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    • Sanders and Trump win in New Hampshire
      No surprise, the polls were leaning strongly to both of them. Things get interesting from here for Sanders, but Trump will be moving to strength. New Hampshire is prosperous and has done well since the financial crisis, that’s not true in most of the upcoming states. (I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write […]
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Democratic Poo Flinging Debate?


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?


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.”

America’s 15 year old Festival of Dangerous Ideas

I’ve been watching the Festival of Dangerous Ideas from Sydney, Australia for 2015. This is the place where you can say controversial stuff and you don’t have to put up with Fox soaked friends and relatives with that glazed look in their eyes who talk word salad to the point where you give up and go away. Longer and less self-helpy than a TED talk, these presentations include followup questions and panel discussions. I’ll link to Peter Doherty’s talk on the war on science below.

But it got me thinking in the last couple of days about all the really dangerous ideas we been subjected to in the US since the Bushies took office, got us into a destabilizing land war in Asia, and gave us a semi-police state that, unusually, includes almost complete and unfettered access to guns.

How stupid are we? Maybe we should call ours the Festival of Incredibly Stupid Dangerous Ideas.

Let’s think about this for a second. We have been indoctrinated for 14 years that the terrorists are going to get us. OoooOOOOoooooo! Be afraid, be very afraid! And, yep, it’s not surprising that malefactors of evil would turn to soft targets. Our domestic terrorists have been doing that for years.

But when we put no restraints on getting a gun, that means the foreign born or radicalized American with a foreign born batshit crazy religious fundamentalist wife can get them too. Did our homegrown terrified fundamentalist not think about this possibility? It goes like this:

“If I, a regular white anglo-saxon protestant, can walk into a gun store and buy as much ammo and ammo propellant devices as I want, then some Al Qaeda or IS terrorist guy can do it as well. Hmmm, maybe someone should do something about that because it doesn’t seem very safe, considering my favorite news channels are telling me about how all IS wants to do is behead me and shit.”

I was under the impression all this time that our misnamed Patriot Act would have some built in protections to prevent this from happening. But for some stupid reason, it is easier for two IS converts to assemble an arsenal in their own home than for a traveller to bring a full 8 oz bottle of contact lens solution onto a plane.

There is something deeply wrong with that picture and I, personally, feel lied to for the last 14 years. I was told over and over and OVER again that no precautions would be spared, that it was necessary to suspend my right to Habeas Corpus, that all my emails are belong to them, and I didn’t like it but I was forced to go along with it because millions of my fellow citizens were terrorized by our political leaders and told us we were unAmerican if we didn’t just so they could stop trembling in fear every night.

Meanwhile, we didn’t even bother to make sure that guns didn’t fall into the wrong hands. I imagine that if someone had done a background check on Farook and Malik’s passports and asked them to explain what they needed thousands of rounds of ammunition for, or at least kept a national database that kept track of thousands of rounds of ammunition bought by these two, 14 people might be looking forward to Christmas right now.

You know what’s going to happen though, right? The right wing noise machine will wind itself up with some ridiculous argument as to why we shouldn’t take sensible measures to cut back on guns and ammunition sales. And why shouldn’t it continue to do that? The oil industry guys that talked the Bushies into going into Iraq don’t care what happens to the rest of us as long as we’re still consuming oil, getting in a high dudgeon about mass transit and solar energy, and ignoring the absolutely crazy idea that there are almost no limits to anyone making himself into a one or two person avenging army of a violent, capricious and callous god, whether that god is Muslim or Christian.

By the way, I’ll insert my own dangerous idea here in that fighting religious fundamentalism with a different religious fundamentalism doesn’t work. The antidote to religious fundamentalism is enlightenment and calm, assertive energy, ala the Dog Whisperer, applied on a global scale. Also, swift and appropriate corrective action does not mean we need to engage in an all out war. Neither the right nor the left is doing itself any favors by perpetuating the idea that there are only “hawks” or “doves”.

I’ll stop there at the dangerous ideas for today, although we really should revisit why so many Americans thought the dangerous idea of going into Iraq was so great and why so many American lefties thought that taking away the only stabilizing force in the region was nifty.


Here’s Australian Peter Doherty, Nobel prize winner in Medicine for the elucidation of the immune system. I think I might have read some of his papers back in the early 90s.Yep, he was the dude who figured out the Major Histocompatibility Complex, self and non-self. There were a lot of structural biology papers related to this area of research back then. (You can take the scientist out of the science but you can’t take the science out of the scientist apparently. I still love this stuff.) Also, Doherty says read The Conversation for science related news articles that have been rigorously written by, um, scientists. In this Dangerous Ideas presentation, he talks about knowledge wars and the political and quasi religious attacks on science and reasoning when addressing energy use, nuclear energy, genetically modified plants and animals, and vaccinations. Enjoy!




More Joy

Joy’s adventures in (M)other Russia continues with a troupe of ballet dancers on a bus. In this episode, they travel through Chechnya, Ossetia, Inigushetia and other unpronounceable places on their way to Sochi.

This is the way to do it if you’re young, not rich and have loads of talent. Hit the road and have fun.


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