Category Archives: Featured

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My Syrian Driver

By Noah Graff

Last weekend I took a Uber downtown.

After a few minutes of chit chat, my driver told me he was an immigrant from Syria who came to the U.S. five years ago.

I asked him how he felt about our incoming President, expecting to get a strongly negative earful, but I was surprised by his response. First, he said he agreed with Donald Trump that our borders need to be more secure. As an immigrant who came to the United States through a legal process it makes sense that he would prefer that others do so as well. He said he wasn’t that afraid of Trump because he believed the United States’ system of government was designed to prevent a President from overstepping his bounds. He has an interesting perspective as someone who lived under the despotic Assad Regime.

Richard told me that the process to emigrate to the U.S. started 12 years ago. He and his family, a wife and two daughters, were sponsored by his brother who had emigrated in 1985. It took seven years of vetting for his family to finally be allowed to enter.

Inside Uber Ride

When I meet someone like Richard the first thing that comes into my mind is that he must feel so thankful to be living in a safe, free, prosperous country like the United States. I think Richard does appreciate the safety of the United States while his home country withers in turmoil, but he definitely did not sound content in his current situation. In Syria Richard was an engineer and owned a company with 12 contractors working under him. Before he left Syria the government seized all of his assets, including his land and the money in his bank account. He said he arrived in the United States with $30,000.

Richard’s two daughters are 19 and 21. One daughter is in college and the other has graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, a decent public school in Chicago. He bragged about their 3.9 GPAs which they achieved while also working to earn enough money to pay for their educations. He complained that he has no time to spend with his family because he is constantly having to work. He complained about paying for Obamacare, which he considered a poor value for the cost. He complained that his kids are saddled with huge debt from college loans and that he can’t work as an engineer in the U.S. because his degree is not accepted here. He said it costs $60,000 to earn an Engineering Masters Degree, which he cannot afford. He told me he finds it crazy that in the country with the richest economy, healthcare and education are unaffordable while in most developed countries, including his native Syria, those services are provided free by the government.

I have sympathy for Richard. He seemed so tired and felt trapped in his situation. As someone who came from a position of stature and wealth driving a taxi for 12 hours a day torments him.

Despite being such a downer, I found Richard strangely endearing. I admired his tenacity and the sacrifice he has made for his family. As I reached my destination I remained in the car for several minutes to listen to an articulate, candid opinion of an Arab immigrant living in the country I grew up in. It was fascinating. It was healthy.

He sounded like so many other Americans who say they feel hindered from succeeding.

Question: Do you feel hindered from succeeding in the United States?

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Have a Good Password?

By Russell Ethridge

Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword, or so it seems in the worlds of crime and, lately, politics. What with the Russians hacking the election and Hillary’s emails, cyber security has been on the front page for months. The theft of millions of Yahoo! personal accounts and the shenanigans of banks everywhere make headlines, but countless less notorious larcenies take place every minute and have since the start of e-commerce.

There is little law enforcement can do for the everyday case. Unlike an old-school armed robbery or breaking and entering where a gun or a crowbar is the tool of choice, the variations of e-thievery are limitless and much more subtle. They don’t leave a pry mark or a bullet hole. At most they leave a vapor trail to an electronic address that no longer exists. The outrageous Nigerian prince bank account solicitations which, remarkably, meet with some success or the cloning of account information for scam purchases are “low rent” methods. Others are far more sophisticated, relying on virtual identities, Internet banks, the default human tendency to trust, and the fact that we don’t actually talk to each other.

A recent matter for a client had me speaking with the fraud unit director of a purely Internet bank. She confirmed a scheme where stolen individual identities were used to create employee accounts for fake companies using real federal employer ID numbers that were also obtained using a hijacked identity. The fake company set up a payroll service contract with an accountant, temporarily hijacked real money to fund the payroll, withdrew the payroll in cash using debit cards issued by Internet banks and then returned the money to the hijacked account before the account holder noticed that under federal rules certain electronic transfers can be reversed. No one actually meets anyone else in this transaction. Innocent identities are used but not their money, so most people don’t notice. The only trail is electronic, and the only one hurt is the accountant or the payroll service company he or she contracts with.

I’ve had several of these cases over the years, and I can’t get law enforcement interested. When it happened in southern California a few years ago, the city cops said it was a county problem. The county said to call the feds. The feds said it was a local matter, and since it was under a million, they weren’t interested. It was $70,000! Another time it was only $40,000, but that’s real money in my world. If you tried using your 9mm to take $700 from a 7-11, you’d be doing 7 to 15 courtesy of the state.

Mathew Broderick Hacking into NORAD Supercomputer in the film War Games.

From a cop’s perspective, particularly local ones, these cases are essentially unsolvable without the kind of work that non-geeks generally find tedious. Plus, it’s not sexy. Internet crime doesn’t bleed or leave a broken window. It has a digital finger print but not a human one. There is no DNA to test. There is no accountant with a gambling problem. There is no “dye pack’ that explodes because no one presented a robbery note to a terrified teller. What is stolen, money, is fungible. It all looks alike and with the Internet it is just zeros and ones anyway.  It happens before you know it. Even if you can “follow the money,” you’ll end up with nothing the district attorney can prosecute. The local county attorney has a lot more immediate things to worry about than charging some Balkans-based Internet scammers. Anyway, it is a lot easier to fish for kiddie porn perverts on the Internet instead of financial criminals, and the cases are easier to prove.

We can change our passwords, encrypt our electronic commerce and firewall everything, but can we or, more importantly, should we change our default human setting of basic trust in fellow man? So many of our natural alarm bells come from a sense we get when we interact with others face to face or even over the phone. We know who seems shady. But there is no eye contact in e-commerce; no bricks and mortar housing a helpful teller; just account numbers, ID numbers, and maybe faceless emails from fictitious places we’ll never visit. Even when the deal is real, how do we really evaluate the bona fides of those we have only met electronically? How do we know if a promise is real? The key stroke may not be mightier than the sword, but we may need to recalibrate the human experience to accommodate it.

Question: Why would the Russians prefer Trump?

Russell Ethridge is a prominent attorney in the Detroit area and longtime contributor to Today’s Machining World.

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Psyched for 2017!

This is my first Swarfblog of 2017 and it’s not about the Cubs. I am grateful to be able to continue writing it and grateful you are willing to devote your valuable time to reading it. I take neither for granted. Every day I wake up I feel I am a blessed survivor. When I write a piece worthy of putting my name on it (I do throw away a lot of crap I write), I feel a real sense of satisfaction.

******

I think 2017 has a chance to be the best year economically since the 2008 meltdown. Some of this is based on numbers and observation and a fair amount on gut.

The country is certainly split politically, and I’m not really talking Republican and Democrat, because I think those party designations are less important than I can ever remember. The split is economic, rich and poor, but even more, psychological, between those who are optimistic about their future and those who are fearful. Donald Trump capitalized on fear to win the election, but must now engender a sense of optimism in the country to have a successful presidency, which he desperately wants to have to support his fragile ego and rampant narcissism. In that respect, he and Barack Obama are similar. Obama is obsessed with his “legacy” as President, exhibiting his enormous egotism in full flower, spending his final days in office defending Obamacare.

Trump’s party is Trump. He borrowed the Republican banner to get elected. Republicans also borrowed Trump to get elected. For the moment they need one another because the Democrats will be just as obstructionist and spiteful as the Republicans were versus Obama unless Trump’s popularity forces individual Democrats to jump ship to save their own skins.

Donald Trump has instinctively reinvented Presidential politics by both using and circumventing the institutional press like the TV networks and national newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post. His daily tweets have proven to be enormously effective in reaching the public and scaring leaders in business and politics to follow his lead. The Carrier and Ford episodes are both hopeful and scary because they reflect Trump’s bullying nature, but they also show a true gut feel for the mood of the country.

I have been fascinated by his top cabinet and staff picks. He appears to be using Mike Pence to guide him on useful Republican and ideological choices like Representative Tom Price to guide healthcare policy and Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff.

Many people seem troubled by his choice of so many generals, but generally this does not bother me. Colin Powell is famous for saying that generals know the horror of combat and are the most reluctant people to send young men and women into danger. That comforts me.

For someone who railed about the influence of Wall Street Trump has filled his Cabinet and advisory groups with Wall Street folks. One could argue that they know the flaws in the system, having taken advantage of the weaknesses of government throughout their careers.

Despite the prevalence of Big Business figures in his inner circle, a preponderance of small business people I talk to are feeling as confident as they’ve felt in a decade. Higher oil prices are beginning to rejuvenate the people who supply the oil fields. We can thank the desperation of the Oil Sheiks for that. Homebuilding and home prices are getting a lift from baby boomers starting to retire and move, and Millennials are finally beginning to start families in their 30s.

The low unemployment numbers are probably mythical with the extremely low labor participation rate, but we may finally see a bump up in wages soon.

For a skilled machinist in New England and the Pacific Northwest $80,000 – $100,000 a year is not that unusual. People are buying businesses just to get first crack at skilled employees.

The strength of the U.S. dollar and the possible rise in interest rates are potential headwinds for the economy, but we have had good times with both conditions in the past.

So far, Donald Trump has played his role of President-elect shrewdly and fairly close to the vest. I am holding my breath that his impulsiveness is somehow held in check during a crisis, which will certainly come.

Let’s enjoy the honeymoon and hope it lasts well into his presidency.

Question 1: Does it trouble you to have a President coercing company CEOs?

Question 2: Are you hopeful about manufacturing in 2017?

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One Hole at a Time

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve seen a lot of change in my lifetime.  Cubs winning the World Series.  The Berlin Wall falling.  The Internet altering work and pleasure.  And on my birthday this year, I read the announcement that the Jackson Park Golf Course and the old South Shore Country Club in Chicago are going to be turned into the Pebble Beach of the Midwest, and huge national golf tournaments will be played on it.

Tiger Woods, at the urging of President Barack Obama, is going to design the course, which will be adjacent to the Obama Library.

If Tiger does his job well and the money comes through, this course could be virtually unique in the world – a 7000-yard public course, nestled on Lake Michigan, 8 minutes from McCormick Place and 10 minutes from the University of Chicago.  But it will also be adjacent to the ugly South Side black ghetto of Chicago, a violent, murderous, scary jungle of apartments that you wouldn’t want to walk into for fear you wouldn’t walk out alive.

I know the area well.  The first 18 years of my life were spent living near the Jackson Park Golf Course’s 6th hole.  My buddy Howard Isador and I played that hole hundreds of times, whacking irons at the green between foursomes during the summers.  We played with golf balls that lousy swingers sliced onto our lawns, bouncing hard against the cement of 67th Street at Euclid Avenue.

South Shore Country Club back in the day. Courtesy of chuckmanplaces.wordpress.com

A few years later Michelle Robinson’s family moved into a house at 74th and Euclid, seven blocks south of us.  That was a few years before she met and married Barack Obama.

Chicago has always been a city of neighborhoods and races.  There is Irish Chicago, Italian Chicago, Polish Chicago, Jewish Chicago, Mexican Chicago, Puerto Rican Chicago, Chinatown and the African American Ghetto.

The unique thing about Jackson Park Golf Course was that Blacks and Whites played the course together, even back in the 1950s and ‘60s, for $3 a round.  But not at the South Shore Country Club that shared a border with Jackson Park.  It was all White.  And it wasn’t a genteel, friendly, tolerant White country club.  It was a nasty, don’t you dare come on my precious grounds if you’re Black or Mexican or Jewish, kind of club.

They didn’t have to put up any signs.  Everybody just knew it.  And they wanted you to know it.  My friend Jerry Levine started delivering flowers for a local florist in 1958.  When he had to deliver to the magnificent South Shore Country Club Clubhouse he says he would run in with his flowers and get out quickly but stealthily, fearful that somebody might ask to see if he was circumcised.  Ah, those were the good old days.

By the mid 1970s enough people who looked like Michelle Robinson’s family moved in to make the folks at South Shore find a different club.  The club was sold to the Daley-led city and the clubhouse made into a cultural center.  The golf course fell into disuse, and the private beach the club controlled became a beach mainly used by African Americans.

This was my Chicago in the 1960s and ‘70s.  It was White, but if Blacks got too close it turned—quickly.  My parents moved out to a downtown condo right after my younger brother, Jim, graduated from the University of Chicago Lab School.  Jim, my sister Susan and I all went to Lab because the local public high school was almost all Black, dangerous and awful.  Michelle Robinson attended the elite Whitney Young High School rather than South Shore High, a block from her home.

This was the Chicago and America that I grew up in.  So when I see Barack Obama become President and Michelle of 74th and Euclid become a beloved First Lady I am proud.  And when Jackson Park and South Shore Country Club merge to become Tiger Woods’ signature Championship Golf Course on Lake Michigan I know this country has really moved in my lifetime.  Change comes hard in America.  Very hard in Chicago.  One hole at a time.

Question: Do you love or hate golf?

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How Not to Get a Job

By Anonymous

As a headhunter who recruits in the fields of engineering and manufacturing, I can often judge in a matter of seconds whether a candidate could be a good fit for a particular position. When a resume fails to include a sentence identifying or describing the candidate’s current or former employer, he risks being eliminated for a position for which he could be eminently qualified.

If the candidate has worked for a manufacturer of hula-hoops while I’m searching for a Quality Engineer with experience in the rocket launching industry it is not important for me to know about his previous employers. But if I were searching for someone with experience in the toy and leisure field, then by not alerting me to the company’s hula-hoop specialty a candidate could miss out on a potential dream job.

A Single Sentence—Huge Potential Career Dividends

So what is the solution for making sure your resume is a career boosting friend and not a foe? Include a single sentence capturing what your previous employer does or who its core audience is. If the hiring company is a leading manufacturer of products that rotate around one’s waist, don’t forget to mention the company’s signature line of hula-hoops.

An excellent method of making sure your resume is crystal clear is to have someone unfamiliar with your industry read it over. Ask the reader if he understands what your previous employer does. Then ask if he has a grasp of what you’ve done in the past. His observations might be an eye opener on whether your resume is hitting its intended mark.

Seinfeld’s George Costanza applying for job with the NY Yankees

Make It Easy on the Reader

As a headhunter, I often delve into career areas outside of my comfort zone of engineering and manufacturing. When I venture into these new niches, it is reassuring to find a resume that doesn’t speak over my head. I occasionally have “aha” moments where I read about an employer and say to myself, “So that’s what they do.” This revelation can trigger the next critical step of matching an employer with a suitable candidate.

When speaking with a recruiter for the first time, you’ll make a friend for life by politely asking if you can answer any questions about your profession, industry or technical skill set.  Educating someone in a non-judgmental way is a sure-fire method of expanding your networking team.

Another helpful resume tip is to avoid playing “Where’s Waldo?” Think like an employer and don’t make the reader hunt for key words that reenforce why you’re the best person for the job. If an employer is seeking a machinist with Trak, Haas and Fanuc experience don’t wait until the interview to share you have this exact background.

Resume Treasure Map

A candidate should view his resume as a “treasure map.” Your resume should highlight career jewels that hopefully match your skills with an employer’s needs. These nuggets are the linchpin to the resume reader, who wants to interview the candidate holding a treasure chest of technical skills, education or experience.

Finally, unlike your favorite mystery novel, don’t leave the best for last. I admit that I sometimes have a short attention span when reading a resume. If I don’t find what I’m looking for in the upper half of the first page, it’s possible I’ll move on to the next candidate. The best resumes, novels and fishing lures open with a hook. If the reader gets an early taste of what he is looking for, it’s more likely the rest of your resume will get a thorough read and lead to an interview.

Questions:

Does it worry you that Donald Trump does not have experience in government on his resume?

What has been your experience with headhunters?

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Ding Dong School

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve been talking to a lot of smart people and reading some well-researched material so I can pretend I know stuff that you don’t already know.

One thing I really wanted to get my brain around is whether well-paying manufacturing jobs will be “coming back” to the United States.

My conclusion – old jobs are not coming back, but millions of new jobs will be created. Some will pay well, others will not. People will be rewarded for being industrious, flexible, creative and well-prepared for being able to add value in the cracks where automation and artificial intelligence have not figured out how to penetrate yet.

I remember, back in the day, when Graff-Pinkert needed a machinist who could be trained to be a machine tool rebuilder. We had a variety of applicants including one Union member from the Pullman Works plant of the International Harvester Corporation. He was a pleasant guy, but his training at Harvester had left him completely helpless to work in a small shop that valued versatility and efficiency. We asked him to display his skills on a lathe and he confessed that at IH he had only run round bars. We thanked him and told him he was not prepared to work for us. As he walked out he asked plaintively if his buddy could have the job, because “he knows how to run hex.”

That Harvester plant is long gone. The 10,000 workers that trudged to work, paid their Union dues to the Teamsters year after year, and produced the same axles and fenders on the same machines decade after decade are retired, dead or working at Home Depot today.

Harvester will never be resurrected. We have lost 40% of the plants with 1,000 employees or more in recent years. Big unionized factories are dinosaurs and in a few more years they will have almost totally vanished.

The last bastion of Union membership is in government. Half of Union the workers today work for taxpayers, but the inequities in the contracts negotiated by weak or corrupt elected or appointed nabobs will come back to haunt them. According to Michael Hicks, a very smart professor I talked to this week from Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, a Chicago teacher’s pension today is bigger than that of a Three-Star General. The Charter School movement in places like Chicago, which has special appeal to African American parents, poses a big threat to status quo education, which is why the Teachers’ Unions despise the trend.

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The “good jobs coming back” theme took another hit in the scrotum in a conversation I had with Steve Tamasi, the head of Boston Centerless Corp.

His company is one of the foremost suppliers of ground stock, much of which goes to companies using Swiss-type sliding headstock machines to supply the medical device, electronics, and aerospace industries. Tamasi’s firm is doing well, but with more than half of his volume coming from the medical device sector he has been fighting the mega merger trend in the industry. The medical device lines are maturing and consolidating. The 2.3% tax on revenue to finance Obamacare also punished the industry. When organic growth shrinks, big companies merge. It’s what they do. Then they do their magic. According to Steve Tamasi, they reduced inventory and hammered on the supply chain. It’s Merger 101. Then they cut employees, reduced the number of factories and declared bonuses for the brilliant executives who survived the knife.

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A robot places boxes of Twinkies into shipping boxes at the Hostess plant in Emporia, Kansas which produces 1,000,000 Twinkies a day.

I recommend a terrific article in The New York Times on the purchase and sale of Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs brands. Two hedge funds partnered on the deal, Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos Fund owned by Dean Metropoulos. They bought the brands and eight factories at a bankruptcy auction in 2013 for $410 million which they borrowed against their assets and their reputation for shrewdness. The money came from the Texas Teacher’s Pension Fund and other institutions.

An acquaintance of mine who works for a prominent foundation in Chicago told me that his $1 billion-dollar institution seldom gets a chance to get in on a deal like Hostess Brands because the hedge funds can usually fund the most interesting deals with a few days of calls and meetings in New York. Princeton University alone has a $90 billion endowment fund and they are always looking for Hostess-Ding Dong kinds of deals.

Mr. Metropoulos specializes in food deals. He made a killing on Vlasic Pickles. He closed five of the eight Hostess bakeries, automated the bakery in Emporia, Kansas to maximize the output, expanded a factory in Columbus, Georgia with incentives from the state, streamlined the supply chain and bludgeoned suppliers. He turned Hostess into one humdinger of a deal. In a few years, Black and Metropoulos sold the company to another hedge fund for $2.3 billion. Head count at Hostess had shrunk from 8,000 to 1,400 people. The Union bakeries were the first to go. I think there are still some “good jobs” in Emporia, Kansas.

I am not condemning Black and Metropoulos. If they had not bought Hostess some other hedge fund would have.

With automation and artificial intelligence coming on even stronger in the 2020s there will be even fewer of those “good factory jobs.” Today factory jobs comprise 9% of the jobs in the United States. Even without the competition from China and Mexico that number will fall. And China and Mexico face the same issues we have here – stagnant wages and shrinking, “good jobs in the factory.”

The trends don’t lie. Teach your kids how to pitch.

Question: Would you consider $13/hour jobs at Amazon “good jobs?”

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5-Axis 4 Grand

By Lloyd Graff

In the fall of 2015 Michelle and Matt Hertel gave birth to a baby girl and a 5-axis CNC milling machine in Montana.

Their baby girl, Ruby, is flourishing and so is their other baby, the Pocket NC 5-axis mill, which sells for $4,000 naked, out of their small factory in Bozeman, Montana.

Before they moved back to Big Sky Country where they grew up, Michelle and Matt lived in the Seattle area. Michelle was a mechanical engineer at Boeing, and Matt was a night shift machinist at Electroimpact Corporation, which makes enormous automation equipment for the aerospace industry. He says that while on breaks he and a fellow machinist would fantasize about building a tiny but capable CNC machine for the sophisticated hobbyist.

He and Michelle ultimately decided to go back home to start a family and a company. They bought a house with a garage that became their workshop, then sold the house to finance their dream until they could build the prototype that would satisfy them and potential investors.

Matt and Michelle Hertel with their Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

Their original plan was to build a 3-axis CNC mill but later decided that for a little more money and engineering work they could build a 5-axis machine that would give them a competitive advantage. The least expensive 5-axis machine on the market was $50-$60,000, more than ten times the price of their desired price point.

By August of 2015 they were set to go into production of their mill in their rented garage in Bozeman. Michelle was due to give birth in September. Their pitch video was polished and ready for prime time on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Each contributor of $3,500 on Kickstarter would get first dibs on a Pocket NC 5-axis desktop milling machine.

They hit their goal of $355,000, which enabled them to buy the materials for 100 machines. Kickstarter took a 5% commission, and they lost an additional 3% from the contributors who used credit cards, but it was enough to get going. Matt and Michelle did everything at the beginning. Now they are a group of four mechanical engineers and an assembly person. Michelle is working part-time.

Pocket NC 5-Axis Mill

They surpassed their initial target of 100 machines, and each month’s sales are beating the previous month’s. They have sold more than 300 machines. Matt says they quickly discovered that the hobbyist market barely existed for a machine costing $4,000 to $6,000, depending on accessories, but they found that labs, universities, small businesses and professionals were looking for a tiny, versatile mill for experimenting and making parts quickly. There are Pocket NC machines now at NASA, MIT and the European Space Agency. Production has escalated to well over 20 machines per month, and Matt is looking for an additional employee, which is not so easy to find in Bozeman, which has the lowest unemployment of any metropolitan area in the country of over 200,000 people. It is the photonics (laser) mecca of America.

Obviously, a tiny mill that can be transported in a suitcase is not an Okuma or a Haas machine. It is not meant for material tougher to machine than aluminum and its tolerances are only guaranteed to +/- 0.005. It is not a mass market machine, but it has its niche, and it appears to be a fairly large and untouched market. A lab can find $5k in the cookie jar quite easily, so it can bypass many of the bureaucratic justifications.

For Matt and Michelle the next goal is to improve the strength and capability of their machine without dramatically changing the price point.

The Hertels are living the American Dream now, and they are doing so without killing themselves. Matt leaves the shop at 5-6pm to play with their little girl, Ruby. At a year and a half both of their babies are growing like gangbusters.

Question: Would you be interested in a Pocket NC Mill?

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Home on the Steppe

By Noah Graff

Those Russian thieves! First they steal back Crimea, then they steal our election (maybe?), and now they are poaching our talented labor force. They are bribing our good ol’ American cowboys to help them build their latest empire—Beef!

In 2010 Russia passed the Food Security Doctrine, which set a goal for the country to become self-sufficient in its food production. The country has never had a domestic beef industry, with most of its beef having to be imported. Rich Russians want easier access to a great ribeye and there is a huge opportunity to export beef to China and the Gulf States. The new industry also provides jobs. Russia is in the midst of a Beef Rush.

In the last six years, Miratorg, Russia’s biggest beef-producing company, acquired vast fields abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union. It ripped up weeds and forests and planted imported grass seed. It imported tractors, horses, and cattle, predominantly from the U.S. and Australia, and in just a few years produced a herd of around 400,000 cows. Miratorg says it wants to have a herd of 1 million cows by the end of the decade. The U.S. cattle industry took centuries to develop its infrastructure and breed cattle optimized for beef, but with the aid of high-tech genetics and a vertically integrated business model Miratorg, in a span of five years, created the largest herd in the world. In the U.S. we have several steps in the steak industry. A calf spends about a year in pasture, then goes on to a feedlot, then a processing facility and finally to a restaurant. At Miratorg every stage is under one roof. It even has cooking demos for preparing steak.

Sergei Shilin, Russian Cowboy at Miratorg. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

But like almost all businesses, the beef business cannot succeed without skilled workers. So in addition to importing grass and cattle Miratorg has brought over some American cowboys to train the Russian workers who knew nothing about cattle ranching. Today the United States has fewer cattle than it has had at any time since the 1950s, so the job market for cowboys in the United States has thinned significantly. Miratorg has lured American cowboys to come to Russia by offering to double their pay in the United States.

To teach cowboy skills and create a passion for the cowboy way of life Miratorg created its own version of a rodeo. The Russian rodeos are similar to those in the United States. They have events like barrel racing, roping and trailer loading. DJs play patriotic songs that talk about the greatness of Russia. One rodeo song talks about Russia taking Alaska back from the United States. Another proclaims “Give me a horse and a Sword!” Parachutists known as “Aerial Cowboys” float down into the arena. Russian cowboys wear kerchiefs with traditional Russian patterns rather than the classic bandanas worn by American cowboys.

Russian Cowboys. Courtesy of www.Newsworks.org.

According to the sources for this blog, the Russian cowboys, which the Russians call “operators,” have been thriving since the American cowboys were brought in, embracing the cowboy work ethic and becoming experts in skills of the trade such as riding, lassoing and doctoring calves. Sadly, very few of the 1000 or so Russian cowboys have gotten to eat an actual steak. A quality steak costs more than a day’s salary for a Russian cowboy.

Question: What’s your favorite cut of meat? How do you like it prepared?

Sources for blog: newsworks.org and NPR.org.

Listen to the NPR story: 

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Sports Movie Champ

By Noah Graff

Last week, on November 21, it was the Fortieth Anniversary of the release of Sylvester Stallone’s opus, Rocky. The news brought on a discussion between my dad and me whether Rocky is the best “sports movie” ever. After reflecting on my short list of favorite sports movies—Rocky, Major League, Rudi, and Karate Kid to name a few—I’ve come to the conclusion that indeed Rocky is my favorite. My dad argues for Bull Durham, which I’ll admit is a well-done comedy and romance that celebrates the game of baseball, but I’ve concluded that film does not follow my criteria for what makes a great “sports movie.”

For me, a true sports movie revolves around a team or individual athletes trying to overcome a sporting obstacle, and in so doing, take control of their lives. At the center of a great sports movie there must be an underdog protagonist who inspires audiences to root for them with all their heart. Rocky is the perfect sports movie protagonist. He’s poor, he’s been discarded by his peers as a waste of talent, he even works as a goon for the local loan shark, Gazzo. Underneath all his superficial shortcomings Rocky has the biggest heart of any athlete I can ever remember in a movie. The pain he overcomes in his training and in his title fights is raw and authentic. When he gets knocked down in the ring and struggles to get up, I feel like I’ve been struck down and I’m fighting for my life too. When Mickey uses a razor blade to open Rocky’s shut swollen eye I cover my own eyes.

Rocky fights Apollo Creed in Rocky I

The reason I feel Rocky’s pain so much and root for him so hard is because I want to see him take control of his life and succeed in his life’s passion—it’s what we all wish for in our own lives and many don’t accomplish, and most people aren’t trying to become Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The night before his Title Fight with Apollo Creed, Rocky sits in bed and tells Adrian that his goal is not to win the fight. Even after all his training he still doesn’t think he can win. Instead, he states that “all he wants to do is go the distance,” to remain standing after 15 rounds with Creed. He says that nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed before, so if he can go the distance with the Champ and do something that has never been done before, he can know for the first time that he’s not just a “bum from the neighborhood.”

How can a viewer not want to live and die with a character who says that?

*******

By Lloyd Graff

My vote for the best sports movie ever goes to Bull Durham. Rocky was brilliant in its own gut punching way, but Bull Durham was funny, poignant, erotic and smart in one amazing script. Also the acting by Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon is off the charts for chemistry.

The story is about a young, naive, sexed-up pitcher named Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, Tim Robbins, who has a million-dollar arm and a ten-cent brain. He has a 95-mile-per-hour heater that he is apt to throw six feet over the catcher’s head. He possesses the talent of a star, but no focus other than on the local ladies.

Crash Davis confronts Nuke in Bull Durham

The management of his minor-league team, the Durham (North Carolina) Bulls, brings in “Crash” Davis, Kevin Costner, a veteran of 12 minor league seasons, to tame the wild man LaLoosh, so he can get called up to the Show (the Major Leagues). Crash is a somewhat embittered philosopher catcher. He loves the game but is both resigned and resentful of his position in life. He knows his job is to provide life lessons and baseball knowledge to unworthy phenoms like Nuke, and he hates his fate. But he does it because he’s a baseball lifer.

Everything becomes more complicated and fascinating when Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon, an aging but still attractive baseball groupie, designates Nuke as her Bull boyfriend for the season. Then Crash crashes the party and falls for Annie. She’s sexually attracted to Robbins’ young character, and the creator of the movie, Ron Shelton, makes it a playful, purely physical relationship. Ironically, the movie was the beginning of a 23-year marriage between Sarandon and Robbins, who had two children together. Crash’s job for the Bulls is to mature Nuke and teach him how to pitch, but he is angry and resentful, and his lust for Annie constantly gnaws at him.

I find the movie endlessly entertaining, even after seeing it 10 times. The characters are funny; the dialogue is witty and sarcastic, both underplayed and over the top.

The characters are profane yet also very kind and human. I think Crash’s soliloquies about “never messing with a streak” and that after 12 years in the Minors, he “doesn’t try out” as a lover, are as good as it gets in American movies.

Rocky is Stallone’s masterpiece. Bull Durham is an even better movie.

Question: What are your favorite sports movies?

Clip from Rocky – “All I want to do is go the distance”

Clip from Bull Durham: On the Mound Convention

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Thankful

By Lloyd Graff

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am using the blog to express a few of the many many things and people I am thankful for today.

I am thankful for breath. Every day I thank God for the ability to breathe deeply. As someone who spent 13 straight days on a ventilator in a hospital, I take note of my ability to breathe each day.

A deep breath is also my way of taking pause amidst turmoil to get my bearings. It is a way to find some peace and prepare for sleep.

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I am thankful for my family. My wife Risa is the love of my life after 46 years of marriage. To feel joy when I greet her in the evening and touch her hand in the morning, who could ask for more.

My three children have happy and successful lives and good health. They connect with me often and seem to enjoy being with me as adults.

My four grandchildren seem healthy and happy. And the three older girls like baseball.

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I live in the United States, which is like winning the lottery to most of the six billion people on the planet. The country is an always evolving experiment with a million competing interests, but it has afforded me opportunity and freedom that I treasure, particularly knowing the history of my family coming from Russia 100 years ago.

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I am grateful for the handful of pills I take every morning and night. Aspirin, Omega 3, lisonopril for blood pressure control, statin for cholesterol, ACE Inhibitor for my heart, serotonin regulator for moods, and omeprazole for stomach acid. It is a panoply of the medicines that have taken billions of dollars to perfect. They help me live a normal life in my seventies after nearly dying eight years ago.

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I am grateful for my mind. I get to create and connect with people. I understand nuance, I can play Words With Friends, and even understand some baseball analytics. I still relish the competition in business. So far dementia is just a word for me.

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I have my appetite. I love a well-baked chocolate chip cookie and poppy seed salad dressing. I enjoy the smell of Arbequina olive oil and I can distinguish it from Colavita. A Honeycrisp apple delights me, as does ice cold lemonade. The smell of a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving with homemade whipped cream. Wow.

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I am grateful you have read this blog to the end. I get to do this.

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