Category Archives: Current Events

Ep. 117 – Mental Recovery with Dr. Ari Graff

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we are continuing our season about mental health.

Our guest is Dr. Ari Graff, a psychologist at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a nationally ranked rehabilitation research hospital based in Chicago. Patients come to Shirley Ryan to recover from severe illnesses and injuries. Dr. Graff’s job is to help patients mentally heal from the emotional trauma that comes along with being damaged physically.

The opinions in this podcast episode are solely those of Dr. Graff. They are not on behalf of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast, or listen with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

 

Main Points

Noah introduces Dr. Ari Graff, who happens to be his older brother. Ari has been a practicing psychologist for the last 14 years. He has a private practice doing therapy mainly with adults, and he also has been working at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab for 11 years. The Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is a rehabilitation center for people who have suffered severe illnesses and injuries such as strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and amputees. (2:30)

Ari is the psychologist of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab’s outpatient clinic. Patients there are in the process of intense rehabilitation, often doing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. (4:00)

Ari says he sees around half of the roughly 150 patients who attend the clinic throughout the week, usually seeing patients only once for an hour. Sometimes patients request to a see a psychologist, but often they are referred to him by their rehab team or a physician. He says often he is the first mental health specialist patients have ever worked with. Generally they are not expecting to speak with a psychologist because they have been focusing all of their energy on their physical recovery. (5:20) 

Ari says it surprised him at first how much impact just one hour-long session can have for patients. He says they get a chance to feel understood about what they are going through. They learn about what to expect from rehab. They also hopefully gain a better understanding of their own mental state. (6:40)

Ari says a common issue rehab patients have is that they don’t feel like they are in control. Becoming disabled is difficult for people to adjust to. One thing Ari tries to help them cope with is the uncertainty whether they will recover from their current disability.(9:00) 

Ari says he tries to make people focus on the things they have control over rather than what they can’t control. He encourages people focus on their diet, sleep, and ability to manage stress. He encourages people to try to understand their condition and limitations. He also suggests to patients to communicate with their doctors and health providers to understand the recovery process and to advocate for themselves. (10:00)

Ari says it’s important for him to educate patients about what to expect during the rehabilitation process. He says after a stroke or injury to the brain, the brain needs time to recover. Research says this recovery usually happens in six months to a year, so it’s important for patients not to feel frustrated when they are not back to normal quickly. He says it’s important to give people hope as well as realistic expectations. (12:00)

Ari talks about the mental recovery for people who have been injured on the job. He says those people might have anxiety about going back to work. It’s important for them to process their feelings about how they were injured and process feelings of blame for coworkers, as well as blame for themselves. (14:00)

Ari talks about people he works with who are recovering from severe cases of COVID-19. Some people suffer the effects of being on ventilator for a month or two. Some people are weak or immobile after being in bed for a long time. Others suffer brain injuries if not enough oxygen gets to their brain. People also suffer psychological trauma from the illness, particularly if they were not able to see their loved ones while in the hospital. (15:00)

Noah asks Ari if he has advice for people whose coworkers are exhibiting mental health problems. Ari says some companies have employee assistance programs that provide some limited mental health support. He says it’s probably tricky for a coworker or boss to help another worker seek mental health support. (18:00)

Dr. Ari Graff, Psychologist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

Ari compares talk therapy with prescribing medication to help people with their mental health. He believes both methods of therapy can be helpful if administered the right way. He says people should not assume that prescription medication is being abused. He says that sometimes for patients he sees at the rehab center, opioids can be very helpful for them during a physical therapy session when their pain would otherwise be so excruciating it could hinder doing their rehab exercises. (19:00)

Ari talks about helping his patients manage their pain. He says that pain is not just a physical experience. It’s a cognitive experience, an emotional experience, and even a spiritual experience. He says research has shown that negative thoughts and emotions have the power to increase pain while positive ones can alleviate it. He uses therapy methods such as mindfulness and meditation, which can help people observe their thought processes about pain and then start to make shifts from a negative to a more positive and realistic thought process. (22:00)

Noah asks Ari if everyone could benefit from therapy. Ari says he thinks most people could get something out of therapy, but there are a lot of different types of therapy available, so people need to find their right fit. He says it is important for people to attend to their mental health the same way they attend to their physical health. (24:00)

Ari says to him the word “happiness” means contentment, fulfillment, and purpose. He says that most people desire a sense of meaning in their lives, not just joy. (26:00)

Ari says people in recovery need to know that they can find value in themselves, even if they have limitations. He says our culture emphasizes measuring people by how much they can produce and achieve, but people need to know that we all have intrinsic value. (26:30)

Ari explains mindfulness, which is an important method he uses in his therapy. He explains it as non-judgmental attention to our present experience. It’s a way to be, without trying to fix or do something in the moment. He says it is important for people to be aware that they can still find value in life—take some downtime for pleasure, interact with family members, etc., while still working toward their big goals. (27:00)

Ari concludes by saying that people should not see their medical problems only as a setback. He says the people who cope the best with their problems are those who look at their situation as an opportunity to learn or grow from. Instead of only seeing their injury in a negative light, its helpful for people to try to find the positives they can get out of it. (28:45)

Question: When has therapy helped you or your loved one?

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An Imperfect Union

By Lloyd Graff

Are schools that much different than factories? 

At this moment in America, virtually every factory is open and many are producing full out. Production is rising nicely. Confidence levels are high. The parking lots are full. Some steel may be a short delay and truckers seem flummoxed, but on the whole, business is jumping and the stock market is bouncing up and down off record highs.

Yet in many places, kids are still on Zoom if they own computers, and teachers unions and administrators are growling at each other. Parents are reaching their boiling point as they see their kids’ mental health sink dangerously and their finances fall apart because they can’t work when their children are at home. The quality of Zoom teaching and children’s ability to absorb content fluctuates wildly.

It’s a blown year of school that’s still continuing for many. 

In Chicago, teachers are retiring with $100,000 per year pensions. Yet they have kept their students at home or on the streets because they claim their classrooms are unsafe for them to teach in if students are present. Meanwhile, many students are leaving public school enrollment for Catholic schools, which have been open most of the pandemic.

My five-year-old grandson has gone to private nursery school throughout the entire pandemic. They have had a few cases, but never enough to close more than a couple of days. This has enabled my son to do his job as a psychotherapist in a hospital, helping COVID-19 survivors with emotional problems.

Parents and kids protest closed schools

We know now that kids, especially younger ones, do very well managing the illness. Still, the teachers union in Chicago and in other big cities are using kids as hostages in the power struggle with government authorities they are looking to humiliate. In Chicago, it is a battle between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a former teacher, and her arch foe, Toni Preckwinkle, head of the County, who was crushed by Lightfoot in the last mayoral election. Lightfoot wants kids to go to school. Preckwinkle wants the teachers union clout.

We are now seeing parents demonstrating against unions and the politicians who are in their pocket all over the country. Even my old high school, the prestigious University of Chicago Lab School, which now charges tuition of $37,000 a year for kids whose parents do not work for the U of C, is dealing with parents making a very big stink about the unionized teachers destroying the kids’ school year.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom, who has managed to mismanage everything from power outages to his unmasked birthday party at a ritzy San Francisco restaurant, will soon be facing a recall election mainly because he has kept the schools closed. COVID-19 has accelerated many aspects of American life: working from home, Amazon deliveries of your morning coffee, the demise of the local barber, and now, perhaps, the ability of entrenched unions to be seen as the champions of education. 

In Chicago, the head of the teachers union idolizes the regime of Castro’s Cuba and goes to Venezuela to refine his communist tropes. Windy City students sit out the year and teachers can’t seem to find a mask that fits. 

The union has lost the PR battle in Chicago. This may be one of the best things that the pandemic has accelerated.

Question: Should kids go back to the classroom while the pandemic continues?

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A Black Woman’s Job Title

By Lloyd Graff

Rosalind Brewer took the helm at Walgreens this week, becoming one of only a few African American woman CEOs to ever lead a large American corporation. She had been #2 at Starbucks before being recruited by Walgreens. 

I wasn’t surprised to see a black woman get a top job with a company like Walgreens. It would have been more shocking if a black woman’s small machining firm applied for membership in the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), an organization I belong to as a technical member. 

This is not a putdown of the PMPA, which I am happy to be a member of. It is an observation about my America, where women have generally been outsiders in manufacturing, engineering and metals, both by culture and by prejudice for as long as I can remember.

Perhaps the scene is changing, with Mary Barra now heading GM, but an African-American woman running a machining outfit with 25 employees in America is something I would love to see in my lifetime.

New CEO of Walgreens, Rosalind Brewer

****

As I talk to clients and people in the industry, I’m getting the strong impression that business is perking up. While the media is obsessed with COVID-19, empty malls, and evictions, the shortage of people who want to take manufacturing jobs gets even more acute. 

Even in fossil fuels, which we all know are yesterday, the US is still pumping 11 million barrels of oil a day and importing the black gold from Canada too. Farm prices are up, which means tractors are finally selling, and car lots are short of inventory.

Home sales are allegedly frantic, at least in the suburbs, and new home builders are having their best years ever.

It’s all a bit bewildering as the Washington politicians lament the worst economy since the Depression and are bargaining the difference between $600 billion and $1.6 trillion to dump into the economy.

The stock market has given its verdict. Buy, buy, buy. The Fed has made its call to keep interest rates low. Bank losses have been a fraction of what had been expected to this point.

It must be the time to book a cruise for this summer.

***

The least recognized vital aspect of health is posture. I don’t know how the chimpanzees and gorillas live like they do, but a bent over Lloyd is a miserable mammal.

The last year has been brutal on my body. I have been home for much of the time, from Groundhog Day to Groundhog Day, and it feels like perpetual winter. During this period, I have made the kitchen table my workspace, and my neck has been almost continually bent as I navigate the phone and iPad to write. My spine feels like a defective erector set. I look like a FANUC robot. I might be turning FANUC yellow as well.

My neck and shoulders are tight as 2-year-old unopened pickle jars. I keep fiddling with the thermostat because the compression of my shoulders and neck and rib cage gives me the chills. 

I tried to throw a snowball the other day and it landed 12 feet from me. I am a sorry heap. 

But, I now have placed three foam rollers strategically around the house, and I’m starting to feel like bread dough. The rolling is beginning to work. My pain is six Advils less a day. I have fewer groans when I hit the bed. The chills are fading. My stretches have some elasticity. 

Why, oh why, didn’t I start the bread dough a year ago?

Question: What are your back pain remedies?

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Brady vs. Mahomes: Tough Decision

By Lloyd Graff

Can you give me a good reason to write about the machining business with the Super Bowl approaching? 

Tom Brady, the greatest NFL quarterback ever, against Patrick Mahomes II, who may become the greatest quarterback ever. Yet the life-changing business decision both guys had to make before they turned 21 was whether they wanted to play Major League Baseball or pursue football.

Patrick Mahomes, son of a Major League pitcher with the same name, grew up around the game. His dad played for Minnesota, Detroit, even my Chicago Cubs over an 11-year Major League career. Young Patrick was recruited by Texas Tech University to play both sports and was a relief pitcher for the college team. He would have been drafted after his sophomore season but made it clear to his father and the Major League baseball scouts who followed his course that football was the sport he would build his future on. 

Tom Brady went to the same high school that Barry Bonds graduated from in San Mateo, California. He was a powerful hitter and batted left-handed. He played catcher and was projected as a second or third round draft pick if he did not go to college as a football player. 

Brady chose the pigskin. He had faith in himself choosing Michigan, which had a future pro quarterback at the time in Brian Griese and an all-world prospect named Drew Henson, who was planning to follow Griese’s path. 

Brady did not play his freshman and sophomore years, and he split time with Henson during his junior year and into his senior year. 

The 1999 Orange Bowl was the last game at Michigan for both Brady and Henson. The Michigan coach, Lloyd Carr, picked Brady to start and he played a fantastic game. Henson watched from the sidelines and decided that he was never going to be a quarterback like Brady. He signed a baseball contract to play for George Steinbrenner’s Yankees and collected a $3 million bonus soon after. Hensen was a bust as a baseball player and actually wound up playing in the NFL as a backup quarterback. 

Brady was picked 199th in the 2000 NFL draft, a sixth round choice by New England. After 21 years in the league, now holding virtually every passing record there is, Brady now gets to play in his 10th Super Bowl next week against Mahomes, who was just 4 years old when Brady joined the Patriots.

Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes

The game is worth watching just to see Mahomes and Brady play one another. The two men have played each other four times before, splitting the games. Both men have amazing accuracy. Mahomes can run well, while Brady may be the slowest afoot in the NFL. Mahomes has a chronic toe injury and is coming off a possible concussion during his game against New Orleans. Mahomes has the more dynamic receivers of the Kansas City Chiefs, particularly Tyrek Hill and Travis Kelce. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay has the better defense.

On paper, Kansas City has the superior team. They have lost only once this season while Tampa Bay barely made the playoffs. But Tom Brady beat the League’s MVP, Aaron Rodgers, on the frozen tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field to get to the Super Bowl. He outplayed Rodgers.

Brady is 43 years old, yet he played every game this season and never had a significant injury. He has a knack for avoiding punishment. He almost always wins big games. 

I know the commercials will be awful. Pepsi’s halftime will be laughable, and the hype will be absurd, but Brady vs. Mahomes makes the Super Bowl a game you have to watch.

Question: Which team will you bet on in the Super Bowl?

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Ep. 107 – Reshaping the Supply Chain After COVID-19, with Professor Yossi Sheffi

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s show is Professor Yossi Sheffi, author of the new book, The New (AB)NORMAL: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond Covid-19.

In the interview, Sheffi explains how companies and governments around the world have dealt with the supply chain disruption over the past year’s pandemic. He also gives insight on how people can prepare for the next time the world’s supply chain is turned on its head

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Yossi defines supply chain as the series of activities that take a product from the raw material stage to a finished product through a series of transportation, shipping, and creation until it finally reaches the consumer. He says the final stop of the supply chain is the responsible disposal of the product after it has been used. (3:15)

Yossi gives his background. He studied civil engineering in Israel and then came to the United States to conduct operational research at MIT, where he studied network theory. Originally he wanted to utilize his education in the urban planning and transportation sector, but he became frustrated because nobody was applying what he thought were brilliant ideas. Eventually he found an opportunity working with trucking companies, using the same mathematical principles he had researched, in the end saving these businesses a lot of money. From there, he branched out into working with the customers of the trucking firms such as manufacturers, retailers, and distributors to optimize their operations. In the process, he started five companies, which he says were all successful and sold out to larger companies. Yossi said he always returned to MIT because he is passionate about teaching and research. (4:35)

Yossi says the secret to being able to do so many projects is to have a very understanding wife. He credits her with keeping their relationship strong and helping him maintain a good relationship with his kids, despite working more or less 24/7. (6:10)

Yossi discusses some of his past books which cover different aspects of the supply chain. In March of 2020, while he was working on a book about new supply chain innovations, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. He saw this as one of the most significant historical events in the history of the world’s supply chain, so he stopped working on the book he was writing and wrote the New (AB)Normal from March until August of 2020. He says it was essential to get the book out quickly before COVID-19 became tired, old news. (8:30)


Yossi talks about how the US is still slow in fighting COVID-19. He compares vaccination rates in the US to those in Israel. He says Israel plans to have its entire population vaccinated in two and a half months. At the time of this interview (Dec. 2020) Israel was vaccinating upwards of 150,000 people a day, while his home state of Massachusetts was only vaccinating 30,000 people daily. (9:50)

Yossi says one distinct thing about Israel’s approach to the coronavirus is that its government did not hedge its bets of the efficacy of the vaccines. It assumed the two vaccines based on the mRNA from Moderna and Pfizer were effective and ordered them before they were approved by the FDA. Ironically the country was currently in lockdown at the time of the interview, while health professionals were administering the vaccine from 5AM until 10PM (soon to be 24/7). He says the Israeli government even got some of the ultra orthodox authorities on board with administering vaccines on the sabbath by invoking a rabbinical rule that states life is more sacred than anything else. (11:45)

Yossi compares the supply chain challenges for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to those in the automotive supply chain. He says that in some ways distributing the vaccine is easier because no one is concerned about minimizing costs. (14:15)

Yossi discusses the bullwhip effect on the world’s supply chain, which was significantly apparent in 2020. He says when estimates for supply and demand become distorted because of a disrupted supply chain, the solution for manufactures to not overreact in their inventory buying is to listen to the final consumer. Thus, even Tier 2 or Tier 3 automotive suppliers should be monitoring car sales to predict upcoming production demand, rather than only listening to what the Tier 1 companies tell them. (16:05)

Yossi talks about China. He says country’s autocratic measures enabled it to quarantine successfully and get the pandemic under control. He says that early on during the pandemic, the Chinese government asked banks to give significant loans to medium and small sized companies. He says the Chinese government preferred to keep companies running rather than give money to individual citizens, while in the US the government preferred to support individuals rather than protect businesses. He says that European countries also preferred to support companies rather than individual citizens during the pandemic. He adds that it’s unclear which approach was the best choice. (19:50)

Yossi shares what he found the most shocking about how the supply chain malfunctioned during the pandemic. He says medical supplies in the United States were terribly low, leaving many hospital workers unprotected. He says the US used to have a strategic reserve of PPEs and other medical equipment, but it withered away during the Obama administration. In his new book, Yossi gives suggestions on how the United States should prepare for a future pandemic, including rebuilding a strategic inventory. He also says hospitals need to be stress tested for crises events, and a medical personnel reserve, much like the Army Reserves should be created. The medical personnel reserve would be comprised of people trained to do basic care. It would free up nurses and doctors to do more difficult work. (24:45) 

Yossi gives advice to Tier 2 and Tier 3 manufacturers on how to survive a pandemic. He says they need to ensure they are not too leveraged. He also encourages membership in larger manufacturing associations so they have a voice that represents their types of businesses in Washington. (28:45)

Yossi says he is skeptical that significant manufacturing work in China will return to the US or move elsewhere because it is extremely difficult to replicate the extensive supply chain infrastructure that already exists in China. He says some final assembly of products may leave China, but the parts will continue to be made there. He says this is why it is vital to keep the manufacturing and proprietary knowledge that is already in the United States from leaving. (31:50)

Yossi says that one of the most interesting things he has learned about recently is the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Israel. He says one key difference between the vaccination process in Israel verses in the US is that in the US patients are required to sign legal wavers to protect against lawsuits, while in Israel just getting in line is considered legally signing off on the procedure. This enables much greater efficiency in the vaccination process. (32:55)

Question: What would you have done differently in 2020?

 

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2020, Yu Is Gone

By Lloyd Graff

What do I want to write about in the last blog of 2020? Baseball, naturally. 

My Chicago Cubs traded their Most Valuable Player, pitcher Yu Darvish, to the San Diego Padres yesterday for four prospects and a journeyman pitcher. It signaled the end of a six-year streak of playoffs or at least contention, that changed the way the world had always looked at the Cubs as lovable losers. It is likely the stars of the 2016 World Series winning team will be mostly gone soon, perhaps even before the 2021 season begins. 

I know you probably couldn’t care less about the ruminations of a lifelong Cubs fan, but the process the team management is going through is what every business owner and virtually every person with a life must go through at various times. 

A kid matures physically into an adult. He or she is confronted with a fistful of choices. Who are they? Are they questioning and rebellious, or happily passive? Do they learn new stuff easily, or is school work a strange foreign language? Are they possibly even stuck in the wrong person’s body?

Adults often choose a partner at a young age and discover the choice was a bad one a few years later. A business runs into headwinds because the market for their product shifts, like what happened recently in the oil patch. New technology obsoletes their special knowledge, or political pressure destroys their market as we saw with tobacco.

In a few days we sail into 2021. Uncertain waters for sure. The Cubbies acknowledged that the team they have been for half a decade can no longer win. 

The American government will have new management in Washington. A tough year, with everything revolving around a destructive virus, is ending. 

How about you? Are you stuck? Or are you feeling agile and motivated? Do you see an interesting, alluring new path, or are you just happy as a daisy sitting right where you are now?

Cubs star pitcher, Yu Darvish

Personally, I’m quite okay at this moment, although the machinery business was a bummer in 2020. Selling multi-spindle screw machines was a dismal path which we have veered from. Lingering too long in that briar patch left us quite scratched up. Getting rid of the players or product that you have won with for many years is tough, like trading your best pitcher for 18-year-old prospects. But it is exciting too. It gives you hope.

When you know in your bones that the old course is a certain loser, the smart thing to do is to study the options, talk to the scouts–and jump.

Happy New Year.

Question: What will you miss about 2020?

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Ep. 106 – The Machining World of 2020, with Noah and Lloyd Graff

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

On today’s show we’re looking back on the year 2020.

Obviously, it was a tough year for the majority of people around the world. Loved ones were taken away, and many businesses couldn’t stay afloat. There were a lot of things that sucked. But there were a few pleasant surprises along the way as well. People adapted, they embraced limitations, and even found new opportunities for success.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Lloyd says that one of the first things that comes to mind when he thinks of 2020 is his fear of getting COVID-19. He says his brain is constantly occupied by considering all of the safety precautions he has to take. (1:55)

Noah says he is tired of everyone talking about COVID-19 almost as much as he is tired of the actual presence of the virus. (2:30)

Lloyd says one interesting trend he has noticed in 2020 is that despite Tesla’s stock quadrupling and the media’s dire predictions about man made climate change, Americans are buying a lot of SUVs and trucks, rather than electric cars. He says this should be a positive signal for the precision machining industry that the internal combustion engine is going to stay relevant for a while. (3:13)

Noah and Lloyd comment about a weak cam multi-spindle market in 2020 and remark that CNC multi-spindles are too expensive for a lot of endusers. (5:10)

Lloyd talks about how the PPP was a successful governmental program despite the fact that some fraudsters took advantage of it. He says the PPP was essential for medium and small companies when business fell apart in April. He says if it had not been for the PPP small businesses would have been decimated and the supply chain would have been in disarray. However, it was not as successful for various small businesses who didn’t have relationships with good bankers. The big question now is if the PPP money will be taxed. This will affect a lot of businesses, including Graff-Pinkert. (5:30)

Noah says used CNC Swiss machines were a very hot item in 2020.  Lloyd says companies had great years if they were in the firearms business or doing medical work related to fighting COVID-19. However, medical work for applications other than fighting the pandemic was soft because many medical procedures were postponed while hospitals focused on fighting COVID-19. Also the commercial aerospace business was soft because of Boeing’s internal problems and less people flying. (7:30)

Noah and Lloyd remark that despite the CNC Swiss boom, Graff-Pinkert recently bought several cam multi-spindles including an ACME-GRIDLEY 1-1/4” RB-8 and 1-5/8” RBN-8. Lloyd says that it could be a good year in automotive because of a strong demand for SUVs. (11:15)

Lloyd says a surprising trend in 2020 was that the stock market thrived despite the pandemic. Not only are all the major stock indexes at all time highs, profits for major companies are also expected to be at all time highs. However, this does not include the oil companies, who had terrible years. (12:40)

Lloyd says that using Zoom to communicate with family was something significant for him in 2020. He has not seen has not seen his grandchildren in California for a year, but he feels like he has stayed close to them. (13:40)

Noah talks about he and his wife, Stephanie, moving in with his parents for the month of October while their condo was having work done. The ability for Stephanie to do her work via Zoom made it possible. While Noah went to the office at Graff-Pinkert, Lloyd, Risa, and Stephanie all enjoyed sharing a communal workspace at home. (14:30)

Lloyd says he personally knows many people leaving big cities like New York to move near their parents because the ability to work remotely has enabled them to go wherever they want. He says rent prices in New York are decreasing and real estate markets in places like Phoenix, Arizona, or Boise, Idaho, are booming. (16:00)

Noah says one thing he is looking forward to in 2020 is continuing to produce the Swarfcast podcast. He says it is fulfilling to him to provide listeners with helpful knowledge and entertainment. (18:40)

Lloyd and Noah reflect on whether more young people are going into manufacturing. Noah says he meets a lot of young people when selling machines. Still, he is not sure whether the owners of the companies he meets are indicative of the overall workforce in the machining industry. Lloyd ponders why more African Americans don’t go into the machining business. (19:20)

Lloyd says in 2021 he is looking forward to not talking about COVID-19, not fearing the pandemic, and being together with his family again. (21:30)

Noah says he appreciates that the pandemic has influenced he and his wife to spend more time with his brother and nephew because they have less choices of people to see and activities to do. He hopes they continue to do this after the pandemic ends. (22:00)

Noah and Lloyd discuss their favorite TV shows they binge watched in 2020. Lloyd says Outlander was his favorite show. He also liked The Right Stuff and Tehran. Noah also liked Outlander and Tehran, and lately he has gotten into watching The Mandalorian. (24:30)

Noah and Lloyd end the interview saying that one of the best parts of 2020 was getting to work together—usually. (27:30)

Questions: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

What favorite TV shows did you binge watch in 2020?

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Greeks and Turks Fighting COVID-19

By Lloyd Graff

The Aegean Sea is 186 miles wide, separating Greece from Turkey. The countries have a different alphabet and language, and for a thousand years they have hated each other. 

But today’s blog is about two Turkish doctors and a Greek veterinarian who came together to rescue us from COVID-19.

The story starts with Uğur Şahin, whose parents moved to Cologne, Germany, from Turkey to work at the Ford factories in the mid-1960s when Uğur was 4 years old. At a young age, Uğur committed himself to developing a cure for cancer, and became a doctor and scientist. 

His wife, Özlem Türeci, two years younger, also came to Germany as a young child. Her father was a surgeon at a small Catholic Hospital. She wanted to emulate the selflessness of the nuns she had observed in her dad’s hospital and also became a doctor and researcher.

The two dedicated scientists eventually met one another and fell in love. They got married during a lunch break and then rushed back to their medical research.

They were recognized for their impressive research, but like many visionaries they could not find the freedom and support they wanted working for a large pharmaceutical company, so they started their own company in 2001.

They received the backing of twin billionaire brothers, Thomas and Andreas Struengmann, to finance a company called Ganymed Pharmaceuticals. The brothers previously had made a fortune backing the early developer of Lipitor and saw a future in the research of Şahin and Türeci.

The Turkish doctors eventually became enthralled with a line of research developed in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania called messenger RNA, which they saw as a pathway to developing a variety of drugs and possibly leading to a cancer cure based on using the body’s immune system. They started a second company in 2008 called BioNTech, which included messenger RNA in its range of cancer research technologies.

They sold their first company in 2016 to Astellas Pharma to focus on messenger RNA at BioNTech. The Struengmann brothers continued to support BioNTech and now control 47% of the company. The significant fortune that Şahin and Türeci have aquired does not mean much to the couple, who bicycle to work from their modest apartment near their office in Mainz, Germany. To them, the money is primarily a vehicle to fuel their research.

Drs. Özlem Türeci, Uğur Şahin, and Albert Bourla

This is where the Greek connection begins. The research on messenger RNA at BioNTech showed promise for a flu vaccine to Dr. Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, the American drug giant based in New Jersey. Like many huge Pharma companies, Pfizer possessed the pieces that a relatively peanut sized company like BioNTech lacked. Pfizer also had loads of cash and manufacturing plants, including a vaccine facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which was underutilized. Many of Pfizer’s major research efforts had failed to produce a breakthrough drug in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Also its enormous acquisition of Wyeth in 2009 was considered unsuccessful. 

Pfizer’s board was desperate for fresh leadership, with its huge money making drugs having only a few years left before they went generic.

Dr. Bourla, though he had worked at many different divisions in several countries, was something of an outsider. With a background in veterinary medicine, he was brought in to shake up the behemoth Pfizer in 2018. One of his early moves was to establish a relationship with the young startup in Germany, BioNTech, run by the two Turkish doctors.

Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is the same age as doctors Şahin and Türeci. His ancestors were Sephardic Jews who had emigrated to Greece after being thrown out of Spain 600 years earlier. In World War II 45,000 Jews living there were rounded up and killed by the Nazis from 1941 to 1943.

Dr. Bourla’s family fled to the mountains, joined the partisans, and survived the war. They decided to return home after WWII. Albert Bourla grew up in Thessaloniki and studied veterinary medicine at the city’s university. After college, he joined Pfizer in the field of veterinary medicine and held several positions throughout Europe and in the US, culminating in becoming the head of vaccines for Pfizer.

Bourla still has a summer home near Thessaloniki, where goes back each year to be with the family and friends he left behind. But he did not go back this summer because he was all in with the two Turkish doctors from Germany, with whom he had become close friends. Dr. Şahin says some of his contractual arrangements with Pfizer are still unsigned because he has complete faith in Dr. Bourla to live up to them.

The two Turkish doctors and the Jewish Greek animal doctor had just one abiding goal this year–kill COVID-19 and save millions of lives. The first shots were given in New York City on Monday, where Albert Bourla lives today. We all rejoiced, including Greeks and Turks together.

Question: Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine?

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Ep. 105 – Selling Cow Bone to Medical Manufacturers with Mary and Jim Rickert

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the first episode of our new season about companies related to medical manufacturing.

Our guests are Jim and Mary Rickert, owners of Prather Ranch in Fall River Mills, California. Prather’s closed herd, in which no female cattle have been introduced since 1975, enables it to sell cow bone and other organic matter to medical manufacturing companies that require material from disease free animals.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or your favorite app.

 

 

Main Points

Jim and Mary Rickert talk about the history of Prather Ranch, which has been operated as an agribusiness since the 1860s. They bought the ranch in the ’80s. (3:30) 

Mary and Jim explain that Prather Ranch has a closed herd, which means that no new female cattle have been introduced for a significant period of time. It is a quite large ranch, with 2,600-2,800 cattle. The primary ranch hasn’t had any females introduced since 1975, and Prather’s backup closed herd has not had any female animals introduced since 1992. The animals are constantly tested for illnesses, and if they are infected they are removed from the herd. Also Prather Ranch only uses its own trucks to transport animals between ranges to further prevent infection coming in from the outside. They say their ranch is the truest example of “herd immunity.”   (4:10)

Jim and Mary talk about the Prather Ranch’s primary business, selling organic beef. The ranch even has its own slaughter house, which no other ranches have, to insure the meat undergoes the strictest health standards. (8:40)

Jim and Mary talk about their secondary business. In addition to selling beef to consumers, Prather Ranch supplies companies in the biomedical sector with raw biomaterials that come from its cattle. Biomedical companies want to buy organic materials from Prather Ranch because they can feel secure that the livestock don’t have diseases, such as Mad Cow Disease. (10:00) 

Prather Ranch first started selling organic material from its livestock in 1990 to the Collagen Corporation, which was manufacturing collagen for cosmetic procedures. (11:00)  

Jim and Mary talk about customers that took bone from cow femurs and machined into bone screws, pins, or plates. Then those parts were supposed to dissolve inside the recipient body. People at the time also were using bones from humans, but it was hard to get enough quality bones from dead people. Mary and Jim think that bovine raw materials are generally superior than that of humans because people can know about the animals it is coming from—the animals are in a controlled environment, unlike people. (13:00) 

Jim and Mary say that the bone screws and similar products made from cow bone unfortunately sometimes are rejected by recipients because their bodies recognize they are foreign materials. Human bone can also be rejected. These types of bone transplants are less popular now and have been supplanted by synthetic bones made in a lab. (15:15)

Jim and Mary talk about a startup company currently working on a new technology that overcomes the body rejection, which is in Stage 3 of testing. 

The following is a summary of the technology:

When a person’s bone is crushed, the company machines a slightly smaller replica out of cow bone using a 3-D scanner. Then undifferentiated T-cells are extracted from the patient’s body fat. Then they 3-D print new cells based on the extracted T-cells around the reconstructed bone. Through a series of other complex processes they join the new cells to the reconstructed bones. Afterward, the patient’s body hopefully will accept the new reconstructed bones. (16:50-21:30) 

Jim and Mary talk about other biomedical technology that companies are trying to develop using bovine products to improve the people’s quality of life. Jim and Mary say that it gives them purpose to be able to give animals a healthy comfortable life, produce healthy meat, and contribute to manufacturing products that can help people’s quality of life. They say they have been officially certified since 2003 that their animals are raised in a humane manner. (21:30)

Noah asks a few beef questions. Jim and Mary say that in their opinion male and female beef tastes the same. They say the taste of beef is dependent on how gently the animals are treated—less stress means better flavor. Mary’s favorite cut of beef is Filet Mignon, Jim likes New York Strip, Rib Steak, and some hamburger if it is dry aged with the proper type of added fat. (24:00)

Jim and Mary say they have recently learned about how to handle employees who have contracted Covid-19, as two of theirs just got the virus. (26:30) 

Mary says at restaurants she is hesitant to order beef because she knows too much about the typical beef producing process. Jim says he is a lot less picky. (27:00) 

Question: Carnivorous readers—What is your favorite type of meat or favorite cut of beef?

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A Divided Holiday?

By Lloyd Graff

The election is over and still the country is divided. No. Not Trump vs. Biden. I’m talking about getting together for Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 has messed up holiday planning. My wife Risa and I have not physically been with our California family for almost a year. We see each other on Zoom frequently and talk over the phone several times a week. We send lots of photos, do game nights, and even have an occasional party, but there is no popcorn via the Internet. 

We long for the hugs, the breakfast coffee together, the kids walking into our bedroom to schmooze or crochet or complain about school. This you don’t get long-distance, no matter how close your family is.

Along with millions of other stupid, lonely Americans, we have decided to take the risk having our family fly in to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I guess an equal number of folks have decided it is not worth the risk.

people on a plane wear masks during the pandemic

Thanksgiving travel plans are riskier this year

This will not be a “carve the turkey, watch half of a football game, and wave goodbye.” My daughter and family will fly enmasse to Chicago and stay for 10 days. They plan to quarantine quite tightly for a week before leaving and take COVID tests shortly before they travel. Assuming they are all okay, they will figure out the safest way to get to the airport, wear masks and visors at the airport and on the plane, and keep their two rows of seats as virus-free as possible. We will drive two cars to the airport, leave one, and direct them to the parked vehicle when they arrive. They will drive themselves to our house. We have a big enough house to allow Risa and I to keep our distance. Despite these precautions, I do understand we are taking a risk as the pandemic reaches a holiday peak.

Risa and I have played it pretty safe all year. She had heart surgery in January, so we both classify as threatened old people who have had open heart surgery. But she has gone to the hairdresser several times, and we both have had friends come to the house. Noah and his wife just stayed with us for 28 days while they had extensive work done on their condo.

We have all had our scares. If you are not living in an igloo alone, you are going to imagine and really believe you have COVID at some point. Two people at Graff-Pinkert recently got over mild cases of the scourge.

Our family has made its call. We will be together for Thanksgiving. Noah and his wife Stephanie plan to be with us. My son Ari is still undecided about what he will do. He works in a rehab facility and lately has been doing group therapy with people who have had very bad COVID experiences. He also physically sees patients as a psychologist. He is very COVID conscious. Over the last several months our visits have been masked and mainly outside. 

I want to know what you folks are planning for Thanksgiving. Maybe we can share some helpful ideas that can lessen the risk. Holiday visiting is a gamble. We are going to take the risk with genuine trepidation. How about you?

Question: Is it a stupid idea this year for family to fly in for Thanksgiving?

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