Viewpoint: Should we trust machines to fight wars?


Autonomous weapons, with artificial intelligence, are portrayed as "the third revolution in warfare," following gunpowder and nuclear arms. The moral stakes are high as autonomous systems reshape the world’s arsenals.

Will these weapons challenge our ethics and accountability thresholds? Most likely. But let’s explore a few of the considerations, moral and legal, through the prism of how people will be increasingly removed from battlefield decision-making as conflict unfolds at machine speed.

Militaries define autonomous weapons as "systems that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator."

So-called "intelligentized" systems that longer term will evolve to independently surveil, spot, identify, engage, and precisely target the adversary. And to do that with better ethical outcomes than when people are at the controls.

The core of these weapons’ “brain” is advanced artificial intelligence. The marrying of AI algorithms, deep machine learning, and massive data sets along with sophisticated technology will transform the world’s arsenals. The science and caution over removal of human operational control may zigzag, but the allure of intelligent, nimble, precise, fast and cheaper systems will prove irresistible.

Russia’s president Putin made no bones about this transformation, purportedly saying in a 2017 broadcast that "whoever becomes the leader in [AI] will become the ruler of the world." Hyperbole? Maybe; maybe not. Regardless, the force-multiplying intersection of artificial intelligence and weapons functionality will prove consequential.

Avoiding adversaries acquiring a monopoly on autonomous weapons will lead to the competitive leapfrogging of weapons design with which we’re historically familiar. A technological vaulting across military domains: land, ocean surface, undersea, air, and space. Nations will feel compelled not to cede ground to adversaries.

All the more reason we can’t lose sight of the ethical issues in this arena, where utilitarianism is definable as measures built into the decision loop to avoid or minimize harm to civilians’ lives and property. Yet, some people may view automated weapons as existential.

The question often asked is: Ought we trust machine autonomy to do war-fighting right, upholding our values? Maybe, however, the more pertinent question is this: Ought we continue to trust people to do war-fighting right, given the unpredictability of human decision-making and behavior?

The assumption is that humans are prone to errors exceeding those of a smart autonomous weapon. It’s more likely that a human controller will make assessments and miscues resulting in civilian casualties or attacks against hospitals, schools, homes and buildings of worship. Modern history is replete with such incidents, violating humanitarian law.

Machine precision, processing speed, analytical scope, ability to deconstruct complexity, handling of war’s chaotic nonlinearity, and ability to cut through war’s fog and friction intersect with ‘just-war doctrine’ to govern how to conduct war according to moral and legal principles — all of which matter greatly.

Human agency and accountability will transect decisions around how to design, program and deploy autonomous weapons, rather than visceral decisions by combatants on the battlefield. New grounds and precedents as to who’s responsible for outcomes.

Accountability will also be bound by the Geneva Conventions’ Martens Clause, which says this: “[C]ivilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of . . . international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.”

There are no moral take-backs. Avoiding faulty calls, with unintended harm, is critical in calculating the appeal of replacing hands-on humans with the unbiased automaticity of machines. Autonomous weapons will outperform humans in regards to consistently implementing the ethical and legal imperatives whether conflicts are fought justly.

Such imperatives include discrimination to target only combatants; proportionality in line with the advantage; accountability of participants; and necessity in terms of the least-harmful military means chosen, like choice of weapons, tactics, and amount of force applied.

Treaty bans on systems’ development, deployment and use likely won’t stick, given furtive workarounds and the enticement of geostrategic advantage. Regulations, developed by multidisciplinary groups, to include ethicists along with technologists, policymakers and international institutions, are expected only spottily to slow the advance.

Ethics must be scrupulously factored into these calculations from the start — accounting for "principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience" — so that nations make policy with their moral charters intact.


Keith Tidman is an author of essays on social, political and scientific opinion.

VVC all-conference girls basketball team named this week

Seven Vermilion County athletes were named to the Vermilion Vally Conferece All-Conference team this week. The following players earned first-team recognition for their performance during the 2021-22 season:

Kyla Bullington, Junior
Armstrong-Potomac

Sophia Rome, Senior
Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin

Mikayla Knake, Junior
Cissna Park

Tori Birge, Senior
Hoopeston Area

Anna Hagan, Senior
Milford

Addie Wright, Junior
Oakwood

Alexa Jamison, Freshman
Salt Fork

Macie Russell, Sophomore
Salt Fork

Sydney McTaggart, Senior
Watseka

Allie Hoy, Senior
Watseka

SPECIAL MENTION: Mattie Kennel, Jr. (Armstrong); Addison Spesard, Fr. (GRF); Bre Crose, Jr. (HA); Ashlynn Pinnick, Sr. (Oakwood); Hadley Cox, Sr. (Westville); Shea Small, Jr. (IW); Ilyana Nambo, So. (IW); Hunter Mowrey, So. (Milford)

HONORABLE MENTION: Maddie Hudson, Sr. (Armstrong); Natalie Clapp, Jr. (BHRA); Kendl Lemmon, Sr. (Chrisman); Emma Morrical, Sr. (Cissna Park); Kendall Roberts, So. (GRF); Lacie Breymeyer, Jr. (HA); Destiny Thomas, Sr. (IW); Brynlee Wright, Jr. (Milford); Karsen Rupp, Sr. (Oakwood); Karlie Cain, Jr. (Salt Fork); Madison Watson, Jr. (SA); Claire Curry, Sr. (Watseka); Lydia Gondzur, Jr. (Westville)

Two freshman land spots on the Vermilion All-County team

The ten top girls basketball players in Vermilion county was announced earlier this week. The 2021-22 All-County team includes:

Kyla Bullington, Junior
Armstrong-Potomac

Mattie Kennel, Senior
Armstrong-Potomac

Sophia Rome, Senior
Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin

Addison Spesard, Freshman
Georgetown-Ridge Farm

Tori Birge, Senior
Hoopeston Area

Addie Wright, Junior
Oakwood

Ashlynn Pinnick, Senior
Oakwood

Alexa Jamison, Freshman
Salt Fork

Macie Russell, Sophomore
Salt Fork

Hadley Cox, Senior
Westville

SPECIAL MENTION: Natalie Clapp, So. (BHRA); Maddie Hudson, Sr. (Armstrong); Natalie Clapp, Jr. (BHRA); Ella Myers, So. (BHRA); Kendall Roberts, So. (GRF); Bre Crose, Jr. (HA); Lacie Breymeyer, Jr. (HA), Karlie Cain, Jr. (Salt Fork)

HONORABLE MENTION: Denley Heller, Sr. (Armstrong); Mikayla Cox,Jr. (BHRA); Sydney Spesard, So. (GRF); Claire Dixon, Fr. (HA); Jaydah Arrowsmith, So. (Oakwood); Brylie Smith, Jr. (Salt Fork); Lydia Gondzur, Jr. (Westville)

ViewPoint | Foreign policy issues are complicated


"In times of war, the enemy gets a vote." Those words are particularly relevant today, as tensions build between the U.S. and Russia.

But this all seems eerily familiar.

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves how we would feel if Russia placed nuclear weapons in Mexico. Or Venezuela. Or Cuba. Ah yes, Cuba. That already happened, didn’t it? And as many historians would agree, that event brought our species the closest it's been to total annihilation.

May cooler heads prevail, this time around.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, American naval ships began dropping depth charges on Soviet submarines, not knowing that the subs were equipped with nuclear-tipped torpedoes AND orders to fire, should the subs be attacked.

The decision to fire nukes required three commanding officers—the captain of the sub, the political officer, and the submarine flotilla commander. The captain agreed to launch. The political officer agreed to launch. Flotilla Commander Vasili Arkhipov did not agree to launch.

We are alive today because of Vasili Arkhipov.

And Arkhipov’s decision is just one chilling example throughout the 20th century of instances when one person prevented a nuclear war.

Fast forward to the present. Russia is taking an aggressive, reprehensible posture as it invades Ukraine (a country where 30% of citizens speak Russian and swaths of the country identify as Russian or Russian-Ukrainian), but a sovereign nation nonetheless.

Why is Russia doing this?

Another reminder from history may answer that question. When negotiating the 1990 reunification of Germany and the issue of potential NATO expansion (something the Russians obviously did not want), Secretary of State James Baker had this to say to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, "We understand the need for assurances to the countries in the East. If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east."

Almost immediately after the promise was made and an agreement was struck, NATO expanded east, pushing what Russia saw as a hostile military alliance closer to Russia’s doorstep. Fast forward to the present, and despite the end of the Cold War, NATO has not disbanded. Rather, it’s advanced, expanding in the three decades since, further encircling Russia.

May cooler heads prevail indeed.

Foreign policy issues are complicated. The enemy gets a vote too. And though Americans may have short memories, they would do well to remember the cautionary tales of the Cold War. They should put themselves in the shoes of a defiant and war-hardened Russian people who see American political leaders as incapable of keeping promises. Americans would do well to ask themselves, "Would I consent to a hostile military alliance placing nuclear arms in the Americas?" If the answer is no, then we know exactly how the Russians feel.

The Biden Administration must stop caving to pressure from the media, the war hawks, the contractors and arms dealers who profit from war. The Biden Admin must move away from its aggressive posturing. It must stop making threats to clash with Russia over Ukraine, a nation not even remotely within our sphere of influence. Even now, it must seek diplomatic resolutions, not military ones, because there are no military options between nuclear powers.


Ren Brabenec is a Tennessee-based author and freelance writer specializing in U.S. foreign policy.

Magnets in new electronic devices can interfere with implanted defibrillators

DALLAS -- Magnet technology is increasingly being used in portable electronic devices, such as the Apple AirPods Pro charging case, the Apple Pencil 2nd Generation and the Microsoft Surface Pen. However, if the devices are carried in pockets near the chest, and the individual has an implanted cardiac device (ICD), the magnets may interfere with the ICD’s ability to help regulate the heart, according to new research published today in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

"If you carry a portable electronic device close to your chest and have a history of tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) with an ICD, strong magnets in these devices could disable your cardioverter defibrillator," said lead study author Corentin Féry, M.Sc., a research engineer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Institute for Medical Engineering and Medical Informatics in Muttenz, Switzerland. "Heart patients should be aware of these risks, and their doctor should tell them to be careful with these electronic devices with magnets."


Photo: American Heart Assoc.

Devices and machinery with magnets exhibit a vector field or area of magnetic influence that can inhibit pulse generators for implanted ICDs and pacemakers. In ICDs, magnets can activate a switch prohibiting the ICD from delivering lifesaving shocks. Newer portable electronic devices equipped with strong magnets can disrupt the ICD operation. Earlier research on the iPhone 12 Pro Max demonstrated that its magnetic field is strong enough to interfere with the normal operation of an implanted pacemaker or ICD when held within an inch.

In this study, researchers tested the magnetic field output of the wireless charging case of the Apple AirPods Pro, the Microsoft Surface Pen and the Apple Pencil 2nd Generation. Their magnetic field strength was measured and compared to the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Using a magnetic mapper with 64 magnetic sensors, researchers measured the magnetic field strength of these products at various distances. The portable electronic devices were also placed closer and closer to five defibrillators from two representative manufacturers until a therapy deactivation occurred. These distances then constitute the minimal safety distance at which an interaction has actually taken place.

The maximum distance for a possible interaction between the portable electronic devices and the implantable cardiac devices was:

  • around 2 cm (0.78 inches) away for all of the Apple products; and
  • 2.9 cm (1.14 inches) away for the Microsoft Surface Pen.
  • While the tests results showed the maximum distance for a possible ICD interaction, researchers said for safety the minimal distance is between 0.8 cm (0.31 inches) for the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Apple Pencil 2nd Generation, and 1.8 cm (0.71 inches) for the Microsoft Surface Pen and the opened charging case of the Apple AirPods Pro .

    "The public needs to be aware of the potential risks of portable electronic devices in addition to the iPhone 12 Pro Max that may affect anyone with an ICD," said study co-author Sven Knecht, D.Sc., a research engineer at the Cardiovascular Research Institute Basel at University Hospital Basel, University of Basel in Switzerland. "What is most concerning is that magnets are being used in more and more portable electronic devices, and with so many magnets around us, the risk to cardiac patients is even greater."

    "These devices can cause a problem when carried in your shirt or jacket pocket in front of the chest, as well as when you are lying on the couch and resting the electronic device on your chest, or if you fall asleep with the electronic device," Féry added. "The main thing to remember is that any electronic device may be a danger, especially ones with a magnet inside."

    In the future, the researchers plan to focus on testing e-cigarettes, other pencils for tablets and other portable electronic devices for their potential magnetic interaction with cardiac devices. "With so many copycat products and accessories available, there may be a problem for the public to know which products pose increased risks," Knecht said.

    A major limitation of the study was that it was not conducted on ICDs implanted in patients. "In people with ICDs, the impact of the magnetic interaction will depend on the individual and their overall health," Knecht said. "This research was the first step in identifying the importance of assessing some products for safety. The next step is to confirm these interactions by testing implanted devices in volunteer patients who are at the hospital for routine tests."

    The American Heart Association recommends keeping cell phones at least six inches away from ICDs or pacemakers by using it on the ear opposite from the implantation and to avoid keeping the cell phone in a front chest pocket.

    "The American Heart Association and the manufacturers of pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators have long recommended that magnets be kept away from these implanted devices. A recent Journal of the American Heart Association study reported that the magnetic field induced in the receiver coil of the iPhone 12 Pro Max can result in clinically identifiable magnet interference in pacemakers and ICDs," said N.A. Mark A. Estes, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship Program at the Heart and Vascular Institute of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and an American Heart Association volunteer. "The current study extends observations on magnetic field interactions with even more devices containing magnets. Patients with cardiac electronic implantable devices should be instructed to keep all electronic devices that can generate a magnetic field several inches from their pacemakers or ICDs."

    Top concerns for data and file recovery from a crashed hard drive

    NewsUSA -- It's alarming every time your computer glitches in the middle of working on a crucial project -- alarm that rapidly turns to agitation and panic when you can no longer access important files on the hard drive. Whether the files are business-related or a personal cache of photos, music and blog posts, most everyone has felt the pain -- losing drafts for proposals, contracts, grants or financial data, the list is literally endless.

    So, where do you turn to recover your hard work -- and possibly save your job?

    "It's frustrating and disappointing because a lot of areas of the computing industry are really well developed," explains Nick Johnson, executive of HardDriveRecovery.com -- a Los Angeles-based business looking to fill gaps in the world of data recovery. "You'd think that with such a crucial part of the computing system being corruptible, they would develop an adequate service to resolve it when it comes up."

    A crashed hard drive is worse than the spiderweb cracks across the face of a busted iPhone 5. No matter what is stored on a device, if the majority of data is unrecoverable, a crashed hard drive unleashes a wave of panic.

    Depending on the damage and source of the problem, there is a variety of data recovery software. But, DIY data fixes can lead to worse problems.

    "You risk further corruption of the data," says Johnson. "That's probably the biggest concern out there because there's so many points of potential failure that if you don't have extensive experience, you don't know how to address it. There are a lot of instances that require a great deal of finesse, and that's where having an expert is a real benefit."

    The risks of an inexperienced or anonymous technician recovering private files can be huge. What if the drive is wiped clean entirely? Can you trust them with your data? Will they overcharge you?

    In many cases, Johnson says these are valid concerns. "One of biggest problems we found is the price schemes," he says. "Because it's unknown what the actual price will be. Oftentimes, companies will give an estimate that's hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars less than the actual bill they give you when the work is complete. That's why it's important to find a reputable company to do your hard drive recovery."

    According to Johnson, the best way to prepare yourself is by equipping computers with up-to-date antiviral software. But regardless of the hardware or brand, there's always potential for failure. Learn more at www.harddriverecovery.com.

    Illinois contractors and builders oppose HB 5412, it will harm small businesses

    SPRINGFIELD -- Opponents say a proposed amendment by House Leader Marcus Evans (D-Chicago) that passed the House Labor Committee back on February 16th is terrible for female and minority-owned businesses, as well as union and non-union construction firms in Illinois.

    As written, the amendment to HB 5412 would require general contractors to pay the wages of a subcontractors’ employees, even if the prime contractor has already paid the subcontractor in full. However, those opposed to the bill say the measure would do the exact opposite.

    "Opponents feel it would do nothing to prevent Wage Theft, but only encourage it by allowing rogue subcontractors to get off the hook by not paying their workers," states a press release from Black Contractors Owners & Executives/Hispanic American Construction Industry Association this week. According to the release, payment for wages will become "the responsibility onto the prime contractor, while allowing these bad apples to move onto the next job and underbid legitimate contractors since they have no payroll costs."

    The Federation of Women Contractors, an advocacy organization that protects the interests of women-owned construction firms said that should HB5412 passes, it would be damaging to her members and result in many of them going out of business.

    "For our members who are small businesses, any increase in cost has a catastrophic impact on the financial health of their companies and their ability to compete in the marketplace," said Jaemie Neely, Executive Director for the association. "We oppose HB5412 because it would not prevent or deter unethical subcontractors from stealing wages from their employees but rather the bill would expose general contractors to a risk of having to pay twice for wages and we think our alternative amendment is a much better solution."

    Fourteen other professional organizations, from the building industry to mechanical contractors, are fighting the proposal that has the backing of the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.

    The Associated Builders & Contractors, Black Contractors Owners & Executives, Chicago Chamber of Commerce, Chicago & Downstate Roofing Contractors Association, Chicago Area General Contractors, Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, Home Builders Association of IL, IL Chamber of Commerce, IL Chemical Industry Council, IL Construction Industry Council, IL Manufacturers Association, Il Mechanical & Specialty Contractors Association, IL Road & Transportation Builders Association, and the Women’s Construction Owners & Executives are against HB 5412.

    Jacqueline Gomez, Executive Director of Hispanic American Construction Industry Association said HB 5412 would lock out future entrepreneurs from the construction industry and increase the costs for clients. "Punishing good companies for a few bad apples is a bad idea."

    The committee asked the sponsor for additional revisions before HB 5412 goes in front of the house for a final vote.

    Guest Commentary: How much is freedom worth?

    by Glenn Mollette, Guest Commentator


    In America we pursue the occupation of our choice. That doesn’t mean we always like our jobs but we can choose to pursue another career or several different careers. We can choose our state, community and house. That doesn’t mean we can easily afford to live where we choose but we are free to pursue life in another neighborhood if we want to work toward such a move.

    We change our lives if we have the desire and the will power. People make choices every day regarding health, habits and lifestyles. Some choose to develop themselves further and strive to be better while others may choose to do nothing.

    You choose your house, your car, your clothes, and your hairstyle (if you have any). You choose what you will do on your days off from work or during your retirement years. You choose if you retire or if you just keep on working until the end.

    Often, we may feel as if we don’t have choices and that we are stuck in a rut. Chances are we made choices that put us there. We have to make tough choices to climb out of the rut. We can easily become disabled physically, financially and domestically which will significantly limit our choices. Because of health, money, and maybe even age, our choices are often very limited. Most of the time, even when we have limitations, we can find freedom of choice.

    The bottom line is we live in America and we cherish our freedom. We should remember our history and the great sacrifices made by so many. We should never take for granted the unimaginable hardships endured by the early settlers and every generation that has fought wars and lost tens of thousands of men and women in wars to keep our sacred and blessed freedom.

    In his 1961 State of the Union address, President John F. Kennedy reminded us that every generation of Americans has had to win its freedom. We will never stay free unless we are willing to fight and sacrifice to keep our freedom.

    How much is freedom worth?

    The brave people of Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are showing the world what freedom is worth. Their lives. While many of the young and aged are exiting Ukraine, President Zelenskyy and thousands are risking their lives to keep Ukraine free from the aggression of Russia and the evil of Vladimir Putin.

    Putin is not our friend or a friend to the free world. His path to conquer Ukraine is an Adolph Hitler move. Destroying a city and attempting to conquer a nation while killing thousands in order to increase his domain is barbaric.

    In the midst of all this, we are surely reminded that we must once again become energy independent. Russia is a supplier of 40% of the natural gas used by Germany and most of Europe. They and America must stop buying energy and anything else from Russia. We have made them a rich nation while sacrificing our own independence.

    Watching as Ukraine’s government hands out AK-47s and other guns surely reminds us of the importance of being able to protect ourselves. Keep your guns, stock up on your ammunition, and never vote for anyone who wants to edit our Second Amendment.

    We must pray for Zelenskyy and the Ukraine people but we must also help them with whatever aid necessary to push Russia out. Keep in mind that Russia is only 55 miles from Alaska’s closest port. Putin just might decide that Russia should have Alaska back. We bought Alaska fair and square in 1867 for $7.2 million and we won’t be handing it back.

    How much is freedom worth? Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine are demonstrating how much freedom is worth.


    -----------------------------------------------------------

    Dr. Glenn Mollette is a syndicated American columnist and author of Grandpa's Store, American Issues, and ten other books. He is read in all 50 states. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of any other group or organization.

    -----------------------------------------------------------

    This article is the sole opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Sentinel. We welcome comments and views from our readers. Submit your letters to the editor or commentary on a current event 24/7 to editor@oursentinel.com.


    -----------------------------------------------------------

    What's up, Doc? Staff therapists could be a competitive advantage for restaurants

    The death by suicide of the charismatic Bourdain ... resonated with many restaurant workers.

    Restaurant jobs have always been difficult, but the mental stress has gotten worse during the pandemic as restaurants closed or cut hours — or became ground zero for the fight over mask-wearing.

    "It is totally nerve-wracking sometimes because all of my tables I’m interacting with aren’t wearing their masks," said Nikki Perri, a server at French 75, a restaurant in downtown Denver. "I am within 6 feet of people who are maskless."


    Health News on The Sentinel

    Perri is 23, a DJ, and a music producer. And she’s not just worrying about her own health.

    "I’m more nervous about my partner. He’s disabled. He doesn’t have the greatest immune system," she said.

    After the initial shutdown, French 75 was having problems finding employees when it reopened. So were other restaurants.

    "We put a Survey Monkey out and pay was No. 3," said chef and owner Frank Bonanno. "Mental health was No. 1. Employees wanted security, and mental health, and then pay."

    His company, Bonanno Concepts, runs 10 Denver restaurants including French 75, Mizuna, and Denver Milk Market. The survey went out to employees of all 10. Bonanno said these jobs offer competitive pay and good health insurance, but the mental health benefits aren’t very good.

    "Most such psychologists and psychiatrists are out-of-pocket for people to go to. And we were looking for a way to make our employees happy," he said.

    That, according to his wife and co-owner, Jacqueline, was when they had a revelation: Let’s hire a full-time mental health clinician.

    "I know of no other restaurants that are doing this, groups or individual restaurants," she said. "It’s a pretty big leap of faith."

    It took a little while to figure out what exactly employees wanted and what would be most helpful. Focus groups began in summer 2021 and they made a hire in October 2021.

    Qiana Torres Flores, a licensed professional counselor, took on the new and unusual role. Her title is "wellness director." She’d previously worked one-on-one with clients and in community mental health. She said she jumped at the chance to carve out a profession within the restaurant world.

    "Especially in the restaurant and hospitality industry, that stress bucket is really full a lot of the time. So I think having someone in this kind of capacity, just accessible and approachable, can be really useful," she said.

    Traveling among the 10 restaurants, Flores has led group sessions and mediated conflicts between employees. She has taught the company’s 400 employees techniques to cope with stress, and put on Santa’s Mental Health Workshop to help with holiday-related sadness and grief. She has done one-on-one counseling and referred some employees to more specific types of therapy.

    "Not only is there help, but it’s literally 5 feet away from you and it’s free and it’s confidential. And it’s only for you," Flores said.

    The owners say her presence gives them a competitive advantage and hope it helps them retain their employees.

    Restaurant staff members often work difficult hours and can be prone to substance use issues — a grind-it-out mentality is part of the job culture. Many workers either don’t ask for help or don’t always see mental self-care as important.

    "It has been a really important option and a resource for our team right now," said Abby Hoffman, general manager of French 75. "I was just overjoyed when I found out that this program was starting."

    She gives the effort high marks, and said it builds on earlier efforts to recognize the psychological toll of restaurant jobs.

    "I think the conversation really started around the death of Anthony Bourdain, knowing how important mental health and caring for ourselves was," Hoffman said.

    The death by suicide of the charismatic Bourdain, a celebrity chef who openly struggled with addiction and mental illness, resonated with many restaurant workers.

    Bourdain died in mid-2018. Then, Hoffman said, came the pandemic, which helped relaunch tough conversations about the psychological impacts of their jobs: "We were, again, able to say, ‘This is so stressful and scary, and we need to be able to talk about this.’"

    Voicing these concerns, she speaks for an entire industry. The Colorado Restaurant Association recently conducted a survey, and a spokesperson says more than 80% of its members reported an increase in the stress levels of their staff over the past year. A third of the restaurants fielded requests for mental health services or resources from employees in the past year. More than 3 in 4 restaurants reported a rise in customer aggression toward staff members.

    Denise Mickelsen, a spokesperson for Colorado’s restaurant association, said she’s unaware of other restaurants or groups hiring a full-time staffer dedicated to health and wellness.

    "It’s fair to call what they’re doing fairly unique and/or innovative," said Vanessa Sink, director of media relations for the National Restaurant Association. "It’s something that some of the larger chains have been trying but is not widespread."

    Other projects in a similar vein are springing up. One is called Fair Kitchens. It describes itself as a "movement fighting for a more resilient and sustainable foodservice and hospitality industry, calling for change by showing that a healthier culture makes for a healthier business." It cited research by Britain-based Unilever Food Solutions that found most chefs were "sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion" and "felt depressed."

    Back in Denver, the server Perri said she’s grateful her employers see workers as more than anonymous, interchangeable vessels who bring the food and drinks "and actually do care about us and see us as humans. I think that’s great. And I think other places should catch up and follow on cue here."

    And if that happens, she said, it could be a positive legacy from an otherwise tough time.

    This story is part of a partnership that includes Colorado Public Radio, NPR and KHN.

    Spartans win regional basketball title


    Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks

    Andrew Beyers accepts the regional championship plaque for the Spartans on Friday at the Rocket Center. St. Joseph-Ogden deflected two come-from-behind attempts by Unity to win the title game, 58-50. SJO plays next at Clifton Central where the team will face El Paso-Gridley in the sectional semifinal on Tuesday. More photos from this epic title game coming soon.


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