Making Music Money

Many of America’s favorite musical stars are selling the rights to all or part of their catalogs of songs–and making big money in the process. Neil Young has sold 50 percent of the worldwide copyright and income interests to his extensive, 1,180-song catalog to an investment firm for an undisclosed sum. Bob Dylan has sold the rights to his entire songwriting catalog for an estimated $300 million, David Bowie’s estate sold his catalog of songs for a reported $250 million, and now Bruce Springsteen has sold his music rights in what is reported to be the biggest deal of all–bringing in more than $500 million.

Why are the songs of these legendary artists fetching such huge sums? Basically, it is because the world has an insatiable appetite for music, and the avenues for music consumption are ever increasing, with songs now being played on streaming services, home fitness devices like Peleton, cellphone apps, and social media videos of people doing weird things to the tune of a particular song that can go viral. Those avenues for revenue go along with more traditional sources like movie soundtracks, TV shows, commercials, and of course radio play. And the purchasers apparently also hope to cash in on other potential sources of revenue, like coffee table books, biopics, and even knitting an artist’s diverse songs into a semi-coherent narrative for a Broadway musical and follow-on movie.

Still, some industry observers wonder if the purchasers–who are paying significant multiples of standard valuation metrics–aren’t overpaying for the music, and betting on ways to monetize the music that might not pan out. I’m skeptical of concerns about overpayment, though. When you are talking about songs that have been popular for 50 or 60 years, you can be pretty confident that the popularity will endure. And with the multiplication of methods for consumption of music that we are experiencing, it seems like there will be lots of opportunities to collect copyright payments for the rock music classics.

I’m glad for the artists who are realizing the financial fruits of their life’s work. I’ve loved Neil Young’s music for 50 years, and if his sale makes his life in his later years easier, I’m all for it. The sale agreements in some cases, like Neil Young’s, apparently allow the artists to exercise some continuing, contractual control over the use of their oftent highly personal songs. And if there is risk that the firms have overpaid, at least that is risk borne by a corporate entity, and not the individual artist. Let the creative spirits who have enriched our lives enjoy the benefits, and left the corporations take all the risks.

Living In Record TV Time

The ’60s was when people first became concerned about television. Social scientists and commentators railed against the “idiot box” that was turning our brains to mush and converting formerly active, intelligent, inquisitive people into soft, slack-jawed shmoos soaking up whatever mind-numbing offering might appear on their TV set.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow survived our constant exposure to the TV set that had a prominent place in our living rooms. But I’ve got news for you, folks: when it comes to TV, the ’60s was nothing compared to where we are right now. As The Hollywood Reporter noted yesterday, the number of English-language scripted TV shows that are available for viewing in the United States hit an all-time high last year. Across broadcast, cable, and streaming services, in 2021 559 English-language shows were available. That’s 13 percent more than in 2020 and 5 percent higher than the previous record in 2019. And consider this astonishing statistic reported in the THR article: “The total number of scripted shows has more than doubled in the last decade; in 2011 there were 266 scripted series.” What’s more, that 2021 record number doesn’t include any of the non-English-scripted shows that people are watching, like Squid Game or Money Heist.

In short, Americans are literally saturated with TV these days. Unlike the ’60s, when there were only three broadcast channels and one or two snowy UHF options, all of which terminated their broadcasts at some point in the early morning hours, you now could watch programming 24 hours a day, every day–and not even scratch the surface of what is available for viewing. And in the COVID era, it’s become increasingly easy to ditch the masks, slouch back on your couch, and immerse yourself in TV, rather than going out to do anything. I’m sure that part of what is driving the TV production boom is the fact that so many worried people are choosing to stay home rather than venture outside into the scary potential omicron infection zone. Rather than take that risk, why not just camp out and watch the latest hot streaming series?

As I mentioned, those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow avoided the confident predictions that we would become a bunch of brain-dead zombies–at least, I think we did– and hopefully that will prove true, again, in the aftermath of the current TV-soaked period. But it is concerning that TV shows have become such a huge part of our lives, to the point where our voracious appetite for programming is driving the TV production industry to new heights. We’d all be better off if we decided to get off the couch now and then, turn off the TV or computer, and get outside to interact with other living human beings.

Communication Confusion

Last night, a group of us were at an event when the conversation turned to punctuation and communication. This isn’t unusual. My friends and I have debated a number of punctuation-related issues, such as the appropriate use of exclamation points, the correct application of “apostrophe s,” and the new emphasis on the “em dash.” Some might find it surprising–and, frankly, boring–that lawyers would discuss punctuation and communication at a social function, but they really shouldn’t: attorneys will argue about anything, and lawyers arguing about punctuation and communication tools is like most people arguing about sports.

The conversation last night, though, was a bit different because some of the firm’s younger attorneys were involved. And it quickly became clear that these earnest twenty-somethings pay extremely careful attention to the crafting of the written messages they receive and the mode of communication employed, too. When they report to another lawyer and receive a “Thanks.” response, versus the more enthusiastic “Thanks!” reply, it has an impact on them. And they explained that a terse “thx” would be viewed as exceptionally dismissive, and perhaps even veering into the “personal affront” category.

Moreover, these thoughtful folks aren’t just reacting to punctuation and abbreviations, they also have views on messages conveyed the mode of communication. Email is viewed as the appropriate channel for work communication, and texting is for personal communication, so if you get a work-related communication via text that tells you something important. The “chat” function on our firm’s “Teams” application is somewhere between those two on the spectrum of work versus personal, and the use of the messaging function during a Teams video call has an etiquette all its own. And that doesn’t even begin to capture the complexities introduced by social media or, for that matter, emoticons or memes.

This discussion caused me to mentally revisit my recent communications to consider whether I have inadvertently engaged in communications that might be perceived as rude or intrusive into personal spaces. I typically send a “Thanks!” response, so I think I am OK in avoiding that faux pas, and I don’t really text about work matters. But the ever-changing rules of the game can be a bit overwhelming for an old guy whose career began in an era before email, cellphones, and social media were invented.

One important thing to remember is that communication is a two-way street, and that implicit messages that one party might read into a communication may well not be intended by a sender who is ignorant of the latest practices and sensibilities. Training on the new rules and tools would probably be advisable for fogies like me.

A Gift From Amazon

Earlier this week a somewhat battered Amazon package, about the size of a shoebox, was delivered to my office. I figured it was something that Kish had ordered, so that night I lugged it home. As I carried it, it felt kind of weird, with the weight of the box shifting around as I transferred it from one arm to another on the walk home, in a way that indicates that you are carrying a liquid. Intrigued, I wondered what in the world was in the box.

When I got home I presented the box to Kish. She was puzzled because she wasn’t expecting a delivery from Amazon, so we opened the box, somewhat gingerly . . . and found a shrink-wrapped two-pound plastic bottle of “April fresh” Tide detergent with “a touch of Downy.” Even more mystified, we then took a careful look at the bottle and the box. The bottle was sealed with a sticker that read: “The person who lovingly packaged this item wants to know if you love it. Share a review.” The packing tape on the box said “Wow, now that’s a gift,” and the label indicated that the box came from “Amazon Fulfillment Services.”

Putting all of this together, we concluded that Amazon has sent us an unrequested but “lovingly packaged” container of laundry detergent through the mail as a gift, and hopes that we “love it.” Normally we don’t think in terms of “loving” ordinary household items like a bottle of Tide–even if it includes a soupcon of fabric softener–but we are certainly appreciative, because you definitely never want to run out of laundry detergent. And we also are left to wonder what might be the next gift we receive from the friendly folks at Amazon. A bottle of Windex or Lemon Pledge, perhaps?

In A State Of Constant Stimulation

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the initial governmental shutdown orders of 2020–and are still dealing with the various variants of COVID-19–some members of Congress are back to considering whether more “stimulus” efforts should be undertaken, and a two-year-old Change.org petition calling on the federal government to send out $2,000 monthly “stimulus” checks to all Americans has passed the 3 million signature mark.

The initiators of the petition contend that, even after two years of various “stimulus” payments, the $2,000 monthly checks are needed because of uncertainty about what could happen if the government orders a new round of closures, if schools require remote learning, or if other disruptive events occur. The article linked above quotes the initiators of the petition as saying that signers are trying to send a message: “‘We just need certainty. We need to have something we can plan on month after month.’”

In short, for some people what began as an effort to help individuals and businesses while the country dealt with the economic shock of the initial, purportedly short-term “flatten the curve” shutdowns, through “stimulus” checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, and readily available business loans, has morphed into a quest for guaranteed, federally funded monthly income that would apparently extend into the indefinite future. When you reach that point, it can’t reasonably be called a “stimulus” payment anymore–unless you accept that our economy now is in need to constant “stimulation,” like a Frankenstein’s monster that is forever being zapped with high-voltage electricity in order to keep going. And such a budget-busting monthly payment obviously would have significant inflationary effects and other long-term consequences for the economy generally and the labor market specifically.

An interesting point is that the primary stated reason for the requested monthly checks is the impact of governmental decisions, like closure orders and requirements for virtual schooling from home, on individuals and families. Perhaps the real lesson from the petition isn’t that some people would like to continue to get governmental checks–that’s really no surprise–it is that governmental entities need to think twice about consequences before issuing new sweeping and disruptive orders after two years of COVID edicts.

Cursed COVID

The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are cursing more, thanks to COVID. The article notes that the use of “bad words” on social media and in general conversation has increased, and suggests that the epidemic of cussing is just another way in which the pandemic has changed our lives and our culture.

Why has this happened? Clearly, there is a lot of frustration out there–frustration about masks, restrictions, cancelled trips, an inability to lick this virus and get back to anything approaching the “old normal,” and countless other things–and that frustration finds its expression in increased use of obscenities. And according to the Journal article, the shift to more videoconferencing and remote work is part of the reason, too: “Pandemic stress, the melding of personal and professional spheres, and an exhausted slide toward casualness are making many of us swear more. It is “a perfect swearing storm,” says Michael Adams, a linguist at Indiana University Bloomington.” Another person quoted, memorably, by the Journal contends that cursing “is the yoga pants and Uggs of language”–which should cause anyone with even an ounce of self-respect to picture that image and pause before launching into their next profanity-laden tirade.

I have no doubt that, if you could somehow precisely measure it, you would find out that cursing has in fact increased, and that the Queen Mother of curses is often used to modify “COVID” and “pandemic.” The big issue with this linguistic impact, as with so many COVID-caused changes in society, is whether it is permanent or will end when the pandemic finally rides off into the sunset.

I’m hoping for the latter. I will certainly give everyone the benefit of the doubt during this unfortunate period in our lives, but I’m hoping that the end of the pandemic brings a return to more civility. I’ve seen and heard quite enough of yoga pants, sweat pants, Uggs and Crocs–of the actual or the verbal variety–over the last two years to last a lifetime.

France Fried

The world is becoming an increasingly weird place. Here’s further evidence of that obvious truth: Popeyes Fried Chicken is planning on opening hundreds of its restaurants in locations across France.

The move into France follows highly successful openings of Popeyes restaurants in the U.K. and Spain. Popeyes, which has more than 3,600 restaurants worldwide, also plans on opening restaurants in India, Mexico, Romania, and Saudi Arabia. The Popeyes outlets in France will serve chicken raised by French farmers and will make its trademark spicy seasoning using locally grown ingredients.

How are those people who have zealously sought to protect the culture of France reacting to this bombshell? For decades, the proud French elite has fought a desperate rear-guard action to shield French culture and institutions from the encroachments of “Americanization” — as evidenced by this article about the topic from The Atlantic that was published in 1958. I remember learning in my French classes that France was so desperate to avoid the taint of American culture that it would create new French words just to prevent the French public’s adoption of American words like “supermarket.”

And now there will be hundreds of Popeye’s in France. What’s next: an Olive Garden invasion of Italy?

COVID Casualties Of The Travel Variety

COVID-19 continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, affecting not only health but also creating many other unexpected changes–in how, and where, and even whether we work, how we shop, how kids are educated, how we travel, and countless other aspects of American life. COVID has caused some business to close and others to reap record profits, and now it’s making life difficult for regional airports.

Those of us who don’t use regional airports probably haven’t noticed, but the airlines are retrenching and pulling routes back from the smaller markets, and are citing COVID as the reason. In November, United Airlines announced that it was pulling out of 11 cities, and this week Delta announced that it was cutting seven routes, including suspending service to three airports entirely. Lincoln, Nebraska, Grand Junction, Colorado, and Cody, Wyoming are the three cities that are being dropped from the Delta flight list. A Delta spokesperson said: “”Due to ongoing travel demand impact from the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to suspend Delta Connection service to these markets.”

That’s hard news to take for the travelers who use the regional airports that are affected, because the law of supply and demand teaches that with every drop in supply–in this case, of flights–the prices of the remaining options are going to increase. That means if you’ve got to fly to Lincoln or Grand Junction in the future, brace yourselves for sticker shock, at least until some small regional airline decides to start service in those locations. And if you live in an area serviced by other regional airports, keep your fingers crossed that your travel demand statistics are robust enough to keep the airlines servicing your airport, thereby producing competitive prices and justifying the money that your tax dollars spent to build the airport in the first place.

The “ongoing travel demand impact from the pandemic” that the Delta spokesperson mentioned is worth thinking about, too. Are people not traveling because they are concerned about their health, or because they have seen so many things get cancelled as new variants crop up and sweep across the globe, or because people feel that the masking and testing requirements that apply to air travel are so unpleasant that they’d rather stay home? And in the case of the smaller markets, how many travelers have decided that they would rather just drive to their destination and avoid the cancellation risk and the masks? It makes you wonder whether the impulse to just drive rather than fly, like the impulse to work from home, will be a permanent byproduct of the COVID years.

The Google Cookie Map

Obviously, I’ve got a strong interest in Christmas cookies. So when USA Today carried a story reporting on what Google searches indicate about Christmas cookie interests in different states, I had to check it out.

The Google American Christmas cookie map is based on searches. The USA Today article explains: “The map shows Christmas cookies that were over-represented in a state compared to the country as a whole. It includes searches from Nov. 29 to Dec. 6, as Americans were baking some of their first batches of holiday desserts.” You can see some of the “over-represented” cookies on the part of the map above, and USA Today helpfully lists them, by state, at the end of the article.

You’ll be pleased to know that, according to Google, Ohio and Michigan (improbably) share the same apparent interest in “snowball cookies,” whereas Maine is one of many states that is keenly interested in gluten-free Christmas cookies. Texas is focused on “Christmas cookie ice cream,” which seems like it is out of step with the rest of the country–but then, it is Texas. No one who watched Fargo and listened to the accents will be surprised to learn that North Dakotans want to know more about “Norwegian Christmas cookies.” And whereas states like Alabama, Nebraska, and Kentucky are all-in on “Christmas cookie fudge,” people from a number of other states are evidently already worried about their waistlines and want to know more about “Keto Christmas cookies.”

It’s nice to see the diversity that still prevails in the U.S. in the important Christmas cookie category. That’s why it’s so darned inexplicable that Ohio and Michigan are both focused on snowball cookies, of all things.

Down To The Last Monkee

One of the tough things about getting older is seeing your childhood heroes fall by the wayside. For example, it was hard to read that Michael Nesmith, one of the Monkees, died yesterday at age 78. Michael Nesmith was the “smart Monkee” who always wore a stocking cap with the ball on top; he was the favorite of the cerebral kids. Davy Jones and Peter Tork have already gone to the great beyond, so Nesmith’s death means that Mickey Dolenz, who was my favorite Monkee, is the only surviving member of the group. That just doesn’t seem possible. After all, the Monkees’ theme song said they they were the young generation, and they had something to say. So how can they be dying of old age causes like heart failure?

The Monkees were an interesting phenomenon, and in some ways a precursor for a lot of what has happened in popular culture. They were the original “fake group”–put together to be on a Beatles-knockoff TV show and also serve as the faux front band for music produced by studio musicians. As a kid, I didn’t understand how weird and groundbreaking this was: the Monkees had a TV show that I thought was funny, they drove around in a cool car, and I liked their records. (We faithfully bought all of them.) And the first record said on the back that each of the Monkees played specific instruments and sang, and you could hear their voices on the records. That had to be true, right?

Later I realized that the Monkees were in fact different from groups like the Beatles, because the Beatles actually wrote their own songs and played their own instruments and were accomplished musicians. But the realization that the Monkees were faking it didn’t change my appreciation of the Monkees’ records. We played their songs when I was in college, and I still listen to them. In fact, in recognition of Michael Nesmith’s passing, we listened to some of the Monkees’ songs last night at a gathering with friends and enjoyed them.

The difference between the Monkees and the other fakes that followed was that the creators of the Monkees didn’t scrimp; they got real songwriters (like Neil Diamond, who wrote the classic Monkees’ hit I’m A Believer) and real musicians to play the instruments, and also experimented with some cutting edge sounds that fit right in with where popular music was going at the time. My all-time favorite Monkees tune, Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day, is a good example of how bringing all of that together created something really good.

After the Monkees heyday ended, Michael Nesmith went on to have an interesting career and helped to usher in the era of MTV and music videos, but of course he was always identified with the Monkees, as his New York Times obituary linked above reflects. He seemed to be at peace with his role in the popular culture of the ’60s. Those of us who enjoyed the Monkees TV show and still love the music wish him well.

The Ceaseless Quest For Rankings

If you want some tangible evidence of how rankings have affected the activities of colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education, you need look no farther than Philadelphia, Pennsylvania– where a federal court jury recently convicted Moshe Porat, the long-time dean of the Temple University Richard J. Fox School of Business and Management, of mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to boost that school’s U.S. News and World Report ranking.

According to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office for Eastern Pennsylvania, Porat, who served as the dean of the business management school from 1996 to 2018, was convicted after the jury found that he had “conspired and schemed to deceive the school’s applicants, students, and donors into believing that the school offered top-ranked business degree programs, so that they would pay tuition and make donations to Temple.” The statement explains that Porat and two other conspirators “agreed to provide false information to U.S. News about the number of Fox’s [on-line MBA (“OMBA”) and part-time MBA (“PMBA”)] students who had taken the Graduate Management Admission Test (“GMAT”); the average work experience of Fox’s PMBA students; and the percentage of Fox students who were enrolled part-time, all because it was believed that better numbers for these metrics would result in better rankings for the programs.”

The scheme to goose the school’s rankings evidently worked, too. The U.S. Attorney statement explains: “Relying on the false information it had received from Fox, U.S. News ranked Fox’s OMBA program Number One in the country four years in a row (2015 – 2018). U.S. News also moved Fox’s PMBA program up its rankings from No. 53 in 2014 to No. 20 in 2015, to No. 16 in 2016, and to No. 7 in 2017.” Porat then touted the rankings in “marketing materials directed at potential Fox students and donors,” and “[e]nrollment in Fox’s OMBA and PMBA programs grew dramatically in a few short years, which led to millions of dollars a year in increased tuition revenues.”

The “rankings” established by publications like U.S. News and World Report have had a profound–and in my view, negative–impact on the world of higher education. Parents and students use them to help in making application decisions, and schools reorient their admissions standards and processes and make other important decisions in an endless quest to better their rankings. The notion that you can boil down the whole college experience, or a law school education, to a ranking based on metrics is absurd on its face, but the rankings give schools something to boast about, or goals to achieve. Never mind the distorting and pernicious effect the zeal for higher rankings might have on a school’s educational mission–or the fact that the rankings have become such a dominant force that they caused one school administrator to apparently engaged in fraudulent conduct.

We’re past the point where our kids are making school decisions, but this incident really makes you wonder how meaningful those rankings really are.

Kinks In The Supply Chain

We’ve been reading a lot about supply chain issues. Yesterday I had my first direct experience with the problem when I went to do grocery shopping for my holiday baking–as reflected in the above photo of yellow sprinkles and cream cheese.

Normally, I would buy Philadelphia Cream Cheese for my baking. It’s the brand that we had in the house when I was a kid, and I figure if it was good enough for Mom, it’s good enough for me. But yesterday our grocer had no original Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Instead, in the cream cheese cooler there was a little sign explaining that due to supply issues, they didn’t have some of the offerings you would normally find. There was a Philadelphia brand substitute, that promised one-third of the fat of normal cream cheese, but who wants to try a low-fat alternative in a Christmas cookie recipe? So I bought the Yoder’s cream cheese, which was only standard cream cheese that was available, and I am hoping that it measures up to Philadelphia standards.

The same thing was true in the baking aisle. To my surprise, there were no green and red sprinkles available, which are the sprinkles I typically buy for Christmas baking. The only sprinkles available were these yellow sprinkles, and the shelves for most of the other festive toppings, like chocolate sprinkles or tiny balls, were empty, too. So I opted for the yellow sprinkles, figuring yellow sprinkles are better than none at all.

I had similar experiences elsewhere in the store. It’s not like the shelves were barren; there was lots of stuff for sale. But if you were looking for specific things, like a particular brand of cream cheese, or flour, or sprinkles, you might encounter a void, and an explanatory sign, and have to find a substitute. It’s not what we are used to here in the land of plenty.

Of course, I can make do with yellow sprinkles, and a different brand of cream cheese or flour; Christmas cookies are not a life-or-death thing. But the little signs and the shortages made me wonder what else has been affected by the kinks in the supply chain–like necessary parts, or crucial medicines or ingredients for medicines, or other essential items and materials.

The supply chain problems are concerning. Let’s hope they get this issue figured out, and soon, so that we don’t experience some really significant disruptions.

A Spread-Out Shopping Season

“Black Friday” has come and gone, without a lot of the reports of shoppers pummeling each other or trampling security guards in a rush to get the special deals being offered on big-screen TVs or the hottest new toy. That’s because American shopping patterns appear to be changing, again and probably for good, and “Black Friday”–the day after Thanksgiving that had become the traditional madhouse start to the holiday shopping season–is becoming less of a focus.

CNBC is reporting that while shopping on Black Friday increased over last year, when many retailers operated on reduced hours due to COVID, in-store shopping was down 28 percent from 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. There was even a decline in on-line shopping on Black Friday, with retailers ringing up $8.9 billion in sales compared to $9 billion in 2020. And shopping traffic on Thanksgiving itself, when some retailers opened their doors, was down 90.4 percent from 2019 levels.

Analysts cited by CNBC believes that shoppers are spreading out their holiday shopping more than ever before and identified two reasons for the trend and the related drop-off in Black Friday traffic: continuing concerns about COVID and worries about the supply chain. A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation supports the “spread out” hypothesis. It found that 61 percent of American began their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

There’s no doubt that some people are still quite worried about the virus, and media reports on supply chain issues and potential shortages have likely had an impact, too, but I think the reason for the shift away from Black Friday madness has two other causes as well. One is earlier than ever holiday-themed commercials and retailer special deals (and holiday programming on outlets like The Hallmark Channel) that have served to remind people that Christmas is coming, and the other is a more fundamental shift in how to shop. During the height of the COVID pandemic shutdowns, even the most hardened in-person shoppers learned that they could basically do all their shopping on-line. When you see a special deal on TV in the weeks before Thanksgiving that you think would make a good gift and your computer is at your elbow, why wait to make your purchase?

I think the new approach might be something like this: start your shopping on your computer before Thanksgiving, take stock of the status of your shopping list when the boxes start hitting your doorstep, and then venture out to the brick-and-mortar stores in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the Black Friday madness has petered out, to fill in the gaps, get the stocking stuffers, and take advantage of any last-minute sales. Whether that scenario is borne out or not, we know one thing: the American consumer is flexible and always willing to try a new approach.

Another Month, Another Variant

The world is up in arms about the latest COVID-19 variant. The new variant, named “Omicron” by the World Health Organization, emerged in South Africa and in only a few days has traveled across the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci says he wouldn’t be surprised if the Omicron variant is already in the United States.

“Omicron” seems like an odd name for a virus, at least to me. It sounds like one of those anonymous planets visited by the Starship Enterprise where one or two guys in red shirts met an untimely death, or the name of one of the Transformers. But there is a rational basis for the choice. The WHO started naming the variants after letters in the Greek alphabet, and “omicron” is the 15th letter. That means we’ve cycled through 13 prior named variants. (The WHO skipped “nu” and “xi,” purportedly because “nu” could be confused with “new” and “xi” is a common last name–which just happens to be the name of the Chinese president). Of the 13 variants, the WHO has designated five as “variants of concern”: alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and omicron.

The emergence of the new variant has produced the by-now-familiar scenes of government officials scrambling to determine their responses, because “Omicron” is seen as having the “potential” to be more resistant to vaccination protection. Some governments, including the U.S., have imposed travel restrictions in an effort to allow time to determine whether the new variant is more transmissible than the “delta” variant that we’ve heard so much about. The U.S. has restricted entry by non-U.S. citizens traveling from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. Other countries have gone farther; Israel, for example, has closed its borders to all foreign travelers.

Brace yourself, folks: we may be in for another round of government-mandated restrictions, closures, and mandates. This time, however, the surrounding circumstances are likely to be different: regulators will be dealing with a population that includes a lot of mask-weary, restriction-fatigued people that might not be as willing to comply with new edicts. In addition, the legality of the prior COVID-related orders, such as President Biden’s vaccination mandate, are working their way through our court systems, and some state courts have struck down such orders on state constitutional grounds. The legal challenges and prior court rulings are likely to complicate the issuance of new, sweeping mandates by federal, state, and local governments.

So now we’ve got “Omicron” to deal with. In case you’re interested, the upcoming letters in the Greek alphabet that could become the names of newly emerging COVID variants are pi, rho, and sigma. I guess we should all be grateful that the “pi” variant didn’t show up before Thanksgiving, our greatest pie holiday.

The Year Of The UFO

Some people have dubbed 2021 “The Year Of The UFO.” A Forbes article published this week recounts some of the UFO-related event that have occurred this year. They include a spike in UFO sightings, as well as the release of UFO-related reports and documents by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Forbes summarizes the latter report as addressing “144 UFO sightings by Navy pilots since 2004, with intelligence officials unable to explain 143 of the sightings, but concluding they are likely real objects that could pose a threat to national security.”

The most recent milestone in “The Year Of The UFO” came just a few days ago, when the Pentagon issued a press release announcing the creation of a new program called the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. The AOIMSG will collect and review reports of UFOs in special use airspace, like the areas around military bases, to “assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.” The new initiative suggests that the U.S. military is taking the issue of UFOs seriously–which is quite a difference from the days when UFO sightings were routinely dismissed as reflections from “swamp gas” or other figments of overactive imaginations.

Of course, UFOs don’t necessarily mean we’ve been visited by technologically advanced extraterrestrial beings. But if other life out there wanted to visit Earth, it’s worth noting that our little planet wouldn’t be especially hard to find–as an interesting article published earlier this year points out. An Austrian astrophysicist considered whether other nearby star systems would be in a position to see our planet transiting the Sun, which is one of the techniques that our scientists currently use to identify planets in other star systems. She concluded that hundreds of star systems could have used that method to spot Earth since the dawn of recorded human history, and hundreds more could do so in the future.

Who knows? If there is life in those other star systems, maybe they’ve decided to pay us a visit. Let’s face it: as weird as 2021 has been, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.