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Sign of the Times: Missing US user group meetings

Yesterday, I noticed that the application vendors of modeling programs that I use aren’t having as many user group meetings (UGM) in the US as they have in the previous two decades.  One of them is suspending its US UGM for 2013.  One other seems to have decided to display at ACS (American Chemical Society) conferences around the country, and a third says it is trimming back on the ACS meetings displays for a UGM in Montreal.

However, almost all of them are continuing to have UGMs in Europe, the Netherlands and Switzerland, specifically.  The Netherlands seems to be a convenient location for a couple UGMs.  It would be easy train rides for French and German scientists, and a channel crossing for the Brits.

Other than that, as business dries up in the US, there are fewer reasons to spend a lot of money on hotel conference facilities.  Not only are they not profitable for the vendors, fewer scientists can get the money to go.  So, that means that you’re going to have to be a senior level person, who probably hasn’t docked a protein in 10 years, to attend a  European UGM.  I predict lots of schmoozing, networking and license negotiations over wine and pate.  The rest of you, get back to work and just forget about talking to your peers.

Oh, and Astra-Zeneca laid off last week and decided to close a couple more American sites.  Couple that with the effects of the sequestration on grant approvals that I have heard about, and we have the makings for a disaster in the scientific infrastructure for generations to come.

Lovely.

I found my missing dough hook!

It’s been conspicuously absent for about 10 years.  But now it is found and I am stuck with this old Kitchen Aid mixer that was not going to make the cut to the new home.

Now, I can make bread anytime I want.

yay

Nothing new under the sun

From Bring Up The Bodies, the second book about the life of Thomas Cromwell by author Hillary Mantel:

“In March [1536], Parliament knocks back his [Thomas Cromwell’s] new poor law.  It was too much for the Commons to digest that rich men might have some duty to the poor. If you get fat, as some men do who profit from the wool trade, you have some responsibility to the men turned off their land, the laborers without labor, the sowers without a field. England needs roads, forts, harbors, bridges.  Men need work.  It’s a shame seeing them begging their bread, when honest labor could keep the realm secure.  Can we not put them together, the hands and the tasks?

But Parliament cannot see how it is the State’s job to create work.  Are not these matters in God’s hands, and is not poverty and dereliction part of his eternal order?  To everything there is a season- a time to starve and a time to thieve.  If rain falls six months solid and rots the grain in the fields, there must be Providence in it.  God knows his trade. It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising to suggest that they should pay an income tax only to put bread in the mouths of the work shy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality, well, are there not hangmen enough?

The King himself comes to the Commons to argue for the law.  He wants to be Henry the Beloved, a father to his people, a shepherd to his flock. But the Commons sit stoney faced on their benches and stare him out. The wreckage of the measure is comprehensive. “It is ended up as an Act for the Whipping of Beggars”, Richard Rich says.  “It is more against the poor than for them.”

And with the newest proposal by Republican Representative Steve Pearce to test the pee of the unemployed for illegal drugs, the whipping of beggars never goes out of style.

Paul Krugman argues that there is some kind of psychological need to impose austerity, a moral imperative of sorts.  More likely, the wealthy have found a convenient way to convince politicians to project the blame for spilling the milk onto the table itself.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  This is the way of the powerful.  They do not want to worry about the lives of others.  That’s what makes power so appealing.  So, knowing that, our problem is not how we convince the powerful to think beneficently and empathetically towards other people.  Power makes them immune from such supplications.  Our problem is to convince ordinary people that there is power in sheer numbers.  The media has been very good at promoting learned helplessness.  That’s where they excel.  What we need is a movement that counteracts that message.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Domum Habemus

IMG_1822We have a house!  I closed on it yesterday. I am now technically a resident of Pennsylvania.  Still gotta move there but we’re getting closer.  The house needs some TLC before we can move in so I have a list of contractors and bids to go through today.  Lots of scheduling to do and I have yet to find a roofer.  If anyone in the Pittsburgh area has a recommendation, list it in the comments.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a house that I own free and clear without a mortgage.  Whew!  And according to the deed, I own quite a sizeable chunk of mowable yard.  It looks like I own a lot and a half, which is still a modest size but there’s a large sunny patch of ground with plenty of space for several raised beds.

cool

Stuff

Real Life is hectic lately.  I’m doing some real estate type things and there are some other things that have come up.  Will fill you in one of these days.  It’s been interesting in a Chinese proverb kind of way.

In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on current events.

Re: Pope Francis- Meet the new hardass, same as the old hardass.  Really, what else did we expect?  The old pope is still hanging around and probably made a big stink about picking his successor.  Nothing was going to change.  So, he’s from Argentina.  So, he probably knows how to tango.  BFD.  Given that it’s a 2000 year old institution run by a bunch of guys, this choice is no real surprise.

I only wish I could write these people off as irrelevant bunch of medievalists as they are.  Funny how the men of the world don’t have to pay any attention to who the new pope is.  It’s only the women.  Hmmmm…  It looks like Freedom of Religion doesn’t apply to everyone in this country.

Re: Paul Ryan and the Republicans.  They’re all cracked.

Re: More rail service.  I’m for it.  I’ve been a fan of public transit, and trains in particular, since my first trip to Europe in the early 90s and wrote about my experiences with the French train system when I was back on DailyKos.  In fact, my question to Hillary Clinton in 2007 in Chicago at the second YearlyKos was specifically about trains and other infrastructure.  I’m glad to see Atrios, Krugman and Lambert weighing in on trains lately.  Can we get a posse on broadband?  That was one of Hillary’s main focuses when she answered my question- bringing American broadband into the 21st century.  What a wasted opportunity.  {{sigh}}

Re: Kim Kardashian.  I don’t get it.

 

 

Let’s call the VSPs!

Atrios says that if the Grand Bargain comes we should get on the horn and call our reps, senators and White House.  But why stop there?

If the people who really count are the Very Serious People like David Gregory, Thomas Friedman and David Gergen, then shouldn’t they find out just how much the Average American doesn’t want cuts to their pre-paid social insurance benefits?

These VSPs don’t mingle with the rest of us but maybe it’s time they found out how many of us there are and that we’re not putting up with any bullshit.  We worked for our social insurance benefits, we paid through the nose for them and we’re demanding every penny back, with no cuts.  In fact, we’ve put up with a lot in our working lives including crazy hours, expensive daycare and reduced pensions, if we’re lucky.  I think we deserve a raise.  Raise the Social Security benefit so we can retire with the same lifestyle as our parents.

The last thing we need is a bunch of patrician thumbsuckers telling us to make more sacrifices so they don’t have to pay more in taxes. I don’t know who these VSPs think they are but I’m sick of their shit.

They ought to know that there is life beyond the Beltway cocktail circuit and we are not amused.

Breitbart goes after Krugman. Yessss!

Breitbart, or whoever is running the show over there since the founder let his ire get the best of him, is claiming that Paul Krugman has filed for personal bankruptcy in the past.

OooooOOOooooo, the geeky professor with sharp wit is starting to get under the skin on the right.  He might even be making sense.  Is it possible that his message is getting through to the average American? And he’s so fricking persistent.  Well, we can’t have that.  Must. Smear. Relentlessly.

Excellent.  He’s making progress.

Bwahahahahahhhhh!!!

Go outside!

It’s nice out there.

I’m voting for “they don’t know what they’re doing”

In case I wasn’t clear yesterday on why Obama is not a people person, allow me to explain by giving an example of how things have worked in the pharmaceutical industry when it comes to picking corporate CEOs.

Jeffrey Kindler was a Harvard educated lawyer who ran McDonald’s partner brands (Boston Market? Chipotle Grill?) before someone recruited him to be a chief council at Pfizer.  He worked his way up to CEO and continued the rampage of buying and merging that his predecessor started.  By 2010, the bloated behemoth that was Pfizer, and all that it had swallowed, had lost 35% of its stock value.  All of my former colleagues at Wyeth were laid off in one fell swoop in 2009 and only a handful were hired back.  That was 19,000 people at Wyeth alone.  It was brutal and indiscriminate.  There were dedicated and excellent scientists who lost their careers in the middle of the Great Recession.  They did nothing wrong.  They were simply in the wrong place when a former McDonald’s executive decided to perform a little exploitative profit mining by absorbing the Wyeth pipeline, but, ehhhh, not all the research people who, you know, did all the work.

The pharmaceutical industry is full of stories like that.  There are many executives who know next to nothing about the industry they are managing. Their minions have the idea that the research staff are like day laborers whose jobs can be broken down into a series of burger flipping tasks, taking all of the curiosity and spontaneity out of the experimental process in order to save money.  It’s short sighted, destructive and shows a profound lack of understanding of the scientific method. But that’s not why the big executives were recruited.  They were recruited to make the shareholders money and right now, monetary incentives are not in the area of investing in science and research, which can be expensive and unpredictable.  Incentives run towards “get rich quick” schemes and extraction of value.

The damage has been done to many pharmas but the extraction will continue to the point of no return because the executives who are running these businesses don’t really understand the nature of the companies they run.  But that’s not why they were hired.  If they were hired to run research organizations, it wouldn’t be done this way. And the people that are hired to be executives are really not that much different than the people who run Wall Street.  They have an academic pedigree. These people are snobs.  It’s like an aristocracy.  There’s a level of ass-kissing but probably not as much as you think.  It’s more cutthroat than that.  More dog-eat-dog.  It’s a lot less glad handing than back room deals and “strike first” maneuvers.  What’s missing in all of the power grabbing is good management.

This is the world that Barack Obama comes from or could fit into easily.  He’s got the right pedigree, the right degree of ruthlessness and he’s more interested in “winning” by striking the right deal than driven by well-crafted policy.  The fact that he was African American was just icing on the cake to his recruiter.  It made for good theater and it gave them a hefty cudgel of racism to bash anyone who dared to criticize him.

This is not a world that values good management.  Day to day management and good stewardship gets in the way of the power game and winning.  Just look at the way Obama’s administration is planning to roll out the PR offensive for 2014.  It’s going to be about issues the administration’s brain trusts think will distract the Republicans.  It’s not about jobs or the economy.  It’s going to be about gun control.  Granted, gun control is important but it’s not going to put food on the table or fix what ails the economy.  And it could be a giant miscalculation.  But mostly, it’s game playing that is disconnected from the boring tasks associated with serving the people and governing well.

This is what the MBA/bonus/corporate lawyer class has been up to.  Given the disaster that the pharmaceutical industry is in, with layoffs a constant feature, a permanently underemployed research sector, perpetual restructuring and concentration of projects in cancer and orphan drugs to the exclusion of almost everything else, I’d have to say that they don’t know what they are doing.    These are not very imaginative people.  They’re not creative.  They follow trends and do what all their friends do just like brainless lemmings and I don’t mean to offend lemmings. Once they get it into their heads to extract a wealth, they have to come up with an excuse for doing it.  Then they decorate that excuse with biz speak and hypnotic memes so that before long, everyone is repeating the same damn things without any clue what it all means.

They can’t be trusted with their own checkbooks much less running big organizations or branches of government.  And in this environment, where crafting deals behind closed doors is where the real work takes place, glad handling and cultivating political relationships is a tedious, boring process done for show.  Pretty soon, we won’t need politicians at all.

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

I found this while I was searching for more Tony Robinson’s documentaries on youtube.  This sums up 5 years of anger and frustration.  I couldn’t have said it better myself:

Obama not a people person

Digby speculates on whether Washington establishment types are just being peevish or whether Obama really doesn’t think he personally needs to interact with politicians.

There is a third possibility.  He was hired for his looks.  Yep.  He’s got the right credentials for his employers.  The right academic pedigree, the right insane ambition, the lack of any partisanship whatsoever.  But the fact that he was an attractive African American candidate made him seem unbeatable to the scouts. He didn’t need to be a gifted politician.  In the political skills department, he has about as much as George W. Bush has. He just needed some clever speechwriter to craft some aspirational shit that liberals would eat up about being a transcendent figure who would unite the country.

It doesn’t really matter what he does now that he’s in office.  He’s just a figurehead.  His employers bought off the right people and they’re the ones who are actually running the show.  He doesn’t have to be nice to people or shake hands and it’s not really important that he crafts policy or anything like that.

Obama could decide to take the rest of the term off and the executive branch would continue to function just fine.  The policies that are going to be implemented could happen whether or not he shows up or takes the day off and golfs with Tiger Woods.  His meteoric rise to instant stardom didn’t require him to assemble a coalition of political friends and assets nor did it require him to do any heavy lifting in the policy department.  He was protected zealously in the campaign arena and the only person to challenge him was Hillary Clinton.  After that, he decided to run against Sarah Palin.  Piece of cake.

So, if he’s not a people person, does it matter?

I thought the Bush years were long but with as much damage as the last 5 years have inflicted on me personally, the Obama years just seem interminable.