks to dud taxi loans

So yeah, Signature Bank’s earnings are down. This is a bank that said yes to the medallion loans when other said no. This is a bank that said yes to the company I work for (disclosure), and gave the most favorable rates for business expansion. This is the bank that will open a branch office on the 12th floor of an office building at $50 a foot rather than using street-level retail spaces at $250+ per square foot. From a customer’s perspective, this is a great bank (as banks go). Perhaps from a stock-ownership perspective, it’s not.

But we have to ask ourselves, who, really, is king nowadays? It’s certainly not the forgotten customer any more. That’s just the poor sod who actually buys the products. The only players you ever hear about are the shareholders. But far more of us are customers, of far more companies, than we are shareholders.

Why are we continuing to vote against ourselves?

The glass broke.

The glass broke.

At first, while listening to this TED Talk, I wasn’t sure that it was relevant, though I wanted it to be. It’s a subject I’ve given a lot of thought to.

Lera Boroditsky: How language shapes the way we think.

The speaker hit on the example of “the vase broke” vs “he broke the vase,” and the implications of these two different KIND of observations implicit in our language constructs (different in kind, not in degree), and my thoughts went immediately to my own home, as recently as two nights ago.

I had opened the cabinet in the kitchen to retrieve a glass, a very particular one I had just recently bought, and it was cracked. I asked Phoenix – my other half – about it. “It broke.” This didn’t satisfy my English-language-fueled blame-lust, so I pressed on, saying something like, “Oh, I guess it just decided to break itself.”

Phoenix has lived in the U.S. a long time, but he was not born here, and English was not his first language. His was Tagalog, heavily influenced by Spanish.

So perhaps his way of describing such events does not show an unwillingness to take responsibility, as I have would have had it. Perhaps instead it shows an acknowledgement of the actual change that has resulted in the physical make-up of the world, to be weighed in its own merit.

I’d like everyone to watch this Talk, and identify ways in which their own thinking or behavior might be swayed by the ways we tend to describe things.

In truth, yes: “the glass broke.” I think I can learn to be ok with that.

Will we need a universal basic income in the future?

rosie-robotI was drawn into a conversation recently of whether we will need a universal basic income at some time in the not-so-distant future. This is something that I’ve been thinking about perhaps since I graduated from college, and I’m now a few years away from retirement. So it’s something I’ve thought of from time to time, over the years.

I’d like to share with you a couple of TED Talks on the subject that I came upon just within the last week or two. First, one by Martin Ford, called “How we’ll earn money in a future without jobs,” and another, by Rutger Bregman, “Poverty isn’t a lack of character; it’s a lack of cash.

There are others as well. But these two I found particularly key; the point drawn out of the first one is that even though this is a familiar tune we’ve heard numerous times before – the robots are going to put us out of work – the technology has shifted, not just in degree, but in kind, in ways that make it perhaps more of a realistic possibility now than at other times in the past. And the second illustrates the difference in peoples’ responses to everyday occurrences, decisions they have to make, life choices, etc., when comparing their financially-secure state with their financially-at-risk state. It makes the case for a guaranteed minimum income for reasons of what I’ll call social pragmatism, where the first one does so for reasons of technological encroachment on human employability.

It seems clear to me that the idea of “running the country like a business,” as some still say they want us to do today, is an idea whose time has simply passed. With more and more business processes being executed by machines, computers, systems, etc., what does running a business have to do with solving human problems?

I think the time has come, rather, to run the country like a junior high school concert band, or soccer team. Here, the coach/conductor is rightly more focused on building character, helping the team members to find their strengths, than on winning competitions. With a sufficient safety net such as our modern society ought to be able to provide, people can be led to find their own truths, their own best skills, and quite probably make the greatest contributions to society at large. In eliminating the survivalist “do unto others before they do unto you” kind of thinking, we can create an entirely different national dialog and identity.

A guaranteed minimum income can provide the means to that end. And it may well have to.

A visit, away.

I was very happy to have been able to spend some time with the two people I met last night. One was a young man who was something like a freelance orderly and home care attendant, who visited multiple people every day, generally traveling by bike but sometimes catching a ride with a friend who drove a delivery van, or the bus, as was the case when we met.

The other, also met on the bus, was a woman who was an African spirit-healer for severely handicapped children nearing the end of their time with us – something like a doula, she explained, but for those exiting the world rather than entering it – and their families.

“Many a time have I sat with the hand of the child and the hand of the parent, each in my own hands, when the child crossed over to freedom,” she said.

We walked together for a while after leaving the bus, which was when she told us this. It was night now, so we had spent several hours together. We were in a sort of gas station or taxi repair, under an urban overpass; each was on their way somewhere. A couple in a white van asked a couple of times (it was a bit noisy) if any of us had a [something] coin; I started to reach into my pocket and they looked surprised, as I was the one who seemed the most out of place here. One of them asked again, “a taika-coin?” and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that part.” It was a sort of token that grew out of the barter economy, used in this place and other small businesses for things like car vacuums, as this couple wanted, and sometimes for newspapers, candy, etc. I didn’t have one.

The “doula” recited a bit of a bidding prayer in verse, and at the end said, “Let’s finish together,” and the young man and she – and me trying to fumble and follow along – sang what seemed a standard recitation of the names of some African ancestors, surprisingly (to me) starting with Abraham, but I don’t remember the other four or five names. This was used as a sort of “Amen” at the end of her prayer, and seemed common practice.

I was sorry to have to take leave of you all so suddenly. You probably wonder what happened to me: a coughing fit jolted me awake. It saddens me that I was therefore not able to spend more time with both of you. But I am happy to have met you, and to have been able to bring this small glimpse of your lives back into this realm with me.