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Why are so many US diplomats falling ill overseas?

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Joe Anderson


New and improved Stock Watch

E-commerce lessons from a bobsledder

The great Havana syndrome mystery


Editor's Note


Good morning. In the market for a new life hack? 

Yesterday, I ordered an iced coffee with milk and sugar from a street cart. I thought to myself, "So how is this guy going to dissolve sugar in iced coffee?"—a notoriously challenging task. Here's what he did: spooned in the sugar, poured an inch of hot coffee (which makes dissolving much easier), swirled it around, and only then went on to add the iced coffee. 

It reminded me of another trick my grandfather used to do, as moving around became more of a challenge for him. When he would put a mug in the microwave to heat up water, he set the microwave for a specific amount of time such that the handle of the rotating mug would face out when completed, making it much easier to grab. 

What I've realized both of these "hacks" demonstrate is an engineering mindset. Is completing a task a constant struggle? It doesn't have to be. Have a problem? There's a solution. 

Some of us view the world like economists, others historians, teachers, marketers. Thinking more like engineers could make our lives much sweeter. 

—Neal Freyman




Stock Watch

Surprise: new Stock Watch graphic! As we continuously tweak Sunday Edition to make it a better reading experience for you, we decided to update Stock Watch to a) increase readability and b) include more commentary on timely events. 

Stock watch graphic




Icebreakers With...E-Commerce Mogul Marc Lore

Marc Lore

Marc Lore

Marc Lore has been dubbed the "LeBron James of e-commerce" for his many accomplishments, most notably founding Jet.com and selling it to Walmart. 

He recently left running Walmart's e-commerce division to get his hands dirty with new initiatives, like buying the Minnesota Timberwolves with A-Rod. We talked to Marc about his next steps and how he managed to qualify for the US national bobsled team. 

You've said your next project is to build a city of the future supported by a "reformed vision of capitalism." What about capitalism needs reform? 

Income and wealth inequality is a result of capitalism as we know it today. And the problem that we will continue to face is that, in spite of all the material progress, there's always a class of workers who just barely sustain a living. 

Take land appreciation for example—especially in the early days when land went from being virtually worthless to worth something when you've actually built a city. Land appreciation is caused by primarily two things: 

First is when people build communities, other people want to join those communities and live in those locations. The second is about the tax dollars that go to infrastructure to support the city: roads, bridges, tunnels, subways, things like that, which increase the value of land.  

It seems to me that the fair way to do it would be for all this land appreciation—appreciation caused by the people within the city—to benefit those citizens and come back to them. We're calling it Equitism. And it's about being more equitable and giving citizens an ownership stake and, as the city does better, the residents do better. 

You've said that the "vision, capital, people" (VCP) framework is fundamental to every business. Rank those three factors by importance. 

That's a tough one and really against the framework. VCP isn't hierarchical—they all really play hand-in-hand. But if I had to pick the top spot I'd say people. Like most entrepreneurs, I didn't put enough importance on the Chief People Officer or Head of HR function early on in a company's existence. And now in the startups that I'm creating today, the Chief People Officer is typically the first hire, because people are the most important asset within a company. Having a really strong Chief People Officer can help set the culture and values and bring in the very best, most diverse talent. 

Vision is probably next. It's crucial to spend a lot of time on the vision, making sure it's super clear and everybody knows where you're headed. Then, of course, it's all about raising capital to put that plan into action. 

What will be the most disruptive force in e-commerce in the next 10 years?

I think we've only touched the surface of conversational commerce. By 2040, the retail search engine will be what the CD is today. Just imagine kids 20 years from now—they're going to be shocked to hear that we had to use a search engine when buying something. The fact that we actually had to type in what we wanted, look through thousands of options, filter by price, colors, style, and then read through reviews. 

In the future, buying something will be like having your own personal Jarvis. It'll know your preferences and likes/dislikes as well as your best friend does. In the future, you'll just say, "I need a toaster," and one within your price point, aligned with your kitchen style, and the colors in your home will arrive that same day or even within the hour. 

What is a fact that most people don't know about you?

People always love hearing my bobsledding story.

I was in my twenties and working in banking. One day I was having lunch down at the World Financial Center, and I see a bobsled track set up...for like five bucks you could come down, push the sled, and they'd time you. That was fun and interesting, but more interesting was that they were going to take the fastest time of the week and send the person to the US national team training camp.

The next day, I brought my sneakers, pushed the sled, and the guys there were like, "Whoa, that was the fastest we've seen anybody push the sled so far." It turns out I had the fastest time of the week and they invited me to Lake Placid to train for the next month. At the end of the month, there were tryouts and the top 13 would make the US national team. I finished 13th. 

What would you write on a gigantic billboard?

The values create the value.

When I graduated college in 1993 and started in banking I was making a $34k salary. The first thing I did was put a sign in my cubicle that read:


6 figures by 26
7 figures by 37
8 figures by 48

While those were ambitious goals, they weren't backed by purpose. I grew up a mercenary. I was born thinking that jobs were all about making money. I couldn't have been more wrong. Becoming a missionary was learned, and, when I became one, my career took off. I'd love for people to learn that earlier than I did.





Let's Get This Bread

Make It Work logo

Each week, our workplace whisperer Shane Loughnane answers reader-submitted questions about work in 2021. Anything you need some help with? Ask Shane here.

I absorbed the job of two people but I'm only being paid the median of the first (lower level) job. I get that times are hard, but I feel undervalued and under-compensated while others make close to six figures. How do I push for a fair raise without sounding insensitive, greedy, or insulting? —Shannon, CA

One of the best-kept secrets of the first stretch of my career was that a small handful of my colleagues were discussing compensation goals with their supervisor every few months, while the rest of us were patiently waiting for a bank error in our favor. You are your most important advocate and it's incumbent on you to kickstart the dialogue, since most companies aren't sitting around thinking, "Where can we spend more money than we have to?"

When you do make the pitch, keep it centered on you. While useful in helping to determine a fair ask, comparing yourself to others is rarely the best approach in practice—it's unlikely that you know everyone's unique circumstances, and that's an easy way to lose control of the conversation. Instead, focus on the great things you are doing to add value and the measurable outcomes of your work (especially those that underpin key financial metrics) by tying your deliverables to the goals and objectives of the business wherever possible.

While it's fine to acknowledge that times are hard, there will always be a reason for your employer not to show you the money (don't recommend this approach, btw). Running a business requires constant evaluation of how best to allocate finite resources. Not only is it reasonable—and decidedly not insensitive, greedy, or insulting—to ask that your employer consider the fair value of your contributions, but most managers would prefer a little candor now over an unexpected resignation later from an employee they may never have known was feeling undervalued.

A Shane by any other name

Last week I invited Brew readers to join the ranks of friends, colleagues, and countless exasperated schoolteachers in attempting to correctly pronounce my last name. Impressively, a few of you stepped up and nailed the correct answer, which is in fact, "Lock-nane."

As for the rest of us, I think Michael from NC probably said it best: "I'm fairly confident that Loughnane is pronounced 'L-off-nan,' but most confident that, when confronted with Loughnane, the correct pronunciation is 'Shane.'"  

Coming soon...HR Brew. Be one of the first subscribers to our upcoming newsletter on all things human resources.




The Great Havana Syndrome Mystery

BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 28:  The U.S. Embassy (R) stands near the Reic...

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

This summer, at least two officials at the US embassy in Germany felt so sick they couldn't work.

They complained of ear pain, splitting headaches, dizziness, insomnia, and fatigue. It felt like they were just sacked by Michael Strahan, or had stood close to a massive explosion. 

Turns out, they were suffering from an illness experienced by dozens of US diplomats and intelligence officers around the globe in recent years: Havana syndrome. 

Havana syndrome first showed up in—no surprise here—Havana, Cuba, in 2016, when CIA officers and State Department employees first reported distress. In the years since, reported Havana syndrome cases among US foreign officers have popped up in Moscow, China, London, Virginia, and, most recently, Vienna and Germany.

  • In July, the New Yorker declared Vienna, which has a long history as a playground for spies, the new "Havana syndrome hotspot." About 24 US spies and diplomats have reported symptoms since Biden took office. 

What's causing it? Health officials aren't sure, but they've suggested what's happening to these victims is not unlike what happens to a Hot Pocket when you heat it up. Last year, a committee of 19 experts said their best guess was that victims were hit with "directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy" that includes microwaves.

Who's behind it? Let's see...mysterious microwaves directed at American officers in cities all over the world...sounds like something straight out of the Cold War playbook. Bingo. Officials working for both the Biden and Trump administrations have privately blamed Russia's military intelligence unit, the GRU, whom they suspect may be using the pulsed energy attacks to steal data from computers or smartphones. 

  • Russia has a history of using microwaves to mess with American diplomats. In the '70s and '80s, the Soviet Union pelted radiation at the top floors of the US embassy in Moscow from nearby transmitters. 
  • One recent victim, who was working at a US embassy in Europe, told the WSJ it was "striking" that some people hit with the attacks were working on Russia-related issues.

Russia has denied all involvement in the radiofrequency attacks. 

Looking ahead...we wish this story had a neat and tidy conclusion, but there remain many questions and few answers. Lawmakers are putting increased pressure on the White House to solve this mystery, or risk putting more US foreign officers in harm's way. 





Open House

Welcome to Open House, the only newsletter section that wants to know your order at Dunkin'. We'll give you a few facts about a listing and you try to guess the price.

Skinny house in Boston

Atlantic Visuals

Today's property is the famous "Skinny House" located in Boston's North End. According to legend, the house was built by one spiteful Civil War soldier to block sunlight from reaching his brother's house, so it smells of exposed brick and vengeance. Here's what else it's got going for it:

  • 1,165 square-feet, 2 bed, 1 bath
  • Four stories high, but less than 10-feet wide
  • A private roof deck with views of Boston Harbor and an enclosed backyard garden
  • You can say you lived in the same neighborhood as Paul Revere. 

How much for a (really small) slice of Boston history? 




Just Click It

1. What happens when all of your co-workers quit? (The Cut)
2. The Sopranos of Berlin: A brutal crime family and a billion-dollar jewel heist. (GQ)
3. The beautiful world of heavy metal. (UnHerd)
4. Chasing the lava flow in Iceland. (New Yorker)
5. Dozens of traditional cultures use a whistled form of their native language for long-distance communication. (Knowable Magazine).
6. Really intense mountain biking. (ddangerous ddave on YouTube)
7. What's the point of calculating pi? (The Guardian)
8. The board game that's transforming an $11 billion industry. (Slate)
9. Why people who brush still get cavities. (FiveThirtyEight)
10. Five commonly used idioms in the tech industry. (Gitconnected)

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Meme Battle

Welcome back to Morning Brew's Meme Battle, where we crown a single memelord every Sunday.

Today's winner: Irfan Hashmi in Dallas, TX

Meme contest winner

This week's challenge: You can find the new meme template here for next Sunday. Once you're done making your meme, submit it at this link for consideration.




$1.2 million


Written by Neal Freyman

Illustrations & graphics by Francis Scialabba

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