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    • The Problem With Neoliberal “It’s Never Been Better” Triumphalism
      Saying that humanity is currently the best off it has ever been (a dubious proposition in any case) is like saying “I’ve never been warmer” as you burn down your house. People like Pinker have been trotting out stats to claim that we’ve never been better off. Those stats are questionable, based on a definition […]
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They came for the chemists, but I said nothing

because I was not a chemist.  And why would I want to stick up for pharma chemists anyway?

Right?

We came behind the steelworkers, computer programmers and factory workers.  How many of us said anything?

This evening, I ran into a former colleague of mine in the grocery store.  She’s a chemist and one of the lucky few who has a job in Massachusetts.  She’s also Chinese but has been here for a long time.  Even though she has a job, she knows it could be temporary.  The lab she is moving to is much smaller and dingier than the one she is leaving.  She says she feels like a grad student again.

She told me that Astra-Zeneca just closed a new lab facility.  Beautiful new labs, closed, and everyone laid off.  The CEO is walking away with $65,000,000.  She’s beyond disgusted.  But there was something even worse on the horizon.  She says that the industry is adopting the work habits of the Chinese.  In China, employees live away from their kids.  The grandparents look after them.  They might live halfway across the country.  It is expected.  In fact, there are a lot of things that the Chinese put up with that Americans are now going to have to put up with.

This is the way it is.  We’re going to have the lifestyle of the Chinese with none of the benefits.

And when I say we, I mean YOU too.  We are the high tech, educated, cutting edge life scientists and this is the way the new business model is going to treat us.  You’re next.

If you don’t say anything, they win.

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The Elephant’s Child

we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension

The day after the SOTU address, after the President of the United States pretty much told American scientists that we were not up to Chinese standards, it snowed in New Jersey.  I looked out the window at the snow falling thick and fast and gauged my chances of getting to work with my malfunctioning power steering.  Nah gah happen.  Sigh.  I hooked up my work computer, logged in with my SecureID, and checked my email…

And there, under five or six other messages, was an invitation from the local head honcho to meet him in the cafeteria at 10am.  Uh-oh.  That’s not good.  I stared at it.  WTF?  I clicked it again.  Reread the message.  It was unmistakeable but I didn’t want to believe it.  My supervisor was on vacation.  My director was unreachable.  Nobody in my department available.  In desperation, I called my previous supervisor.

“What?? You got the message to meet in the cafeteria?  It’s not good.  I’m sorry, it’s not a good sign.”

My blood froze.  I am the only employed person in my family with health insurance and steady income for Brooke.  I couldn’t think. So, I did the next logical thing.

I called Katiebird.  I asked her to stay with me until I knew what was going on. I  tried desperately to find someone in my department who was asked to the same meeting.  Unfortunately, I found someone.  It was my lab partner.  She couldn’t disguise the panic in her voice.  I called Katiebird again.  We waited.  Katiebird stayed with me.  My lab partner called back.  It was confirmed.  Our jobs were eliminated.

???

?

My department head finally called me at home.  The HR rep was with him.  They broke the news to me officially.  I was stunned.  My lab partner and I are beyond busy.  Dumping our workload onto the rest of our department seems incomprehensible.   I think there was an, “Oh, shit, what did we do?!” moment from some of the decision makers on our behalf.  But the problem with lay offs is that once the decision has been made to “separate” you, it’s hard to walk it back.  There have been some not insignificant efforts to figure out a way to keep us but they have all met a brick wall.  The bottom line was met, we were part of meeting the reduction goal, we are scheduled to go.  We have about a month and a half left.  It feels like a death sentence.

It’s times like these that tell you who your friends are.  I can tell you that Katiebird and DandyTiger immediately came to my emotional rescue.  I am eternally grateful to both of them.  They have checked in since that day and haven’t let me down.  They both came up with great ideas to see me through.  Right now, I am so busy at work, irony of ironies, I don’t have time to pursue them but I know that I will.  I’d recommend Katiebird to anyone who is getting laid off but in these times, her line would be constantly busy.

I know that the loss of our jobs was not performance related.  Both my lab partner and I had very good performance appraisals.  We busted our butts in the lab last year and it showed.  We solved a previously unknown structure and pushed ourselves to learn new things.  It was not unusual to find us in the lab at 9pm, waiting for a gel to finish so we could plan our work for the next day.  The weird thing is that in spite of all that has transpired since that day in January, I still love my job.  The loss of income is painful but the loss of doing the thing that has become like an addiction to me in the last year is even more painful.  It’s so frustrating to lose something just when it’s starting to get really interesting.  I will never ever have a job as good or as satisfying as this one.  I will never have a lab partner as amiable and hardworking and intelligent and generous as the one I have.  We both feel it deeply.  Separation means more than losing the tether to your income, it means losing a productive and valuable working relationship.

When I think back to that SOTU address, I’m beyond angry.  This president and this Congress have no idea what this country is losing.  I am one of thousands of American R&D professionals who have lost their jobs since the era of mergers and acquisitions went into overdrive in the 1990’s.  The reason you don’t find young Americans going into science, engineering and math is not because the Chinese are so much better than we are.  It’s because there is no future in it.  There’s no career path.  No steady income.  No security.  Just a pile of underwater stock options and a pink slip after years of study and extremely challenging work.  The suits will tell you we aren’t productive but those of us who have been there know the truth.  This generation of American scientists has been blighted by the endless pursuit of meeting the bottom line.  It’s no way to do research.  In fact, it is almost impossible to do research under these circumstances and it has been like this since I started working in the business two decades ago.   Free lancing or starting our own businesses in this area of research is not really an option.  We need the overhead of a corporation.  Yes, believe it or not, sometimes you just can’t get around the corporate model.  So, I join my colleagues, “experienced research professionals” all, in the oblivion of separation from what we love best- the wonder and delight of studying nature and the dedication to cure disease.

I would like to say that I am grateful to my company for all of the years that I was able to learn and work for them.  The great majority of the people I have worked with are wonderful and talented professionals.  I wouldn’t call myself a “disgruntled employee”.  If anything, I am very gruntled and will milk my last days at work for all they are worth.  They are worth it.  Every last one of them.  I count the hours with anticipation and dread but mostly ” ‘satiable curtiosity”.

May you all be so lucky.

Europeans love Barack??? Good thing they CAN’T VOTE!

Ok, I’m going to take a stab at this crap that’s been floating around about how much the Europeans love Barack.

First, he laid the foundations for this adulation(or so he thinks) when he made that statement that Americans can’t say more than Merci Beaucoups and are really the fricking idiots of the known world. (BTW, if you only have time to learn one phrase in a foreign language, Thank You Very Much is highly recommended.) Well, as it turns out, I work with Europeans.  In fact my whole department is international.  Out of 25 of us, there are only *three* Americans.  And we have LOTS of international teleconferences.  Our business is conducted in two languages, English and French.  I am just as likely to receive email in French as English and when I call a colleague in Europe, I am likely to get the voicemail prompts in French, German or Italian. We deal with it, teach ourselves, learn to read French (not that hard actually) or get a tutor.

But it doesn’t much matter anyway because all verbal transactions are done in English.  And there is a very good reason for this that just points to Obama’s elitist stupidity in the most glaring fashion- half of my department is CHINESE.  They speak Mandarin or Shanghaiese.  None of our European colleagues speak those languages but we all speak English.  So, English it is.  And Europeans know better than anyone that Americans are no longer number one in the world.  It is the Chinese that hold that title.  They are very happy to point that out to me whenever my American superiorty makes a reappearance.

Secondly, The Europeans are “in love” with Obama for one reason and one reason only- He’s not Bush.  In fact, they hate Republicans as much as we do.  They blame the neocons for the disasters of the last eight years and if it weren’t Obama, they’d be GENUINELY happy for Hillary.

Yeah, really.  Most of my European colleagues were pulling for Hillary.  They’ll settle for Obama and they are apalled that anyone would vote for McCain but they really *liked* Hillary.  My boss applied for her citizenship earlier this year in anticipation of voting for Hillary and is disappointed that she may not be able to.  The Eurpoeans blanch when I tell them I am not voting for Obama but once I explain what the DNC was up to, they completely understand.

So, there you have it.  They are in love with the anti-Republican.  You could replace him with Alfred E. Newman and as long as “What me worry?” was a Democrat, they’d be ecstatic.  There is nothing intrinsically special about Obama that makes them happy.