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    • Obama’s Speech on War with the Islamic State
      Let’s just quickly point out the obvious: air power only works if you have effective ground troops backing it up, or your enemy is easily dissuaded from war by losses of infrastructure. Otherwise it wrecks great destruction, and does little more. To put it simply, this strategy will certainly help those fighting the IS, but [...]
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More on Drug Discovery and public funding

Following up on the last post on Virtually Speaking’s recent episode featuring Dean Baker and his comments on drug discovery, I’ve had a nice conversation with Jay and I think we are a little closer to understanding what’s going on here.  In some sense, we may have been talking past each other, in another sense, there are still some engrained biases there that the left will need to fight its natural impulses in order to contain.  But it is all good.

So, in the interest of fairness, I am posting a link to Baker’s proposal to a public funding mechanism for drug discovery.  I confess that I haven’t had time to read it yet, what with moving and work related activities, making sure Brook is studying for her finals, and driving back and forth between PA and NJ, so I’m going to hold off critiquing it until I do.  However, I will say that any policy proposals that don’t involve the input of people who actually have the experience of drug discovery are probably not going to work very well.  After all, we’ve had a couple of decades of the MBA class restructuring on a regular basis without the input of their R&D staff and how did that work out?  We do have opinions and are well trained in the scientific method, so, you know, take advantage of our expertise before you set up some new system that might be as unworkable as the old one was.

Here’s the link to Dean’s Financing Drug Research: What are the Issues?   I just noticed that it was written in 2004.  At this point, given the last decade of craziness, it’s out of date and due for a rewrite.  I mean, for one thing, there really isn’t an American drug discovery industry anymore.  There are only remnants and a whole lotta unemployed chemists with lots of time on their hands.

And here is a recent post from Derek Lowe on the subject of The Atlantic’s recent article, How Drug Companies Keep Medicine Out of Reach.  Derek touches on some of the mythology surrounding the drug discovery process. Says Derek:

At some point, the article’s discussion of delinking R&D and the problems with the current patent model spread fuzzily outside the bounds of tropical diseases (where there really is a market failure, I’d say) and start heading off into drug discovery in general. And that’s where my quotes start showing up. The author did interview me by phone, and we had a good discussion. I’d like to think that I helped emphasize that when we in the drug business say that drug discovery is hard, that we’re not just putting on a show for the crowd.

But there’s an awful lot of “Gosh, it’s so cheap to make these drugs, why are they so expensive?” in this piece. To be fair, Till does mention that drug discovery is an expensive and risky undertaking, but I’m not sure that someone reading the article will quite take on board how expensive and how risky it is, and what the implications are. There’s also a lot of criticism of drug companies for pricing their products at “what the market will bear”, rather than as some percentage of what it cost to discover or make them. This is a form of economics I’ve criticized many times here, and I won’t go into all the arguments again – but I will ask:what other products are priced in such a manner? Other than what customers will pay for them? Implicit in these arguments is the idea that there’s some sort of reasonable, gentlemanly profit that won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities, while grasping for more than that is just something that shouldn’t be allowed. But just try to run an R&D-driven business on that concept. I mean, the article itself details the trouble that Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, and others are facing with their patent expirations. What sort of trouble would they be in if they’d said “No, no, we shouldn’t make such profits off our patented drugs. That would be indecent.” Even with those massive profits, they’re in trouble.

And that brings up another point: we also get the “Drug companies only spend X pennies per dollar on R&D”. That’s the usual response to pointing out situations like Lilly’s; that they took the money and spent it on fleets of yachts or something. The figure given in the article is 16 cents per dollar of revenue, and it’s prefaced by an “only”. Only? Here, go look at different industries, around the world, and find one that spends more. By any industrial standard, we are plowing massive amounts back into the labs. I know that I complain about companies doing things like stock buybacks, but that’s a complaint at the margin of what is already pretty impressive spending.

The point is that drug discovery ain’t rocket science.  It’s much, much harder.  Are there ways to make it easier and less expensive to the average consumer?  Yeah, probably, but it’s still bloody hard and in some respects, the left has as much to answer for as the right does when it comes to the cost and expense of developing drugs.  If we’re all in this together, then the left has an obligation to learn all that it can about the mechanisms of drug discovery and who is making a fortune on drug failures as well as successes because we know that the right isn’t going to do it.  Let’s be better than them.  M’kay?

 

 

Calling all medicinal chemists, time to contact Virtually Speaking

I was mulching my flower beds, listening to the latest Virtually Speaking with Dean Baker and Jay Ackroyd when I heard the same moronic bullshit about how drugs are REALLY all discovered in academic labs using government money and the drug companies just put the finishing touches on them, develop them and charge a small fortune.

I’ll give you the fortune bit, for sure.  There’s no doubt that the marketers and finance guys are charging what the market will bear and then some.  They’re greedy, ruthless and cruel.  The whole drug industry has pivoted to serve the owners and the owners want money.  That affects what gets researched, promoted and sold and at what cost.

BUT

There is absolutely no truth to the idea that academia passes on almost fully formed drugs to industry where we researchers add our special sauce flourishes and then cash in big.

I repeat.

There is absolutely no truth to the idea that academia passes on almost fully formed drugs to industry where we researchers add our special sauce flourishes and then cash in big.

If Dean Baker and Jay Ackroyd and Yves Smith want to propagate this myth, they can knock themselves out.  But it’s no more true that the idea that Bill and Hillary Clinton did something nefarious with a land deal in the Ozarks.

Maybe it’s what they want to be true, maybe it fits their worldview, maybe it’s wishful thinking but it not true.  And I should know because I’ve worked in both industrial and academic settings and I actually DO the kind of drug discovery that Jay and Dean talk about so confidently but have no clue about.

The truth is that academia rarely submits a fully realized drug entity to industry for development.  What it submits is frequently just an idea.  Sometimes, that is just a target (a protein, receptor, gene, etc) and sometimes, it consists of some very basic building blocks.  Those building blocks will not resemble the final drug product until industrial medicinal chemists spend years and years rescaffolding it, making new appendages for it, and developing whole libraries of potential drug compounds that may not resemble the initial compound in the least when they are finished.

So, yes, the NIH funds a lot of research but, no, that research does not result in anywhere near effective or consumable drugs until industrial chemists get their hands on it and bend it to their wills.  By the way, those industrial chemists used to be academic chemists.  It’s not supposed to be an adversarial relationship.

Anyway, for all you pharma researchers out there who are pissed off by the “everybody knows” truthiness and yet more dissing of your shrinking profession and want to set the record straight, let Jay Ackroyd at Virtually Speaking know.  God only knows why Jay won’t simply invite someone like Derek Lowe on his show to tell it like it really is.  It’s almost like they don’t want to hear the truth, that somehow by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “la-la-la, I can’t HEAR you”, that that’s going to make the poor graduate students working for peanuts into unsung heroes and pump lots of righteous indignation into the put upon American people.  Well, those graduate students ARE unsung heroes, but so are many of my former industrial colleagues in medicinal chemistry and drug design who have slaved tirelessly for years wrestling some academic’s decidedly un-druglike molecule into a real drug that can be developed.

I’m really insulted by this poor performance by Ackroyd and Baker.  The left deserves people who are not lazy and who will actually go out of their way to get to the truth.  Otherwise, the drug industry will continue to fail, drugs will continue to skyrocket in price and no one will be able to do anything about it because they’ll all be off chasing wild geese or red herrings or whatever it is you call it that is just a waste of time and energy.

Jay and Dean aren’t even seeing through a glass darkly at this point.  If they would only come and actually, you know, talk to us, we could tell them what’s really going on so they could talk more intelligently about a subject they clearly know nothing about at the present time.  I’m not sure what is holding them back.  Is it the absurd notion that those of us who work(ed) for industry  are as greedy, ruthless and conservative as the guys who laid us all off?  Even if that were true, (it’s not, not by a long shot) is that a good reason for ignoring what we have to say?

You can’t fix a problem if you are totally ignorant.

Here’s Jay’s links if you want to set the record straight.

Jay on Facebook

Jay on Twitter

VS Guests on Twitter

VS in Second Life

VS Ning

VS on BlogTalkRadio

VS on Facebook

VS on Itunes

And here is Dean Baker’s twitter feed.

 

 

 

 

Melange:A World of Woo, tribal belief, willful self-delusion and Jane Mayer

There are a lot of interesting nuggets in the intertoobz these days.  Some of these things go together and show the lengths we will go to delude ourselves or cling to tribal beliefs.

Let’s start with a podcast.  So, you’ve given up the Judeo-Christian belief system for God 2.0 or no god at all.  Some of us would call this progress.  Giving up bronze age superstition and tradition for something more modern and relevant is quite a bold step.  So, why are so many of you turning to woo?  Woo is defined as “ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers”. Woo includes the belief in astrology, auras, energy fields, homeopathy, accupuncture, chiropracty and vaccination phobia.  Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist interviews various professionals who debunk these woos and tries to explain why otherwise rational people are attracted to them. Let’s put it this way, if you’re into woo, it’s hard to take anything you say seriously. You’d might as well be a nutcase fundy eschatologist.   Check out Seth’s recent podcast here.

Jay Ackroyd tries to lead Digby to the light when it comes to Obama’s commitment to a Grand Bargain on Social Security and Medicare.  First, go read the piece from Digby where she actually sounds like she’s blown right on past where Conflucians are sitting straight into the arms of the former Democrats who are so angry they’ve started to identify with the Tea Party.  Wow.  That’s quite a leap.  I know the party will reel her back in and, to be honest, we don’t really need more Tea Partiers in Congress, thank you very much.  But, yeah, Digby.  Jay’s right.  The Obama contingent are not liberals.  However, Jay is not right that they’re centrists.  The Obama contingent is definitely on the right side of center.  Nooooo doubt about it.  The only way that they are centrists is if you consider moderate republicanism centrist.  That would make Bill Clinton a flaming commie.  No, no, don’t go there, Jay.  We have seen the studies.  There’s no way in hell that Bill Clinton is a centrist in the same way that Obama is a “centrist”.  The center moved in the past 12 years.  You guys have got to accept this because your irrational belief that Clinton is an evil Republican dude compared to Obama, is what got Obama elected in the first place.  You’ve been done in by your tribe’s woo.  I mean, think about it: your group is asking us to believe that Bill Clinton is, was and always will be more conservative than Barack Obama.  Step back and think about that and ask yourselves if that’s rational given everything you now know.  If YOU can’t swallow it, why are you asking US to believe it?

As for Digby, I really like her and I’ve found her recent evolution to be promising, if only temporary in the lead up to the election.  I expect her to chicken out even though her “Hey! We’re eating grass!” moments are fun to read.  There is a place for left of center Democrats who don’t have our minds so wide open that our brains have fallen out.  We just need to create it.  It probably won’t happen this election cycle unless the Obama half of the party is defeated by the Clinton half of the party.  That’s where we are now.  You may not think the Clinton half is sufficiently liberal but the American people do.  In any case, they’ll drag the party back leftwards like an earthquake in Japan.  It could be a true realignment on the way back to sanity.  And remember, Wall Street rejected the Clinton half last time.  So, you know, how much more proof do you need??  Besides, there is no hope for Howard Dean.  Most people don’t know who he is and wouldn’t like him if they did.  We need to be realistic and work with what we’ve got.  And as far as I can tell, Americans would be ecstatic to return to the Clinton years, even if they were supervised by his wife. A woman in charge would be very good for women in general, wouldn’t you agree?  Especially when that woman is a passionate defender of women’s reproductive rights?  I mean, can women really trust Obama after they way he dragged his feet on the conscience rule, betrayed us in the healthcare law and kept Plan B behind a counter?

As far as everyone having “skin in the game”, Obama’s term for sacrificing in the upcoming Grand Bargain, um, I’ve seen my industry devastated by Wall Street grasshoppers and I’ve lost a very good living, permanently.  So, you know, I’ve already been flayed.  Not only that but I’m in the age cohort who has to wait until I’m 67 before I get the Social Security I prepaid for decades.  I’m not sacrificing anymore skin.  No, do not even ask.  Don’t make us come down there to Washington to make your lives miserable.  You do not want crowds from the size of my graduating class on the mall.  No, you do not.  I suggest that Congress go hunt people with an excess of skin, ie wealthy people.  Give them a good reason to whine.

The last bit is an interview of Jane Mayer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross entitled “Obama in Impossible Bind Over Donors”.  The Impossible Bind is that he wants and needs money from the wealthy and Wall Street but he doesn’t want average voters to know how indebted he is to his big donors so he has to blow the donors off in public.  It’s a sad, sad situation.  Terry, to her credit, seems to have come around after being such an insufferable Obama fangirl in 2008.  Jane Mayer valiantly tries to make Obama look good when it comes to fundraising.  You can almost hear Jane pleading with the audience to understand what Obama is up against but I found her extreme earnestness irritating.  It’s a cruel world out there.  Poor Obama, forced to accept SuperPAC money and trying to make it look like he doesn’t like it.  It’s all the fault of the mean Republicans that he’s sucking up all the money he said he didn’t want.  And while Romney is appearing at the SuperPAC soirees, Mitt has a deputy actually ask for the money, while Obama goes to the soirees and the money just mysteriously appears for him but he doesn’t suck up to anyone to get it.  I find the distinction indistinct.

Oh, but Obama isn’t giving away the Lincoln Bedroom!  So, you know, there’s that.  And that’s presumably why the donors are complaining.  They get nothing from Obama.  Not even a tote bag.  He won’t even take pictures with his donors so they can use that to name drop. It sounds like Obama got too much of a reputation as a schmoozer in 2008 and he’s desperate to squash that meme this year but that doesn’t mean he’ll be turning the filthy lucre down.  He just doesn’t want to have to thank anyone publicly for it.

But the funniest part of the interview is when Mayer is forced to debunk the idea that Obama made the bulk of his campaign money from millions of teensy contributions.  I know, you’re probably thinking that small contributions mean less than $100 because that’s what the Obama campaign lead us to believe in 2008.  We were all under the impression that millions and millions of working class Joes were mailing $20 to him in gratitude with a little note saying, “Bless you, Barack!  Save the Republic.  We’ve been waiting all our lives for you!”  Right?  Intellectually, you know it’s not true because the sheer size of the amount of money he collected, plus all of the contributions from wealthy Wall Street contributors, is public information. But the meme kinda slipped into the chinks of the gray matter and created it’s own woo.  It just *had* to be true because so many people repeated it.  It’s sort of like that woo we debunked about Obama running a fabulous campaign.  Um, no he didn’t, unless you consider gaming the caucuses and paying off the superdelegates and DNC fabulous, and we can prove it but myths die hard.

Anyway, it turns out that the definition of small depends on who is using it.  Small donations to you and me would be less than $100.  Small donations to the Obama campaign means maxing out at $5000.  See the difference?  One is $4900 more than the other. What working class stiff has $5000 to stuff into an envelope for a guy who had less than two years of national political experience before he decided to run for president?  And inadvertently, Mayer exposes what the Obama campaign thinks of the people who gave less than $5K.  They’re not even on the campaign’s radar.

But the final bit of silliness from Mayer is when she contrasts Bill Clinton’s extroversion against Obama’s intellectualism.  That’s got to be a first.  Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton,  making the guy who went to Georgetown, Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar sound like a high school dropout car salesman next to Obama doesn’t really work too well.  What she’s really trying to say is that Clinton is a gregarious politician who likes politics and can carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone, even his enemies, but that the Obama contingent doesn’t like politics and getting hands dirty and actually doing the stuff that gets things done.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that but that’s essentially what she said.  If you were a big money donor, whose campaign would you rather give $5 million to?  (George Soros, call me!)

Once the bloom is off of Obama’s rose, you can’t listen to this stuff without laughing at all of the holes in the arguments.  The woo is gone.

Monday: Meanderings

Republican voters: Crazy or The Craziest?

Some thoughts I’ve been having…

First up, last night’s Virtually Speaking featured Joan McCarter from the big orange satan.  Jay and Joan discussed the Republican primary in the first part of the show.  Jay seemed rather incredulous about the way this whole circus is playing out.  I would have to disagree on a couple of points though.

First, it’s not the candidates or the process that is crazy.  It’s the party’s voters that are batshit insane.  I think years of Glenn and Rush have taken their toll.  The dark archetypes of our collective unconscious have been given permission to run amok and the Republican voter’s unconscious, softened by years of angry white male rage and religion, is particularly vulnerable.  I don’t think some of these people are even recognizable to their former selves.  My relatives have gone through a personality transformation.  Towards the end of the Bush years, they were briefly getting better but with the noise machine pulling out all of the stops lately, plus the rotten economy, they’re just not the same people.  So, there’s that.

But more than that is the process itself is starting to take on its own internal logic.  There is definitely method to the madness of letting the Republican primary stretch on indefinitely, or at least until the convention in the summer.  If you don’t believe it, consider that the Republican primaries have driven almost everything else off the front page.  Each day, we’re confronted by candidates trying to outdo each other in pandering to their crazy base.  The Sunday shows are chock full of Republicans trying to make their case.  We’re going to get austerity/deficit reduction messaging continuously until they pick a nominee.  I’d say that was extraordinarily successful strategy and not at all crazy.

Secondly, there’s definitely a note of hypocrisy and paradox on our side of the aisle.  Jay and Joan toyed with the idea that the Republicans would have a brokered convention, and if I were the Republicans, I’d definitely go for this option.  Keep everyone guessing until the last moment.  Make sure your arguments and worldview get the most airtime before the public.  But the hypocrisy is that this is precisely what we denied ourselves in 2008 when the number of delegates separating the two candidates was about as wide as a gnat’s wing.   And not only did we not get a floor fight, we denied the first woman candidate who had ever come that far from even getting a legitimate roll call vote.  (And why was that?  Well, if we had let a real roll call proceed, everyone would have been immediately aware that they were virtually tied.  We couldn’t have that.  It would ruin the narrative.)  I have yet to hear Jay or anyone on Virtually Speaking explain why we should have found that acceptable.  In fact, many Democrats and women, in particular, do not accept it.

Which brings me to another point.  I could have sworn that I heard Jay refer to the Hillary holdouts as crazy and compared them rather unfavorably to Republican nutcases.  Now, I admit that I might have misheard this and I will be probably force myself to relisten to the podcast but I think Jay has been in the echo chamber too long.  While she may not be popular among the Democrats who gave us four years of Obama (thanks for nuthin’ guys), she is very popular among the rest of the country’s voters for good reasons.  She has proven herself to be a capable, competent, well-respected politician and administrator, both domestically and abroad.  She beats every candidate of both parties in polls, which Democrats do not mention.  The people who are crazy are not the holdouts.  It is the segment of the Democratic party who insist on clinging to their pre-conceived notions about her.  But whatever.  What’s really crazy is to go into this fluid, unpredictable election year in the fourth year of a dismal economic crisis without a Plan B.  No, Howard Dean is not an option.  Remember, you have to appeal to all of the voters.

And as Craig Crawford mentioned on Saturday night, the deadline for getting on the ballot on some of the biggest states has not expired yet.  Many of the big Democratic states like California, NJ and Pennsylvania have their primaries late.  In NJ, we don’t get to vote until June.  A lot could happen between now and then.  That lot could consist of endless pounding on Obama’s poor performance in Republican primary debates coupled with a lot of sturm and drang on the deficit.  Obama did not use his bully pulpit well in the past three years.  He squandered a lot of it with trivial photo-ops in the first year to the point that his appearances on TV are now just background noise.  And he’s never been a passionate defender of Democratic values anyway.  Plus, there are a lot of people in the Republican party who cannot wait to vote him out of office.  They are motivated.  What has motivated the Democrats lately?

Let’s not understate the importance of motivation.  There isn’t a lot that people can do about the economy, mostly because their elected representatives are not responsive to their concerns or listening to sound economic advice.  But there is one thing that people can do that will give them a great deal of satisfaction.  They can vote Obama out.  I don’t intend to do this because I’m not voting for either major party candidate.  I’m sure there’s a third party candidate who will get my vote.  But there are millions of people out there who will get a feeling of exultation out of booting him out of the White House and replacing him with a Republican.  They don’t even care what comes next.  He is the Emmanuel Goldstein who is the cause of so much misery to them.  What we’re seeing is the beginning of a three minute hate on steroids.  It’s not pretty.

In other words, the Democrats are going to have a real problem come November and throwing a bone like contraceptive coverage to the wimmins ain’t going to cut it for the millions of women who are out of work.  To think Obama can just skate to the finish line again because the Republican base is f%^&ing nutz is just crazy.

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

Lambert has a full report of our trip to Washington with a lot more pictures of the places we visited.  Check it out.  I still have 40 minutes of video, including an “incident” at the National Portrait Gallery, that are trapped on my Flip camera.  Apparently, when Steve Jobs joined the choir invisible, he had not reversed his (untimely) decision to stop supporting PC based apps on the Mac OS.  I have Lion.  Flip won’t download.  Kid has Snow Leopard.  *Might* be able to download to her mac if I can find the fricking rosetta disk.  If anyone out there has a workaround, detail it in the comments.  I mean, a workaround that doesn’t require me to buy or borrow a PC.

Categories

For those of you following along at home, I’m going through Jehovah’s Witnesses apostate internet postings because if anyone is an expert on how thought reform and cult indoctrination works, it’s an ex-JW.  You don’t even need to have been baptized as one (I wasn’t), just growing up with that stuff and getting away from it makes you permanently sensitized to new bullshit techniques.  And given that we are coming up on an election year, it’s really important that we guard ourselves and learn to recognize when we’re being manipulated so we can avoid making another 2 to 4 year mistake.

Today I’m going to talk about something everyone does because it’s necessary component of human nature.  We categorize.  But because those of us who came of age or worked most of our lives in the internet age tend to broadcast our categories to the public, we make ourselves vulnerable to unscrupulous people who use blogs such as this one and places like DailyKos to data mine and focus group concepts that are later used to persuade us to do one thing or another.

To understand how categorization and trigger words work, check out this video by Cult Free Radio on Social Categorization Theory Part1:

and Part 2:

So, how has categorization been used by politicians in the recent past?  I have one personal example that I’ve shared before but it fits into this topic pretty well so I’m going to tell it again.

When I went to YearlyKos 2 in Chicago in 2007, all but one of the Democratic Party candidates for president attended a Candidates Forum, followed by individual breakout sessions.  Hillary’s breakout session was before the forum because the YearlyKos organizers had screwed with her schedule, “inadvertently”, I’m sure.  I had signed up for Hillary’s session because, even though I went to Chicago as an Edwards supporter, I felt that I should try to evaluate her fairly and she was the only female candidate and her session was open where Barack Obama’s was full and I had already decided to take a look at Obama in 2012 because he wasn’t seasoned enough to run for president.

Ok, so Hillary was pretty good in her breakout session.  She was prepared, overprepared, thorough, and had a command of policy that was impressive.  I am forced to sit through a lot of scientific presentations every year and you get the hang of knowing when someone has done their homework and understands what they are talking about and when they are baffling with bullshit.  I can say that based on my experience, Hillary knew her shit.  She was able to mentally walk around a concept and tell you everything about it.  Not only that but you could ask her any question and she had a policy for it organized in her head like an outline with topic, subtopic, points, codicils, subparagraphs, exceptions, and funding mechanisms.  She was that good, which is one of the reasons I am so pissed off that we got stuck with someone who was at best a beginner compared to her.  But I digress.

ANYWAY, after her breakout session, the Candidates Forum was held in the ballroom.  And that’s when the category shit hit the fan.  It became very clear to me, because I spent a lot of time on DailyKos, that some candidates had figured out how to push a Kossack’s buttons.  Much to my dismay, the worst offender was John Edwards.  I sat there stunned as he played that crowd like PT Barnum.  He knew every category and word that would trigger an emotional response from his audience and he used those words shamelessly.  But it wasn’t just that he used those words that made me realize what a phony he was.  It was the rest of this rhetoric was completely devoid of anything else.  At least Hillary tried to explain herself before she was booed.  Edwards didn’t have to do that.  All he needed to do was say the magic words and the Kossacks leapt to their feet cheering and screaming.  It was disgusting.  I decided right there I could never vote for the man.  What he was reminded me more of one of those charismatic sociopaths than a politician.  Ok, some of you are thinking that they’re mostly the same thing, right?  No, I think that a real politician has substance behind the words and Edwards, um, didn’t.

I’m sure that those of you who read the left blogosphere know what he concentrated on.  He used the words “corporate” and “lobbyist” a lot.  But there were others that I can’t remember right at the moment.  He could have used “nuclear”, “genetically modified {fill in the blank}”, “green”, “organic”, “standardized testing”, you know the drill.  You’ve been there.  You probably respond to that too.  We all do to some extent or another.  The problem is they are mental shortcuts and can be used to associate a person to that concept.  Edwards knew (and I’ll tell you how he knew in a sec based on another phenomenon) that if he said the magic words, the crowd would automatically identify him as one of them.  And they did.

Now, how did he know what words to use?  So here’s the other thing I observed.  The Forum happened in August 2007.  By that fall, Edwards was on the ropes.  I think rumors of his messy private life must have become common knowledge among the Democratic operatives.  So, his funding was drying up.  On DailyKos, his followers had been the first to commit the thing I call “The Rec List Hostage Crisis”.  That’s where a pro-Edwards diarist would immediately get a gazillion recommends and shoot to the top of the rec list.  I think Edwards had some regular folks who did an evening summary kinda thing that always made the rec list but more importantly, there were a shitload of conversion diaries.  They were all written the same way.  “Why I’ve decided to vote for Edwards” and then the body of the text was extolling his virtues {{cough, cough}} and a bunch of trigger words.  He doesn’t take corporate money, he’s pure when it comes to lobbyists, blah, blah, blah.  The more I read them, the more I realized that his campaign staff was checking out DailyKos for some time now and had probably used survey information to figure out what makes Kossacks tick and then applied that to the diaries.

But then, Edwards started to fade away.  His campaign was tanking and even Kos said it was a lost cause.  When he finally threw in the towel, the Rec List Hostage Crisis was taken over by Obama people. Same tactics, same fricking buzzwords and trigger words.  The change was so obvious to those of us who were paying attention that there were only a couple of possibilities: A different set of operatives were using the same Edwards’ campaign’s focus group/data mining tools and applying them to the Obama campaign,  or they were the same people.  Actually, I’m betting that it was both.  The Edwards team (and by this I mean a “paid internet campaign staff”) moved over to Obama without missing a beat.  Up went the conversion diaries and all of the love bombing, and the categories and buzzwords and trigger words were beaten to a pulp.  Oddly enough, Hillary’s people didn’t do this.  Maybe we were just not as politically ruthless or we were not interested in platitiudes and categories or Hillary’s campaign wasn’t as active on DailyKos and wasn’t into button pushing or Kos himself had already been bought and paid for by the anti-Hillary elements of the DNC, whoever those people were, and he wasn’t going to let Hillary supporters gain too much of a foothold at DailyKos. Since many Hillary people started to lose TU status at about that time and our diaries didn’t make the rec list in spite of them reaching the recommendation threshold that put diaries on that list, I suspect Kos and his frontpagers made a conscious decision to put the thumb on the scales for Obama and decremented Hillary diaries.  Hope that baby grand piano was worth all of the suffering the country has gone through by defeating Clinton, Markos.

But let’s not be bitter.  DailyKos will not be playing the role it did in 2008.  It shot its wad on the historic election of Barack Obama and you can’t do that one twice.  Besides, the damage has already been done.  The rest of the blogosphere has been analyzed carefully and you can bet your sweet ass that whoever the campaign operatives are this election season have already categorized all of us and have in turn figured out what categories and words we respond to.  They know that Creative Class ninnies respond to Whole Foods and West Elm and financial products and the value of their 401ks and tenure and stuff like that.  They like the idea of social and economic justice but try not to get too cold at a rally.  They like green as long as it can be bought in a store that features renewable bamboo sheets and towels and flooring.  They know lefties hate the words corporation but fail to distinguish between financial service corporations and other corporations, executives and rank and file.

There is some light in all of this.  I’ve noticed that during Virtually Speaking’s A-Z with Jay Ackroyd and Stuart Zechman, there is a genuine attempt to avoid using buzzwords.  (Anything Virtually Speaking with Dahlia Lithwick is worth listening to as well.  She’s very articulate and tends to avoid buzzwords) Jay and Stuart make a conscious effort to break down words, concept by concept, so that we all know exactly what we’re talking about and the mental shortcuts we use to categorize ourselves are minimized.  Stuart still has some problems with centrists and the DLC which I tend to tune out because he’s still thinking that those organizations are important and I don’t think he’s breaking that down carefully enough or has looked longitudinally to see how the original goals of those entities have changed over time.  Besides, the Democrats don’t need the DLC anymore.  They can tap their funding sources more directly these days without having to pretend they have an ideology.  But I have hope for Stuart.  I feel like a light has clicked on for him and he has a clearer picture of the political landscape than he did even a year ago.  He realizes now that the party is in the grip of a high control group of bad actors.  Whether those actors are just political opportunists or sent in from the finance industry’s central casting, they have turned the party into something unrecognizable to the voter who votes based on core Democratic principles.  And those people have to be opposed and not rewarded or we will not get our party back and that could be a serious blow to our democracy as we know it.

Am I right, Stuart?  Yep. You finally reached the point where we were almost 4 years ago.  Welcome to the club.

Bottom line: there are operatives watching every site.  Wave “Hi!” to them.  They are both Republicans and Democrats.  They are trying to sort through the categories and words that they can use to short circuit your thinking  process.  They know that you will make very quick judgements about what you hear because you have categorized a word and either chosen to add it to your identity or assign that word to another identity.  And they know that you do this unconsciously at a super fast speed and don’t even know you’re doing it.

So, make sure that you use your words carefully.  Avoid jargon as much as possible.  When someone uses the words “green” or “energy” or “pro-choice” or “nuclear” or “triangulate” or “corporation” or “capitalism” or “socialism” or “communism” or “muslim” or “fascist” that you stop and ask yourself, what does this word actually mean in this context?  Is someone trying to bamboozle and hoodwink me?  Can the person who is using this word explain what it means to me in a way that makes sense?

The right is good at using categories.  One recent, particularly egregious example of the use of categories and words was from our good buddy, Glenn Beck, who warned his audience to avoid churches who use the words “social justice”.  It’s hard to understand how anyone could oppose social justice.  It would be like trying to make STDs sound cool.  How do you do that??  If we break down what social justice actually means, it’s equal access to the court system, unbiased treatment in employment, starting life on a level playing field (see Finnish baby boxes), access to a good education regardless of your race, gender, national origin, etc and stuff like that.  And who in their right mind, even in the Fox News audience, has a problem with any of that?  Well, Glenn and his backers do and they wanted to put “social justice” in a category where Glenn Beck viewers will fear to tread.  So, if an Occupier holds up a sign that says “Social Justice for all”, the Glenn Beck viewer now knows to avoid OWS and stop any good thoughts about them.  Maybe Occupiers should try to be more specific on their signs but there’s only so much cardboard you can carry around.

While I’m not going to insist that you should restrict your access to any source of information, consider that radio and television have the advantage of sound, which is very fast.  It is much harder to shortcut the brain using the written word.  Yes, you can back up radio and TV now and replay what you’ve heard but one of the reasons we use radio and audible and TV is so that we can multitask.  So the words go in without careful scrutiny.  When you read, you have to slow down and figure out the word in context.  That’s why I don’t watch or listen to TV and radio news programs anymore.  During the 2008 election year, I had become so sensitized to listening for the trigger words that I found the messaging was driving me crazy.  I felt like I had propaganda autism.  You can’t get away from it in a sound format.  So, I just shut it off.  Maybe you’re stronger people than I am and if you are, load up on as much broadcast information as possible.  You should never cut yourself off from information sources.  Just question EVERYTHING.

The other thing I avoid is too much of the social networking tools.  I have a facebook account but I rarely use it.  I get facebook invitations from people I don’t know and I don’t accept them.  If I don’t know who these people are, why should I invite them into my house?  There is no question that political campaigns are going to use social networking tools like twitter and facebook to promote propaganda and shape election narratives in 2012.  That’s how the vast, unwashed masses are going to get the information that will affect their election decisions in the future.  They will get messages from their friends  who were targetted with a well designed, data mined youtube ad campaign that went viral on Facebook.  You know it’s going to happen.  Again, be very careful and question everything.

So, you think, no where is safe, how am I going to get the information I need to make a decision?  Well, I can’t emphasize this enough but there is no better way to evaluate a candidate than to see that person in person.  (The same thing applies to movements.  Don’t take anyone’s word for it.  Go and check it out yourself) If you have a chance to see a candidate in person, and not in the atmosphere of a debate where they need to more carefully construct their sentences, then go.  Your impression of that candidate will be clearer when there is less of a filter between you and that candidate.  You will be able to tell whether they are comfortable with the material, how often they are pinging you with trigger words to get an emotional response, whether they can field questions on any subject to your satisfaction and whether they project confidence on a physical and mental level.  I can tell you that Obama did not project comfort or confidence at the candidates forum, in my humble opinion.  He looked out of place in a physical sense, as if he was wondering, “what the hell am I doing here up on stage??”   I really felt he needed more seasoning.  But you would only know that if you saw him in person.  Why were the other Kossacks not sensitive to this?  I think they were overwhelmed with carefully constructed messaging from Edwards and they were whipped into a mob frenzy and were drunk with their own power.  A year before, they were just dirty, hippy bloggers.  A year later, presidential candidates were kissing their asses.  That kind of thing tends to go to your head.  And candidates know that and the more ruthless ones will play you like a two bit fiddle.

Ok, I’m going to get some coffee now.  Categorize away.

Good Morning

Cue the music

Some more bad news on the research front.  Earlier this week, Merck laid off a number of employees from the parent company and Schering-Plough, the company it merged with a couple years ago.  I can’t find a firm number for the total layoffs.  In some reports, it’s 17,000, in others it is 17,000 plus an additional 13,000.  That’s worldwide.  And while Merck has something like 91,000 employees worldwide, when it comes to laying off research, it comes primarily from the US side because American research workers have zero labor protections.  I would expect the loss from Western European research facilities to be light.  Estimated cost savings are $400 million out of a budget of $7.9 billion.  That is a huge research budget but that’s what it takes these days.  Drug discovery is very expensive.  Merck and Schering-Plough have facilities in the Northeast, particularly in Rahway, NJ, West Point, PA and Kennilworth, NJ.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline says he is getting heavy casualty reports in from the research professionals at Schering Plough (Kennilworth).  I know people who work at both companies and I’m very sad for them.  This is not a good time to be untethered from a steady income.  I hope they’ve prepared themselves.  The loss to the states of NJ and PA in tax revenue from cutting these well-paying jobs is going to be pretty bad.  So, this month we have Novartis, Amgen and Merck-Schering-Plough.  Wait, wasn’t there another one?  Too many to keep track of.  And more competition for me.  Well, I am in good company.  Some of the smartest people in the country, no, the *world* are now out of work.

Jay Ackroyd thinks that the desire to globalize is driving this and calling it “centrism”.  Jay’s anger and disgust is pretty clear but coming from the corporate world that most lefties hate, hate, HATE with all their souls, I see this a little differently.  For example, take the way Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple back in the 80’s.  I’m listening to the biography by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs was no saint.  Back in the 80s, he was the heartless boss from hell.  I guess you could chalk that up to youthful immaturity but when the precariousness of his position at Apple hit him, he got a sense of how companies would work in the future.  John Sculley, the president Jobs hired to run Apple, was a marketing guy.  He didn’t understand the product he was manufacturing.  He wanted to spin off the creative part of Apple to a unit called Apple Labs, that would be run by Jobs.  It was a way to get rid of Jobs and his loyal creative types who wanted to act like pirates.  Sculley wanted employees to put Apple, the company, first.  People like Jobs wanted to put the product first.  It’s too bad that he acted like such an obnoxious, insulting immature brat because Jobs was right.  Most companies have followed the Sculley route.  They put sales and marketing and making money first.  And that’s what companies are for, to make money.  You’d have to be stupid if you had any altruistic aspirations for having a company.  But what marketing people fail to see is that without a product, you have nothing to sell.  If you short your R&D division, you’ll be cutting your own throat. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.  And then you’ll be busily eating your seed corn to make those quarterly earnings, like Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen…  After Jobs grew up a bit and came back to Apple, he put the focus back on innovative products and now, the company is the most profitable in the world.

So what does this have to do with Ackroyd’s piece?  Well, if pharma is any indication of what is really going on, globalization is a fad.  That’s what the business people do.  They chase fads and trends.  They rarely follow up on their initial enthusiasm to see if the fads actually add to their bottom lines.  It’s the initial savings that they care about because that’s immediate, it’s quarterly and they think better in 3 month increments.  Pharma went through a period of mergers and acquisitions that did nothing for research and only enriched executives’ pockets.  But there have been other fads, like combinatorial chemistry, proteomics, siRNA, and genomics.  None of them turned out to be the panacea the Sculley class was looking for because the nature of biology is such that these technologies were just tools that we used to dig up more problems to solve.  They were never intended to be solutions all by themselves.  The newest fad is to relocate all of research (or what is left) in the bay areas, Cambridge,MA and San Francisco and San Diego, CA.  Presumably, the smartest people in the world graduate from MIT and Harvard and Stanford and UCSD.  That may be true.  But it may also be the case that only the wealthy and well connected can get into those schools anymore.  It also ignores the fact that for years, biomedical researchers came from all over the country, prestigious and unprestigious schools alike.  I’ve known excellent researchers who graduated from schools in Indiana, Colorado, New Jersey and Louisiana.  But this idea of educational exclusivity and capturing the elite is the new fad.  They will do the brain work and the hands on stuff will be carried out by a bunch of drones in China and India.  The corporate guys are marketing and sales and business school guys.  They think research and innovation can be broken down to a list of mind numbing chores and “just in time” off the shelf solutions while the “better people”, people like them in their social class, are graduating from ivy league schools and those people have the natural talent to manage the innovation process.  The corporation will take the profits gained by outsourcing.

And they are following this course of action and business not because it is good for the companies they serve but because they can.  The rules don’t apply to them anymore.  I’m not sure the goal was always globalization but now that there’s nothing to stop them, that’s what they’re going to do even if it ruins the product line.  The Sculleys of this world do not understand what motivates people who do research and who are inspired to innovate.  Here’s a clue: the most profitable product line of the world was designed by a college drop out and his rag tag bunch of unorthodox pirates who were left to their own devices.

So, Jay, I wouldn’t worry too much about the desire to globalize.  At some point, the grasshoppers will stop eating their seed corn because there will be nothing left, the big corporations you hate will find themselves smaller and their research divisions located in Western Europe and the fascination for the elite universities will be tempered by the reality that real innovation takes time and dedication and getting the right people *together* in one place.  At some point, the researchers in China and India will get fed up with studying hard for years only to be treated like cheap assembly line workers by the Sculley class.  It would also help if lefties took some time to understand pharma so they would stop contributing to the demise of biomedical research through bone headed ignorance.  But that’s another post.  Yeah, it may mean that the innovation infrastructure of the US is decimated.  But I wouldn’t be looking for meaning in any of this.  Think of it like water flowing in the path of least resistance.  There’s nothing intelligent about this, as in sentient beings planning to gut their product lines for the sake of a quick buck.  There’s no giant conspiracy to globalize.  It’s happening because we allowed it to happen.

When we block the path to a quick buck at the middle class’ expense, it will stop.  And we know this is possible because there are countries where the government has protected their innovative infrastructure.  When the dust settles and the corporations come to their senses, it will be the middle class in places like Germany and France who will be able to carry on.  If we want to be one of those countries, we have to decide that we want to reimpose the rules.  There’s no need to over analyze.  But I would like to point out that saving innovation here does not mean that we as a country will not be taking advantage of cheap labor elsewhere.  As Nucky Thompson says, “We all need to decide how much sin we can live with.”

In other news, if the election were held today, guess which politician would have the best chance of beating the Republicans?  It’s Hillary.  Yep, sorry lefties who hate Hillary, in a recent Time Magazine poll she beats the Republicans by larger margins than Obama does and she’s not even in the race (yet):

A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2011/10/27/hillary-clinton-and-the-limits-of-power/#ixzz1cBO8BDMj

It always amuses me when the left starts to hyperventilate about the prospect of a Republican president next year and how evil that would be.  But when you give them a perfectly acceptable alternative of someone with a lot of experience, who is excelling in foreign policy, runs a global executive branch and has been able to stay away from domestic issues to emerge fresh as a rose, while being widely admired by world leaders and voters of both parties, they flinch when it turns out to be Hillary.  Apparently, they are MORE afraid of Hillary Clinton in the White House than Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or, gawd help us, Governor Rick “Good Hair” Perry.

No?  That’s not how it is?  There’s something I’m missing?  Oh, her Iraq War Resolution vote.  Yeah, she single handedly brought on the Iraq War.  Of all 99 senators who voted for that POS in 2003, HER vote counted more than anyone elses.  It was even more powerful than John Edwards’ IRW vote.  It had to be because the left was perfectly happy to forgive and forget that reckless phony.

I can just see them gearing up to spew some anti Hillary hatespiel.  No, no, save your breath.  No one cares what you think of Hillary anymore.  Your opinions are not more important than the rest of the electorate.  She should have her opportunity because the Democrats don’t really have anyone better, not even Obama.  No one is entitled to a second term.

But if you get stuck with a Republican in November 2012, you have no one to blame but yourselves.  Hillary wins over all of them, you passed anyway.

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