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Thursday: Stupidity and Revelations

Bits and pieces found around the web:

Digby says the deal that Obama is making with the Republicans is nearly finished.  As expected, he sold us out for a s%)*load of spending cuts.  In return, the Republicans had to agree to a eensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy, soupçon of a tax on stuff like private corporate jets.  Mind you, the masters of the universe wouldn’t have to give up their private jets, because that would at least have the appearance of looking good.  No, they merely had to pay an increase in the taxes for the privilege of using them, a tax they could well afford to pay several times over without blinking an eye.  This they would not do and they walked out of negotiations- that were held behind closed doors that we did not see the legislate.  Of course, it is all kabuki.  The Republicans will act like they are offended, the president will propose another number, they will eventually reach a deal where the tax will be symbolic and everyone else in the country will just have to suck it up because rich people don’t want to be inconvenienced by paperwork or something.

But anyone who is focussing like a laser beam on the corporate jet tax, a situation divinely to be wished by the GOP, is missing the point.  The point is that we have come to the place where the wealthy have been taking us for over 70 years.  They HATED the New Deal.  Why should they, the winners, have to give their money to the losers?  It’s the same argument we see played out in the conservative media gasbag shows where lazy people and seniors who rush to the doctor for every little thing are the reason why the rest of us should deny ourselves a rational health care policy.  Those slackers don’t deserve it.

When will people realize that to the wealthy, *everyone* below them on the socio-economic ladder is a loser, slacker, lazy person who didn’t have the good sense to be born into wealth or work as hard as they do?  Have these people even *been* in a lab these days?

Which brings me to the second stupidity: Anne Patchett’s new novel State of Wonder.  I can’t believe I wasted an audible credit on this piece of silly pulp fiction.  Patchett’s description of how research is done at a Big Pharma company isn’t even wrong.  I honestly don’t know if she did any research for this book.  It’s ORGANIC chemistry, Anne, not INorganic chemistry.  INorganic chemistry is fun and full of pretty colors and oxidation states.  ORGANIC chemistry is what small molecule chemists do in the lab to make compounds that get tested in a lab.  CHEMISTS make them, not pharmacologists, who, from what I can tell wouldn’t know an active compound from a detergent.  And the labs are located in a big, blocky building located on some bay on either one of the coasts of America, not located in the middle of the Amazon jungle surrounded by cannibals.  Ok, shareholders do somewhat resemble cannibals but that’s besides the point.

One last point, and this is important, a pharmacologist and the company CEO would never have an affair, clandestine or not.  That’s because the company CEO doesn’t even know that the pharmacologist is a human being who works for him.  Even if he did, which he wouldn’t, because a laboratory is as foreign to the CEO as an Amazonian tribe of tree chewers, fooling around with “the help” is practically the only thing that would get a clueless, incompetent CEO of a major pharmaceutical company fired in this day and age.  Who did Anne speak to about how big pharma works?  I can almost see her conversation with two practical jokers in a lab somewhere:

“So, in this book, the protagonist is having an affair with the CEO and…”

“Oh, yeah, we see that guy down here all the time.  He flies in on his corporate helicopter, invites us to lunch, he asks us all about what we need and how things are going and whether the new lean-sigma-jiu-jitsu system needs modification.  We told him we thought that the labcoats didn’t really do our cleavage justice.”

Please, Anne.  And don’t just assume that pharmaceutical companies would withhold cures for malaria from third world countries.  They donate anti-malarial and sleeping sickness drugs all the time.  You’d know if you’d been paying attention to the news.  But, really, if these shaman and tribal women are so incredibly wise about the effect that chewing tree bark has on their ability to evade malaria, don’t you think the cannibals down the road would have figured it out?  They’re not stupid children, Anne.  Ethnobotanists consult them for a reason, you ninny.

Anyway, don’t waste your time.  It’s the Orpheus and Eurydice story all over again mixed with Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.  But I do need a suggestion for a good book to take to the beach (beach vacation was planned the month before the layoff.  How nice for me.) So, if you know of one that won’t make me want to strangle someone, list it in the comments.

18 Responses

  1. If we take away their corporate jets the fat cats will just fly commercial (first class, of course) and deduct 100% of the cost as a business expense.

  2. My suggestions : anything by :
    Jo Nesbo
    Michael Connelly
    Rosemary Pilcher

  3. Ariana Franklin’s first book on genius female medical professor in England during reign of Henry II. Lots of grisly details, autopsy, science, funny and a good mystery. You can buy it second hand cheap! This is good quality pulp fiction and pure escapism.

  4. so many books so little time 🙂

  5. Paul Auster The Music of Chance and anything else. Also DeLillo:Underworld;Cosmopolis etc I’m holding myself back on this RD.

    I am fed up. I hope Bachman runs as she is definitely the worst. I can’t think of anyone who comes close to her. If she won the whole circus would be exposed to be laughed at.

  6. Which brings me to the second stupidity: Anne Patchett’s new novel State of Wonder. I can’t believe I wasted an audible credit on this piece of silly pulp fiction…..

    RD, under another name write a murder mystery set in a lab.( of course with a couple of sub plots as well)

    I’m not kidding….

    it’s NOT rocket science…. dish, girl . You could so do this. They don’t call them pot boilers for nothing. You’ll thank me later

    • I would buy it!


    • Who are you? You know entirely too much.

    • And it may not be rocket science but if anyone thinks they can just jump in to it, they will be very surprised. Its not as easy as it looks.

      Dr. Rottweiler, in the cold room, with an open dewar of liquid nitrogen.

  7. Ross Thomas’ Pacific Rim series. The most delightfully endearing group of miscreant heroes ever.

  8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks- Rebecca Skloot, A Visit from the Goon Squad- Jennifer Egan, any of the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke.

  9. You should never read fiction that is set in your field of expertise if you expect the novel to stick to reality. I’ve never read a work of fiction about a teacher that comes anywhere near the reality of being in the classroom. But that doesn’t make “Good-by, Mr Chips” a bad novel. And while I cringe every time someone writes about someone being saved from lightning by the rubber tires on the car, I don’t throw out the book. “State of Wonder” is a real page turner if you’ve never been in a pharmaceutical company’s lab or traveled to the Amazon. Reality doesn’t need to get in the way of the story. Last summer you were raving about “The Passage” by Justin Cronin, and you weren’t concerned that it had little connection to reality. The government creating vampires in the lab? (It was a great story, BTW, and thanks for recommending it. I couldn’t put it down.) After reading “Bel Canto”, I was looking forward to Patchett’s newest, and it didn’t disappoint. I don’t care if a real CEO would know one of the pharmacologists well enough to have an affair with her or not. It was a good story, and Patchett’s prose, like in Bel Canto, reads like poetry.

    • I didn’t say that Patchett is a bad writer. She’s very good at the descriptive passages. But I didn’t find the book a page turner. The plot just wasn’t that compelling to me.
      The problem with State of Wonder is that it has a somewhat romantic view of natural medicines without a thorough understanding of how modern pharmacology can transform raw materials into effective and safe drugs. This is not an either/or scenario. It’s also unlikely that tourism would be any threat to the plants described in the book. What *usually* happens is that samples are collected and the real research and development happens back in the lab in Minnesota. There’s no need for eccentric scientists to spend years in the amazon.
      There is a drug called rapamycin that helps prevent organ rejection. It is made by a fungus that lives in the soil on Easter Island. Now, you might have tourism on Easter Island to look at the stone heads but I doubt that the German tourists are taking the soil with them when they leave. Most tourists don’t even know it’s there.
      Patchett is trying to make some argument about the virtues of natural drugs vs modern medicine but the whole thing comes off a bit jumbled.
      And the resolution of the story? So, they ransom one precious person with another precious person and never look back? Really?
      As for The Passage, I loved the first part of the book up to the part where one of the survivors recalls her harrowing journey by train from Philadelphia to California. That was chilling. But the second part of the book was not so satisfying. The relationships felt like they could have been written by the scriptwriter for Degrassi. If you go back and read my review, you’ll see that it wasn’t a total rave. I do think it will make it to the movies but I had problems with the way the author built his world.
      I love to suspend my disbelief. Let’s just say that I was spoiled by Tolkien, the master of the world building genre. If you’re going to do it, make sure you’re thorough. George R. R. Martin is also pretty good at the worldbuilding thing. Westeros feels ‘complete’, even if I’m not so crazy about his Dickensian number of characters that feel roughly the same. Danaerys is great though.
      Funny that you took my review seriously though. I suppose that is a compliment. I never meant to be an authority on a book. And if you want to recommend others, I’m all ears. But I think I’m done with Patchett. She’s good but she’s not my type.

      • I always enjoy it when someone whose writing I enjoy tells me whose writing she likes. I was disappointed when the book club you tried to start fell apart. I really do get why you might be critical of a book that is set in the world of your expertise. My friends and family often suggest to me or even buy me books about teachers. I find most of them to be overly sentimental. Or they paint being in a classroom as a war. I don’t teach in the lily white suburbs. I’ve had a student in my classroom in shackles, but I don’t have to fear for my life on a daily basis. And a book like Tracy Kidder’s “Schoolchildren” which purports to be nonfiction starts with a flawed premise. The reader is supposed to believe that Mr. Kidder sat in a classroom for a year, and that his presence had no effect on what was happening in the room. Kids don’t ignore people sitting in their classroom. So I get why you didn’t like “State of Wonder”. I just didn’t want other people to be turned off to a good book. As far as what I’m reading now – I’m about halfway through “Shanghai Sisters” by Lisa See. I’m enjoying it, but people from China who have really lived through those times and understand the culture might not agree that she is painting an accurate picture. I’ve not lived it so I’m enjoying the book. The next book on my list is “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair”. The book I read just before “State of Wonder” was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” by Annie Barrows, which was warm and wonderful. The characters reminded me that even in the middle of bad times we have each other. Sometimes we need to read something like that.

        • {{shudder}} I can’t stand “warm and wonderful” books with quaint little titles. Too sentimental and schlocky.
          I’m looking for something like Iain Pears “An Instance of the Fingerpost”.
          In general, authors should stay away from writing about fields they don’t know unless they make an attempt to walk a mile in those shoes. It became pretty obvious within the first chapter that Patchett didn’t bother to talk to anyone in a lab in more than a cursory manner. The problem is that pharmaceutical research is in so much trouble right now that her subject matter and the models for her characters deserved greater attention to detail and appreciation for what they actually do. This is the kind of book I would expect from someone who has plenty of preconceived notions, a very shallow understanding of what the profession entails and a particularly uninformed bias. The fact that so many people are going to read this book makes it even harder for us to get our message out and set the record straight.
          So, Anne Patchett didn’t do us any favors and from now on, she should stick to writing about famous authors who talk amongst themselves and are too lazy to do actual research but are hoping that nobody who reviews their books will know the difference. Now, at least, I will know enough to avoid her.

  10. Would love you to do book reviews on focus free RD.

    And the resolution of the story? So, they ransom one precious person with another precious person and never look back? Really? Ah here we have the Baudrillardian term Impossible Exchange. Since there is only one world, the world cannot be exchanged. But it can be stolen. Baudrillard calls this The Perfect Crime.

    You have only one life. Impossible Exchange says then that your life cannot be exchanged. However, it can be sacrificed. So one person is sacrificed for the well being of another. This is of the Order of Symbolic Exchange, not of the Order of Production. If the term sacrificed were used then the horror of it would be revealed.

    So reveal the horror. Use the correct term. Move into the Order of Symbolic Exchange and Death as that is what you are saying and there is strong and important work as structure for your thinking.

    Link: http://focusfree.blogspot.com/2011/03/vanity-fair-march-2011-cover-rob.html

  11. Here’s someone who agrees with you.

    Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program (What’s this?)
    I read “State of Wonder” before looking at reader reviews and was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to a book that I found to be average. Patchett takes on the ambitious task of bringing Marina’s significant ambivalent relationships ~ with her dead father, medical school professor, office mate, employer-lover ~ along with the ethical issues of pharmaceutical R&D with indigenous cultures, into a
    cohesive whole. While the premise was good, the turn of the phrase distinctive and the socio-economic topic timely and important, there was something off with the total picture. The characters were flat and unlikeable, transitions frequently vague and despite the abundance of scientific information (questionable though some might be) and a vivid sensory image of life in the jungle, it did not draw me in. Patchett was successful in creating the heavy blanket of disconnect and ambiguity that defined Marina’s personal and professional life, but on a whole, this was not a particularly memorable novel.

    I just know from all this psychological stuff I’d never bother reading it.

  12. This is the problem with Virtual Reality. Once erroneous info is out there circling globally, it now has credibility, whether it is correct or not. I really hate seeing facts spun and twisted or just plain sloppy research going around and around. The medium is the message tho.

    Remember Kerry and the swift boating? Same thing.

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