The Weekender: August 5, 2016

1) “McRevolt: The Frustrating Life of the McDonald’s Franchisee ” (Bloomberg, 13 minutes, September 2015). In May, McDonald’s stock price hit an all-time high, reversing a half-decade in the doldrums. This article is from the end of that period where the burger king’s reign was at risk, from the perspective of Al Jarvis, a McD’s employee-turned-franchisee who, after fifty years with the company, sold his stores.

There are 5,000 McDonald’s franchisees around the world. They run 82 percent of the chain’s 36,000-plus restaurants and generate a third of its $27.4 billion in annual revenue. The average franchisee has six outlets; [Al] Jarvis had two, including one he built in Gun Lake, near Hastings. A lanky 67-year-old known around Hastings as Big Al, he likes to say he has ketchup in his blood. His watch is embossed with the Golden Arches logo. “McDonald’s was awful good to me,” he says. “I believe in the brand.” But like many of his fellow operators, he wonders whether executives at headquarters will figure out how to innovate while staying true to the chain’s promise of serving good-tasting food fast. Jarvis’s experience suggests the answer is no, and unlike current franchisees, who are reluctant to speak on the record because they don’t want to provoke HQ, Jarvis is free to say what others can’t or won’t.

“I don’t think they know what they want to do,” he says of McDonald’s top executives. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s go back to basics,’ then they’re doing these customized burgers, and they’re talking about all-day breakfast.” He shakes his head. “I feel sorry for the managers and the crew. That’s not our niche. We make burgers and fries.”

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3) “If You’re Lying About Being a Navy SEAL, This Man Will Catch You” (Washingtonian, 23 minutes, August 2015). “This Man” is Don Shipley:

One night this past winter, I came across a genre of online videos that absolutely fascinated me: “gotcha” footage of real military men confronting frauds who were posing as servicemembers or veterans. Stolen Valor, it was called.

Most of the fakers in these clips gave themselves away with careless mistakes of attire—a medal that wasn’t pinned correctly, ribbons that a real Army man wouldn’t wear. The authentic soldiers would close in to shame the impostors, shout about buddies they saw die over there and the memory these pretenders were sullying.

It was brutal to watch. As the hoaxes unraveled, the charlatans backpedaled and stuttered through cringe-worthy excuses as the cameras rolled for all the internet to see. Like rubbernecking past a car crash, I couldn’t tear myself away.

It didn’t take long to find the apparent king of the genre: Don Shipley.

4) “This Scientist Stung Himself With Dozens Of Insects Because No One Else Would” (FiveThirtyEight, 38-minute podcast episode, yesterday). I haven’t listened to this yet, so your mileage may vary. But here’s an excerpt from the summary:

Dr. Justin Schmidt, an entomologist, is obsessed with trying to codify the pain associated with various stinging insects. And the only way Schmidt has found to gather his data is by stinging himself, over and over, with more than 80 insects so far. His new book, “The Sting of the Wild,” chronicles that process.

The Schmidt Pain Index, as its informally known, runs from 1-4. The common honey bee serves as its anchor point, a solid 2. At the top end of the scale lie the bullet ant and the tarantula hawk (which is neither a tarantula nor a hawk; it’s a wasp).

Schmidt isn’t just measuring raw pain levels as he feels it, but also incorporating more subjective information into his data set. The honey bee sting is, as he writes, like “a flaming match head lands on your arm and is quenched first with lye and then sulfuric acid,” while a harvester ant produces “waves of deep, throbbing visceral pain.”


5) “22,000 Days Without Drinking Water” (Narratively, 7 minutes, August 2015). The subhead: “Bolivia’s populist president has vowed to lift the fortunes of the rural poor. But high on the Andean plateau, one remote community still has no access to clean water—and one man has the awesome responsibility of ensuring his people are not parched.” It’s a quick read with lots of great photos, too.

6) “The Pac-Man” (Kill Screen, 9 minutes, June 2016). Per the article, “only eight people in the world have achieved a verified perfect score on a Pac-Man arcade machine.” David Rice is one of them — and he’s done it faster than the other seven guys, and then beat his own record time. He’s the world’s best Pac-Man player. But he really doesn’t want the glory that could come with that title.

Have a great weekend!