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    • Dogs used to rape prisoners at Bagram?
      I don’t know.  But Pinochet did the same (plus rats), it’s not without precedent. I hope not: The war veteran, who loathed manipulating Western politicians even as he defended tactics of collective punishment, continued his account: Afghan prisoners were tied face down on small chairs, Jack said. Then fighting dogs entered the torture chamber. “If [...] […]
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Seasonal Potpourri and other stuff

I’m really considering trying to arrange some kind of discussion around why the drug industry charges so much for drugs and the true cost of research etc. Maybe when I have more time. It is a very important topic and the people closest to the problem seem to be left out of the policy discussions. I think it’s time we hear from them.

Closely related, Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a short post about how devastating the mergers have been to R&D. He touches briefly on a subject that Matt Taibbi and Michael Lewis could write volumes about: consultant groups, like McKinsey and BCG. Take about vampire squids and blood funnels. This is a vast untapped area of greed and corruption that just flies under the radar.

Update: Derek posted this morning about the firing of Chris Viehbacher from Sanofi recently. A Whistlblower alleges that this is due to kickback arrangements Viehbacher had with consulting company Accenture and others. It’s intriguing especially because Accenture is all over pharma and I’ve had friends who have had to deal with them before. There is a lot of money involved in an Accenture deal, lots of subcontractors, lots of poorly paid developers in India, many delays, budget overruns and poor products. Think of Obamacare’s rollout. Yeah, like that, only worse. That’s what consultants do for pharma. Am I surprised that Accenture might be involved in unethical activity? Not in the least.

On a more cheerful note, I love Christmas time. It’s not because of the concept of Christmas. Historically, it makes no sense. But I love all the celebrations at the end of the year. I’ve taken a fancy to Solstice because it is a celebration of nature and I love that. Nevertheless, I have a Christmas tree because it is pretty and shiny and reminds me of my grandparents.

But I’ve stayed away from decorating Christmas cookies. It is always my intention to make them every year but I never get around to it. This year, I might attempt something simple, like reindeer cutouts. But check out this Christmas cookie to end all Christmas cookies from youtuber Sweetambs:

She makes it sound so easy. Yeah.

But if red flood icing is not your thing, maybe you’d rather dance. Here’s a line dance to Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer.

I might actually give this a try.

 

Rand Paul stays on message in reaction to tonight’s events

Says Rand:

“I think it is hard not to watch that video of him saying I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, and not be horrified by it. But I think there’s something bigger than just the individual circumstances. Obviously the individual circumstances are important. I think it is important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes so they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician had to say we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette. For someone to die over breaking that law, there is really no excuse for it. But I do blame the politician. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.”

That’s right. The cop wouldn’t have had to strangle Eric Garner if it weren’t for his legal responsibility to enforce the cigarette tax.

This is prime material for all kinds of undesirable outcomes. Just associate any horrific and dehumanizing event with some nasty tax. 9/11? Airport fees. Financial collapse of 2008? Income taxes. Foreclosure crisis? Nice try, you lazy parasite.

Have at it.

You know, you would think that a statement like this would finally put an end to any presidential ambitions.  You would think but you would be wrong.

Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Dehumanization

During the Vietnam War, Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University, replicated the experience of a prison for a psychology experiment. His student participants were divided into guards and prisoners. The guards were given uniforms and sunglasses. The prisoners were stripped of their clothes and their names.

The experiment had to be stopped in less than a week.

Zimbardo later wrote a book about the Stanford prison experiment called The Lucifer Effect, and he provided his expert testimony in the case of the Abu Ghraib abusers. In short, whenever you allow some people to have absolute power and authority over other people, you will have dehumanization, abusive behavior and acts of evil. Zimbardo outlined his ingredients for how good people are able to do bad things.  They are deindividualization, anonymity of place, dehumanization, role-playing and social modeling, moral disengagement and group conformity

In the past couple of weeks, I have witnessed a lot of moral disengagement and group conformity. I have heard some shocking excuses for the behavior of the police officer that shot Michael Brown. Generally, they go like this: “That’s the way they behave”, “If you try to tackle a cop, you deserve what you get”, “They don’t care about other people’s stuff. They just want to take everything they can get”. These people laugh at the social media snips they pass around to each other about how any killing of an unarmed black male must be just an excuse to go looting.

It’s disturbing not just because of the content of what “they” are supposed to think, feel and do. It’s disturbing because it usually comes from the mouths of white people that I work with or other white people I used to think were above that kind of talk. And they talk like this to one another because they think it’s Ok. They think that they will not be censured or excluded from polite society for trivializing death or the desecration of a body by leaving it to bake in the summer sun for four hours without the decency of anyone to heap on a sacred handful of soil much less load it into an ambulance.

When I’m just trying to eat my lunch and I hear this kind of justification to treat other people as less than human because everyone is under the impression that it’s OK to behave like we’re back in 1954, well, let’s just say it makes me mad and I lose my appetite. I have to get up and rest my hand on the shoulder of the only other person in the room with a differing opinion and say, “I’m with you. It isn’t decent” and then leave.  It just doesn’t seem like enough. It’s not enough.

It’s not just the outrageous treatment of african americans that bothers me. It’s the way we treat anyone who is poor too. Oh, gosh, that means me now. If you’re poor, most people think you did something wrong to get that way. You must have a drinking habit or do drugs even if you don’t or you were lazy at work when you weren’t. It doesn’t matter if the economy sucks or that you were in an industry that was slaughtered. It doesn’t matter that your kid got seriously ill just when your insurance ran out. It doesn’t matter that you graduate with a mountain of student debt during the worst recession since the Great Depression and can’t find a job. It doesn’t matter that so many Americans are enduring the trials of Job, losing their jobs and their houses and their family’s sense of security. All that matters is that some people have now been given permission to kick their fellow citizens when they’re down. That’s enormously satisfying to some people. And when those people get together, they reinforce their belief that they can make themselves feel powerful and good by making others feel powerless and bad.

We may not be anywhere near as destructive and evil as Germans were in the 1930’s. But we’re getting there. You are not safe from evil just because everyone around you is making the same derogatory remarks.

**************

Honor your mayor and keep it peaceful out there tonight while you’re protesting.

 

 

 

Pharmageddon continues

This time it’s Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK). You may remember that GSK was in the papers recently because it was one of the only big pharma companies with a potential vaccine for ebola. Well, now they’re cutting their R&D staff. According to the rumors flying over at In the Pipeline, the biggest cuts are going to happen at their research park in North Carolina.

How these things typically happen is the pharma in question just eliminates a whole research division or therapeutic area. Your job is not spared because you made your company a zillion dollars on the patent you sold to it for a dollar 10 years ago. I used to be in favor of this quid pro quo arrangement. You give me the means to do my research, I give you the fruit of my labor. But now, I’m not so sure. Like everything else, there are predators in the executive suites and on Wall Street who have zero appreciation for the amount of work it takes to create a new drug entity and plenty of people who think they own it. In some respects, researchers have only themselves to blame for not protecting their own interests, those being the need to earn a living in order to consume calories to sustain life and have a roof over their heads.

GSK’s cuts come on the heels of cuts at Astra-Zeneca, which decided to get rid of its antibiotics research unit. Yeah, try to figure that one out. And then there was Amgen that recently announced that it would cut up to 4000 jobs globally including at its research facility in Seattle. So, while the flood of layoffs in the US R&D industry has slowed down a bit since the high water mark of 2009-2010, it’s still not finished yet. After all, sooner or later, the industry will run out of people to lay off. But we’re still going to see pulses of carnage here and there, dumping more over-educated, over-qualified, experienced and talented chemists and biologists into the already saturated labor market. Fun, fun.

In other news, the left sometimes *almost* grasps what the problem is with pharmaceutical R&D but as soon as those of us who really know what’s going on turn our backs, we get more clueless BS from people like Dean Baker. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have him on my side. But he doesn’t seem to spend any time talking with people who have actually, you know, been there. There is something bizarrely automatic about the left’s misunderstanding of how drugs get invented and developed. Maybe this has something to do with the complexity of the process. Or maybe it’s just laziness.

Here’s the basic outline of the misunderstanding: The NIH, which we all pay for, does basic research. Then it collaborates with a big drug company and that big drug company turns around and sells that basic research for a ginormous profit. All the big company does is scales the sucker up, runs some admittedly expensive clinical trials, and then produces and markets the drug, delivered fresh and complete from the NIH labs, directly to you the consumer at an enormous markup.

There is just enough truth about the greed of the executive and finance movers and shakers to make this look plausible. Unfortunately, it is one of those beautiful theories easily destroyed by ugly facts.

I don’t want to go into this again because it will take at least several posts to unpack but the NIH rarely delivers a pristine drug to industry. No, the whole idea of basic research is that it is basic. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or not valuable. It means there is sometimes little more than a nugget of a something to follow up on. The “drugs” are sometimes nothing more than fragments or completely undruggable. (Undruggability is a whole different topic) Sometimes, there is no drug delivered to industry. Sometimes, it’s merely the suggestion that a specific protein target may or may not be involved in some undesirable endpoint.

The role of industry R&D is to take this very basic research and through many years of real, genuine, honest-to-god research, turn it into something resembling a drug. It is a very expensive process. I’m not surprised at the numbers being batted around. That is not to say that we can’t cut back on the amount of marketing that pharma does. At the end of the day, what is more valuable to you? The researchers that invent an ebola vaccine or the marketers that tell you why you need it? But to get real drugs from real research, a lot of money must be spent in order to pay for many trials and errors and reagents and lab equipment and researchers who need to be fed and housed.

That being said, it sure does look like there is a plan to exploit NIH and academic labs. If you get rid of all your R&D units in the name of shareholder value, or at least cripple them with endless, non-productive mergers and acquisitions and layoffs, you may end up without anything to market. And there are a lot of geeky students out there who are willing to work at subsistence wages to get a PhD. Why not use them as your new staff? That certainly looks like what is happening. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is missing in the equation is the experienced R&D staff that will know “when to hold’em and when to fold ‘em” when it comes to actually making the potential drugs. In other words, there will be a lot of reinventing of the wheel in academic labs as they sort through how to do it on limited soft money.

It’s a research strategy only a banker could love.

***********

One bright spot for the journal famished: Nature is experimenting with making its journal archive and current issue available as a free “read-only” version. That’s to circumvent the habit of some poor researchers who have to sneak around to satisfy their paper habit, a phenomenon known as “dark sharing”. You have to know someone who has inside access to a license, usually some friend who is still in industry or someone at a university. This is what we are reduced to: sharing illicit copies of nerdy papers like they’re banned versions of Tropic of Cancer. Read-only versions that you can’t save or refer to later is  better than nothing, I guess, though not quite as good as getting a subscription to Nature and Science for Christmas.

 

Serial: Cold Turkey

In case you didn’t know, Serial is taking Thanksgiving off, the ungrateful wretches, so there will be no episode 10 today. But don’t despair, there are a couple of good fixes for those of you who are starting to get jittery.

Fix number one is at a blog called TheViewFromLL2 from a George Washington University Law School alum named Susan. She has two really excellent posts up about Serial. Her first post is a timeline of the prosecution’s case against Adnan Syed based on cell phone records. A couple of days ago, I hypothesized that neither Jay nor Jenn knew anything about the murder but were coerced by police into making false statements. After reading the timeline, I have to admit that at least Jay was probably involved in Hae’s burial in Leakin Park. The cell phone evidence is strongest here and it’s pretty certain that the cell phone was in the park at the probable time of Hae’s burial. So, there’s that. Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating and, rather than solidifying the case against Adnan, it just looks really damning for Jay. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a serial killer involved but it does mean that Jay probably knew the killer. Or was the killer.

The second post from Susan is one where she analyzes Jay’s statements to police and testimony in court based on four criteria that are essential to determining whether a witness is credible. Jay’s testimony fails pretty badly. (How can you tell when Jay is lying? When his mouth moves.) Susan is very detailed and a bit geeky and I find her posts very compelling and convincing. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system relies on juries that aren’t detail oriented or geeky. Juries seem to be very vulnerable to subjective evidence.

Fix number two is from Rabia Chaudry at Splitthemoon. Rabia is a family friend of the Syeds and an immigration lawyer. She’s the one who first contacted Sarah Koenig about the case and got this whole thing going. In her latest post, Where It All Began, she has put up some documents that she acquired from a FOIA request that helps clear up who pointed police to Adnan, especially the mysterious Asian male, aged 18-24. We now have a name and relationship to Jay. Again, all roads seem to lead back to Jay.

It’s not looking good for Jay. He knows things. A lot of things.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Katiebird says I can come to her house. It’s only 13.1 hours away from mine. If I leave now, I’ll be there for round two! Ummm, maybe next year. Today, I’m going to my aunt’s house. She made a pumpkin cheese cake. Yum. (Note to self: bring Lactaid)

About a week ago, the New York Times wrote a post about state dishes for Thanksgiving. But they got it all wrong when it came to Pennsylvania. The NYT says we eat glazed bacon on T-day. For the record, I have never eaten glazed bacon on T-day. I have never been to anyone’s house where glazed bacon was served on T-day. I have no idea where the NYT got its information but clearly, they did not talk to anyone from Pennsylvania.

The Upshot got a little closer this morning. It did a google search of recipes and supposedly, Pennsylvanians like potato filling. Ok, I have an issue with the word “filling”. No one I know calls it filling. It’s stuffing. But the potato thing sounds closer to the truth.

But here is the definitive answer for Pennsylvania: Baked Corn Casserole made with Cope’s dried corn. It’s a Pennsylvania Dutch country thing and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a cross between a soufflé and a corn custard in actuality. When done right, it’s like pot de corn, rich but not too heavy with just a little sweetness from the toasted dried corn.

The Upshot says that Kansans prefer their corn with cream cheese. (Note to self: pack Lactaid for trip to Kansas).

Anyway, whatever you’re having, I hope it is delicious. Share your recipes in the comments below and let me know if they are a local specialty.

And say hello to your neighbors, like our local specialty, Mr. Rogers, used to do.

 

Ditto, Mr. Edsall

I read this book. It was pretty good. 4 sponges

Thomas Edsall, professor of journalism at Columbia University, gives a pretty accurate diagnosis of the problem with the Democratic party in the NYTimes today. In this piece, he speculates on the prospects of Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia. Here are some money quotes:

Webb is one answer to the weaknesses of today’s center-left, the so-called “upstairs-downstairs” coalition described by Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University. Kotkin argues in his recently published book, “The New Class Conflict,” that the Democratic Party has been taken over by what he calls “gentry liberals,” an elite that has undermined the historic purpose of the Democratic Party.

Kotkin contends that

“The great raison d’être for left-wing politics – advocating for the middle- and working classes – has been refocused to attend more closely to the policy imperatives and interests of small, highly affluent classes, as well as the powerful public sector.”

I asked Kotkin what he thought of the themes Webb intends to raise, and he wrote back “I think he’s onto something.”

The Democrats, Kotkin believes, need “someone — Sherrod Brown, Webb, Jon Tester, somebody! — who speaks to the issues of upward mobility and incomes.” Both Senator Brown and Senator Tester have staked out populist positions in support of their working-class constituents in Ohio and Montana.

I’m not sure that Jon Tester would be the right person either. But in general, this is what I think I was trying to get at with my proposal the other day to revive our old blogtalkradio show. We’re not the “gentry liberals”. We might not be Jim Webb’s cohort either but there’s definitely an intersection on the Venn diagram.

Then there’s this:

“Today,” Fiorina writes,

“We have a situation where voters can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.”

Asked about Webb, Fiorina replied, “the emotional side of me loves him.” But, Fiorina cautioned, “the rational side is worried about how he would actually behave if he were president.”

Well,  it’s about time that the pundit class openly admits what those of us on this blog have suspected since the day after Super Tuesday 2008. The party was highjacked during the 2008 primary campaign. That’s why the nature of discourse on Daily Kos changed almost overnight. Almost immediately it felt like the guys from Enron took the place over. And the super delegates started falling like dominos with the rush of money into party coffers. We know retrospectively from Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, that there were plenty of people who knew the collapse was coming and wanted to set themselves up before the fall. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the bubble was going to burst with very grave consequences for the economy. The traders and bankers put their money on the enabler.

But one thing I disagree with is Edsall’s characterization of Hillary as polished and over produced. Maybe that was the case early in the 2007-2008 primary campaign season. But as the race became tighter and Florida and Michigan delegate numbers were withheld from her win column to create an artificial narrative that she was always behind, she transformed as a candidate and became much more authentic. We all saw her become a different person. That is why she continued to win primaries right to the bitter end and more and more voters responded positively to her as a person. Underdog status didn’t polish her. It forged and hardened her, like steel.

There’s another problem with the current Democratic party opinion makers that I think they need to sit and think about. For all the talk about Hillary being in the pockets of the corporate and financial elite, those donors abandoned her in 2008 for Barack Obama. I find it curious that no one wants to talk about that.

Plus, it’s my sense from reading all the commentary in the past 6 years that the gentry elite has never really liked the Clintons. Anglachel had a series of riveting posts on the subject back in 2008 about how the liberal elite thought of the Clintons as Arkansan podunks who didn’t know which soup spoon to use. They were rather too authentic in their support of working class economic issues. Bill was channeling the Jacksonian/Truman wing while the gentry liberals are all Adlai Stevenson. The class issues are stark and the bridge very hard to span. Maybe that’s where all the misleading “Clinton is a Third Way, neoliberal, DLC loving, puppy eater!” comes from. If you’ve never lived in poverty, crafting policies to address it become a mental exercise for the reader the results of which resemble intellectual masturbation. I don’t remember Clinton being about that kind of process. He rather enjoyed politics and making friends with everyone. He is the ultimate LinkedIn profile.

Nevertheless, I think it would be a good thing for Jim Webb to jump into the race. I think he would appeal to a lot of people in the Appalachia area and a lot of people that the Democrats wrote off in 2008. He might have a following here in Pittsburgh as well. Sure, why not have him run? Hashing out issues of class, opportunity and income would be a very good thing. We don’t hear enough of that kind of campaign rhetoric and the results of the last 6 years shows that Democrats in Exile, such as ourselves, have been completely ignored by the Democratic party. As Edsall speculates, Webb’s political skills might not carry him as far as the White House but he does represent a throwback to the New Deal era and the Tennessee Valley Authority and championing the little guy, not just some carefully data mined groups.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Hillary Clinton.

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