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Exit, Voice, loyalty and the Instance of the Fingerpost.

Were they really the same?

Last night I stumbled on a bunch of tweets between Matt Stoller and Jay Rosen.  I don’t know if you guys have been noticing this lately but it appears that the former Obama fans in the left blogosphere from 2008 have been freaking out about the tight spot they’re in.  It’s a bit of “Should I stay or should I go?  If I stay there will be trouble, if I go there will be double”.  I sympathize with them because I went through this same dilemma 4 years ago but I’ll get to that in a second.

Wnat seems to have finally tipped them past the zero point is the issue of drones.  I have a very Tolkienish attitude towards war.  It’s bad and I don’t worship it.  But I do worship the innocents who I feel responsible for, which means just about anyone trapped in war zone, under the threat of genocide or crimes against humanity (invading Iraq didn’t qualify in my humble opinion and the evidence used to get us into it was all lies anyway). And I think we have an obligation to help those people with military assistance or humanitarian aid.  That’s just me.  Your mileage may vary.

But I can say unequivocally that I do not support the use of drones, ever.  The principle is clear: drones represent a disembodied use of power with virtually no accountability or consequences to the persons who use them.  They are, therefore, easily abused.  It might start with people in Pakistan you don’t like but there is nothing to stop the drone owners from using them on other groups they don’t like.  One abuse, even 6000 miles away, is the tiny pebble that is dislodged that will bring the mountain down on you.  I’ll even go so far as to say that I think that countries that use drones should be sanctioned by the international community.  Oh, yes, I do.  It’s not so much that we have become war criminals.  It’s that we have become a threat to any free people who gets in our way, including our own citizens.   So, yeah, I’m pretty down with them about drones.

But as to whether it makes sense to exit the political process, voice your opinion or stay loyal in a political environment where it appears your vote doesn’t matter, there is only one answer that makes sense: you must speak up, even at personal risk to yourself. That might mean voting for a third party.  But given the situation we’re in and the ramping up of authoritarianism, to not speak up now while you still have a voice would be counterproductive.

However, I still don’t think the Stollers, Rosens and  Ackroyds fully understand how we got to this point and until they realize where they went wrong, they may not be able to fix their current situation because they appear to be focusing on personalities and associations and not on principles.  If this were merely a problem of Obama’s personality or competence, it would have been relatively easy to get rid of him early in the 2012 primary season.  But what we are experiencing is the aftermath of a coup where the avenues to changing the outcome have been blocked, sometimes from within the party, sometimes from the activist base that is blindly punching the wind, hoping to land a blow.

So, at the risk of being a drone about this, I want to briefly revisit the 2008 election season using the concept of the Instance of the Fingerpost.  I ran across this concept described by a philosopher of the scientific revolution, Frances Bacon, when I read the book An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears.  The concept is about how you distinguish between two things of apparently equal value.  Here is a description:

When in the investigation of any nature the understanding is so balanced as to be uncertain to which of two or more natures the cause of the nature in question should be assigned on account of the frequent and ordinary concurrence of many natures, instances of the fingerpost show the union of one of the natures with the nature in question to be sure and indissoluble, of the other to be varied and separable; and thus the question is decided, and the former nature is admitted as the cause, while the latter is dismissed and rejected. Such instances afford very great light and are of high authority, the course of interpretation sometimes ending in them and being completed. Sometimes these instances of the fingerpost meet us accidentally among those already noticed, but for the most part they are new, and are expressly and designedly sought for and applied, and discovered only by earnest and active diligence.

In other words, when you are trying to ascertain the true nature of something, you need to use your powers of observation and collect as much information about the thing as you can in order to make a judgement. And when you do, you will eventually find something regarding the true nature of your subject  that is so firmly intrinsic to it that it can’t be separated from it.  That instance is what sets it apart and tells you conclusively what its true nature is.

When I first started this blog in January 2008, I was a Clintonista but I was also a party loyalist.  That is, if the candidates were truly equal and had the same policies, Democratic principles etc, but differed only in approach or priorities, I would have had no problem voting for Barack Obama.  I stated as much somewhere  early on and for the first month or so blogging here, I tried very hard to maintain that position.

But then the observables became hard to ignore and I started to assign them to one candidate or the other.  In truth, they were not the same.  They were very different on policy, political philosophy and experience.  But I was still going to vote for the eventual nominee because the candidate was a Democrat and I was a loyalist.

That changed when I found my instance of the fingerpost.  In this case, it was the fact that Obama was incapable of winning the election without the aid of the DNC manipulating the votes of MI and FL.  Instead of seeing this as proof of Obama’s strength as a campaigner, I saw it as proof of his weakness.  The best that he could hope for, even with the strange apportionment of delegates in caucus states in 2008, was a tie.  But not only did he win the nomination, the party seems to have protested way too much about the viability of their other candidate.  They didn’t just sideline her, they humiliated her at the convention, denying her delegates a chance to vote for her on the first ballot.  It wasn’t just that they didn’t want a floor fight, they didn’t even want to acknowledge that she or her voters ever existed.  It was beyond what was reasonable. It was overkill.  On top of that was the scorched earth tactic that ran over women, all women, not just the candidates themselves.  It was bold, in your face, relentless, harsh, demeaning and we have been living with the fallout ever since.

But those were only the observables of an underlying unwholesomeness that had taken over the Democratic party that I had never witnessed before in my life.   The instance of the fingerpost was that when the party rewrote its rules to favor one candidate over another, the Obama campaign did not protest.  Whether you think that the Clintonistas should just get over it or not, you can not deny what happened.  The rules were rewritten in such a way so as to nullify the votes of one candidate’s voters because they were never able to achieve the critical mass in the public eye that would have made Clinton the obvious winner early on or even a legitimate contender later in the season. That’s what happened.  The process started early in the primary season, maybe even before the primary season began, but it solidified at the Convention.  If you were a Hillary Clinton voter in 2008, you might as well have stayed home during the primary season and not bothered with the canvassing and phone banking and rallies.  Your vote was either reassigned without your consent or not counted at all.  That is election fraud, in my opinion.  The party convinced voters that their primary elections were legitimate and then it turned around and invalidated the results in state after state.

So, I had to ask myself, what would I have done if it had been Howard Dean whose voters had gotten the shaft?  Would I still be angry?  I’d have to say I’d probably still be very concerned.  Because even though I don’t like Howard Dean, probably as much as Matt Stoller doesn’t like Hillary Clinton, if I saw that his campaign was doing its best to uphold the principle of fair reflection while the other campaign wasn’t, I’d support Dean’s challenges wholeheartedly.  Elections have to at least have the appearance of fairness or they’re pointless exercises.  It is my rule to NEVER, EVER vote for a candidate who messes around with the votes or nullifies elections such as was done with MI and FL in order to come out on top.  That was the instance.  You mess with the vote count and make some votes more equal than others, well, you’ve instantly earned my distrust.  How can I ever expect a candidate who is willing to do that to every respect by opinion or grievances or anything?  I can’t.

This is not just a case of political roughness.  And it’s not like one campaign was just really clever.  It was an act of aggression of one  candidate’s supporters against the other’s.  It was more like Kingmaking, with the more ruthless, violent opponent winning using every trick in the book and pulling out wads of cash when that wasn’t working.  Now, you might say that that’s just the way things work these days but I’m not interested in right by might.  I’m interested in a democratic process.  Besides, as I have said before, you can’t expect a candidate who ran like Ghenghis Khan to govern like Gandhi.  In Khan’s world, voters don’t matter.  I want to preserve the sanctity of the vote because as citizens, it is the only thing that gives us worth.  So, when someone violates that sanctity to game the system, that’s it for me.  His nature is revealed.

I also can’t trust him to stop with mere manipulation of delegate counts.  If he can get away with that and never be held accountable, then what is going to stop him from going even further?  (Notice I haven’t said anything about ACORN or any other nonsensical right wing meme.)If he didn’t get into office with the support of more than half of the party, what makes me think he even cares what we think?  And if his own supporters didn’t stop him, then he’s already hobbled them.  They need to stay onboard and be loyal in order to not lose face and power in the party infrastructure, or they come to their senses but realize that they are now powerless.  Separated from their natural allies in the party , i.e. the losing candidate’s voters, because of anger and resentment over the injustice of it all, they find themselves powerless, fewer in number and making excuses about why they made the decision to back the wrong candidate in the first place.  That’s not winning them any friends, by the way.  Meanwhile, the candidate goes on to represent his true constituency, the people who helped him buy off the rulemakers.  He is never held accountable because his party’s base is held hostage.

So while Matt and Jay muse over the right course of action, they should step back and think about what principles they think they are defending.  Matt, in particular, seems to have a severe case of Clinton Derangment Syndrome.  I don’t know why this is.  Maybe it’s the environment he’s in, the people he hangs out with, the glue he’s sniffing.  Whatever it is, it seems to be completely unhinged from reality.  He seems pretty damn set against Hillary Clinton in a way that I am not set against someone like Howard Dean as much as I dislike him.  I think this attitude has blinded people like him from taking the only possible actions this year that would have given them a voice. But in the Democratic party election scenario, the candidates are swappable.  Who they are is unimportant.  You can take any two Democrats and pit them together.  The one who attempts to game the system through vote manipulation reveals his true nature.  That is a candidate who sees elections as mere formalities, something that can be fixed or bought. He will lead his former supporters to despair that elections don’t count anymore.  And if the party could do it in 2008 without a fuss from the rank and file, they’ll do it again in the future.  You can count on it.

We all saw it, guys.  We were aware back in February of 2008 what was going on and what the DNC hoped to achieve.  The party was bought by the 1%, their malware candidate was installed and when the crash came, as they knew it would, he allowed them to go unpunished while he muted the voices of the citizens who needed and deserved better treatment.

You can exit, or voice but to stay loyal at this point in time is definitely not acting in your best interests.  The way back to sanity is not through a new hero or heroine.  It’s the long hard slog to restore the legitimacy of elections in every state.

And now, I’m done.

Geeks marching for their jobs

More on the  protests from Les Sanofi, the researchers in France who took to the streets when their jobs were threatened.  They’ve bought themselves some time.

In many ways, this march doesn’t look that different from an Occupy event.  But I am reminded of something Naomi Klein said about what it’s like to protest in the US, like there’s no oxygen here compared to Europe or the Middle East.  As soon as people start to agitate, the flame gets put out because there’s no place to go with your grievances.  No one will allow you any space, the propaganda machine cranks up to make you look like dirty subversives and if that doesn’t work, the DHS moves in to crack you skull and the Justice department subpoenas your tweets.

But in France, the only time the police step in is when the marchers want to march on a road.  There are other actions in France by Les Sanofi that are recorded in Montpellier where the marchers occupy a city square and lay down in it and no one moves in to arrest them.  I think that’s because as annoying as striking is to the French, there is still a critical mass that is in solidarity with them.  Check out what happens starting at minute mark 5:20.  It would be impossible to script something like that but quite easy to understand when citizens support each other.

What blows my mind is that these are employees protesting their management, something that is increasingly unheard of since Reagan fired the PATCO union.  Most employees know that to protest against your management here in the US means instant career death unless you belong to a union. It occurs to me that the reason we have had so many layoffs here in the US and why management in big pharma gets away with lying about researchers is that there *is* no oxygen for a protest and therefore no other side of the story.  We are invisible to the policy makers and press.

This country will pay for that.  If you don’t have free speech to protest what is important to you, like losing your job or losing your civil liberties, or your vote or your life from being put on a “kill list”, you haven’t got free speech or anything else of value.  Obama can go to the UN and give a speech on the concept but it means nothing if a cop in full body armor can randomly grab you out of a crowd, throw you to the ground, cuff you and cart you off to a holding facility just for trying to exercise your rights.

You whip kissers from the Crawdad Hole should take a good look at that video.  They’re just average people, with good jobs, nice families, neat little houses, there are a lot of PhDs in that crowd.  These are not deadbeats or bad employees or lazy workers. If these people had malicious intentions towards their company, they wouldn’t need to protest to bring Sanofi down. These are not stupid people. There are countless ingenious ways to bring the company to its knees.  But that’s not what this protest is about. As you can see from the banners, the protestors include Sanofi employee representatives from all over France.  And yet, they’re doing everything that you look down on.  They’re noisy, disrespectful, persistent.  And they are saving their jobs because they are organized and their government is aware of them.

You can’t argue with success.  Nothing in the US is going to turn around until a critical mass of ordinary people stand up for themselves.  You can’t expect young people and the extraordinarily brave to do it for you all the time.  The next time there’s an Occupy event, grab your labcoat and go.

What every Democrat should be asking: why aren’t our representatives fighting for workers the way French Minister Mountebourg is fighting for French workers?

Back in July of this year, just after French drug maker Sanofi announced the closure of several French research sites in France resulting in over 2000 layoffs of highly skilled French researchers, France’s productive recovery minister furiously defended those French researchers:

Ok, it’s in French but do you see how mad he is? THAT is what democracy looks like- an elected government standing up for the people who voted for it. When was the last time anyone in this country did that? Basically, what Montebourg is saying is that Sanofi’s actions are unacceptable, their plan came without warning and Mountebourg pretty much publicly shamed the company for doing it when it made 5€ billion in profits this year.

The French researchers fought back. For one thing, they’re represented by a very strong union and they’re allowed to protest without fear or retaliation. I should mention that the sanofi employees in the US that were laid off had no opportunity to protest because they all signed severance agreements which let them go away quietly in exchange for a payoff. The severance wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the loss of a job in the US where ybig pharma is rapidly turning researchers into low paid contractors and short term job hoppers.

The good news for the French workers is that only 900 jobs will be lost to attrition. The site that wa most under threat was Toulouse*. There will be a working group to discuss what will happen to it. But that wasn’t good enough for the government Minister Mountebourg who said yesterday, “Trade unions are right to say this is too much. The government says this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”. So, the company has to come up with a new restructuring plan by Oct 3, 2012.

One thing is for certain: there is very little actual research going on in the labs in France in this environment. People who are worried about losing their jobs are too preoccupied to concentrate well on projects that might be gone soon anyway. Of course, if work helps you take your mind off your worries, you’re probably in the zone right now. But this is something the big wigs at sanofi are probably not even considering. To them, it’s all about reducing costs, appeasing shareholders and getting big bonuses. If research underperforms because it is under stress and disorganized from restructuring after restructuring, they’ll just blame the lazy researchers. And in the US, nobody questioned them. The representatives, and state and federal governments just accepted it. No one ever questions management. But when you have to spend so much time and effort defending your right to practice your craft, you can see where actual work might get pushed aside temporarily while you protest and update your CV.

The bad news is that the new restructuring plan will hit the remaining US researchers whose numbers were vastly reduced last year when Sanofi closed their main US research facility in Bridgewater, NJ. The US researchers are worried. I know this because I get email.

What are the chances that a US government official or representative from MA or AZ is going to stand up on the floor of congress and demand that Sanofi stop foisting the burden of unemployment on these researchers and the taxpayers the way that Mountebourg did?

How many of the 100,000 research positions that have been lost since 2008 might have been saved if Democrats hadn’t acted like feckless cowards?

We may never know but we should be asking questions and demanding answers. The unemployment problem among researchers is pretty bad and we are pissed off with all the talk about sweeping more naive, young students into a career that won’t pay the rent.

I want answers as to why every representative from NJ, NY, CT, CA, DE, MD, MA and PA isn’t demanding that industrial research become accountable for the burden they place on the taxpayer and skilled professionals.

*Toulouse is a pretty nice site. New, modern building, up-to-date labs, great espresso bar on the second floor landing. Much nicer than the Vitry site buildings right outside of Paris, which look like they’re straight out of the 19th century. If anything, sanofi should be encouraging researchers to relocate to Toulouse and Montpellier where the cost of living might be less than in Paris. Montpellier is nicer than Vitry as well with facilities right near the Mediterranean. Just saying.

It’s Samuel Jackson who should, “Wake the f*ck up”

I have no intention of watching the Samuel Jackson video, but, I totally enjoyed the rebuttal!

Sanofi Scientists do a Haka

This is what happened in Toulouse, France when Sanofi planned to close the research facilities.  Not only did the union and their government officials get involved, the R&D staff did a haka.

Check out that last hand movement. It looks like they may have saved their jobs, at least temporarily.

We are such wooses here in the US.  We meekly accepted our fates as we were forced through the doors, like lambs to the slaughter.  We knew there was absolutely no one looking out for us and our severance packages would be revoked if we put up a fight.

There are more videos of their protest.  In a couple of them, they have made signs against some of the top management.  I’ll have to get the kid to translate for me but I don’t think they were saying nice things.  And they got away with it.  Incroyable!

Keep it up, guys!  Bravo Les Sanofi!

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

And here’s the salsa they wrote called Salsa du pognon, which I think means The Money Salsa.

The last part of the song contains these lines:

on lache rien, non on lache rien
tant qu’y a de la lutte
y a de l’espoir
tant qu’y a de la vie
Y a du combat
tant qu’on se bat qu’on est debout
tant qu’on est debout on lachera pas

Which roughly translated mean:

you lose nothing, no nothing is lost
so what was the fight
there is hope
so what has life
There’s the fight
As we fight we are standing
As we are standing on let go

Google translate is not perfect but in this case, nothing is lost in translation

This is my favorite slogan:

Sauvez un chercheur
Mangez les actionnaire

Save a researcher, eat a shareholder.

Ohhh, so *that’s* why they call it ‘currency’

I was looking up Margaret Atwood videos on youtube and one thing lead to another, you know how it goes, when I ran across this one where Atwood shows the connection of debt to some of the English canon’s great pieces of literature.  Now that I understand how debt figures into the examples she cites here, I start to see it everywhere.  It’s all over Thomas Hardy novels, for example.  She talks about Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Madam Bovary.  Very interesting from just a literary point of view.

But in the middle of this interview she gets into the nitty gritty of how money works that is explained so simply that only the truly illiterate could fail to understand it.  I’m not sure that even this is enough to penetrate through the impregnable wall of deficit reduction hysteria that conservatives have built up but it’s worth a shot.  Here is Margaret Atwood explaining the role of debt in literature, what the word ‘currency’ actually means and its importance to the economy and society.

Big Pharma and the power of a union

French union scientists at Toulouse do a haka to protest salary and position cuts.
{{sniff}} I am so proud!

Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline wrote recently about French drugmaker Sanofi’s recent plans to close some sites in France.  I’ll get to that in a minute but first a little background.

A few weeks ago, Sanofi announced that it would be closing some French sites, the biggest site would be at Toulouse.  The closure would have put approximately 2300 scientists out on the unemployment rolls.  The Ministry that handles labor and unemployment had a fricking fit:

Besides unions, Sanofi has gotten an ear full from some government officials. With France’s economy struggling, the fact that Sanofi’s mother country was absorbing more of the pain, has not set well. French Productive Recovery Minister Arnaud Montebourg told senators when the cuts were first leaked: “Sanofi showed up at the ministry to tell us they were planning several thousand job cuts. Couldn’t you have said that earlier on? Last year you made €5 billion ($6.1 billion) in profits.”

And I’m sure that Sanofi would have cut elsewhere, if they had anywhere else to cut.  Last year, the company laid off all of the scientists at their main site in the US that was located in Bridgewater, NJ.  A couple dozen jobs were rescued and sent to the Cambridge, MA site, which is small, cramped and inadequate.  The rest of the projects were distributed to the French sites.  And do you want to know WHY the work went to the French sites and not to China (at least not yet)?  I’ll tell you why:

THE FRENCH SCIENTISTS ARE PROTECTED BY A UNION

Their union is pretty damn good too.  You could take every project away from them and have them just occupying the sites and playing tetris all day and the company would still have to pay them.  So, any time the company felt like research was being too much of a money pit, they took it out on the US workers until there weren’t any left.

This time, the unions threatened to strike and the French Productive Recovery Minister told the company that dumping French scientists on the labor market and relying on the government was not an option.  Usually, the companies who do business in France lay scientists off through attrition or generous early retirement packages.  A straight layoff , although rare, is still heavenly by American standards with terminated employees getting up to 80% of their salaries for 2 years and then able to go on the French public assistance program after that.  AND you don’t need to shell out half your unemployment on COBRA.  So, pretty sweet deal even if you’re being laid off.  You have time to find something else or go back to school for retraining or emigrate to Canada.  Your life isn’t thrown into an instant and chronic crisis.  And THAT, in turn, helps stabilize the rest of the economy.  The more people who can spend and keep demand up, the less of a hit the economy takes in newly unemployed people.

Anyway, it was still looking pretty grim for the French scientists until this week.  It looks like the Productive Recovery Ministry and the unions had an impact.  From Derek’s post:

here’s the announcement itself. And maybe this is my first impression, but compared to what’s gone on in other Sanofi sites (like Bridgewater), this one comes across like a shower of dandelion fluff. No reduction in the number of sites, no actual layoffs – just 900 positions to phase out, mostly via attrition, over the next two years. The Toulouse site is the only loose end; that one is the subject of a “working group” to figure out what it’s going to do, but I see no actual language about closing it.

Here’s more from FiercePharma’s article on the cutbacks in France:

A key official in France is keeping up pressure on Sanofi about its planned work force reductions in the country, sticking to the position that the drug giant ($SNY) hasn’t done enough to protect jobs. And French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg makes clear in reports today that he isn’t satisfied with how the company plans to secure the future of its R&D site in Toulouse.

Montebourg has been a thorn in the side of Sanofi. Early this week Sanofi softened its stance on job cuts in France, saying the company would seek to shrink its work force in the country by 900 jobs through early retirements and voluntary moves and transfers in the next few years, as opposed to the 2,300 to 2,500 jobs at the company previously estimated to be on the chopping block. Yet the minister and others keep harping on Sanofi’s unresolved plan for its Toulouse site, where 600 additional jobs hang in the balance.

Sanofi wants to part ways with research in Toulouse, and said earlier this week that it would work with stakeholders in the coming months to solidify plans to keep the operation alive, Reuters reported. That too fell short with Montebourg and unhappy Sanofi workers and labor officials.

“Trade unions are right to say this is too much,” Montebourg told BFM television, as reported by Reuters. “The government thinks this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”

Sanofi CEO Chris Viehbacher, who has reportedly met with the industry minister, has found resistance in his strategy to double down on productive R&D centers while making cutbacks at those that fail to meet expectations.

You know, if Chris Viehbacher wanted to preserve the company’s most productive sites, maybe he should have kept the US scientists on their tree-lined campuses instead of keeping them in a high state of suspense for several years, terminating their projects and then stupidly laying them off and closing the site.  No wonder the French Ministry doesn’t believe a single thing he says.

So, there you go, folks.  If you want to stand up to the bonus class and save your jobs, you need to get a union and the government behind you.  Or maybe just the government behind you.  You don’t need to work 24/7 like a maniacal drone on crack, cranking out work and trying to impress everyone working like crazy, singing, “I really need this job.  Oh, God, I need this job” to guys on Wall Street who don’t give a shit anyway.  No, you have your union representatives negotiate a contract that makes it extremely painful for the company to drop its commitment to you.

Not only that, but the union has to be very, very active and visible, like standing outside the cafeteria, handing out grievance pamphlets and making its presence very known to the management.  Imagine going to lunch to eat your company subsidized baguette, custom prepared omelet and glass of red wine and being greeted at the door by a union person dissing the management and getting away with it.  (Oh, yes, it really happens, I saw it with my own eyes.)  Take a look at that picture.  Does that look like a bunch of broken human beings, cowering under the whip they’ve been forced to kiss, cringing in fear of being fired for speaking up or fighting for their rights?  Damn straight it doesn’t.

That’s why I keep saying that drug discovery will survive in Europe. They’ll have an infrastructure in France and Germany and the expertise that is acquired from having stability and continuity of uninterrupted research.  They’ll be able to keep pace with this rapidly changing explosion of biological discoveries while thousands of US scientists will be trapped in routine, unchallenging CROs or having their expertise rotting from disuse.  Maybe they won’t be as productive as the US researchers used to be or as ingenious as possible but, by golly, they may be all the world has left unless and until the Chinese and Indians can stabilize their business environment and take the lead in research.  It’s not easy and it will take some time before that happens.  The finance guys are going to have to take an old, cold tater and wait, not something they’re good at.  They’re going to be mad that they can’t transform our salaries into their bonus gold, but such is life.  The French government is finally standing up to them and saying “Non”.  In this case, the unions are actually doing them a favor, giving them an excuse to keep the technological expertise in the country and giving it an edge when the recession finally eases up.  The government will soak the corporations for salaries, not the workers for absolutely everything.

The bad news is that now that Sanofi has been forced to scale back their cutback plans in France, they’re going to have to take it out on their remaining employees elsewhere, like their site in Cambridge, which is already tiny, and their exploratory facility located in Tucson, Arizona.

So, for those of you professionals who are watching in horror at what happened to the scientists in this country, take note: get a union.  The problem of unemployment among us is not structural.  There are plenty of us and many of us are willing to relocate or work from home.  The problem is that the big guys don’t want to pay us for our expertise.  So, they’re going to keep spreading this lie that they can’t find enough qualified workers.  The real problem is that OUR government is not on OUR side.  The Obama administration would rather this country lost its technological edge and make precariats of us all than to stick up for us when the finance guys calculate their bonuses based on how many R&D bodies they can chop.

Sad but true and this story is proof.

Revisiting the Handmaid’s Tale: Dogmatic feminism

The kid is reading The Handmaid’s Tale for English.  Yeah, wrap your head around that.  When I was a child, the raciest stuff we ever got to read was Tess of the D’Urbervilles where “weeping in the Chase”  and Hester Prynne letting down her glossy black hair in the woods was about as close as we were ever going to get to any insinuation of unchaste behavior.

I thought this would be a good time to revisit The Handmaid’s Tale with an eye to understanding whether feminism has devolved into dogmatic feminism.  I also like to refer to this as “red tent” feminism.  I consider myself a feminist but one who basis her feminism on a very Mary Wollstonecraft sensibility.  Feminism is a philosophy that asserts that all humans are equal and that women are no less endowed by nature to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than men and that there should be only one criteria for denying women anything they aspire to- individual ability.  Since science is beginning to show that women have equal mental capacity in the sciences and math and other intellectual pursuits, the only limitations on females to achieve what they want is physical.  And the only area where they lack in physical strength is in the upper body.  That pretty much leaves them out of professional football leagues, certain weight classes in boxing, wrestling and weight lifting and not a whole lot else.  If a woman is still interested in firefighting or combat or something else, let her train and develop those physical traits that will let her compete. There may be other subtle physical differences but nothing that can’t be overcome.  We’ve already seen that women are quite capable astronauts and pilots, political leaders and business people.  Let’s just cut the crap with the artificial barriers already, ok?

I don’t believe in a society that treats women as some kind of special physical being is good and I don’t want to live in that world.  In other words, I don’t think men envy us for our baby making ability.  That’s just wishful bullshit.  Are you kidding me?  If men could gestate fetuses in a box, a la Monty Python, they would.  Your ability to bear children is a curiosity and a necessity but not something they would ever wish on themselves.  So, if you are a woman hoping to retreat into some “red tent” community of women where you can all celebrate your menstruation and hope that the rest of the world will recognize and honor your superiority because you are able to give life, dream on.  Ain’t never going to happen.  If anything, The Handmaid’s Tale reinforces the notion that childbearing is not a noble endeavor and separate is not equal. (Note that I said childbearing, not parenthood.  And in the modern world, BOTH sexes can and should be good parents) The women who are conscripted into the Handmaid class may be re-educated to believe that they are in an honorable profession but the rest of the world still sees them as concubines.  So, think it over ladies.  If you want to focus all of the world’s attention on what is between your legs and not your ears, separate yourselves and worship your childbearing above all else.  What can be seen as a gift can be coerced when the need arises.  Then it’s not a gift anymore and you as a person cease to exist.

Margaret Atwood has said that her idea of The Handmaid’s Tale was in part generated by the feminist anti-pornography movement that sprang up in the wake of the initial waves of feminism.  In this scenario, it is the anti-pornography feminists who collaborate with the religious right. The feminists have become dogmatic, fail to discriminate degrees of infraction, and react to pornography with public burnings of the material.  Like the Aghanis who gave control of their country to the Taliban, these dogmatic feminists may have sanctioned the religious backlash in order to restore order and control over violent behavior.  As one of the “Aunts” says in the movie, “There is more than one kind of freedom.  In the days of anarchy, it was ‘freedom to’.  Now, you’re being given ‘freedom from’. Don’t underrate it”.  In the Aunts, we see the merging of the dogmatic feminist with the religious right and an inability to think outside a rigid box in a way that respects individual agency and personal maturity. It’s easier and safer if everyone just follows the rules and stays within the rigid box society constructs for them. What is particularly disturbing is that we can see some real world examples of this kind of mindset recently that should scare the living sh&* out of us.

For example, remember the Anthony Weiner affair?  Do you remember the commenters here (you might even have been one yourself) who indignantly insisted that the recipient of the pictures was a victim whose eyes were violated and who was the target of an online rape?  Let’s just put aside the idea that you can be raped online, is this even reasonable?  But what does it say about the power of our American culture when a whole blogosphere of women can be prompted to turn on themselves, to assert that the recipient of the text “didn’t ask for it” that she was a victim of a sexual pervert, as if looking at an erect penis was something our innocent eyes shouldn’t see?  WE have “self-control”.  Men have lustful desires.  It’s very Handmaid.  We reinforce the idea of slut shaming when we circle the wagons around the alleged victim of an online rape, protecting her from accusations of participation instead of laughing it off.  It was a digital picture for god’s sakes.  It can not hurt you.  And besides, what if what she had written to him *had* seemed like an invitation?  What’s wrong with that?  Are women not allowed to be provocative?  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Ok, how about Julian Assange.  The stories the alleged rape victims reported in Sweden have come into question.  I’ve always considered the charges to be a very, very broad definition of the word “rape”.  If that was rape, just about everyone has experienced it.  And then I start to wonder, what about the women who claim to be on the pill who deliberately get pregnant against the wishes of their male counterparts.  Please, do not tell me it doesn’t happen.  We all know that it does.  Isn’t that also a form of rape?  It’s not violent but it sure isn’t consensual, is it?  But whatever.  I was very surprised to see the number of women who immediately and without question took the side of the accusers.  I have no idea what the Swedish court system would do, it’s really in their bailiwick.  But I was disturbed at how women once again assumed that the accusers were victims, as if they were completely without any sexual agency whatsoever.  The did not *own* their sexuality.   It is part of a pattern that looks at women as asexual passive beings upon which men impose their aggressive sexual lusts.  Is that the way women want themselves to be seen?  Or is it merely convenient because lust is not a desirable female trait in our culture?

Feminists on the left need to be careful that they aren’t used as political tools through accusations of rape and other sexual taboos.  If you are conditioned to have a knee jerk response to any accusation of sexual misconduct by men towards women no matter how innocuous or tangential it is to their official duties, you can be used as a tool of mob justice to take out your potential allies.  Condemnation is one of the only political powers women have and to do this against men based on unproven or trivial accusations is the equivalent of a digital particicution.

I was relieved to see the feminist community rally briefly around Sandra Fluke.  But even more enraged that anyone could stick a slut label on any woman these days.  I really thought we had banished that word forever but here it was again, raising its ugly head.  And then I saw a youtube lecture on Tolkien from a speaker from Baylor University who in the middle of his lecture made a comment about a co-ed in a tight sweater with a caption that said “goats they do nibble”.  “Did she know she was going to be a slut when she put on that shirt?”, he said to an auditorium of college students.  So, the word is back in business.

And that’s the way the women in The Handmaid’s Tale saw the Handmaids.  They were sluts whose sole purpose in life was sex.  It didn’t matter if they didn’t enjoy it.  Young, fertile women are tramps, whores and sluts. The were literally the scarlet women. That seems to be the way we are going as well.

A new area for the anti-sex “feminists” is in the area of New Atheism.  Most of us are familiar now with Elevatorgate, the controversy that sprang up when Rebecca Watson took an invitation from an unknown guy in an elevator as a prelude to rape and exploitation.  To say she overreacted is an understatement.  In my college days, we would have assessed the safety of the situation and determined whether we were interested or not.  If not, we would have politely declined, arranged to meet for coffee the next morning and gotten off at our floor.  But not so with Rebecca.  Apparently, all the guy was interested in was her vagina.  It sounds a bit like what our 50’s era parents would have been told. “He’s only interested in getting what he wants and then dumping you”. But maybe he would have been just interested in talking.  Or talking and a little light snogging.  If there was anything else intended, you could always say no and leave.  Most people will let you leave.  There really aren’t that many rapists around.  Truly.  But so what if Rebecca had gone all “paradise by the dashboard light”?  So what??  That’s her right.  It’s not seduction if its mutual.

In the Handmaid’s Tale, pleasurable sex is a crime against the state.  It is an act of willful defiance.  And to be defiant is to be free.  So, is Rebecca Watson a free person?  Or is her relatively recent feminist conditioning taking away her freedom to be a sexual being?

Or, is she using her public chastity as a bludgeon against men because we have focussed so much of our attention on our nether regions that women have lost ground in the intellectual sphere?  Is the only way for women to assert power in this society to use sex as a weapon?  It *is* the only place where women have made some progress.  Sexual harassment is almost universally forbidden in this country.  Men can get hammered with a sexual harassment suit like nobody’s business so they are extraordinarily cautious in the public sphere about avoiding it.  That means that real discrimination has gone underground and takes more subtle and insidious ways to exert itself.  We’re all familiar with the performance evaluation by behavioral criterion that has taken down women great and small.  The cultural stereotypes of passive, compliant, pleasant and obedient women as being the most desirable to work with has also crippled them and made it very difficult for them to break the glass ceiling.

Anyway, that’s my little stream of thought ponderings that have been running through my head this morning.  I won’t even go through how much the Duggar family lives the life of The Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s almost like they used the book as a supplementary bible. They’re into an extreme form of patriarchalism, worship childbearing, are fanatical about forbidding any enticement to lustful thoughts, and they don’t educate their daughters very well.  Just like the handmaids in the movies, the children travel in pairs with each one accountable for the behavior of the other, always ready and willing to betray a trust and intimacy. All that’s missing are the color coordinated clothing.  They may look a happy in front of the camera and maybe some of them have the constitution for it.  But for the ones who don’t, it must be a living hell.  Religious women who worship the Duggars should read Atwood’s book (or reread it).  We do NOT want to live in a world like this because no one would have a minute’s peace.  There would always be rebellions, terrorism, violations, executions.  It would be like the Taliban mixed with the Department of Homeland Security against all of the lefties who have become sudden fans of the 2nd amendment.  Not my cup of tea.

So, comments anyone?  Fire away!

If you haven’t read the book, you can find it here at amazon.

Here’s the movie version on YouTube.  It’s got German subtitles but is in English otherwise.

And here’s an interesting discussion about The Problem with Dogmatic Feminism and supplementary discussions part 1 and part 2 from Ask An Atheist.  I like the way the hosts go through the issue step by step in a thoughtful manner.  I wouldn’t have been so diplomatic.  The bottom line, as I see it, is that the dogmatic feminists are undermining their own cause.  Instead of reinforcing their equality and insisting on things that would really change the dynamics at a New Atheist convention by demanding at least 1/3 female representation of speakers and a progressive stack during discussions, they are alienating even the more sympathetic men in the movement by considering all interactions between males and females as invitations to seduction and abuse.

The New Atheist movement is having to confront this issue early and I hope they take some time to get to the bottom of it and define what feminism in a post religious world should be. (And by post religious, I mean in the present context where state and church are intertwined. The goal should be a secular culture where the religious can do what they want in private.  That is what I mean by post-religious) They also need to be careful because this is an issue that the religious could use against them to split the New Atheist movement.  In other words, they need to find a way to get through to the Rebecca Watsons to carefully examine what they are doing so they don’t cause unnecessary tension at their gatherings and inadvertently reinforce cultural and religiously based cultural stereotypes.  I know that’s not what Rebecca thinks she is doing but by reducing every woman at a meeting as a potential victim and every man as a potential rapist, that’s what she is doing. I wouldn’t want to be a new female convert to New Atheism, go to a convention and have all the men avoid me and instantly think I was a neurotic pain in the ass just because the Rebecca Watsons got there first and took all the spontaneity out of the event.  She’s not doing women any favors.

And here’s some insight on rapid social change brought on by stressful environments, her is Atwood herself speaking to Bill Moyers:

Jeez, it’s only your pensions. Give a banker a break

Reversing the kettling procedure in Madrid, Sept. 25, 2012

Yesterday, Madrid had massive protests over austerity measures.  Today, it’s Greece.  Will Ireland follow suit or are they just into suffering?

Time will tell but it looks like people will need to get a lot more insistent before the bankers and governmental officials get the point.  Austerity and scarcity are artificially constructed situations.  What governments haven’t had the guts to do is tell their banker gamblers to take a haircut.

And then there’s all those 401Ks that need to be appeased.  We brought that on ourselves when we listened to the gamblers and decided to join them at the global casino instead of saving most of our retirement money in nice, boring pensions.  You know, the nice boring pensions that our parents retired on and live a nice, comfy lifestyle with a paid for house and a yearly cruise to the Panama Canal?  Is that so awful??  No, it is not.  But it is certainly not what you’re going to get if the stock market takes another steep, steady dive and fails to recover before you’re old enough to retire.

Anyway, the peasants are revolting.  Go peasants!

The problem with pharma in 5 whys (plus unrelated complaining)

It’s pretty much the same problem we have with the financial sector, the auto industry, political consultants, marketing…

Actually, this scenario already feels anachronistic for some reason.

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When did lawyers decide to become arrogant assholes? I’ve had to consult a couple lately and they all have a tendency to talk down to you, cut you off in the middle of a sentence when they jump to the wrong conclusion and generally act like you’re taking up their precious time.

Is it just New Jersey or did they all decide to become insufferable pricks at the same time?
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About iPhone maps that atrios wrote about this morning: I have an iphone. It’s my only phone. I am rarely separated from it. When I’m in the car, I use my TomTom to navigate but when I’m in the city, I use my iPhone to figure out where the nearest metro station is and to locate restaurants and other businesses. So, when I heard that apple was replacing the google maps app with its own mapping app, I was initially optimistic that it would be as good or better.

As it turns out, it’s not. That’s too bad. I was really looking forward to the transit information being on the new app. Apple says it will be eventually as more transit systems add their data.

But just because we’ve grown used to looking stuff up on our iPhones doesn’t mean that we’re incapable of using a schedule. My grandfather was a bus driver and even he made me learn the hard way how to navigate the PAT system in Pittsburgh. You just gotta do it and figure it out as you go along.

Nevertheless, taking the transit and business information out of the app is a giant step backwards. Sure, you can still figure stuff out the hard way by sitting for an hour for the next bus when you might have just walked or called a cab or another ride. But when the information is out there and isn’t incorporated, well, it’s just a missed opportunity to get more people to take mass transit.

Somehow, I don’t think Steve would approve. The app isn’t ready for release yet and I don’t care how many times the phone bugs me, I’m not updating to the new version until I hear that apple is taking the issue seriously.