COVID-19 Lessons from Three Mile Island #2 — the NRC

My last column was about crisis management lessons I learned back in 1979 while investigating the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI). Let’s just say that FEMA wasn’t ready for a nuclear meltdown. Today we turn to the other federal agency I investigated at that same time — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). While FEMA was simply unprepared and incompetent, the NRC was unprepared and lied about it.

Like FEMA, the NRC had recently undergone a rebranding from its previous identity as the Atomic Energy Commission — a schizoid agency that had been charged […]

What an Epidemic is Really Like

Downton Abbey, episode 2.8.  

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham : “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham :   “Thank you, Mama. That’s cheered us up no end.”

A few decades ago I covered a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh. Forty thousand dead. The last time I thought about that trip was while watching the Downton Abbey episode quoted above.

Downton writer Julian Fellowes clearly knows nothing about cholera. 

Nobody dies of cholera at masked balls because people shit themselves […]

My first two predictions for 2020 — IBM and Trump

For 20+ years I’ve been writing predictions every January and I guess I’m doing another set now. But this time will be different for several reasons. For one, January is almost over, so it will slough over into February. For another, I always start by going back to the year before and grading my previous year’s predictions. I’m the only guy in this business who does that. But this year I am going to bury the score a bit because I need to start with a prediction or two simply because both are immediate and really can’t wait.  So I’ll do the scoring on Monday, but today I have two 2020 predictions to […]

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and our personal data

Facebook shares are taking it on the chin today as the Cambridge Analytica story unfolds and we learn just how insecure our Facebook data has been. The mainstream press has — as usual — understood only parts of what’s happening here. It’s actually worse than the press is saying. So I am going to take a hack at it here. Understand this isn’t an area where I am an expert, either, but having spent 40+ years writing about Silicon Valley, I’ve picked up some tidbits along the way that will probably give better perspective than what you’ve been reading elsewhere.

Much of this is old news. There are hundreds — possibly thousands […]

Trump’s 2016 Big Data political arms race

Events happen so quickly in the wacky whirlwind world of Donald Trump that it’s hard to react in anything close to real time, but there was an interesting story in the Guardian last weekend that I think deserves some technical context. The Great British Brexit Robbery: How our Democracy was Hijacked is a breathless but well sourced story about how a U.S. billionaire harnessed Big Data to split up the European Union and steal a U.S. Presidential election. It’s an interesting read, but the point I want to make here is that the tale was entirely predictable and if one side hadn’t done it, the other would have. Next […]