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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.



The Employment Index: Wish me luck

This week’s version of the index will be brief.  I have an interview this morning and I need to jump in the shower.  The job is in a different area of research than I’m used to but I passed the preliminary placement exam so there’s that. Just in case, I looked up some material on YouTube. I bought a new suit, that I will probably never wear again, and got an investment haircut.  Got my berry smoothie ready.  Everything copacetic.

Now all I need is a little bit of luck to go with the preparation.

This is ze time on ze Confluence vhen ve dahnse.

Things I learned this week and other stuff

If you're 5 and can read this sign...

If you’re 5 and can read this sign…

I went back to work full time this week after my prolonged involuntary sabbatical featuring periodic consulting work.  Here’s what I learned:

1.) Don’t park in Oakland.  Just don’t.  Fortunately, this is only temporary for the summer because I have to drop the kid off somewhere else and can’t take public transportation.  In the fall, I’m taking the bus that’s within walking distance from my house.  My brilliant plan to take public transportation will work perfectly.  Bwahahahahahahahahhhhh!**

2.) It’s easier to get up and get going at 6am than 9am.  Go figure.  I guess I really am a morning person. If I get up too late, I might as well bag the rest of the day.

3.) Don’t take the Parkway to work, especially if your route has to go through the Squirrel Hill tunnels.  Getting to work on time?  Nah-gah-happen.

4.) If you want to get to the South Side in the morning, do the counterintuitive route and go east and then north west.  Sounds bizarre but I cut a lot of time off my trip and the view of Pittsburgh in the morning as I’m flying over the bridges is spectacular. We were gobsmacked. It looks like some skyline poster from the early twentieth century and you can almost hear Rhapsody in Blue playing in the background. I need to get a dash mountable video camera.  Pittsburgh really is beautiful.  Buy real estate now because when the rest of the biotech industry decides to move here, the neighborhoods with the great views will be in high demand.  I almost feel like buying a fixer upper nearer to downtown to renovate.  (No, no, stop me before I buy again.  What am I thinking??)

5.) Another counterintuitive thing: There’s more variety and diversity in Pittsburgh than in suburban New Jersey.  What I mean to say is that the marketers haven’t really pinned down this city so there seems to be a lot of choice here where there’s virtually no choice in New Jersey.  I feel like I’ve been missing something for the past 20 years.

Last night, Brook, who is changing her look, bought something at Hot Topic and the kid running the cash register asked us where we were from.  We told her we were fugitives from New Jersey.IMG_1978

** What is with the conservatives’ hatred of public transportation and trains??  I don’t get it.  30 years ago, I got around Pittsburgh without a car because the bus system was excellent.  In the past few years, funding for the PAT bus system has been cut, as have many routes.  This is a real problem for the studdabuppas who never learned to drive and now find themselves stranded in their neighborhoods without the buses they used to rely on.  In my case, the bus will stop close to my house at 7:04am and I will have to transfer closer to town.  I used to be able to take the bus directly to my destination but someone decided that people in the east suburbs didn’t need as many buses so they cut back and changed the route.  That means more traffic gets dumped onto the Parkway and snarls local roads on the way downtown.  And this is the summer.  I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the fall when everyone is back from vacation.

One disturbing trend I’ve heard from a couple of my  40 something cousins is that they think it’s alarming when an employer has to pay benefits to new hires and I think that’s part of what’s behind the cutbacks in public transportation.  The PAT drivers are union and they get bennies.  So, if there are fewer buses and more complaints, maybe there will be more pressure on the unions to drop their demands for benefits. The public might be willing to chuck the bennies in exchange for more bus drivers who are new hires not covered by the old contracts.  Just speculation on my part as to what the politicians are thinking.  I think it’s going to be tough to convince a lot of the boomer generation though who grew up in a very union city where the buses ran great and who still think that there’s nothing wrong with benefits.

Pittsburgh could use more trains.  It’s depressing to walk through Oakmont, a lovely little town on the Allegheny not too far from me, and see the unused train tracks that run right through the center of town to downtown.  Now, that former commuter train area is a pretty landscaped park.  I’m not exactly sure why it can’t be prettily landscaped and functional but for some bizarre reason known only to the editorial columnists at the Wall Street Journal, the wealthy, powerful and Republican hate, Hate, HATE trains, even if it means that the minions can’t get to work on time with the least amount of trouble and expense.

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind this.  The wealthy and Republicans don’t need trains so no one can have them?  It’s perfectly ok to spend $150 million of public funds on a new sports facility because that’s what the wealthy want but not ok to spend the same amount of money on a better bus system because that’s what the not so wealthy want??  Who died and made them gods?  Where do they think they’re living? Rome?  Even Rome knew that it was a bad idea to skimp on the bread for the masses.  What’s really a bad idea is to party like there’s no tomorrow while the natives get restless and the barbarians are at the gate.

Personal Update

Just thought you’d like to know, I got a job. I start next week. Commence the Snoopy Dance.

If I’ve done my calculations correctly, this move to Pgh was the right one from an economic standpoint. Maybe it’s too early to call it a success, since I haven’t started working yet, but I think I will like this job very much.

So, I’d like to roll the credits for those people who helped me stick it out since disaster struck in 2011, including all of you faithful Conflucians. You really get to know who your friends are and what kind of character they have when something like this happens to you. All of these people showed the highest quality:












Randy Scott

Pat and Frannie

Sister Beth

All my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins

Tikva and Dave



and last but absolutely not least and most importantly,


Thank you all. I’m going to spend the rest of the week working on my house and finding work appropriate clothes. I know they’re in a box here somewhere…

Friday: The Big Squeeze

Had a really good day yesterday.  I’m back in the saddle again, sort of.  I have some real work but, unfortunately, no job yet.  But I’m optimistic, especially because 6 months away from the workstation hasn’t resulted in any permanent damage.  It came back to me pretty quickly.

Well, technically, it’s not a unix system- yet.  It’s coming.

In the meantime, I’m not surprised by the recent census data that shows that 1 in 2 Americans is now poor or low income.  The problem with that article is that even though it mentions that college educated families are now suffering, it still emphasizes what we might consider the “typical” poor person.  That person doesn’t have a college education, may be unmarried, has a child “out of wedlock” (fornicators!).  The article is designed to comfort the comfortable.  It’s mostly the uneducated working class that’s suffering and they made some pretty poor life choices.

This would be highly inaccurate, as well as unfair to the struggling 18 year old who, after all, shouldn’t be punished forever for putting the cart before the horse.  It feels too much like The Scarlet Letter morality and that didn’t end well.  I keep featuring the trials and tribulations of the research industry because I’m close to it.  But what is happening in research is an indication of what is really happening to the middle class.  Over 100,000 of us scientists have been laid off since the crash and all the people that I know who have managed to find new jobs have taken very steep cuts in wages, in the neighborhood of 30-50%.  If they’re lucky to get that, they might not have benefits.  It’s funny that we have already readjusted our expectations so that if you are only getting 50% of your former salary but manage to get health benefits from your employer, you’re considered successful.

And we’re not talking about high school graduates with illegitimate children living on Baker Street.  We’re talking about people who have advanced degrees in hard sciences and who just a couple of years ago were making $80,000 plus per year.  Of course, that doesn’t go very far in the northeast unless you have a spouse who works.  It only sounds like a lot of money if you’ve never had to live in central NJ.  But imagine having to pay all of your former expenses (mortgage, utilities, car insurance, food) in one of the most expensive areas of the country, the NYC metropolitan suburb area, on half of that income.  That’s what’s so maddening about the current economic situation.  Our cost of living hasn’t dropped- at all.  Expenses are still the same.  It’s just that you are much less likely to be able to afford to pay them.

I call it The Big Squeeze and I blame the Republican party.  I’m not letting Democrats off the hook here.  They may be in denial thinking, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.  At least not bad enough that I actually should refuse this campaign contribution from Pfizer or {insert some large pharma here}.”  Um, it *is* that bad.  Really, really bad.  It can’t last forever.  I’m assuming that the s%^& is being timed to hit the fan sometime next year in the midst of the election season.  By mid-summer next year, we will see main street dry up.  There will be a lot fewer families taking vacations, kids taking piano lessons, people buying stuff.  There will be more foreclosures, fewer unemployment benefits and an even greater spike in the school lunch program applications.  There will be more insanely rabid Republican crazy voters who have lost all sense of proportion and “christian” charity.  It’s all designed to extract a giant scream of uncle from Americans.  Think of it as economic torture until we give in and sign our hard earned benefits and safety net away.

It doesn’t have to be like this and, honestly, I can’t figure out why the bonus class wasn’t content with the fists full of dollars they were making during the Clinton years.  But for whatever reason, the wealthy and well connected have this ridiculous idea in their heads that they’re the only ones who know how to work hard and that the rest of us are just slackers and parasites.  This is the biggest problem we’re facing.  We are running up against a misplaced attitude of self-worth among the Wall Street crowd.  They have some peculiar notion that because they are rich, they earned that money virtuously while the rest of us are dirty, stupid and lazy.

I’d just like to caution the Democratic operatives out there who may be reading this that that’s a hard argument to make to the research community who have been working their asses off in the past decade to please a management strata that never seems to be satisfied.  Now that I’ve been out of work for awhile, I’ve come to see how mentally abused researchers have been.  Every second of every day is consumed with the thought that the next day could be the last on the job and that their entire middle class existence could be wiped out with the delete key on some clueless MBA’s spreadsheet.  And there’s a sense that the MBAs think that this anxiety producing pogrom against their workers is a good thing, that it puts the fear of  “job creators” into them and teaches them the value of money.  But while unemployment is devastating financially and ruins relationships and is just hard on your kids, the one thing it has in its favor is that the worst has happened and you don’t have to worry about it anymore.  Oddly enough, it gives us time to actually think about science once again and find satisfaction in learning new things.

So, to all of you researchers out there who are losing everything, hang in there as best you can.  I don’t believe this will last forever and there is some evidence that small companies and academia will slowly be able to pick up the slack at vastly reduced salaries but perhaps, not so much layoff insanity.  But The Big Squeeze is too damaging to the economy and will have lasting consequences.  As Jane Caro says, what we are witnessing is a struggle between authoritarianism and small “l” liberalism.  Right now, it looks like the authoritarians have the upper hand.  But even their ravening nutcase followers are subject to the global economy.  I don’t know what it will take to get them on the streets side by side with the occupiers but if I were politicians, I’d be worried right now that maybe they’ve gone too far.  The poor are not just the fornicating 18 year olds with no place to live.  They’re now the labcoated men and women who used to do the science fairs at your kids’ schools.  They’re extremely angry right now and they vote.

In the meantime, it’s still a beautiful world.  That tends to make the current economic situation a little easier to bear.

PS. I will be visiting Philadelphia more frequently in the forseeable future.  If there are any bloggers there who would like to get together for lunch or dinner, email me.  Yes, the traffic is atrocious.