Firewalls & Night Terrors 🔥September 6, 2019
Like countless other things, tech has ruined metaphors. Firewall now means “a network security system that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules.” I’m taking the word back. A firewall is a fire-resistant barrier used to prevent the spread of (wait for it) fire. A safeguard when sh*t gets real, that protects us from sh*t getting worse.
Some tangible firewalls — judgment, math, governance — are arresting fast-spreading threats to our commonwealth.
King for a Day
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson crowned himself king and decided to suspend Parliament and pursue a no-deal Brexit. This would be tantamount to our Dear Leader transferring, without the consent of Congress, funds earmarked for defense to the erection (and isn’t that what it really is, an old man’s erection?) of a medieval barrier at the border.
Oh wait, that’s happening.
Boris was king for a day, as people in his own party defected and rendered him obsolete a millisecond after he’d been unwrapped. I’m hoping this represents a bit of a reverse D-Day where the British people say no to the soft facism that threatens the two greatest democracies in history. The notion that Britain needs independence from Europe is laughable. History shows countries seek independence from Britain, not vice versa. America declared its independence from the crown so we could be free. Free to worship, free from taxation without representation, and free to enslave a people. But I digress.
There have been 64 mass shootings in the US in the last decade, and they are getting more frequent and deadlier. The response of our best and brightest — our elected officials — has been … nothing. People blame Republicans for being in the pocket of the NRA. They are. But worse, Democrats controlled both houses and rendered themselves flaccid on this issue. They blame the other side for being better at their jobs. There has been more legislation on tobacco than guns in the last decade.
The shooting at an El Paso Walmart, which killed 22 and injured 26, moved Walmart’s management to do something. Instead of offering thoughts and prayers, they chose action. Thoughts and prayers haven’t been as effective as Senator McConnell or the NRA promised. Rather than bullshit optics and NRA-funded delay and obfuscation, the management of the world’s largest retailer did what our elected leaders are supposed to do — listen, then act.
The hope of a republic is that genius solutions can be crafted from conflict, debate, and mutual respect. Government is tasked with preventing a tragedy of the commons, forming a consensus solution, and acting. Think what the government has done so far on gun control and contrast to Walmart, which has:
- Discontinued the sale of handguns and military-style rifles
- Increased the minimum age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21
- Required a “green light” instead of just no “red light”
- Started videotaping the sale of guns and only allowing sales by trained associates
- Invested in technology for robust background checks
- Discontinued the sale of handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition
- Asked customers to not exercise their open-carry rights when in a Walmart
The company has also offered to share their background check technology with other retailers.
So, this matters. Our government has impact on long-term issues — climate, healthcare, income inequality, civil rights. But doesn’t Walmart have more impact on the US in the short and medium term? The retailer is the largest private employer in the US, and serves 265 million shoppers a week worldwide. The firm’s top-line revenues are larger than the GDP of Hong Kong, and 75% of store ops management started as hourly employees. 57% of Walmart employees are women and, if a contiguous mass, Walmart real estate would be larger than Manhattan. Isn’t Walmart, at this moment, more the United States than the capital of the United States is?
Walmart accomplished what we’d hope for from our elected leaders. Striking a balance, threading the needle between constituencies, and crafting a solution that hopefully prevents more tragedies of the commons. Reaching a solution that likely reduces future massacres and reflects the will of the majority of Americans — access to guns, but not weapons of war, by law-abiding citizens after a background check.
Doug McMillon and Donald Trump walk into a bar. One acts presidential, the other is president.
Yesterday the WSJ credited me with shaming WeWork’s Adam Neumann into returning the $5.9 million he had received for the rights to the “We” name. Which is different than “WeWork” … so Adam should obviously get compensated for forking it over to a firm he’s taken $700 million out of and where he will have a controlling stake. Yep, not a red flag. There is a thin line between vision, bullshit, and fraud. The management and board (who welcomed its first woman this week — yay, WeWork) is prancing between these lines like long jump ropes in a master class of Double Dutch.
Yesterday the firm floated on background that it was halving its valuation expectations for an envisioned IPO. This is similar to me putting my Audi Q7 on sale for $1.2 million. And then, after getting a lot of “feedback,” lowering the price to $600,000 for the dressed-up VW Touareg. The Touareg, Audi Q7, and Porsche Cayenne are all the same platform/car. (Note: I don’t own an Audi — not how the dawg rolls.)
IWG is a Touareg at $50,000, and WeWork is the Q7 being marketed for the now low-low price of $600,000. Ok, it’s got an IPA tap in the passenger seat and reclaimed wood trim, but it’s not worth 12x the Touareg.
I said on Bloomberg yesterday that the WeWork IPO is not going to happen. The firewalls of scrutiny and math have arrested the fire of retail investor fleecing. The reason the fire got this far? We didn’t realize there was a fire, and then … Uber. Uber is crashing, and will begin a decline, along with Lyft, that makes the drop to this point seem quaint. The only component of the business that’s scaling is the ride-hailing firm’s losses.
A more interesting story may be unfolding. What happens when SoftBank has to mark its book at the market? They have raised debt based on the WeWTF valuation, which at a minimum has been halved. JPM has likely lent Adam money secured by his stock that will require serious disclosure (“But we thought retail investors/idiots would bail us out!”).
Who will take a day-long exhale if and when this IPO is shelved? The JPM and Goldman equity analysts tasked with throwing feces at tourists visiting the unicorn zoo. These analysts could soon be asked to testify when Congress revisits the shortcomings of Sarbanes-Oxley — legislation that was supposed to prevent a conflict between banking and research. Any analyst who claims this firm is worth more than $10 billion is lying, stupid, or both.
Prediction: Within 30 days — on a Friday or under cover of another big story — WeWTF announces it’s shelving its IPO due to market conditions, or some such.
9- and 12-Year-Old Firewalls
The only profound thing I’ve ever done is to partner with someone and bring into the world, and love, two boys. The work, the fake relevance, the money, is all a means to the ends. My ends wear Iron Man and Darth Vader pajamas. Still, I find time to turn inward, shut them out, and focus on what’s not right with my life (approximately 0.1%). I’m working on a new business, and it’s been stressful. Or more stressful than the three-year victory lap I’ve been on since selling L2. I’m anxious and digress into feeling sorry for myself — can’t stand this tendency.
Two weeks ago, my youngest fell ill. We knew something was wrong, as he became … nice. Most days, my youngest spends his time assessing weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the household. It’s as if strangers have invaded — his mom, dad, and brother. He is bold and deeply committed to an ideology we don’t understand. He strikes when we least expect it. He’s our insurgent.
But today, he’s nice, weak, kind, and telling us he loves us. Then he says something nice to his brother. That’s it, something is seriously wrong. His fever is skyrocketing, and we take him to the emergency room. They run tests and tell us he has the flu. They send us home. That night around 1am, we hear what sounds like an old lady screaming over and over: “SO? SO? SO?” His mom and I run up to his room. He is sitting up, drenched in sweat, pleading for answers from someone we can’t see. I sit on the bed in front of him and try to comfort him:
“It’s all right, Nolan, we’re here. It’s all right.”
He grabs my hands, clenching them like a Nintendo controller, and then looks directly into my eyes, but right through me.
“I’m sorry,” he says. And again, only louder and more distressed: “I’m Sorry!”
Now yelling, and incredibly distraught: “I’m sorry, Mom, I’M SORRY!”
We can’t snap him out of this, and it feels as if we’re in a cheap remake of Poltergeist or the Amityville Horror. But this is definitely not funny. It’s frightening.
Moments of clarity. When you see the forest for the trees. Perspective. At that moment, all my other concerns are just referred narcissism. Trivialities. You just want your kid to be better. Nothing else matters. Nothing else has purchase in your soul. The fires of a need for relevance, worrying about things I can’t control, or blaming others for my own deficiencies have been, for now, arrested. As long as the people I love and who love me are healthy, everything else is just noise.
I lose my self-absorption for a moment and think about the millions, maybe billions, of people in a constant state of despair over the well-being of their children. Facing, every day, things they can’t control — that aren’t their fault or their doing — that threaten their kids’ well-being. Except it feels like it’s your fault. Our only real job here is to ensure our kids survive and prosper. Any threat to this survival/prosperity is the ultimate failure. It cuts to tissue and emotions you didn’t know existed.
We walk our youngest downstairs in an attempt to break him from his night terror. He calms and falls asleep. We debate for an hour if we should go back to the emergency room, but decide to let him sleep in our bed, taking his temperature every 30 minutes. The next day we watch him like a hawk. He’s still not well, but he’s not levitating, spinning his head, or speaking in tongues.
The following morning his brother can’t find the remote. After searching for 20 minutes and giving up, our recently possessed son reaches into his underwear, pulls out two AA Duracell batteries and chucks them at his brother’s face. He then announces he won’t brush his teeth that day. He will not be eating again, ever, as we don’t cook broccoli right. A wave of relief. He’s better. The insurgent is back.
Democracies, math, nine-year-old sons. All firewalls.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Secondaries make sense. WeWork doesn’t.