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Beautiful theories destroyed by ugly facts- part 129845

Chopper and his gang, A Bank’s, er, Bug’s Life.

David Leonhardt wrote about why the economy seems to suck for the vast majority of us in his post The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century.  Once again, he drags out that idea that will not die that if we just graduated more people from college with the right technical skills, our wages would rise.  Zombie conventional wisdom like this is what turns perfectly nice days into weeks of frustration, anger and despair for hundreds of thousands of unemployed, underemployed and “terrified of the next layoff” STEM workers.

Look, Dave, may I call you Dave?  This simply isn’t true.  I have been there and I have seen PhD after PhD after PhD in the hard sciences laid off for no other reason than because they cost too much money to employ according to some seed corn eating grasshopper with an MBA and a big bonus in his future.  The laid off are people who were uber educated.  They went to Yale and Stanford and had multiple patents to their names.  Yes, they even knew how to use Microsoft Office.  I don’t know how many times I have had to tell people lately that I know Microsoft Office like it is my native tongue.  This notion that we are all technological dinosaurs and need even more education after decades in the lab, and reading and writing papers that would make the average American’s eyes bleed, is just beyond maddening.

If you don’t believe what I’m saying, Dave, check out what Pfizer did to Wyeth five years ago.  Pfizer bought Wyeth and then proceeded to lay off all 19,000 employees including all but a handful of research staff.  That’s all of my former colleagues but about two people who Pfizer retained.  Gone.  All their years of education, years of experience and technical expertise, all their livelihoods, and in some cases houses and college funds, eliminated.  There’s a reason why Nutley, NJ, the home of Roche, is becoming a ghost town.  There’s a reason why I fled NJ and moved to Pittsburgh.  I got out just in time.  Housing prices are crashing through the basement as all of the stunned STEM workers scramble to grab whatever work they can find before the next layoff or the soft money runs out or there’s another sequester.  Or they get the hell out.  I got the hell out.  I’m not crazy.

You know what else is crazy making, Dave?  That someone with your talent and access can’t look s&*% up on The Google to back up what you are writing. (Type “pharmaceutical layoffs 2010″ for some really scary numbers)  It’s like all those mysterious congresspersons who parrot all this nonsense about STEM jobs not being filled- because they read people like you.  You have a responsibility to report the truth.  If you don’t, there really will be a shortage, just like there is with some programming jobs.  Back in the naughties, American programmers got laid off in droves and companies outsourced much of their development to Asia.  Now, I see a lot of positions on job boards for people with computer science degrees and those jobs go begging.  Well, what do you expect when the wages and jobs weren’t around for a decade and the programmers gave up and told their children to avoid programming like the plague?  Why should anyone dedicate themselves to difficult degrees if there’s no payoff or way to make a living in the end?

So, stop doing it, Dave.  Better yet, get out of the office and take NJT down to Princeton and pass all of the sites on your way that are now shuttered in the name of shareholder value.  Not to sound all Marxist or anything but the problem is not that we have too few educated people, it’s that the shareholders own the means of production and they aren’t investing their capital in research anymore, at least not here.

Nothing is going to make wages rise until the shareholders see that it is in their best interests.  And right now, they’re partying like it’s 2008.

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

There’s a great post on Naked Capitalism by Roy Poses, MD, titled Can Our Commericalized Health Care System Contain Ebola?  The answer is of course it can but it has to be more proactive and that’s difficult these days when health care and drug development decisions are not being made by people with the expertise to make them but by “generic managers”.

Poses has another post on his own blog about how the “generic manager” is extracting value from various industries that is a must read.  In short, there is a growing awareness that the grasshoppers have almost finished the seed corn and there must be policy imposed on them to stop the process.  Time is short.  Our policymakers can still save the day.  Given the way the 2014 Senate races are going, it looks like this will fail.

Oh well.  Prepare for a new Dark Ages.

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

Moving on to Princeton, Krugman has a blog about disinvestment at the public infrastructure level.  When I think of infrastructure, I am reminded that this is what I asked Hillary Clinton about at YearlyKos 2007.  She had a lengthy answer based on some well thought out policy, the highlight of which was a plan to expand our sorry excuse for broadband.  What a missed opportunity that was. But I digress.

Wait, aren’t we trying to privatize absolutely everything anyway?  Is it any surprise that investment in public infrastructure is going down?

Paul should realize by now that the 2008 election was all about saving the banks.  They set it up that way.  There wasn’t a plan for what came next.  Ta-da!

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

One more thing: Thomas Duncan, the Liberian ebola patient in Dallas, is getting an antiviral experimental treatment called brincidofovir.  Who names these things??  Anyway, he’s in critical condition but his liver function seems to be improving.  That’s great.  Unfortunately, brincidofovir messes up your kidneys so he’s now on dialysis.

Here’s a little bit of drug design/medicinal chemistry geekery.  The structure of brincidofovir is shown below:

 

When I was doing high throughput screening data analysis, I might have chucked this structure into the delete bin because of that long tail.  It’s big, it’s bulky, it’s greasy as bacon drippings.  No one is going to get a decent drug out of that.

And that’s kinda true.  Brincidofovir is a prodrug.  That big, long greasy tail improves its bioavailability (you have got to be kidding).  Once it gets into the body, that tail piece gets cleaved off to leave cidofovir, a viral DNA polymerase inhibitor:

I thought I’d mention that for No. 1 child who is taking a related class in the subject and now understands that when chemists say “cleavage”, they’re not always talking about your boobs.

 

 

Rogue Wave

Now that elections are over, I have a few observations, in no particular order:

1.) New Jersey.  I don’t like Christie, didn’t vote for him and think he’s a bully.  But I do kinda understand why New Jersey re-elected him.  First, I’ve noticed that Democrats have been tending to not support candidates that are liberal.  I’ve mentioned more than once that there are no women in the Congressional delegation in either the House or the Senate and it’s been that way for a couple of decades.  In 2006, there were a couple of liberal candidates that got very close to winning congressional seats and were supported vigorously by the party.  That all changed in 2008 when the Obama campaign took over the machinery after Obama secured the nomination.

Second, there is Sandy.  It was pretty rough.  I lived 36 miles from NYC and the shore and it was still awful.  Power lines down for about a month.  No school for a couple of weeks.  Whole forests decimated.  Price gouging on firewood when my entire township couldn’t turn on their electric or gas heaters in November. And gas lines like you would not believe.  Seriously, people.  It was no picnic.  But there was one thing that stood out for me about Sandy that made me think of Christie.  It was this.  Two days before it hit, I was on my way to the movie theater to pick up Brook and I was at a red light at Route 206, which is the only, inadequate single lane road in central NJ.  It was dark.  All of the sudden, a convoy of electric company utility trucks  and cherry pickers passed by.  There were about 20 vehicles.  That was weird enough but what was even weirder was that they were from out of state.  They were from Michigan or Vermont or somewhere.

You can say a lot of negative things about Christie, and I have, but when push came to shove and he saw that monster bearing down on us, he swallowed his pride and begged for help.  And he got it.  He couldn’t do anything to stop nature but he went beyond the call of duty in making it bearable.  The state is still a mess.  In particular, the infrastructure is pathetic for a state that is essentially the suburbs of NYC and Philadelphia.  I put a lot of the blame on the Republicans for failing to change what is the worst part of living in NJ.

Taxes.  That is the third part of why Christie won.  Ironic because his party should take the blame for how ridiculously expensive it is to live there.  The property tax burden is especially brutal for middle class people living in the suburbs.  It’s actually not so bad for the very wealthy.  Some wealthy townships are in sending districts, which means they send their kids to a neighboring school district for high school.  Consequently, their taxes are relatively low in comparison.  And there’s not much of a sales tax, which is great if you live in NYC and can go shopping in NJ but now that I live in PA, I can see why a sales tax is so useful. The wealthy can’t get out of paying at least *something*.  In NJ, the wealthy can pick and choose what taxes they want to pay and they’d prefer to put the entire burden of financing the state on the backs of people who are in the middle who own houses.  My taxes on a modest little townhouse in a middle class burb?  $6700/year.  Ridiculous.

When it comes to elected officials, NJ taxpayers go with the person who promises not to raise their taxes.  They’ve had bad experiences with democrats who promise to reform the tax system and then throw up their hands in frustration and don’t do anything.  That would be Jon Corzine.  And they’re not fond of Democrats who say taxes have to be raised, like Jim Florio, because, frankly, there’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone.

Then there are the teachers’ unions.  Now, I was on the school board and I don’t begrudge teachers their salaries and pensions.  It is expensive to live in NJ and teachers are making a living wage there and that’s about it.  And I don’t think Christie is being fair or honest when he says NJ teachers produce a bad product.  Those teachers are pretty good for about 95% of children who live there.  They absolutely SUCK when it comes to the gifted though.  It’s criminal.  No, really, I mean it.  Now that I live in PA and the local school system tested Brook and we know exactly why she didn’t fit in to school for 11 years, it’s kind of a relief to know that there was nothing wrong with *HER*.  It was all the NJ teachers’ collective hive mind and their ridiculous ideas about heterogenous classroom experiences.  I do not miss NJ when it comes to the schools but I realize that we are a special case.  If you have a reasonably bright kid, his or her future on Wall Street is all but assured as long as they are obedient, compliant and willing to stay up all night.

That being said, there are a lot fewer New Jerseyans who can afford to pay these teachers.  That’s because the pharmaceutical industry, which was one of the few remaining non-financial industries left in NJ, pulled out en masse in the last 4 years.  I am not exaggerating when I say that everyone I worked with in the past 25 years was laid off because of site closings, mergers and other reductions in force.  Some of these people auditioned for new jobs in their companies and had to relocate to Groton or Cambridge or the west coast.  Others went to work for CROs.  Others are struggling  with small start ups or are self-employed.  Most of them are making much, much less money and many of them have no health insurance.

I was not surprised to see that the Obama administration is dismayed by the number of older people signing up for the exchanges.  I would love to see the numbers.  I’m guessing that there are a lot of 45-65 year olds in NJ who are in that cohort.  Their companies abandoned them in one of the most expensive places of the country to live and health insurance on the individual market is out of reach for most people.  That’s one of the reasons I moved to PA.  At least I could somewhat afford health insurance, although probably not for very much longer.  It’s sucking up all my savings.

So, anyway, the bottom line in NJ, as I see it, is still taxes.  Perversely, the higher property taxes are, the more a Republican who promises not to raise taxes is likely to do well.  A Democrat is either going to find NJ hard to reform or slap on a new tax and nobody there wants or can afford.  So, until the economy improves, don’t be surprised that Christie is a winner in NJ.  But let’s also not forget that he may be a local phenomenon.

2.) Virginia.  Ok, some of you lefties have a very weird thought pattern when it comes to Terry McAuliffe.  It’s like “He turned me into a newt!” and he wears a long pointy nose.  I think it has something to do with the idea that pure politicians are cool, detached, intellectual types who do not dirty their hands with money.  Yeah, that’s how we got Obama.  HE didn’t dirty his hands with money.  All of his financier class backers did.  I have read a lot of allegations about McAuliffe’s money but nothing feels or looks or reads as anything tangible.

Oh, but he was involved with the Clintons.  uh-huh.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  The thing about the Clintons is that the Big Dog admitted that he made a mistake when he listened to his economic advisors.  He seems to have learned.  You would think that Obama would have learned too but he’s actually worse, so, you know, there’s that.

From what I can see of the Virginia voter demographics I’m going to guess that a.) it was an off year election, b.) many of the Democrats’ key constituencies are wondering if it’s worth voting at all ala Russell Brand and c.) many Republican hard ass so-called Christian types are still motivated to go out and punish people who insist on having sex without their permission, like that’s the only thing in the world that matters.  But it still wasn’t enough for the Republicans to win.

Never the less, I don’t know if there is going to be a wave election next year.  I’m predicting that Obamacare is NOT going to get better.  I think it’s going to be the equivalent of the work house for Americans of a certain age.  Everyone is going to be very, very afraid to lose their job because they might have to go on Obamacare.  We’ll see.  I’ve been right about Obama so far.

Gotta go.

Life in Post-Apocalyptic New Jersey: Was it something I said?

Hoboken Path train station flooding during Sandy

Back on December 19, 2012, I wrote:

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

Ooooo, so close.

But I was wrong.  Yes, you heard me say it.  I was wrong to think that Republicans were going to use Sandy as a threat on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations.

I’m betting they’re going to use this for the next hurdle, the debt ceiling.  “Nice little state you got there, Senator Menendez.  Be a shame if something *happened* to it.”  Or it might be something in the interim.  They’ll make helping New Jerseyans and Lawnguylanders into a bad thing.

Would Republicans do it?  Oh ,heck yeah they would.  There’s nothing they like so much as to make people feel good about kicking the next person down on the totem pole.  Except that’s not the direction where all the money is.

Chris Christie got a little exorcised (as opposed to exercised, a word with which he appears to be unfamiliar) today when he said this:

“There is only one group to blame,” Christie said. “The House Majority and John Boehner.”

“Last night, the House Majority failed the basic test of leadership and they did so with callous disregard to the people of my state,” he said. “It was disappointing and disgusting to watch.”

“Shame on you, shame on Congress.”

Following his remarks, Christie doubled down on his criticism in a lengthy — and incredibly candid — press conference in which he laid into House Republicans for putting “palace intrigue” ahead of their actual jobs.

“Our people were played last night as a pawn…and that’s why people hate Washington, D.C.,” Christie said later. “They forget that we’re the ones who sent them there.”

Asked who he thought was responsible on the holdup over Sandy aid, Christie laid the blame entirely on Boehner.

“It was the Speaker’s decision — his alone,” Christie said, adding that he tried to reach Boehner four times, but that the Speaker did not take his calls until this morning.

“I won’t get into my conversation with [Boehner], but I will tell you there is no reason to believe anything they tell me.”

If I hadn’t watched Christie throw his weight around here in NJ for the past three years, yelling at teachers, maligning union workers and giving our two Democratic Senators the silent treatment, I might feel a little sorry for the predicament he’s in.  Here’s a Republican governor pissed as hell with his party for good reason.  If human behavior were susceptible to selective pressure, this is the time when Christie would begin to experience empathy for the Sandy stricken victims in his state and evolve away from the hard hearted, “fend-for-yourself” political tactics of his party.

Well, a girl can dream.

On the other hand, I have read somewhere that political revolutions happen when the pain intensifies on the middle and upper stratum of society and the Haves start feeling betrayed by the Have-Mores.  We might be at that point now. So, maybe the House Republicans should continue to act like f^&*ing assholes.  In fact, the assholier the better.  Get it all out there.  Let’s see how low they can go.

I’m more than a little incensed right now that the Republicans have decided to hold New Jersey hostage.  Unemployment here is pretty bad since the big pharmas picked Massachusetts as their new Bug Out Location.  And it’s only going to get worse in the summer if the shore properties and businesses are still under water, metaphorically or not.  The money would have been a much needed stimulus package as well as a way to fix our deteriorating infrastructure.

But the Republicans are the majority in the House and they’ve decided to do nothing.  This is why we can’t have nice things.

Not sure what Christie can do at this stage.  He’s made a career out of nastiness to Democrats and while they’ll do the right thing, his own party is never going to forgive him for sashaying around the shore with Obama a few days before the election.  Of course, that’s just the excuse they’ll give for being sociopathic bastards who are bent on killing the social safety net.  They don’t really need a reason but their gullible public will probably demand one so they feel justified in piling on poor Ortley Beach and Hoboken.  Christie’s in a tight spot.

Then again, he could just send some men around to break some knees.

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

Update on the tree situation: It’s going to be a long process cleaning up the trees.  All along the roads, people have stacked tree corpses in neat little pyramids.  But the other day, I was driving through the Duke Estate in Hillsborough and the storm has been devastating there. The estate has lost 2,000 trees.  Brook and her friends wanted to visit the nature center and ride their bikes through the park back in early December.  But when they got there, the caretakers told them the estate was closed because of tree damage.  It’s just too dangerous to ride along the paths.  I could tell that there was substantial damage and had to agree with them.  You just never know.

Then, a wind storm struck right before Christmas.  The wind was really strong and as I was driving through the other day, I noticed that there were a lot more trees down.  The estate now looks like a bomb hit it and more fragile trees that made it through Sandy came down. That might have been where I saw another tree dragging down a power line.  It’s unnerving because cutting through the Duke Estate is the best way to avoid the main drag here.

I’ll try to take pictures tomorrow.

Negotiations, Marketing and Sandy

Republicans steal Obama’s lunch money again

This morning’s post of stuff is in no particular order.  The first and third may be related.

Krugman writes in his blog, Conscience of a Liberal, today that, as expected, Obama is turning out to be a lousy negotiator on the so-called Fiscal Cliff conundrum:

Here we go again — or so I find myself fearing.

Obama’s fiscal deal offer was already distressing — cuts to Social Security, and a big concession, it turns out, on taxation of dividends, retaining most of the Bush cut (with the benefits flowing overwhelmingly to the top 1 percent). It wasn’t clear that the deal would have gotten nearly enough in return.

But sure enough, it looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.

In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process.

The Republicans have been dying for Obama to offer a social insurance program cut.  For weeks now, they’ve been saying that Obama wouldn’t name any spending cuts in a game of gotcha chicken.  The minute Obama blinked it was a.) not going to be enough to satisfy them and b.) going to come back to bite the Democrats in the ass because they were the ones who finally conceded on spending cuts that no one likes without getting much of anything in return.  So, what does Obama do?  He blinks.  Not only does he blink, he practically gives away every advantage he had and the Bush tax cuts remain pretty much intact for the 1% while the Chained CPI takes a big chunk of money away from vulnerable seniors as well as raising their taxes.

By the way, there is a very good reason why the Chained CPI is a horrible idea.  It’s predicated on the idea that seniors will choose to scale down on their consumer choices.  They’ll buy more generic goods at the grocery store or go to Walmart more often than Macy’s.  (Great, I can just imagine what my limited fashion choices are going to look like in 20 years.  More sparkly things that fit my tall frame even less well because all of the patterns are cut for some 5’2″ model from the Phillipines.)  And I might as well just forget about replacing any Apple gadgets when I hit retirement age.

How does this benefit Main Street?  If seniors now have to forgo the few little luxuries they have or pick the progressively less expensive items, isn’t that going to have an effect on what is sold and consumed?  And won’t that eventually impact the economy and create a progressively larger drag on it?  Just askin’ because to Republicans, the fate of the economy doesn’t seem to be very important as long as they get their exemptions on their dividends and they don’t have to look at a poor person in Walmart clothing.  What I see evolving is a modern version of the Sumptuary Laws where the “most vulnerable seniors” will still be able to buy low quality consumer goods because that’s where they are in the social ladder and should not seek to rise above their station.

More on this: Thereisnospoon’s post from this morning laments along with Markos Moulitsos at DailyKos that Obama is a bad negotiator and he’s is going to betray the left that supported him.

Let me tell you a little joke:

There was a dull witted guy who came home from work early one afternoon to find his wife in bed with another man.  The guy is distraught so he goes to the kitchen and returns with a sharp knife.  Then he stands over the bed and holds the knife to his throat.  The wife looks up and starts to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?”, he says, “You’re next.”

Ba-dum-dum.

I kept thinking about this joke all during the election season and I would have told it sooner but some people would have just called me a racist.

On to Sandy.  I got an email from Senator Menendez about the negotiations for Hurricane Sandy funds and it has occurred to me that if Menendez and Lautenberg concede on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, it could be that they’re being pressured to give in or the funds will be much, much smaller than we need or non-existent.  Would the Republicans screw business owners in New Jersey who have been footing the bill for their states for decades by getting the least amount of federal funds back for every dollar they send to Washington?  Sure they would.  They’re not concerned with the fate of New Jersey, the shore communities that make their livings in the summer or the fact that the Northeast Corridor trains from DC to New York cut through this state or that New Jersey towns are really suburbs of either New York City or Philadelphia.  No, all that matters is that the Republican donors get to sit on as much wealth as they can possibly accumulate under them.  I’d like to hear what is going on with the Sandy reconstruction funds and be reassured that they aren’t being held hostage to the Republican terrorist threat but I am not hopeful.

The last item has to do with marketing.  There’s a grocery store in my town that I have been going to faithfully since I moved here in 1992.  But lately, the things I like are disappearing from the shelves.  It started with some bagged salad items but the trend is picking up steam lately.  Suddenly, I can’t find 2% yogurt anymore.  More than once I’ve bought groceries home, stuck my spoon in what I thought was going to be a thick and creamy Greek yogurt and unwittingly spooned a glob of honey flavored paste in my mouth.  Almost every flavor of yogurt on the shelf is 0% fat yogurt.  Oh sure, there are something like *two* flavors out of zillions that are 2%.  They’re usually in flavors I don’t like, like pineapple.  Don’t get me wrong, I like pineapple but I don’t want it in my yogurt.  I want lemon in my 2% Greek yogurt.  Can’t find it anymore on my grocery store shelves.

A similar thing has happened to the UHT milk.  The store has moved the location of the UHT milk to the juice aisle and reduced the size of the section devoted to it.  No explanation.  It just happens to be the only milk I buy because otherwise, fresh milk spoils in my house before we get around to drinking it.  You can store UHT milk forever.  But no, the UHT milk is on its way out.

The hummus crisis is emblematic of this trend.  In my grocery store, we have more flavors of hummus than I can count:

I can’t believe that Hillsborough can really distinguish between so many brands and flavors of hummus.  I’d like to see how much hummus gets dumped by the store.  But there is only one kind of babaganoush, which my house prefers.  We also like Tsazhiki but it’s ridiculously expensive.  I’d be inclined to make it myself but I don’t want to make it with 0% fat Greek yogurt, which is just about all there is.

I blame marketing and those stupid loyalty cards.  Apparently, there weren’t enough of us buying Chobani 2% lemon yogurt and now, the marketing people at Chobani and Shop Rite headquarters are going to send nothing but 0% yogurt from now until doomsday.  The thing that drives me nuts is not that they should be sending less of the flavors that were selling slightly less well but it turns out that they aren’t sending any of those flavors at all.  It’s apparently all or nothing in marketingland.

It somehow never occurs to them that flooding the shelves with only one type of yogurt or middle eastern spread or milk or whatever is reducing their sales.  I won’t buy 0% yogurt because it tastes bad, I don’t care how many suburban soccer moms have decided that 2% fat in yogurt is bad for you, I’m not buying the 0%.  Ever.  I do not like mouthfuls of pasty yogurt so I will go without it.  So, right there, Shop Rite has lost my yogurt purchases when I used to buy yogurt there routinely.  But it’s even stupid from a Greek yogurt perspective.  When Greek yogurt first hit the stores several years back it was special because of the unique flavors like lemon, honey and pomegranate.  If Greek yogurt manufacturers drop that uniqueness and instead go for more mainstream flavors like strawberry and the absolutely worst flavor in the world, strawberry-banana, what will make Greek yogurt stand out among the Dannons, Yoplaits and store brands that are much less expensive?  Instead of being something special that Americans would experience and come to love gradually, the Greek yogurt manufacturers have killed themselves by listening to their marketing experts and become just like every other yogurt on the shelves.  Except because their yogurt is strained, the end product of a 0% yogurt has none of the creaminess of a typical American or European style yogurt.  So now not only is the flavor not “Greek”, it’s got the consistency and mouthfeel of Elmer’s School Paste.  I will now go out of my way to Wegmans to find something that is now considered “niche” or I’ll make it myself.  Same with babaganoush.  From now on, I’ll go somewhere else for that or I’ll buy an eggplant for half the price at the little farmer’s market produce store and make it myself.

The steady encroachment of marketing on my grocery purchases feels like a combination of Soviet five year plans crossed with bullying.  “You buy the yogurt we have because we tell you what you want and like even if you don’t want or like it and now we have no way of knowing what you want or like because we don’t give you any way to make a choice that we can collect data on.  Suck it up, suburbanite.  Why do you have to be different from your neighbors??”  I guess I don’t like the idea that I am subsidizing the rest of Hillsborough’s preferences (we don’t know how much they prefer these items because the loyalty cards can’t measure lack of choice) with higher costs for the items I actually like or can’t even find anymore.

Do we know that all the residents of Hillsborough like the same thing or am I the only one who ever complains?

Don’t answer that question.

In any case, the trend continues in Shop Rite which means I am finding myself buying more and more stuff at other stores.  It’s a shame.  I really used to like that grocery store.  But whatareyagoingtodo?  I want choice.  I gotta be me.

Attention Cory Booker

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 10.54.27 AMI saw you on the DailyShow last night and the stuff you said about the state of New Jersey being desperately short of biomedical researchers made me sick to my stomach.

You have to know this is not true.  How could you NOT know this is not true?  It’s so easy to prove with cold hard numbers and statistics.  The big pharmas are pulling out of New Jersey to go to Massachusetts because Massachusetts offered them almost half a Billion dollars in taxpayer money to relocate there.  They are leaving thousands and thousands of us behind.  That’s thousands and thousands of well-educated, technically proficient, TAXPAYERS. That’s where the unemployment money is going, Cory.  Those companies take the money that Massachusetts is offering, dump thousands and thousands of us on the state of New Jersey’s unemployment roles and then relocate only a tiny fraction of their workforce to Massachusetts.  What do they do with the rest of the tax incentives?  Beats me but I’m sure the shareholders are happy.

The idea that you would actually believe a pharma lobbyist who tells you he can’t find good help anymore in NJ and now has to outsource and that you would voluntarily spread this misinformation without actually checking to see if what they’re telling you is true or not defies explanation.  It makes no sense, Cory.  It is UN-believable. You either know that you are willfully lying, compromised by people who you view as your true “peers” or you’re dumber than a box of rocks.

I suggest you spend some time with those of us who used to work for pharma and are now unemployed in New Jersey.  Funny how no politician actually does that.  They’re more than happy to listen to whatever bullshit the financiers and industry propaganda artists tell them but they won’t go down to the NJ Department of Labor and actually check the database for the unemployed from Roche, Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck and all of the other companies that shed employees on a routine basis.  Go check out the shuttered lab facilities in South Brunswick and Bridgewater.  Our unemployment rate is more than 10% in this state and a big slice of it comes from the biomedical researchers who are not employed anymore.

But don’t tell lies on national TV.  It will come back to bite you during your next campaign.  Someone who is that out of touch shouldn’t be representing our state.

By the way, the idea that “the more you learn, the more you earn” is the old paradigm.  It doesn’t work any more. Wake up already or you’re going to condemn a whole generation of New Jersey school children to a lifetime of indentured servitude to pay off their student loans for the low paying jobs they got in a laboratory.  Come talk to us, Cory.  The sooner you get a clue, the better off the school kids in Newark will be.  What we need is a tough negotiator, not more low paid scientists who can’t make ends meet in New Jersey anymore.

Life in Post-Apocalyptic New Jersey: Climbing the water tower to defend our honor

Tree down on a road about a mile from my house the day after Sandy.

I read a post by Chicago Dyke at Corrente this afternoon that was a little disturbing.  CD thinks that Chris Christie’s request of $36 billion is too much.  I think Chicago Dyke has a distorted perception of who actually lives here in New Jersey but I’ll address that in a minute.  Here’s my response to her from my comment at Corrente (edited) with an additional point that I think any liberal would love to sign on to:

New Jersey resident here climbing the water tower with a bucket of paint to defend new New Jersey’s honor.

First, we in NJ have been footing the bill for the rest of the country for years now. For every dollar of taxes we send to DC we get $.61. That’s right, we lose almost 40 cents of every dollar. We make up for the shortfall by paying the most punitive property taxes in the country. While I would LOVE to send my $.39/dollar of taxes to Michigan, it usually gets sucked down by Mississippi and Alabama who hate us for our freedoms.

Second, this is the densest state in the nation. There are a lot of buildings and a lot of people. And real estate here is not cheap. I live in the NYC metropolitan area in central Jersey where the average house price in my town is about $450K and the median salary is $108k per year. And at that salary, you’re barely middle class. I was making about $100k when I got laid off and I live in a modest townhouse and drive a second hand car that I bought in 2007. It’s just fricking expensive here.  So, anything that needs to be repaired is going to cost a fortune.

Third, the businesses wiped out at the Jersey shore are seasonal. There’s not a whole lot going on there in the winter. The shore businesses make their money from May to September. Imagine if you were the owner of a store in a mall and the mall burned to the ground before Christmas.  Now, imagine thousands of stores in that predicament. There are many people who will lose their shirts and their jobs next year if these businesses can’t be rescued.  The problem can be somewhat alleviated next year if we start now.

The shore is great for families who want something between a cruise and a staycation.  You rent a house there for a week or two, invite everyone you know and enjoy the sun and sea. So, tourism is big in this state. Homeowners who had their seasonal rental properties wiped out and restaurants and motels amusements all have to be somewhat ready before next summer.  By the way, I’ve rented a house at the Jersey Shore and it was just a little bungalow, nothing fancy.  It was no three story modern monstrosity on the beach.  Most of the properties down there are not owned by the fabulously wealthy.  They’re just simple little vacation homes with few frills.  The owners are the people who are going to be really hurting next year if they can’t rent their houses.

Four, the devastation was pretty bad in Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken. Those are not high rent districts, except for Hoboken, which is becoming gentrified and is the hot place to live if you can’t afford Manhattan. In other words, these cities were already hit hard by decades of neglect followed by an economic downturn starting in 2008. I think I know your heart CD and I don’t think you wish further hardship on these people. Not everyone lives in Princeton.

Five, the devastation was wide spread. This much I know for sure because I see it every fricking day. There are still parts of my township that were without power up until last week. The number of trees that are down is unbelievable. I mean, you really have to be here to see it. Some people walked out of their houses the day after the storm and were electrocuted on their front porches. I did a video of a neighborhood near mine. Check it out. There were huge trees down on almost every property, streets blocked off from fallen power lines and one house that was literally surrounded by fallen power lines. I don’t know how people in that house were able to leave it safely. I was out of power for 5 days which wasn’t so bad but without power when I had the generator, you can’t turn on your furnace even if it’s gas. Some people had to go almost four weeks without heat in the middle of November.

Princeton *was* extremely hard hit. There were main streets in downtown Princeton that were blocked off because of dangerous fallen and falling trees. (Witherspoon was completely blocked off at Nassau Street) Up until last week, I was still driving thru parts of Princeton that had no working traffic signals. In the coming months, there will be many more deaths from this storm. There are still too many damaged trees close to the road. Yours truly is very afraid of driving around my area and Princeton because a car is bound to get hammered by one of them at any point in time.  But not everyone in Princeton is rich.  There are many students, graduate students with families and regular, working people who live in and around Princeton.

And as to the intensity of the storm, when your house vibrates and shakes from the wind and you can hear trees groaning and snapping all around you for about 3 hours straight, it’s not just your average storm.  It came ashore as a hurricane and met with another storm system.  And it was scary as hell to live through so let’s not trivialize it.  For some people, it was wind, storm surge and fire all in one night.  I think it gave Katrina a run for its money. There may not have been as many deaths from drowning but the damage to property is extensive and much worse than Katrina because it is over such a big, densely populated area.

Finally, this state had an unemployment rate of 10.2% BEFORE Sandy. It’s higher now because so many businesses were damaged or forced to close during the power failure or lost money because counties like mine declared a state of emergency and told everyone to stay indoors until the dangerous power lines and fallen trees and street lamps and overhead power supports could be secured. To give you an idea of how long that took, it was November 16 before the kids could go trick or treating safely.

Sandy has been awful for a lot of people but there is a silver lining. That is with $36 B (and to me, that sounds cheap but that’s because I know what things cost here) we can put a lot of people back to work doing construction, clean up, maybe forward planning, insurance adjusting, relocations, etc. There will be enough money to maybe jump start this economy, which believe it or not, has been harder hit during the little Depression than most people know.

And here’s the thing that liberals should be onboard for: since the stimulus money was inadequate, pumping $36 Billion into New Jersey would demonstrate something that even  Chris Christie doesn’t want to admit.  Stimulus works.  This state is in pretty bad shape but now there is an opportunity to do something about it.  Just burying the power lines would be a HUGE improvement and would put thousands of people to work.  We’ve lost so much in the past 4 years.  The pharmaceutical industry, which everyone loves to hate but I loved working for, has pulled out of New Jersey leaving thousands of well educated, technically current people out of work, under-employed and just flat broke.  Will those people be looking for jobs in the clean up?  Um, yeah.  And once they’re employed, they’ll get off the unemployment rolls and start pumping money back into the economy.  Some of that money will come in the form of taxes where we will, once again, give away $.39 of every dollar we send.

One more thing:  If Chris Christie wants to get re-elected and be a real hero, he could use Sandy to apply a tax overhaul shock doctrine.  Now is the time to reform the highly regressive property tax system and collect taxes from the people who actually make a lot of money, including all of the businesses here who have been welching on local townships.  Sure, it will look like something only a progressive FDR type could do but remember that FDR got re-elected- three times.

Think about it, Chris.

So, I hope I’ve changed your mind, CD. We really need the money. It will be well spent. And it will do a lot of working class and middle class people a lot of good. Those people have been funding the rest of America for years. It’s time for America to give back in our state’s hour of need

Here’s a video from MacJersey (kinda shaky) of Mantoloking on the shore.  Some of the houses were built in the 1920s and never expected to be part of an inlet.  The landscape has changed and part of the road infrastructure is gone.

Life in post apocalyptic NJ- gas, data withdrawal and elections

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We were very warm last night. The oak logs were seasoned to perfection as advertised and burned brightly. But we still don’t have power and the school called again today to say that there would be no school on Monday either, which doesn’t sound good. I don’t know how they’re planning to pull off an election because my polling station is in a catholic church that’s smack dab in the middle of the worst hit area in my township, surrounded by fallen power lines.

Putting on my tinfoil antenna, what is the likelihood that the precincts that get power last are heavily Republican?

The municipal library has wifi but I went there today and the connection was so slow that it took me 15 minutes to log into WordPress. They were only staying open until 5 anyway. Normally, they stay open until 9:30pm but promptly at 4:40pm, the librarian started nagging everyone to wrap it up. I was in the middle of processing a video but I bagged it. I have a lot of video and pictures to upload but with the data plan ceiling in my iPad and no wifi to upload, I’m not sure how I’m going to post them. With everyone in the immediate area desperate for a data hit, the few places with a good connection are overwhelmed. We tried Panera today but they’re only serving pasties and coffee and no wifi. Wegmans is generously offering free charging but the wifi was jammed. If I get to starbucks early tomorrow, maybe there’s a chance.

I am being taught Japanese without my consent. Shoot me now.

So, I was going to talk a little bit about infrastructure. You don’t realize how bad American infrastructure is until you meet a visitor from Germany in the gas line saying, “This is incredible. I can’t believe how bad this is. Four days without electricity and everyone is cold!”.

It’s embarrassing.

Beside the antiquated rail system with its switching system that in the best of times failed on a regular basis (never try to make a matinee in NYC via NJ Transit during a rainstorm) to the levee system that dates back to King George III to the miles and miles of overhead power lines, it looks as if the northeast is in a time warp. I’ve always wondered why the cell service was so bad here. This state was the birth place of the telecomm industry and AT&T used to be a big employer here 20 years ago. But even when the weather is great, cell service is horrible with many dropped calls and dead zones. And somewhere in the Rocky Hill area just north of Princeton, there is a no man’s land where cell service drops off to nothing. In my office in my lab building, I was able to get t-mobile data but not voice, Verizon voice but not data and nothing from AT&T even though the AT&T building about a mile up the street was bought by my company and supposedly, the most sophisticated networking system to that date had been installed in the area. It didn’t matter. I used to have to stand in the parking lot to make personal phone calls.

About the time I was laid off, the good citizens of Bridgewater were fighting the installation of a new cell tower near the fire department. It was going to be aesthetically disguised and would have provided much needed service to the area but the local burghers were having none of it. I’m betting they’re kicking themselves this week.

My development was built in 1986 and all of the utilities are buried but the way the power gets into this development is thru the old power lines and right now, there are big, heavy trees leaning in them or those trees have already taken them down. The utilities whine that to bury them all would cost about $1M per mile and that cost would be passed on to customers.

Why is that? What did we get for the money we sent to the federal government? We gave the banks access to all of our money and what did we get in return but a bunch of selfish pricks buying the media and telling us we expect too much in our old age. The money would be better invested in infrastructure. I can’t imagine South Korea putting up with this kind of broadband service. Just think, if the power, broadband and cell had recovered quickly, the frenzy over gas wouldn’t have been so severe. Most of us could have easily worked from home. But since that was impossible and getting paid meant being present, we had millions of people frantic to get to work this week in any way possible.

As for NYC, I feel for the people stuck in high rises without water or light. It’s amazing to me that just 30 blocks north, the city is acting like nothing’s wrong except the Metro is broken in places. But gosh darn it, isn’t it great that Wall Street isn’t inconvenienced and the NYC marathon proceeds as scheduled. It’s good for business, Mike Bloomberg says. Yes, we must all sacrifice on the altar of business.

For some reason, I just can’t see Rudy Giuliani reacting like that to a disaster of this magnitude. Rudy was an authoritarian jerk but the whole city pulled together. In this disaster, the tenants of lower Manhattan are left to fend for themselves while the show must go on in Times Square.

And the suburbanites of New Jersey become urban campers, hemmed in by dangerous fallen power lines and no gas, all because it’s more important to bailout the bankers than bury the power lines. What a waste of money and productivity.

And cancer research takes another blow. I followed this link that jay ackroyd posted at eschaton about the years of work, genetically modified mice and tissue samples that were lost at NYU during the storm. That must be heartbreaking and frustrating for the researchers. I know that my lab partners and I panicked when one of our freezers housing hundreds of protein crystals failed one evening and we scrambled to relocate them as quickly as possible to other buildings. It just occurred to me that the few pharma research labs all over NJ must have been facing the same thing. Meanwhile, one of the heads of the labs is trying to do his work remotely using intermittent wifi access in coffee shops and McDonald’s.

This storm is going to cost the region $50 billion. It’s going to set cancer research back by years. But heaven forbid we force bankers to cut back on bonuses or suffer any losses for the reckless bets they made four years ago so that we can invest in infrastructure. The self identified and mislabeled “job creators” are global now and have moved on from America. As far as they’re concerned, the northeast is Bangladesh and no longer worth the investment. We gave them access to the safe, they took the money and ran.

Update: I just got a message from the school district. Not only will schools be closed, the after school programs that were supposed to be providing extended care for half days that were originally scheduled next week are also canceled. That means a lot of parents are going to be scrambling for child care next week when they need to go back to work.

One other thing, Brooke says she saw the national guard today driving a little convoy of trucks marked “flammable”. I guess it really is that bad. The NYTimes confirms that Brooke wasn’t just seeing things. The pentagon is mobilizing the army to deliver fuel. Also, reader Gayle reports that the NYC marathon is off. It’s on front page of the NYTimes as well.

Update II: I just got a message from AT&T. “In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we are closely monitoring our network for service disruptions. Our crews are working around the clock to restore service to impacted areas. Please stay safe and thank you for your patience. Sincerely, AT&T.”

Well, that’s nice. It only took them 4 days.

Still no message about them lifting the data plan limits in impacted areas. Do they know that NJ has an unemployment rate above 10% and that maintaining these plans is expensive? I can just imagine a bunch of AT&T executives in a room carefully balancing how little to give way to FEMA before they have to start answering to the shareholders. “let’s send a note. That should do it.”.

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