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OccupyWallStreet: We have been starving the wrong beast

I’m back at home in my own warm little bed. Ahhhhh. So, I have a little time to process what I saw here today. I have pics but will wait until tomorrow to post them. Many thanks to Partition Function for meeting me in Zuccotti Park and letting me bounce impressions and ideas off of him.

Ok, here are my general impressions and hints about where I think this is going:
Tonight was OWS‘ first month anniversary. So, they’ve already crossed an important milestone. The park looks different from the first time I visited there in both a good and less good way. There are a lot of people. It’s fairly packed and there really aren’t many places to sit down and collect your thoughts. There is still a very diverse population. You will find people of all ages and ethnicities there. These people seem to be very smart. Organizationally, it feels like a neighborhood block party with small groups working on logistics or concepts. There is a lot of openness and sharing and this is all good. (I’ll say why there should also be a note of caution as well later.) There are also a few more freaky types. I don’t know where these people come from. If I didn’t know better I’d say they were hired, as in, if they didn’t exist, Fox News would have to invent them and for all I know, it did. I didn’t notice these people the last time I was here.

The mood of the place seems a little less festive and a little more serious. By that I mean that people are turning up because they are looking for connections. They have something important to say, their own perspective on a complicated puzzle and they are seeking synergies. It seems a little disorganized but there wasn’t one person I spoke to who didn’t know exactly why he/she was there. Think of it as a giant open air salon.

There are more people who have mapped out their own little smidgeon of the park for identity politics. In this respect, I’m a little concerned. In my humble opinion, the more you go overboard to make your point, like wearing a grim reaper costume and earnestly proclaiming your concern about who is killing the planet, the more people you will drive away. Yes, the environment is paramount in all of our minds but it would be a shame if the movement, which is based primarily on economic grievances, is derailed by this kind of thing. It would give an unrealistic picture of the 99% and, frankly, I’m an omnivore. I like my steaks medium rare and my veal grilled with porcini mushroom dust. I’m not interested in your lifelong committment to veganism. I understand why having options for vegans who are occupying is important but I don’t want to feel like I’m doing something immoral if I don’t get onboard some crunchy granola agenda. No, seriously, some of these identity groups have a quasi-religious zealousness to them and I don’t want any part of that.

So, there are two possible solutions that the facilitators might want to consider. They could ask the people in question to tone it down. Or they could try to make the economic issues more prominent. What we the 99% can do is continue to come to the occupations. I’m cool with the prospect of safe nuclear energy someday. We need more people there who are willing to entertain that idea. We need more people from corporations who are willing to say that some industries work better as corporations. It’s the way they interact with the financial industry, politicians and deregulation that are the problems. I don’t want buzzwords and tribal allegiences to ruin what could be very promising.

As to where I think this is going, hmmm, I got a few hints and clues. The alternative currency working group is up to something. If I were the typical hysterical Glenn Beck viewer, I would relax. They don’t want to cause an economic catastrophe. But it sounds like this group has been talking with “prominent” experts who would be able to act as outside consultants. They are weighing their options about how to create a new, vibrant economy. I am intrigued.

The other interesting thing I picked up on was the plan for the global day of solidarity on 11/11/11. OccupyCentralPark wants to kick off a weekend of learning on that day and have a massive occupation in Central Park. The theme of this event appears to be that we hate Wall Street because we are dependent on it. And our individual and national economic well being is tied to how well Wall Street does even as it feels free to abuse us. So, OWS would like to present some plans to teach us to free ourselves from the Wall Street tentacles so that we can reassert control over our lives. I don’t know what this will involve but if you’ve ever felt that your life was out of control because Wall Street had you strapped to its global roulette wheel, this event would seem to be geared to presenting alternatives so that you can break that gambling addiction, at least for yourself. If I had to sum that idea up in a short meme it would be, “We have been starving the wrong beast”.

Finally, about the perils of openness and sharing. Let me tell a story about an event called YearlyKos. YearlyKos1 in 2006 was planned as a meetup for the users at DailyKos to get together and brainstorm how to take back Congress. Few of us had ever met before and when we did, the feeling of complete openness and sharing and psychological flow state was very powerful. It was like a 3 day high. It took me a week to come down from my euphoria. YearlyKos2 was a different story for me. I had logistical problems, like a missing registration, a hotel room that was distant from the ones that the rest of the kossacks were staying and related transportation issues. In short, I was not experiencing the flow state of the year before and I was not as attuned to the emotional state of the other participants. It occurred to me today that this was a very good thing because emotions can be easily manipulated when they are in an excited state and the people all around you are responding to the same stimuli.

This afternoon, I briefly got that fleeting feeling of YearlyKos1. There were some people who I felt I was connecting with who wanted to talk about stuff I felt was important and the sharing of ideas was very simpatico, not because we were thinking the same things but because I was getting information that was filling in the data I was missing from my own perspective. That is when I started to feel that I had to be cautious. Collaboration is highly desirable; a hive mind is not. That is not to say that OWS is promoting such a thing. It’s just that it’s probably inevitable due to the nature of the movement, our grievances and our desire to work this out. It’s a social phenomenon as well as a psychological one. When that flow state is reached and we’re all in an excited emotional state, that is when we are most vulnerable to each other and to outside forces who may wish to infiltrate and redirect the movement in a certain direction. I want this movement to succeed and grow and add as many diverse voices as possible that will work to help us shake our dependence on Wall Street, and by extension, the parties that rely on Wall Street. So, I would advise you that if you start to feel euphoric, that you step out of the conversation, go get something to eat, take a pee, walk around the park until the feeling goes away. If it doesn’t go away, go home. Come back when you have a clear head and have learned to master your ability to put some emotional distance between you and the rest of the group. Be happy, enthusiastic and engaged. Do not get giddy. Engaged is good, giddy is not. I hope that makes sense.

Ok, I’m off to beddy-bye. Things are starting to take shape. It’s a good thing. Make it grow by getting involved. We CAN do this.

nighty night

Here are my notes from the general assemby (GA), and other observations from today:

7:25 pm: partition function and I are at the general assembly. Is there any topic you want us to present at the progressive stack? Please let us know ASAP.

First working group reportback: Occupy Halloween. They need donations. Check the kickstarter page for Power to the Puppets

We are making a flowchart of the declaration of Occupation of NYC. We want to make it easy to read without too much simplification. the working group is requesting help.

Visions and goals document group working group report back: a new group whose goal is to collect, refine and working toward publishing liberty plaza’s visions and goals. The results will be released only with the consensus of the general assembly. Over 200 people have had input. We will have a meeting tomorrow to explain creatively the goals of this group. We will also be discussing potentially a proposal that the GA will follow.

A statement of the document will be proposed at tomorrow’s general assembly.

The divine feminine discussion group will be held tonight for females and female identified individuals. There will be a women’s caucus.

Working group on alternative currency has gone missing.

Religious support group: any religion, philosophy, or chemical affiliation. ???

Think tank working group: collects ideas and solutions. Email your ideas to owsthinktank@gmail.com

Alternative currency working group has been found! Next Monday, there will be a meeting where we can see the stars. (this has meaning to them, but is Greek to me). There will be a meeting tomorrow at Charlotte’s place. There will be prominent thinkers. All very mysterious.

Media working group: breakout session on GA to more effectively communicate everyone’s message of solidarity.

Widescreen subgroup: we need some help with media production. Contact the media subgroup.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: they are for important information but not personal opinions
Save your opinions for Soapbox. It happens every night after GA. No time limit.

– I’m from security. I just confiscated a whole case of alcohol. This will get us kicked out of this park. Don’t even think about it.

– Christina: I would like to announce a march on Oct 22 against police brutality at 2:00pm. We do not promote violence at any time. We don’t know how people got the idea that we do otherwise.

– Community affairs: please read the good neighbor policy and do not pee or poop in public. I can’t stress this enough. We are under attack by the media. Don’t give them ammunition.

– Occupycentralpark: we are growing. We aren’t allowed to camp there. But it’s our park. We want to be able to meet there on one weekend. We want to teach people. We only hate Wall Street because we depend on it. We can run our own system so we don’t have to depend on wall street. So, meet in central park on 11/11/11. (That’s binary for 63, right?) We would like the whole world to join in for a day of solidarity. What part of central park? We are designing a new map of central park. We are planning to meet at the bandshell but we are hoping so many people come that we will be everywhere in central park.

Sounds like there will be a plan on how to escape Wall Street on 11/11/11. That’s my interpretation.

2:43 pm: Ok, I’m in Zuccotti Park. It’s packed here. The place is crawling with press. I just got interviewed by a student at Columbia for a report she’s writing. I told her all about the decimation of the R&D industry but she wants to hear from more people who have advanced degrees and can’t find a job in the sciences. If you are interested in talking to her, leave a comment in the comment threads. You don’t have to announce who you are or your contact info. I can retrieve your email address from the comment and will send you the student’s name and email address. Deadline for her report is Wednesday morning.

5:20pm Hello this is Partition Functions with RD in occupied OWS on this beautiful but windy
Autumn day. While the crowd is diverse in ages, background and interests, there appears to also that specialization is occurring in that working groups on topics related to the wider community
are forming, for example we were both recruited to be a part of a school policy curriculum working group. There are also more musicians, but despite that, the mood is more serious. Not sure why, could be that maybe it’s the office crowd. Maybe it’s because it’s a weekday. We’re heading over to open mic. RD signed up.

See you later.

ooOOoo, the chemists are getting restless

Last Friday, Derek Lowe posted the latest rumors on Amgen.  The pointy haired bosses are saying euphemistically loaded code words for liberating the wage slaves:

Amgen is out today speaking the sort of language that we’ve all come to fear. It appears that the local Ventura County Star picked up some rumblings from inside the Thousand Oaks headquarters, and when they asked the company about it, they got this:

“We are currently evaluating some changes within our Research & Development organization to improve focus and to reallocate resources to key pipeline assets and activities. . .”

Been there, done that.  The whole day at Amgen was wasted with scared shitless labrats floating from cubicle to cubicle running down the options.  Those who weren’t constructing elaborate scenarios were furiously updating their CVs, searching for their publications and slapping together presentation slides.  Lots of networking going on.  “Heeeey, how are you doing?  Haven’t talked to you for, what is it now?  Five years?  Oh, I’m doing fine.  Working at Amgen.  Yep, great site.  How are the kids?  Really?  High school already?  Doesn’t time fly?  Is it true Satanaco just made you director of flarnjarn chemistry?  How’s that going these days?…”

Thinking back on it, there is a certain pattern to these announcements.  They occur roughly a year after the email about the multimillion dollar contract the company just signed with a consulting firm (located more frequently in Massachusetts, hmmm…).  So, be on your guard, guys.  Don’t wait until the big announcement to bug out.  Do it as soon as you hear the consulting firm is studying your discovery process.

For the past 10 years, chemists, who tend to be introverted types, watched as their work environment disappeared lab by lab.  At first, they were able to jump around locally.  Then all hell broke loose in 2008 and the layoffs came like a blitzkrieg.  There is absolutely no relief, no place to go and no security.  No sooner have you unpacked your new clean labcoats in the new company before there’s a merger announcement or a restructuring and, once again, you have to figure out if you can afford the house *and* the small apartment you’ll be forced to live in during the week in Massachusetts while your employed spouse works in your former state of residence.

The chemists grumbled but took it.  But now that so many of them are out of work, some of us permanently as far as we can tell, the labrats are getting mad.  Here’s a promising comment:

“The reality is that we have all gotten to the good old days when you could stay with the same company with job security. Those days are gone! Do not blame your management! Face the reality. For the chemists, why you think you would be entitled to a good job if the need is not there for your services?”

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that lately in light of the last nine months in the world. Sure, chemists may be smart and resourceful and maybe can deal with getting laid off a lot, but most humans aren’t. Most humans do expect relative job security and certainty for the future. A lot think they are entitled to it. Don’t believe me? Look at Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Greece, Spain, and now New York. It all sounds fine to say that we need to adjust to the new market, but I’m guessing that in the future the financial industry will have to throw billions at people to keep them in boring, steady jobs with a degree of future certainty just so they don’t tear out a banker’s throat. Much as Saudi Arabia is doing now by flooding Egypt and Yemen with billions in the futile hope that the hunger and unrest doesn’t spread.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think humans are evolved enough for today’s market. Maybe in a few thousand years… but the instability and uncertain future has obviously risen beyond what the human species as a whole can support with the current gene mix. Too many people want a certain stability on a primitive level. This whole business with the Euro collapsing and the Arab world imploding/exploding will lead to a lot more problems for Pharma (and not only them) in the future.

Sad but true.  Human beings have not sufficiently evolved to give up their food and housing addictions.  If we were, getting laid off repeatedly would be much more pleasant than it is.   I must say that the image of bankers’ throats being torn out by a crowd of angry labrats gave me a momentary feeling of delight, sort of like a lion that has finally downed its prey and is ripping the esophagus out of the neck, like bloody banker steak tartare…  Where was I?  {{catching breath, straightening clothes, wiping chin}} And this comment from an Amgen Oldtimer tells the story of Amgen’s demise.  Substitute any well known biomedical research company for Amgen, it’s happened to all of them:

Yes Amgen was a great company. Under George Rathman it was an awesome culture. For about 15 years, early 80’s to mid-nineties, almost no one left. Attrition ran less than half industry standard. It was a vibrant, scientist driven culture of innovation. Team culture was strong, people supported one another, careers were nurtured, ethics were everyday stuff, not laminated speaking points. As a young scientist there, I awoke each day early and got off to work because my head was full of anticipation for the day.

The middle period was run by Gordon Binder. A decent man, but he set the seeds for future failure. He ran a tight ship financially, growing the company perfectly to beat estimates steadily, quarter over quarter, year after year. A lot of people got rich, but also complacent and no risks were taken with the revenue other than to support internal research. While that was a good thing, the senior team had lost some steam, and was also stubbornly resistant to the McKinsey minded management movement that was threatening all research organizations. While I think this was wise, lack of performance and suggesting no alternatives other than to do what we’ve always done led to the next disastrous phase.

Kevin takes over. In comes GE based performance systems [Jack Welch’s “rank and yank” that nurtured Enron as well], in comes BCG (Boston Consulting Group) lead restructuring of R&D processes to generate “seamless alignment”, in comes an attitude that R(esearch) only costs money. Team culture evaporates, those that can manage up well shift around from function to function, with success claimed for new initiatives before any measure of impending failure. Scientists who have clarity about the folly, and speak up, are shown the door. New “superstars” are hired that have no track record of success (but amazingly are all friends!), and that is still true now after a decade at Amgen. ESAs are over-promoted, Hematocrit pushed to high and the fall begins.

Management structures bonuses based on revenue, so Amgen buys Immunex and enbrel, which produces a lot of revenue, less margin, pays too much, but pads bank accounts. Stock falls, so management changes incentive at low price to be aligned with shareholders, taking more money out of the company. In the end, company sheds something like 40-50B in market cap, lays off employees while the CEO buys 2 corporate jets and takes home about $250MM. Amazing pay for shedding that much company value. Amazing lack of concern for employees and patients. Amazingly different company than George Rathman led.

Great company, once.

The anger isn’t limited to Wall Street but Wall Street had a significant role to play in the demise of research in this country.  And now, as one commenter noted, the flood gates are about to open to admit more foreign STEM workers because companies are whining that they don’t have enough well-trained workers in the US.  That might be motivated by Wall Street’s pressure for profits but the ultimate responsibility for reducing STEM professionals to low wage jobs with no security will fall on the president and Congress who don’t prevent the H-1B visas from flooding the system with cheap, expendable labor that can be sent back to Asia when the season’s over, like migrant workers rotating from lab to lab.

Obama should think about that. Chemistry used to be a good career.  The work requires a lot of education, technical skills and experience.  The salaries were decent if not spectacular compared to the corporate office purchasing administrators and sales reps.  Chemists paid their fair share of taxes and had nice houses in the suburbs where they sent their children to local schools and attended school board meetings.  They did demonstrations for kids at Science Fair night.  They coached soccer.  These are not the people you want to alienate in an election year.

Because these are the same people who may show up at a OWS site in a nearby park carrying signs like this:

One more thing:

Over at Craig Crawford’s Trail Mix (nice blog), there is a video of Matt Taibbi talking to Don Imus about Occupy Wall Street. I’ll see if I can embed the video. One thing that annoys me is Don Imus asking Matt if he thinks any of the occupiers even understand the banking issues. Condescend much, Don?? A lot of us have read Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short and can tell you exactly how securitization of mortgages work, what a tranche is and the difference between a CDO and a CDS. Yep, and we know the people at ratings agencies are unreliable at best, looking for jobs with the people they rate at worst. AND that the SEC did nothing about the concerns that were raised by some hedge fund managers. And that derivatives are not regulated to make them transparent. And that fund managers love their status and money and have very little interest or incentive to protect their clients’ pension funds. Is that enough, Don, or do you want more?

Jeez, he hasn’t aged well. He’s younger than my mom and looks about 10 years older. Ahhh, I see. Prostate cancer. That’s not good. Too bad I don’t do cancer drugs anymore…