Stuff that only looks random

Worlds largest woodpile, Byholma, Sweden.

Update: Is it possible that the firing of Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia is part of a ratfucking operation to get Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts?? See this post at Brietbart (Ewww) for details.  Firing Sullivan may be the first step in making Warren look like she is guilty of scientific misconduct.  Regardless, the Board of Visitors should be investigated.  Who are they taking orders from?

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I’m cleaning out the Instapaper queue this morning.  Let’s take a look:

Derek Lowe writes a response in Slate to a recent Slate article that claims that we need more scientists and mathematicians.  No, what we really need are more jobs for the hundreds of thousands of STEM majors who are out of work right now.

Derek also has a post about the future of Organic chemistry in this country.  Bottom line: there is no future in this country for organic chemists and a recent National Research Council Committee study confirms this:

Whitesides believes that the question should be asked whether PhD theses are narrow technical presentations for jobs that no longer exist. Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China? “That’s not to say that these aren’t really important activities, but we need to connect our investment in graduate school with what’s actually needed to give jobs to students.”

That’s really sad.  America has produced some of the finest chemists of the modern era but if there are no jobs after graduate school, why bother studying a dead field? You might as well get a PhD in Alchemy for all the good it will do you.  Our country hasn’t felt the full effects of all of the industrial slashing and burning on our scientific infrastructure yet but it’s coming and it won’t be pretty.  Meanwhile, our wealth of scientists are forced to pursue other careers…

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Theresa MacBain, the Methodist pastor who recently came out as an atheist, gave a short interview on Fox News radio.  It’s only 9 minutes.  Well worth the time. She did very well and held her own.  Good job, Theresa.  It’s not easy taking on the blowhards at Fox.  Let’s hope some of this interview percolated into the minds of the listeners.

Theresa is presently directing the Clergy Project, an initiative to help non-believing pastors make the transition into the civilian world.  The purpose of the Clergy Project is not to deconvert practicing pastors.  The pastors that join the project are already past the point of deconversion.  They just want out of the pulpit because they want to stop living a lie and they need to make a safe landing.  The number of clergy who have joined the project has swelled dramatically since McBain and another graduate, Jerry DeWitt, have barnstormed the country in the past couple of months.  They have almost 300 members and many more clergy who are on a waiting list to be screened before they can join.

In another sign of the atheist apocalypse, Linda LaScola, a researcher on religion, gave an interview to CNN about the rate of deconversion and its future effects on politics. The days of the religious right strangling the country and squashing modernity are numbered.

As more people turn away from religion, there is an associated trend that shows they are becoming more liberal.  So, you have to wonder why Democrats seem scared to death of the religious right.  If they just hang in there and stop ceding ground to the conservatives, in a few election cycles, the pendulum will have swung the other way.  In fact, Republicans seem to be frantically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the electorate this year because they know they are rapidly running out of time.  Before long, there won’t be enough elderly, conservative religious voters who they can conscript for the plutocrats.

By the way, did you know that up until recently, most people stayed with the religion traditions they were brought up in?  And according to Bob Altemeyer, author of The Authoritarians, “amazing apostates”, those individuals who reject their  fundamentalist upbringings and become secular do so at the rate of about 1%.  What the data shows recently is that the rate of deconversion is picking up with greater access to the internet.

Previously, that 1% shared some common characteristics, such as being good in school and valuing truth.  In other words, we don’t just accept what people tell us unquestioningly no matter how much our parents isolate us.  Altemeyer also found that there are a few people who go the other way from secular households to religious conversion but these people tend to be less well educated and they make their conversions after some life-changing event like an illness, unemployment or relationaship failure.  In other words, religious conversions happen when people are most vulnerable to persuasion and to individuals who are least able to reason their way out of it.  These findings are similar to my own experience.  I never believed the fundamentalist crap I was fed and to get me to believe it now, after I have seen the proof of evolution in my research and now know the historical facts behind the bible, would require me to undergo a lobotomy.

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Something very weird is going on at the University of Virginia.  Last week, the President Teresa Sullivan, was asked to resign abruptly by the University’s Board of Visitors, which is like the Board of Regents everywhere else.  The reasons for the resignation are not clear.  Even Sullivan herself is not actually sure why she was fired and the board is not answering questions to anyone’s satisfaction.  This move came 2 years after Sullivan was appointed and has, by all accounts, done an admirable job.

I first read about this a few days ago from a history professor there, Siva Vaidhyanathan, who wrote about the dismissal in Salon.  What Vaidhyanathan describes sounds oddly familiar to those of us in the pharmaceutical industry who have lost our jobs due to cost saving measures of the shareholders:

In the 21st century, robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris. At least that’s what’s been happening at one of the oldest public universities in the United States—Thomas Jefferson’s dream come true, the University of Virginia.

On Thursday night, a hedge fund billionaire, self-styled intellectual, “radical moderate,” philanthropist, former Goldman Sachs partner, and general bon vivant named Peter Kiernan resigned abruptly from the foundation board of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He had embarrassed himself by writing an email claiming to have engineered the dismissal of the university president, Teresa Sullivan, ousted by a surprise vote a few days earlier.

[...]

“The Board believes that in the rapidly changing and highly pressurized external environment in both health care and in academia, the University needs to remain at the forefront of change,” [Board of Vistors chair] Dragas wrote in her initial email announcement. I have no idea what that means or why it pertains to Sullivan’s dismissal. I guess it means that stuff is changing. So the university must change. Firing a president is change.

On Monday Dragas, sensing that the university community might want some explanation for such a radical act, sent out a second message: “The Board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast.”

OK, then. It’s all about pace. I suppose this means the board will appoint a new president every two years. Or maybe more frequently, because that’s the only way to keep up with the pace of change.

Earlier in the statement Dragas wrote that “the board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face.” So we can derive from Dragas’ statements that Sullivan was not bold enough, fast enough, or “proactive” enough to guide a bucolic 193-year-old institution founded by a stocking-wearing guy who studied Greek and Latin for fun.

We were all baffled. So Sullivan did nothing wrong? The board would not even hint at the reason she was fired. Conspiracy theories quickly circulated to fill the vacuum. And they got worse after Kiernan’s letter unleashed an unfounded fear that an MBA “cabal” was in cahoots with Goldman Sachs to loot the university.

It sounds like the financiers’ values have come to the University of Virginia because they loves them some change! The bizspeak jargon is always a bad sign.  No one knows what it really means, not even the speakers.  This leaves a lot of leeway to interpret the jargon on the fly to justify just about anything.  Vaidhyanathan suggests that donors to the university want more control over how their donations are used.  Maybe they want more influence over the curriculum or benefits or hiring.  Whatever it is, they want to impose change on their timetable and in their way without some capable university president who specialized in class dynamics and the sociology of debt getting in the way.

Did I mention that the University of Virginia has pretty reasonable tuition compared to its peers?  How much do you want to bet that that’s going to Change!™ now that the bonus class has got its grubby mitts on the steering wheel?  Cut back on wages benefits here, hire some more poorly paid adjunct professors there, get more companies to foot the bills for research, raise tuition 30% over a few years and voile!  This is not a charitable institution, after all.  Why should University of Virginia students and their parents get off easy?

The students and faculty have turned out for Sullivan and latest reports say that 4 of the 12 members of the Board of Visitors have approached Sullivan to ask her to stay.  But this is not a good working environment for anyone at the University and Sullivan warns that the faculty may be poached by other universities looking to pick up spooked researchers and professors.  Researchers need to be able to plan and require a contiguous and stable environment and this crap from the Board of Visitors is undermining that.  They’ll get their change for sure but what they will be left with won’t be worth anything after they’re done.  The university’s faculty need only look at the smoking hulks of our empty industrial labs and extraordinarily well compensated former MBA overlords to know what will come next.

Another disaster brought to you by the Goldman Sachs family of assholes.

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More office chairs.  I’m still pining for the white leather one from West Elm but the damn thing never goes on sale.

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Le Pacman:

16 Responses

  1. The Board of Visitors are pascists.
    There I’ve said it.

  2. Damn, Breitbart is bringing up twenty-two-year old unfounded accusations to attack Elizabeth Warren? It’s not bad enough that they made a two-month story out of her pride that she had a Native American ancestor? All I can say is that she must be one very clean woman if these are the lengths that the rightwing filth machine must go to in order smear her. It does make me wonder about the intelligence of the voters in MA, though. Why is this even a contest? Brown is Wall Street and Warren is Main Street. He doesn’t have to be Rand Paul or Jim DeMint(ed) to be bad for Massachusetts or for the country.

    I’d like to think that the situation with Sullivan isn’t connected but I put nothing past these bozos. Sullivan’s firing certainly has all the hallmarks of a Mafia-style hit, much like what the GOP did to Elizabeth Warren any time she appeared before Congress and we’ve seen for the past twenty years that nothing, no dirty deed, is beyond this group of Republicans who have surrendered any pretensions to integrity or concern for the well-being of the 99%.

    • The Hoyer-Reid-Pelosi Obamacrat scum should be watched very carefully for signs of secret collaboration on their part with this Breitbart Initiative.

  3. I was at the American Atheists Annual Meeting when Teresa McBain came out. She gave a very moving speech. Jerry DeWitt is awesome too. I shared a seat on the Metro with another member of the Clergy Project. They do good work and I’m happy to see that Teresa has made a safe landing at the Clergy Project.

    • I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they have become the two most visible graduates of the Clergy Project. They are both amazing speakers and Jerry in particular is a natural in videos.

  4. “That’s really sad. America has produced some of the finest chemists of the modern era but if there are no jobs after graduate school, why bother studying a dead field? You might as well get a PhD in Alchemy for all the good it will do you. ”

    Maybe this generation should consider outsourcing themselves.

    Since there’s going to be nothing left for them in the U.S, and their parents will be too desperate simply trying to stay alive in their final years to be able to help, maybe they should get the science degree with a view towards emigrating to a country that will employ them.

    I’m serious. No one should have to waste talents that can earn a degree in science, math or technology working all their adult life in a service industry, but in this country, for women especially, that’s all there’s going to be.

    Something to think about, anyway.

    • That strategy works well for chemical engineers who often move from project to project.
      It works less well for dedicated researchers who may work on several projects at one time over half a dozen years. There are some jobs that would be more amenable to freelancing. Mine comes to mind. molecular modelers spend most of their time at a computer anyway and there’s this thing called the internet….
      But for people who work in labs, there needs to be continuity for research to work well and a long term committment. That means emigrating and it’s almost impossible for the middle aged among us to do that, no matter how fresh our skills are. Plus, money for research is drying up everywhere except in China and India where the grunt work is taking place and in Germany and France, where the governments have taken proactive steps to protect their scientific infrastructure.
      What we really need is long term committments from the government and companies to fund research without interference from the financial industry. It has been the MBAs that got us into this mess in the first place with their stupid management tricks and neverending mergers.

      • You’re right.

        It just seemed like the only way left to go, but I can see why it wouldn’t work, at least for scientific research.

    • Every stop has to be pulled to keep a native capitalist class from emerging in China.

      It’s not easy, Chinese outnumber Americans 4-1. Ergo, any capital deployed to employ scientists in the U.S. poses a mortal threat to the continued lily-white ethnic purity of the Ownership Class. Any slackening off in the outsourcing push could result in a critical mass of Chinese scientists founding companies of their own. Some of them might even get rich enough to play golf with the White Overlords.

      Isn’t obliterating the hopes and dreams of the American middle-class a small price to pay to prevent such a horror?

      • I want to be very sure I am understanding your theory. Are you suggesting that the Deciders have decided to outsource all chemical science and discovery TO China in ORder to preVENT ethnic-Chinese residents or Chinese-American citizens FROM developing chemicals HERE and getting rich HERE? Am I understanding your theory correctly?

      • Mebbe, but you’re giving the bonus class too much credit for actually having a strategy. Um, that’s not really how they operate. They tend to live in the moment. A few moments ago, they decided to send research to china hoping to get a quick turnaround time for blockbusters. That’s not going to work because research doesn’t operate that way so in another couple of moments from now, they’re either going to move some research back or liquidate their holdings in pharma. Either way pharma is screwed and so, by extension, are we.
        As to getting capitalism off the ground in china, I think it would be a very good idea. China has a billions of potential consumers. Right now, many of them live in poverty. If they could decorrupt and build their business infrastructure, they could keep their own people busy doing things for china.
        There are plenty of important research targets to go around. The only shortage we have is money, which the bonus class is using to place bets on a global roulette wheel.

  5. Glad you linked to the UVA fiasco. When I first read about it, I thought…Wow! Sounds like something out of Karen Ho’s book.

  6. This made me smile this morning and so little does in the political realm these days.

    http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2012-06-19-sHILLARYWHIPHAIRlarge640.jpeg

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