Archive

Monthly Archives: December 2015

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

will-smith-concussion

Concussion is a knockout that will leave you dizzy from the impact of a movie done so well it is destined for Academy Award greatness.

Director Peter Landesman may have been the only person capable of bringing this incredible drama and great American story to the screen then making it leap into your lap with such rapt pacing and skillful storytelling that you can never look away. In every way Concussion is masterpiece storytelling.

Will Smith and Alec Baldwin may have achieved their greatest roles ever in this important film that showcases the frightening risk of head injuries in professional American football.

The true story traces main character Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian born academic and forensic pathologist with a north-pointing arrow for doing the right thing. His intellect and crusade for the truth are pitted against big American football’s establishment. The result is just like the skull-scrambling impact of players colliding after the ball is snapped.

Concussion masters the difficult art of pacing and dialogue. Simply filmed but opulently cast the movie hits the screen running and never backs off. I am not a football fan nor do I know much about the game, but the insights bring you into a drama turned sports story interwoven with detective thriller and sprinkled in romance that you won’t find in any galaxy far away.

This is the opening that should have set records over the holiday movie season.

There are so many significant and relevant dimensions to the film it is almost too much for one sitting but because of its subtle and precise delivery combined with perfect pacing it is deep, rich but digestible.

AR-310270317

The real Dr. Bennet Omalu.

One of the most significant features of the story is the starring role that education plays in the true story and the way it is featured in the movie. While sports drama create synthetic heroes dramatized in the guttural ethos of sucking-it-up Concussion celebrates education, determination and a dedication to virtue and truth.

We need a hundred more movies that celebrate virtue and education emanating from real life.

Don’t miss Concussion. It is a brain-swelling impact on the traditionally fluffy holiday film season that hits hard out of left field and will leave your ears ringing.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

GUNS-articleLarge

A New York Post photo shows activity at a local gun show.

Smith & Wesson, up 142%, Ruger Firearms, up 69%, Vista Outdoor (parent to Federal Ammunition, Savage Firearms, Bushnell optics and Camelbak) up 13%.

There is an axiom that Americans vote with their dollars, and the votes are in: Americans love their guns. They are buying more guns now that at any time in history. Why?

Despite fervent debate over gun law reform and national outrage about mass shootings the American reverence for firearms is not just continuing, it is growing. Here are some reasons why:

1. Firearms Symbolize our Defiance and Liberty.

From the pilgrims to the American Revolution, world wars, defiance of banks in the depression, and the emergence of equal rights the appearance of guns in our social and political landscape sends a clear message; Americans are willing to kill and die for liberty and equality.

malcolm-x-carbine-ebony

Our decisions about gun laws also say we’ll accept some “collateral damage” in the continuance of freedom. The unflattering reality of U.S. culture is that if we are willing to send our daughters and sons to war in the defense of freedom, we are also willing to let our sons and daughters die in classroom shootings in that same preservation. That’s an ugly reality, but America’s behavior confirms it as reality.

For some Americans, gun ownership is a “last resort” to maintain a voice in their own destiny, even if that voice is heard over gunsmoke and spilled blood. Exactly the same ethos exists in the Arab Spring. You’ve likely heard the colloquialism, “God created man, but Samuel Colt and Mikhail Kalashnikov made him equal.”

The rising volume of gun ownership in America could be an ominous portend- not about guns, but about our culture. Americans are hedging against some frightening outcome, real or imagined. It’s a sad commentary on our social condition if we feel we must resort to self-armament rather than democracy to guide our future.

James Hagerman poses with a .12 gauge shotgun in his Fort Collins home on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Sporting shooter James Hagerman poses with a .12 gauge shotgun in his Fort Collins home. Aaron Ontiveroz photo via The Denver Post

A significant motive for gun ownership is sporting, recreational or some other discretionary motive. The increase in gun sales is like buying anything before it may become difficult to obtain, like coins or stamps. This is an honorable and reasonable motive.

While our reverence for guns symbolize our attachment to freedom and liberty they also acknowledge our inability to move forward from ways of thinking we formed when gunpowder was invented in the 9th century.

In a perfect world we would own guns peacefully, target shoot, hunt and compete without gun crime. Not by rule of law, but by collective moral conscience. Despite recent sensational mass shootings most gun crime statistics do suggest a downward trend in gun crime. That is better news for gun owners- and our society.

2. Shooting is a Rite of Passage.

gun-ownership-decline-us

Learning to shoot is a rite of passage into adulthood for some. One of the first, and most solemn, responsibilities bestowed on young men and women. When I was 11 my Uncle Norb, Indiana Pistol Shot Champion, taught me the three rules of firearms safety. He made me practice with an unloaded rifle. The next day he handed me my first live bullets. The implication was clear, “You are old enough and responsible enough to use a gun safely.” It was a solemn and respectful passage to adult responsibility.

Later, in the U.S. Army, my shooting heritage helped me learn combat marksmanship quickly and I excelled at it. It was another rite of passage to qualify with various firearms, small and large. As each successively advanced qualification was earned it became a greater and greater responsibility, not just to myself, but also as a soldier sworn to protect the U.S. Constitution.

3. We Value Personal Liberty and Responsibility Above All Other Values.

Personal responsibility is a part of out National DNA, and the reason for the NRA. It is foundational to our country. Individual gun ownership is about more than shooting or owning guns to Americans. It is a last bastion of personal responsibility; a “line in the sand” between deciding our own destiny or having it administered by elected officials that some people believe are increasingly disconnected from their constituency.

4. It’s Human Nature to Place Significance on the Forbidden.

Some people have no real need for a gun, but are caught up in the sensationalism that surrounds gun ownership now. They go to a gun shop and buy a gun, perhaps not truly understanding the significance of firearms ownership. Hopefully this group will practice good firearms safety, get training to safely use their firearm and remain current in that training.

5. Before It Was a Political Controversy, Gun Ownership Was A Pastoral Affair.

Our image, real or fabricated, of the American gun owner has shifted from sportsman, hunter and target shooter to right-leaning curmudgeon and self-appointed vigilante. Like most arguments the reality spans the entire spectrum between those extremes- with mostly middle ground.

Guns used to be mostly sporting equipment. Today they are viewed increasingly as weapons. While they are both, this shift in perspective is due to worldwide conflict and crime, and also a propensity of mainstream media to report on war and crime.

Millions of older Americans became familiar with guns and shooting during the World Wars. Having developed proficiency and comfort with firearms in a military context, the transition to a sporting context in civilian life was part of post-WWII America.

LAFS-Profile-Julie_Golob

U.S. Army veteran, top competitive shooter, hunter and mother Julie Golob has been a voice of reason in the gun debate, but a voice that has received little attention in sensational mainstream media. Photo: Smith & Wesson.

Today the media does not report on Olympic shooting sports, safe hunting classes and stories about responsible gun owners. A more accurate look at the American gun owner is Smith & Wesson athlete Julie Golob. Golob is the reference American gun owner. She is a veteran, competitive shooter, a sportswoman, hunter and a mother and wife. Golob is the model for the American shooting sportsperson. She is vocal, responsible, educated and eloquent. But it is an uphill battle for a person like Golob. Her moderate perspective takes on an increasingly reactionary anti-gun lobby, the majority of whom have no idea what responsible gun ownership means or the role it plays in American culture. Golob’s primary mouthpiece has been social media like Facebook. Her message is successful and effective on that channel but seldom transitions to mass television news media, mostly because a responsible person teaching safe shooting isn’t good headline fodder.

It isn’t guns that have changed as much as it is society. Our society may be less responsible and is more communicative. Society feels more reactive and less contemplative. The collective voice seems larger while the independent will seems smaller.

6. Most of Our Society is Ignorant About Gun Ownership.

We are desensitized to violence through media. Violence enacted by “heroes” is a quick, profitable plotline for popular media from James Bond to Tom Clancy. Most Americans experience gun use in romanticized Hollywood film clips or gaming. They are detached from the responsibility of firearms ownership and the true role of guns in society. Popular media seldom depicts responsible civilian gun use partially because it is no more sensational than using power tools.

The truth about gun ownership in the United States is obscured by the circular, unwinnable arguments emanating from either extreme. There is a middle ground in the firearms debate, and that is likely where the majority of Americans reside, even if they aren’t vocal about it in social media. It’s likely this middle ground is what will drive our country’s firearms heritage forward.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

151207093511-06-obama-sotu-1206-exlarge-169

The President made several substantive statements during his address to the nation on Sunday, December 6, 2015. In the diplomatic subtlety that is a necessity from a U.S. President he signaled five key shifts in U.S. policy and additional changes in the perspective of his administration. Here is an analysis of the President’s remarks:

  1. The U.S. President told us the shooting in California was “An act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people”.

Key Shift #1. For two days after the shooting the media and government was reluctant to label this attack as “terrorism”. That word carries with it gravity beyond terms like “mass shooting”. It specifies a coordinated, planned attack by a group, not an individual, with the goal of undermining the way of life in the United States.

This acknowledgement grants clemency to make future policy decisions congruent with a new goal: preventing terrorism in the United States. It also signifies a different political environment. When a U.S. President acknowledges an “Act of terror” inside the U.S. the thematic and actual rule set for every U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agency changes. We saw that change before our eyes last night, albeit in the subtle words of a President practiced in measured language. But as of today, it is no longer business as usual.

  1. In the very next paragraph of his address President Obama said, “Our country has been at war with terrorists since Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans on 9/11.”

Key Shift #2. That remark further recalibrates our policy decisions going forward: We are at wartime footing now. Previous remarks have used words like “conflict” or the word “war” in a more colloquial context. This was a very George W. Bush-like declaration. President Obama said, substantively, that the United States is at war. That acknowledges the nature of the attack and grants a change in tenor toward our response, and our future responses to similar incidents.

  1. “…We will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens. In both countries, we’re deploying Special Operations Forces who can accelerate that offensive.” 

Key Shift #3. The President announced we have special operations forces deployed on the ground in Syria. Through the masterful use of a plural pronoun for Iraq and Syria referencing this first sentence, the President told us there are U.S. Special Operations forces on the ground in Syria. This may be the first executive acknowledgement of U.S. intelligence and military personnel deployed on the ground inside Syria. He also said, by masterful omission, they are there in a combat role by using the words, “…can accelerate that offensive.”

Specialoperationsinsyria

The President acknowledged there are U.S. Special Operations troops inside Syria.

In Washington-speak there is a difference between deploying small special operations direct-action and intelligence gathering personnel and using larger military assets from the U.S. Quick Reaction forces including Army Rangers, U.S. Marines, Army Airborne and light infantry units.

The conduct of a sophisticated and subtle special operations/intelligence war compared to the deployment of more conventional forces is the difference between treating a cancer with sophisticated chemotherapy that subtly targets key cells, or treating it with an amputation. The President told us we are doing the former.

  1. The President told us, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.” 

Key Shift #4. This suggests a recalibration for the President’s argument for reviewing gun laws when he asked for changes in weapons buying for people on an existing no-fly list. It isn’t easy to get on a no-fly list, and this step resonates with common sense in a time of war. It is also a minor concession from his more sweeping rhetoric for gun law reform. Polarized conservatives will likely still reject this proposed change in firearms buying law, but it does suggest a concession, however minor, in the President’s relentless admonitions for new gun legislation.

  1. The President brought the inertia of unity to his argument, acknowledging that “…65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition.”

This is an “all against one” war against ISIL. This acknowledgement of the balance of power and the cooperation of the international community is significant.

  1. The President said, “…We should put in place stronger screening for those who come to America without a visa so that we can take a hard look at whether they’ve traveled to warzones. And we’re working with members of both parties in Congress to do exactly that.” 

Key Shift #5. This administration has come under criticism for not being tough enough on immigration. This statement signals a shift in that mindset.

immigrants

  1. The President’s most important thesis statement may have been, “We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam.” 

America has become a culture that mistakenly seeks one solution to one problem. Any experienced analyst will tell you that is not possible, especially in a complex conflict. This is an asymmetrical war, not a conventional war. There is no front line, the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms and the battlefields are not the vast oceans, high skies and sweeping deserts on some faraway continent.

The battlefields are our churches, schools, festivals, arenas, shopping centers, airliners and anywhere a vulnerable crowd gathers that can be exploited through violent terrorism and instant media.

DearbornWEB

  1. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.”

 This continued agenda of inclusion and mutual problem solving is the most effective doctrine in undermining ISIL’s “us against them” rhetoric. A key strategy to any insurgency is to divide the larger opponent into polarized factions that will fight against themselves. It is the manifestation of the ancient Arabic saying, “The enemy of my enemy, is my friend” and it is exactly the doctrine ISIL is employing in Syria. Unity in the United States makes us impervious to that doctrine.

  1. “…It is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” 

More than just a call to reject discrimination, this is a call for all Americans to think more deeply and learn more about this conflict. Most Americans couldn’t find Syria on a map, or name its capital. They don’t understand the conflict. Rather than applying the template of old belief sets to new conflicts, Americans must seek first to understand this conflict before trying to apply old rules to fighting ISIL. This is a different war. There will be no carpet-bombing, no sweeping armored assaults across vast deserts and no squaring-off of infantry divisions. ISIL has no sophisticated air force (yet), no large navy and does not field massive armored divisions. They are a cancer, not a compound fracture.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

14206272

People are talking about carrying guns, gun laws and mass shootings. I was in a Long Range Surveillance Unit in the U.S. military and I grew up with guns in my family. But I don’t carry a gun. Here’s why:

  1. I Don’t Want To Live In a Community Self-Governed by Threat of Force.

I’ve traveled all over the world. Been to conflict zones on three continents. I have seen first hand what it is to live in a community governed by threat of force. That is not how I want to live. Our society and culture develops congruent with our vision. If our vision is an armed society, that will be our reality. If our vision is a society less reliant on arms to solve and prevent problems, our reality will manifest that way. That is how I want to live. So I do.

  1. Carrying a Gun is Inconvenient. 

When I did carry a gun it was a significant responsibility, and it was inconvenient. The heavy pistol concealed on my belt caused my pants to fall down when I went to the bathroom. The handgun dug into my back when I sat in a car. I couldn’t draw it in a hurry from a concealed position in a car anyway. When I got home at night I had to secure the weapon in my house. It was a lot of extra work and responsibility. I don’t want that.

  1. I Probably Couldn’t Hit Anything Anyway.

I haven’t pulled a trigger in over a year. I am not current or proficient in combat shooting. And, with the small pistols commonly carried as a concealed firearm, I doubt I could hit anything beyond 10 yards accurately and dependably anyway. For me to carry a gun and then employ it effectively and safely in a civilian setting I would need extensive re-training and then ongoing proficiency training. In the military we had to qualify with our weapons on a regular basis. I haven’t done that in a long time. Despite my military and civilian experience, I’m not qualified.

  1. I Don’t Want The Responsibility of Deciding Whether or Not to Take a Life.

If I carry a gun to defend others, and myself but I make a bad decision and accidentally shoot the wrong person, I would regret that- and cannot undo it. Carrying a gun is making the decision that you are willing, and ready, to kill. I am not- at least not at a moments notice in a civilian setting.

  1. It Is Unsettling to People, Especially Some of My Friends.

I have friends on both sides of the firearms debate. Some carry firearms, some are opposed to even owning guns. I respect both perspectives. I also consider myself an animal rights advocate, but I don’t brandish my animal empathy in front of someone eating a steak. Ultimately, we all have to get along. I am a shooting enthusiast, I love to shoot, and I own guns. But I do it respectfully. I know carrying a gun, openly or concealed, makes some people uncomfortable. I don’t want to do that.

  1. It’s unlikely I’ll Ever Really Need It. 

I’ve climbed mountains, fallen in crevices, jumped out of airplanes, visited all seven continents, swam with sharks. I’ve never been in a civilian situation where I needed deadly force. The odds are, I never will. I have had to take medications to save my life when I had a heart defect. I still have that heart defect, but I don’t carry the medications; because I likely will never need them again and it is inconvenient. I view having to use a gun to save my life as a very remote possibility. I don’t carry a fire extinguisher (although my house is full of them), a CPR mask or a personal flotation device with me (I live near water). Like a gun, it is statistically unlikely I will need any of those things on a daily basis. So I don’t bother with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Black-Friday-1

The busiest days of the retail season are here. Statistics are already emerging about how America is shopping during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday season. I’ve been a retailer across several categories for over 30 years in both brick n’ mortar and e-commerce, here are the trends I’m seeing this year:

There Were Many Poorly Executed Sales and Promotions.

Websites were poorly designed with too many exclusions and “moving parts”. Black Friday/Cyber Monday is not about shopping, it is about buying. Those are different things. The easier it is to buy (not shop) the more buying takes place.

The best Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions I saw were stand-alone sales. Some had separate websites designed months ago. The offers were straightforward and, because they were segregated from other shopping, there were no restrictions or exclusions. If you wanted the item and the discount was adequate, you bought.

Online stores with convoluted shopping/discount codes were less appealing. Coupon codes that were added in the shopping cart/checkout page of online stores resulted in the highest percentage of abandoned carts ever. Product page markdowns with clear “Was/Is” pricing drove faster conversions. When customers see the deal up front they are more likely to convert to buyers.

Cheating the System.

Shoppers looked for traditionally non-discounted brands in a discount setting. While this took work, there were “accidental” deals. Coupon codes that weren’t supposed to work on certain brands, did work. Social media was a hotbed of activity for communicating loopholes in discounts restrictions. If you did your due diligence, you could beat the system, but this was only for the most determined and resourceful shoppers. Based on the statistics there was a lot of Internet traffic, a lot of activity in carts, but a decrease in actual sales compared to traffic. There were more abandoned shopping carts this year than any time in history. That means e-tailers failed to convert.

The Best Brands Made a Clear Statement.

Top brands, both in niche markets and in broad consumer goods, removed themselves from the mayhem by offering small, simple discounts or simply not participating.

The biggest was outdoor retailer REI, who actually built an ad campaign around being closed on Black Friday called “Opt Outside”. Whether this promotion added to their bottom line is unknown, but it did increase their brand awareness and sharpened there brand identity. Because the REI campaign was classic contrarian marketing (“zig” when the others “zag”) it resonated well in the new social media landscape. One media outlet, GeekWire.com, reported that REI had a “26 percent increase” in online sales, attributing this reported increase in large part to the closed on Black Friday promotion.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-11-at-2.21.30-PM

“In a year over year comparison this year and last year, the retailers who closed their stores performed better than their leading competitors,” said Pascal Cohen, digital insights manager for SimilarWeb in an email statement. “In addition, day over day they also performed better for visits.” (from GeekWire.com)

There is Emerging Cynicism About Black Friday.

After the recession and recovery peoples’ shopping behavior has changed. Motives for buying include need and value, not want and discounts. People are buying when they need something (as opposed to when it is marked down) and they are buying by value as opposed to price.

Time Magazine wrote “The epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday-Cyber Monday shop-a-thon is over” in a report published hours ago. Time cited that Amazon.com’s sales were up significantly (about 6%) from last year, likely aided by their straightforward checkout system and price displays- but not deep discounts. There was also a huge increase in shopping from mobile devices. In a strong economy people are motivated by convenience, not savings. 

This creates opportunity for small, lean retailers with unique, high quality goods. It is particularly good news for retailers that are also their own brand, a new and emerging trend that helps retailers maintain profit margins, control prices and offers unique appeal to consumers.