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    • Who Goes To Prison For America’s Crimes? The Whistleblowers.
      There’s a joke about the CIA and torture, in that the only person who went to prison for torturing people was the guy who revealed the torture. Daniel Hale, the guy who revealed that drone bombing killed 90% innocents, is now off to his stint in jail. He seems tough, maybe he won’t be driven to multiple suicide attempts like Manning was by the deliberate mis […]
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Yard Work

IMG_2023The weather was awesome yesterday so I and one of my younger cousins spent the day outdoors cleaning up leaves and mowing and trimming hedges and all that fun stuff.

And then we went to the Oakmont Bakery to get a sugar rush from pistachio macarons and donuts.

On the job front, I have a temp position with regular hours but still no bennies. It’s great, except for the no bennies thing, and the fact that it’s going to end in about a month when the permanent employee returns. I like the floor I’m on. There are enough toys to assuage the gadget fiend in me. Plus, once I got behind the wheel again, the computer skills all came back within a couple of hours. The job is not in the computational chemistry field but I could live with it. It’s also on a collaboration floor. I do the team thing pretty well but the floor concept is new to me. BUT, it’s still just a temp job, which sucks. And the pay is just a little bit less than it would take to make me relatively stress free. So, there’s that. I’m still in job search mode. If you had told me two years ago that I would still be looking for a job like this, I would have called you crazy. It’s beyond exasperating.

As for Hilary’s announcement, you’ll find out more about my attitudes towards that pretty soon from a different source. Bottom line: her announcement video showed people in a more positive stage in their lives than me. I’m not feeling it yet, specifically because of the struggle I have faced to find a new job. Clinton may be leading us there but I’m not anywhere near being in the mood. The country has not come out of “tough economic times” yet.

Will I support her? Yes. And here is the reason: if I were a hiring manager and I got a dozen CV’s from people like Clinton, Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, even Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton would be far and away the leading finalist for the job. She’s got the most experience, in the most areas, she has a network of associates she can call on for assistance to push her agenda, she’s got a mentor and she’s passionate about policy. No other candidate in the field is going to come close. And what all those attributes give her is a measure of independence that the other candidates will not have. Think about that for awhile and it will make sense. It also means there will be a lot of people, in both parties, who will not like for her to get the nomination because she won’t be so easy to control.

Just because she’s the best the country has doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cakewalk.

Ok, there’s one other thing I want to talk about. It’s about the PUMAs. I see no reason to run away from the fact that we were PUMAs in 2008. That just stood for Party Unity My Ass and it was our way of protesting how the DNC took the money from Obama’s donors, rewrote the primary campaign rules, disenfranchised 18000000 of us and then told us to get behind the ruthlessly ambitious, inexperienced shmoozer who became the party’s nominee or risk being called an ignorant, uneducated, old, bitter racist. Oh, HELL no. I was not going along with that program and I’m shocked that any loyal Democrat would give up their vote just to protect themselves from vicious group peer pressure. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

But the PUMA groups went their separate ways after the election. If I were being honest, I would say we started going our separate ways in October of 2008 when I sensed that some PUMA groups were so angry that they were willing to go beyond a protest vote. In the aftermath of the election, the rift between us and the other PUMAs became more pronounced. We evolved but stuck pretty closely to our credo. They went the Tea Party route. It’s safe to say that we haven’t had any contact with other PUMAs since the early part of 2009. We aren’t BFFs, we don’t Facebook, we don’t belong to some super special sauce email group. If there is a widespread belief out there that that’s what’s going on with us and the PUMAs, let me dispel it now.

Nevertheless, that’s who we were and there’s no point in hiding it. It’s possible that the PUMAs on this blog had a different concept of what that term meant than other PUMA groups. It’s safe to say that some operatives on the right saw a certain segment of PUMAs as potential converts. That didn’t include US. As far as we were concerned, the concept had lost its usefulness and it was time to move beyond that. I only regret that I didn’t spend more time organizing some kind of umbrella group that would have been a more effective promoter of behaviors we would have liked to have seen in our elected officials. We should have had something to counteract the Tea Party. Instead, we left a vacuum. And that’s not good.

So, there you have it. There will probably be more to say later in the week. But right now, I am focussing on work. It’s the most important thing on my mind right now.

And mulch.

 

 

State of The Confluence and Request for Input

At first I was like…

Yesterday, I locked myself out of my house. Yup, just pure stupidity. I picked up the wrong set of keys as I was leaving and checked them just as the door went *click!* behind me. Getting back in was painful, as in, painful to the money supply. I’m still in job search mode. I HAVE a job, but it is a bad one. That is to say, the money is seriously low, the hours ridiculous and the benefits close to non-existent.

Fortunately, I have some professionals helping me find a new job. Unfortunately, it is taking a lot, LOT longer than I had anticipated, even with my “worst case scenario” pre-planning. I mean, this is so long, drawn out and fruitless that I am beginning to think that I will be trapped in this hellish job forever. My career counselors assure me that this is not the case and I must persevere but even they must be getting worn out.

and then…

Fortunately, I own my own home! Yup, free and clear. All mine, mine, mine! It’s nice and comfy and I had the money when I bought it to make some major repairs. (It was foreclosed for about a year) Unfortunately, I have property taxes, and while they are less than half of what I paid in NJ, they’re still significant and at this moment, I will have to dip into some previously off limit funds to pay for them.

So, locking myself out of the house yesterday was not on my “things to do with my money this month” list. What I had actually planned was replacing my upstairs toilet before the crack in the tank that is being held together with epoxy finally gives on me. Ahhh, the joys of home ownership. Why didn’t I buy a new toilet when I moved in???

Anyway, this is a long winded way of saying that I am contemplating a fundraiser, like just about every other blog in the world. If you have been a long time reader of this blog, chime in and tell me whether you think this would go over like a lead balloon or not. I don’t usually ask for money except for special events, like when I asked for train fare to cover the Occupy Wall Street protests. Also, Katiebird has been nagging me to rewrite the website for the upcoming presidential campaign. I think this would be a good idea and I have some things I would like to add to this here place. A fundraiser would allow me to pay my property taxes as well as invest in some server time, Dreamweaver licenses and other training materials. If you have an opinion on what you would like to see at a new Confluence, put it in the comments below.

Having the money to pay my taxes and train myself to develop a high end web site would give me a great deal of peace of mind as well as some potentially marketable skills. I’ve been using WordPress and can install and maintain CMS’s but I feel the need to work on design skills and coding. Katiebird has been very encouraging in this respect and she says i can do it so I believe her.

What I should have done, or “in emergency, break glass”

Anyway, thanks to all of you for your support over the last seven years. We have had over 12 million comments. Can you believe it? I never thought anything I wrote would get that much attention. And really, attention was not what I was looking for. The purpose of this blog was to be a refuge from the consensus reality that was being manipulated during the 2008 presidential primary and general campaign. I’d like to keep that focus for the upcoming presidential campaign. That is, I’d like to cover topics in a way that is true to the liberal spirit of this blog but remains free of the dogma that plagues so much of the left.

I’ve been considering starting a regular podcast featuring guest interviews. Some topics I would like to cover are the problems of the pharmaceutical industry, employment and labor issues, infrastructure (net neutrality, mass transit), the impact of religion on our current culture, GLBT and feminism issues, and, of course, a discussion of the candidates and their policies. If this sounds interesting to you, or something you could support, let me know in the comments below.

Finally, there is a “Tip Jar” in the upper left hand corner of this blog. It goes to the PayPal account for this blog. I don’t check it very often because we don’t do fund raisers very often. But if you feel so inclined, or just want to help defray the costs of a locksmith, just hit that link. Today’s date is 2/22/15. May I suggest a contribution in the form of a multiple of $2.22.

Thanks!

Wednesday: Brain drain?

This article from the NYTimes should get some attention.  It’s about an awards program from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  The awards are given to foreign born scientists who study here in the US and then return to their home countries.  The nation with the highest number of recipients this year?  China.:

China’s government has thrown billions in recent years into building a top-notch research establishment, hoping to keep its best scientists working here and lure back those who are abroad.

Now comes a hint that that effort is beginning to pay off.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the world’s most prestigious research foundations, announced Tuesday that it washonoring 28 biomedical researchers who studied in the United States and then returned to their home nations. Each will receive a five-year research grant of $650,000.

Seven — more than any other nation — are from China.

“They’re incredibly energetic, extremely smart, highly productive and accomplished,” Robert Tjian, president of the institute, said of the Chinese winners in a telephone interview. The 28 are receiving the institute’s first International Early Career Scientist awards.

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have worked with Chinese scientists.  The cream of the crop came to study here in the last couple of decades and while some of those scientists are simply good, some are really top notch.  This is probably the case with every country’s academic superstars but China has been ferocious about developing their talent.

But here’s where the changes in our American culture are going to bite us in the ass.  It used to be that when Chinese scientists came here, they were reluctant to return home.  Not any more.  And it’s not homesickness that is driving them.  It’s all related to how the money has dried up in research here in the US:

“Young people go where they can flourish the best,” he said. “And those countries have been able to attract young scientists trained in the U.S. to go back.”

“That’s a big hurdle. It used to be that people thought people came here and never went back. But I think now that is starting to change.”

Some of the award winners agreed. “I think it’s very obvious in recent years, and we’re very happy to see that,” Wang Xiaochen, a former doctoral student at the University of Colorado who is now at Beijing’s National Institute of Biological Sciences.

While many if not most Chinese doctoral students who choose to remain in the United States after their studies, she said, in China, “I don’t have to apply for a grant,” while in the United States “the funding situation already is very tough.

I think I’d have opportunities, but I’d have to spend a lot of time applying for funding. Here, I don’t have to apply for my own funding. So it’s an easy decision for me,” she said.

This is the common complaint I am hearing.  There’s very little grant money and what there is takes a lot of tedious, time wasting paperwork to acquire.  And then there’s the political aspect of getting grant money.  I would wager to guess that most scientists are not particularly good at the kind of salesmanship that is required to constantly beg for money.  And that’s a problem if you have an area of research that doesn’t respond well to interruptions and postponements.

But it’s not just the academic/government grant area that is suffering.  Small start up biotechs are frequently faced with some stark choices.  Take the example of Alnylam that Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline posted about last week:

The news is that Alnylam, the RNAi company just down the street from where I’m writing, is cutting about a third of its workforce to try to get its best prospects through the clinic. This is a familiar story in the small-pharma world; there’s often money to try to get things through the clinic, or to pay everyone in the earlier-stage R&D – but nowhere near enough money to do both. There are companies that have gone through this stage several times, sometimes rehiring the same people when the money began flowing again.

So, you can have early stage research or clinical trials.  But you can’t have both.  This is really dangerous for Alnylam because if their best prospects get crushed in clinical trials, and this happens a lot, they won’t have much to fall back on because they’ve had to cut back on their R&D staff.  This is just an example of what small biotechs are facing all over the country.  The result is that scientists bounce from job to job, coast to coast.  The pay is not as good as it used to be, benefits are skimpier and when the money runs out in a year or so, you have to find a new job.  Where are you supposed to live?  Can you afford a family if you are living a precariat existence?  And what’s going to happen when you are required to pay health insurance premiums to private insurance companies without any attempt at cost control?  The costs to the individual researcher is going to continue to rise with no stability in their work or domestic life. Is this any way to treat people who take the toughest majors in college?

Once again, I have to caution politicians and CEOs who think this is a good way to run research.  It’s extremely counterproductive.  Research frequently requires long periods of continuous study and work.  There are high start up costs associated with equipment and reagents.  Biotech is not like Silicon Valley because microchips follow predictable physical laws.  Cells do not.  It’s great for China that it’s starting to invest heavily in it’s scientists but it’s still going to take that country many years to figure out how to crank out new discoveries that will pass the FDA’s rigorous safety standards.  It’s hard, hard work even for the brilliant.  And then there are the scientists who did not graduate from prestigious universities.  With the number of discoveries we are making in biology these days, there is more than enough work for all of us but without money, those of us with the ability and inspiration but not the opportunities are wasted.  You never know when one of your well trained staff is going to notice something or makes that extra compound that makes a billion dollars a year.  It happens all of the time and it doesn’t take a Harvard educated PhD to do it.  It does take a place to work, money to pay the bills and sufficient time to run the experiments.

If we don’t start putting money into this country’s scientific human infrastructure, it’s going to be gone.  And don’t anyone buy that crock of BS about companies that want to hire high tech but can’t find educated personnel.  There are about 100,000 of us sitting on our asses right now who can’t get employers to hire us.  As one former colleague said, “They want someone right out of school with 25 years of experience.”  In other words, the MBAs seem to think this is so easy that anyone can do it.  It’s merely a series of tasks that can be pharmed out to any sufficiently trained research labtech at a CRO, right?  Sort of like ordering parts for a car.  They couldn’t be more wrong.

So far, the only barrier to having full employment of scientists is that companies want to sit on their cash in the hopes of driving wages down and that government is being incredibly stingy.  You can’t make a life on $37K a year after spending most of your adult life studying.  And some of these companies are creating their own finance problems by locating themselves in the most expensive places in the country to work and live.  But there’s no getting around the fact that research is expensive no matter where you do it and that it takes a long time and investment in people for it to pay off.  Pay us or lose us.

Saturday: Lessons Learned

I want to thank all of you who have helped me through this difficult period of time.  Special thanks to Katiebird, DandyTiger, my own BFF who was exceptionally sensitive and kind to me and my ex who suspended hostilities.

I tried to go out on a high note at work.  This wasn’t easy and I’m not sure I was entirely successful.  I worked on my projects literally to the very last hours, depositing my final thoughts on a structure I had been working on just before I shut off my computer for the last time.  Some people may think this is crazy.  I didn’t owe anything to the bastards who laid me off.  I see it differently and am starting to realize what must have been going on in Hillary Clinton’s head during the Democratic Convention of 2008.  In fact, she was on my mind a lot in the past couple of months.  What would Hillary do in this situation?  I decided to give it my all on my projects.  A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the project I had spent the last five years on was going to be used to fight the same cancer that killed my father.  I cried like a baby after that project team meeting.  Did I do enough?

Getting laid off has been a learning experience.  Here are some of the things I have learned:

1.) There is nothing more valuable in life than having a job you love, no matter how much it pays.  The hardest thing about leaving work was realizing what my passion was in my last year of employment and having it gone in a blink of an eye by the penny pinching decisions of a company bureaucrat.

2.) You never know what the right kind of nurturing and opportunities will bring out in people.   I will be forever indebted to the two supervisors who gave me high profile projects and pushed me (sometimes very hard) to learn new things as quickly as I could.  The last year was very challenging but very rewarding and even though I was sometimes stung by the constant revisions requested of my work, I appreciated the demands for rigor.  I think it made me a better scientist.

3.) Lay-offs do not bring out the best in anyone.  Very few people can resist the urge to undermine, take credit or speak ill of other people when they’re under this much stress.  There are no exceptions, not even me.  We all have our faults and layoffs tend to exaggerate them.  It is very hard to focus on our work when we are in desperate competition with each other to save our livelihoods.  Favoritism and kissing ass take the place of diligence and merit.  And those of us who refuse to kiss ass, because, really, it doesn’t serve management well at all, no matter how flattering it is, end up the losers.

4.) Managers who like their work, like to be productive and would prefer to concentrate on science, are frequently overlooked by the powers that be.  They are the best people to work for and their staff loves them.  But they can’t protect their people or even their own positions from the ax as well because they’re not into political games.  That has a bad effect on research in general.  There are a lot of excellent scientists left in the labs.  But they know they have to watch their backs and learn whose ass to kiss.  What a waste.

5.) Never look back.  I haven’t always done my best but in the past two years, I believe I have.  But now it’s time to put it aside and move on. I have no regrets.

I love my colleagues.  Yes, even the ones who were the biggest pains in the ass, snobs and ruthless, aggressive, ambitious bastards I have ever seen who leave a trail of destruction, resentment and dead bodies in their wakes.  They are all without exception  highly intelligent and genuinely interesting people.  If I were stranded on a desert island with any of them, I’d be in good company and wouldn’t be stuck for long.  I wish them good luck.

I love the company I worked for.  I’m not too crazy about the management at the upper end because even though they are getting pressure from Wall Street, they have not thought through this problem well.  They are taking the easy, expedient route.  It is going to result in some painful lessons for all parties involved, sooner rather than later, if what I’m seeing is any indication of the future.  But they’re not the only company making bad decisions right now due to the very same pressures.  I still love the corporation and want it to succeed, not just because it will keep my former colleagues employed (I hope), but because it is the right thing to do for the customers of the products.  I was well compensated, my severance package is good and I enjoyed working there.

So, now my job is to find a job.  This should be interesting.  I don’t think I have to give up trying to cure cancer though.  I’ll just be doing it from the privacy of my own home for awhile.  There are plenty of free resources for me to use.  And now, I know how to do it.

😉

Sotomayor Round-up: It’s about more than abortion

But if you are of child bearing age, stock up on Plan B.

Realistically, the Republicans have already won the Roe v. Wade battle.  Anthony Kennedy is persuadable, given the right case.  He nearly caved on Webster v. Casey back when Sandra Day O’Connor was on the bench.  She had to talk him out of it but it was touch and go for awhile there.  Kennedy only reluctantly agreed with her in the end.  There’s no Sandra Day around anymore but there are a whole lot more blustering, former altar boys on the bench.

Sotomayor may not be an Antonin Scalia but the sense I am getting from her is that she’s no Souter either.  I was stunned to learn from Gibbs that Obama never asked her what she thinks of Roe.  It’s probably because he doesn’t need to know.  It’s beneficial to both parties for Roe to stay on the books.  So, it’s likely that a test case like Webster will never come up again.  No, instead we will have more of the kind of cases where the right to have an abortion remains but the actuality of obtaining one is very difficult.  Maybe we’ll go back to the days of the early 70’s where you had to take a trip to New York.  And Sotomayor will probably be just fine with that.  It allows her a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.  She never has to outlaw it or condone it outright.  She can be technically pro-choice while being practically pro-life.

This doesn’t come as any surprise to those of us who followed Obama’s rhetoric on the subject last year.  It was above his paygrade to comment on it but any such decision needs a supermajority from all of your friends, family and religious authorities.  Women, you can’t do this by yourself.  Your eency-weency brains and underdeveloped sense of morality require the assistance of others wiser than you.  If you decide you want an abortion after all, they can shame you for being a wanton woman and if you decide to put the kid up for adoption they can call you heartless and non-maternal.  If you keep it, you will be a burden to your family.  Gosh, don’t you miss the olden days when it was everyone else’s business to know what is going on in your life and pass judgment on it?  I doubt that Obama appointed a truly pro-choice nominee because the evangelical base might desert him.  He’s not too worried about you 20 somethings.  I mean, where else are you going to go?  As long as he is also technically pro-choice, he’s going to be heads and tails better than any Republican, right?  Oh, right, they already have 5 votes to overturn Roe.  Funny, they had that *before* the 2008 election too.

I sure feel smart that I voted for the woman:

Sotomayor has accumulated a record on church-state issues, insurance cases and employment law.  I haven’t read everything and I don’t claim to understand all of it anyway.  But my sense is that she is very deferential to authority.  Maybe that’s why George H. W. Bush appointed her as a judge in the first place and why she was offered by the Democrats to the Republicans during the last administration.  It may very well be the case that her upbringing will have an impact on her judicial temperament but not in the way Republicans fear.  In fact, they almost seem to be playing tar-baby with Sotomayor.  What kind of person comes out of an ethnic, urban, working class, Catholic upbringing, who spent years in a parochial school and excelled at pleasing those paragons of virtue and authority, the formidable Catholic nun?  What kind of person does that produce?  I mean, other than Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews?

Yeah, imagine Chris Matthews on the SCOTUS.  That’s Sotomayor.

Monday: Why doctors of thinkology don’t get it.

Paul Krugman is in despair. He simply cannot understand why Obama and his economics team are taking the country off a cliff in order to protect bankers and investors from absorbing their losses.  It’s a puzzlement why taxpayers are subsidizing the private investors who will gladly take bad assets off of the bankers hands for more money than they are actually worth.

Paul, Paul, Paul, where have you been?  This $@#%’s been going on for a couple of decades now.  If we weren’t in danger of being called “crude populists”  some of us would complain loudly and vociferously about a class war.

Remember Pittsburgh in the late 70’s?  Of course you do.  Back then, the Japanese dumped steel on the US market and drove prices down.  The US steel manufacturer’s used that as an opportunity to get rid of the pesky unions and diversify.  I used to wake up in the middle of the night to a bright orange sandblasted sky and the comforting sounds of clanging steel.  My uncles worked for US Steel and made pretty good money.  Then, they were suddenly out on their own.  The mills went silent.  The milltowns fell into disrepair.  Giardia crept into the water systems that municipal authorities couldn’t afford to fix.

Then there came PATCO.  Ah, yes, I remember it well.  It happened just before my first trip to the Bahamas.  Lucky for us there were just enough management to take over running the airports to get us safely off the ground and back again.  But it was OK.  We hired new air traffic controllers who were willing to work for less money and wouldn’t complain so much.  Probably laid off steelworkers.

The 80’s were full of stories about lockouts and Caterpillar workers on strikes and people living off of their union dues and sadness and heartbreak in reazlizing the only job they knew was gone, gone, gone.  These were not high-falutin’ doctors of thinkology.  They were just your average Joe’s who enjoyed a beer on their front stoops after work and spent the weekends tending to their gardens and their cars.  The people you want to spend Thanksgiving dinner with, eating pumpkin pie in front of a football game.  Little people who liked watching the sunset over the river on a summer evening and telling stories to their neighbors.

I was in college in the 80’s.  I saw the rise of the MBA lifestyle, the business majors, the resurrection of Greek culture, the beginnings of networking.  We G-d damned independents thought we were so much smarter than them, hunkered over our P-chem textbooks and sodium sand organometallic reactions.  There would always be a job out there for those of us who used our brains.  Money?  Well, yeah, we expected to be paid well.  Maybe not stellar salaries but enough to enjoy the American Dream.  Greed wasn’t what we were after.  And there weren’t that many of us anyway.  My college graduated exactly 8 Chemistry majors in 1986.  Besides, wasn’t a college degree the path to success?  That’s what everyone told us.

But we were wrong.  It’s the people who handle the money who have a path to success.  While we were busy thinking, they were busy rewriting the rules.  And we were so busy.  Those of us who are female had careers and husbands who didn’t help out as much as they should have and children and daycare and forty things to do before we fell into bed at night.  The pace of life picked up and went at lightspeed.  Who has time to manage the money?  We trusted people to do that for us.  Even when we got our first 401k’s, most of us were content to just “set it and forget it”.

And the college educated toiled away while the MBAs and the marketers and sales people flourished and gave themselves bonuses and promoted themselves over and over again.  And the investors bought stock and frowned when the quarterly earnings didn’t endlessly increase their dividends.  And they demanded cutbacks and the MBA’s obliged and reduced the number of people who actually did the work.  And the remaining workers cheered because their portfolios grew.

And here we are.  The college educated are now the new working class.  We are expendable.  I heard an HR person at my company slip recently and tell a bunch of high school students that a starting BS scientist could expect to make $35K at my company but people who came in with marketing degrees made the top salaries.  Well, we’ve suspected this for a while now.  They also get the attention of the CEO’s.  If a marketer can’t figure out a way to protect his own job, he should find a new career.  And the MBAs sit in their offices and move the chess pieces around and try to figure out which production units to cut in order to increase their bottom line. We are all expendable.

So, now Tim Geithner and Barack Obama are working on a plan to stick hard working, soon to be out of work taxpayers with the bill for the investors who are going to take on the massive bad assets that the bankers cooked up to make money for themselves.  We should not expect these bankers and shareholders to take a haircut because that would be “crude populism” and class warfare.  Why is it any surprise to you that Obama would go this route, Paul?  As long as those of you in the media say it’s OK to treat us like the wretched refuse of our teaming shores, why shouldn’t Tim, Larry and Barry do whatever the hell they want with our money?

In order to get the economy back on track, we workers have to reclaim our dignity and demand accountability.  So, Paul, if you can’t say anything nice about us “crude populists” out here, please, say nothing at all.