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      We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would [...]
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One of the most sensible things I’ve read on the left in years

Atrios this morning on the bombing of Iraq.

The war in Iraq was stupid and expensive.  But we are responsible for the humans we left behind in the country we messed up.

 

Campbell Brown is married to Dan Senor

You know, Dan Senor, Fox News flying monkey contributor and the former Bushie who was spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq that was responsible for keeping track of the planeloads full of money we sent over there?  Yeah, whatever happened to that money?  Remember when Henry Waxman said:

The numbers are so large that it doesn’t seem possible that they’re true. Who in their right mind would send 363 tonnes of cash into a war zone?

Maybe we should try to find it before we yank tenure away from teachers, eh, Campbell?

Just sayin’.

*$12 billion dollars would pay for a lot of high quality teachers.

When I told you Research had left NJ, I wasn’t making it up

 

Hoffman-LaRoche Nutley, NJ- recently shuttered.

NPR ran a recent piece on the problem of ghost towns being left in the wake of the great pharma mergers and layoffs of the last 10 years.

The facility I worked at in Bridgewater, NJ closed in 2011.  I’m not sure they were able to find renters but the MBAs seemed to have a habit of overestimating what new tenants for labs space would be willing (or able) to pay.  The lab buildings I worked in were beautiful with lots of natural light but they were never full. The facility I worked at previously in Monmouth Junction, NJ was also abandoned for awhile but I had heard that there were some plans to lease it.  Or bulldoze it.  I can’t remember which.  I stand corrected.  Google maps says the site is “closed”.  That building was smaller and more contained.  It would have been perfect for a small biotech company on the rise.  It had a state of the art animal breeding facility and room for about 400 people. More than that makes it feel too cozy.

But as I wrote back in 2011, it is difficult to get funding for a startup.  The vulture capitalists like to see most of the work done before they commit their money.  Then there is the problem of finding money for equipment (this is cheaper due to the big pharmas auctioning off all their stuff), subscriptions to journals, buying expertise for robotic HTS assays, structural

The place where I spent the best years of my life

biology, specialized analytical chemistry and ADME analysis, and every other thing that a small biotech doesn’t have in its own arsenal.  A regular Joe researcher funding his own research will probably lose his house before the year is out.  So, he and his colleagues don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on lab space, which despite its abundance, is going to be expensive.

In the meantime, Big Pharma is counting on graduate students living on subsistence wages to pick up the slack on what are now reduced government grants.  It was hard enough to be a graduate student in Chemistry before the sequester.  Now, the money is much harder to come by.  For a person who may not get a decent paying job until he or she is almost 30, the prospects are bleak.

You can see Paul Krugman from here!

You can see Paul Krugman from here!

Funny how Paul Krugman doesn’t talk about this.  He’s living in the heart of what was Big Pharma territory and the desolation is hard to ignore.

Some of the lame excuses that Big Pharma gives for pulling out of NJ is that it’s too far from the City and the kids nowadays want to be right in the middle of some hot urban action, complete with expensive tiny apartments that they will have to share with roommates until they retire.  Also, Big Pharma has relocated to the coasts to be close to Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Scripps.  That’s so they can share ideas in the areas where genomics and molecular biology are king.  But this is utter bullshit.  For one thing, if you are working in Cambridge, MA or San Francisco, you are precluded from talking about your work with anyone.  There’s no sharing going on in the spirit of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.  It’s all proprietary and very hush, hush.  Your work won’t be published until the lawyers have taken out anything that’s remotely patentable.  It could be years before you can share your big breakthrough.

Plus, there is this new fangled device called the internet.  If I wanted to, I could use an online tool to order up a synthetic gene from California from the comfort of my backyard wisteria covered swing in Pittsburgh.  I can access thousands of journal articles, provided I had $33/electronic copy and could get over my impulse to strangle the ACS and Elsevier every time I had to do it.  I could attend meetings and conferences.  My work does not depend on my location.

And here’s one more reason why pulling out of NJ to go to Boston doesn’t make sense.  It’s fricking expensive.  If the MBAs were trying to save money, which is what they always claim is the reason for shuttering labs, why the hell would they relocate to some of the most expensive real estate in America??  Why not go back to the midwest where the mothballed labs are still cheap?  That’s where most of research was before the big mega mergers in the 90s brought everyone to the Northeast.  Cinncinnati, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor all had thriving research communities before the business people decided to manage things.  Or even Pittsburgh.  This place is hopping lately, it’s urban, housing is cheap and there’s plenty of mass transit.

And this is where I think we come to the crux of the matter.  The relocation is about what the business people want.  They don’t want to be stuck in dowdy, suburban NJ with the high property taxes and they can’t think past the rust belt image of the midwest.  It’s not glamorous enough for the people who consider themselves the culture of smartness.  Smartness demands that it hang around other smart people.  Maybe if the business types rub shoulders with the supersmart MIT researchers, they won’t feel like they sold out their biology degrees to become finance wizards?  Projection of sorts?  I can only guess.

It’s also easier to jettison your workforce if you claim you HAVE to move to stay competitive.  Yep, just cut those hundreds of thousands of experienced STEM workers loose when they are in middle age and have family responsibilities.  Leave them stranded in NJ while their property values sink and they are stuck peddling themselves as consultants from one poverty stricken startup after another.

This is no way to treat the people who brought you Lipitor, Effexor and Allegra.  And, yet, this is the way it’s going.  Big Pharma sees its future as chronic illness specialists.  They will charge hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a drug that some people can’t live without and will expect insurance companies to pay for them.  Think of it as sponge from some Nathan Brazil Well World novel. I know that a few of my friends are still making a living in companies that are focusing on orphan diseases and oncology but there’s something immoral about hooking up people to drugs you know they can’t live without with the goal of milking every dollar from them.  I realize that research is expensive but we didn’t use to be so mercenary about it.  Instead of solving the problem of out of control research costs, the new wizards of pharma finance have glommed onto cheap, dirty and unsustainable new ways to make money. Reduce your workforce to desperation, focus on the poor unfortunate chronically ill and ignore everyone else. This is the new business model.

And it is broken.

CIA hacked Senate computers. Water still wet.

The NYTimes has a short blurb on the front page.

The CIA has apologized to Senators Feinstein and Chambliss.  So, you know, it’s all Ok.  We can move on now.

Update: Or maybe some of us are getting confirmation of what we have suspected for a long time.  That is, there are a lot of people spying on other people in order to influence politics.  Nothing appears to be sacred or too confidential.  We can be very angry about that.

 

How religious narcissism works

Ah, the Duggars are making headlines again.  They’re little headlines but you should pay attention anyway because they are part of the pattern of religious narcissism that I have written about previously.

Jessa Duggar, the hot one, is dating courting Ben Seewald, another obnoxious Jesus freak Southern Independent Baptist.  I can’t remember where I heard this, it might have been somewhere in the free thought skeptic media, but it turns out that the Duggars follow this self-annoited preacher named Bill Gothard.  If America has a Taliban, and it does, Gothard would be its leader and his IBLP, Institute of Basic Life Principals, would be its Sharia Law.  Wait, that would have been last year.  THIS year, Gothard has resigned his position at IBLP due to sexual improprieties, as well as failing to report child abuse cases.  Yes, the man who brought America the chaste “side hug” has been accused by dozens of young women of inappropriate touching, groping and other no-nos.  Maybe their knees were exposed briefly and were asking for it.  So much for self-control. (Funny side note: while I was writing this, the WordPress autocorrect function kept replacing “Gothard” with “got hard”.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

In the Duggars’ world, the Southern Baptists are too worldly.  Yes, those teetotalling, non-dancing, patriarchical fundies are just too wild and crazy for the Duggars so the Duggar family mostly worships at home with other similar families.  Note that they don’t form “friendships” with these families.  They “fellowship”.  The distinction is significant.  That’s because if one of these families steps out of line, they have to be ready to jettison that family before the infection spreads.  It’s cold and unloving but their own salvation is at stake, so it’s necessary.

So, Ben Seewald, who is 2 years younger than Jessa, who is all of 20 or 21, writes a twitter about his catholic friend.  It’s been erased but someone has been kind enough to save the content.

“I have nothing against individuals who are Catholic. I know a lot of Catholics who are great people. What I DO have a problem with is the teaching that man can merit God’s favor through his own works or the works of other fallen men.

“My conscience is captive to the word of God. Where my Catholic friends adhere to God’s Word, I adhere. Where they depart from Scripture, I will in no way support, but will call them out because I love them and desire that they be turned from their deadly errors.”

Where to begin.  On the face of it, it looks innocent enough.  I mean, IBLP has been around for less than 100 years and is a niche sect, appealing to authoritarians and people who watch TLC and think it’s perfectly Ok to train children to be smiling, non-thinking, personality free, well behaved, chaste automatons in the name of Christ. (As my favorite aunt says, “Someday, one of those Duggar kids is going to write a book.”) The Catholic church has been around for 2000 years and has branch offices all around the world.  Catholics don’t have anything to fear from some American fundies in Arkansas.

But the debate of “saved by grace alone” vs “saved by good works” has been raging since Martin Luther.  In retrospect, Luther ignited a firestorm that to this day we can’t put out.  To many of us freethinkers or panentheist non-Christians, this debate is intensely boring and about as meaningful as how many angels dance on the head of a pin.  Really, who the hell cares whether it’s faith or good works??  Does preferring one to the other preclude you from being a good person?

Anyway, the money quote in the above tweet is:

“My conscience is captive to the word of God. Where my Catholic friends adhere to God’s Word, I adhere. Where they depart from Scripture, I will in no way support, but will call them out because I love them and desire that they be turned from their deadly errors.”

I’m sorry, who died and made Ben Seewald god?  That tweet almost sounds like it could have come from the pages of the Old Testament.

But this is pretty typical of the religious narcissist.  YOUR faith is not important to them.  Only THEIR faith is important.  They make it their business to interfere and make it their responsibility to set your ass straight.

Let’s recap: The Southern Baptists aren’t good enough for them.  They are superior to most of the denomination they consider their closest allies.  They worship at home because it’s safer for them and they can control who can bask in their reflected glory and who can’t.  They hold themselves up as paragons of virtue and expect that you show them respect for their life choices that they say are more moral than yours.  And they do not respect your boundaries as far as your life choices or religious beliefs are concerned.  Your beliefs are inconsequential and fungible, theirs are not.

I’m pointing this out now because a couple of weeks ago, a bunch of anti-choice protestors interrupted a service at a Unitarian church in New Orleans.  Amanda Marcotte wrote of the protests recently, describing the actions of the protestors:

Some of the anti-choice activists invaded the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans while members were observing a moment of silence for a deceased congregant and proceeded to abuse and harass the people inside the church. The folks from Operation Save America were hardly ashamed of this deplorable behavior, instead bragging on their website about disrupting services at the “synagogue of Satan” and making special note of haranguing the female pastor, who they called a “pastor,” in scare quotes. (But they’re in this for “life” and not because they have a problem with women!) This behavior isn’t necessarily any worse than the miseries they subject clinic patients and workers to, but it serves as a reminder that the reason anti-choice “protesters” get into the lifestyle is that they are bullies, full stop.

The protestors did not recognize the authority of the female pastor and they violated the boundaries of the congregants’ faith in a very literal way.

Now, the Unitarians are not really Christians in the strictest sense of the word.  They’re more deists or pantheist non-Christians who are respectful of Christians.  You can even be an atheist at a Unitarian church.  On the scale of churches, Unitarians are waaaaay over there on the commie left.  So, what’s going on here?  Marcotte’s theory makes sense:

There are many pro-choice churches, but the religious pluralism of the Unitarians is what really sets fundamentalists off. Indeed, there’s a strong reason to believe that the religious right is basically using the battle over reproductive rights to advance a much larger agenda against religious tolerance. And the strategy is to argue that their own “religious freedom” cannot be protected without taking yours away.

There’s an actual quote about that somewhere from one of the Christian fundamentalist imams.  I think it might be in this video from a recent free thought convention.  Found it.  Here’s the quote attributed to Gary North, former curriculum advisor for Ron Paul:

“So let us be blunt about it, we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education and no neutral government.  Then they will get busy in constructing a bible based social and political order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of god.”

But Catholics are hardly Kumbaya strumming hippies.  The church has its own authoritarian issues and, even though its members might think a bunch of red beanied single old dudes in Rome are cracked when it comes to reproductive health, it has had a significant impact on the American public through the appointment of 5 conservative Catholics to the Supreme Court.  The uber fundie independent baptist taliban in Arkansas has little to fear from Catholics.  They’re getting everything they claim they want through them.  Except that the Catholics don’t believe what they believe, and therefore, they must be “saved”.

No one is safe from this kind of religious narcissism.  First they came for the atheists and there are still laws on the books in some states that prohibit an atheist from holding a public office.  Then they came for the Unitarians because they’re all about inclusion and social justice.  They have no qualms about calling out Catholics.

When Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the 5 member majority in the Hobby Lobby case had “ventured into a minefield”, she only scratched the surface of the problem.  Political motives aside, the  conservative majority has given a tacit nod to the religious narcissists to continue to breach other people’s boundaries.  I think we’re going to see more of these protests and pretty soon, you won’t be able to go anywhere before some righteous religious person decides your beliefs need an attitude adjustment.  Countries have and are still to this day fighting religious wars.  Many people are hurt and lives are ruined over religion in other parts of the world.  For more than 200 years, we have decided we as a nation weren’t going to subject our citizens to a test when it comes to religion.  Are we now going to throw away that detente and for what reason?

What do we do about the religious narcissist?  I’m still trying to find the answer to that question.  There are some suggestions for dealing with narcissists in general.  I’ll talk about some of them in a future post.

Lions, George Bush and Libya

I’m in the middle of the third part of The Last Lion:Winston Spencer Churchill.  Midway, actually.  Get it?  Ok, never mind.

Anyway, the third part is riveting.  No, seriously, I’m completely engrossed with the story of WWII.  I am my father’s daughter.  This part starts after Britain declares war on Germany and makes Churchill prime minister.  Churchill rallies the country with inspirational speeches and vows that Britain will not go down like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and France.  Wait, was that everyone?  No, indeed, there was much more to come.  The Brits looked across the channel at all the carnage and slavery and starvation and brutality and decided they were going to gird their loins and tough it out.  Then came the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, The Blitz, the destruction of Coventry.  Thousands of British lives were lost in incendiary bombs during nights of terror while the country waited for the invasion they knew Germany was planning.  And then there was the British navy, number one in the world, being picked off boat by boat, ship by ship, in the north Atlantic by German U-boats, battleships and bombers.  The carnage was horrific.

Meanwhile, Churchill was on his own.  No other European country was going to come to his rescue.  After years of appeasement, the ability of the military to respond to German aggression was very weak.  The RAF had far fewer planes, the navy’s ships were old, the army’s tanks couldn’t compete with the German panzers.  Churchill begged the US to send whatever was mothballed from WWI.  He turned British bases in the Atlantic over to America in exchange for some old rust buckets.  It wasn’t enough.  He pleaded with Roosevelt for help.  Britain was having trouble feeding itself.  He warned FDR that America was next, that Germany and Italy would come for them eventually.  But FDR had his own band of isolationists to deal with.  They held our country hostage and prevented any useful aid from reaching Britain.  Lend-Lease was only partially successful and Britain nearly bankrupted itself trying to purchase food and materials to ramp up weapons production.

Then came a series of British military disasters.  They initially had success in North Africa, but lost momentum to Rommel in Libya.  The Brits promised to defend Greece but after Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite agreement with Germany and Italy, then had a coup in protest, it was invaded by Germany, which rolled right on thru to occupy Greece.  Once again, the Brits had to evacuate – to Crete.  In Crete, German paratroopers captured a British airbase.  The RAF didn’t have the means to defend itself.  It didn’t have any arms.  The Brits evacuated to Egypt.  It was one retreat after another.  Pearl Harbor came as a blessing.  Finally, another country was going to share the misery.  But once the US got involved, it quickly found that it was no better off than the British.  With decades of appeasers running the show, the US military also didn’t have the ships, arms or aircraft to put up much of a fight.  If the Japanese hadn’t thought they were so far ahead of the game that they could afford to take a break refit their ships, the US might have lost all of the ships we had in the Pacific.

In the first months of 1942, Churchill was called by the House of Commons to account for all the military disasters.  Crete and Greece were particularly grating.  The Greek campaign was seen as unnecessary, especially because it was a voluntary action and it was a total loss.  But Churchill pointed out that the purpose of the campaign was to show the world that Britain was not just a sitting duck, it would resist assimilation.  Also, there was that whole business of the eastern Mediterranean.  If the area wasn’t secured for sea traffic, oil from the Persian Gulf and other goods, would have to go around Africa to get to England.  THAT’s why the British were in Egypt, to keep an eye on the Suez Canal.  That’s why they wanted to keep Tobruk in Libya.  It was the safest natural harbor in the area for the British fleet.  That’s why the Germans were bombing the shit out of Malta.  That’s why Churchill was hoping that Stalin was ready to fight Hitler in Russia, so Germany wouldn’t capture Iraqi and Iranian oil fields. By the way,  how many of us knew that when the Japanese declared war on us, it effectively cut off our rubber supply from Malaysia and that our cars and other vehicles were impacted by the Japanese navy threatening the trade routes?  I didn’t know that until yesterday.

And he was pissed off that he had to report this crap to the House of Commons because all they needed to do was look at a fricking map for the past decade to see that these areas needed reinforcement and military strength.  But while he spent a decade as a ridiculed back bencher, running around with his hair on fire about the evil brewing in Germany, he had to put up with a lot of snooty appeasers who thought keeping the peace so commerce could proceed without interruption was more important than a raving lunatic and his band of thugs in Berlin.

The House of Commons still couldn’t understand the Greek thing though.  Why pursue a battle if you aren’t sure you’re going to win?  He replied that if you have to know in advance that a win is a certainty, you never get off your ass to become a real threat.

So, now we come to our own Libya.  And I look at the map of all of the choke points in the world now for international shipments of oil and grain and all kinds of stuff and it’s really not all that different today than it was in WWII.

 

It’s still the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Singapore and the South China Sea, the Dardanelles.  We may all divinely wish that the world didn’t run on oil.  I certainly wish it.  But the powers that be are determined to keep us addicted and, let’s not kid ourselves, we haven’t really had a choice of president since 1996.  The election was stolen in 2000, probably 2004, certainly something went terribly wrong in 2008 and that led to 2012.  George Bush was a disaster for us.  The Iraq War was a disaster for us.  Afghanistan?  It started off well but quickly devolved.  We needed to go to Afghanistan.

And now we come to Libya.  Libya, the same damn place that was such a mess for the Brits in 1941.  There were probably a couple of reasons to do air strikes in Libya a couple of years ago.  The first may have been the oil.  I won’t deny it but I don’t know.  Yeah, oil is evil.  I think I’ve already mentioned that.  The second was to avoid a humanitarian crisis.  Qaddafi was going to scorch the earth.  And no, we can’t save the world.  It isn’t our jahb.  But I will remind the reader that in this case, the pre-WWII hypothesis of the military specialists was that air bombers were king. You get your best bang for your buck with a bomber.  That’s not necessarily the whole story.  It did eventually require a massive number of bodies thrown at Normandy to finally take Europe back.  But that was then and this is now.  Air strikes are incredibly effective and in Libya’s most recent case, it finished Qaddafi off.

Should we have not done it because there is now a bunch of Libyans fighting amongst themselves?  Should we only get involved if we know that people are going to not misbehave when we have our backs turned? I don’t know but I suspect that crazy dictators do not take you seriously if you don’t at least put up a fight to show that you mean business.  That doesn’t mean we should have gone to Iraq.  We shouldn’t have gone to Iraq because there was no reason besides greed to go to Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no WMDs.  And apparently, we learned our lesson back in 1941 and we are no longer lacking in military prowess.  No one is going to catch us without enough armament to turn any offending country into a glass parking lot if that’s what we want.  I just hope we don’t want.

Now our biggest problem is we are waging a different kind of war in the US.  The bad guys are so clever they ask us to disarm ourselves in completely different ways.  They are using our own safeguards against us.  I guess we can debate whether Libya was worth it or not.  Or we can pay better attention to the new dictators who are slipping in and taking over our country without shedding any blood at all.  Well, not yet anyway.

Our finest hour is coming.

 

Word Crimes

We’re all guilty.  I’m a repeat offender, especially when it comes to prepositions.  Sometimes my nouns and verbs don’t relate to one another and I hate to edit.  But at least I know when to use ‘I’ versus ‘me’.  Interior design bloggers routinely get that wrong and it drives me crazy, especially when the blogger in question majored in English and not Interior Design. (I’m talking to you, Emily Henderson.)

Weird Al Yankovic has a new album called Mandatory Fun and it has already rocketed to the top of the charts.  This song goes out to Brooke whose grammar is perfect all of the time.

 

Speaking of interior design, I made this pendant light for my kitchen using a garden spheroid thing that was on clearance from at Target and a pendant light kit from Home Depot.  I’m planning to replace the light bulb with an Edison style bulb. Check out the cool pattern on the ceiling.  It was accidental.  The kitchen is almost finished.

2014-07-24 19.27.09

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