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      Right, with the ban on Huawei using chips made with American manufacturing equipment (one of America’s last few places of absolute advantage); the bans of TikTok, Tencent and WeChat; the attempt to convince other countries to not use Huawei 5G; the arrest of the Huawei founder’s daughter for doing business with Iran along with the […]
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Damn you, Swan Lake

Nutcracker season is wrapping up, on to {{ugh}} Swan Lake.

As many of you know, I am not a fan of story ballets. The music is nice and familiar, I get that. And if you’re into tutu’s, there’s no shortage in a story ballet. But I think the reason why I really don’t like them is because many of them, especially the Petipa choreographed ballets, were show pieces for specific ballerinas or male dancers who already had a gimmick. In other words, some of the story ballets come off as thinly disguised variety show acts. Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker are the worst offenders.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this if you see each dance separately. I like a good Nutcracker Waltz of the Flowers, Mirlitons and Arabians as much as the next person. But please, please, PLEASE, do not try to oversell them. Swan Lake is supposed to be a Russian classic and now I can appreciate some of the pas de deux for the hard work that they are but sometimes, it takes a ballet historian to move you past all the melodrama to the dark, erotic world of… swan women.

Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, and former principal dancer of The Royal Ballet, pulls this off brilliantly. In this documentary, Good Swan, Bad Swan, she breaks down Swan Lake from the inside out and explains what was going on in Europe’s intellectual circles when Swan Lake was created. Rojo does her best to redeem Petipa as a musical choreographer and I think her argument works in a 19th century context. But her breakdown of the black swan pas de deux will give you a new appreciation for evil swan girls. Here’s part three of the documentary, picking it up when the Prince throws his ball and Odile crashes the party at the 6 minute mark:

 

If you’re not into traditional Swan Lake, don’t despair, there are more modern versions. The Royal Danish Ballet re-envisioned Swan Lake earlier this year. This one features a fantastic set, moody blues, golden centerpieces and a very dark ending. The eroticism is revealed in all it’s triumphant glory. It’s like Swan Lake meets Rosemary’s Baby. Now, this is a Swan Lake I’d pay money to see.

Here is part 1:

And here is part 2:

 

 

Christmas Break

I’m relaxing. Do not point me to any horrific videos of violence.

Let’s talk about less weighty matters.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.29.11 AMMusic: The Third Annual “Lick My Love Pump” Award is upon us. Each year, this award goes to the catchiest single with the raunchiest lyrics. Previous winners have been Bruno Mars for Gorilla and Beyonce for Blow. I’ve been listening to Hozier and Florence and the Machine since Brook went off to seek her fortune at an institution of higher learning. So, I don’t really know who the contenders are this year. Any suggestions?

Games: I’m looking for a game that’s as beautiful as Monument Valley for my iPhone. Also, does anyone have any experience with Eurogames like Settlers of Catan? I see Eurogame groups popping up all over Pittsburgh but it usually involves hanging out at a Crazy Mocha with strangers. So, I need a gateway game in this genre that I can sink my teeth into.

Books: My newest favorite author is Kate Atkinson whose Jackson Brodie detective novels are hilarious but are also deeply human. I’m looking for more good books. Preferably historical fiction, political intrigue, light on the bodice ripping. Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series comes pretty close but can be a tad too raping and pillaging. Suggestions welcome.

What are you up to?

 

Christmas Mish Mash

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Christmas in Oakmont, PA

Mish Mash being an Algonquin word meaning a calorie laden mixture of dried fruits, cured meat strips and animal fat.

Yeah, I’m playing Balderdash. I have no idea what the etymology of Mish Mash is. But I do know that Monongahela is a Lenape word that means “the banks cave in” or “it has a loose bank”. So, all you cousins up on the hill, be careful up there.

This is just a collection of stuff, thoughts, etc.

First up: there are two things I will never put in my breakfast smoothie- Spinach and beets. These are an abomination.

Second: Joy Womack, the American ballerina who dances for Moscow’s Kremlin Ballet, is now touring China with her company. You can follow Joy’s adventures in China here. I like Joy’s tour videos. I didn’t post all of the ones she did a couple of weeks ago but they are worth watching, especially the one where she does the impression of the Russian flight attendant. Too funny. In addition to her tour videos, Joy vlogs her daily struggles in the company, getting her custom made pointe shoes into a country that has been sanctioned, what happens when one of her partners goes on a binge, learning Swan Lake with her other partner Misha Martinyuk and general ups and downs of being on one day and off the next through no fault of her own.  She supports herself in Russia (because dancers all over the world get paid crap) by selling the Prima Bar. They’re little snack bars for people on the go who have to maintain an optimal weight.

Third: I found this reponse from Adrian Marshall on Quora under the question “Do some movie villains have a point?” It’s about Darth Vader’s motivations. I have to say I am convinced now. The prequels might have sucked been suboptimal but I think this summary shows what George Lucas was trying to do. In other words, the Jedi and the Republic are not entirely innocent. For instance, what do Qui Gon and Obi Wan Kenobi do when they meet Anakin Skywalker?

Let’s see, he was born a slave to a single mother on the desert planet Tatooine.  One day, as for[ce]tune would have it, two Jedi land on his planet.  And not because they abhor slavery or possess some sense of righteousness, but because they think he fulfills THEIR prophecy, they seek to free him.  What do they do with his mother? Well, they left her in a state of forced servitude.

They take him in despite trepidation by the Jedi Council, letting the boy know that he was unwanted from the start.  They forbade him to see his mom and gave him mixed messages of no attachments, but total loyalty to the order.  They feared that he missed and worried about his mother too much.  So what did they do?  Did, at any point in the 10 years between PM and AOC, anyone go and purchase her freedom to I don’t know, set the boy’s mind at ease?  Nope, they left her on a desolate, crime-ridden world, as an effin’ slave!

Sometimes, I get the feeling that the American political parties are playing out this plot…

Lastly, a couple of Jews, one of which is a biblical scholar, tell us all about Christmas. By the way, GoT Academy has some of the best, insightful analysis of the historical background for the Game of Thrones and related topics that you’re going to find on YouTube. Plus, they are irreverent, funny, and BOLD. Check them out.

So, there you go. Christmas *is* pagan.

Origin (From the Oxford English Dictionary)

Late Middle English: from Latin paganus ‘villager, rustic’, from pagus ‘country district’. Latin paganus also meant ‘civilian’, becoming, in Christian Latin, ‘heathen’ (i.e., one not enrolled in the army of Christ).

It sounds so innocuous when you put it that way.

It all started with the Winter Solstice, which, IMHO, is the only reason to celebrate the season. And people who are protesting too loudly that there’s a war on Christmas (which they stole from the pagans anyway) or abstaining from in order to make a religious point that is lost on the rest of us, are missing out on the light, smells, sounds, tastes and other sensory pleasures of the season. The first humans to recognize this time of year were celebrating nature. A natural god is totally cool with saying Happy Solstice.

By the way, jumping on the War on Christmas bandwagon because you think it makes you cool can not mask a mean spirited, Grinchy heart. Just sayin’. Some of us can see right through that to the cold hearted, manipulative narcissist inside.

Chill out, O’Reilly.

Happy Solstice

 

“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”

-JRR Tolkien

 

Sunday Morning Rude Awakening

reyRey. Last name Solo or Skywalker? (I’m leaning towards Solo)

Hey, do you remember when Tweety said that the only reason why Hillary Clinton got into the senate was because people felt sorry for her? Ah la-la-la! Those were the days. I remember watching one of her senate debates when my news channels came from NY and she always deftly creamed her opponents. In 2007, she hesitated about telling other candidates that they had just repeated exactly what she just said. Not anymore. She called Bernie out last night after he repeated less eloquently her plan for stabilizing the middle east.

She has learned well. We won’t say the Force is with her yet, mostly because she’s leaning too heavily on those data models. I don’t know anyone who wants to work for themselves and my personal experience with profit sharing is that it sucks and is no substitute for a living wage or income stability.

Oh, and the best way to fix the ACA? Price controls. JMHO. I know, nobody wants to talk about it but it’s the crucial piece that is missing from the US healthcare system that every other successful system in the world thinks is a no-brainer.

Which means we have no brains.

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about Political GabFest, Slate’s political podcast. I checked it out last night because I wanted to find something boring to listen to so I could fall asleep. Turns out it’s better than I thought and I spent the night paying attention.

The hosts are John Dickerson, David Plotz and Emily Bazelon. Emily Bazelon breaks down the Supreme Court’s upcoming cases. There’s a lot of tension between the hosts. They seem fairly well informed and not too dogmatic, except I didn’t really understand Emily’s take on renaming the Woodrow Wilson School in Princeton. She’s missing the point of Princeton, which is about as traditional as you can get. I’m not saying it’s good. But it is where we get our titans of Wall Street and they have legacies, and eating clubs. Woodrow Wilson’s recent fall from grace could mean that the school gets renamed the Goldman-Sachs School. Be careful what you wish for, Em.

In general, Political GabFest gets a thumbs up. And I don’t even read Slate all that often. Binge listening gave me insight into how gobsmacked these three are by the two decade culmination of events. If you’ve been an outsider for the last 4 election cycles, well, you already know how bad things are. But if you’ve been hobnobbing with the in-crowd, even if you’re technically a lefty, the turn that Americans have made towards indiscriminate hatred and cruelty can come as a bit of a surprise.

I had my first “No shit Sherlock” moment when they started to talk about how Trump’s popularity seems to be resilient the more crazy his talk is. (see this week’s The Chaos Candidate and Is he Mussolini or Hitler?) Are they starting to sense a Dark Triad forming? That’s where three personality disorders, antisocial, narcissistic and Machiavellian come together. Can we compare Donald Trump’s rise to Mussolini or Hitler without violating Godwin’s law? I’m afraid we must. I’m going with Mussolini. We don’t see the cruelty yet.

But they’re shocked that things have gone this far without any brake on his outrageous talk. In fact, the more outrageous he is, the more support he seems to be getting. That’s starting to alarm them and they think it might be due to the amount of reinforcement he is getting from the right wing media. It says lies and repeats those lies over and over again and they start to stick. And that’s really scary. Shouldn’t someone do something??

It’s almost like the journalism world is finally waking up to the way things really are. Like they’re finally understanding Jon Stewart’s plea on CrossFire to stop because it’s hurting America. It’s all fun and games to bash liberals, treat politics as a horse race, do the “earth is round?, opinions differ” stories until the truth is no longer recognizable and people honestly can not tell how far they have strayed from where we were 20 years ago.

Will it stop them from mechanically whaling on Hillary Clinton because everyone else is doing it? I don’t know but Emily B. did actually start to see Clinton as having “warm” and “human” qualities when Hillary was testifying before Congress regarding Benghazi.

She was surprised at this?

Oh, that’s right. For the past 22 years, we’ve had to put up with the Sally Quinn’s and Tweety’s painting this image of Hillary Clinton as being a cold, calculating, unpleasant, humorless opportunist. Turns out that when you actually start to pay attention, because she is one of the few candidates this campaign whose qualifications and experience have to be taken seriously, then you start to realize that maybe, just maybe, you’ve been lied to. But it is a universal truth that every Mean Girl Queen Bee knows that if you keep repeating lies and distortions, deliberately mischaracterize a person’s intentions and actions, and mock them relentlessly, the target’s actual behavior, while being perfectly normal, can almost be seen to be completely at odds with what you’ve been told. You’ve got to re-evaluate. Maybe you’ve been wrong.

Maybe the right has too much influence and can scare monger indiscriminately. Maybe they’ve taken things too far.

In the world of high control groups, we call this “waking up”. Now, if we could only get some of the other journalists to do this, acknowledge that they’ve been the unwitting flying monkeys of some people with dark intentions, and reverse course as quickly as possible. There’s more at stake than Hillary’s presidency.

Trump is a bad moon on the rise.

Democratic Poo Flinging Debate?

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Reaction to an unexpected opportunity

Oh, we got trouble. We’ve got The Donald flirting with his dark side and scaring Americans to death over Muslims. And by the way, did Ted Cruz really say that only Christian refugees from the middle east should be let into the country? How is he going to know whether they’re really Christian? Do they have to bring baptismal certificates with them? Yeah, I can see that being the first thing to grab when you’re leaving your house in a war zone. “Honey, where did we put those baptism pictures from last year’s evangelical revival tent show in Homs?”

Wait! What about agnostics or atheists? Are they allowed into the country as long as they’re not Muslim? You gotta ask these questions because from what I can recall, nobody is hated more than an atheist. Or how about panentheists? What kind of religious test are we going for here? What if you just don’t believe the Bible is an inspired godly text that needs to be followed, um, religiously?

I only ask.

But let’s get real. This debate is going to be about whether Hillary and Bernie can talk the nation off a ledge or whether they’re going to snap at each other over some stupid data model that presumes that we can all be broken down into our socio economic group and grocery store buying habits?

Bring it on.

Live blog the atrocities here.

Note that the debate is on ABC tonight. ABC isn’t streaming in Pittsburgh and I’m not dragging my butt down to my chilly basement family room to watch it on the big screen. But you can stream the audio on TuneIn radio. Go to the WSB station.

Party Games

f778d10c334de6fa_shutterstock_34187182-previewI don’t know what all the fighting is about in the Democratic party over Bernie Sanders’ campaign’s supposed unauthorized access to voter/donor information but I do know that rigging the game for one candidate or another is something the DNC has done before.

That is not to say that any candidate had anything to do with it. In fact, I would be inclined to believe that this is something the DNC may have done all on its own, depending on how much money it has or has not received on behalf on any one candidate from outside sources whether that money was solicited or unsolicited or how much attention it feels it needs to generate this week.

Who knows?

I really have no way of knowing. I mean, it was much clearer what was happening in 2008 when those of us without eyes full of smoke could see what the party was doing. But now, I honestly don’t know what it’s up to. It sure didn’t love Hillary Clinton in 2008 and was willing to do just about anything to keep her from being nominated, voters be damned. If I recall correctly, one of Hillary’s campaign staff defected to Obama’s campaign with voter/donor information and the response from the party was {{crickets}}.

Gosh, I hope the money was good for whateverhernamewas.

This quote from a Vox post on the topic is, well, read it yourself:

It’s not much of a secret inside the Democratic Party that the DNC has favored Hillary Clinton’s interests throughout the primary. Martin O’Malley, for instance, has criticized the organization harshly. “This is totally unprecedented in our party’s history,” he said, referring to the thin debate schedule, where most of the debates occur before the Iowa caucuses, and some were scheduled, unusually, for Saturdays. “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before.”

I know, right? Too funny. “Totally unprecedented!”  “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before”

O’Malley is shocked, SHOCKED, that the DNC would pulls strings for one candidate over another.

The possible tragedy of this is that Hillary shouldn’t need their “help”. She’s far and away the most reassuringly qualified candidate we have on either side. If I were her, I’d run away from this meme asap.

All I know is the voters are increasingly cut out of decisions about, oh, I don’t know, who they want their representatives to be. You know, simple stuff like that.

That being said, I have no reason to believe that Hillary’s campaign had anything to do with this and it was not in her interest to let any bad feelings fester or have any accusations linger out there that the NY Times could jump on. So, to the extent that the datagate has been resolved, I say, great. Can we please get Debbie Wasserman-Shultz to pay attention to the actual issues?

Probably not but we can hope.

On the other hand, it will probably be topic numero uno at the debate tonight instead of how the Republican candidates are pushing voters’ “thoughts of mortality” buttons to get them to vote for the biggest, baddest, ballsiest candidate who will take the fight to the Muslims.

Wasn’t it The Donald who said “the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Actually, it wasn’t Trump although it sounds like something he would say, with a “you know what I’m saying?” thrown in at the end.

It was Herman Goehring. But it could have been Trump. Or one of the other charismatically and intellectually challenged challengers on the Republican ticket.

Yep, it has worked so well before.

 

 

Martin Shkreli is low hanging fruit

frances-mcdormand-marge-olmstead-gunderson-fargoSo, Martin Shkreli has been arrested, but not for being the biggest parasite on sick people “all for a little bit of money”.  It was for sucking a startup dry in order to cover up his hedge fund losses.

There’s a reason why I’m not in pharma anymore. My options were limited and one of them was to go into a startup where the nature of the work is the same, the overhead is very high, the money is super tight and there is always the possibility that the vulture capitalists will treat the company as an object and not composed of real people. With real lives. And real careers. And real children.

But Martin Shkreli’s “Mine, Mine, All Mine!” business model is not unique. Before I explain what currently drives the drug industry, let me make two things clear: 1.) it wasn’t always like this and 2.) the lab rats are not to blame.

Basically, the drug industry has moved away from small molecule drug discovery. The industry is moving towards biological drugs for cancer and orphan diseases. There are a couple of reasons for this. They are easier to get through the drug approval process. If there are major side effects, the patients are the last people in the world to sue or complain. And the patients are desperate. They will pay whatever it takes.

Now, I’m all for biologicals for many good reasons. They have a good chance of working in the case of cancers and metabolic diseases. But while  all of the capital has flowed to these types of therapies, the stuff that most people suffer with on a day to day basis have gone without funding, and the people who used to work on those therapies have been out of a job.

So, if you have high blood pressure, schizophrenia or need an antibiotic, you are SOL.

The thing about Martin is that he’s just the most visible and egregious example of greed. And I’m not letting the left off the hook for this disaster. If it hadn’t been for the notorious class action lawsuits (please, don’t even start, you know what I’m talking about. We’re not talking criminal negligence here) we might not have ended up here.

I’ve written about what I think is going to happen to the cost of drugs before and one of these days, I’m going to properly tag and categorize my previous posts on the subject. But let me recap it here. Drug prices of all types are going to continue to rise. The new biological drugs are going to start off being astronomically expensive. The cost of generics are going to go up and up and up. Here’s why: brand name drugs and blockbusters are going off patent rapidly. Ohhh, you say, that means the generics that they turn into will be cheaper. Ha! Say I, you forgot your basic economics 101 course section on supply and demand.

The supply of new drugs with fewer side effects is going to go down. New small molecule drugs get approved rarely and the patent time left for them is short. So to recoup the cost of research, which is substantial, the cost of the drug will be high. Meanwhile, the brand names that have become generics are going to become the play things of people who are much more sophisticated and low profile than Martin Shkreli. The drugs still need to be made in FDA inspected and regulated facilities. That costs money. That money can’t be recouped from a cheap generic. And without blockbusters to keep the lights on, the cost of the generics will need to increase.

I’m just picturing a series of rolling blackouts on some of these drugs in the future. You need a blood pressure med? Darn, that production facility needed to be taken offline for maintenance. It might not be maintenance but there will be some excuse for why there is a shortage and the price needs to go up. And up. And up. They’ll start blaming it on regulation. Hey! A Twofer. If the shortage of your blood pressure med is caused by the federales, why not make it easier to get that drug made in China? It’s generic, after all. You’ll never know the difference. And besides, what would you prefer? Some outdated federal regulatory process on a brand name drug that has gone generic or a stroke?

I don’t know about you, but I want my drugs regulated.

This is the financialization of the pharma industry. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have been concerned about hedge funds getting involved in pharma to the same degree that they have. That was before the MBA’s moved in ad decided that R&D staff had it too easy, they weren’t working hard enough and luxuriated in spacious labs instead of cramped cube farms like the accountants and marketing people in the business unit down the road. (yes, I have actually heard this childish and clueless complaint from the MBAs) It should be against the law for petty selfish people to run an industry as important as the drug industry. But you can be sure that the big players are glad for Martin Shkreli to take one for the team so they can get back to business in peace and quiet.

They don’t need the attention.

Well, until the bacterial apocalypse arrives

Republican “Muslim Under the Bed” Debate

monster_under_bedCNN says the kid’s table debate for the Republicans is going on now. I’m not terribly interested. The main event starts at 8:30pm. Why the Republicans need so many debates in order to not talk real policy is beyond me. Ok, not really. They’re going  to be on the tube as much as possible from now until Nov 2016 because the media wants us to hear them constantly, even if we are not supposed to take them seriously.

Well, *most* of us will not take them seriously.

Oh, look! France rejected it’s right wing nationalist party after a terrorist attack! Gee, if only we could reject guys like that in our own country…. {{sigh}}  A girl can dream.

Anyway, I think we can all expect both debates to feature all kinds of scary scenarios featuring Muslims. So, I am proposing my own scenario for this one called, The Muslim under the Bed. What would your favorite candidate do? Here’s how it goes:

It’s 2am and you wake up with an urgent need to pee. Suddenly, you hear a scuffling noise from under the bed. You are sure there is a Muslim under there with a long knife waiting to cut your head off. What do you do?

A.) You go for it. You jump out of bed and run to the door, fling it open, run to the bathroom, slam the door shut loudly and lock the door behind you hoping you reach the loo before Ahmed does.

B.) You decide to hold it. You breathe very softly so that you fool the Muslim into thinking you are still asleep. It’s only a few hours to sunrise and when the sun comes up, the Muslim will disappear.

C.) Very carefully you slide your hand under your pillow for your AK-47, do a quick maneuver you have been practicing for just this eventuality, aim your gun under the bed and shoot the cat.

Commence the collective trembling and live blog here.

 

Seasonal Madness

749bbb18bed0542466f3da4ce4c8a8bbI don’t know about you but I have a lot on my plate right now.

I’m speed learning a whole new field and my new company encourages us to take our computers home with us just in case we need to catch up on stuff. To that end, I worked on setting up a dedicated home office in a spare bedroom. It’s necessary if I’m going to be doing as much work from home as I anticipate. I have stuff left over from 4 years of income instability that has piled up that needs somewhat immediate attention. There is a collaboration that needs attention as well. Plus, some recent unfortunate events in my family have kept me very busy on top of all of that. Don’t have a Christmas tree yet and haven’t done any shopping. Today, I had put aside for buying a much needed pair of boots. Nah-gah-happen. Will get the tree though even if it kills me.

So, how has your holiday season gone so far?

{{sigh}}

In the meantime, if you want the technical and scientific background to the climate agreements hammered out in Paris from real scientists who can write, check out The Conversation, the US pilot edition.

And here’s a blast from the past and particularly relevant this week, to me at least. It’s the story about the Sparrow in the Mead Hall:

The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) tells the story of King Edwin of Northumberland who wanted to marry a Christian princess. She said she would accept Edwin’s offer if he agreed to hear the Gospel from Paulinus, a Christian missionary. Edwin was willing to hear the preaching but he called together a meeting of his council of elders, which included his pagan high priest, Coifi. Paulinus presented the gospel to him, and one of the chief advisors replied with this observation:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through the mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.”

Oh, that clever Bede. Paulinus was the one who brought the gospel but it was Edwin’s heathen advisor’s words that we remember from this story. There are a couple addendem I wanted to add to this story. The first is that King Edwin did not immediately convert to Christianity. He took his time and thought about it. It took him several years after he heard the pitch before he bought it.

The second is that Edwin’s advisor presented his argument as a conditional. “*If* this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right we should follow it.”

Some of us yearn for certainty. We want to know for sure what comes next. And that is comforting to us.

Some of us are not convinced that there is anything we can be certain about when it comes to what follows our flight through the mead hall but we are not afraid.

As Tolkien says, “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”