Orwellian Goal

If George Orwell had one goal, and that goal was to write a book that people who hadn’t read it would bring up in conversation as if it was the only fictional work to comment on politics prior to televised animation, he completed his goal with more success than any other person.

1984 is also one of my all time favorite books. It deserves to be read, contemplated, and analyzed, as do many other books. But 1984’s commentary on the world was remarkably well defined with in the work, the historical context around it, and by all of Orwell’s other works.

Orwell wrote an essay about how he makes tea. If someone wished to, they could analyze that essay to the point that they turn it into a religion. But it’s literally just about tea. Putting the tea into the pot directly wasn’t a commentary on education.

It’s not like Orwell was known for being unclear, and unable to speak for himself. You’d struggle to find a professional writer who hasn’t read the Politics and the English Language essay. So when he writes a book that clearly contextualizes something, it wasn’t a mistake.

When people draw 1984 comparisons to current events that are contextually entirely outside of anything contained in the book. I assume that they didn’t read 1984. Bringing me full circle.

“1984 Book Covers” by colindunn is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is Online Ads Management A ‘High Demand’ Skill?

Every “learn that high demand skill [online ads]” course is bull shit. How do I know? Because I’ve run an absolutely obscene amount of digital ads, and I just had to explain to a VP of marketing that advertising online is actually still relevant.

I’ve been managing client ads since 2013, and I’ve run well over $100 million in ads. Those ads have driven at least $500 million in revenue for clients. Digital ads clearly make money. Being skilled in ads management is valuable, but it’s a competitive field, and only a fraction of the market understands the value.

I probably put together 60 bids for ads management a year. And even with the credentials I described above, I don’t sign anything close to 60 new contracts a year. Businesses have all kinds of reasons they don’t hire my ad agency.

The stumbling block for a chain of local restaurants was that ads didn’t work when the owner’s brother tried them a few years ago. The problem an auto parts seller had was fragmented departments with territorial department heads. And the CMO of a national liquor brand felt online ads broke their organic brand image.

It doesn’t matter that the brand sponsored concerts and had billboards. That putting PR in charge of the social ads budget while search marketing handled search ads is a bad business decision. Or that maybe a $500 ads test from several years ago may not indicate the medium won’t work for restaurants.

No salesperson will ever be able to overcome every emotional or logistical objection to running ads. Maybe the company just wants to keep things in house? Example, this classic email from someone who requested to meet with me years ago.

Even when companies not only run ads but hire a vendor, they have many options. Maybe they liked another venders pitch better? Perhaps, they want to hire a company with whom they have existing contracts; Or the vendor who offered them a better price. The list goes on forever.

I can guarantee you that taking a course on ads management isn’t going to have people beating your door down begging you to run ads for them. And while not a guarantee, the odds that the learn-to-run-ads course marketed on YouTube and Facebook is any good are not in your favor.

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

Did Negative Media Coverage of Covid-19 Reduced Treatment Options?

The other day, Jon Hardister a Republican member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Tweeted his summary of a working paper from November, 2020. That paper analyzed the tone used in U.S. media coverage of Covid-19. The paper maybe of interest, but Hardister didn’t link to the paper, he just Tweeted the following: 

“A study at Dartmouth finds that media coverage on #COVID19 has been nearly 90 percent negative, much more negative than scientific data justifies. Media should focus on straight, objective reporting, not hyperbolic negativity. We can do better than this.”

The Tweet is both decontextualized from the original paper and not the best representation of the paper’s content. The paper analyzes the tone of English-language news articles written from January 1, 2020 until some time in November of 2020. The finding is that 91% of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus 54% for non-U.S. major sources and 65% for scientific journals.

The paper isn’t all that interesting to me — it also foolishly speculates that the 1987 repeal of the fairness doctrine may have something to do with the amount of negative coverage in the U.S. Despite the fact that the fairness doctrine would have only applied to 4 of the 14 media companies selected as U.S. mainstream sources. — Even the comparative metrics of the more positive tones used by non-U.S. major sources and scientific journals have explanations besides simply “U.S. Media is being a negative nelly.”

For example, while it may be changing, scientific journals don’t publish negative findings as frequently as positive findings. This doesn’t speak to the tone, but if a test, trial, or experiment works, it’s more likely to be published in scientific journals. For non-U.S. major sources, it also may be easier to be positive when you do not have to debunk a leader who claims Covid-19 will disappear one day like a miracle… Even the non-U.S. outlet The Irish Times was very negative about Donald Trump’s handling of Covid-19 in 2020.

As you can probably imagine, Hardister’s Tweet wasn’t well received. Without a link to the study for context, the Tweet carries the implication that if media coverage of a pandemic that’s killed over 3 million people were objective it wouldn’t be so negative.

I, however, got the honor and privilege of having someone claim that negative media coverage caused actual harm. They said negative media caused the “suppression of treatment options.” — Specifically citing Hydroxychloroquine & Ivermectin as having research halted because outrageous media coverage made it impossible to find test subjects. Below are the screenshots of part of my interaction with @founding_ideals.

The only problem is not only are both drugs well tested, neither Hydroxychloroquine nor Ivermectin is particularly effective for treating Covid-19. And that is not dishonesty on my part as I already explained on Twitter.

True some trials, like the Novartis hydroxychloroquine trials were halted due to enrolment challenges. But many trials were completed looking into Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment option.

In November of 2020 a study, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute PETAL Clinical Trials Network, focused on hospitalized patients with moderate to severe disease. The authors randomized 479 patients to receive Hydroxychloroquine. “The trial was stopped early at the fourth interim analysis for futility. For the primary outcome, clinical status at 14 days measured on a 7-category ordinal scale, there was no significant difference between the hydroxychloroquine and placebo groups”

As of now, both the U.S. Food And Drug Administration and The World Health Organization caution against the use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of Covid-19 outside of hospital settings or a clinical trial. But even now, Hydroxychloroquine is still being tested for some possible uses, like potentially decreasing hospitalization for mildly symptomatic outpatients with covid-19.

For Ivermectin, a randomized clinical trial included 476 patients and that trial determined the “findings do not support the use of Ivermectin for treatment of mild COVID-19, although larger trials may be needed to understand the effects of Ivermectin on other clinically relevant outcomes.”

While the above is the most comprehensive trial of Ivermectin for treatment of Covid-19 to date, it is not alone. Based on the analysis of 16 trials, The World Health Organization recommends that due to the methodological limitations of the trials thus far recorded and the low significant scene within those trials that Ivermectin not be used outside of clinical trials. Also both the U.S. Food And Drug Administration, and the European Medicines Agency specifically advise not to use Ivermectin to treat covid-19.

Even Merck, a pharmaceutical company that would make a lot of money if Ivermectin was an effective Covid-19 treatment found that Ivermectin has “[n]o scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies” and “[n]o meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease”.

However many other drug trials have continued and are continuing despite all the “negative media coverage” of Covid-19. It seems unlikely that U.S. or the global public would have had effective treatment options, but for the darn media and all their “if it’s bleeding, it’s leading.”

“COVID19 social distancing” by Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine is marked with CC0 1.0

Looking At Conspiracy Theories From Inside Someone Else’s Foil Hat

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, they say, is the best way to understand them. Last week, I donned a foil hat and took to Twitter. I wasn’t out to understand conspiracy theorists – I was sarcastically mocking them. But now I do better understand how the fringes are drawn to conspiracy theories.

In a foil hat, I Tweeted a video explaining that Bill Gates is using 5G to spread coronavirus. It’s crazy, yet it’s a real theory currently circulating, and while I hope every message was dripping with enough scorn to highlight the lunacy, it was fun. 

I could hijack any thread about anything turning it into a chance to espouse my new wackadoo ideology. As I Tweeted, the old improv golden rule, “yes and” let me twist nearly anything anyone said into my theory. If sarcasm were used to attack my new belief, I’d give a scolding correction – “5G impacts the hippocampus, not the prefrontal cortex”. If someone made an unstoppably valid point, I could halt the discussion by claiming the person’s brain was “rotted by 5G”.

In one video, hat on my head, and juggling five balls, I recited my version of the John Galt’s Speech from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

From the constraints of my foil hat, I had full creative freedom, and in a sense, I had anonymity, even Tweeting under my real, uncommon name. Within reason, no one would hold what the manic idiot in a foil hat said against me later.

My beliefs were unchanged; clearly, Covid19 is not caused by 5G. But my brain was in debate mode, and I found myself enjoying the fact no one could ever prove me wrong. I could have done this forever.

Someone I know, a Ph.D. and full-time academic, used to write papers, articles, and post to forums anonymously explaining the earth was flat. He took a degree of delight in seeing YouTube videos quote his various nom-de-plume’s.

He, I, and I’m sure thousands of others, enjoy the fights that come with fueling conspiracy theories. Even better when you know the battles are free of direct consequence to yourself.

But consequence exists when you further conspiracy theories, as Some people sincerely believe them. We’ve even seen people burn 5G towers, thinking they were saving themselves. Well-written pseudo-science, with academic citations more appropriate to The Lancet than 4Chan, must make it easier to feel their crackpot notions are valid. 

Those who believe conspiracy theories created an industry of snake oil cures. My friend didn’t turn his flat earth hobby into a money-making venture, but some people do. Creating a problem and selling a treatment, to the foolish. 

People fall for these things. At least one scumbag seemingly made a career writing and selling books under the names of nonexistent medical researchers offering cures to all manner of ailments. And recently, a U.S. federal court issued a temporary injunction stopping a group from selling bleach to treat Covid19. 

The world of conspiracy theories may well be performance art for some, but participation is far from harmless. Trust me I just walked a mile is someone else’s foil hat.

Books of 2019

Happy New Year, and new decade!

I started last year with many ambitious goals, and I failed most of them. I intended to read at least 36 books in 2019 and only completed 14, oh well. For those interested these are the books I read over 2019:

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

by Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman

I didn’t write a full review of this book, but I mention it frequently. I highly recommend taking the time to read Manufacturing Consent, even if you expect to dislike it. You don’t have to start with an open mind or end up changed by the author’s views for this to be well worth your time.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

by Joshua Foer

I loved this book and wrote a full glowing review. Moonwalking with Einstein is one of the best nonfiction books I have read. Foer has a sort of effortless writing style, and the topic is fascinating. 

Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets

by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, Kevin Maney

Play Bigger is the only book I read to completion this year that I hated. I wrote a review of this absolute dumpster fire of a cash grab marketing book to sell consulting. I called Play Bigger an archetype of a bad marketing book, and I still maintain that sentiment. I read this book, so you don’t have to waste your time.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google

by Scott Galloway

The Four is a marketing book I consider to be worth reading. I reviewed this book, glowingly. Not everyone will be a fan of Galloway’s writing style, and if you aren’t interested in marketing and entrepreneurship, this may not be your cup of tea. 

The Design of Everyday Things

by Donald A. Norman

I didn’t review the book, but The Design of Everyday Things is one of the books I recommend most. If you are interested in design or work in UX, this is a must-read. 

Stephen Fry Presents A Selection of Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories

by Anton Chekhov, Stephen Fry (Narrator), Constance Garnett (translator)

I listened to an excellent audiobook of a collection of Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories read by Stephen Fry. I didn’t write a review, but it was an enjoyable listen, and Chekhov is a fantastic writer. 

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

Dickens is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read Great Expectations at least seven times. I enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, but I don’t honestly know if I would reread it. It’s a great work of historical fiction, and while I am glad I read it, I don’t know if I will ever recommend the book to anyone else. 

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

Dickens is as always a fantastic writer. My review of A Christmas Carol is, however, a bit contrarian. I feel Dickens indebted to his publisher, wrote this book in six weeks solely to pander to the impoverished masses who would buy books. I also think this book is propaganda o the sort the keeps the poor feeling content in their poverty. 

For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea is still my favorite Hemingway novel. However, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a phenomenal story. I generally enjoy historical fiction, and I think the story falls into a category of lie that is truer than truth. Hemingway’s time as a reporter for the Spanish Civil War gave the book a flavor that, like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, feels like a fictional work processing an emotional truth. 

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy

by Thomas J. Stanley, William D. Danko

I don’t plan on reviewing this book, but I recommend it often. It’s well written full of data and spurs a lot of discussions. 

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

by Dan Harris

I loved this book; I enjoyed reviewing this book. From my review: 

“I want to call this book ‘life-changing,’ but I’m not going to because reading it didn’t change my life. What I’m trying to say is, the book has the capacity to be life-changing. If someone handed me this book five years ago, for example, I think it would have changed my life.”

Beowulf & The Epic of Gilgamesh

I recognize the importance of these stories… That is all I will say.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

by Patti Callahan

The story shows a fictionalized depiction of the lives of Joy and Jack (C.S.) Lewis. I’m a big C.S. Lewis fan, and that, along with my mother’s recommendation, is why I read this book. I didn’t write a review but I give the book a solid 4-star rating. 

Header Image: “2018-06-27_Daunt Books” by Ungry Young Man

A Christmas Carol Is Propaganda To Keep The Poor Happy

The story of a man whose last name is synonymous with miserly and his dealings with three Christmas specters is iconic. The best-known work of Charles Dickens must be A Christmas Carol — immortalized in Felt by the Muppets, with homages in seemingly every sitcom ever on TV. All who know the story, see the moral, Ebenezer Scrooge is a bad guy, who lost any shred of decency and goodness. And we should all try to behave like Tiny Tim or Bob Cratchit; living lives full of joy despite prosperity far from that of Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol offers a moral, so clear no child could misunderstand. Another less obvious lesson, flowing as an undercurrent, surely and subliminally; The poor should stay merry in their poverty. The propaganda message is so integral to the novel that no variation in the plays, movies, and TV retellings, spanning nearly 180 years can depart from the core message. Keep the poor content and working, buying books as distractions.

A young Scrooge apprenticed under Mr. Fezziwig, a lovable kind man who treated his employees well. Fezziwig was not without monetary success. Mr. Fezziwig ran his businesses as privately-held enterprises, during an age when much larger public corporations eclipsed businessmen like him. In a modern adaptation, Mr. Fezziwig could be a shopkeeper in a small town standing in the shadow of a Walmart.

During the original Dickens story, Mr. Fezziwig quickly passes from memory. More thought extends to Scrooge’s lost fiancée, who ended their engagement due to Scrooge’s true love shifting to money. She says to him, “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor, and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”

Poverty is often overcome by “patient industry” and not by Cardi B type “money moves.” The book The Millionaire Next Door, details a large scale study of American millionaire households. Of those examined, around 80% were first-generation affluent; many came from poverty to wealth. Chiefly among the traits common to these self-made millionaires: frugality. The millionaires surveyed in the book seldom owned luxury cars or showed any grand displays of wealth. Most had 30% of their money in the stock market, and cash saved in a ‘go to hell fund’. Scrooge, while changed as a person, was displaying the traits that take people from rags to riches. 

Some adaptations of A Christmas Carol bring the undertones that poverty is virtuous, and the wealthy are predators to the forefront of the story. In the Noel Langley screenplay, Mr. Fezziwig refuses to sell his business. In that version, Fezziwig, when advised to sell his company, says, “It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a business… It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved. No, I can’t see my way to selling out to the new vested interests, Mr. Jorkin. I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”

In the Langley version, Scrooge and Marley ultimately force Fezziwig into closure and buy his business. An incredible shame, as in Dickens’ telling, Mr. Fezziwig stands alone as a sort of ethical capitalist. Fezziwig values his workers, treating them well, and gaining financial success, for a time.

In a Jungian sense, art is a window into the mind of the artist, and adaptations of art reflect ideas from both the original and new artists. When Dickens wrote the novel, he was undergoing a financial struggle, owing money to his publisher

His words paint a grim portrait of a wealthy boogeyman, who is despised by all but the kindest hearted. Scrooge would rather have the poor die than to donate his wealth, and wanted workers always near the brink of that impoverished demise, forcing them to continue working for him.

Scrooge stands a villain with the power to solve the problems of every living person in the novel, but with no desire to help anyone. A sharp contrast to the weak and powerless Tiny Tim, whose childish innocence wants to see only the good in people. As a percentage of income, the poor give far more money to charity than the wealthy, and seemingly always have. In The Millionaire Next Door, only 18% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement, “Charity begins at home.” – Also, most millionaires donated far less to charities than others in the same income bracket. 

A charity begins at home, invest in your future drumbeat is part of why so many millionaires, who often start very poor become millionaires. While most of the high accumulators of wealth aren’t making huge (as a percentage of net worth) donations to charity, many have tangible positive impacts on the lives of others. To use the words of Dickens speaking as Scrooge, “He [Fezziwig] has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. […] The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Possibly Mr. Fezziwig was the embodiment of a perfect boss because he was the embodiment of an ideal man. But few people hold Henry Ford up as a person who’s guiding printable was kindness. Yet it was Ford who doubled the pay of his workers and instituted the 5-day, 40-hour workweek. It seems to treat people well was good for Ford’s bottom line.  

In the film The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin shows his thoughts in a Jungian moment. Chaplin explains death as a force protecting humanity. “The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

Death is inevitable and not just for the living. Currently, the business world seems full of more Scrooges than Fezziwigs or Fords. But subprime loan grouping and leveraged buyouts proceeding bankruptcy, cannot continue forever.

Aversion of this article ran on Splice Today

Header Image: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Is Everyone You Disagree With An Evil Idiot?

Everything you believe is correct, and everyone who disagrees is a moron. This is the new reality, and I will affirm your beliefs without knowing them because this is not an individual affirmation; it’s a mantra used by all points of view.

Did the biologist hurt your feelings? Well, they’re an idiot, and if you ever search for academic publications, it’s best to ignore anything they’ve ever said. If you’re offended by some dude saying, “love is love” and kissing his boyfriend, just write them off as prats, who know not the path of god.

It is no longer enough to dismiss a belief; you must dismiss anything and everything any individual says immediately following any hot take you disagree with coming to light. As a matter of fact, anyone who even follows a person you dub unsavory should be ignored because to read a book or follow someone on Twitter is always a wholesale acceptance and endorsement of anything they have ever said.

Biology isn’t real, but it’s well known that some aspects of our human corporeal form cannot accept someone like Sam Harris as an expert on meditation, without also holding as gospel every word the man has uttered. Likewise, any comedian who’s ever told an offensive joke must be forever viewed as unfunny. Sarah Silverman must not be acknowledged as funny; in 2007, she did an offensive sketch.

Oh, and if you’re friends with PewDiePie, you are a white supremacist. It doesn’t matter, if like Ethan Klein, you’re Jewish, and met your wife at Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) while you were in Israel on birthright. Simple association with someone The Wall Street Journal said was Anti-Semitic should forever taint you.   

Broken clocks must no longer be correct twice a day; they must be viewed as wrong, 100% of the time. We have no room for understanding or nuance, the world is black and white, and we don’t see color. The world is now gray, and we only see shades of gray. Issues like genocide I hope are universally viewed as tragedies, but genocides are trivialized when everyone is “Hitler” or “Stalin”.  

I hate to red pill you; almost nothing is as black and white as death camps, the world is gray, and very few things are so cut and dry that anyone following someone you disagree with should be ignored. Let’s look at drug policy, an issue many try to frame as black and white.

During a debate between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, Cruz once said,

“Legalizing marijuana is a question that I think reasonable minds can differ. I have had a libertarian bent myself. I think Colorado can decide one way. I think Texas can decide another. Congressman O’rourke did not stop with marijuana. He introduced and advocated for a resolution in the El Paso city council, calling for a national debate on legalizing all narcotics. That includes heroin, Fentanyl, cocaine. That is not a reasonable issue on which people can disagree.”

Well, reasonable minds, who did a modicum of research, are aware, Cannabis currently is less legal than Fentanyl and cocaine. Fentanyl and cocaine are classified as Schedule II drugs by the DEA, while marijuana is a Schedule I drug. Fentanyl patches are prescribed for chronic pain in patients who are tolerant to opioid therapy, for example, someone with cancer. Cocaine is still sometimes used as a local anesthetic.

But without account for the current legal, medical uses of drugs Cruz named, Fentanyl and Cocaine are far less restrictive for research, than marijuana due to the scheduling of the drug. Researchers in the US, face profound challenges researching Cannabis even with a growing body of evidence that the “devils lettuce” is an effective treatment for Epilepsy.

To inject more nuance into this drug debate, let’s take all medical applications out of consideration. The Lancet published a study called Drug harms in the UK: A multi-criterion decision analysis, reviewing a range of drugs, scored by factors broadly categorized as harm to user and damage to society, without considering medical uses. According to this study conducted by David Nutt (at the time the UK government’s chief drug adviser), the harms of cocaine and heroin are lower than those of alcohol.

Perhaps reasonable minds can differ about far more than the legalization of drugs? Reasonable people, it seems, can disagree about most things. Affording someone the graciousness to find out why they oppose you needs far more time spent than social media and cable news are willing to provide.

My feeling is of the most dangerous myths, the idea of everyone with differing views being stupid or crazy is at the top. Even when it comes to genocidal maniacs, being evil is very different from being daft. A belief that something could never happen here and now, because people are different than bygone eras, is a thought often held by those in bygone eras before the body count rose. Many people dismissed Hitler as someone who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously; that was before the Holocaust.

Now we are over correcting, invoking Hitler comparisons to early and too often as a sort of “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” strategy to avoid examining uncomfortable arguments. Collectively we have become the boy who cried wolf, with a combination of “this is self evident ,” “reasonable minds cannot dispute,” and by comparing everyone to evil dictators who must be ignored.

A version of this article ran on Splice Today

Header Image: “Mojave” by dan.armendariz