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I’m on the way to the garage this morning.  Yellowish oily liquid is seeping from the left front tire area.  Could this be a symptom of imminent failure?  I’ve noticed another expensive sounding noise from my front wheel drive on my commutes to Philly this week.  The last thing I want is to be stranded on 95 during rush hour.


Some interesting things on the interwebs to look at:

Atrios is doing his Top Ten Wankers of the Decade.  These are really good.  Check out who he’s tagged so far and pray you don’t make his top ten list.

8th Runner Up : Richard Cohen

9th Runner Up: Megan McArdle


Yesterday, Digby featured a clip from Chris Hayes show on MSNBC where his panelists discussed what is wrong with those people on Wall Street.  The most interesting panelist was Karen Ho, professor of anthropology at University of Minnesota, who conducted some field work on Wall Street while she was employed there as a management analyst.  She wrote it all down in a book called Liquidated, An Ethnography of Wall Street.  (If you’re going to download an ecopy, go with Amazon.  It’s $10 cheaper than iBooks.  No audible version available.  Dang!)

I read a bit of it last night before I fell asleep and Ho and I come to strikingly similar conclusions.  Hard to believe that this post it a year old already but check out my farewell on my last day of work last year after I was laid off.  You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see what’s going on but all of the background research helps.  Basically, what we’re seeing is the trickle down effect of the finance industry’s management and compensation system on the rest of corporate life.  The finance industry values “increasing shareholder value” (or at least it says it does) and all incentives are directed towards that goal.  Long term productivity strategies are chucked out the window because the finance guys and the corporate CEOs have to satisfy quarterly expectations.  It’s my grasshopper theory.  They’ll keep eating away until there’s nothing left and they don’t care what happens afterwards because of IBGYBG (I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone).

Now, how these assholes got to be in charge is the territory of the anthropologist.  Here’s what I am seeing in the pharma industry.  You only get a job these days if you a.) graduated from an ivy league university or other prestigious lab, b.) you know the right people and they offer to mentor/protect you (it helps if you are in the possession of a Y chromosome) or c.) play political games with the confidence of a grand master.  None of those three things guarantees that you will be good at discovering groundbreaking new drugs.  Trust me on this.  I’ve met ivy league PhDs fresh out of school and they need seasoning.  Industry is a whole different animal than graduate school.  I don’t care how smart you are, translating that smartness to practical drug discovery is an art.  Some master it quickly, some take more time.  But an ivy league degree is no guarantee of success.  It could mean that the candidate is so burned out by the time he/she gets a decent salary that the best years are behind them, but I digress.

What seems to matter is the perception of “smartness”.  A person with this quality can do no wrong.  Pedigree and connections are essential for this perception and as you can imagine, if you are from a working class background, it is much, much harder to obtain these things.  You may not have the economic means to stick it out for 10 years to get your PhD or you may not have been able to get into the best colleges.  You’re probably not a legacy or part of some favored ethnic group.  In other words, it’s harder to get the pedigree or connections you need.  We are rapidly devolving back to Jane Austen’s world where people fight for a “living” and socialize with the expectations of making favorable “connexions” to get that living and where where your relatives are on the social ladder is likely to save or doom you.  Your intrinsic worth or aptitude with learning new things or hard work and achievements are not necessarily going to save you.  A lot depends on your willingness to kiss up to the level above you and your ability to keep credit for your own work.  Not an easy task because if you don’t already fit among the “smart” class, your own work looks like luck or the work of other people.

Ho’s book also explains how it is that we ended up with the crazy and insecure working life most corporate employees live in.  We are always worried about the next layoff.  The pace of work is exhausting.  You don’t realize it when you’re in it.  It’s only after you’ve been away from the toxic environment that you realized how much stress your body has been under from the constant restructurings, mergers, downsizing and increased workload burden.  And at the bottom of it all, you’re constantly made to feel like you’re only a drag on the bottom line.  It looks like I wasn’t imagining it when I got the feeling that the executives up the road considered the research staff to be little more than the laborers who worked with their hands.  It was obvious in the way we were spoken to whenever we had to go outside the lab environment to get something done.  It was apparent in the percs.  Their cafeteria was better, no question about it, and they didn’t pay more for that.  They had a nicer and bigger gym, better classes.  They were able to mail their personal packages to Europe at a discount. They stopped letting the lab staff do that.  The computers were set up to make life easier for the marketing department.  If it made life a lot more difficult for the chemists, too f^&*ing bad.  We were told to stop whining or risk our jobs.  In fact, our jobs were made much harder by the absolute disinterest of the executive branch.  Research just got to be one workaround after another and lots of them.

We are seen as expendable.  I think the executive class has made a huge mistake assuming that those of us who have been liberated will be so ingenious without money that we will make discoveries in our garages that they can swoop down and buy for pennies on the dollar.  It’s not as easy as they think.  In fact, our jobs are much harder than they gave us credit for.

And I hate to bring up politics at this point but after reading just the opening chapters of Ho’s book, it becomes pretty clear that the Obama administration is infested by the “smartness” crowd.  Indeed, Obama himself is a prime example of this class.  It is no wonder that Larry Summers was one of Obama’s appointees.  Summers is the former president of Harvard and is on the board of advisors of hedge funds like DE Shaw, run by a billionaire biologist.  Pedigree, pedigree, pedigree.

Gotta go.  Will let you know how the book turns out.  Should be interesting.  But everything I’ve read so far has been independently confirmed by the research staffs of the major big pharmas.  I’m not sure what can be done about it.  I guess we’ll have to wait until the players are gone.

Later taters.

18 Responses

  1. Good luck with the car problem. Car sales are slow so dealers are making it up by gouging on repairs hopefully you have an honest independent mechanic in your area. Newer antifreeze is yellow, so is some gear oil, not sure but there are some yellowish synthetic automatic transmission fluids. If it’s a Subaru it could be a leaking front CV shaft seal on the differential housing. Hydraulic fluid used in power steering systems is clear.

    Obama campaign slogan: 2012, the change we promised you in 2008.

    • They are diagnosing the problem now. I hope it’s not too expensive. I know how much I can afford and it is vanishingly small. But I only have one car and that is it. If I can’t run around in it safely, there’s no other alternative means of transportation in central NJ. There’s a Scoot bus and exorbitantly expensive taxis and my bike, which has a flat and no basket. I don’t think I want to ride my bike to Philly along 95. Meanwhile, I am trying to align some structures in the waiting room surrounded by rubber tire and cigarette smell with The Price is Right on the TV. Not optimal.

      • When I lived in the area, I got most of my work done at that gas station next to the Flagtown Post office.

        The mechanic, bobby, was always real helpful, and I don’t recall ever having any issues with work done there.

        GOOD LUCK

  2. And the verdict is in: Rack and Pinion. Leaking. Badly. $1000 on the optimistic side.
    This hurts.

  3. It looks like I wasn’t imagining it when I got the feeling that the executives up the road considered the research staff to be little more than the laborers who worked with their hands.

    That is EXACTLY how they consider the research staff. Highly skilled laborers, not professionals.

    Maybe it’s time for a few Ph.D.-level chemists to start talking to the ICWU.

  4. Bummer about the Car RD. 😦

  5. There’s not much worse than car problems in my book. I think when I walk into the auto repair shop I have “screw me” written on my forehead because later on my husband or somebody else tells me “you paid what for what!”. I finally got tired of hearing that and said well, you take it in then. I know 1K hurts but look at the bright side: it could be a lot worse.

  6. Go to http://www.rockauto.com and plug in the year make and model. You can look up the price on a rebuilt rack and pinion unit. From there you can figure out the labor cost . The $1000 should include a wheel alignment.

    • Forgot to add. The local Big Box or auto parts store sells stop leak for power steering systems. sometimes you can get away with using it for a couple of weeks until finances are in better shape or you trade it.

    • Wait a minute, wait a minute, are you telling me that this rack and pinion thingy is only $227??? I just looked it up at that link. How legitimate is this site? The dude at the garage is going to charge me twice that. And labor is estimated to be about 3 hours at more than $100/hour. I think that’s more than I was worth per hour when I was working.
      So, do they have a number in mind when they come up with an estimate and then just rejigger everything to make it fit?

      • Ahhh, I see, these are all remanufactured rack and pinions. How do I know it’s not just a seal problem?

      • Clearly, I need a second opinion.

        • If you haven’t committed to the work, definitely get the 2nd opinion!! There is also a resource at some public libraries called “Mitchells” that repair guys use for instructions on the repairs as well as estimates of cost for parts and labor. We used to get hoards of people using it as a comparison to their mechanics estimates. You can print out the reports and use them when you talk to the auto guys.

          Knowledge is power. Mostly.

      • I’ve bought thousands of bucks off this site with very few problems. Great for the DYI’ers. Did the garage quote you a price on a new unit? Unless it’s newer with few parts in the rebuilt unit stream, most times garages will use remanfactured units to save customer’s money.

        As to a seal problem it’s the most common. If the steering works smoothly with no noises or sudden catches, other than loss of assist, turning from lock to lock (do figure 8’s in an empty parking lot) I’d say it’s a seal problem.

        A second opinion is good.

        PS While typing this I took a brake and bought a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee from my neighbor. Price $750 puts that new rack and pinion in perspective?

        • Steering is fine. No problems. But it does make noise at speeds between 25-65 mph.

          I need to ask them whether they were quoting me a new or used r-p. If it’s not new, then I’m going to be pissed.

  7. If the leak causes the power steering pump to run low on fluid you will hear a whine. (Sorta like Obama complaining about the SCOTUS) It will change pitch with engine speed, not vehicle speed.

    Check the owner’s manual for the location of the power steering fluid reservoir and check the level. Some cars use a proprietary fluid. If it’s low and you decide to use stop leak make sure it is compatible with the car maker’s recommendation.

    Any other noise that changes with car speed could be tires, wheel bearings or transmission internals. I have a Neon that had a wheel noise when I bought it. New tires solved that problem.

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