Never tell me the odds

The fall of Saigon, the Manhattan Project for Covid-19, plasma, what to do when you have to lay people off, Monopoly, and 7 other things worth your time.

When I started Understandably.com last November, after a year of writing Inc.com’s “Inc. This Morning” newsletter, I did not know would happen.

The one thing I did know for certain, was that there was NO CHANCE that a global pandemic would upend the plans of almost everybody on the planet.

Han Solo Never GIF - HanSolo Never Odds GIFs

So much for my predictive abilities.

Anyway, after 150 email newsletters here (and before that, 300+ “Inc. This Morning” daily newsletters), tomorrow marks the six month anniversary of Understandably.com.

Whether you signed up at 7:09 a.m. today, or you’re one of the sainted 1,000+ who have been here since Day 1 and read literally every single email, I have just two words for you.

Thank you.

OK, more than two: You’re amazing.

Also: Stay tuned.

(I’m not crying. You’re crying.)

I’m still experimenting six months later, and I was energized by the possibilities of the format I used yesterday.

So, with a few tweaks, here’s another installment. Additional feedback is always welcome.

Buang-Ly and Lawrence Chambers

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the U.S. evacuation of Americans and (some) allies from South Vietnam, in the final hours before the fall of Saigon.

Among the thousands of human experiences, let’s tell the story of Buang-Ly, a South Vietnam air force major who stole a single-engine, two seat “Bird Dog” airplane, squeezed his wife and five children (all aged under 6) into it, and fled to the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier offshore.

This was a daring flight. Ly had no way of even knowing for sure that the fleet would be there. And when he found it, Midway was packed with more than 3,000 other refugees (nearly half of the 7,000 who escaped in total).

With no place to land, the carrier’s commander, Capt. Lawrence Chambers, ordered sailors to push millions of dollars worth of military helicopters overboard. Ly made an impressive landing (sans tailhook), saving his family. Eventually, they made it to the United States.

Chambers, it should be mentioned, had only been captain for a short time, and he was the first African American officer to command an aircraft carrier. He later said he thought he’d be court-martialed for giving the order to push the other aircraft overboard, but that it seemed the right thing to do. Here’s video of the landing.

More: USS Midway air boss remembers heroic Bird Dog airplane rescue (KPBS); Vietnam War hero's flight to freedom remembered (NavyHistory.org); A bird dog, the USS Midway, and a damn gutsy pilot (Medium).

Tom Cahill

This next story: I love it, and I want to believe it will work. I also wanted to be careful before sharing.

So, meet Tom Cahill, 33, a physician by training and a venture capitalist by vocation.

He’s also the driving force behind a group of doctors, scientists and billionaire investors called “Scientists to Stop Covid-19.” Their effort is being described as a “private Manhattan Project” to try to find treatments, and maybe a vaccine, for the coronavirus.

In fact, as the WSJ puts it, they insist that they “have the answer to the coronavirus pandemic, and they found a backdoor to deliver their plan to the White House.”

The group has compiled a confidential 17-page report that calls for a number of unorthodox methods against the virus. One big idea is treating patients with powerful drugs previously used against Ebola, with far heftier dosages than have been tried in the past.

OK, so who’s on the team? Chemical biologists, an immunobiologist, a neurobiologist, a chronobiologist, an oncologist, a gastroenterologist, an epidemiologist, a nuclear scientist, a Nobel prize-winner, and others.

As one of the key people involved, Stuart Schreiber, a Harvard University chemist, puts it: “We may fail. But if it succeeds, it could change the world.”

More: The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for Covid-19 (Wall Street Journal, $). You can read their full, 17-page report here (.pdf).

Diana Berrent

Smaller scale, more personal, but somewhat similar. Meet Diana Berrent.

In the middle of March, she “woke up feeling as if she ‘had an anvil’ on her chest,” which marked the start of her personal battle with Covid-19.

She recovered, and then founded a Facebook group of 42,000 fellow survivors (and growing) called fittingly enough, Survivor Corps.

Besides supporting one another, group members have been donating convalescent plasma—basically the “liquid component of blood that can be collected from patients who have recovered from an infection,” which can contain antibodies.

Those antibodies “can give a temporary assist by interfering with the virus until that person mounts an immune response,” according to the MIT Technology Review.

“I vowed from the beginning that if I was going to be the canary in the coalmine, I was going to be the loudest canary there was,” Diana said. “We are flooding these programs with volunteers.”

More: 'Liquid gold': the rush for plasma and the Covid-19 survivors who want to help (The Guardian); Coronavirus Diary Day 1 (New York Post); Blood plasma taken from covid-19 survivors might help patients fight off the disease (MIT Technology Review); Survivor Corps (Facebook)

Steve Kaufer

Next, the economy. Steve Kaufer is the CEO and cofounder of Tripadvisor, and he announced this week he's laying off 900 people—a quarter of the company’s workforce.

It’s not a shock. Travel has been hit hard. So, let’s focus on what he and Tripadvisor say they’re doing for the people being let go:

  • Leading with a plea to other companies to hire the newly laid off employees.

  • Launching something called the Tripadvisor Alumni Network, to share tips and leads.

  • Asking everyone who remains behind to take a 20 percent temporary pay cut, “because it will enable us to save close to a hundred jobs.”

Adversity often leads to innovation. It’ll be fascinating to see if we can come up with effective, empathetic ways to help laid off employees land new opportunities—and kickstart a recovery in the process.

More: A Message to Employees From Tripadvisor CEO and Co-founder, Steve Kaufer (Tripadvisor)

Lizzie Magie

We round out today with a woman who has been gone for 72 years, and who died in near-total obscurity, having made a total of $500 for her most enduring creation (maybe).

Lizzie Magie came up with a board game called The Landlord’s Game, in 1903.

About three decades later, Parker Brothers came out with a very similar game called Monopoly—and with it, an origin story suggesting it had been dreamt up by an unemployed man named Charles Darrow.

There’s a raging debate among people who debate these sorts of things, whether Magie, or Darrow, or someone else truly deserves credit for the game. I can’t solve it here.

But I can tell you that Monopoly is making a comeback. Along with Jenga, Connect 4, Operation, and probably a bunch of others I’ll think of just after I hit send on this newsletter.

Sales of board games are up 25 percent, according to Hasbro—a nice little bright spot in an otherwise highly complicated toy industry, given China-based supply chains and closed retail. (Play-Doh is up too, in the single digits.)

“Consumers want our products and experiences,” Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said on an earnings call yesterday. “They are looking for connections and engagement during this time.”

More: Monopoly maker gets a big lift from lockdown (Wall Street Journal, $); Monopoly’s inventor: the progressive who didn’t pass ‘Go’ (NYT, $)

7 other things worth your time

  • Boneless chicken is first to go scarce as coronavirus hits U.S. meat supply. (Fortune)

  • Elon Musk bashes the US shelter-in-place orders as 'fascist.' (Business Insider)

  • Counterpoint to my newsletter earlier this week: U.S. marriage rates fell to the lowest record ever recorded. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • 70 percent of tested federal prison inmates come back positive. (Associated Press)

  • This must be a heck of a room to be in: federal law requires President Trump to set up a transition team, just in case. (Associated Press)

  • Fewer cars, but more speeding, has led to an increase in traffic fatalities despite lockdown. (WSJ, $)

  • Labrador retrievers are being trained as part of an experiment to determine if they can use their noses to detect Covid-19. (National Post)

Got comments?

View comments

Ideas and feedback actively solicited. If you haven’t subscribed, now’s your chance! (You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com.)

If you liked this post, please share it!

Share

One-click review and feedback: