Dice are rolling …

The above clip may seem overly dramatic for today’s post, but I’m picking up vibes from all over.

This is not a usual time. “Dice are rolling. Knives are out.” That was how Peron saw things in Argentina as Andrew Lloyd Weber and his lyricist, Tim Rice, saw it in the amazing musical, “Evita,” which began as a musical album in 1976 and went on to fame and fortune.

In the scene, Peron was about to be thrown out of Argentina. He was contemplating the distinguished picture he’d make as a “leader in exile.” But Evita bucked him up in a witty and dark scene in the play. We’ve picked the Broadway version sung by Patty LuPone.

The musical is extremely accurate, artistically and historically.

That’s how IFO feels about today.

First, The Debates. Everyone in the political class says they’ve never experienced anything like it. They are stunned by Donald Trump’s staying power. They simply can’t understand it. “Dice are rolling. Knives are out.”

The “people” haven’t been programmed yet! How could they support him! “Evita” has a commentary on that in a late, very different reprise of “Dice are rolling.” Peron says, “The ‘people’ can be manipulated!” Evita doesn’t believe him. But it is too late for her.

Other knives on the horizon – two headlines from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Russia Moves Its First Tactical Fighter Jets To Base In Syria – So, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine aren’t enough for them???


Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion – Worried about China’s expanding influence in the South China Sea? Or North Korea? Or seeming US weakness?

Oh? You didn’t see that on TV? Or in your local newspaper? Or on the Internet? That’s because there’s a squirrel out there! Trump! The media is fascinated to see the success of a man they just recently viewed as one of their own. An entertainer! A clown!

There’s all kinds of stuff flying under the radar now. Be on the lookout. It’s not that it’s not there. You’ll just have to dig a little bit for it.

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Remembering 9/11

Embedded image permalinkNearly everyone remembers where they were when they learned about the first planes that crashed into the World Trade Center tower on Sept. 11, 2001.

How much do you remember of the ensuing days? People in cities around the world set up candle memorials to the fallen.

They expressed their love and sympathy for Americans as well – at gatherings and in personal encounters.

That was the good part. But it was also a time when many of us began to get tinfoil hats, or dust off our old ones that had been in storage since 1963.

Sure, we had joked that “they” were trying to destroy Western civilization. IFO did it, too,  but she usually added, “If I could just figure out which “they” it is that is doing this. Or is it more than one group?” You see the tinfoil hat beginning to appear there?

Her own foray into 9/11 paranoia started when she heard the term “Homeland Security,” which she instantly thought had an Orwellian 1984-tyoe vibe to it. Then she looked it up and reached for that tinny hat.

There was a ton of info on Homeland Security, symposia, web sites, groups based on the East Coast, many in the DC area. Sheesh!  “They” were all ready with a completed plan, including the Patriot Act and the Transportation Security Act.

Americans were well prepared to accept intrusive and delaying “airport security” procedures that would have produced a revolution on say, Sept. 10. Then, to add to the general atmosphere of media hysteria, there were the anthrax attacks. You don’t even remember that now, do you?

Here’s another something that few will remember. We actually WERE having a war of civil disobedience that summer. Remember the Klamath Basin Crisis? Farmers in the Klamath Basin, which straddled the Oregon/California border, had had their irrigation water turned OFF by federal bureaucrats.

That decision was based on a federal court ruling that farmers’ irrigation used up water and hurt suckers, a type of lake fish formerly considered a trash fish that federal bureaucrats had poisoned out of the water to allow trout to thrive only a few years earlier.

That was one heck of a summer! IFO was covering the event for a Portland radio station and a regional ag newspaper. She made the five hour drive to KFalls three times that summer. Each time the tension level was higher. For details, see our post of May 7, 2011.

As the first decade of this century wore on, we did several stories for our newspaper clients about people, women mainly, who had changed their lives as a result of the 9/11 disaster.

One woman quit her city job and moved to a small town, where she started her own business and was able to feel happy and free again. Free from the claustrophobic city and free from fear of crime and terrorism.

Other people have awakened, too, though frustratingly slowly. But we don’t want to think ill of our own people, our own country, our own government. So we resist it. Until the evidence becomes overwhelming.

Now we are entering a really new era in politics. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard and read long-time observers say, “There’s never been a situation like this before. Not even Ross Perot (who was scary enough to the status quo folks) had this much upheaval.”

Most people have given up even making predictions, since every one since June has been overturned within weeks or less. They are just watching open-mouthed.

One thing IFO can say is this: now is the time to get involved personally. You don’t have to run for office or join a political party. But you should get informed. Read political blogs. Watch television, or if, like IFO, you don’t have TV, watch the Internet.

You’ll soon see who is blowing smoke and who is really intelligent about what is going on today. Then, get active. Call the offices of your local and national representatives. Their staff are usually very polite and nice.

Express your (well-considered, politely-worded) opinions on social media: political blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else is out there; to friends and relatives;  to people you run into in stores or at the gym.

You get the picture. Get a feel for the temper of your neighborhood, your town, your state. Then do what you can to make sure the “right” approach prevails. You can guess what IFO’s opinions are, but she’s not going to share them with you on this post.

The main point is to get active, no matter what side(s) you pick. Just be sure you are backed up by reason and facts. You can’t go wrong and you’ll be glad you did.


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First question to ask: is it good for me (us)?

HT: Digitaljournal.com Syrian refugees.

We’re going to go all AynRand on you today as we discuss the refugee problem currently blowing up in the First World’s face. It’s no longer a situation of thousands of people sneaking across the southern border of the U.S.

As the media and politicians struggle to decide whether these people from North Africa and the Middle East are asylum seekers, refugees, or migrants, no one has noticed that there’s been a step change in the current population movement.

A step change is a sudden, discontinuous change. This is a notion that engineers moved from mathematics and technology terminology into the real world. The original math term was step function.

The Wiktionary defines step function thusly, “A function from the real line to a finite subset of the real line.” Get it? No, we don’t either. But we certainly do understand the concept of the step change, because we can see it before our very eyes.

There have been mass population changes in the past. Just check out any historic map and look for the arrows pointing in all directions. Historians attribute the moves to need for food and land, and that may be at work here today, too. But a huge number of people pouring into Europe today appear to be quite well-fed.

In the post-WW II world, populations were on the move, but many were moving BACK to where they had been displaced from. In 1956, hundreds of Hungarian students fled the soldiers from the USSR, who were squashing the anti-Communist revolution.

Today, North Africa and the Middle East are the main locations losing population right now. War is the ostensible reason for the movement. The international media people trot out women and children for pictures and interviews, but the bigger picture reveals a different view.

Curiously, it seems that most of the people in the crowds are young Muslim men between about 18 and 30 years of age. This makes the phenomenon look more political than personal. Continue reading

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Travel insurance – good or bad idea?

A hearty welcome to all of our new visitors!

Before launching into our topic for today, we’d like to welcome our new readers. It seems that WordPress has a new system for showing their bloggers other blogs that relate to their own. Since IFO is so eclectic in her topic selection, she gets lots of newcomers checking out her blog.

So, we want to say: WELCOME!

Now on to Insurance. We checked and note that we haven’t written about insurance lately.

In years past, we have written about bank deposit insurance, medical insurance (now called “health care,” or “ObamaCare”), homeowners insurance, weather/earthquake insurance, and burial insurance, but find we haven’t discussed Travel Insurance.

Not that there aren’t gazillions of other kinds of insurance. As a member of the board of a local historical society, we’ve learned about insurance for our collection as well as other regular policies. There are also fire, auto, umbrella, and leg insurance.

Here she is! The gorgeous Betty Grable!

What? Leg insurance? Yes, famed actress and popular WW II pinup girl, Betty Grable, had her legs insured in the 1940s for $1 million.

But as a frequent traveler and occasional member of a tour group, IFO has been implored to buy travel insurance.

Long time readers will not be surprised to know that IFO has never purchased travel insurance.

Partly because of her natural reluctance, nay abhorrence, to dealing with all things insurance due to early conditioning by her equally insurance-phobic father, and partly because she is too stingy to bet a small amount of money on losing a bet on an equally small chance of something bad occurring.

She also turned down a suggestion at the cameral store that she buy camera insurance. “Why?” she demanded rudely. “Nothing has ever happened to any of my other cameras purchased over the years!”

The clerk tried to explain all the bad things that could happen, but she just rejoined, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t buy the camera if it is so likely to break?” Conversation ended.

Here is how we look at it. If you can’t afford to lose the money invested in a trip, you shouldn’t go on it. Harsh, but practical. But don’t just believe IFO. Seems that a Motley Fool writer agrees with her! Yay!

After noting the peace of mind you may gain if you buy a policy, Anisha Sekar, at NerdWallet.com adds “… insurance in general is a losing proposition for the majority of people who purchase it, and travel insurance in particular is rife with exclusions.”

NerdWallet, based in San Francisco and founded in 2009, is a company that appears to have a wealth of information on all things financial, from an individual consumer’s point of view.

A quick scan of the site looks very promising. Plus there is a veritable United Nations of whiz kids, which they call the Lead Nerds, heading the operation.

Think we’ll put it on our blog roll.

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Back to school – do kids love it or not?

Beware of late fall heat that will melt your crayons if you drop them!

When IFO was a kid, she couldn’t wait for school to start back up. Summer was so boring. There was nothing to do except explore the desert flora and fauna, play in the little pond under the water cooler, skate, play jacks with her cousin, and do housework.

Housework? Yes, didn’t you do housework? Even as a 2nd grader, she hung diapers on the clothesline and swept the kitchen floor.

Actually, sweeping the floor was fascinating. She always took ages doing it, not only because Mother was a perfectionist (“There’s sand in that corner over there!”), but because she wanted to see if she could EVER get ALL the sand swept up at one time. Answer: no.

So, in spite of the fact that her Hispanic schoolmates refused to speak to her (she learned later it was because they hadn’t mastered English, yet. Who knew?) and that it was so hot outside that crayons melted in the road if she dropped her little box of eight Crayolas, she really looked forward to starting back to school.

Oh, those Hispanic schoolmates? Their grandparents were born in New Mexico before it became a state in 1912! In fact, the first Europeans to settle in what is now New Mexico were Spaniards, who came in 1545.

And, Santa Fe? “Constructed in 1610, the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe is the oldest seat of government in the United States.” That’s before Yale (1701) and Harvard (1636) were founded!

Too bad IFO’s mother didn’t know that. She viewed our neighbors as “foreigners,” and spoke to them slowing in a loud voice, as if they were slow-witted.

Of course, they looked at us the same way and gave us names. They called us “Anglos” to be polite, and some other words that were not so polite. We didn’t have names for them, except not-polite ones, which IFO can’t repeat here.

Interestingly, all of our teachers were Anglos. How did that happen? All the political and commercial power was Hispanic. We were told in fifth grade (1950) that we all had to be bilingual if we wanted a job in our town of Las Cruces.

As a result, ALL of us had to take English and Spanish. The English speakers all had both classes together, and the Spanish speakers did, too. Hence, all were literate in their mother tongue as well as the second language.

Many, if not most, of the Anglos were refugees from the Great Depression (Arkansas and Oklahoma, mostly), who hadn’t made it to California yet. Mother viewed them as foreigners as well, since they couldn’t pronounce common English words “properly.”

What the heck was “harall?”* What civilized person would EVER say “ain’t” or “he don’t?” They did. In this case she was right, they were foreigners speaking, as IFO’s husband explained years later, an English dialect.

Years later, IFO read in quite proper English novels of the 1800s, proper English aristocrats saying “ain’t.” Wow! Who knew? And what arbiter of American English decreed that “ain’t” was verboten?

Oops, excuse us for using a foreign word. We meant “forbidden.” American English is so hard. We have so many foreign words: rodeo, arena, salsa (both food and dance!), bouquet, banquet, ballet… to name just a few.

We kind of got off track. Our original question was: where did the idea that kids don’t like going back to school get started?

I googled that question and… Google didn’t have an answer!!!

*”harall” = hair oil in Arkansas or Oklahoma dialect. Said pronunciation was a source of much laughter inside our family circle.

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Faster airplanes, smaller phones, better diabetes treatment – wait, what?

Turbine DC-3

Turbine DC-3

Ever since the 1990s, we have been wondering what effect the high tech companies would have on our society. From Boston to San Jose to Round Rock, Texas, technology companies have been surprising us for decades.

But American technical innovation started long before that. Douglas Aircraft, IBM and AT&T were early innovators. The DC-3, Douglas Commercial aircraft, now (BA) shortened the time to travel across the US from 25 hours to 15.

Eastbound transcontinental flights could cross the U.S. in about 15 hours with three refueling stops; westbound trips against the wind took 1712 hours.” http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/04/travel/aviation-douglas-dc-3/#

One of the first great leaps forward, as Chairman Mao might have put it had he been a capitalist, “the DC-3 debuted in the mid-1930s as an aviation rock star. With its two powerful propeller engines it revolutionized the travel industry… ”

Meanwhile, at IBM (IBM), computers were getting bigger and bigger, until someone invented the transistor. Vacuum tube powered computers were too big and too hot to perform properly, but transistors made it possible for Big Iron computers to continue to grow until…

…the personal computer was invented. Again, all bets were off as an entirely new concept in computer design nearly demolished IBM until they righted themselves and got on the tiny computer bandwagon.

Over in the world of long-distance talk, telephone systems were getting more and more efficient. Transatlantic cables made it possible for anyone to send a telegram or make a phone call to Europe.

At one time, an AT&T (T) executive noted that if the company had not continued to innovate and automate, it would have required every working person in the U.S. to be employed as a telephone operator to handle the current volume of calls. That was about the 1960s.

Fine, we expect our tech products to get smaller, and cooler, and faster, and more reliable. But rarely is that approach applied to medicine. Medicine is magic. It is performed by high-minded super-special doctors who care not a bit about price.

The only big medical innovations have come from wartime experience. Deaths from disease during war declined from something like 70% of all casualties, to nowadays, a mere 10% or so.

In the history of war, disease and nonbattle injuries have resulted in the vast majority of lost combat days. … During the Mexican War (1845–1848) and the Spanish-American War (1898) disease-related deaths outnumbered battle-related deaths by seven to one.

With the introduction of military hygiene and disease control at the beginning of the 20th century, there was a steady decline in the number of wartime deaths attributable to diseases classically known as “war pestilence”, including cholera, dysentery, plague, smallpox, typhoid, and typhus fever.

The ratio of battle and wound deaths to “war pestilence” deaths during the major 20th century US wars was 1:0.4 in World War I (1914 –1918), 1:0.1 in World War II (1939 –1945), 1:0.13 in the Vietnam War (1964 –1973), and 1:0.01 in the first Gulf War. (1991).”

But, comes now Google (GOOG) to battle diabetes! Google?

First, understand this vital point: these high-tech, venture-funded entrepreneurs who created so much value through their first companies did it BECAUSE THEY COULD. It was never for the money, which is just a measuring rod.

It was for the thrill of the chase for new stuff, more speed, more customers, tinier products. That goes for nearly all of these leaders. All except the ones who died young or went crazy.

Yes, there can be a price to pay for living on the hairy edge of reality and novelty. But Google founders are totally sane. So, let’s take a look at this article on current projects that Google is funding.

Our favorites are moonshot rockets (with competition from other high-tech entrepreneurs!) and “an experimental contact lens [that] can painlessly measure glucose levels in tears.”

Google’s new life sciences unit has lined up “partnerships with top drug makers and medical device companies.” You can see there is no limit now!


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How to know when you are a grown-up

CatD9T.jpg Didn’t you always want to be a grown-up when you were younger? Grown-ups were so cool. They knew everything.

They never cried or had tantrums. They were in total control of their lives. They had cars and houses and knew all kinds of cool stuff. They had great, impressive skills we hoped we would be able to do some day.

D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer

Mom could cook anything. Sew anything. Type 60 mph on a non-electric typewriter making six copies at once. Never heard of carpal tunnel syndrome. Dance the night away with Dad. Wear gorgeous hats with sophisticated splendor. All at the same time.

Dad could fix anything. Cars. Plumbing. Electric light fixtures. Keep all our cars running. Take a couple of bullets as a US Marine.  Dance the night away with Mother. Work one or two jobs, attend college, add rooms to our house. All at the same time.

He could operate a Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) bulldozer! In fact, he drove one right up to our house in the New Mexico desert where he was going to engineering school. It was the only Cat in the whole neighborhood!

We thought it was a D-9, but a search of the Internets shows we are wrong. The D-9 was introduced in 1954, according to Wikipedia. So, it must have been a, what? D-8? We don’t know. All we know is that it was HUGE!

It took IFO a long time to consider herself a grown-up. In fact, she just now realized she had become one. Remember when you were a kid and had to have the radio on all the time? Couldn’t do the ironing or your homework unless your radio was blaring?

IFO used to be like that. Even as an ace freelance news reporter, she had her radio on all the time. She just realized that nowadays, she prefers… silence. Glorious silence. Peaceful silence.

She’s a grown-up! Invests on her own. Travels on her own. Bakes bread. Cooks anything. Has soon-to-be fabulous garden.

So, dear readers, especially you 20-somethings who are finding this blog, but not commenting on it, you, too, will become successful, wonderful grown-ups and love that feeling of freedom you now have.

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Core principle of science goes into um, a bathroom fixture

Science.mag has a depressing piece summarizing efforts of scientists to reproduce results from earlier studies. To make a long story short, it doesn’t look good.

The title of the Aug. 28, 2015 article is “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science.”

Reproducibility is a core principle of scientific progress,” the article begins, then proceeds to destroy the believability of more than half of the tests of the older studies that were investigated.

From the abstract: “We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available.”

Researchers defined “the sampling frame as 2008 articles of three important psychology journals: Psychological Science (PSCI), Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP), and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition (JEP:LMC).”

Now, before you go to sleep, keep in mind that millions of education dollars are at stake, since wholesale changes in school curricula and advanced academic degrees are based on studies like these.

Furthermore, millions of dollars worth of psychoactive drug sales are also at stake, since new mental illnesses can be defined based on studies like these. No doubt more millions are at stake that we couldn’t determine, since no actual studies were described. Really.

“… publishing and analytic practices make it likely that more than half of research results are false and therefore irreproducible…,” was one conclusion.

After a long explanation of methods, much statistical measurement reporting, etc. – all aimed at heading of the inevitable barrage of attacks by alarmed academics, there was one clear conclusion:

 A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings (31) despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect sizes.”

And here’s a sentence that would get the writer thrown out of any Tea Party convention:

“Because reproducibility is a hallmark of credible scientific evidence, it is tempting to think that maximum reproducibility of original results is important from the onset of a line of inquiry through its maturation.” Of course not, you silly goose!

“This is a mistake,” they say. “If initial ideas were always correct, then there would hardly be a reason to conduct research in the first place. A healthy discipline will have many false starts as it confronts the limits of present understanding.”

What a terrible gaggle of misleading sentences. The reason this notion is wrong is that we are not talking about the IDEAS, we are talking about the experimental RESULTS. The results can and should always be accurate. They may not substantiate the IDEA the researcher began with, but that’s what science is about.

Isn’t it?

In any event, this is the state of science today. The analysis above does not discuss political or financing issues, but it’s easy to extrapolate. Think Global Warming/ Change/Chaos, etc.

We’re betting that medical research is the least likely o experience these dismal results. To paraphrase what a friend said about another topic, “You can’t bullshit your way out of a patient death.”

Think about this the next time you hear, “The science is settled.”


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Retirement planning – don’t panic

“Don’t panic,” seems to be a recurring theme these days. Last night, we heard a Dave Ramsey broadcast which featured his retirement guru, whose name IFO can’t locate on his website.

The topic under discussion was the tendency people have when considering their own retirement to look at their financial situation and panic. What? No savings?

Ramsey discussed a government report noting that more than 1/3 of all workers have NO savings whatsoever!

One out of every three people? This was as astounding to them as it was to IFO. Why? How? But these gentlemen are kind and comforting, not judgmental like some people IFO knows. Okay, it’s me.

IFO just doesn’t have any empathy or sympathy, though she knows she should. She’s an automatic, unthinking saver. It is in her genes. Nobody told her or taught her to do it.

She just saved quarters she got from her uncles for years and one day asked what she could do with them. Her father suggested opening a savings account. She did and became an obsessive saver, especially after learning about the magic of compound interest, one of the few math concepts she mastered IMMEDIATELY.

What about the non-genetic non-savers who are suddenly realizing they aren’t going to have much money coming in after they retire?

Of the 2/3 of people who aren’t in that desperate group, probably about half have company retirement plans and the other half are self-employed, like farmers, small business people, and professionals like doctors or lawyers.

Ramsay and his pal gently suggested ways to get started NOW and encouraged their listeners in that situation not to panic. For the rest of the program, they issued their standard recommendations: make a budget (it’s not as hard as you might think), pay off ALL your debt, start saving NOW.

Even if you are 60 years old, you can still start to save and have a tidy nest egg in just 10 years. You’ll only be 70 then! You can probably work until you are 70, so you’re going to be okay. Just don’t get paralyzed by the enormity of the task. Take it one step at a time.

For anyone who thinks it might be hard to save money, you have only to Google the term “Saving Money.” Voila! 86 MILLION results! You’re sure to find advice you can live with.

At the risk of being snarky, see paragraph #3 above, we note the Ramsey show’s heavy emphasis on fundamentalist-style Christianity. Having grown up surrounded by such warm and loving, but often impractical, people, we totally understand their need for his show.

But being a Jewish lady now, she is struck by the lack of such learning programs in her new community, which offers classes in every aspect of Jewish culture to all kinds of us, from the highly liberal Reform Movement to the highly fundamentalist Chassidic movement.

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Rich people like to work and it pays off!

Parker Bros. game – Careers. Good for hours of fun!

This may seem a truism to some, but we’ve been noticing specific examples lately that show that rich people like to work. They enjoy it. They revel in it.

Everybody from our neighbors across the street in the big house with the big, manicured yard and many cars parked in the driveway to Carly Fiorina. Yes, Carly – our tough lady from yesterday’s post! Yay!

Go Carly Fiorina! We just learned she’s been invited to be in the next major Republican debate. CNN caved in to … wait for it … tweets from Donald Trump and Ben Carson. So much for Republicans beating up on each other. It is just SOME of them. Ahem. Note: not all news stories are mentioning that little fact.

We also have learned that Ms. Fiorina is a native of Texas, which explains a LOT about her. In IFO’s former home town, there were three women who were Texas natives. Their toughness and their contributions to the town were and are legendary.

Our neighbors both work at day jobs and are raising two daughters. They have four raised garden beds in the front yard where they are producing huge vegetable crops, plus apple trees in the little orchard next to it. Plus, kiwi vines next to their swimming pool in the back yard.

As you can see, they work hard and play hard. Their girls are involved in some school sport that involves sticks and a net on the ground.

And then there’s the young woman from Amazon who was quoted in a NYT story several weeks ago as saying,

“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”

Well, that’s what the NYT story said. But Dina Vaccari had much more to say. Her quasi-rebuttal story was in LinkedIn, a jobs site owned by … Amazon! Vaccari no longer works for Amazon, but she clearly still loves the company. Her story, linked above is really worth reading.

We have a friend who knows lots of Amazon people and he confirms the work ethic there. But he suspects that the article may have been an outgrowth of fear and loathing at the NYT brought on by Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post! He could be right!

IFO had a job like that about 15 years ago, but that company didn’t have a genius like Jeff Bezos running it. It was a business news website, built on the model developed by American City Business Journals. But company founders were more focused on news than income. Sigh. Went bankrupt in 2001.

But before that, IFO had more fun and worked harder and made more money than she ever had before or has since. It’s a thrill you can’t describe unless you’ve been in the middle of it. It’s the Game of Careers writ large: Stars! Hearts! Money!

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