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Saturday: Chutzpah, pyramids and connections

Man, islands and all that rot.

I’m baaaaack!  It’s been a very busy week here in the surburban jungle of New Jersey as well as being snowy and gloomy and cold.  But next week, I’m in Sandy Eggo for a conference.  The extended forecast looks good.  Temps in the 60′s seem positively balmy.  I might even ditch my jacket.

But first, I wanted to go over a little something I read in The Atlantic article on The Rise of the Global Elite.  These guys have chutzpah.  Now, before we go any further, there’s nothing wrong with striking it rich.  If you have a good idea and you can make oodles of money off of it, go for it.  But if you do it here in America, you need to remember that Americans made it possible.  All of those people who pay taxes to make sure that there are standards and infrastructure and a well-educated workforce and a “classless” society that means you don’t have to kiss some poobah’s ass or spend the rest of your life as a downstairs maid even if you have the secret to the next killer app, made it relatively easy for you.

So, I was particularly apalled to read this:

The good news—and the bad news—for America is that the nation’s own super-elite is rapidly adjusting to this more global perspective. The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I heard a similar sentiment from the Taiwanese-born, 30-something CFO of a U.S. Internet company. A gentle, unpretentious man who went from public school to Harvard, he’s nonetheless not terribly sympathetic to the complaints of the American middle class. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he told me. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.”

Really?  What planet is this guy on anyway?  Does he know that when the typical American starts working, he/she gets a measly 2 weeks of vacation- prorated?  Two frickin’ weeks.  You have to work 5 years before you get that measly third week.  I work for an international company and even though our European cousins work differently and are always on task when they are at work, I have slowly come to the realization that they are not more productive than Americans.  But for some reason, Mr. Taiwanese Born Rich Guy isn’t picking on them and their 2 months of vacation a year and nice life affirming salaries or the fact that many European workers are covered by unions that make it nearly impossible to lay them off, even if the work goes elsewhere and there’s nothing for them to do.  They still get paid and no one is asking them to give up their middle class lifestyles.  Only Americans are.  If anything, Mr. Taiwanese Born Global Elite’s comment says more about Americans’ vulnerability to Reaganesque ‘rugged individualism’ messaging and failure to protect themselves.

Personally, I think workers need a bit of stress in their environments to keep them pushing forward and to prevent them from sliding into inertia.  But the stress levels of the American worker “goes up to 11″ these days.  We are very, very busy.  Eight hour days are a thing of the past.  There are fewer of us doing the work of more people.  If we could be there 24/7, which the middle level MBA beancounters seem to want these days, maybe we could catch up.  So, just how much *MORE* work would be acceptable to these people?  10X harder is physically and mentally impossible.  That’s not to say that there aren’t slackers who always seem to evade the lay off ax (and if anyone wants names…), but my experience, and those of my friends and former colleagues is that you can be extremely good at what you do and work your skinny little ass off and *still* get laid off.  The MBAs who make these decisions rarely look further than the next quarterly earnings.  Meanwhile, the outsourcing scheme doesn’t always work out so well and adds to the work of the people left behind in the states.

The problem is not that Americans don’t work hard enough or get paid too much.  If anything, wages have been pretty much stagnant since the 70′s, when adjusted for inflation.  Anyone who doubts that should see Elizabeth Warren’s youtube lecture on the collapse of the middle class where the result of the clamp down on wages is displayed in all of its miserly, stingy, mean spirited glory.  Many of us are one paycheck from insolvency, even with both parents working.  How much more of our paychecks should we sacrifice to make Mr Taiwanese Born Global Elite happy?  The problem is that our global overlords have no appreciation for the work that is done.  Or that in the case of those who have made money from technology, the body of knowledge is added to painstakingly over time by thousands of people until some young nerdy asshole comes along, reads the right papers or documentation, and makes some breakthrough discovery.  Maybe they need to sit down for an afternoon of James Burke’s Connections.

The point is, these people are sitting on top of pyramids, not just economically but in every other sense as well.  Under them are millions and millions of people both present and past who have made it possible for the global elite to have a Eureka! moment and cash in big.  That flash of insight could happen to any of us but it *won’t* happen nearly as frequently in the future if the global elite forget from whence they came.  It takes infrastructure, open and flatter societies, and communication with people who have crucial information.  That last part is something different that what Julian Assange envisions.  Innovation is much harder to do when information is locked down by entities protecting their data.  Information is power but proprietary information can be constipating.  So, what I’m getting from The Atlantic article is not that the global elite are critical of how much Americans are producing.  It’s that they are too wrapped up in themselves to understand that they are killing the global goose by cornering the market for themselves.  If they were really concerned that Americans were not producing enough, they might be more diligent about making sure that we have the broadband speed of Korea and not Romania.

But that would mean paying more in taxes and being accountable to their country and acting like citizens and we have seen that they are not willing to do any of those things.  So, we must conclude that they aren’t really serious about what they perceive to be Americans parasitical attachment to eating three squares a day and keeping a roof over their heads.  They just want it all for themselves.  Where’s that Malthusian catastrophe when you need one?

Moving on:

Also in The Atlantic, James Fallows is still concerned with the optics of Juan Williams firing from NPR.  For the record, I’m not at all concerned.  I was a long time listener to NPR, which *used* to have a very high reputation for quality journalism.  When Juan came on board, I noticed a distinct turn to more of the “he said/she said, we must present all sides of the story equally” type of journalism that I loathed in other media outlets.  I got so sick of listening to it that I stopped listening altogether and don’t donate anymore.  Yep, there probably are PC police at NPR whose minds are so wide open their brains have fallen out but, oddly enough, Ellen Weiss had retained enough gray matter to do the right thing in Juan’s case.  Williams has totally shown his colors.  He fits right in at Fox where pandering for profit is de rigeur.  Fallows can stop wringing his hands.  Maybe The Atlantic readers were sympathetic to Williams but there were a lot of former NPR listeners around here who were more than happy to see him go.  Fallows needs to get out and mingle more with people with higher standards.

In medicine, those of you parents out there who have decided not to vaccinate your children against measles, mumps and rubella can stop worrying unnecessarily. The whole scare was an elaborate fraud perpetrated by an unethical doctor in England who was being paid by a lawfirm to drum up business.

A 1998 study, that linked the MMR vaccine to autism, has been found to be false.

The investigation published in the British Medical Journal by Brian Deer lays out in detail, how the paper published in 1998 by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism was a deliberate fraud.

According to the investigation, a law firm that hoped to sue the vaccine manufacturers hired Wakefield. The law firm wanted Wakefield to provide scientific evidence that vaccines caused autism. Wakefield received roughly $750,000 for his efforts.

[...]

The analysis found that despite the claim in Wakefield’s paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, that in fact, the children’s medical records show that some clearly had symptoms of developmental problems long before getting their shots, BMJ says. Several had no autism diagnosis at all.

I read the BMJ articles (you may need a subscription) and the whole scam is a doozy.  Nothing but lies and falsified documents from the very beginning.  Some of the children profiled had development issues noticed months before the vaccination and at least one had a genetic defect that caused facial deformities that were recorded by pediatricians shortly after birth.

(For those of you who still cling to the notion that vaccinating your children is inherently dangerous, give it up already.  There’s not one single argument against innoculation that isn’t full of holes, from the autism link to the thimerosol thing to the “vaccine makers are trying to make money”.)

But, hey, where there’s money to be made, it’s OK to panic the developed world’s parents to stop innoculating their kids, put other kids at risk and break down herd immunity exposing adults to chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough.  It wasn’t personal.  It was only business. Way to go.

Do it yourself cremation-do not try this at home or buying a dilapidated chateau in France will make you crazy:

The village mayor, Pierre Sourdain, a farmer, says he liked Robert and Joanne Hall very much. All the villagers say the same: they were impressive, charming, self-possessed. (Saying that, the people in the village speak no English and Robert Hall – despite living here for 10 years – never learned French.) For years the Halls had been trying to get an ambitious golf project off the ground. They wanted to turn the chateau into an 18-hole golf resort with holiday cottages. That’s presumably what the file resting on the chair was all about, Mayor Sourdain says.

“It would have happened, too,” he says. “They would have made it happen. That’s the kind of man Robert Hall was.” He pauses and says, wistfully, “It would have been so good for the region.” There’s a short silence. Then he says, less confidently, “I’m sure it would have happened.”

On the evening of 4 September, Sourdain got a call from the gendarmes – something had happened at the château. It is a French custom for the gendarmes to call the mayor, as the representative of the people, to the scene of a crime or a terrible accident. He arrived to see the oldest son, Christopher, 22, with the gendarmes as they stood in protective suits breaking up a big block of concrete. Robert Hall was inside the house, crying.

[...]

Robert Hall had told the gendarmes that 24 hours earlier he’d had a drunken argument with Joanne during which she accidently fell, hit her head, and died. Then, during the hours that followed, he set her body on fire, put her remains into a builder’s bag, poured in concrete and hauled it on to the back of a lorry. All this happened behind the house, near the back gate, next to a row of half-built holiday cottages.

[...]

Catherine Denis, from the prosecutor’s office in Rennes, told a press conference later that week that when the gendarmes asked Robert why he burned Joanne’s body and encased her remains in concrete, he explained that she’d always said she wanted to be cremated and laid to rest in a mausoleum and he was simply respecting her wishes, albeit in a somewhat informal way.

The BFF is siding with the husband and says he was only carrying out his wife’s wishes, er, should she ever fall and die accidentally.  Something to think about when you write that prenup.

Just posted on Twitter, video of a girl arrested at a Metro station.  It’s hard to tell what it is that she did that provoked this kind of response.  It looks like she had an argument with a cop, he told her to leave, she said something rude as she turned around to go and he tackled her.  I gotta say that it looks very bad when a big strong guy is pinning a girl to the ground and her dress is hiked up above her pants and she’s struggling in vain to cover her butt and all the asshole dude can say is “Stop resisting”.  It is apparently now a crime to try to preserve your modesty.

And now for something completely different:

Bohemian Rhapsody for Four Violins.  (The global elite dudes would probably argue that the chinese can do this with half a violinist)

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27 Responses

  1. If that cop did that in Sweden, he’d be in a heap of trouble right about now.

  2. Just popping in to wave “HI” … I’ve been babysitting 2 hours a day this week and seem to have collapsed this morning.

    • Kids can wear you out. Where is everyone this week?

      • I don’t know… it’s slow even for a Saturday. I’ve been babysitting a 2 year old and she’s VERY easy. But, it’s still a challenge after all these years!

        • 2 year olds change what they are doing so often! I was a bad mom, but I’d pop a Baby Einstein video in to get 30 minutes to do things where I didn’t want baby-help.

        • I think it’s slow all over. People are starting to get back to work. Lots of fires to put out this week. We’re all beat.

  3. David Bromwich on @b#m$!?’s corrupt language. A very dry, measured, and all the more lethal for that takedown. If you find yourselves yelling at the TV when you hear @b#m$!?’s voice, you’ll find plenty of explanation here. Lots of useful tools for deconstructing the coming avalanche of bullshit before 2012.

    • Ooooo, tasty! Does it have something with the prepositional phrases that. never. end.?

  4. Short Fat Bald Man with a Badge Complex!!!!!!

    And that’s why some a$$hats should never be allowed to become so-called protectors of the public.

    What? You can’t express your opinion now?

  5. I used to work for a guy from India and he was all for outsourcing because he thought it was a way to help India. Plus, Americans were paid too much (of course, not him!) and we didn’t work hard enough.

    So we get to work with off-shore programmers. Then we find out they get 4 weeks of vacation and 4 weeks of holidays or something like that when they are less than 5 years experience working for a living. Amazing! Oh, and they sure don’t work more than an 8 hour day AND they have all sorts of connectivity problems.

    I don’t mind that they get a better working deal but I do mind that the people who make the decision to source work as if they were shopping for labor at Walmart don’t actually have to deal with the problems. They accuse the team leads of being “protectionist” if we complain. Meanwhile we work around the clock to support the outsourcing, fix the crappy code piped over and then get beat up for being paid more. And the “off-shore resources” I worked with were supposedly “experienced” and placed at mid to high level skills, but were roughly the same contribution level as fresh out of college with a year of experience programmers. The contracts for offshore cost about a third more per person per year than those programmers with one year of experience. The only way they would really be cheaper is if they were actually working at the level sold.

    A more honest approach would be to say, “We want the cheapest workers possible, we hope to drive down YOUR wages AND we want you to make it work!”

    • I haven’t had to deal with outsourced programmers personally but your comments are not uncommon among my friends who have. They complain that the programmers write generic off the shelf code that has to be fixed over here. One other liability is that for in house data, which requires more intimate knowledge of how data tables were constructed over the years, does not translate well. That is, you spend so much time describing what it is you want that you might as well just do it yourself.
      My impression is that there are a lot of consulting companies like Accenture, who are acting like middle men between the company of interest and the outsource contractors, who are cashing in big. They promise the moon and reduced costs but to get to the endpoint costs much more than if you had just hired the programmers in house and treated them reasonably well.
      If executives would just look beyond the spreadsheet, they would see that they could save a lot of money by doing it right the first time with in-house staff. But that would mean actually going to where people are working and asking them instead of just accepting the word of the middle management who speak on workers’ behalf and don’t say anything that will rock the boat.
      Come to think of it, how do we know those middle managers aren’t trying to make the executives look bad so they can move up?
      I dunno. Business is cutthroat these days and everyone is looking out for themselves, which means no one is looking out for the business itself.

      • You are right about the third parties. They hire one on-shore super awesome “Hero” programmer and then hang a pile of offshore programmers on the project. The on-shore hero does most of the work and wrestles with the offshore team to explain things that the hero still ends up having to do over to meet the deadline.

        They get to bill more hours for a team than if they just sent the hero alone.

        • Yep, BFF was the hero guy. Too much work, too much stress, too many meetings. Worked his ass off, gave it his all, delivered quality work.
          Laid off anyway.

      • The last place I worked as a programmer was purchased by an investment group; their Sears-model CEO came in and started doing mass purges of the staff that had worked at the company for years (and were responsible for its growth), and the new “in-house staff” that was brought in was composed mainly of citizens of India, China and the Philippines who were here on H1B visas. Were they willing to help drive down the wages for these jobs? Why, yes.

        I do take issue with your assertion that the typical American worker starts with a 2-week vacation. That may be true in salaried positions, but the typical American worker starts out with NO vacation, unless they want to take time off unpaid. Ask the next retail clerk, restaurant employee, produce picker, nursing home worker, or any of the other hundreds of nameless, faceless workers you come across in a week, when their last paid vacation was.

    • I’ve never had to deal with this directly, but everyone I know who has reports of complete and total disasters. A lot more work on the US (or European side) with less people, crap results from overseas, communication nightmares, etc. The reasonable places see the light and disengage from the loosing idea, a few places go 100% overseas, and most continue to struggle and spend, spend, spend.

      There are now large areas of the IT field with tons of work to do, but little or none of it in the US. And that includes the US government. Your taxes and social security are processed in India. Some parts of defense related IT work happens overseas. Lots of state governments do all their computing related work overseas.

      Your profession, whatever it is, will be next. There are already outsourced legal work companies and of course outsourced medial research. Eventually upper management in companies won’t have a need for middle management because there just won’t be any employees.

      • >Eventually upper management in companies won’t have a need for middle management because there just won’t be any employees

        Already happening. So much of business ops is being outsourced that the employees who are left will be doing most of their work anyway and we can cut them loose.

        Maybe that was the plan from the beginning. It’s harder to send them on a massive intergalactic spaceship to colonize another planet. So, we just outsource all of their tasks, make the really productive people find work arounds and do fumble along as well as we can until things runs smoothly without them.

    • This has been our experience as well. You have to wonder why a company would do business this way because it’s really more expensive and produces lower quality product. In the end, it’s exactly about 4 people in China or India becoming middle class over 1 person in America losing it. The global elite want to take the American model of creating wealth through consumerism and scale it. We only have 300 million people here so there’s only so rich the overlords can get. Over there, you’re talking billions.

      One sad thing is that these countries made a deal with the devil and sold out their own people to get a piece of the American Pie. One example: the farmers in India committing suicide over their Monsanto seeds. They are learning that they were better off with their old agricultural practices and they can’t get out of their Monsanto debt in their own lifetimes. But their “leaders” and elites knew better. Not.

    • We are outsourcing too much too easily, corporate tax policies need review, foreign exchange rates are out of whack. But the world is shrinking and we appear to be moving towards trading goods and labor between nations as freely as we trade them between states in the US. Finding, training and leveraging less expensive labor is not a new thing. Western economies have been doing it systematically for at least four centuries…the Dutch East Indies Company may have been the first real multinational company when they set up shop in Asia. The wife never fails to remind me of that rough history. Anyway, things are moving faster these days. Already China is actively outsourcing more of its manual labor to other places and the trend will only accelerate.

  6. Great post. And the connections idea is exactly right. It takes a large interconnected infrastructure to make all these things happen.

    The other thing it takes are people to buy the products. If there are 12 super rich people and a mass of peasants in the country, no one buys things anymore. The entire market based economy goes away. You’d think they’d think more than 3 months down the road and notice the trends.

  7. Here’s a story that’s sure to infuriate the Pamela Geller fans and the racists who consider Euro-supremacist Gert Wilder a “freedom fighrer:” Thousands of followers of a certain desert prophet showed up at churches on Coptic Christmas to create human shields to protect Egyptian Christians from terrorism. Methinks Jesus/Isa would approve:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/01/08/thousands-muslims-human-shields/#

  8. Have you guys seen this?

    Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot In Arizona

    by NPR Staff

    U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head outside a grocery store in Tucson while holding a public event, Arizona Public Media reported Saturday.

    The Democrat, who was re-elected to her third term in November, was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event at the Safeway in northwest Tucson when a gunman ran up and started shooting, according to Peter Michaels, news director of Arizona Public Media.

    At least 10 other people, including members of her staff, were hurt. Giffords was transported to University Medical Center in Tucson. Her condition was not immediately known.

    Giffords was talking to a couple when the suspect ran up firing indiscriminately and then ran off, Michaels said.

    The suspect was tackled by a bystander and taken into custody. He was not injured.

    Giffords was first elected to represent Arizona’s 8th District in 2006. The “Congress on Your Corner” events allow constituents to present their concerns directly to her.

    More details to come.

    I sure hope she will be okay.

    • That’s weird. I was just reading a comment about Giffords the other day. I can’t remember where. She has apparently made a lot of enemies but no Congressperson deserves to get shot, not even if they belong to the party of mean spirited, “more for me but not for thee”, wealthy contributor toe licking assholes.

      Just strange to hear her name mentioned in the same week. There are 435 representatives. Who can keep track of all the ways they screw us. She must be notorious in Arizona. Or, more likely, it was personal.

      • She’s a Democrat with a 100% pro-choice rating. Well, there ya’ go. That right there could set you up as target practice with a right-to-lifer. Not saying that’s who’s behind this but I wouldn’t be surprised.
        I hope she’s OK.
        Damn, she’s one of the good guys.

    • Witnesses on CNN say she was shot at point blank range in the head. There are 2-3 bodies on the ground. This is horrifying.

      djmm

      • Horrible.

        Prayers/good thoughts for all those injured, their families and the medics who attend them.

  9. Some reports now say she has died. I hope that i wrong, but others were also shot and some may be dead as witness has said there are 2-3 bodies on ground.

    djmm

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