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      There are two major inter-related environmental problems today. The first is climate change, the second is environmental collapse. The ecosystem is a very complicated web, from single celled organisms on up to apex predators and humans. When you unbalance it; when you take out chunks, the consequences cascade thru the ecosystem, and it is possible […]
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Four Tweets and Two Interviews

About a week ago, this tweet showed up in my stream and summarized everything that is worng with our current economy:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.24 AM

Here’s what happened next:

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 11.30.56 AM

And after that?

{{crickets}}

That’s because when anyone has to actually sit down and think about it, the Gig Economy is only good for investors with a lot of money who can afford to dump a start-up when it doesn’t turn out to be the “get rich quick” scheme they thought it was.

The idea that some guy in his 20s is going to want to become a journeyman tech worker indefinitely is unrealistic. No one wants to live in a micro apartment forever. If you want a spouse and kids and a house, you can not do it if you are constantly looking for your next job that might be in another city where your spouse might not be able to find work or have to leave their own career behind. You can’t drag kids from one insecure gig to another and keep them in school without facing significant consequences down the road. (Take if from a Navy brat who still has problems with simple arithmetic. Thank god for calculators.)

Other things you can’t do in the Gig Economy as a tech worker: It’s hard to justify owning a house.How can you reasonably apply for a 30 yr mortgage if you don’t know when or where you’ll be working? It’s hard to save for retirement. Even if you are paid well, and some Accenture people I know are paid very well, you need to keep a significant chunk of liquid assets in case you’re laid off for extended periods of time. It used to be 6 months of salary. I’d say the actual amount is closer to two years. You just never know.

And add to that the stress of always shopping for a new job, updating your LinkedIn profile, networking, paying thousands of dollars for meaningless certifications, never getting enough experience or getting experience and then having to leave it all behind when the contract runs out.

IT IS THE STUPIDEST WAY TO RUN AN ECONOMY.

Yeah, if you’re an entrepreneur and you have a flexible morality that allows you to take advantage of “ease of migration” and “fluid labor laws” while benefitting from the “rule of law” and other nice infrastructure that everyone else pays for with their taxes, then it’s a sweeeeet deal. Good for Marc Andreeson! I used to admire the team who came up with Mosaic, the first browser I ever wrote HTML pages for back in 1995. But he is symptomatic of many people who think that just because this economy is working swell for him that we can all jump on the “I wanna be a rich entrepreneur!” bandwagon.

As I’ve pointed out before, biopharma R&D is a team sport, a collaborative activity where the credit is spread among many people. It does not adapt well to a start up economy where there are promises of fabulous riches made to a select few people of “talent”. Sure , there will be exceptions but what Marc will never know is how many cures did not get made because the research was not sexy enough to get the funding it needed.

And don’t even get me started about the companies and universities that make you sign over your patent rights as a condition of employment. When we were all in corporate labs with mostly stable jobs and a decent standard of living, we didn’t think twice about it. The company paid for the capital and overhead, we gave them a patent. It was fair. Now, all the risk is born by the researcher and they can’t keep their intellectual property.

Anyway, I won’t go on and on about it because you’ve heard it all before. My point is that as much as the candidates talk about retraining and having the work force catch up with technology, they seem to be ignoring the fact that there are millions of highly trained tech and R&D workers with all of the tech skills a company could want who are forced into lives that are pretty similar to migrant labor. Sure, the pay might be good for short periods of time but stretch that out over 40 years of a typical worker’s life and it’s a bad deal. There is so much uncertainty that it is going to have, and is currently having, a significant impact on the economy going forward.

We need to do something about those fluid labor laws where it is easy to lay people off for no good reason at any time, and we need to give foreign workers green cards when they are hired here so that their lives are not subject to the whims of vulture capitalism. If we really, really need highly educated foreign born citizens, then they are valuable enough to treat them as human beings, decently, with an opportunity to find other jobs if they are laid off due to no fault of their own.

Which one of our candidates is getting a clue?

I submit to you two recent interviews that Hillary has given recently. One is with Ezra Klein where they talked about policy. When I heard this, I could swear she’s been reading this blog for the last several years. She uses the words like “churn” to refer to the practice of large corporations to be perpetually overturning their work force every couple of years.

The other is the interview she gave to Charlie Rose last week where she says that “income insecurity” is a big problem. If she really means it, she will also have to acknowledge that profit sharing does NOT lead to secure incomes. She’s going to have to go back and talk to the Andreesons and other Obama’s supporters and tell them that’s not going to cut it.

The best thing about these interviews besides her command of policy, her confidence and her passion, is that she seems to have really started to listen. America is not as dark and foreboding as Trump would make us believe. But all is not well in terms of the economy and work and no one believes the current administration’s rosy scenarios and PR team. That is where the anger is coming from. We get a steady stream of Pravda media and it isn’t squaring with our own lives. Politicians, and by that I mean Republicans and some student body president Democrats, can only pull this off for so long before the electorate throws them all out.

She’s getting it. Good. That’s what I want to hear.

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NYTimes is shocked, SHOCKED!

The NYTimes is shocked that women over 50 have THE highest unemployment rate after people who are about to retire than any other demographic group in the country since the Great Recession started.

I know, shocking.

Unless you have had to live through it.

I wondered many times what exactly the country expects you to live on when you have submitted hundreds of cover letters and resumes without a nibble, gone through all of your savings, can’t get any more unemployment, etc. I mean, what is it you’re supposed to do when you’re way too young for social security, can’t get your pension, pay a fricking *surtax* on 401K withdrawals that you need to take in order to pay bills and buy basic necessities. Honestly, if that’s not immoral and wrong, I don’t know what is. What is it the right wing crazies want you to do when you can’t get an interview for that dishwasher’s job and you’re too old to sell your body?*

Take your time, I’ll wait.

Then again, I have to wonder if the NYTimes has considered its own culpability in the plight of unemployed women in their 50’s trying to, you know, maintain their caloric intake and shelter requirements (damn them, why won’t they just stay on their ice floes??).

When the Great Recession was in full swing, it was the NYTimes that ran a series of articles about unemployed people who had exhausted their benefits. Usually, the women they featured in pictures in these articles were in their 50s, were obese and sometimes asleep at their monitors. Never mind that none of the highly skilled, physically fit, unemployed people in NJ that I knew looked or behaved like that. This is the image that the NYTimes sent out to the world. Women in their 50s are morbidly overweight, unkempt, have brassy blonde hair and dark roots, they spend money foolishly on vacations, and lounge at their desks. That is the mental image that employers all have in their minds now.

Thank you, NYTimes.

Please stop trying to help.

By the way, it would be really nice if the world stopped assuming that people in their 50s can’t keep up with technology. The internet has been publicly available for about 25 years. That would have made women in their 50s young whippersnappers back then. They wrote the first web pages, learned the first versions of MS Office and did a bajillion other things with early smart phones, laptops and other gadgets. We’re as competent as our male counterparts. A penis does not make you more technologically savvy.

*I finally got a job but it was through a backdoor. If you’re over 50, just forget trying to get past the “Talent Acquisition Specialists”. They seem determined to keep you out and they use every trick in the book to figure out how old you are. Not that age really matters. Because it don’t.

Re: Vaccine and Silicon Valley

Digby has a post up about lack of herd immunity in Silicon Valley schools. Note from the graph that the biotechs (Gilead, Genentech) are pretty much up-to-date with their vaccines. They’re over 90% vaccinated. It’s the Googles, Ciscos and Pixars that are slacking.

Ahem, I would just like to say that those IT people are probably the same people who think that drug discovery would be so much more efficient if we all just worked for little start up companies and removed all the complexity from the process.

{{rolling eyes}}

They really haven’t got a clue. Of course, my ability to code is minimal, though I can hold my own in the hardware area.

In the IT world, Moore’s Law is pretty easy to understand. The physics of electricity, magnetism, doping, transistors and the like is fairly well understood. It’s all perfectly straightforward, mostly. There’s very little ambiguity. That’s what science is like for the Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Knowing that the physics is understood and no longer very complex makes it sooooo much easier to “innovate”. So, what’s the problem with pharmaceuticals?

It’s little surprise to me that they don’t get their kids vaccinated. For all their bravado about how to innovate in the realm of science, to them the cell is still a “sufficiently advanced technology that is indistinguishable from magic”. You put vaccines in your body. You don’t inject chips. (It’s coming) They want to give the illusion that they’re geeky types but just like every other animal on earth, they fear what they don’t completely understand and many of them didn’t study quite enough biology.

I never liked the IT department at work. I had to interact with those guys but it was my group that found it necessary to learn their trade, mostly in order to figure out how to circumvent it. They seemed to be completely clueless when it came to the core science that actually paid their bills. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of power in IT. We all use it and we’re all at their mercy. Resistance is, to some extent, useless. We will be subject to their obtuseness during epidemics as well.

Occasionally, even Stiglitz gets it wrong

If you can name these guys (collectively and individually), you might be a Joneser. 

In Saturday’s post, I mentioned briefly that Stiglitz was in Australia recently warning the Aussies not to import American ideas regarding privatization and capitalism.  You can watch the video here.  It’s about an hour and a half long but it’s pretty good.

He also touched on the plight of the over 50 crowd.  Actually, he says that the problems the over 50’s are facing are spreading downward to people in their 30s and 40s.  He says that the guys in charge of the country have written the over 50 crowd off in terms of the market and jobs in general.  Well, that would explain a lot, like why it is so difficult to get an interview.

But where Stiglitz gets it wrong would be when he says that we lack the technical skills to succeed in this environment.  He says that the economy thinks we are a “disposable commodity” and “technologically obsolete”.

I’d just like to set the record straight here.  I am what commenter r u reddy refers to as Generation Jones.  That is the generation that is wedged in between the baby boomers and the millenials.  Most of us were too young to be radicals.  We lived through the Civil Rights Era but were more likely to attend integrated schools.  We were the bussed generation.  We were the generation that didn’t experience the gender divide between wood shop and home ec. We were the ones who faced the first cuts to post secondary school education.  We didn’t get income averaging or interest deductions on our income taxes.  We were the generation that had to pay more for our social security in the surplus fund. (There’s a quiz to see if you belong.  Check it out here.)

And we were also the generation of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  We cut our teeth on Lotus, basic and the original Macs.  In many of our first jobs, we were expected to know how to create macros, run lab equipment with computers with tiny RAM and floppy disks to collect data.  We had to learn VMS to run the VAX, Windows to write reams and reams of reports with Microsoft Office, and Unix, followed by linux, to configure web accessed databases.  Younguns got it easy.  I remember the first days of the web when we had to use ftp at the command line to check the temperature of the cokes in a CMU vending machine, when there weren’t any search engines, and we had to write online tutorials with nothing but HTML tags and we liked it.  But when new technology came along to replace the insufficient, kludgy and tedious, we embraced it and learned it like everybody else.  We’re not the baby boomer managers who wouldn’t know linux if it bit them in the ass.

I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone sometimes when I get interviewed by someone and they say, “Do you really know how to use Microsoft Office and Email?”   I keep thinking that they must be addressing someone standing behind me.  Of course I know Microsoft Office and Email. Do I look Amish to you?  There’s not an office application, database application, web based application, email application, fill in the blank, that I haven’t used regularly, configured, played with until I got bored or haven’t been able to figure out given a few hours and a lot of questions. (never read the manual)  I imagine that the vast majority of my generation is well adapted to technology and hasn’t met a gadget they didn’t want to overpay apple to possess.

So, I’m not sure who Stiglitz is referring when he says the over 50s have a problem with technology  but it sounds like conventional wisdom, that beautiful theory destroyed by ugly facts.  I really wish Stiglitz wouldn’t perpetuate the myth that Generation Jones isn’t technically able and, therefore, have no prospects.  It is hurting us.

Here’s my beautiful theory: the wealthy do not want to be encumbered with taxes to pay for anyone’s retirement.  They’re owners of equity, not the actual owners who made arrangements or were forced into a government enforced retirement plan back in the day.  If these over 50 year olds spend a decade or more in low level jobs at subsistence wages so they end up taking less in social security payments than they might have otherwise, problem solved!

I’m still collecting data on this.  I might open up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track.

Stuff I learned today

So, I visited a resumé guru today because I can’t get through the HR filters of most sites and can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong.  I’ve tried matching my keywords and writing the damn thing over and over and OVER again to meet the most demanding filter but, no go.  Anyway, the guru worked it out, or so he assures me. It turns out I have to apply some sleight of hand. Think of it as CV SEO.  I think I’ve got it now.  What a royal pain in the ass, as if spending a couple of hours per application wasn’t painful enough.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned today:

1.) There really is such a thing as ageism.  It’s not just your imagination.  It’s probably due to some cocky young thing thinking you don’t know how to use technology, as if your diligence in filling out the ridiculous, lengthy, everything but your bloodtype online form wasn’t proof to the contrary.  If you’re over 45, you’re probably too old. Thank you New York Times.

2.) In the last three years (hmmm, let’s pause to meditate on the significance of three years, shall we?), an increasing number of employers have been hiring temp positions and not direct to position employees.  Sometimes, these temp positions turnover to permanent positions, but consider that first year a very long audition- without benefits.  And there’s no guarantee.  So, the assignment can end at any time.  Depending.  On what?  No idea.

3.) Obamacare is too damn expensive.  This came out of the blue.  Yup.  And it makes perfect sense.  If you are employed in this economy in a temp position and you have to carry the weight of that premium without a subsidy (because you make too much for Medicaid or live in a Medicaid expansionless state, but make too little for a subsidy because you are a lowly temp worker), it’s just too expensive.  You will spend substantially more of your paycheck than the blessed employee with the employer coverage.  But you’re less likely to become blessed because see #2 above.  I am now beginning to wonder what the purpose of Obamacare was.  Because if it is just a matter of getting kids covered who had  serious pre-existing conditions, there was SCHIP and Medicaid before Obamacare. Soooo…?  Bueller?

Malice or stupidity?  Before the administration gave a pass to the employer mandate, I was thinking “stupidity”.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Let’s just say there was a loophole big enough to drive a train through.

The guru says the tweaks should be enough to get me through.  I remain optimistic because, frankly, what is the alternative?  I don’t think I can sell my body at this point, even if I wanted to.  Thank goodness for the part time work and the no-mortgage thingy.  Still, no fun at all.  And I may live to be 92, which troubles me greatly.  Who’s going to hire me when I’m in my 90s?  Come to think of it, there will likely be a LOT of tail end boomers in our 90s, shlepping around the office, retail outlets and construction sites.  That should be interesting.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Save the Post Office: Make up for the drop in physical volume with digital services

Among the various depressing activities going on in Washington, DC this year, one of the most immediate is the plan to start the dismantling of United States Postal Service. I’ve followed this story mainly through updates from Senator Bernie Sanders:

Postal Service: Pressure mounted on the House to act on a Senate-passed bill to keep hundreds of postal facilities from closing and, at Sen. Bernard Sanders’ suggestion, find ways to make up for a drop in mail volume due to e-mail, the Vermont Press Bureau reported.

Sanders’ Role Credited: “The postal reform bill passed by the Senate this week averts the decimation of the Postal Service that had been proposed as a way to save it. Sen. Sanders took an active role in the Postal Service issue, and in Vermont the benefits will be real,” the Rutland Herald editorialized.

Well, I’ve got a suggestion for how to make up for “drop in mail volume due to e-mail” :

  1. I would like it if the US Post Office could set up an email server with the same privacy guarantees that we have with the US Mail.
  2. Require warrants to open and access messages, attachments and contact lists (for starters).
  3. Forbid harvesting messages, attachments and contact lists (for starters) for marketing research.
  4. I would pay a reasonable price for this service.

And this is just the start. They could provide VoIP, video & instant messaging. The Post Office could be the department that manages and maintains a high grade Public Internet. They could provide cell phone service.   They could provide printing and delivery services — messages or attachments could be printed on postcards or some kind of security stationary at the Post Office closest to destination and then delivered in hard copy to the recipient — bridging the distance between traditional mail and email.  And, hey! They already have the delivery part covered, don’t they?

The key element to all of these services is that just as with the physical documents delivered by the Post Office our digital documents would be protected by the sort of privacy we grew up expecting — and have been denied until now with our digital communication.

I never understood why public Internet services had to be delivered and controlled by private corporations — ESPECIALLY email. Now is the perfect time to start making our United States Postal Service relevant, useful AND profitable.

 

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)