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My Dad's Friendship With Charles Barkley

My Dad’s Friendship With Charles BarkleyCopy the code be­low to em­bed the WBUR au­dio player on your sitePlay­When Charles Barkley’s mother, Charcey Glenn, passed away in June 2015, Barkley’s home­town of Leeds, Alabama, came to the fu­neral to pay re­spects. But there was also an un­ex­pected guest. Barkley’s friends could­n’t quite place him. He was­n’t a bas­ket­ball player, he was­n’t a sports fig­ure, and he was­n’t from Barkley’s home­town. Here’s what I can tell you about him: He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got re­ally ex­cited about two-for-one deals. He was a com­muter. He worked as a cat lit­ter sci­en­tist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was every­one’s sub­ur­ban dad. More specif­i­cally, he was my dad.“You know, it was ob­vi­ously a very dif­fi­cult time,” Barkley told me re­cently. And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s like, Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laugh­ing. I said, That’s my boy, Lin.’ They’re, like, How do you know him?’ I said, It’s a long story.’ ”You know, [Barkley] has a big per­son­al­ity,” my dad, Lin Wang, told me last year, when I recorded him talk­ing about Barkley.My dad told me that he knew about Barkley long be­fore he met him.“Well, yeah, he’s a top-50 player in the his­tory of the NBA,” he said. For many years, he was the No. 2 guy, right af­ter Michael Jordan.“Whenever we at­tended din­ner par­ties, my dad would talk about his friend Charles Barkley. The first time my dad told the story, I did­n’t pre­tend to know who this per­son was. Basketball has never been my thing.Like a good mil­len­nial, I Googled Charles Barkley. He seemed pretty fa­mous — and def­i­nitely not like any­one who would be friends with my dad. But again, as a good mil­len­nial, I knew that peo­ple have very loose de­f­i­n­i­tions of the word “friend.“About two years ago, I asked my dad if I could see their texts. My dad handed me his phone. Their texts were mostly mes­sages from my dad that ended with an ex­ces­sive num­ber of ex­cla­ma­tion points.I told my dad the con­ver­sa­tion seemed pretty one-sided and handed the phone back.As I talked about the re­la­tion­ship with more and more peo­ple, I be­gan to think that ei­ther my dad was one of the luck­i­est bas­ket­ball fans ever — or this whole thing was an elab­o­rate joke, a Dinner For Schmucks”-type sit­u­a­tion.But no. The friend­ship was real.“It was, like, one of the most ran­dom things,” Barkley re­called with a laugh.“I was on a busi­ness trip,” my dad said, and stayed in one of the ho­tels and was walk­ing in the lobby, and I saw Charles Barkley.“”I was in Sacramento speak­ing at a char­ity event,” Barkley said.“So, I just went to say hi and take a pic­ture with him,” my dad said.“I was just sit­ting at the bar,” Barkley said. And me and your dad were the only two peo­ple in there. And we just sit down and started talk­ing.“”And, be­fore we know it, we looked at each other, like, Yo, man, I’m hun­gry. Let’s go to din­ner,’ Barkley said. It turned into a two-hour din­ner. And then we ac­tu­ally went back to the bar and just sit there and talked for an­other cou­ple of hours. And the rest is his­tory.“My dad and Barkley saw each other again in the bar the next night. And the night af­ter that. At the end of the third night:“Cer­tainly, I told him I had a good time talk­ing with him, hang­ing out with him,” my dad said. He said the same thing to me, and he left the phone num­ber. He said, Whenever you’re in Atlanta, New York City or Phoenix, check out with me. If I’m in town, we’ll hang out and have a good time.’ Over the next few years, when­ever my dad was in those cities, he would text Barkley, and they would hang out.“I mean, it was just a fun time,” Barkley said. My friends — Shaq, Ernie, Kenny — they en­joyed just meet­ing him.“They got din­ner to­gether.“I think I had Thai basil noo­dle,” my dad re­called. It was pretty good. I had it right in­side the of­fice.“They spent time on the set of Barkley’s TNT show, Inside the NBA.“”He likes to clean,” my dad said. There were sev­eral big can of clean­ing wipes right on his desk. Every time he sit down, he cleaned his desk.“”Iowa lost to Maryland that day,” my dad said.I’m pretty sure they did some par­ty­ing too. But that, I don’t know much about.“Your dad is one of the hap­pi­est peo­ple I’ve ever met in my life,” Barkley said. I’m not just say­ing that — I mean, think about it: It’s fun to be with your friends, you know? Cause, I don’t have that many friends that I want to be around, to be hon­est with you. I mean, you know a lot of peo­ple. But when you go spend time with your friends, it’s a whole dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.“Back home, my dad’s cowork­ers would tease him about Barkley and ask him about the story all the time. My dad did­n’t mind that they did­n’t be­lieve him. He even made a slideshow of pho­tos of him and Barkley to­gether for our com­mu­ni­ty’s Chinese New Year cel­e­bra­tion — to­tally ir­rel­e­vant to the hol­i­day.I asked my dad what he thought it was about him, of all peo­ple, that made him and Charles Barkley be­come friends.“I think we had a good con­ver­sa­tion,” he said. We agree with each other [on] a lot of point of views.“You know, he grown up in the 70s in Alabama. His fa­ther left him and his mother when he was lit­tle. He grown up with grandma and mother. And the grandma and mother cleaned up houses for some­body else to make a liv­ing.“Tough life for him. But he’s well-re­spected pro­fes­sion­ally. And that’s his story.““Your dad is one of the hap­pi­est peo­ple I’ve ever met in my life.” My dad moved to Iowa from China in the 90s. He felt that Barkley and him had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences.“So, to me, as an Asian in the U.S., I felt as long as I do a good job, peo­ple will re­spect me,” my dad said.Barkley and my dad both worked hard — so hard, they be­lieved, that the color of their skin did­n’t mat­ter. In Chinese, we’d say that dad some­times would 胡说八道(hú shuō bā dào) — that meant that some­times he was known for spew­ing rub­bish. I know that bas­ket­ball fans might say Barkley of­ten does the same.In June 2015, Barkley’s mother passed away. When my dad heard the news, he looked up the fu­neral de­tails and hopped on a plane to Leeds, Alabama.“It ain’t easy to get to those places,” Barkley said. I’m from a very small town.“And my dad showed up for his friend. Afterward, he went to din­ner with Barkley and his fam­ily.“For your dad to take the time to come to the fu­neral meant a great deal to me,” Barkley said.Then, in May 2016, my dad was di­ag­nosed with can­cer. He had tu­mors in his heart.I took that fall off from school. My dad and I watched mob­ster movies to­gether. Action movies. Kung Fu movies. When the cred­its rolled, we’d flip to a bas­ket­ball game. Just me and him, watch­ing a lot of TV in our liv­ing room.Then, it was two years.My dad never told Barkley that he was sick.“I called him and got mad at him when I found out,” Barkley said. I was, like, Dude, we’re friends. You can tell me. You’re not both­er­ing me. You know me well enough — if you were both­er­ing me, I would tell you you were both­er­ing me.’ What Barkley did­n’t know was that my dad watched him al­most every night on TNT. And while he rested and healed, my dad was laugh­ing along with Barkley. He kept my dad com­pany.June 2018. NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. My dad was stay­ing in pal­lia­tive care at the hos­pi­tal. He loved the Warriors. I vis­ited and read him sports high­lights.He did­n’t get to watch J.R. Smith’s late mis­take in Game 1 live. I tried to get him to laugh about Smith drib­bling away from the hoop be­cause he thought his team was ahead.But it was a Sunday af­ter­noon, and my dad was tired. The sum­mer light filled his room. Then, the day faded, and dusk be­gan to en­ter.Af­ter it was all over, I went through my dad’s phone and texted all his friends. I wrote:Hi. This is Shirley. My dad just passed away.The fu­neral was the day af­ter the NBA Finals. My dad’s fa­vorite team, the Golden State Warriors, had won the night be­fore.“It gives me great mem­o­ries and great joy to know that I was a friend of his.” The fu­neral was set near the out­skirts of Iowa City in a house by the woods. I was talk­ing to my child­hood friend when she sud­denly looked stunned. I turned to look be­hind me.And stand­ing there — drenched in sweat from the Iowa sum­mer, tow­er­ing over every­one in the room at 6 feet, 6 inches tall — was Charles Barkley.“I had not met any­body in your fam­ily,” Barkley said. I did­n’t know any­body there.“Every­one watched, as­ton­ished, as this man — this man we only knew from TV, this world­wide celebrity — walked down the aisle, looked at us and sighed.Later, af­ter it all, I texted Barkley and asked him: Why my dad? Why did he mat­ter so much to you?” And re­cently, I called him up and asked: What did you even have to talk about?“”Well, I think — first of all, clearly, he was a fan,” Barkley said. But I think the main thing we talked about was you and your brother.“”What did you guys talk about — what did he say?” I asked.“I think it was more that he was proud,” Barkley said. Because I’ve got a daugh­ter, too. I’m just re­ally, re­ally proud of her, be­cause I think she’s a good per­son. And your dad was so proud of you and your brother.“Lis­ten: As an adult — and you’re too young to un­der­stand this now — all you want is your kids to be happy. That’s what you work for. To give your kids every­thing in life.“The more Charles Barkley and I talked, I re­al­ized just how close he and my dad were. Barkley knew so much about me and my life — even though this was the first time he and I had ever talked.“It gives me great mem­o­ries and great joy to know that I was a friend of his,” Barkley said. Just hear­ing about him at the fu­neral — what he had ac­com­plished and what he was try­ing to help other peo­ple ac­com­plish, just made me even — I wished he bragged more about him­self.“”So, let me get this straight: you were im­pressed by him?” I asked.‘I Was Blessed To Know Him’At the fu­neral, peo­ple shared mem­o­ries of my dad and made me re­al­ize that, for ex­am­ple, he was not just a cat lit­ter chemist — but an in­dus­try-chang­ing sci­en­tist with a Ph.D. And not just an im­mi­grant — but some­one who reached out to Chinese new­com­ers. And not just a thought­ful guy — but some­one peo­ple trusted for ad­vice. I re­al­ized that, even af­ter he passed away, I would con­tinue to learn things about my dad.Be­fore Barkley and I hung up, he had one more thing to say:“Hey, lis­ten. You stay in touch. Please tell your mom I said hello. Give her a big kiss. Tell your brother I said hello. And lis­ten: Just keep do­ing you. It’s your time now. Don’t for­get that. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.“Your dad pre­pared you to take care of your­self. He pre­pared you for that. I was blessed to know him — and know you, too.“”Thank you for your time,” I said.“You’re wel­come, baby. You take it easy, you hear?“I know how much his friend­ship with Charles Barkley meant to my dad. It was not just a re­la­tion­ship with a celebrity — it shed light on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of this world. A world where some­one like him could just say some­thing cool, some­thing charm­ing, and be­friend some­one like Charles Barkley.I’m so glad that now I get to share my dad’s No. 1 din­ner party story.How Emily Hsieh’s Olympic Dream Led Her To Rugby Refereeing’I Should Have Done More’: Bob Cousy’s Letter To Bill RussellThe Nike Air Swoopes And The Disappearance Of Women’s Signature Shoes


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Egypt reveals 'one of a kind' tomb find

Archaeologists in Egypt have made an ex­cit­ing tomb dis­cov­ery - the fi­nal rest­ing place of a high priest, un­touched for 4,400 years.

Mostafa Waziri, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, de­scribed the find as one of a kind in the last decades”.

The tomb, found in the Saqqara pyra­mid com­plex near Cairo, is filled with colour­ful hi­ero­glyphs and stat­ues of pharaohs. Decorative scenes show the owner, a royal priest named Wahtye, with his mother, wife and other rel­a­tives.

Archaeologists will start ex­ca­vat­ing the tomb on 16 December, and ex­pect more dis­cov­er­ies to fol­low - in­clud­ing the own­er’s sar­coph­a­gus.


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J&J knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder

Facing thou­sands of law­suits al­leg­ing that its talc caused can­cer, J&J in­sists on the safety and pu­rity of its iconic prod­uct. But in­ter­nal doc­u­ments ex­am­ined by Reuters show that the com­pa­ny’s pow­der was some­times tainted with car­cino­genic as­bestos and that J&J kept that in­for­ma­tion from reg­u­la­tors and the pub­lic.

Darlene Coker knew she was dy­ing. She just wanted to know why. She knew that her can­cer, mesothe­lioma, arose in the del­i­cate mem­brane sur­round­ing her lungs and other or­gans. She knew it was as rare as it was deadly, a sig­na­ture of ex­po­sure to as­bestos. And she knew it af­flicted mostly men who in­haled as­bestos dust in mines and in­dus­tries such as ship­build­ing that used the car­cino­gen be­fore its risks were un­der­stood.Coker, 52 years old, had raised two daugh­ters and was run­ning a mas­sage school in Lumberton, a small town in east­ern Texas. How had she been ex­posed to as­bestos? She wanted an­swers,” her daugh­ter Cady Evans said.Fight­ing for every breath and in crip­pling pain, Coker hired Herschel Hobson, a per­sonal-in­jury lawyer. He homed in on a sus­pect: the Johnson’s Baby Powder that Coker had used on her in­fant chil­dren and sprin­kled on her­self all her life. Hobson knew that talc and as­bestos of­ten oc­curred to­gether in the earth, and that mined talc could be con­t­a­m­i­nated with the car­cino­gen. Coker sued John­son & Johnson, al­leg­ing that poisonous talc” in the com­pa­ny’s beloved prod­uct was her killer.

J&J did­n’t tell the FDA that at least three tests by three dif­fer­ent labs from 1972 to 1975 had found as­bestos in its talc — in one case at lev­els re­ported as rather high.”

J&J de­nied the claim. Baby Powder was as­bestos-free, it said. As the case pro­ceeded, J&J was able to avoid hand­ing over talc test re­sults and other in­ter­nal com­pany records Hobson had re­quested to make the case against Baby Powder.Coker had no choice but to drop her law­suit, Hobson said. When you are the plain­tiff, you have the bur­den of proof,” he said. We did­n’t have it.”That was in 1999. Two decades later, the ma­te­r­ial Coker and her lawyer sought is emerg­ing as J&J has been com­pelled to share thou­sands of pages of com­pany memos, in­ter­nal re­ports and other con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments with lawyers for some of the 11,700 plain­tiffs now claim­ing that the com­pa­ny’s talc caused their can­cers — in­clud­ing thou­sands of women with ovar­ian can­cer.A Reuters ex­am­i­na­tion of many of those doc­u­ments, as well as de­po­si­tion and trial tes­ti­mony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the com­pa­ny’s raw talc and fin­ished pow­ders some­times tested pos­i­tive for small amounts of as­bestos, and that com­pany ex­ec­u­tives, mine man­agers, sci­en­tists, doc­tors and lawyers fret­ted over the prob­lem and how to ad­dress it while fail­ing to dis­close it to reg­u­la­tors or the pub­lic.The doc­u­ments also de­pict suc­cess­ful ef­forts to in­flu­ence U.S. reg­u­la­tors’ plans to limit as­bestos in cos­metic talc prod­ucts and sci­en­tific re­search on the health ef­fects of talc.A small por­tion of the doc­u­ments have been pro­duced at trial and cited in me­dia re­ports. Many were shielded from pub­lic view by court or­ders that al­lowed J&J to turn over thou­sands of doc­u­ments it des­ig­nated as con­fi­den­tial. Much of their con­tents is re­ported here for the first time.

The ear­li­est men­tions of tainted J&J talc that Reuters found come from 1957 and 1958 re­ports by a con­sult­ing lab. They de­scribe con­t­a­m­i­nants in talc from J&J’s Italian sup­plier as fi­brous and acicular,” or nee­dle-like, tremo­lite. That’s one of the six min­er­als that in their nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring fi­brous form are clas­si­fied as as­bestos.At var­i­ous times from then into the early 2000s, re­ports by sci­en­tists at J&J, out­side labs and J&J’s sup­plier yielded sim­i­lar find­ings. The re­ports iden­tify con­t­a­m­i­nants in talc and fin­ished pow­der prod­ucts as as­bestos or de­scribe them in terms typ­i­cally ap­plied to as­bestos, such as fiberform” and rods.”In 1976, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was weigh­ing lim­its on as­bestos in cos­metic talc prod­ucts, J&J as­sured the reg­u­la­tor that no as­bestos was detected in any sam­ple” of talc pro­duced be­tween December 1972 and October 1973. It did­n’t tell the agency that at least three tests by three dif­fer­ent labs from 1972 to 1975 had found as­bestos in its talc — in one case at lev­els re­ported as rather high.”Most in­ter­nal J&J as­bestos test re­ports Reuters re­viewed do not find as­bestos. However, while J&J’s test­ing meth­ods im­proved over time, they have al­ways had lim­i­ta­tions that al­low trace con­t­a­m­i­nants to go un­de­tected — and only a tiny frac­tion of the com­pa­ny’s talc is tested.The World Health Organization and other au­thor­i­ties rec­og­nize no safe level of ex­po­sure to as­bestos. While most peo­ple ex­posed never de­velop can­cer, for some, even small amounts of as­bestos are enough to trig­ger the dis­ease years later. Just how small has­n’t been es­tab­lished. Many plain­tiffs al­lege that the amounts they in­haled when they dusted them­selves with tainted tal­cum pow­der were enough.The ev­i­dence of what J&J knew has sur­faced af­ter peo­ple who sus­pected that talc caused their can­cers hired lawyers ex­pe­ri­enced in the decades-long del­uge of lit­i­ga­tion in­volv­ing work­ers ex­posed to as­bestos. Some of the lawyers knew from those ear­lier cases that talc pro­duc­ers tested for as­bestos, and they be­gan de­mand­ing J&J’s test­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion.

What J&J pro­duced in re­sponse to those de­mands has al­lowed plain­tiffs’ lawyers to re­fine their ar­gu­ment: The cul­prit was­n’t nec­es­sar­ily talc it­self, but also as­bestos in the talc. That as­ser­tion, backed by decades of solid sci­ence show­ing that as­bestos causes mesothe­lioma and is as­so­ci­ated with ovar­ian and other can­cers, has had mixed suc­cess in court.In two cases ear­lier this year — in New Jersey and California — ju­ries awarded big sums to plain­tiffs who, like Coker, blamed as­bestos-tainted J&J talc prod­ucts for their mesothe­lioma.A third ver­dict, in St. Louis, was a wa­ter­shed, broad­en­ing J&J’s po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity: The 22 plain­tiffs were the first to suc­ceed with a claim that as­bestos-tainted Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc, a long­time brand the com­pany sold in 2012, caused ovar­ian can­cer, which is much more com­mon than mesothe­lioma. The jury awarded them $4.69 bil­lion in dam­ages. Most of the talc cases have been brought by women with ovar­ian can­cer who say they reg­u­larly used J&J talc prod­ucts as a per­ineal an­tiper­spi­rant and de­odor­ant.At the same time, at least three ju­ries have re­jected claims that Baby Powder was tainted with as­bestos or caused plain­tiffs’ mesothe­lioma. Others have failed to reach ver­dicts, re­sult­ing in mis­tri­als.J&J has said it will ap­peal the re­cent ver­dicts against it. It has main­tained in pub­lic state­ments that its talc is safe, as shown for years by the best tests avail­able, and that the in­for­ma­tion it has been re­quired to di­vulge in re­cent lit­i­ga­tion shows the care the com­pany takes to en­sure its prod­ucts are as­bestos-free. It has blamed its losses on ju­ror con­fu­sion, junk” sci­ence, un­fair court rules and overzeal­ous lawyers look­ing for a fresh pool of as­bestos plain­tiffs.“Plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys out for per­sonal fi­nan­cial gain are dis­tort­ing his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments and in­ten­tion­ally cre­at­ing con­fu­sion in the court­room and in the me­dia,” Ernie Knewitz, J&J’s vice pres­i­dent of global me­dia re­la­tions, wrote in an emailed re­sponse to Reuters’ find­ings. This is all a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to dis­tract from the fact that thou­sands of in­de­pen­dent tests prove our talc does not con­tain as­bestos or cause can­cer. Any sug­ges­tion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid in­for­ma­tion about the safety of talc is false.”J&J de­clined to com­ment fur­ther for this ar­ti­cle. For more than two months, it turned down re­peated re­quests for an in­ter­view with J&J ex­ec­u­tives. On Dec. 8, the com­pany of­fered to make an ex­pert avail­able. It had not done so as of Thursday evening.The com­pany re­ferred all in­quiries to its out­side lit­i­ga­tion coun­sel, Peter Bicks. In emailed re­sponses, Bicks re­jected Reuters’ find­ings as false and mis­lead­ing.” The sci­en­tific con­sen­sus is that the talc used in talc-based body pow­ders does not cause can­cer, re­gard­less of what is in that talc,” Bicks wrote. This is true even if - and it does not - Johnson & Johnson’s cos­metic talc had ever con­tained minute, un­de­tectable amounts of as­bestos.” He dis­missed tests cited in this ar­ti­cle as outlier” re­sults.In court, J&J lawyers have told ju­rors that com­pany records show­ing that as­bestos was de­tected in its talc re­ferred to talc in­tended for in­dus­trial use. Other records, they have ar­gued, re­ferred to non-as­bestos forms of the same min­er­als that their ex­perts say are harm­less. J&J has also ar­gued that some tests picked up background” as­bestos — stray fibers that could have con­t­a­m­i­nated sam­ples af­ter float­ing into a mill or lab from a ve­hi­cle clutch or fray­ing in­su­la­tion.

The com­pany has made some of the same ar­gu­ments about lab tests con­ducted by ex­perts hired by plain­tiffs. One of those labs found as­bestos in Shower to Shower talc from the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to an Aug. 11, 2017, court re­port. Another lab found as­bestos in more than half of mul­ti­ple sam­ples of Baby Powder from past decades — in bot­tles from plain­tiffs’ cup­boards and ac­quired from eBay, and even a 1978 bot­tle held in J&J’s cor­po­rate mu­seum. The con­cen­tra­tions were great enough that users would have, more likely than not, been ex­posed,” the plain­tiffs’ lab re­port pre­sented in sev­eral cases this year con­cluded.Matthew Sanchez, a ge­ol­o­gist with con­sul­tants RJ Lee Group Inc and a fre­quent ex­pert wit­ness for J&J, dis­missed those find­ings in tes­ti­mony in the St. Louis trial: I have not found as­bestos in any of the cur­rent or mod­ern, what I con­sider mod­ern, Johnson & Johnson talc prod­ucts,” Sanchez told the jury.Sanchez did not re­turn calls seek­ing com­ment. RJ Lee said it does not com­ment on the work it does for clients.Since 2003, talc in Baby Powder sold in the United States has come from China through sup­plier Imerys Talc America, a unit of Paris-based Imerys SA and a co-de­fen­dant in most of the talc lit­i­ga­tion. Imerys and J&J said the Chinese talc is safe. An Imerys spokesman said the com­pa­ny’s tests consistently show no as­bestos. Talc’s safe use has been con­firmed by mul­ti­ple reg­u­la­tory and sci­en­tific bod­ies.”J&J, based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has dom­i­nated the talc pow­der mar­ket for more than 100 years, its sales out­pac­ing those of all com­peti­tors com­bined, ac­cord­ing to Euromonitor International data. And while talc prod­ucts con­tributed just $420 mil­lion to J&J’s $76.5 bil­lion in rev­enue last year, Baby Powder is con­sid­ered an es­sen­tial facet of the health­care-prod­ucts mak­er’s care­fully tended im­age as a car­ing com­pany — a sacred cow,” as one 2003 in­ter­nal email put it.“When peo­ple re­ally un­der­stand what’s go­ing on, I think it in­creases J&J’s ex­po­sure a thou­sand-fold,” said Mark Lanier, one of the lawyers for the women in the St. Louis case. The mount­ing con­tro­versy sur­round­ing J&J talc has­n’t shaken in­vestors. The share price is up about 6 per­cent so far this year. Talc cases make up fewer than 10 per­cent of all per­sonal in­jury law­suits pend­ing against J&J, based on the com­pa­ny’s Aug. 2 quar­terly re­port, in which the com­pany said it be­lieved it had strong grounds on ap­peal.”J&J Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky has pledged to fight on, telling an­a­lysts in July: We re­main con­fi­dent that our prod­ucts do not con­tain as­bestos.”Gorsky’s com­ment, echoed in count­less J&J state­ments, misses a cru­cial point. Asbestos, like many en­vi­ron­men­tal car­cino­gens, has a long la­tency pe­riod. Diagnosis usu­ally comes years af­ter ini­tial ex­po­sure — 20 years or longer for mesothe­lioma. J&J talc prod­ucts to­day may be safe, but the talc at is­sue in thou­sands of law­suits was sold and used over the past 60 years.That point is rec­og­nized in a 2013 markup of a state­ment for the Safety & Care Commitment” page of J&J’s web­site. The orig­i­nal ver­sion con­veyed a blan­ket as­sur­ance of safety. The edited ver­sion was less de­fin­i­tive: Our talc-based con­sumer prod­ucts  have al­ways been  as­bestos free, as con­firmed by reg­u­lar test­ing since the 1970s.”

THEN AND NOW: A 2013 markup of a state­ment for J&J’s web­site im­plic­itly rec­og­nizes the pos­si­bil­ity that the com­pa­ny’s talc could have been tainted in ear­lier times.

In 1886, Robert Wood Johnson en­listed his younger broth­ers in an epony­mous startup built around the Safety First” motto. Johnson’s Baby Powder grew out of a line of med­icated plas­ters, sticky rub­ber strips loaded with mus­tard and other home reme­dies. When cus­tomers com­plained of skin ir­ri­ta­tion, the broth­ers sent pack­ets of talc.Soon, moth­ers be­gan ap­ply­ing the talc to in­fants’ di­a­per-chafed skin. The Johnsons took note. They added a fra­grance that would be­come one of the most rec­og­niz­able in the world, sifted the talc into tin boxes and, in 1893, be­gan sell­ing it as Johnson’s Baby Powder.In the late 1950s, J&J dis­cov­ered that talc from its chief source mine for the U.S. mar­ket in the Italian Alps con­tained tremo­lite. That’s one of six min­er­als — along with chrysotile, acti­no­lite, amosite, an­tho­phyl­lite and cro­ci­do­lite — that oc­cur in na­ture as crys­talline fibers known as as­bestos, a rec­og­nized car­cino­gen. Some of them, in­clud­ing tremo­lite, also oc­cur as un­re­mark­able non-asbestiform” rocks. Both forms of­ten oc­cur to­gether and in talc de­posits.J&J’s worry at the time was that con­t­a­m­i­nants made the com­pa­ny’s pow­der abra­sive. It sent tons of its Italian talc to a pri­vate lab in Columbus, Ohio, to find ways to im­prove the ap­pear­ance, feel and pu­rity of the pow­der by re­mov­ing as much grit” as pos­si­ble. In a pair of re­ports from 1957 and 1958, the lab said the talc con­tained from less than 1 per­cent to about 3 per­cent of con­t­a­m­i­nants,” de­scribed as mostly fi­brous and acicular” tremo­lite.Most of the au­thors of these and other J&J records cited in this ar­ti­cle are dead. Sanchez, the RJ Lee ge­ol­o­gist whose firm has agreed to pro­vide him as a wit­ness in up to 100 J&J talc tri­als, has tes­ti­fied that tremo­lite found decades ago in the com­pa­ny’s talc, from Italy and later Vermont, was not tremo­lite as­bestos at all. Rather, he has said, it was cleavage frag­ments” from non-as­besti­form tremo­lite.J&J’s orig­i­nal records don’t al­ways make that dis­tinc­tion. In terms of health risk, reg­u­la­tors since the early 1970s have treated small fiber-shaped par­ti­cles of both forms the same.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for ex­am­ple, makes no dis­tinc­tion be­tween fibers and (comparable) cleav­age frag­ments,” agency of­fi­cials wrote in a re­sponse to an RJ Lee re­port on an un­re­lated mat­ter in 2006, the year be­fore the firm hired Sanchez. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), though it dropped the non-fi­brous forms of the min­er­als from its de­f­i­n­i­tion of as­bestos in 1992, nonethe­less rec­om­mends that fiber-shaped frag­ments in­dis­tin­guish­able from as­bestos be counted in its ex­po­sure tests.And as the prod­uct safety di­rec­tor for J&J’s talc sup­plier ac­knowl­edged in a 2008 email to col­leagues: (I)f a de­posit con­tains non-asbestiform’ tremo­lite, there is also as­besti­form tremo­lite nat­u­rally pre­sent as well.”

In 1964, J&J’s Windsor Minerals Inc sub­sidiary bought a clus­ter of talc mines in Vermont, with names like Argonaut, Rainbow, Frostbite and Black Bear. By 1966, it was blast­ing and bull­doz­ing white rock out of the Green Mountain state. J&J used the milled pow­der in its cos­metic pow­ders and sold a less-re­fined grade to roof­ing, floor­ing and tire com­pa­nies for use in man­u­fac­tur­ing.Ten years af­ter tremo­lite turned up in the Italian talc, it showed up in Vermont talc, too. In 1967, J&J found traces of tremo­lite and an­other min­eral that can oc­cur as as­bestos, ac­cord­ing to a table at­tached to a Nov. 1, 1967, memo by William Ashton, the ex­ec­u­tive in charge of J&J’s talc sup­ply for decades.J&J con­tin­ued to search for sources of clean talc. But in an April 9, 1969, memo to a com­pany doc­tor, Ashton said it was normal” to find tremo­lite in many U.S. talc de­posits. He sug­gested J&J re­think its ap­proach. Historically, in our Company, Tremolite has been bad,” Ashton wrote. How bad is Tremolite med­ically, and how much of it can safely be in a talc base we might de­velop?”Since pul­monary dis­ease, in­clud­ing can­cer, ap­peared to be on the rise, it would seem to be pru­dent to limit any pos­si­ble con­tent of Tremolite … to an ab­solute min­i­mum,” came the re­ply from an­other physi­cian ex­ec­u­tive days later. The doc­tor told Ashton that J&J was re­ceiv­ing safety ques­tions from pe­di­a­tri­cians. Even Robert Wood Johnson II, the founder’s son and then-re­tired CEO, had ex­pressed concern over the pos­si­bil­ity of the ad­verse ef­fects on the lungs of ba­bies or moth­ers,” he wrote.“We have replied,” the doc­tor wrote, that we would not re­gard the us­age of our pow­ders as pre­sent­ing any haz­ard.” Such as­sur­ances would be im­pos­si­ble, he added, if we do in­clude Tremolite in more than un­avoid­able trace amounts.”The memo is the ear­li­est J&J doc­u­ment re­viewed by Reuters that dis­cusses tremo­lite as more than a scratchy nui­sance. The doc­tor urged Ashton to con­sult with com­pany lawyers be­cause it is not in­con­ceiv­able that we could be­come in­volved in lit­i­ga­tion.”

By the early 1970s, as­bestos was widely rec­og­nized as the pri­mary cause of mesothe­lioma among work­ers in­volved in pro­duc­ing it and in in­dus­tries that used it in their prod­ucts.Reg­u­la­tion was in the air. In 1972, President Richard Nixon’s newly cre­ated OSHA is­sued its first rule, set­ting lim­its on work­place ex­po­sure to as­bestos dust.By then, a team at Mount Sinai Medical Center led by pre-em­i­nent as­bestos re­searcher Irving Selikoff had started look­ing at tal­cum pow­ders as a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion to a puz­zle: Why were tests of lung tis­sue taken post mortem from New Yorkers who never worked with as­bestos find­ing signs of the min­eral? Since talc de­posits are of­ten laced with as­bestos, the sci­en­tists rea­soned, per­haps tal­cum pow­ders played a role.They shared their pre­lim­i­nary find­ings with New York City’s en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion chief, Jerome Kretchmer. On June 29, 1971, Kretchmer in­formed the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion and called a press con­fer­ence to an­nounce that two uniden­ti­fied brands of cos­metic talc ap­peared to con­tain as­bestos.The FDA opened an in­quiry. J&J is­sued a state­ment: Our fifty years of re­search knowl­edge in this area in­di­cates that there is no as­bestos con­tained in the pow­der man­u­fac­tured by Johnson & Johnson.”Later that year, an­other Mount Sinai re­searcher, min­er­al­o­gist Arthur Langer, told J&J in a let­ter that the team had found a relatively small” amount of chrysotile as­bestos in Baby Powder.

NOTORIETY: Langer and Kretchmer ended up on an in­ter­nal J&J list of antagonistic per­son­al­i­ties.”

Langer, Selikoff and Kretchmer ended up on a J&J list of antagonistic per­son­al­i­ties” in a Nov. 29, 1972, memo, which de­scribed Selikoff as the leader of an attack on talc.”“I sup­pose I was an­tag­o­nis­tic,” Langer told Reuters. Even so, in a sub­se­quent test of J&J pow­ders in 1976, he did­n’t find as­bestos — a re­sult that Mount Sinai an­nounced. Langer said he told J&J lawyers who vis­ited him last year that he stood by all of his find­ings. J&J has not called him as a wit­ness.

TOP TESTER: Irving Selikoff, who led the Mount Sinai team that in­ves­ti­gated as­bestos and talc, was also listed among J&J’s antagonistic per­son­al­i­ties.” Photo cour­tesy of Arthur Langer

Selikoff died in 1992. Kretchmer said he re­cently read that a jury had con­cluded that Baby Powder was con­t­a­m­i­nated with as­bestos. I said to my­self, How come it took so long?’ he said.In July 1971, mean­while, J&J sent a del­e­ga­tion of sci­en­tists to Washington to talk to the FDA of­fi­cials look­ing into as­bestos in tal­cum pow­ders. According to an FDA ac­count of the meet­ing, J&J shared evidence that their talc con­tains less than 1%, if any, as­bestos.”Later that month, Wilson Nashed, one of the J&J sci­en­tists who vis­ited the FDA,  said in a memo to the com­pa­ny’s pub­lic re­la­tions de­part­ment that J&J’s talc con­tained trace amounts of fibrous min­er­als (tremolite/actinolite).”As the FDA con­tin­ued to in­ves­ti­gate as­bestos in talc, J&J sent pow­der sam­ples to be tested at pri­vate and uni­ver­sity labs. Though a pri­vate lab in Chicago found trace amounts of tremo­lite, it de­clared the amount insignificant” and the sam­ples substantially free of as­besti­form ma­te­r­ial.” J&J re­ported that find­ing to the FDA un­der a cover let­ter that said the results clearly show” the sam­ples tested contain no chrysotile as­bestos.” J&J’s lawyer told Reuters the tremo­lite found in the sam­ples was not as­bestos.But J&J’s FDA sub­mis­sion left out University of Minnesota pro­fes­sor Thomas E. Hutchinson’s find­ing of chrysotile in a Shower to Shower sam­ple — “incontrovertible as­bestos,” as he de­scribed it in a lab note.

NO DOUBT: In a lab note, a University of Minnesota pro­fes­sor recorded find­ing incontrovertible as­bestos” in a sam­ple of J&J’s Shower to Shower talc.

The FDAs own ex­am­i­na­tions found no as­bestos in J&J pow­der sam­ples in the 1970s. Those tests, how­ever, did not use the most sen­si­tive de­tec­tion meth­ods. An early test, for ex­am­ple, was in­ca­pable of de­tect­ing chrysotile fibers, as an FDA of­fi­cial rec­og­nized in a J&J ac­count of an Aug. 11, 1972, meet­ing with the agency: I un­der­stand that some sam­ples will be passed even though they con­tain such fibers, but we are will­ing to live with it.”By 1973, Tom Shelley, di­rec­tor of J&J’s Central Research Laboratories in New Jersey, was look­ing into ac­quir­ing patents on a process that a British min­er­al­o­gist and J&J con­sul­tant was de­vel­op­ing to sep­a­rate talc from tremo­lite.“It is quite pos­si­ble that even­tu­ally tremo­lite will be pro­hib­ited in all talc,” Shelley wrote on Feb. 20, 1973, to a British col­league. Therefore, he added, the process may well be valu­able prop­erty to us.”At the end of March, Shelley rec­og­nized the sen­si­tiv­ity of the plan in a memo sent to a J&J lawyer in New Jersey: We will want to care­fully con­sider the … patents re as­bestos in talc. It’s quite pos­si­ble that we may wish to keep the whole thing con­fi­den­tial rather than al­low it to be pub­lished in patent form and thus let the whole world know.”J&J did not ob­tain the patents.While Shelley was look­ing into the patents, J&J re­search di­rec­tor DeWitt Petterson vis­ited the com­pa­ny’s Vermont min­ing op­er­a­tion. Occasionally, sub-trace quan­ti­ties of tremo­lite or acti­no­lite are iden­ti­fi­able,” he wrote in an April 1973 re­port on the visit. And these might be clas­si­fied as as­bestos fiber.”J&J should protect our pow­der fran­chise” by elim­i­nat­ing as many tiny fibers that can be in­haled in air­born talc dust as pos­si­ble, Petterson wrote. He warned, how­ever, that no fi­nal prod­uct will ever be made which will be to­tally free from res­pirable par­ti­cles.” Introducing a corn­starch ver­sion of Baby Powder, he noted, is ob­vi­ously an­other an­swer.”

UNACHIEVABLE: J&J re­search di­rec­tor DeWitt Petterson warned the com­pany that pro­duc­ing pure talc was im­pos­si­ble.

Bicks told Reuters that J&J be­lieves that the tremo­lite and acti­no­lite Petterson cited were not as­bestos.Corn­starch came up again in a March 5, 1974, re­port in which Ashton, the J&J talc sup­ply chief, rec­om­mended that the com­pany re­search that al­ter­na­tive for de­fen­sive rea­sons” be­cause the thrust against talc has cen­tered pri­mar­ily on bi­o­log­i­cal prob­lems al­leged to re­sult from the in­hala­tion of talc and re­lated min­eral par­ti­cles.”

A few months af­ter Petterson’s recog­ni­tion that talc pu­rity was a pipe dream, the FDA pro­posed a rule that talc used in drugs con­tain no more than 0.1 per­cent as­bestos. While the agen­cy’s cos­met­ics di­vi­sion was con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar ac­tion on tal­cum pow­ders, it asked com­pa­nies to sug­gest test­ing meth­ods.At the time, J&J’s Baby Powder fran­chise was con­sum­ing 20,000 tons of Vermont talc a year.  J&J pressed the FDA to ap­prove an X-ray scan­ning tech­nique that a com­pany sci­en­tist said in an April 1973 memo al­lowed for an au­to­matic 1% tol­er­ance for as­bestos.” That would mean talc with up to 10 times the FDAs pro­posed limit for as­bestos in drugs could pass muster.The same sci­en­tist con­fided in an Oct. 23, 1973, note to a col­league that, de­pend­ing on what test the FDA adopted for de­tect­ing as­bestos in cos­metic talc, we may have prob­lems.”The best way to de­tect as­bestos in talc was to con­cen­trate the sam­ple and then ex­am­ine it through mi­cro­scopes, the Colorado School of Mines Research Institute told J&J in a Dec. 27, 1973, re­port. In a memo, a J&J lab su­per­vi­sor said the con­cen­tra­tion tech­nique, which the com­pa­ny’s own re­searchers had ear­lier used to iden­tify a tremolite-type” as­bestos in Vermont talc, had one lim­i­ta­tion: It may be too sen­si­tive.”

No mother was go­ing to pow­der her baby with 1% of a known car­cino­gen ir­re­gard­less of the large safety fac­tor.”

In his email to Reuters, J&J’s lawyer said the lab su­per­vi­sor’s con­cern was that the test would re­sult in false pos­i­tives,” show­ing as­bestos where there was none.J&J also launched re­search to find out how much pow­der a baby was ex­posed to dur­ing a di­a­per­ing and how much as­bestos could be in that pow­der and re­main within OSHAs new work­place ex­po­sure lim­its. Its re­searchers had strapped an air sam­pling de­vice to a doll to take mea­sure­ments while it was pow­dered, ac­cord­ing to J&J memos and the min­utes of a Feb. 19, 1974, meet­ing of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA), an in­dus­try group.“It was cal­cu­lated that even if talc were pure as­bestos the lev­els of ex­po­sure of a baby dur­ing a nor­mal pow­der­ing are far be­low the ac­cepted tol­er­ance lim­its,” the min­utes state.In a Sept. 6, 1974, let­ter, J&J told the FDA that since a sub­stan­tial safety fac­tor can be ex­pected” with talc that con­tains 1 per­cent as­bestos, methods ca­pa­ble of de­ter­min­ing less than 1% as­bestos in talc are not nec­es­sary to as­sure the safety of cos­metic talc.”Not every­one at the FDA thought that bas­ing a de­tec­tion method on such a cal­cu­la­tion was a good idea. One of­fi­cial called it foolish,” adding, ac­cord­ing to a J&J ac­count of a February 1975 meet­ing: No mother was go­ing to pow­der her baby with 1% of a known car­cino­gen ir­re­gard­less of the large safety fac­tor.”

Having failed to per­suade the FDA that up to 1 per­cent as­bestos con­t­a­m­i­na­tion was tol­er­a­ble, J&J be­gan pro­mot­ing self-polic­ing as an al­ter­na­tive to reg­u­la­tion. The cen­ter­piece of this ap­proach was a March 15, 1976, pack­age of let­ters from J&J and other man­u­fac­tur­ers that the CTFA gave to the agency to show that they had suc­ceeded at elim­i­nat­ing as­bestos from cos­metic talc.“The at­tached let­ters demon­strate re­spon­si­bil­ity of in­dus­try in mon­i­tor­ing its talcs,” the cover let­ter said. We are cer­tain that the sum­mary will give you as­sur­ance as to the free­dom from con­t­a­m­i­na­tion by as­bestos for ma­te­ri­als of cos­metic talc prod­ucts.”In its let­ter, J&J said sam­ples of talc pro­duced be­tween December 1972 and October 1973 were tested for as­bestos, and none was de­tected in any sam­ple.”J&J did­n’t tell the FDA about a 1974 test by a pro­fes­sor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire that turned up as­bestos in talc from J&J — “fiberform” actinolite, as he put it. Nor did the com­pany tell the FDA about a 1975 re­port from its long­time lab that found par­ti­cles iden­ti­fied as asbestos fibers” in five of 17 sam­ples of talc from the chief source mine for Baby Powder. Some of them seem rather high,” the pri­vate lab wrote in its cover let­ter.Bicks, the J&J lawyer, said the con­tract lab’s re­sults were ir­rel­e­vant be­cause the talc was in­tended for in­dus­trial use. He said the com­pany now be­lieves that the acti­no­lite the Dartmouth pro­fes­sor found was not as­besti­form,” based on its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a photo in the orig­i­nal lab re­port.Just two months af­ter the Dartmouth pro­fes­sor re­ported his find­ings, Windsor Minerals Research and Development Manager Vernon Zeitz wrote that chrysotile, fibrous an­tho­phyl­lite” and other types of as­bestos had been found in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Hammondsville ore body” — the Vermont de­posit that sup­plied Baby Powder talc for more than two decades.

Zeitz’s May 1974 re­port on ef­forts to min­i­mize as­bestos in Vermont talc strongly urged” the adop­tion of ways to pro­tect against what are cur­rently con­sid­ered to be ma­te­ri­als pre­sent­ing a se­vere health haz­ard and are po­ten­tially pre­sent in all talc ores in use at this time.”Bicks said that Zeitz was not re­port­ing on ac­tual test re­sults. The fol­low­ing year, Zeitz re­ported that based on weekly tests of talc sam­ples over six months, it can be stated with a greater than 99.9% cer­tainty that the ores and ma­te­ri­als pro­duced from the ores at all Windsor Mineral lo­ca­tions are free from as­bestos or as­besti­form min­er­als.” J&J’s se­lec­tive use of test re­sults fig­ured in a New Jersey judge’s de­ci­sion this year to af­firm the first ver­dict against the com­pany in a case claim­ing as­bestos in J&J prod­ucts caused can­cer. Providing the FDA fa­vor­able re­sults show­ing no as­bestos and with­hold­ing or fail­ing to pro­vide un­fa­vor­able re­sults, which show as­bestos, is a form of a mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion by omis­sion,” Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi said in her June rul­ing.“J&J re­spect­fully dis­agrees with the Judge’s com­ments,” Bicks said. J&J did not with­hold any rel­e­vant test­ing from FDA.”The FDA de­clined to com­ment on the rul­ing.Lack­ing con­sen­sus on test­ing meth­ods, the FDA post­poned ac­tion to limit as­bestos in talc. Years later, it did set lim­its on as­bestos in talc used in drugs. It has never lim­ited as­bestos in cos­metic talc or es­tab­lished a pre­ferred method for de­tect­ing it.In­stead, in 1976, a CTFA com­mit­tee chaired by a J&J ex­ec­u­tive drafted vol­un­tary guide­lines, es­tab­lish­ing a form of X-ray scan­ning with a 0.5 per­cent de­tec­tion limit as the pri­mary test, the method J&J pre­ferred. The method is not de­signed to de­tect the most com­monly used type of as­bestos, chrysotile, at all. The group said the more sen­si­tive elec­tron mi­croscopy was im­prac­ti­cal.The CTFA, which now does busi­ness as the Personal Care Products Council, de­clined to com­ment.X-ray scan­ning is the pri­mary method J&J has used for decades. The com­pany also pe­ri­od­i­cally re­quires the more sen­si­tive checks with elec­tron mi­cro­scopes. J&J’s lawyer said the com­pa­ny’s tests ex­ceed the trade as­so­ci­a­tion stan­dard, and they do. He also said that to­day, J&J’s X-ray scans can de­tect sus­pect min­er­als at lev­els as low as 0.1 per­cent of a sam­ple.But the com­pany never adopted the Colorado lab’s 1973 rec­om­men­da­tion that sam­ples be con­cen­trated be­fore ex­am­i­na­tion un­der a mi­cro­scope. And the talc sam­ples that were sub­jected to the most sen­si­tive elec­tron mi­croscopy test were a tiny frac­tion of what was sold. For those and other rea­sons, J&J could­n’t guar­an­tee its Baby Powder was as­bestos-free when plain­tiffs used it, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, in­clud­ing some who  testified for plain­tiffs.As early as 1976, Ashton, J&J’s long­time talc over­seer, rec­og­nized as much in a memo to col­leagues. He wrote that talc in gen­eral, if sub­jected to the most sen­si­tive test­ing method, us­ing con­cen­trated sam­ples, will be hard pressed in sup­port­ing pu­rity claims.” He de­scribed this sort of test­ing as both sophisticated” and disturbing.”

By 1977, J&J ap­peared to have tamped down con­cerns about the safety of talc. An in­ter­nal August re­port on J&J’s Defense of Talc Safety” cam­paign noted that in­de­pen­dent au­thor­i­ties had deemed cos­metic talc prod­ucts to be free of haz­ard.” It at­trib­uted this grow­ing opin­ion” to the dis­sem­i­na­tion to sci­en­tific and med­ical com­mu­ni­ties in the United States and Britain of favorable data from the var­i­ous J&J spon­sored stud­ies.”In 1984, FDA cos­met­ics chief and for­mer J&J em­ployee Heinz Eiermann re­it­er­ated that view. He told the New York Times that the agen­cy’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion a decade ear­lier had prompted the in­dus­try to en­sure that talc was as­bestos-free. So in sub­se­quent analy­ses,” he told the pa­per, we re­ally could not iden­tify as­bestos or only on very rare oc­ca­sions.”Two years later, the FDA re­jected a cit­i­zen re­quest that cos­metic talc carry an as­bestos warn­ing la­bel, say­ing that even if there were trace con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, the use of talc pow­der dur­ing two years of nor­mal di­a­per­ing would not in­crease the risk of can­cer.In 1980, J&J be­gan of­fer­ing a corn­starch ver­sion of Baby Powder — to ex­pand its cus­tomer base to peo­ple who pre­fer corn­starch, the com­pany says.The per­sis­tence of the in­dus­try’s view that cos­metic talc is as­bestos-free is why no stud­ies have been con­ducted on the in­ci­dence of mesothe­lioma among users of the prod­ucts. It’s also partly why reg­u­la­tions that pro­tect peo­ple in mines, mills, fac­to­ries and schools from as­bestos-laden talc don’t ap­ply to ba­bies and oth­ers ex­posed to cos­metic talc — even though Baby Powder talc has at times come from the same mines as talc sold for in­dus­trial use. J&J says cos­metic talc is more thor­oughly processed and thus purer than in­dus­trial talc.Un­til re­cently, the American Cancer Society (ACS) ac­cepted the in­dus­try’s po­si­tion, say­ing on its web­site: All tal­cum prod­ucts used in homes have been as­bestos-free since the 1970s.”After re­ceiv­ing in­quiries from Reuters, the ACS in early December re­vised its web­site to re­move the as­sur­ance that cos­metic talcs are free of as­bestos. Now, it says, quot­ing the in­dus­try’s stan­dards, that all cos­metic talc prod­ucts in the United States should be free from de­tectable amounts of as­bestos.”The re­vised ACS web page also notes that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer clas­si­fies talc that con­tains as­bestos as carcinogenic to hu­mans.”De­spite the suc­cess of J&J’s ef­forts to pro­mote the safety of its talc, the com­pa­ny’s test lab found as­bestos fibers in sam­ples taken from the Vermont op­er­a­tion in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Bicks said: The sam­ples that we know of dur­ing this time pe­riod that con­tained a fiber or two of as­bestos were not cos­metic talc sam­ples.”Then, in 1992, three years af­ter J&J sold its Vermont mines, the new owner, Cyprus Minerals, said in an in­ter­nal re­port on important en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues” in its talc re­serves that there was past tremo­lite” in the Hammondsville de­posit. Hammondsville was the pri­mary source of Baby Powder talc from 1966 un­til its shut­down in 1990.Bicks re­jected the Cyprus re­port as hearsay, say­ing there is no orig­i­nal doc­u­men­ta­tion to con­firm it. Hammondsville mine records, ac­cord­ing to a 1993 J&J memo, were de­stroyed by the mine man­age­ment staff just prior to the J&J di­vesti­ture.”Bicks said the de­stroyed doc­u­ments did not in­clude talc test­ing records.

MISSING: A J&J memo re­veals that records of the Hammondsville mine, the main source of Baby Powder talc from 1966 un­til 1990, were de­stroyed by mine man­agers while J&J still owned the busi­ness.

In 2002 and 2003, Vermont mine op­er­a­tors found chrysotile as­bestos fibers on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in talc pro­duced for Baby Powder sold in Canada. In each case, a sin­gle fiber was recorded — a find­ing deemed BDL — be­low de­tec­tion limit. Bicks de­scribed the find­ing as background as­bestos” that did not come from any talc source.In 2009, the FDA, re­spond­ing to grow­ing pub­lic con­cern about talc, com­mis­sioned tests on 34 sam­ples, in­clud­ing a bot­tle of J&J Baby Powder and sam­ples of Imerys talc from China. No as­bestos was de­tected.FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency con­tin­ues to re­ceive a lot of ques­tions about talc cos­met­ics. I rec­og­nize the con­cern,” he told Reuters. He said the agen­cy’s polic­ing of cos­met­ics in gen­eral — fewer than 30 peo­ple reg­u­lat­ing a vast” in­dus­try — was a place where we think we can be do­ing more.”Got­tlieb said the FDA planned to host a pub­lic fo­rum in early 2019 to look at how we would de­velop stan­dards for eval­u­at­ing any po­ten­tial risk.” An agency spokes­woman said that would in­clude ex­am­in­ing scientific test meth­ods for as­sess­ment of as­bestos.”

Before law school, Herschel Hobson worked at a rub­ber plant. There, his job in­cluded en­sur­ing that as­bestos in talc the work­ers were ex­posed to did­n’t ex­ceed OSHA lim­its.That’s why he ze­roed in on John­son’s Baby Powder af­ter he took on Darlene Coker as a client in 1997. The law­suit Coker and her hus­band, Roy, filed that year against J&J in Jefferson County District Court in Beaumont, Texas, is the ear­li­est Reuters found al­leg­ing Baby Powder caused can­cer.Hob­son asked J&J for any re­search it had into the health of its mine work­ers; talc pro­duc­tion records from the mid-1940s through the 1980s; de­po­si­tions from man­agers of three labs that tested talc for J&J; and any doc­u­ments re­lated to test­ing for fi­brous or as­besti­form ma­te­ri­als.J&J ob­jected. Hobson’s fishing ex­pe­di­tion” would not turn up any rel­e­vant ev­i­dence, it as­serted in a May 6, 1998, mo­tion. In fact, among the thou­sands of doc­u­ments Hobson’s re­quest could have turned up was a let­ter J&J lawyers had re­ceived only weeks ear­lier from a Rutgers University geologist con­firm­ing that she had found as­bestos in the com­pa­ny’s Baby Powder, iden­ti­fied in her 1991 pub­lished study as tremo­lite asbestos” nee­dles.Hob­son agreed to post­pone his dis­cov­ery de­mands un­til he got the pathol­ogy re­port on Coker’s lung tis­sue. Before it came in, J&J asked the judge to dis­miss the case, ar­gu­ing that Coker had no ev­i­dence” Baby Powder caused mesothe­lioma.

Ten days later, the pathol­ogy re­port landed: Coker’s lung tis­sue con­tained tens of thou­sands of long fibers” of four dif­fer­ent types of as­bestos. The find­ings were consistent with ex­po­sure to talc con­tain­ing chrysotile and tremo­lite con­t­a­m­i­na­tion,” the re­port con­cluded.“The as­bestos fibers found raise a new is­sue of fact,” Hobson told the judge in a re­quest for more time to file an op­po­si­tion to J&J’s dis­missal mo­tion. The judge gave him more time but turned down his re­quest to re­sume dis­cov­ery.With­out ev­i­dence from J&J and no hope of ever get­ting any, Hobson ad­vised Coker to drop the suit.Hob­son is still prac­tic­ing law in Nederland, Texas. When Reuters told him about the ev­i­dence that had emerged in re­cent lit­i­ga­tion, he said: They knew what the prob­lems were, and they hid it.” J&J’s records would have made a 100% dif­fer­ence” in Coker’s case.Had the in­for­ma­tion about as­bestos in J&J’s talc come out ear­lier, he said, maybe there would have been 20 years less ex­po­sure” for other peo­ple.Bicks, the J&J lawyer, said Coker dropped her case be­cause the dis­cov­ery es­tab­lished that J&J talc had noth­ing to do with Plaintiff’s dis­ease, and that as­bestos ex­po­sure from a com­mer­cial or oc­cu­pa­tional set­ting was the likely cause.”Coker never learned why she had mesothe­lioma. She did beat the odds, though. Most pa­tients die within a year of di­ag­no­sis. Coker held on long enough to see her two grand­chil­dren. She died in 2009, 12 years af­ter her di­ag­no­sis, at age 63.Coker’s daugh­ter Crystal Deckard was 5 when her sis­ter, Cady, was born in 1971. Deckard re­mem­bers see­ing the white bot­tle of Johnson’s Baby Powder on the chang­ing table where her mother di­a­pered her new sis­ter.“When Mom was given this death sen­tence, she was the same age as I am right now,” Deckard said. I have it in the back of my mind all the time. Could it hap­pen to us? Me? My sis­ter?”

Johnson & Johnson de­vel­oped a strat­egy in the 1970s to deal with a grow­ing vol­ume of re­search show­ing that talc min­ers had el­e­vated rates of lung dis­ease and can­cer: Promote the pos­i­tive, chal­lenge the neg­a­tive.That ap­proach was summed up by a J&J ap­plied re­search di­rec­tor in a strictly con­fi­den­tial” March 3, 1975, memo to man­agers of the baby prod­ucts di­vi­sion, which used the talc in J&J’s sig­na­ture Baby Powder.“Our cur­rent pos­ture with re­spect to the spon­sor­ship of talc safety stud­ies has been to ini­ti­ate stud­ies only as dic­tated by con­fronta­tion,” the memo said. This phi­los­o­phy, so far, has al­lowed us to neu­tral­ize or hold in check data al­ready gen­er­ated by in­ves­ti­ga­tors who ques­tion the safety of talc.”

A J&J ex­ec­u­tive laid out the com­pa­ny’s pol­icy of coun­ter­ing neg­a­tive re­search about the health ef­fects of talc in a memo to man­agers.

Also, the memo said, we min­i­mize the risk of pos­si­ble self-gen­er­a­tion of sci­en­tific data which may be po­lit­i­cally or sci­en­tif­i­cally em­bar­rass­ing.”J&J’s ef­fort to pro­tect its iconic Baby Powder fran­chise by shap­ing re­search was led by physi­cian and sci­en­tist ex­ec­u­tives. An early 1970s study of 1,992 Italian talc min­ers shows how it worked: J&J com­mis­sioned and paid for the study, told the re­searchers the re­sults it wanted, and hired a ghost­writer to re­draft the ar­ti­cle that pre­sented the find­ings in a jour­nal.The ef­fort en­tailed other at­tempts to in­flu­ence re­search, in­clud­ing a U.S. gov­ern­ment study of the health of talc work­ers in Vermont. J&J’s Windsor Minerals Inc sub­sidiary, one of sev­eral mine op­er­a­tors in­volved in the study, de­vel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health re­searchers to even in­flu­ence the con­clu­sions” through sug­ges­tions of subjective in­ter­pre­ta­tions,” ac­cord­ing to a 1973 Windsor Minerals memo.Pe­ter Bicks, out­side coun­sel for J&J, told Reuters in an email that for the Vermont study, com­pany representatives acted in an educational and ad­vi­sory ca­pac­i­ty’ to pro­vide the re­searchers with a re­al­is­tic study plan.”A 1979 ar­ti­cle in the Journal of Environmental Pathology and Toxicology de­tail­ing the find­ings of the study was not good news for talc. It re­ported a significant in­crease” in respiratory can­cer mor­tal­ity” among min­ers. A sub­se­quent analy­sis of the un­der­ly­ing data pub­lished in 1988 de­ter­mined that at least one of the work­ers died of mesothe­lioma, the can­cer most closely as­so­ci­ated with as­bestos.The pro­posal to study the health of min­ers of the Italian talc used in Baby Powder for decades came from William Ashton, J&J’s long­time talc sup­ply chief. Ashton had ob­tained a sum­mary of min­ers’ med­ical records com­piled by an Italian physi­cian, who also hap­pened to con­trol the coun­try’s talc ex­ports.J&J should use those records for max­i­mum ben­e­fit,” Ashton said in a May 8, 1973, let­ter to Dr Gavin Hildick-Smith, J&J’s di­rec­tor of med­ical af­fairs. It seems to me that the Italian records give us the op­por­tu­nity to for­tify a po­si­tion on talc safety.”At the time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was con­sid­er­ing a limit on as­bestos in talcs. In an Oct. 18, 1973, memo, Hildick-Smith ad­vised J&J: “The risk/​ben­e­fit ra­tio of con­duct­ing an epi­demi­o­log­i­cal study in these mines must be con­sid­ered.”By early 1974, the study was a go. Hildick-Smith sent money to the Italian talc ex­porter-physi­cian to hire a team of re­searchers. Hildick-Smith told the lead re­searcher in a June 26, 1974, let­ter ex­actly what J&J wanted: data that would show that the in­ci­dence of can­cer in these sub­jects is no dif­fer­ent from that of the Italian pop­u­la­tion or the rural con­trol group.”That is ex­actly what J&J got, Hildick-Smith told col­leagues a few months later. At a meet­ing on Sept. 27, 1974, for a Talc/powder Safety Studies Review,” he re­ported the Italian study would dis­pel the cancer con­cern as­so­ci­ated with ex­po­sure to talc.”The fol­low­ing spring, Hildick-Smith got a draft of the Italian study from the lead re­searcher. It needed work to meet the form and style” re­quire­ments of the tar­get jour­nal, he told col­leagues in a March 31, 1975, memo. He added that he would send it to a sci­en­tific ghost­writer who will hold it in con­fi­dence and rewrite it.”

Got a con­fi­den­tial news tip? Reuters Investigates of­fers sev­eral ways to se­curely con­tact our re­porters

The ar­ti­cle that ap­peared in 1976 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine re­ported re­sults even bet­ter than J&J had bar­gained for. The study found fewer lung can­cer deaths than ex­pected, a re­sult that the au­thors said sup­ported the the­sis of no can­cero­genic ef­fect at­trib­ut­able to pure talc.”It also found no mesothe­lioma, the sig­na­ture can­cer of as­bestos ex­po­sure. There is no ev­i­dence J&J ma­nip­u­lated or mis­used the data. Experts for plain­tiffs have tes­ti­fied that the Italian study was too small to draw any con­clu­sions about the in­ci­dence of such a rare can­cer. J&J’s ex­pert wit­nesses have con­cluded the op­po­site.Bicks noted that the Italian study has been up­dated three times — in 1979, 2003 and 2017 — “confirming the lack of as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween ex­po­sure to as­bestos-free talc, lung can­cer and mesothe­lioma.”J&J got a lot of mileage out of the study. It was cited in a re­view ar­ti­cle ti­tled The Biology of Talc,” pub­lished Nov. 1, 1976, in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine. In ad­di­tion to dozens of pub­lished stud­ies, the re­view cited un­pub­lished re­search, in­clud­ing one ex­per­i­ment that used a doll as a proxy for in­fants and that sup­ported the com­pa­ny’s po­si­tion on the safety of talc. It did­n’t dis­close that J&J had com­mis­sioned the un­pub­lished re­search.The au­thor of the re­view ar­ti­cle con­cluded that the concern that has been ex­pressed about the pos­si­ble health haz­ard from con­sumer ex­po­sure to cos­metic talc is un­war­ranted … There is no ev­i­dence that its nor­mal use poses a haz­ard to health.”The au­thor was Hildick-Smith, the J&J physi­cian ex­ec­u­tive who had over­seen the Italian study and played a key role in the com­pa­ny’s talc safety re­search. The ar­ti­cle did not dis­close his J&J con­nec­tion, iden­ti­fy­ing him only as a Rutgers University clin­i­cal as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor. Hildick-Smith died in 2006.


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Most Money Advice is Not Helpful at All for Poor People

For the en­tirety of my work­ing life, I’ve been poor. I cur­rently make sand­wiches for a liv­ing and my last job was mak­ing smooth­ies. Before that, it was wash­ing dishes. Even though I went to col­lege—fol­low­ing that myth that a de­gree is a ca­reer guar­an­tee—some might say I was des­tined to be poor: I was a latchkey kid raised by a sin­gle, work­ing-class mother who moved us all over California, jump­ing from apart­ment to apart­ment to trailer in the mid­dle of the desert. My only source of nu­tri­tion was the free lunch pro­gram at school.

Now, I’m on Medicaid. Last year I worked as much as 60 hours a week split be­tween two part-time food ser­vice jobs just to make ends meet. Alongside those jobs, I worked side gigs when I could get them. I made about $23,000. It sucks enor­mous chunks.

Sometime last year, I started fre­quently googling why am I poor” and how do I stop be­ing poor.” Every re­sult in­sisted the prob­lem is I go out too much (I don’t go out, I’m too tired), I don’t have a sav­ings ac­count (I don’t have enough kick around cash to open a sav­ings ac­count), or I’m not plan­ning my money right (I plan to pay my rent and then cry in a cor­ner un­til my next pay­check, does that count?).

According to pop­u­lar think­ing, if you’re poor, it’s your fault and there­fore your re­spon­si­bil­ity to fix things. It’s not your em­ployer pay­ing you less than a liv­ing wage. Or your lo­cal of­fi­cials ap­prov­ing the build­ing of lux­ury con­dos in your neigh­bor­hood. It’s not the sky­rock­et­ing cost of liv­ing. It’s not anti-union ef­forts across the coun­try’s largest com­pa­nies. No, dear sand­wich maker. The rea­son you’re broke is be­cause you de­cided to buy your­self a latte be­tween 16-hour work­days. Shame on you.

Here’s the thing: Not only is it okay to spend on your­self, but for low-in­come peo­ple, it’s an en­tirely nor­mal cop­ing mech­a­nism.

If you’re among the 39.7 mil­lion Americans liv­ing in poverty or the mil­lions more who strug­gle to make ends meet, the real rea­son you’re bad at sav­ing or you feel you’re spend­ing too much on non-es­sen­tials is some­thing I call poor per­son brain.”

Allow me to elab­o­rate. Poor per­son brain” is when you’re just about out of your mind stressed about how you don’t have enough to get by. Despite the fact that I cur­rently have $45.90 in my bank ac­count to last through next week, it’s not un­com­mon to treat my­self to a burger af­ter a par­tic­u­larly gru­el­ing week. It’s a habit that I see both as an egre­gious fail­ure to save my money and as a nec­es­sary ex­pen­di­ture to find the will to keep grind­ing away.

Ne-Yo puts it best in his song Time of Our Lives”:

I knew my rent was gon’ be late bout a week ago

I worked my ass off, but I still can’t pay it though

But I got just enough

To get off in this club

Have me a good time, be­fore my time is up

I re­cently spoke with Linda Tirado, who wrote Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, which de­tails her ex­pe­ri­ences with (and mis­con­cep­tions about) low-in­come life. Trying to align with the stan­dard ex­pec­ta­tion of how to in­ter­act with your money when you’re low in­come, she tells me, is use­less: You are adapt­ing to your cir­cum­stances, think­ing in the short term. It would be mal­adap­tive for a low wage worker to set even mid­dle class fi­nan­cial goals. It does­n’t make sense to main­tain a sav­ings ac­count if you can’t pay your rent.” Lots of re­cent re­search on the topic backs her view­point.

As Tirado ex­plains, if you’re work­ing low wages, the whole con­cept of sav­ing and in­vest­ing goes away be­cause you don’t have the lux­ury of that long term; it’s hy­po­thet­i­cal.”

I of­ten ask my­self: how come I’m work­ing all the time, my body is break­ing down, I’ve cut and tight­ened every way I can think of, and de­spite how much I’m sac­ri­fic­ing, I still can’t man­age to make rent? It’s at this point that poor per­son brain blos­soms: I’m still go­ing to strug­gle whether or not I buy a bag of chips, so I might as well buy the chips. As Tirado puts it, there’s no rea­son to put any­thing off for the long term if there is no long term that will be bet­ter than to­day.”

Buy the chips. Have you a good time, be­fore your time is up. The im­me­di­ate ne­ces­sity for psy­cho­log­i­cal sur­vival negates the bo­gus nar­ra­tive that you just have to work harder, and it’ll get bet­ter when you know it won’t.

The way I see it, be­ing poor is like hav­ing can­cer: You can’t boot­strap your way out of hav­ing can­cer. You can seek med­ical as­sis­tance to fight the can­cer (Medicaid). You can seek spir­i­tual guid­ance to give you men­tal for­ti­tude to power through the can­cer (Jack In the Box two for $1 tacos, a man­i­cure, see­ing a movie). You can get surgery and ra­di­a­tion to re­move the can­cer (loans). But ul­ti­mately, you have still had can­cer, there’s no guar­an­tee it won’t come back, and your ef­forts to fight through it have per­ma­nently al­tered your ge­netic code and brain struc­ture.

I’m just go­ing to say it: All the fi­nan­cial ad­vice out there tells us the only way to re­solve our fi­nan­cial pres­sures is by fol­low­ing spe­cific guide­lines be­cause all that ad­vice is founded on a ho­mog­e­nized per­spec­tive that ap­peals pre­dom­i­nantly to a shrink­ing mid­dle class.

If you’re not low in­come, you have more wig­gle room to be less strin­gent about how you use your money. Maybe you buy a new iPhone every year. Maybe you take a va­ca­tion that tem­porar­ily puts you in credit card debt. Maybe you don’t have a sep­a­rate sav­ings ac­count be­cause star­ing at all those sweet, sweet ze­roes in your check­ing ac­count gets you hot. And so, the fi­nan­cial ad­vice is geared to­ward the fi­nan­cially sta­ble who make bad fi­nan­cial choices, like in­vest­ing in bit­coin this year or get­ting bangs af­ter a breakup.

Meanwhile, these guide­lines re­in­force neg­a­tive stereo­types about low-in­come peo­ple and in­spire heaps of crit­i­cism for those who in­her­ently can’t fol­low them: You’re liv­ing in poverty be­cause you some­times buy snacks. You’re on the verge of evic­tion be­cause you, min­i­mum wage worker, sim­ply aren’t try­ing hard enough. As if try­ing harder is what cures can­cer.

And with that, maybe the best fi­nan­cial ad­vice for those strug­gling is none at all. You know your fi­nances bet­ter than any­one, be­cause you’re con­stantly fight­ing against in­come that’s not com­men­su­rate with how much work you do. You know what you need to do to sur­vive un­til next week. And you know the dif­fer­ence be­tween buy­ing to sur­vive and splurg­ing to purge what could be saved.

Maybe the best thing we poor per­son brain­ers can do is em­brace it. Embrace your fi­nan­cial woes, re­gain the au­ton­omy that the sta­tus quo thinks we don’t de­serve, if only to spite those who think we are less than for hav­ing less than. I’m poor and I like do­ing face masks to cheer my­self up. I’m poor and I like to eat a meal I did­n’t have to make when I’m too tired to keep go­ing. Bite me.

If you’re poor, take a day off every few months and use it to heal and recharge. If a huge bag of McDonald’s fries is what’ll give you a men­tal tuneup to keep go­ing, to push back, you go to McDonald’s, buy that un­healthy, greasy fast food, and you chow down on those bad boys with pride. You know how much money you have. You know how you’re spend­ing it. Own your need to sur­vive. Turn it into a de­ci­sion to live for right now and laugh. Laugh loudly, with your mouth full of fries, at any­one who tries to crit­i­cize you for it.


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Sears gets approval to pay $25.3 million in bonuses to top execs after filing for bankruptcy

A U. S. bank­ruptcy court on Friday re­port­edly ap­proved Sears’s re­quest to pay as much as $25.3 mil­lion in bonuses to the com­pa­ny’s top ex­ec­u­tives and high-rank­ing em­ploy­ees, just months af­ter the com­pany filed for bank­ruptcy.

The com­pany be­hind Sears, Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears Holdings Corp., ar­gued it needed to give em­ploy­ees such a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to en­cour­age them to re­main with the com­pany as it works to re­build, de­spite it re­port­ing nearly $1.9 bil­lion in losses in the first three quar­ters of this year, CBS News re­ported.

Under these cir­cum­stances, it would be un­der­stand­able if many key em­ploy­ees are ask­ing them­selves whether they should be seek­ing other op­por­tu­ni­ties,” the com­pany said in a court fil­ing in November, ac­cord­ing to the pub­li­ca­tion.

But the com­pany cannot af­ford this un­cer­tainty — how­ever un­der­stand­able it may be,” the fil­ing also re­port­edly states.

The com­pa­ny’s pro­posal will re­port­edly of­fer bonuses to 19 ex­ec­u­tives amount­ing to up to $8.4 mil­lion over the next six months if the com­pany is suc­cess­ful in hit­ting cer­tain fi­nan­cial goals.

The em­ploy­ees would also be el­i­gi­ble for more money in bonuses if the re­tailer is in a po­si­tion to hit those fi­nan­cial tar­gets when sold, an at­tor­ney for the com­pany re­port­edly said at the hear­ing.

Sears an­nounced in October that it was forced to file Chapter 11 bank­ruptcy, which al­lows it to re­struc­ture its fi­nances, af­ter it failed to pay a $134 mil­lion debt pay­ment that was due at the time.


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More than half of Americans say they didn’t get a pay raise this year

Although the econ­omy saw new peaks in 2018, not all Americans re­port reap­ing the ben­e­fits. The ma­jor­ity of work­ers say they saw no salary in­creases this year, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey.

More than 60% of Americans said they did­n’t get a pay raise at their cur­rent job or get a bet­ter-pay­ing job in the last 12 months, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased Wednesday from fi­nance site Bankrate.com. Meanwhile, ex­ec­u­tives have seen a surge in com­pen­sa­tion, ac­cord­ing to an August study from the Economic Policy Institute. The av­er­age chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at the 350 largest firms in the U. S. re­ceived $18.9 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion in 2017, the study showed, a 17.6% in­crease over 2016.

Despite those dis­par­i­ties, 91% of Americans say they have the same or greater con­fi­dence in the job mar­ket than they did one year ago, ac­cord­ing to Bankrate.com.

Don’t miss: Americans have a lot to feel con­fi­dent about, so why are they feel­ing so ner­vous?

The sur­vey find­ings sug­gest not all Americans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the mod­est pay growth that oc­curred this year, a wel­come end to nearly decade of stag­nant wages.

The re­sult of trickle-down eco­nom­ics is plain to see in this sur­vey,” Melissa Boteach, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of the Poverty to Prosperity pro­gram at the Center for American Progress, said. The peo­ple at the top are get­ting richer and richer and every­day work­ing fam­i­lies are not get­ting their fair share.”

Though sev­eral states — and some com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Amazon


— have moved to in­crease the min­i­mum wage, the fed­eral min­i­mum wage has been $7.25 since 2009. Studies show a $15 wage is the min­i­mum amount needed to keep low-wage work­ers out of poverty. The cost of liv­ing has in­creased in re­cent years, with con­sumer in­fla­tion hit­ting a 6-year high in July 2018.

People are liv­ing in pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tions be­cause wages have not kept pace with cost of liv­ing,” Boteach said. If a car breaks down or a child gets an in­jury, fam­i­lies can spi­ral down­ward quickly.”

Arkansas and Missouri voted to pass in­creases in min­i­mum wage in the 2018 midterm elec­tions. Boteach noted that the ma­jor­ity of Americans (75% ac­cord­ing to a 2015 sur­vey by Hart re­search) sup­port rais­ing the min­i­mum wage.

To get raises, em­ploy­ees should lever­age the tight la­bor mar­ket and move to bet­ter-pay­ing jobs, the Bankrate.com sur­vey sug­gested. Full-time em­ploy­ees are al­most twice as likely to get pay raises and/​or bet­ter-pay­ing jobs than part-time work­ers. Older baby boomers (ages 64-72) had the high­est in­ci­dence of re­port­ing nei­ther a pay raise or a bet­ter pay­ing job, at 79%. Younger mil­len­ni­als (ages 18-27) were the most likely age group to get a pro­mo­tion or new job re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that re­sulted in a pay raise.

Pay raises and land­ing a higher pay­ing job con­tinue to be the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule, even in a strong econ­omy with low un­em­ploy­ment,” Greg McBride, chief fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst for Bankrate.com said. Households seek­ing in­come growth are in­creas­ingly find­ing it the old fash­ioned way — they earn it’ to quote an old TV com­mer­cial, usu­ally by work­ing more hours rather than be­ing paid more per hour.”

Get a daily roundup of the top reads in per­sonal fi­nance de­liv­ered to your in­box. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Personal Finance Daily newslet­ter. Sign up here.


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How Peter Jackson Made WWI Footage Seem Astonishingly New

As the di­rec­tor of elab­o­rate fan­tasy epics like the Lord of the Rings” and Hobbit” trilo­gies, Peter Jackson has be­come known for metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail. Now he has put the same amount of care into mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary.

With They Shall Not Grow Old,” Jackson has ap­plied new tech­nol­ogy to cen­tury-old World War I footage to cre­ate a vivid, you-are-there feel­ing that puts real faces front and cen­ter and al­lows us to hear their sto­ries in their own words.

The doc­u­men­tary, which will screen na­tion­wide Dec. 17 and Dec. 27, con­cen­trates on the ex­pe­ri­ences of British sol­diers as re­vealed in footage from the archives of the Imperial War Museum. Jackson and his team have dig­i­tally re­stored the footage, ad­justed its frame rate, col­orized it and con­verted it to 3-D. They chose not to add a host or ti­tle cards. Instead, vet­er­ans of the war narrate” — that is, the film­mak­ers culled their com­men­tary from hun­dreds of hours of BBC in­ter­views recorded in the 1960s and 70s.

The re­sult is a trans­for­ma­tion that is noth­ing less than vi­su­ally as­ton­ish­ing.


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We Broke Into A Bunch Of Android Phones With A 3D-Printed Head

Facial recog­ni­tion is crop­ping up every­where. From shop­ping malls to the work­place, it’s likely some­thing is scan­ning your face every day. But rather than in­vade your pri­vacy, fa­cial recog­ni­tion on smart­phones is sup­posed to pro­tect your dig­i­tal life from snoops.

If you’re an Android cus­tomer, though, look away from your screen now. We tested four of the hottest hand­sets run­ning Google’s op­er­at­ing sys­tems and Apple’s iPhone to see how easy it’d be to break into them. We did it with a 3D-printed head. All of the Androids opened with the fake. Apple’s phone, how­ever, was im­pen­e­tra­ble.

Two heads are bet­ter…

The head was printed at Backface in Birmingham, U. K., where I was ush­ered into a dome-like stu­dio con­tain­ing 50 cam­eras. Together, they com­bine to take a sin­gle shot that makes up a full 3D im­age. That im­age is then loaded up in edit­ing soft­ware, where any er­rors can be ironed out. I, for in­stance, had a miss­ing piece of nose.

Backface then con­structs the model with a 3D printer that builds up lay­ers of a British gyp­sum pow­der. Some fi­nal touch-ups and colour­ings are added, and the life size head is ready within a few days, all for just over £300. You’re then the proud owner of an un­canny, al­most-spec­tral ver­sion of your own vis­age.

For our tests, we used my own real-life head to reg­is­ter for fa­cial recog­ni­tion across five phones. An iPhone X and four Android de­vices: an LG G7 ThinQ, a Samsung S9, a Samsung Note 8 and a OnePlus 6. I then held up my fake head to the de­vices to see if the de­vice would un­lock. For all four Android phones, the spoof face was able to open the phone, though with dif­fer­ing de­grees of ease. The iPhone X was the only one to never be fooled.

There were some dis­par­i­ties be­tween the Android de­vices’ se­cu­rity against the hack. For in­stance, when first turn­ing on a brand new G7, LG ac­tu­ally warns the user against turn­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion on at all. Face recog­ni­tion is a sec­ondary un­lock method that re­sults in your phone be­ing less se­cure,” it says, not­ing that a sim­i­lar face can un­lock your phone. No sur­prise then that, on ini­tial test­ing, the 3D-printed head opened it straight­away.

Yet dur­ing film­ing, it ap­peared the LG had been up­dated with im­proved fa­cial recog­ni­tion, mak­ing it con­sid­er­ably more dif­fi­cult to open. As an LG spokesper­son told Forbes, The fa­cial recog­ni­tion func­tion can be im­proved on the de­vice through a sec­ond recog­ni­tion step and ad­vanced recog­ni­tion which LG ad­vises through setup. LG con­stantly seeks to make im­prove­ments to its hand­sets on a reg­u­lar ba­sis through up­dates for de­vice sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.” They added that fa­cial recog­ni­tion was seen as a sec­ondary un­lock fea­ture” to oth­ers like a PIN or fin­ger­print.

There’s a sim­i­lar warn­ing on the Samsung S9 on sign up. Your phone could be un­locked by some­one or some­thing that looks like you,” it notes. If you use fa­cial recog­ni­tion only, this will be less se­cure than us­ing a pat­tern, PIN or pass­word.” Oddly, though, on set­ting up the de­vice the first pre­sented op­tion for un­lock­ing was fa­cial and iris recog­ni­tion. Whilst iris recog­ni­tion was­n’t duped by the fake head’s misted-over eyes, fa­cial recog­ni­tion was tricked, al­beit with a need to try a few dif­fer­ent an­gles and light­ing first.

The Note 8 has a fea­ture to turn on faster recog­ni­tion,” which by the man­u­fac­tur­er’s own ad­mit­tance is less se­cure than the slower op­tion. It did­n’t mat­ter in this case as the head un­locked on both set­tings, though it did take a lit­tle more ef­fort with light­ing and an­gles with the slower op­tion. The same went for the slower ver­sions on the S9 and the LG, the lat­ter prov­ing trick­ier to break into. (A Samsung spokesper­son told Forbes: Facial recog­ni­tion is a con­ve­nient ac­tion to open your phone — sim­i­lar to the swipe to un­lock’ ac­tion. We of­fer the high­est level of bio­met­ric au­then­ti­ca­tion — fin­ger­print and iris — to lock your phone and au­then­ti­cate ac­cess to Sam­sung Pay or Secure Folder.“).

The OnePlus 6 came with nei­ther the warn­ings of the other Android phones nor the choice of slower but more se­cure recog­ni­tion. And, de­spite some sci-fi style face scan­ning graph­ics when reg­is­ter­ing a face, the phone in­stantly opened when pre­sented with the fake head. It was, un­doubt­edly, the least se­cure of the de­vices we tested.

A OnePlus spokesper­son said: We de­signed Face Unlock around con­ve­nience, and while we took cor­re­spond­ing mea­sures to op­ti­mize its se­cu­rity we al­ways rec­om­mended you use a pass­word/​PIN/​fin­ger­print for se­cu­rity. For this rea­son, Face Unlock is not en­abled for any se­cure apps such as bank­ing or pay­ments. We’re con­stantly work­ing to im­prove all of our tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing Face Unlock.”

No such luck with the iPhone X, though. Apple’s in­vest­ment in its tech - which saw the com­pany work with a Hollywood stu­dio to cre­ate re­al­is­tic masks to test Face ID - has clearly paid off. It was im­pos­si­ble to break in with the model.

Microsoft ap­peared to have done a fine job too. It’s new Windows Hello fa­cial recog­ni­tion also did­n’t ac­cept the fake head as real.

Little sur­prise the two most valu­able com­pa­nies in the world of­fer the best se­cu­rity.

Use your head, not your face

Anyone wor­ried about any­one hav­ing their de­vice com­pro­mised with a fake head, ei­ther through our method or oth­ers’, should per­haps con­sider not us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion at all. Instead, use a strong al­phanu­meric pass­code, rec­om­mended Matt Lewis, re­search di­rec­tor at cy­ber­se­cu­rity con­trac­tor NCC Group.

Focus on the se­cret as­pect, which is the PIN and the pass­word,” he added. The re­al­ity with any bio­met­rics is that they can be copied. Anyone with enough time, re­source and ob­jec­tive will in­vest to try and spoof these bio­met­rics.”


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an heirloom-grade keyboard for serious typists

TL;DR: Due to se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial mis­con­duct at the fac­tory that makes the Model 01, key­cap sets that we be­lieved were in the mail to you have yet to be shipped. We’re work­ing to re­solve the prob­lem, but it may take us a while. The past few weeks have been stress­ful but Keyboardio is in good shape. Curious about what hap­pened? Read on.

In hap­pier news, the Model 01 is back in stock for im­me­di­ate ship­ment at https://​shop.key­board.io

I’m not say­ing any­thing else with­out a lawyer pre­sent.”

There’s ba­si­cally no sit­u­a­tion in which these words in­di­cate that things haven’t gone badly, badly wrong.

These are the words some­one says af­ter they get caught.

These are the words that our ac­count man­ager from the fac­tory that makes the Model 01 said at about 6PM on Tuesday, November 27, af­ter we’d fi­nally fig­ured out how much she’d stolen.

A month ago, we were pretty sure that this backer up­date was go­ing to be the last up­date about the Model 01. We thought we were go­ing to be able to re­port that all the key­caps you’ve or­dered had been shipped, and that most had al­ready been re­ceived. We had thought that we were go­ing to be able to re­port that our ini­tial con­tract with our fac­tory had been (mostly) suc­cess­fully com­pleted with the de­liv­ery of the MP7 ship­ment of key­boards, and that we were in dis­cus­sions about whether to move pro­duc­tion to a new sup­plier or to con­tinue pro­duc­tion with them now that we’d solved most of the man­u­fac­tur­ing is­sues.

This is not that backer up­date. And we’re pretty sure it won’t be the last sub­stan­tial backer up­date.

This is not a backer up­date that makes us look good.

This is not a backer up­date that makes the fac­tory look good.

This is not a backer up­date that makes our ac­count man­ager look good.

This is a backer up­date that has been hard to write.

This is a backer up­date that in­cludes de­tails we’re hes­i­tant to share.

This is a backer up­date that does­n’t in­clude all the de­tails we’d like to share.

The sit­u­a­tion we’re writ­ing about is not yet re­solved. It is un­likely that it will be re­solved to the sat­is­fac­tion of all par­ties in­volved. Before writ­ing about this sit­u­a­tion, we had to check with our lawyers. There is a chance that writ­ing about this sit­u­a­tion may in­flu­ence the out­come, but we’ve de­cided that we’re will­ing to take that risk. From the start, we’ve tried to be as up-front with you as we can about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions about low-vol­ume man­u­fac­tur­ing in China. We’re not about to stop now.

Whatever the out­come of this sit­u­a­tion, we still ex­pect to honor all of our com­mit­ments to you.

One of the rea­sons we chose the fac­tory we ended up us­ing for the Model 01 was that the ac­count man­ager seemed a lit­tle bit more en­gaged and col­lab­o­ra­tive than her peers at many of the other fac­to­ries we met with. (In pre­vi­ous up­dates, we’ve some­times re­ferred to her as our salesperson”, as that was the de­part­ment she was in, al­though her role en­com­passed a lot more than that.) Her English was good. It seemed like she fought hard for what her cus­tomers wanted and that she was com­mit­ted to man­ag­ing the full pro­duc­tion process. She told us that be­cause the fac­to­ry’s reg­u­lar pro­ject man­age­ment team did­n’t speak English, she’d be our point-per­son through­out the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. She seemed like a lit­tle bit of a con­trol freak. It was nice that she was the Director of Overseas Sales” and seemed to have sig­nif­i­cant pull in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In con­trast, our sales con­tact at our sec­ond choice fac­tory was so new and had so lit­tle in­ter­nal in­flu­ence that she could­n’t get us even a sin­gle cus­tomer ref­er­ence.

What we did­n’t know at the time was that our ac­count man­ager had been with the com­pany for only a few months, and that we were her first pro­ject with them.

We paid the ini­tial de­posit for the tool­ing and the key­boards di­rectly to the fac­tory and got started.

Right from the be­gin­ning, there were prob­lems. The fac­tory started mak­ing in­jec­tion mold­ing tool­ing be­fore we’d ap­proved the fi­nal de­sign. That caused months of de­lays. The fac­tory out­sourced the in­jec­tion mold­ing to part­ners with­out telling us (despite as­sur­ances to the con­trary in the con­tract). Small com­mu­ni­ca­tions is­sues caused out­sized de­lays. Throughout this process, our ac­count man­ager kept in con­stant con­tact with us, to the point of nightly calls on both week­days and week­ends. We gen­uinely be­lieved she was work­ing hard on our be­half.

There were oc­ca­sional weird” things that felt like they might be lies, but every time we in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied one of them, it checked out. As time went on, we talked to a lot of folks who’ve been man­u­fac­tur­ing hard­ware in China. It be­came clear that small com­pa­nies do­ing busi­ness in China just run into weird prob­lems. However, if you’ve read our backer up­dates over the past few years, you will be well aware that we’ve run into more than our share of weird prob­lems. In the words of one in­dus­try vet­eran we talked to, every prob­lem you guys have run into is some­thing that hap­pens. But no­body has all the prob­lems.”

It was only much later that we would re­al­ize how pre­scient this com­ment had been.

When it came time to pay for the first mass pro­duc­tion run, our ac­count man­ager sent us an in­voice that in­cluded bank de­tails that dif­fered from those on the ini­tial in­voice. When we asked her about this, she said that the new ac­count be­longed to one of the fac­to­ry’s part­ners.

This is not en­tirely un­heard of, but im­me­di­ately set off alarm bells. We asked the ac­count man­ager to con­firm in writ­ing that this change was 100% cor­rect and above-board. When she did, Kaia for­warded this con­fir­ma­tion on­ward by email to the fac­tory owner. The fac­tory owner did­n’t get back to us and we were al­ready des­per­ately late to get these key­boards shipped. The to­tal amount of the in­voice was rel­a­tively small com­pared to the de­posit we’d al­ready paid the fac­tory. And Jesse was phys­i­cally pre­sent in China while this was hap­pen­ing. So we paid.

We did­n’t think too much more about that al­ter­nate bank ac­count be­cause, well, all the right things ap­peared to hap­pen.

Unbeknownst to us, our ac­count man­ager had got­ten the fac­tory to ship out our or­der of key­boards, even though they had­n’t re­ceived any pay­ment from us. Much later, we learned that she’d lied to the fac­tory owner, telling him that we were broke and needed to sell that batch of key­boards be­fore we could af­ford to pay for them. She held onto our money for a while and then paid it out to the fac­tory.

This was how she started to poi­son the fac­tory against us.

At around the same time, she started telling us about how poorly man­aged the fac­tory was, but that she was run­ning in­ter­fer­ence, solv­ing prob­lems on our be­half. At one point she told us about how gullible the fac­tory owner was and that he got taken ad­van­tage of by his work­ers all the time.

If this were a novel, the fore­shad­ow­ing would have been a lit­tle heavy-handed.

Over time, she told us lies about se­ri­ous moral fail­ings on the part of every­body at the fac­tory we might ap­proach to talk about the prob­lems we were hav­ing. At the time, the things she said sounded be­liev­able. Much later, we’d re­al­ize that they were part of a plan to en­sure that she was the trusted gate­keeper for all in­ter­ac­tions be­tween us and the fac­tory.

When it came time to ship the sec­ond mass-pro­duc­tion run of key­boards, Jesse had a meet­ing with our ac­count man­ager and the fac­tory owner in the fac­to­ry’s con­fer­ence room. The first part of the meet­ing was in Chinese and then the fac­tory owner had an­other com­mit­ment. After he left, the ac­count man­ager told us that the pro­ject had been drag­ging out and the fac­tory was out of pocket for raw ma­te­ri­als, many of which had in­creased in price since we signed the con­tract. She said that the fac­tory owner de­manded we pay a lit­tle more up front and that this would re­duce the amount we needed to pay for the re­main­der of the ship­ment. We’re nice peo­ple who wanted to have a good re­la­tion­ship with our fac­tory. And the money was go­ing to the fac­tory even­tu­ally. We knew that the bit about raw ma­te­ri­als get­ting more ex­pen­sive was true—Chi­na’s been on a ma­jor anti-pol­lu­tion kick, which has caused a lot of prices to spike. All in all, it felt a lit­tle bit funny, but we agreed.

You can prob­a­bly guess most of what hap­pened next. The ac­count man­ager held onto all of our money for as long as she pos­si­bly could. When we started to get fran­tic about ship­ping, she paid the fac­tory owner just enough money to con­vince him to re­lease the ship­ment. When we met a cou­ple weeks ago, the fac­tory owner said that she paid this money in Chinese RMB. When he ex­pressed con­cern about this, since we’d agreed to pay in US Dollars, she told him that, again, we were broke. She said that she was loan­ing us the money for this ship­ment, so we could try to re­cover our busi­ness.

Similar sit­u­a­tions played out for sub­se­quent ship­ments of key­boards. To us, the fac­tory seemed mod­er­ately in­com­pe­tent and dis­or­ga­nized. To the fac­tory, we seemed like a small-time dead­beat client who might never make good on their promises to pay.

Over the course of 2017, Jesse made sev­eral ex­tended trips to Shenzhen to work with the fac­tory to solve a va­ri­ety of de­sign, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and sup­ply chain is­sues. When he was on the ground at the fac­tory, is­sues got solved far faster, but that it­self was­n’t a huge red flag. Our re­la­tion­ship with the ac­count man­ager seemed pretty good. Before one of the trips, she asked if Jesse could bring American pre­na­tal vi­t­a­mins, as she and her hus­band were try­ing to have a baby. She even com­mis­sioned a por­trait of our son from an artist at the fa­mous Dafen Artist Village in Shenzhen. (Perhaps un­sur­pris­ingly, while she sent us pho­tos of the por­trait, she never sent the ac­tual por­trait.)

Sometime in 2018, the ac­count man­ager started telling us that she was plan­ning to quit work­ing for the fac­tory once our pro­ject was over. She said that she’d ac­tu­ally started a fac­tory with some part­ners and that they were al­ready mak­ing mice and planned to ex­pand to key­boards in the near fu­ture. She even tried to get us in­ter­ested in in­vest­ing in her new fac­tory.

Keyboard ship­ments in 2018 hap­pened. They weren’t on time. They were not with­out is­sues. But they hap­pened. Well, up un­til we got to the MP6 ship­ment, which was sup­posed to hap­pen at the end of August. The ac­count man­ager told us that due to sched­ul­ing is­sues, they would­n’t start as­sem­bly un­til early September. And then things kept drag­ging out by days and weeks. Finally in the mid­dle of October, the ac­count man­ager told us that we would need to pre­pay for MP6 and MP7 or the fac­tory would refuse to com­plete the as­sem­bly.

Jesse ac­tu­ally came close to get­ting on a plane at this point, but we had some un­move­able fam­ily com­mit­ments and al­ready had a trip to Shenzhen on the books in December to talk to fac­to­ries about our next prod­uct.

We fig­ured that this was part of a ploy on the part of the fac­tory to get us to break the con­tract, so they could quit. Jesse told the ac­count man­ager this. She swore that she would not quit her job at the fac­tory un­til this pro­ject was suc­cess­fully de­liv­ered.

We were up­set. This was a straight up vi­o­la­tion of the con­tract and of nor­mal stan­dards of busi­ness. The ac­count man­ager told us that the fac­tory was hav­ing cash­flow is­sues and that if we did­n’t pre­pay, there was no way we were get­ting our key­boards. Since we had over 100 cus­tomers who’d bought these key­boards when we’d been promis­ing that they’d ship in August or September, we bit the bul­let and agreed to pay for MP6 be­fore de­liv­ery. MP7 would com­plete our or­der with the fac­tory. We said we could­n’t pos­si­bly pay in full, as we’d have zero lever­age if the fac­tory failed to de­liver. The ac­count man­ager took a day to negotiate” with the fac­tory and said she’d got­ten them to agree to ac­cept half of the re­main­ing amount due as a ges­ture of good faith. She wrote into the pay­ment agree­ment that the fac­tory would re­turn the pay­ments if they did not hit the com­mit­ted de­liv­ery dates.

When we paid this money, we knew the MP6 key­boards ex­isted—we’d al­ready had our third-party qual­ity con­trol agent check both the as­sem­bly line and the as­sem­bled key­boards. On October 26th or so, our ac­count man­ager com­mit­ted to get the key­boards shipped out ASAP. That should mean that key­boards ar­rive in Hong Kong the same day they were shipped. More typ­i­cally, that means that key­boards will ar­rive at our ware­house in Hong Kong within 48-72 hours. Three days later, they still weren’t there.

Our ac­count man­ager said that she was in Malaysia and would dig into it when she was back in town in a cou­ple days. She told us that she’d vis­ited the truck­ing com­pany and that they’d agreed to ex­pe­dite our ship­ment. Two days later, the key­boards still had­n’t ar­rived.

We were flip­ping out. We had daily calls with our ac­count man­ager ex­plain­ing just how bad it would be if these key­boards did­n’t ar­rive at our ware­house be­fore Black Friday. She told us that she un­der­stood en­tirely and that she promised that the fac­tory would com­pen­sate us US­D1000 per day for every day they were late, go­ing all the way back to October.

Over the course of 3 weeks, ex­cuses in­cluded:

* The fac­tory has not paid their bill with the ship­ping agent, so all of the goods shipped by the fac­tory have been im­pounded

* Two of the fac­to­ry’s biggest cus­tomers did­n’t pay their bills, so the fac­tory has­n’t met their con­trac­tual min­i­mums and the ship­ping agent won’t do any­thing un­til this is re­solved

* The ship­ping agent has agreed to ship your key­boards, but they’re fully booked up to­day

* Your key­boards are on a truck! The truck is in Hong Kong. But it will ar­rive af­ter the ware­house closes. (In this case, our ac­count man­ager called the ware­house and got their staff to wait around for a cou­ple hours af­ter work.)

* The fac­tory has taken the key­boards back from the truck­ing agent be­cause they’re in­com­pe­tent. They need to redo the cus­toms pa­per­work and then send them to a new truck­ing com­pany.

* The new truck­ing com­pany had­n’t fi­nal­ized their con­tract with the fac­tory so re­fused to send the goods to Hong Kong

* The new truck­ing com­pany has handed the goods off to their Hong Kong part­ner. They will be de­liv­ered to­mor­row morn­ing.

Tomorrow morn­ing” was, by now, the day be­fore Thanksgiving. This was be­yond the pale. We were ab­solutely livid. It was clear that some­thing was very wrong, though we could­n’t be­gin to guess at the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem. We sent our on-the-ground man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant to the fac­tory to meet with the fac­tory owner, with­out our ac­count man­ager pre­sent. The fac­tory owner was an­gry, too. The con­ver­sa­tion went some­thing like this:

Why the heck haven’t Keyboardio’s key­boards been de­liv­ered?”

I’ve told the ac­count man­ager over and over: Those key­boards will never leave our ware­house be­fore Keyboardio pays for them.”

But Keyboardio has paid for them. Here are the wire trans­fer con­fir­ma­tions.”

Well, we haven’t re­ceived any of the last four pay­ments.”

What about the 5000 sets of key­caps Keyboardio or­dered?”

You mean the 2700 sets they or­dered? They’re ready, as soon as they pay for them…”

It sounds like there’s a big prob­lem.”

Yes, it sounds like there’s a big prob­lem. We’ve not re­ceived at least USD30,000 that Keyboardio think they’ve paid.”

Our man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant re­ported all of this to us while we were in the mid­dle of host­ing Thanksgiving din­ner.

He also shared an ad­di­tional anec­dote with us: The ac­count man­ager had ap­par­ently been no­to­ri­ous for bor­row­ing money (up to around USD1000 at a time) from cowork­ers and had been spotty about pay­ing them back on time. The prob­lem had be­come so bad that the fac­tory owner had for­bid­den his staff from loan­ing her money. (To this day, she still owes at least one of them.)

36 hours later, Jesse was on the way to the air­port, en route to Shenzhen.

Monday morn­ing, Jesse and our man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant were due to meet with the fac­tory owner, but he was­n’t an­swer­ing his phone. The ac­count man­ager told us that she was un­avail­able un­til the af­ter­noon, as she had to go visit the fac­tory work­ing mak­ing re­place­ments for the key­caps that got lost in the mail” again. (More on that later.)

After lunch, Jesse and the man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant showed up at the fac­tory to find the fac­tory owner in the mid­dle of a heated con­ver­sa­tion. The man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant told Jesse that they were dis­cussing com­mis­sion. The ac­count man­ager was as­sert­ing that they’d had an oral agree­ment about her com­mis­sion (as a per­cent­age of fac­tory profit.)

That’s when we learned that she was no longer an em­ployee of the fac­tory. Remember how we said she’d promised not to quit un­til this pro­ject was fin­ished? That was a lie. It turns out she’d quit 18 months prior. The fac­tory had al­lowed her to keep our pro­ject as an in­de­pen­dent sales agent.” This, at least, is not un­com­mon when do­ing busi­ness in China. What did sur­prise us was that the ac­count man­ager had kept such tight con­trol of our ac­count that other peo­ple at the fac­tory were afraid of an­ger­ing her by speak­ing to us di­rectly. The last time Jesse had been in Shenzhen, the fac­tory owner had tried (unbeknownst to us) to take Jesse to lunch. Our ac­count man­ager had re­fused to al­low it. Folks at the fac­tory said that they were wor­ried that any di­rect con­tact with us would be seen as try­ing to steal her client.

During the first day of meet­ings, the ac­count man­ager agreed to pay the re­main­der due to ship the MP6 key­boards on Tuesday morn­ing, and that Jesse could come to the fac­tory on Wednesday morn­ing to watch them de­part for Hong Kong on a truck.

Throughout the first day of meet­ings, all of the dis­cus­sion of fraud and em­bez­zle­ment was in Chinese. Eventually, the ac­count man­ager left, sup­pos­edly to go arrange pay­ment.

When Jesse dis­cussed this with the fac­tory team with the ac­count man­ager out of the room, they told him that they were try­ing to al­low her to save face, as they thought this was the most likely way to re­cover the stolen money.

On Tuesday morn­ing, Jesse and our man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant sat down with the fac­to­ry’s man­age­ment team to dis­cuss what had re­ally hap­pened and what needed to hap­pen go­ing for­ward. The first thing they did was to com­pare, in de­tail, what we’d paid and what the fac­tory had re­ceived. The dis­crep­ancy was­n’t USD30,000. It was over USD100,000.

We started look­ing at how the num­ber could have got­ten so big.

Part of it was the amounts the ac­count man­ager had told us we needed to pre­pay, which she pock­eted.

Part of it was the or­der for 5000 sets of key­caps we’d placed in January (along with ship­ping costs for 2700 sets that the fac­tory was sup­posed to send di­rectly to you.) As it turned out, she’d doc­tored the in­voices she sent to us and to the fac­tory. She’d dra­mat­i­cally in­flated the unit cost of the key­caps and as­so­ci­ated pack­ag­ing on the in­voice pre­sented to us. At the same time, she’d halved the size of the or­der she sent to the fac­tory. And those key­caps that the fac­tory shipped out in August and October? They sim­ply never ex­isted. Total fab­ri­ca­tion. At this point, Jesse took a break to walk into the fac­to­ry’s ware­house, where he found pal­lets of thou­sands of QWERTY, Unpainted, and Black key­cap sets lit­er­ally gath­er­ing dust. They’d been sit­ting there for months. The fac­tory said they needed to get paid be­fore they’d re­lease the key­caps.

And, it turns out, part of the dis­crep­ancy was due to the fact that the ac­count man­ager had ne­go­ti­ated ag­gres­sive dis­counts and price breaks on our” be­half and not passed them on to us.

When we asked if our ac­count man­ager had done this to any of her other clients, the fac­tory owner told us that we were the only cus­tomer she’d brought in be­fore she’d quit.

Having come to un­der­stand the scale of the fraud, we told the fac­tory that we were wor­ried that she might try to dis­ap­pear. We asked if some­one at the fac­tory could call her hus­band to see if he could tell us what was go­ing on. That re­sulted in some pretty con­fused looks from the fac­tory team.

It turns out she’d lied about that, too.

At this point, we were pretty sure that no­body was ever go­ing to see our ac­count man­ager again. Boy were we sur­prised when the ac­count man­ager agreed to show up at the fac­tory to con­tinue our dis­cus­sions that af­ter­noon.

You’re prob­a­bly ask­ing your­self why did­n’t they call the po­lice?” Jesse was ask­ing him­self the same thing. When he asked the fac­tory team the same ques­tion, their re­sponse was both un­der­stand­able and some­what un­sat­is­fy­ing: It’s not enough money to de­stroy her life over. We think we can solve this with­out the po­lice.”

It all got pretty weird. The fac­tory owner posted guards at the fac­to­ry’s front gate to make sure that she did­n’t sim­ply walk out and dis­ap­pear. At one point, Jesse found him­self stand­ing in a dark stair­well to make sure she did­n’t sneak out the back when she said she had to go to the toi­let.

Tuesday af­ter­noon’s dis­cus­sions were…some­what more frank. Jesse was very clear with the ac­count man­ager that he knew she had been ly­ing about every­thing from the be­gin­ning and that he did not be­lieve she still had the money. He asked her to prove it by show­ing bank bal­ances to him or the team at the fac­tory. She claimed that her Hong Kong ac­count had been blocked” due to an is­sue with the bank. Astonishingly, most of the peo­ple in the room seemed to take both this ex­pla­na­tion and the claim that she was with­hold­ing the money as a bar­gain­ing tac­tic about her com­mis­sion at face value.

A cou­ple times dur­ing the af­ter­noon, while ar­gu­ing with the fac­tory owner, the ac­count man­ager called a friend or com­pa­triot of some kind to get advice” about the ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Wednesday morn­ing, Jesse met with our new lawyer to dis­cuss our op­tions. He told her that we’d like to re­solve the sit­u­a­tion by mak­ing sure that the theft was an in­ter­nal mat­ter be­tween the fac­tory and their for­mer em­ployee and that we’d like to main­tain good re­la­tions with the fac­tory. The lawyer ex­plained that we could pur­sue both civil and crim­i­nal op­tions, but that the civil op­tion was more likely to lead to a pos­i­tive res­o­lu­tion, wherein the money was re­cov­ered and our re­la­tion­ship with the fac­tory was pre­served. She said that the crim­i­nal penalty for what our ac­count man­ager had done ranged from ten years to life in prison. She said that as soon as we called the po­lice, the ac­count man­ager would be un­able to travel in­ter­na­tion­ally or to buy plane or train tick­ets. More im­por­tantly, she said that once the po­lice were in­volved, they’d have full con­trol of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that there’d be very lit­tle we could do to get an out­come we wanted. She did agree that it was our ul­ti­mate fall­back and that it was im­por­tant that the ac­count man­ager be aware of how se­vere the penal­ties for her ac­tions are.

Wednesday af­ter­noon, Jesse con­tacted our wood sup­plier to make sure that he did­n’t en­gage with our ac­count man­ager. When Jesse told him a bit about what was go­ing on, he re­vealed that a cou­ple months back, our ac­count man­ager had called him up to say that she was trav­el­ling in­ter­na­tion­ally, had lost her wal­let and needed him to loan her some money so that she could get a flight home. When Jesse asked if he’d paid, the wood sup­plier said that he told her that it was wildly in­ap­pro­pri­ate to be ask­ing a sup­pli­ers for per­sonal loans, and that she ought to ask a close friend or fam­ily mem­ber in­stead. He may be the only per­son in this whole story who did­n’t get conned by our ac­count man­ager.

Thursday, Jesse, our lawyer, the fac­tory owner, and the ac­count man­ager sat down at the fac­tory to hash out a new le­gal agree­ment be­tween all the par­ties. Everyone agreed that we had paid every­thing we thought we had. The ac­count man­ager con­firmed in writ­ing that she had re­ceived all the money we sent and agreed to re­pay it to the fac­tory. Everyone agreed about the prod­ucts (and quan­ti­ties) we’ve or­dered. We agreed to new de­liv­ery dates for every­thing that has­n’t yet shipped. The fac­tory agreed in writ­ing that we own all the tool­ing we’ve paid for and that they will make it avail­able for us to move to an­other fac­tory if we want to.

The meet­ing did­n’t come to quite the res­o­lu­tion we’d hoped it would, but it turned out dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter than it might have.

Our lawyer has ad­vised us not to go into more de­tail about the rest of the agree­ment or the ship­ping and de­liv­ery sched­ule we agreed to. At this point, we need to let things play out a bit more. We ex­pect to have an up­date on key­caps and MP7 by mid-Jan­u­ary at lat­est.

Saturday, Jesse and our man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant sat down with the fac­tory team. We knew our ac­count man­ager had tightly con­trolled all in­for­ma­tion about the Model 01, so we wanted to make sure they had all the de­tails they’d need to fin­ish the work they’ve agreed to.

What we found…prob­a­bly should­n’t have shocked us. In August, we’d sent 20 de­fec­tive cir­cuit boards back to our ac­count man­ager at the fac­tory, so she could give them to the en­gi­neer­ing team to study and im­prove fu­ture pro­duc­tion runs. In September, she’d con­firmed re­ceipt and said that the en­gi­neer­ing team had been study­ing the fail­ures. Nobody at the fac­tory had heard any­thing about this. Jesse went strolling through the ware­house to find where every­thing from the ac­count man­ager’s of­fice had been shelved. There was our box of de­fec­tive cir­cuit boards. Unopened. Jesse phys­i­cally handed them to the man­ager of the R&D de­part­ment.

We talked about the kinds of prob­lems we’d seen in the field with the Model 01. Jesse was try­ing to re­as­sure the fac­tory when he told them that we weren’t go­ing to hold them re­spon­si­ble for the 100 de­fec­tive wooden en­clo­sures from the first mass pro­duc­tion run, and that we un­der­stood that the prob­lems for that, at least, mostly rested with the orig­i­nal sup­plier. This all had the op­po­site ef­fect of what Jesse had in­tended. It turns out that the ac­count man­ager had never both­ered to tell the fac­tory man­age­ment about the de­fec­tive en­clo­sures, ei­ther.

It be­came clear that just about every con­ver­sa­tion she’d re­ported hav­ing with the fac­tory on our be­half over the past 18 months had been a to­tal fab­ri­ca­tion.

Finally we got to the point of talk­ing about the fu­ture. Jesse ex­plained that a few weeks be­fore, Keyboardio had been dead-set on mov­ing pro­duc­tion to a new fac­tory as soon as the key­boards we’d paid for were shipped. Now that we had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what’s go­ing on, he said, we’re happy to treat this as an op­por­tu­nity to re­boot the re­la­tion­ship. So long as the new agree­ment is hon­ored and things ship on sched­ule, we ef­fec­tively have changed fac­to­ries.

Our ac­count man­ager was a poor pro­ject man­ager and a poor sales­per­son, but she was a pretty skilled con-artist. It’s not 100% clear if it would have pro­tected us in this in­stance, but we’ve now learned (the hard way) that one should never pay an in­voice from a Chinese com­pany un­less it’s been stamped with the com­pa­ny’s of­fi­cial chop” or seal.

Going for­ward, our new ac­count man­ager at the fac­tory has asked that all cor­re­spon­dence be CC’ed to the fac­tory owner, the fac­to­ry’s CFO, her, the ju­nior sales as­sis­tant, Jesse, Kaia, and our man­u­fac­tur­ing con­sul­tant. Similarly, when dis­cussing things on WeChat, we should use a group chat where every­body sees every­thing. Most im­por­tantly (to every­body), fu­ture pay­ments, if any, should only ever be to the fac­to­ry’s pri­mary bank ac­count. And that we never again pay an un-stamped in­voice.

So, that’s most of what’s new with us.

Is this cat­a­stroph­i­cally bad news? Yes and no.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of money miss­ing. We think there’s a de­cent chance that money has van­ished never to be seen again. Products that we said we sent you…sim­ply never ex­isted. We’re gen­uinely sorry about that.

And of course it never feels good to re­al­ize that you got scammed.

On the other hand, Kaia pointed out to Jesse the other night that this ac­tu­ally makes her more con­fi­dent about our abil­ity to man­u­fac­ture prod­ucts in China in the fu­ture. When that in­dus­try vet­eran told us that all of these prob­lems never hap­pen to the same com­pany, it turns out that they were right. All those un­con­trol­lably crazy prob­lems and de­lays we had? While many of them had a grain of truth, the vast ma­jor­ity of the is­sues we thought we had.. sim­ply did­n’t ex­ist. And, in­deed, when we’ve worked di­rectly with other sup­pli­ers for re­place­ment wooden en­clo­sures, travel cases for the Model 01, and on other bits and pieces, every­thing has gone a good deal more smoothly.

We’re hope­ful that we have a stronger, bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with the fac­tory than we’ve had in the past. If worst hap­pens and the new agree­ment with the fac­tory falls apart, we’re still po­ten­tially out a lot of money, but it’s not enough money to kill the com­pany. The part of the agree­ment that says we own all the tool­ing for the Model 01 has the force of law. (And yes, it’s stamped with the cor­po­rate seal.) We are, of course, hop­ing that every­thing works out with our cur­rent fac­tory, but if we need to, we can to move the tool­ing to a new fac­tory, and to pro­duce and ship your key­caps and more Model 01s.

Oh. We do have a lit­tle bit of good news. The com­pany that’s mak­ing the Model 01 travel cases fin­ished the sec­ond pro­duc­tion run of cases a cou­ple weeks early. We re­ported to them that one case from the first pro­duc­tion run had a stitch­ing er­ror, so they threw in 10 ex­tra cases, just in case any other is­sues get dis­cov­ered. This sec­ond pro­duc­tion run of travel cases ar­rived at our Hong Kong ware­house on Tuesday. On Thursday, we asked the ware­house to ship out cases to every Kickstarter backer who’s filled out the backer sur­vey. We ex­pect most of them to ar­rive on your doorsteps be­fore the end of 2018. In the com­ing weeks, we’ll make cases avail­able for sale on https://​shop.key­board.io.


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The science of “vibes” shows how everything is connected

Sometimes a per­son, crea­ture, or thing re­ally res­onates with you. That sense of vibing” may be more than a fig­ure of speech, it turns out.

In a Dec. 5 post in Scientific American entitled The Hippies Were Right: It’s All About Vibrations, Man!” lawyer and philoso­pher Tam Hunt ex­plains a new the­ory of con­scious­ness he de­vel­oped with his col­league, psy­chol­o­gist Jonathan Schooler, at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hunt is a philoso­pher of mind, bi­ol­ogy, and physics, while Schooler is a pro­fes­sor of brain sci­ence, and to­gether they’ve been work­ing on an­swer­ing one of the world’s most per­plex­ing ques­tions: What phys­i­cal processes un­der­pin men­tal ex­pe­ri­ence, link­ing mind and mat­ter and cre­at­ing the sense of self?”

In other words, what nat­ural laws gov­ern our per­cep­tion of ex­is­tence? This search for the rules that re­late mind and mat­ter (pdf) is of­ten re­ferred to as the hard prob­lem of con­scious­ness.” And no one has re­ally solved it, but there are var­i­ous the­o­ries.

Hunt and Schooler sus­pect that every phys­i­cal ob­ject, in­clud­ing you, is vi­brat­ing and os­cil­lat­ing. The more syn­chro­nized these vibes are, the more com­plex our con­nec­tion with the world around us, and the more so­phis­ti­cated our con­scious­ness. The resonance the­ory of con­scious­ness” they pre­sent posits that syn­chro­nized vi­bra­tions are cen­tral not only to hu­man con­scious­ness but to all of phys­i­cal re­al­ity.

All things in our uni­verse are con­stantly in mo­tion, vi­brat­ing,” Hunt writes. Even ob­jects that ap­pear to be sta­tion­ary are in fact vi­brat­ing, os­cil­lat­ing, res­onat­ing, at var­i­ous fre­quen­cies. Resonance is a type of mo­tion, char­ac­ter­ized by os­cil­la­tion be­tween two states. And ul­ti­mately all mat­ter is just vi­bra­tions of var­i­ous un­der­ly­ing fields.” When dif­fer­ent os­cil­lat­ing things are close to­gether for a time, they be­gin to vi­brate in sync. That ap­plies to neu­rons in brains, fire­flies gath­er­ing, the Moon and Earth, and much more. This phe­nom­e­non is called spontaneous self-or­ga­ni­za­tion.” The syn­chro­niza­tion is a kind of phys­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween en­ti­ties.

Hunt ar­gues that the more com­plex the syn­chro­niza­tion is, the more com­plex the con­scious­ness. So, for ex­am­ple, the bil­lions of neu­rons that fire in the brain to­gether to make a de­ci­sion and form our ex­pe­ri­ence of the world are ex­tremely so­phis­ti­cated, yield­ing a rich and dy­namic sense of self. He refers to this sense of self as per­cep­tion.

The de­gree of per­cep­tion pos­si­ble for any thing or be­ing varies widely. Still, even seem­ingly inan­i­mate ob­jects, like boul­ders or piles of sand, have a rudi­men­tary level of con­scious­ness ac­cord­ing to Hunt’s de­f­i­n­i­tion of per­cep­tion, which is sim­ply an ob­ject receiving in­for­ma­tion from the world.”

Each grain of sand is an ob­ject in re­la­tion to the world and there­fore it is also a sub­ject that experiences” ex­is­tence, al­beit to a much more lim­ited ex­tent than hu­mans do, ac­cord­ing to Hunt. He calls this a micro-consciousness.” In a 2011 pa­per in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (pdf), Hunt ex­plains:

[L]iterally every life form and every speck of dust down to the small­est sub­atomic par­ti­cle is in­flu­enced by the world through the var­i­ous forces that act upon it. An elec­tron is in­flu­enced by charged par­ti­cles close enough to have an im­pact, and from ob­jects that ex­ert a grav­i­ta­tional pull—and the elec­tron be­haves ac­cord­ingly. To ex­ist, to be in the uni­verse, means that every par­ti­cle in the uni­verse feels some pull and push from the var­i­ous forces around it—oth­er­wise it sim­ply does­n’t ex­ist. Thus, the elec­tron per­ceives, as I have de­fined this term, and the elec­tron is a sub­ject.

What hu­mans have is a macro-consciousness.” But that more com­plex aware­ness that gives us our rich sense of self, the ex­pe­ri­ence of ex­is­tence, Hunt ar­gues, is based on a shared res­o­nance among many mi­cro-con­scious con­stituents.” Basically, all of the rel­a­tively sim­ple vi­bra­tions and os­cil­la­tions that oc­cur in­di­vid­u­ally in var­i­ous phys­i­cal as­pects of the brain, work­ing to­gether, be­come ex­tremely com­plex and pro­vide our self-aware­ness. The speed of the res­o­nant waves that are pre­sent is the lim­it­ing fac­tor that de­ter­mines the size of each con­scious en­tity,” Hunt writes. As a shared res­o­nance ex­pands to more and more con­stituents, the par­tic­u­lar con­scious en­tity grows larger and more com­plex.”

This res­o­nance the­ory of con­scious­ness tries to pro­vide a uni­fied frame­work for un­der­stand­ing mind and mat­ter that in­cludes neu­ro­science, the study of hu­man con­scious­ness or sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy, and bio­physics. It of­fers an ex­pla­na­tion for the dif­fer­ing de­grees of  consciousness in var­i­ous phys­i­cal sys­tems. It is all about vi­bra­tions, but it’s also about the type of vi­bra­tions and, most im­por­tantly, about shared vi­bra­tions,” Hunt ar­gues.

This view that he and Schooler have that all things are con­scious to a greater or lesser ex­tent is called panpsy­chism, and it’s rel­a­tively widely ac­cepted among con­scious­ness re­searchers. Their work builds on cen­turies of think­ing about per­cep­tion by philoso­phers and many decades of work by sci­en­tists on the phys­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of this process.

However, their the­ory that vi­bra­tions ex­plain how per­cep­tion is cre­ated at vary­ing de­grees of com­plex­ity, res­onat­ing to a more or less so­phis­ti­cated ex­tent, has yet to be proven de­fin­i­tively. It’s a pos­si­ble frame­work that could solve the hard prob­lem of con­scious­ness” and lends cre­dence to the sense long ex­pressed by spir­i­tual types that it’s all about the vibes.”


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