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Tuesday Turn Around

The Black Bloc contingent of the Occupy Chicago Seniors?

There may be a teensy bit of progress on the job front.  We are sloooooowly moving away from a state of complete inertia there.  No income yet but progress.  This is good.

In the meantime, seniors in Chicago are getting arrested at an Occupation type event.  Whoo-hoo!  Let’s give it up for the septugenarians!:

More than 1,000 senior citizens and their supporters marched from Chicago’s Federal Plaza to the intersection of Jackson and Clark Street Monday morning to protest proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At the intersection, more than 40 protesters, 15 of them seniors affiliated with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, stood or sat in the street, arms linked, blocking traffic.

Amid chants demanding that the cuts be forestalled — with suggestions for alternatives, including tax hikes — 43 demonstrators were escorted from the intersection (see video, above) by police and issued citations for pedestrian failure to “exercise due care,” or for blocking traffic. Those cited included four protesters using assisted mobility devices and at least one centenarian.

Judy Moses said she was glad to receive the citation–her second in her quest to maintain funding for programs that benefit seniors, following an arrest for blocking traffic in December at a similar protest.

“When I was younger, I never did protests,” she said. “I was a silent majority. Now, I’m ready to make noise.”

Yes, but can we get them to wear bell bottoms, love beads and flowers in their hair?  It’s never too late, you know.

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

On the Supercommittee front, there is a proposal to raise taxes.  Yay!, you say, finally the rich are going to have to cough it up.  Au contraire.  It will be US, ie the middle class who will have to cough it up:

Super Committee Republicans are floating a trial balloon that would produce new tax revenue, in apparent contravention of Grover Norquist’s taxpayer protection pledge, according to Wall Street Journal editorialist Stephen Moore.

But as Moore explains that the offer has a catch:

“One positive development on taxes taking shape is a deal that could include limiting tax deductions, perhaps by capping write-offs on charities, state and local taxes, and mortgage interest payments as a percentage of each tax filer’s gross income. That idea was introduced on these pages by Harvard economist Martin Feldstein.In exchange, Democrats would agree to make the Bush income-tax cuts permanent. This would mean preventing top rates from going to 42% from 35% today, and keeping the capital gains and dividend tax rate at 15%, as opposed to plans to raise them to 23.8% or higher after 2013.”

Let that sink in for a sec.  Uh-huh, apparently, the committee members have never heard of Turbo-Tax and the internet, or they think that the great unwashed masses haven’t.  Nowadays, we download all of our forms, let the laptop do the number crunching and e-file half an hour later.  We take every deduction.  No short forms for us when it’s this easy to get every penny back.  This proposal is just another way to stick it to taxpayers in high cost of living states like New Jersey where housing is expensive and local property taxes are ridiculous.  Pass this proposal and watch our housing market drop through the floor.  While people making $250,000 in this state are doing pretty well, anyone making about $100,000 around here is barely middle class.  No, seriously, it only LOOKS like a big number until you try to buy a house in the burbs.  What you want and what you can afford are two different animals.  Think condos and townhouses, condos and townhouses we will never be able to unload if this proposal passes.

What morons would vote for this “compromise”??  Oh, yeah- Democrats.

{{rolling eyes}}

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

I’m with Ta-Nehesi Coates on this one, the attack on Elizabeth Warren for actually working for her wealth makes no sense to me.  What is Politico trying to say here?  That it is natural for rich people to act like sociopaths, sit on the money of the people who work for them and watch them suffer when the 99% can’t meet basic needs like housing, nutrition and healthcare?  Is that how rich mamas raise their children these days?  These people need to be taught some manners.  As for Elizabeth Warren making money, she does it the old fashioned way, she earns it.  We like that about her.  It has honor and dignity and signifies a good work ethic that has been justifiably rewarded.  Her personal history demonstrates that it has not been an easy ride for her.  She wasn’t born with a silver foot in her mouth.  That seems to have given her a certain empathy for the pool of people from whence she came.  (I’ve been waiting all year to use the word ‘whence’)  Franklin D. Roosevelt came from money but he developed compassion as well.  Was he a one off?  Mentally ill?  Or just a hypocrit?  Beats me but working people who lived through the Great Depression loved him.  Go figure.

So, what’s wrong with the people who read Politico?  Are they all a bunch of Ebeneezer Scrooges?  Are their Grinchy hearts so small that they can’t remember the last time they thought stealing from working people was wrong?

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

Speaking of FDR, Ezra Klein wrote an article in WaPo titled Why Obama is no FDR that suggests why Obama was such a disastrous pick in 2008:

The left and the right don’t agree on much these days, but they do agree on this: Barack Obama is no FDR.

For liberals, this is a disappointment. They had hoped for, as Time magazine put it after Obama’s victory, “a new new deal.” Instead, they find themselves mounting an unexpected rear-guard defense of Medicare and Keynesian economics.

For conservatives, it’s a relief. Two short years ago, they feared an FDR-like realignment. Today, they thrill to the idea of undoing much of the original New Deal, or at least the Great Society.

2008 was the break the movement conservatives had been waiting for since FDR died almost 70 years ago.  And Democrats handed them this break on a silver platter when they nominated the candidate who was *least* likely to know how to control an economic crisis without a bunch of slick economic advisors.  If you hire him for four more years, you will get four more years of the same poor negotiation skills, amateurishly developed policy and indifference to the suffering of the middle class.  I’m betting that it won’t be long before the party starts to realize that the middle class isn’t going to go along with it for another four years.

Then Klein twists his defense of Obama into a knot by putting some of the blame on Congress.  This Congress is not like the one that FDR was blessed with, he argues.  THAT Congress thought that FDR hadn’t gone far enough.  He ends with:

This is not a defense of Obama [yes it is but it’s caused by a failure to imaginate any better Democrat for some bizarre reason that only Klein can explain], nor an attack on FDR. It is simply the reality of the American presidency. Congress can write legislation and pass it over the president’s veto. The president cannot write legislation nor pass it without congressional assent. The president comes after the Congress in the Constitution and is indisputably less powerful. Yet we understand American politics primarily through the office of the president and attribute, say, things that happened between 1933 and 1945 to FDR, or from 1981 to 1988 to Ronald Reagan. But Congress is always there, and so is the economic context that’s driving the agenda. We’d do well to pay more attention to both.

Sure.  Let’s just forget that in 2008, Obama had enough money and played enough hardball politics with state campaigns for legislature and other offices that he was able to buy all of the superdelegates he needed, whip all of the elected delegates he needed and buy off all of the RBC committee members he needed to get the nomination.  It is hard to believe that a man so unscrupulous and ruthless would have so much trouble getting Congress to pass the legislation he wanted especially when money is no object.  So, we have to assume that money *is* no object and that it is being used to get the legislation that somebody wants or that Obama really is that bad as a president.  Or, maybe he had a conscienceless campaign staff in 2008 who did what it needed to do and once he was in office and had to switch from campaigning to policy, his liabilities, that were conveeeeeniently glossed over by Klein types in 2008, became glaringly obvious.  Whatever the case may be, he is in office at a time in our country’s history when the effects of a weak president will have profound effects on the middle class for generations to come.  I wonder if Klein and his friends considered that possibility in 2008.  Probably not.

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

Malcolm Gladwell has an article in the New Yorker about the Genius of Steve Jobs.  But I’m not sure that Gladwell gets it:

In 1779, Samuel Crompton, a retiring genius from Lancashire, invented the spinning mule, which made possible the mechanization of cotton manufacture. Yet England’s real advantage was that it had Henry Stones, of Horwich, who added metal rollers to the mule; and James Hargreaves, of Tottington, who figured out how to smooth the acceleration and deceleration of the spinning wheel; and William Kelly, of Glasgow, who worked out how to add water power to the draw stroke; and John Kennedy, of Manchester, who adapted the wheel to turn out fine counts; and, finally, Richard Roberts, also of Manchester, a master of precision machine tooling—and the tweaker’s tweaker. He created the “automatic” spinning mule: an exacting, high-speed, reliable rethinking of Crompton’s original creation. Such men, the economists argue, provided the “micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive and remunerative.”

Was Steve Jobs a Samuel Crompton or was he a Richard Roberts? In the eulogies that followed Jobs’s death, last month, he was repeatedly referred to as a large-scale visionary and inventor. But Isaacson’s biography suggests that he was much more of a tweaker. He borrowed the characteristic features of the Macintosh—the mouse and the icons on the screen—from the engineers at Xerox PARC, after his famous visit there, in 1979. The first portable digital music players came out in 1996. Apple introduced the iPod, in 2001, because Jobs looked at the existing music players on the market and concluded that they “truly sucked.” Smart phones started coming out in the nineteen-nineties. Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, more than a decade later, because, Isaacson writes, “he had noticed something odd about the cell phones on the market: They all stank, just like portable music players used to.”

I just finished the biography of Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs was a pain in the ass perfectionist tyrant of a boss but he also could make the mental leaps that many other people couldn’t.  Isaacson’s comparison of Sony, Microsoft and Apple demonstrates what made Jobs so important.  Both Sony and Microsoft had the components to make the kind of products that Apple made famous.  But those two companies took a very conventional approaches to product innovation and integration and these approaches were themselves products of the way their companies were constructed.  They saw new technology and tried to work it into their current product lines.  Jobs saw new technology and applied it to our lives in new and different ways.  You could almost see the thought bubbles above Gates’ and Jobs’ heads when presented with something new.  Gates is making mental calculations of how to use the thing to improve the stuff he already had, how to make money, FTEs, manufacturing, while Jobs is having a mental orgasm, his mind racing in forty different directions at once, thinking of the people he could bounce his ideas against to see if any of them stuck, doing mental paper folding and turning the suckers around in his head.  Imagine giving two people a brick at the dawn of time and asking them to come up with ways to use it.  Gates might have made a whole bunch of them in different colors and sizes to be used to smash things.  Every few years, he would release a new, not quite ready for primetime version of brick that would require a new industry of people to service and repair them.  Jobs would have built a house.  Both would have been extremely successful, especially if the smashers were used to bust heads of the people who had things you want.  But the advantages of having a house are obvious once you build one and live in it.  After the house, you tend to not look at bricks in the same way again.

The cranky among us can’t figure out why Jobs is deified.  I guess you would have to work in a dysfunctional corporate research setting for a few years to really understand why Jobs means so much to some of us.  The atmosphere he created at Apple and Pixar is the way we want to work so that we too can produce wonderful magical things that the world can use and appreciate, even if it is hard and initially seems impossible.  But we are living in a world where the business guys just want to sell smashers and are busily getting highly compensated jobs for their friends to sell smashers and corner the smasher market for themselves and please the shareholders of the smasher industry.  Those of us who just want to create good products are SOL.

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Science Careers: Run Away, Little Children, Run Away!

Unemployed scientists at last week's BioNJ Expo at Rutgers Univerisity

Derek Lowe’s blog from inside the pharma industry, In the Pipeline, highlighted an Op/Ed piece by Josh Bloom in the New York Post yesterday titled, “America’s Vanishing Science Jobs”.  I don’t know Bloom (and this is weird because we have a past company in common.  Collegeville?  Pearl River?) but he nails the problem facing the unappreciated American scientist in the first paragraph:

The folks at Scientific American have launched “1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days” — a program to bring together scientists, teachers and students to improve America’s “dismal” showing among wealthy countries (27th out of 29) in graduating college students with degrees in science or engineering. I’m sure they mean well — but, at least as it applies to the field of chemistry, “1,000 Unemployed Scientists Living With Their Parents at Age 35 While Working at the Gap” would be a better name.

Back in the 90’s, I thought we were going to be eclipsed by China and India as well.  Then, I realized that China, and Russia too, had let its creme de la creme emigrate to America.  America benefitted from that wave.  Graduate level classes were full of Asian students.  It was a bit intimidating.

And then they blended in and we came to realize that although they are extremely hard working, focussed and fanatically well prepared in math, there is just as much variation in talent among Asian scientists as American scientists.  That’s because to be well trained in math and science is necessary but not sufficient.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points to an observation that to master a subject, whether it is a field of study, profession or musical instrument, and to become an expert, requires 10,000 hours of practice.  The ability to discover drugs also develops over many years of practice.  A scientist doesn’t arrive in a lab ready to find a new drug simply because he/she comes from a country whose kids rank number one in math.  Even newly minted PhDs need a few years of seasoning before they’re useful and they’re still only novices.  Gladwell is right.  It takes a good 10 years before you develop a degree of comfort in doing drug discovery after you’ve seen many different kinds of problems and have tried various approaches to solving them, lathered, rinsed, repeated, over and over again.  It is very rare to find someone who gets it the first time.  In fact, I have never met any such person.  It’s a journey for even the brightest.

It wouldn’t even be correct to say that advanced technology can speed up the process.  We’ve seen many different new technologies like high throughput screening robotics, genomics, transgenic animal models and combinatorial chemistry.  Each one of these technologies did produce results but sometimes, we are left with more data and unanswered questions.  Speeding things up created new problems to be solved and sometimes lead us down new avenues of inquiry.  All of that information has to be processed, categorized, understood.  It takes time.

So, now China and India are going to jump on the drug discovery bandwagon.  As more and more companies outsource not just the routine tasks but whole research units, we may indeed see discovery speed up and it might look miraculous.  But that would be ignoring the groundwork that was laid here in America. And it will still take time, perhaps decades, for the Chinese to catch up.   In the meantime, the people who did the gruntwork for the past couple of decades are being asked to step aside and sacrifice their careers for the good of the shareholders.  Those scientists have seen their research stop/started frequently since the 1990’s.  Mergers and acquisitions and management schemes from business administration majors and consultants have interfered with the ability of scientists to process the information coming out of this amazing era of biological breakthroughs.

It won’t be long before the executives and shareholders realize they’ve made a mistake and that new drugs *can’t* be designed like new Intel chips.  They also can’t be discovered by breaking the discovery process into neatly manageable “on-time” bits, each component made in a tedious, routine manner to be assembled at some American endpoint by a handful of designer/engineers.  Biological systems are not like cars or new high tech gadgets, and understanding those biological systems is aided by an economy of scale that is destroyed by atomization into neatly manageable “on-time” bits that can be turned on and off following the whimsies of the business cycle. Bussiness types intuitively know this right about their undergrad sophomore year when they’re forced to pick a major but they forget it by the time they graduate from Wharton.

That leaves us to tell our children that their lives are going to change.  No more vacations, piano lessons and daytrips to the city.  Get used to parents who are constantly worried about money, dental appointments that must be saved for in advance and how they are going to pay the mortgage on vastly reduced salaries.  The children of scientists see their parents, weighted down with degrees, some of the smartest people they know, deprived of the means to make a living.  The parents have heard their children ask, “What’s the point of all this work and college?  Where did it get you?”  We still make our kids study like fiends but we tell them,

Don’t go into science, there’s no economic security in it.

The Scientific American initiative is a futile one.  The places where those 1000 scientists are located have also seen the most devastation.  The scientists that have lived to see another day in smaller companies with less economic stability and longer hours know that the job they love today could be gone in a flash tomorrow when the venture capital runs out or the management decides capriciously to make a change.  We tell our kids to learn to live with less or go into finance, become a spy or study plumbing.

Don’t waste your time learning molecular biology and organic chemistry.  Resist the siren song of the lab.  Run away, run away!

American business is flying into a mountain

Do you remember the 70’s PBS series Connections?  Each week, James Burke showed how politics, obscure history, necessity, science and opportunity lead to the technological advances we now take for granted.  You never know where you’ll find connections.  So, I’m intrigued when I think I spot one.  See if you agree.

In one of his recent books, Outliers, the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell relates the story of the crash of Korean Air Lines Flight 801 into a mountain in Guam.  There were a number of factors that contributed to the crash, including that the glide path signal was taken out of service for a 2 month overhaul, the landing beacon that was supposed to be located a the end of the runway was relocated 5 kilometers from it and that the low altitude warning system was reconfigured to prevent the air traffic controllers from being annoyed by false positive alarms.

But the air crash investigators found another problem on the black boxes and cockpit voice recorders.  The pilot was exhausted and the co-pilot was reluctant to override him until the crash seemed imminent.  The problem seems to be a function of the culture where those people in charge are not questioned.  Malcolm cites research that shows that countries where questioning authority is forbidden or discouraged have bigger barriers to cross when introducing new ideas and preventing catastrophes.  The more hierarchical the structure of the society, the less likely innovation is to be nurtured.

Flash forward to 2010.  Derek Lowe at In The Pipeline posted this letter from a pharmabot in a corporate setting regarding the perils of outsourcing.  Here’s the money quotes:

in a recent edition (25th Oct 2010 “The Grand Experiment”) you state that Merck &Co targets 25% external R&D and that AstraZeneca is striving for 40%. I recently talked to all the project managers which oversee our current collaborations. The stories of naivety, incompetence and missed deadlines by the outsource companies were legion. The managers I talked to mostly used in-house resource and expertise to paper over the cracks. Why?When asked whether they had reported these problems up the chain of command, the answer was always no. The reasons?

1 “If we have four collaborations and mine is the only one reporting problems, which three project managers do you think will get a bonus?”

2 “They won’t believe me, they will just think I am trying to protect jobs here”.

3. “You can’t swim against the tide”.

4 “When it goes bad here, I might be able to get a job with the collaborator”.

5 “My next job will be outside chemistry as a project manager. The last thing I need is any negative vibes around this collaboration”.

6. “I want to be the out-sourcing manager when that is all that there is left here. Do you think I want any trouble to become visible”

So, as far as senior management know, it is all going very well.

Unfortunately I can’t attach my name and organization. I need a job too and telling the truth is not always that popular, as many out-sourcing managers will have experienced. . .

This isn’t really surprising and isn’t exclusive to R&D industries.  But the whole R&D apparatus in particular is scared sh&*less by layoffs and outsourcing.  No one wants to be the one to break the bad news to upper management that some outsourcing collaborations or periodic business management rearranging of the deck chairs restructuring is making our jobs harder and less productive.  As Derek sums up:
Just as with internal efforts, Something Upper Management Wants can too easily turn into Something Upper Management Is Going To Do No Matter What. And with outsourcing, the problems can be both harder to detect and potentially more severe. Because what you don’t want is Something Upper Management Will Be Told Is Going Great, if it’s really not.
But how do you break the news to the guys in charge without getting fired?
And then I read this article recommended in the comments section of today’s news post about the fading fortunes of America’s middle class.  In Class Dismissed: Why middle income jobs are not coming back, this paragraph caught my attention:
From 1979-2009, there was a nearly 12% drop in the four “middle-skill” occupations: sales, office/administrative workers, production workers, operators. Meanwhile, people in the top 20% of the economy earning $100,000 or more a year, says Peter Francese, demographer at Ogilvy & Mather, “have barely been touched by this recession.” They average an unemployment rate between 3% and 4%, the lowest in the nation. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14% increase in low-education service jobs between 2008-2018. “The only major occupational category with greater projected growth,” Autor writes, “is professional occupations, which are predicted to add 5.2 million jobs, or 17%.” These sectors include medicine, law and middle- and upper-management.
Yes, that’s right.  Middle and upper management is now considered a “profession” right along side doctors and lawyers.  Hold that thought for a moment.
A couple of years ago, I ran into one of my daughter’s friend’s parents in a movie theater lobby.  Here’s how her side of the conversation went:
Oh, hi, what’s up?  Oh, I didn’t know you work for yadayadaco?   No, I work for blahco.  Yes, my job is very exciting.  I graduated from Wharton.  Which school did you go to?  Oh, really?  Well, my last project was very ambitious.  Yeah, we just corrected the labeling on the bottle of *insert famous over the counter medication here*.  And you do what?  What does that mean, I mean, I don’t know what that is.  Oh, it must be very interesting.  Well, gotta go.  Bye!
Readers, she’s bringing in the big money in her family.  Her husband’s career is more like a hobby.  They live very well, very well indeed.  Nice big house.  Expensive cars.  Lavish vacations.
And she changes the labels on over the counter drugs.  Now, I’m not saying this is not a very important thing to do but do you really need an MBA for that?  I mean, wouldn’t any one with sufficiently well developed communication and planning skills be able to read the documentation provided by the FDA and make the appropriate changes?  Sure, you have to coordinate with other departments but this is something the labrats do on a daily basis in addition to solving science problems.  Yeah, we have to read contracts, negotiate with vendors, make spreadsheets, call meetings, coordinate with other departments, prepare budgets and do every thing else that the Wharton MBA does.  But we do it for much, much less in salary and other benefits.  Moving from the lab to the corporate building always comes with a generous increase in salary regardless of company.
They think very well of themselves, those MBAs.  I doubt that any of them have a clue what we do and I don’t expect that any of them want to find out.  I’ve seen well respected PhDs in biology dressed down in a training session by some snooty woman from purchasing in her business suit because he had the temerity to ask about the application they were forcing on us.  It’s typical.  The condescension is palpable any time a labrat has to deal with the administrative side of the business.  You get the impression they think of us as dirty nuisances, an unpleasant and expensive necessity and we are stupid idiots for not immediately understanding their obscure bureaucratic procedures for getting even the simplest things accomplished in a time sensitive manner.  Yes, they waste our time and they aren’t nice about it.
But the fear we face is that the MBAs don’t want to hear this even if it is in the best interests of the shareholders.  We fear that they don’t want to hear that  they are sometimes wrong and that they will kill the messenger.  So, we just try to adapt and keep doing our best even when the alarms are all flashing danger.  No one wants to be the first one to raise their voices and get cut down by the higher ups.  We’ll keep our heads down and brace for the impact into that mountain.

Friday Afternoon News and Views: Have We Finally Reached A Tipping Point?

The boiling point

Tipping points: the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable; the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point. (Malcolm Gladwell)

Was the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat the final straw for Obama supporters and for Obama’s corporate agenda? It sure looks that way. The signs are everywhere: prog blogs are in chaos, big media is finally beginning to notice that Obama is arrogant and out of touch, and even the most far-gone Koolaid drinkers are beginning to sober up. Firedoglake is morphing into a blog that resembles TC back in June of 2008.

Oddly, Krugman is still hanging in there with the Koolaid Krowd. He wants the House to pass the Senate bill right away. WTF?! Just what drug did they feed him at that White House dinner anyway? Or are the bosses at the NYT holding a gun to his head as he writes his columns?

Elsewhere, all around the ‘net, hundreds of Koolaid drinkers are jumping on the wagon every day. Let’s take a brief tour.

At The Nation, William Greider calls the Massachusetts election results a “pie in the President’s face.”

The special election displayed monumental miscalculations by which Obama has governed, both in priorities and political-legislative strategies. It may seem perverse and unfair, but the president’s various actions for reform generated a vaguely poisonous identity. Amid the general suffering, Obama is widely seen as collaborating with two popular villains–the me-first bankers and over-educated policy technocrats of the permanent governing elite. Obama made nice with the bankers and loaded up his administration with Harvard policy wonks who really don’t know the country. These malignant associations gain traction because people see there are grains of truth in observable reality.

Greider still has a way to go–he still adores Obama’s “soaring rhetoric,” and he thinks Obama just followed the advice of his bad advisers and needs to fire them and hire new ones. But it’s a start. Greider is a smart man. He’ll get it eventually.

Drew Westen has been on Obama case for awhile now, but this post is even more emphatic than the past few he has written.

The President’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge that we have a two-party system, his insistence on making destructive concessions to the same party voters he had sent packing twice in a row in the name of “bipartisanship,” and his refusal ever to utter the words “I am a Democrat” and to articulate what that means, are not among his virtues. We have competing ideas in a democracy — and hence competing parties — for a reason. To paper them over and pretend they do not exist, particularly when the ideology of one of the parties has proven so devastating to the lives of everyday Americans, is not a virtue. It is an abdication of responsibility.

I’ve got his book The Political Brain lying around here somewhere. Maybe I’ll read it.

And it sure does look like Obama’s agenda is about to topple over, doesn’t it? Roll call has the startling news that Ben Bernanke’s reappointment is in trouble. It’s subscription only, but D-day has quotes at FDL.

Ben Bernanke’s nomination to serve a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve appears to be in peril. Bernanke is up for a second term at the Fed; his current term expires in 10 days on Jan. 31. A handful of Senators had previously threatened to filibuster the nomination, but this week the number of opposing lawmakers appeared to grow, further dimming his prospects for installment.

“I think it’s worthy of a review,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who is undecided.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) met with Bernanke on Thursday, one day after Democrats voiced concerns during their weekly policy luncheon about the nomination. In a statement after his meeting with the Fed chairman, Reid was coy, saying the two met “to discuss the best ways to strengthen and stabilize our economy.” […]

At Wednesday’s Democratic caucus meeting, according to Senators, liberals spoke out against confirming Bernanke for a second term. Those liberals tried to make the case that the White House needs to put in place fresh economic advisers to focus on “Main Street” issues like unemployment rather than Wall Street concerns. Moderates were more reserved, Senators said, but have similarly withheld their support for Bernanke.

Wow!

At Politico: Dem health care talks collapsing

Health care reform teetered on the brink of collapse Thursday as House and Senate leaders struggled to coalesce around a strategy to rescue the plan, in the face of growing pessimism among lawmakers that the president’s top priority can survive.

The legislative landscape was filled with obstacles: House Democrats won’t pass the Senate bill. Senate Democrats don’t want to start from scratch just to appease the House. And the White House still isn’t telling Congress how to fix the problem.

Also at Politico: White House caught in Democrats’ crossfire

Congressional Democrats — stunned out of silence by Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts — say they’re done swallowing their anger with President Barack Obama and ready to go public with their gripes.

If the sentiment isn’t quite heads-must-roll, it’s getting there.

Hill Democrats are demanding that Obama’s brain trust — especially senior adviser David Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — shelve their grand legislative ambitions to focus on the economic issues that will determine the fates of shaky Democratic majorities in both houses.

And they want the White House to step up — quickly — to help shape the party’s message and steer it through the wreckage of health care reform.

Double wow!

And get this: even NOW is waking up!!!!!

As Democrats weigh options for health reform following a major setback in the Massachusetts election, the nation’s leading womens’ rights group blasted the legislation as “beyond outrageous.”

The National Organization for Women (NOW) harbors deep concerns with the Senate health legislation, and exclaims that “women will be better off with no bill whatsoever.”

“The Senate bill contains such fierce anti-abortion language, and there are other problems from the point of view of women,” NOW’s President Terry O’Neill told Raw Story in an interview.

O’Neill said NOW “will not support candidates in 2010 if they vote for it.”

Triple Wow!!!!

Will Scott Brown be the savior of the Democratic Party? It’s too early to tell yet, but it does look like we’ve reached a tipping point. Please post your own “tipping point” links in the comments.

HAVE A FABULOUS FRIDAY!!!!!!!

Who here thinks creativity is easy?

You’ve probably seen this ad in the past couple of days.  I really loved it, although I’m not sure who at Intel approved of it:

I know the guy who invented one of the most widely used anti-depressants in history.  The company that he worked for bought his patent for a buck and is reaping in billions every year- well, for the time being anyway.  And what did Morris get?  Well, other than a pretty nice bonus, he gets fan mail.  He get letters from people who thank him for saving them from the wreckage of their minds.  Now, some of you may scoff haughtily at the notion of an anti-depressant, assuming (wrongly) that most people who take them don’t need them.  I might agree that they are overprescribed but the thing is, if you are one of the people who can pull yourself together under their influence in a way you can’t do without them, you probably aren’t terribly interested in the superior minded folks who tell you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  Ever.  For day after day, year after year.  Well, you get the picture.

Yeah, Morris gets fan mail.  I don’t know how these people tracked him down but they did.  He’s a rockstar.

Last week, Don Draper, the Creative Director of Mad Men’s Sterling-Cooper, told his protege that she wasn’t an artist, she solves problems.  Those of us who work in creative fields like processor design, drug design, even auto-mechanics, are problem solvers.

Those who work in the insurance industry and the finance industry are NOT problem solvers.  I think this point was lost on the folks at Planet Money recently.  Ya’know, back when the Financial Meltdown of 2008 was young, Planet Money was a great little podcast.  It explained how all of the moving pieces meshed together.  The few missteps in the beginning when Adam Davidson told us all not to get too mad at the bonus structure of the bailed out companies were naive but we could overlook them.  Then came that cringeworthy interview he had with Elizabeth Warren and it all started going rapidly downhill from there.  The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg.  God, I had such high hopes for him.  One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

Oh, sure, the moneybags have financed a lot of good stuff but there have been plenty of things that never got off the ground or have been hopelessly stalled.  Take stem cell research for example.  I guess it depends on the religious mindset of who is actually holding the moneybags.  Or the fact that back in the 90’s, Apple nearly went out of business when all of the big corporations gave lifetime employment to the IT nazis when they bought PCs that ran nothing but Windows.  We are all going to be paying for that  non-diversification of the the desktop for a lifetime.  Or the fact that our financial wizards can not think beyond 3 months, which is forcing a lot of companies to merge, cut their workforces or get gobbled up by private equity.  Or the fact that so many small businesses can’t get loans because all of the bankers who Adam Davidson insists we just had to save are sitting on big piles of money because they refuse to divest themselves of their bad assets.  Yes! Let’s hear it for our financial braintrusts!

How frickin’ clueless can you get?  I’ll answer that: pretty clueless, especially if you’ve never seen real creation at work.  Some of our corporate overlords have this fantastic notion in their overblown egos that the companies they pilot would sink without their skills.  The R&D people make note of this all of the time.  Yes, we can be replaced by cheaper Ajay Bhatts in Hyderabad but real creativity doesn’t come by swapping out parts.  It takes a certain environment.  Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his most recent book, Outliers, when he describes the characteristics of successful people.  Your native intelligence can only take you so far.  Other things have to come into play, like how effectively your family advocates for you at school, opportunity and location and something that most of us in America overlook- how hierarchically our society is structured.  It turns out that in highly hierarchical societies, creativity and problem solving is squelched, sometimes with disastrously fatal results.

The grumbling of the problem solvers is starting to make noise.  At least we, the R&D people are starting to hear it from each other.   A real resentment is starting to simmer about how the corporate people think their s%^& doesn’t smell because they don’t have to spend their days in the labs touching things with their hands.  Their salaries and bonuses match their egos.  The newest thing is a management development program where the trainer encourages the non-corporate types to use the same meaningless biz-speak jargon to communicate with the “people who have the money”.  See, if you use the latest trendy word combination, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  You put it in a context they can understand, even if the rest of your presentation is completely over their heads.  Someone tried to convince me the other day that this was a good idea.  It’s not.  There are studies that show that the more jargon a business uses, the more poorly run it is, a prediction made by Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian in his book Less Than Words Can Say three decades ago.    I don’t think I have an obligation to contribute to my own demise.

I worry about a country that had a cornucopia of innovation in the past is now facing its biggest creative crisis.  This country is becoming more hierarchical all of the time while it is also becoming less able to cope with the demands of new technology and how to solve problems with it.  It doesn’t help that our nation’s teachers blame everyone but themselves for their poor preparation.  Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.  Well, not to worry.  At the rate things are going, there will soon be a glut of highly educated future teachers on the market who will be fluent in advanced mathematics and science.  When the creative types finally lose their jobs because they can’t convince the “people who have the money” that solving problems is worth a damn, they can take a crack at the classroom for a little less money but summers off.

They might not have fan mail, but at least they’ll have a union.

Catch more on the battle of the creatives vs the hierarchy on Mad Men tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.

PS.  Thank someone who solves a problem for you tomorrow.  We need to start a movement.

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Sunday: 10,000 hours

Chesley Sullenberger, 1973

Chesley Sullenberger, 1973

Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, is about the characteristics of leaders and other success stories.  In case you didn’t know, geniuses don’t automatically rise to the top of the food chain.  In fact, quite a few end up as security guards on the midnight shift.  It is also true that you don’t need to be a genius to be a success.  If your IQ is around 120, you’re capable of doing just about anything you set your mind to.

So, if ability is not the determining factor to becoming a success at anything, what are the factors?  Gladwell identifies several including opportunity, family background, creativity, the degree to which the culture you live in is “top down” and one other teeny-tiny thing- practice.  Yep, that old adage “practice makes perfect” is absolutely true.  If you want to become an expert at anything and be able to create new things from your starting materials, you have to have a lot of practice time under your belt.  The research points to a very consistent number of hours to attain this level of mastery for any field- 10,000 hours.

This week, we’ve seen a very dramatic demonstration of that requirement in the person of Chesley Sullenberger.  Captain Sullenberger, a 1973 graduate of the Air Force Academy, former fighter pilot and US Airways pilot used all of those hours of practice and experience to glide his aircraft into the icy waters of the Hudson River after it was disabled by birdstrike.  Oh, did I mention that Sullenberger had a glider license as well?  All of the elements of success came together for Sullenberger and his crew including the cockpit training that allowed for him to get control of the aircraft from his co-pilot.  But it was Sullenberger’s years of practice, practice, practice with jets and gliders that allowed him to create and execute a water landing from a gliding AirBus.

I woke up this morning to a headline in the NYTimes that declares that the nation has faith in Barack Obama and will wait patiently while he gets his $%#@ together.  That’s great because Obama has virtually no practice time under his belt.  His whole political career has consisted of a lot of amazing opportunities and family background.  He doesn’t strike me as a creative type.  I hang out with a lot of creatives including my Brook who has a surplus.  Obama’s no creative.  He does have an uncanny knack for staging.  I’m beginning to think even the Reverend Wright debacle was carefully staged so he could deliver a speech on racism.  But choreographing a campaign is quite a different thing from running a country.  This sounds obvious but it is even more important in Obama’s case.

George Bush was allowed to get away with murder because his predecessor had left the place in tip-top shape, having had 8 years of a governorship and 8 years of a presidency to practice.  We know that Bush didn’t practice and was a lazy president.  But there was enough of a cushion built into the economy that we could ride out Bush’s presidency.  Now, that cushion is gone.  Here is when experience matters a great deal.  We could have had Hillary Clinton who was there for the 8 years of governor training, 8 years of presidential training and 8 years of senatorial training.  That would have given her.  210,240 hours of experience to fall back on.  One could argue that she wasn’t running anything for 16 of those years but we know that she wasn’t a typical first lady and she took on health care and peace in Northern Ireland while the Big Dawg was president.  So, OK, let’s take away her 8 years in Arkansas because that was not at a federal level.  That would leave her with 140,160 hours.  Let’s give her a month off for every year for vacation.  That brings us to 128,640 hours.  Let’s give her a 40 hour work week.  That brings us to 30,720 hours.  Not bad.

Now, let’s look at Obama.  We’ll exclude all of his work on the state level just as we did for Clinton.  It’s fair.  She did tons of work for Arkansas in the areas of education and children’s welfare but let’s put it aside for a moment.  He’s been a senator for 4 years.  We’ll give him a month off for vacation every year and a 40 hour week.  Yeah, he’s probably worked more than that per week during the campaign season but it normalizes with respect to Clinton.  That gives him 7,680 hours.  At this rate, it will take him a couple of years for him to know the emergency procedures.

Just sayin’.

Sunday: The unParty and The Tipping Point

tippingpointLast week, I proposed that we read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell to figure out how we move our unParty from the PUMA internet endemic to the mainstream.  I hope most of you were able to get your hands on a copy of the book or download a version from audible.

Here’s the place to discuss what you’ve learned.  Does Gladwell’s discoveries on the nature of social epidemics have any resonance with the unParty movement?  Are you a connector, maven or salesman?  What entities played those roles for us after the RBC hearing?  What did they do right/wrong?  What piece of the epidemic is missing?  How do we compensate for it?  Is there a role for the unParty in modern politics?  Will it be a movement, a voting bloc, a separate party?  How do we expand beyond our base of PUMAs?  What does the necessary infrastructure look like and how will be organize to create one?  What working groups should we assemble and in what size?

Ok, go to it!  I am thinking of scheduling a blogtalkradio segment to discuss the way forward and The Tipping Point.  I have more drylocking to do today so I’m not sure when I will have a break to do so but if there is support for it, I’ll set one up for sometime this afternoon.