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Posts Tagged ‘USA’

On the Poor Career Prospects for People with Postgraduate Degrees : 2

August 21, 2019 7 comments

In the previous part of this series, I went into some detail about the careers of those who studied or worked alongside me during my MSc. To make a long story short, the majority are either no longer involved in scientific research or have menial unstable jobs with some vague connection to what they studied or used to do for a living. Some of you might say that this is to be expected since the biomedical sciences produce many times more graduates than the number of available jobs. While that may be true now, it wasn’t always the case. Indeed, until the early 1990s, those who studied or worked in that sector could either find decent to acceptable jobs or simply move into related areas with considerable ease.

Now let us now talk about another sector which, for over 50 years, provided highly stable, well compensated and intellectually engaging employment. I am talking about pharma. From the end of WW2 in 1945 to mid-1990s, pharmaceutical corporations (large and medium) provided some of the best and most interesting jobs and careers in western countries. And it worked both ways, since those who worked in them came up with the most important advances in medicine we have ever seen. There is a very good reason why this period is often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of drug discovery. And then it started going wrong and is now a mere shadow of its former self. Years ago, I linked to a spoof by somebody else about how things went to shit in pharma.

To be fair, this fall was not instantaneous and it was only after 2008 that the whole sector was irreparably damaged. But ya.. things had been on a downward slope since the mid-1990s. In retrospect, the true beginning of end started in late 1980s, when certain large corporations (Pfizer, Merck etc) decided to recruit ivy-league MBAs. The first signs of this rot manifested as gradual consolidation within that sector. While I could write multiple books on why consolidation in the pharma sector was so disastrous, here is the very brief version. Monopolization and oligopolization always results in counterproductive centralization, destruction of real innovation, greatly increased rent-seeking and is bad for everyone other than the upper management of those corporations in addition to their lawyers and bankers.

It should be noted that corporate monopolization has been much more disastrous in the West than Asian countries because corporations in the later are answerable to their governments to an extent unimaginable in the former. But why are we talking about how the pharma sector used to be about 20 years. Well.. because it is relevant to my choice of career. One of the main reasons for me taking the educational path I took was that working in pharma was an excellent career option with long-term stability and a pretty decent work environment. Sure.. nothing is perfect, but for someone with my interest and talents, it was as good a match as realistically possible.

Also, the pharma sector used to be fairly conservative in both hiring and firing people. Until early 2000s, mass layoffs and multiple site closures for the purpose of “corporate reorganization” were unknown in pharma. Many larger corporations even had defined benefit pensions until mid-2000s. Yes.. you heard that right. To make a long story short, those who stayed out of corporate politics and had generally satisfactory job performance could reasonably expect lifetime employment, and this was widely expected by employers and employees right upto early 2000s. You were not expected to work beyond normal work hours unless necessary due to nature of experiments and there was tons of autonomy at the site and group level. And in spite of all this, vast majority of pharma corporations were profitable businesses and remained so over multiple decades.

But how is any of this linked to my story? As it turns out, I ended up working in pharma for a few years and through direct experience and observing the career trajectories of acquaintances had a ringside seat to the beginning of final collapse of employment in pharma sector. Here is a post from 2011 in which they document that almost 300k jobs in that sector were lost between 2001 and 2011. And those layoffs did not stop in 2011, though they have sorta run out of people to fire- especially in past 4 years. The total is now closer to 400-450 k jobs and even if we assume that 60-70% were in sales and administration, it is fair to say that ivy-league MBAs have finally killed the goose which used to lay golden eggs. Far more problematically, it has altered the career course for many who would have otherwise gone into pharma.

In other words, their short-termism not only destroyed decades of institutional knowledge but also their ability to rebuild in future. And it shows! And before I explain you how, it is important to quickly explain the process of drug discovery and approval. It all starts with either the discovery of a new drug target (usually protein) or some effect of a chemical compound in cell-based or animal assays. From there it enters the pre-clinical development phase where chemists make hundreds and thousands of chemical cousins of the initial lead compounds and test them in a number of assays, animal models of some disease and extensive toxicity testing in multiple animal species. Only after it has cleared that phase can it be even considered for human trials. Small phase I trials are usually the first (dozens of people), followed by larger Phase II trials (hundreds) culminating in Phase III (hundreds to thousands and often) over a few years.

To make another long story short, the system was designed such that drugs which entered Phase III trials were unlikely to fail, and this was the case for most of modern history. Sure.. you did encounter situations where testing in larger populations (P III) revealed some rare but nasty side effects or the drug was not as efficacious as previously expected. But outright failures of efficacy in Phase III trials was really rare. Then something changed and nowadays the majority of drugs which enter Phase III trials fail, and they usually do so for lack of efficacy. Curiously, this often occurs when Phase I and Phase II data was either very good or pretty promising. So.. what is going on? While many industry insiders have tried to explain this deeply troubling trend by invoking all sorts of clever sounding bullshit, there is a simpler and more rational explanation.

A large percentage, likely overwhelming majority, of drug development in past two decades has been based in two types of fraud. The first involves manipulating metrics to make something look far better than it is in real life. Examples of such frauds involve cherry-picking patients, burying negative data, changing criteria for success, playing around with data and statistics and other stuff which is not technically illegal. The second type involves falsification of data, deliberately deleting data, kicking non-responders out of trials to improve responses rates etc. But what does any of this have to do with the downward career trajectory of people working in that sector?

Well.. since we have already exceeded 1200 words in this post, I will leave that discussion for the next part of this series. In it, I hope to go into some more detail about how neoliberalization and financialization of pharma destroyed its older and much more successful business model and institutional structure- all to make a handful of people on wall street and upper management far richer than they otherwise would have been. You will also see how stuff such as pushing opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics etc to doctors and constantly jacking up prices of old and new drugs replaced developing newer ones as the main source of corporate growth. And ya.. I will also go into what happened to all those middle-aged and older people who lost their jobs and, in many cases their entire, careers after decades of relative stability.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Poor Career Prospects for People with Postgraduate Degrees : 1

August 17, 2019 33 comments

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how the defined and stable career trajectory is now dead in west and west-aping countries such as Japan and South Korea. Some months after that, I wrote about how the hiring practices of corporations in west have shortened the length of semi-stable career for most people to about 15 years. Then, about a year ago, I wrote a series on the long term social, economic and cultural effects of career insecurity. While they don’t make cheerful reading, it is interesting to note that these and my other older posts (pre-2016) on this general area (link 1, link 2, link 3) anticipated the rise of pseudo-populists such as Trump, the alt-right and popularity of socialism among “Millennials”. Also, have a look at my post on why rich and well-off (even in USA) are barely having any kids.

But let us get back to the topic of this post, and talk about something which I have often hinted to in previous posts on this topic. Ever wonder about the real career prospects for those with proper postgraduate education in the sciences and other related areas such as engineering. And yes.. this is relevant to issues other than the immediate future of western countries. What I am now going to describe, based on personal observations, is going to vindicate many of your darkest suspicions but also make you feel depressed. But before we talk about my observations, you should know a couple of facts about me. Longtime readers are probably aware that I came here and started my MSc when I was 20 years old in the later half of 1990s. After finishing it, I worked a couple of jobs in my field and then started my PhD in a proper STEM subject in mid-2000s and finished at the beginning of this decade. The point is, I have seen a lot more change than many others have seen.

To be more precise, I had a ringside seat to the demise of career security for smart people with postgraduate education in western countries. And don’t worry about me, I am still doing OK and will (knock on wood) continue to do so. But back to the topic at hand- What do my personal observations about the career trajectories of others who graduated a few years before myself, or alongside me, say about the overall situation. The very short answer is that it is already very bad and getting worse- if that is possible. While there are many ways to describe what I have witnessed, a chronological account of the careers of people who graduated a few years before me provides the best (if somewhat disturbing) insight into how things have gone to to shit.

While biomedical sciences have notorious for overproduction of graduates, until the mid-1990s most of them could get some half-decent jobs or at least transition into careers where their skills were useful. Somewhere between mid-1990s and 2000, that became much harder or no longer possible. To make a long story short, only those who went into to medical or dental school now have anything approaching “normal” careers. And even for them, things are pretty dismal. For starters, most are single, divorced or unhappily married with a single child. Out of the ten or so guys I know who took that route, only one has more than 2 children- and half have none. Almost every woman who went to medical school (around my age or younger) has either zero kids or just managed to squeeze one out in their late-30s. And they all look older than they should.

But at least they have some semblance of a career trajectory, because most of the rest (aka the majority) who did not get into medical school have none. Sure.. there are a few who have done OK in either academia or industry (usually the later) but most of them just seem to disappear. Confused? Let me explain. Over the years I have followed the careers of many PhD students who were smart, liked by their supervisors and generally expected to do OK in later life. But things did not work that way and many of them after promising starts and careers lasting for a decade or so, just disappear. To be clear, I am not suggesting they are dead or have commited suicide (though the later cannot be ruled out). It is just that their career in science seem to end and they stop updating their LinkedIn profiles. In almost every case, detailed internet searches failed to reveal much more than their current addresses and some more recent photos.

While I am sure that most are still alive, it is clear that they do not have well-paid or marginally prestigious jobs. Maybe they are bagging groceries at the supermarket, driving for Uber, delivering Pizza, tutoring kids or in one of those mediocre administrative positions which have proliferated in past 15 years. My point is that most of them are now doing jobs that require nothing more than an undergraduate degree. Isn’t that a terrible and cruel waste of human potential and hope? But wait.. it gets worse. Let me talk about the fate of a few people I used to know well in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And it gets depressing real fast..

When I was just finishing my MSc, there was a new postdoc from UK in the adjacent lab who had come here with his then-GF (also a postdoc). The guy was bright and competent, because within a couple of years he got a decent academic position back in UK. So far so good. Based on mutual acquaintances and PubMed, it seemed he was doing well for a decade or so. Sure.. his GF dumped him after a few years, but he seemed set for an OK career. Somewhere in 2012, his research output just stopped. My guess is that his job loss might have something to with post-2008 austerity politics in UK. Anyway.. he reemerged a few years later as proprietor of a small businesses selling dietary supplements. So a guy with a PhD, over 30 papers in decent journals and an academic career lasting almost a decade ended up hawking supplements like one of those scummy Instagram and FakeBook influencers.

Another person who did his MSc in an adjacent lab ended up running cell-phone kiosks in malls and is now selling insurance. Yet another PhD student who was considered to be very smart ended up moving to his home-city for a postdoc. He then regressed to working as a lab tech and eventually as a freelancer, the last I heard. At least, he lives in a place where his parents own a house. Another ambitious PhD student, after a couple of stints at prestigious labs as a postdoc, seems to have ended as a part-time freelancer at some research institute in another large city. The women seemed to have done a bit better, and more than a few ended up as scientific writers or mediocre administrative positions in corporations with varying degrees of stability. But in almost every case, there had no defined career with the degree of stability expended by their parents generation. Also, many of them either have no kids or one token child squeezed out in their late-30s.

To be clear, all of this occurred to people who studied, or worked, at prestigious research groups in one of the top two universities in that state. But wait.. it get worse. In the next part, I will tell you what happened to the careers of people who worked in the pharma sector between 2001 and 2008-2009. It is really bad.. to put it mildly. In future posts, I will also go in some detail about the dismal career prospects of people with postgraduate degree from well-regarded universities in subject such as Chemistry and Physics. Also degrees in engineering (various disciplines) from well regarded universities are no longer the ticket to a stable career. I hope to show you how all of this ties with rise of neoliberalism, de-industrialization and increased financialization of economy in western countries- and the death of hope.

I have a feeling that some of you might say something the lines of these people being lucky since they are still employed in jobs which pay more than median wage. Funny thing.. that is not the way things work in countries which harbor any hope for a better future. What I have described is how things typically unfold in countries that are in a steep and likely irreversible decline.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts on How Mass Shootings Became Normalized in USA

August 3, 2019 16 comments

Over the past two decades, occasional mass shootings have become one of more unique features of the american social and media landscape. To be clear, many countries with “strict gun control laws” and low civilian firearm ownership such as Brazil and Mexico, do have much higher rates of homicide by gun than USA. However american mass shootings, while far less frequent than most people imagine, stand out for a peculiar reason. See.. in other countries, the person who commits homicide almost always knows the victim/s. In contrast, mass shooters in USA seldom know their victims beforehand. In other words, there is often no previous connection between the killer and his victims. And it is almost always a ‘he’ who is white and between 16-50.

As many of you might have heard by now, earlier today some guy went on a shooting spree in a Walmart at the Cielo Vista mall in El Paso and killed 20 people and injured about 26. The shooter, Patrick Crusius was 21 yrs old and from Allen, Texas. Which is odd, because he likely drive about a thousand km to get to that particular mall in El Paso. It seems that he also posted a manifesto of some sort on 8chan in which he railed against Hispanics displacing whites- among other things. As you will soon see, the reasons given by him to explain his behavior are far less relevant that what pressitutes working for large media outlets would like to pretend. As I have written in many posts on this topic over the years, mass shooters are driven by a combination of social alienation, poor prospects for jobs or decent sex life and a general dislike for society.

In other words, the reasons found in the manifestos of most mass shooters are merely attempts to rationalize their pre-existing severe and prolonged disconnect with contemporary society. In reality, many features of contemporary western society (especially its north american variant) such as profound social atomization, loss of jobs through financialization of economy, side-effects of 3rd and 4th wave feminism and the general neoliberalization of society are what drives these people to go on mass shooting and killing sprees. Some of you might wonder why such incidents do not occur with any regularity in other developed countries. Well.. the short answer is that USA is a rich third-world country, which is a nice way of saying that it (for historical reasons) does not have a decent social safety net or pathways for non-rich people to eke out a basic, but still meaningful and socially connected existence. Now let us move on to the main topic of this post.

Have you ever wondered about how, over the past 2-3 decades, mass shootings have become a normal part of the american cultural landscape. While I am sure that some of you (MikeCA?) will argue that it is all due to the big bad NRA, the mysterious “gun lobby” or some other boogeyman giving millions of dollars in campaign contributions to legislators, the real reasons are far simpler, if unpleasant to accept. And make no mistake, they are far harder to accept for most people because of the light they cast on contemporary society and humanity in general. So let us go through them, one by one, As you will see, there is considerable synergy between them.

1] Remember how establishment democrats and partisan voters kept telling everyone else that Trump’s election and his subsequent unstable behavior would cause economic depression, WW3 or some other catastrophe within a year? Well.. did anything like that happen? Why not? As it turned out, Trump ended up behaving just like your typical Republican president (except on a couple of issues), but without the ability to politely dog-whistle racism like his predecessors. The fact that he has a 40-45% approval ratings after everything democrats and the media threw at him tells you how little most people trust institutions in post-2008 USA.

But the relevant part is that his bizarre tweetstorms and behavior have become so commonplace that only the “news” media seems to care about them. As far as most people are concerned, his tweets and behavior do not affect his ability to do his job (whatever the fuck it is). Similarly, the vast majority of people in USA have gone through over two decades of almost monthly mass shootings without any significant impact on their life, one way or the other. They, therefore, simply discount each new instance as something unfortunate, but which nevertheless keeps happening to a few unfortunate people. You know.. like tornadoes in certain parts of USA.

2] It does not help that successive american governments in the neoliberal age have been unable and unwilling to do anything about the major problems faced by their voters. We still don’t have anything even remotely approaching universal healthcare coverage, the cost of attending university keeps increasing by multiples of inflation every year, houses keep becoming more expensive as do rents while paychecks either stagnate or disappear. Jobs are precarious and poorly compensated, and social atomization means that there is no real community or fulfilling relationships. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of people do not see mass shootings as something worth caring about. If anything, these incidents inject a bit or drama in their otherwise miserable lives.

On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it is worth noting that the Apollo program was probably the last time most people in USA believed that government could accomplish something big and important. Some of you might recall that many of the other great things achieved by the government (new deal, social security, electrification of rural america, medicare etc) occurred between 1933 and 1973. But how does this matter in a post about public acceptance of routine mass shootings in post-2000 USA? Well.. to put it bluntly, the majority of Americans simply do not believe that the government is capable of doing something which would improve their lives.

3] Which brings us to the issue of social safety nets in USA, or more precisely their lack. People in countries such as Germany, Japan, France etc will go along with some of the stupid ideas of their political class because the overall system (social safety net, infrastructure, healthcare, education, housing etc) seem to work for them and have not been totally financialized. Contrast that to the situation in USA, where being not-rich is costly and criminal. We do not have decent social safety nets, new infrastructure, universal healthcare, taxpayer funded education or affordable housing. No wonder, people who own guns have no incentive to play along with the stupid ideas of the political class aka the ‘ruling’ class has no credibility.

To make matters worse, many segments of the population lack interest in any gun control. For example, black people in USA are far more concerned about being shot during some random act of small crime because they have been forced to live in deliberately impoverished neighborhoods. Also they are routinely targeted for by extrajudicial executions by (mostly white) cops. As some of you might know, cops in USA kill at least a thousand unarmed and often mentally ill suspects (many of them non-white) each year. Why would you expect black people to care about mass shootings by white guys who target mostly white people? The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for Hispanics (especially those with significant non-white ancestry) in USA. They have far bigger problems in their lives than occasional mass shootings which usually target white people.

So.. do most whites care about mass shootings? The simple answer is- no! Even though most victims of mass shootings tend to be white, the number of deaths in mass shootings is so small (as a percentage of population) that most can go through their entire lives without having known even one person killed or injured in them. Furthermore, they too have much bigger and more immediate problems in their lives ranging from poor health insurance, shitty job security, massive student loans, inability to service personal debt and many more that are emblematic of being part of the rapidly disappearing middle-class.

To summarize, mass shootings and their aftermath in USA are largely media-driven spectacles. These events are a source of temporary distraction and entertainment for most people who have far bigger problems in their own lives. The vast majority do not believe that the government is trustworthy or capable of fixing this small problem, and they are just fine with it- even if they won’t say so openly. And that is why mass shooting after mass shooting has no worthwhile effect on public policy or attitudes, regardless of their hilariously stupid gun control campaigns run by discredited corporate media outlets. I never said that reality was pleasant or capable of restoring your faith in humanity. But the world is what it is, regardless of what you want to believe.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Inevitability of Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapons Within 5 Years

May 26, 2019 3 comments

The idea that Iran will, one day soon, develop and test nuclear weapons is not new. Losers such as Netanyahoo have been telling anybody willing to listen that ‘Iran will develop nuclear weapons within six months’ for, at least, the last 15 years. But for some reason, this never came to pass. In this post, I will give you my analysis on why Iran did not build and test nuclear weapons for past 15 years, but is almost certain to do so within next 5 years. And yes.. the reasons for that change are linked to my choice of word to describe that opportunistic nutcase. It is also important that you understand that I have no horse in this race, and have pretty negative views about all parties involved in this slow-motion train wreck.

So let us start with the first and most obvious question- why hasn’t Iran already developed and tested nuclear weapons. They certainly spent a lot of resources building their nuclear program. Other countries who devoted similar resources to developing nukes such as Pakistan and DPRK managed to develop them within a decade of serious effort. Given the number of competent engineers Iran produces every single year, they certainly do not lack human capital. Iran also does not lack ingenious sources of Uranium ore. Economic and technology sanctions are totally ineffective at stopping nations from developing nuclear weapons- look at China, India, Pakistan and DPRK. We have to look elsewhere to understand why Iran hasn’t yet developed nukes.

Some of you might think that Israel’s use of Stuxnet or paying idiots to assassinate a few Iranian scientists stopped Iran from developing nukes. Here is the sad reality.. Stuxnet did not even slow down Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The idea that it was effective is something impotent computer geeks, blusterous Israelis and few western think-tanks want (you) to believe. Even worse, Stuxnet spurred Iranians to build bigger, more secure and more efficient centrifuges. Talk about a counterproductive effort. Similarly, a few highly publicized but minor bombings of Iranian nuclear scientists ended up giving their government the excuse to crack down on internal dissent- much more harshly than otherwise possible. Way to go, Bozos!

So why hasn’t Iran developed nukes yet? The simple answer is that, for a long time, the utility of such weapons to Iran was marginal- at best. Iran is a pretty big country, with a large population and army competent in many overt and covert forms of warfare. It dominates its middle-eastern neighbors to such an extent that no country within a couple of thousand kilometers, including Israel, has a prayer of winning a land war against it. Even an unstable Iran, such as existed in early 1980s, could hold its own against an Iraq supplied with almost unlimited amount of conventional weapons and money by the West and, curiously, USSR. More importantly, only Iran and Turkey are natural states in the Asian part of Middle-East. To make a long story short, Iran did not require nukes to defend against its neighbors.

While Iran dabbled in developing nukes in decades following the 1979 revolution, it went down that path only after the failed american occupation of Iraq in 2003. That is right.. Bush43 is the real reason Iran decided to seriously pursue development of nuclear weapons. Think about that for a second.. it was the actions of USA, not Israel or Saudi Arabia, which led to the current situation. To make matters even more.. interesting.. Iran did briefly stop its nuclear program in 2003 and offered Bush43 administration a rare chance at normalizing relations. Bush43’s administration, however, was full of delusional ‘muricans who thought they could get a better deal and effect regime change in Tehran. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? By 2005, Iran figured out that american occupation of Iraq was doomed to end in humiliation and restarted the program.

However, this time they decided to ramp up the scale and resources devoted to nukes. However, unlike DPRK, they were still non-committal. In my opinion, replacement of the ailing Kim Jong-il by his son, Kim Jon-un, after 2011 was the biggest reason for DPRK decision to build nukes and ICBMs at scale. And let us face it, KJU was correct in pursuing such capabilities. Iran, on the other hand, thought they could use their nuclear capability as a bargaining chip to normalize relations with the west. Some famous western idiots may claim it was economic sanctions which brought Iran to negotiating table in 2013, but who are we kidding.. an Iran with nukes that could hit anywhere within 2000 kms can block the strait of Hormuz without sending a single extra patrol boat or firing a single shot. If Iran had developed nukes by 2012, they would not have to sign that worthless agreement in 2015. So why didn’t they develop nukes?

The thing is.. one faction in the Iranian government was extra-greedy and thought it could make tons of money by using the nuclear program as a bargaining chip. And that was the case- at least in the short run. Of course, they did not anticipate a weak, greedy and stupid man such as Trump to be elected in 2016. And mark my words, Trump will be the reason why Iran finally ends up developing, testing and deploying nukes. The orange buffoon with a Zionist son-in-law and Bush43 administration rejects such as Pompeo and Bolton, thought that he could do what Bush43 also thought he could but failed miserably. By now, you might have noticed that I have not mentioned Gulf state monarchs such as MBS. Here is why.. hereditary rulers in that region are at best, comic sideshows, of little consequence to the larger strategic picture. They don’t matter.

Getting back to the change in situation with Iran since Trump was elected in late 2016.. the orange buffoon is apparently stupid enough to think that he can win multiple military and non-militarily conflicts by empty bluster and economic sanctions. Which is why he has antagonized many countries, from Russia and China to Venezuela and Cuba. As I wrote in a previous post, it won’t end well and Trump will be remembered as the guy who presided over second act of american imperial collapse. We have already seen the idiot and his old delusional advisers try and flounder repeatedly even against such supposedly easy ‘targets’ such as Venezuela. Trump’s hare-brained schemes have, however, exposed a fundamental flaw of the “western” system.

Any treaty or agreement between two or more countries is possible only if both parties believe there is a reasonable chance for things to work out in a half-reasonable manner. This is especially true when both parties are real countries and not fake ones such as those found in Central and South america or Gulf region. Since 1991, USA has consistently shown that it is unwilling to fulfill its obligations in any agreement or treaty. While they might have gotten away with such behavior prior to 2003-2005, things have changed a lot since then. USA is no longer the largest economy in world since 2008-2009, it makes little of global importance other than CPU chips and one family of airliners- and even that will be over within five years.

Did I mention the part where most of its citizens are now a paycheck or two from ruin and have to beg others to cover their “healthcare” costs. Or how its people would rather overdose or drink themselves to death or how its “heartland” is a poor and de-industrialized shiscape. My point is that USA is simply not in the same position it was in between 1991-2003. Its leadershit, however, still thinks it is 1997. The rest of the aging, shrinking and dying “west” is in similar shape, but still think the 1990s never ended. The net result of these senile western delusions is that they still think they can get away with behavior which they cannot. While this was not that obvious before Trump’s election in 2016, many of the decisions he has made since then have exposed the unwillingness of USA and its vassal states to stand behind agreements and treaties as well as a highly misplaced belief in their ability to influence events.

DPRK, under KJU, has demonstrated the inexorable impotence of the dying west. He has also shown that negotiating from a position of open and obvious strength is the only realistic way to deal with the senile west and its delusions of past grandeur. Until 2016, Iran had (for reasons largely linked to monetary gains) played by the decrepit West’s rules- which did not ultimately get them what they wanted. Now their leaders can no longer pretend it was a good deal. Regardless of whether there is any military action against Iran in near future, it is now almost inevitable that Iran will develop, test and deploy nukes within next five years. And guess what.. they will get help from China who would like to make things interesting for USA and its vassals.

In case you are wondering, China has done this twice before- directly in the case of Pakistan and by looking the other way in case of DPRK. While I keep mentioning a five year timeline, it is likely that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran might happen much sooner. Regardless, my point is that the process is now inevitable even if the ongoing tensions between that country and USA and its vassals are resolved in a peaceful manner. A return to the previous order of things is now simply not possible. One way or other, Iran is going to end up developing nukes in near future.

What do you think? Comments?

737-Max Fiasco is about Late Capitalism and Terminal Decline of USA

March 13, 2019 30 comments

By now, almost everyone of you must have heard about the 737-Max fiasco. In case you have not, let me quickly summarize it. About six months, a 737-Max 8 airliner with barely 800 flight hours crashed in Indonesia resulting in the death of all 189 people on board. Even at that time, this incident raised many eyebrows- largely because it was barely 3 months old in addition to being the most recent version of the long-running 737 family of airliners. The crash was subsequently determined to be the result of undesired behavior by a new automated trim control system. At that time, Boeing promised current and future customers of its new ‘737 Max’ series that the trim control problem would be fixed by a software update or something along those lines.

And then about three days ago, another 737-Max 8 went down under similar circumstances killing all 157 people on board. While we do not, yet, have the final report on this accident- it appears that this particular crash (too) occurred within a few minutes of takeoff and had something to do with the automated trim control behaving in an anomalous manner. Which brings us to the first question regarding this pair of airplane crashes- How does a large corporation such as Boeing with decades of experience building tens of thousands of airliners manage to build an updated version of the venerable 737 with bad flight characteristics during takeoffs and landings. In case you are wondering, dozens of incident reports from all around the world, including USA, filed during the past year about this version of the 737 have reported similar problems.

But what does any of this have to with late capitalism and the terminal decline of USA? A couple of poorly designed airliners falling out of the sky and killing over 300 people, while tragic, is by no means a harbinger of national collapse.. right? Well.. let me put it this way- I see it as another sign of the ongoing terminal death spiral of USA, at least of the form it exists in today. To better understand what I am talking about, let me ask you another question- At what point did people in USSR stop becoming optimistic about their future? The answer to that question is.. sometime in the mid-1970s. But why then and not during WW2 or the early 1950s when material conditions were far worse? Well.. because people will persevere in face of adversity if there is a realistic hope for a better future, but they won’t care about a system if there is no hope for one.

But how did this societal malaise manifest itself? Well.. in many ways and a multitude of areas. The one common thread which ran through most of them was a slow but steady degradation of pre-existing capabilities. Apparently, the quality of things built during that era, from apartments, cars, consumer appliances to unmanned space-probes and commercial aircraft, well.. basically anything not absolutely essential to survival of the existing government, went down. I have long held the view that post-2008 USA is increasingly like ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe after the early 1970s. Think about it- youth who do not see a brighter future for themselves.. check. An out-of-touch elite who want to maintain the status quo.. check. Widespread despair and slow decrease in life-expectancy.. check. Rampant alcoholism or drug addiction.. check. Increasing crapification of consumer products and services.. check.

I could go on, but you get the point. But how does the 737 Max fiasco fit in this picture? Let me explain.. but before we do that, let me give you a quick historical primer about the 737 family of aircraft so you can better appreciate what I am talking about. The project to develop the 737 was started by Boeing in the mid-1960s because they wanted a bigger 727 that could fly a bit further. At that time, Boeing had already making the 707 for longer routes, 720 for medium distance routes and the 727 for short hauls. In case you are wondering, all three of these aircraft were powered by turbojet or first-gen turbofan engines. And yes.. this fact is relevant. The 737 was originally designed to use first-gen and therefore low-pass turbofans. While these engines were less efficient and more fuel hungry than later high-pass turbofans, they were also far slimmer.

Some of you might wonder as to what this fact has to do with the current 737 Max fiasco. The answer is.. a whole fucking lot! Because Boeing wanted an airliner that was simple to operate, easy to repair and with a high dispatch reliability, they made some design choices. Specifically, they built an aircraft which sat pretty close to the ground- something that was possible because of the slim first-gen turbofan engines (-100 and -200). And it worked very well. After a somewhat slow start, sales picked up and it became pretty popular. But then Airbus came on the scene and its 310 series started providing competition for the 737. Boeing responded by developing the 737-Classic (-300, -400 and -500). This is also where they first faced the problem of how to install a fat high-bypass turbofan in a low-slung design meant for older and slimmer turbofans. They did it with some ingenious shaping and positioning for the new engine and it worked.

The next major update, aptly named the 737 Next Gen (-600, -700, -800 and -900) proved to be their most successful. Its engines were a bit less fatter than the Classic series, while being more efficient. It, however, proved to be the furthest they could safely stretch their original design. For a decade or so, this design was in a happy sales equilibrium with members of the Airbus 320 family. And then Airbus started developing the Airbus 320neo. It offered considerable fuel savings, lower noise levels and a longer range than its predecessors. But most importantly Airbus was able to develop it without spending a ton of money because the original design it was based on (the 320) could easily accommodate even wider turbofan engines. Remember that the 320 was developed after 2nd gen turbofan engines were developed.

Anyway, this forced Boeing to update the 737- with even wider and more efficient turbofan engines. The thing is, they had two choices. They could either use their institutional knowledge and ability to build a new design from scratch or they could just try to somehow shoehorn the new big-ass engine into the 737 design template. They chose the latter option for reasons that had everything to do with financial considerations. Through a combination of “clever” placement of the extra-fat engines, a slight height increase in their landing gear and a bit of wing redesign- they were able to develop a design that checked all the boxes their bean-counters cared about. However physical reality is a bitch and the new design had a less-than-optimal weight distribution and flying characteristics. Loathe to abandon something that almost worked, they decided to use a software solution to improve its flight characteristics.

Enter the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Without going into too much detail, this system was not well implemented and caused problems when the aircraft changed altitude rapidly such as during takeoff and landing. Furthermore, the issues with this system were not consistently reproducible- which is a fancy way of saying that the system misbehaved in an unpredictable manner. Also, the new cockpit interface which came with his update was different from the one in its predecessors and it took multiple steps to switch it off and the MCAS was automatically turned back on after each flight. Did I mention that the new manuals and checklists did a poor job of explaining the updated interface and this system.

In summary, Boeing built upon an old design template to save money resulting in problematic flying characteristics. To make matters worse, the hardware and software components of their auto-trim system (meant to fix poor flying characteristic) was inadequately engineered and poorly implemented. The user interface through which this system could be overridden was unfamiliar, poorly designed and even more poorly documented. On the bright side, a bunch of senior Boeing executives made a shitload of money and performance bonuses. And this is what happens when you run a company based on the whims and series of MBAs, bean-counters and other ivy-league scam artist as opposed to listening to and respecting the judgment of your engineers.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts on Continued Existence of the Black Misleadership Class

February 18, 2019 19 comments

Regular readers of this blog know that I have written more than a few posts about the topic of race in america- specifically as it relates to factors behind continued and systemic racism against black people. And yes, they are were and are discriminated against because of their (relatively darker) skin color and ancestry rather than the continent of their origin. For all those people who want to keep using the term ‘African-American’- let me remind you that Elon Musk is technically African-American. Anyway.. in some of my previous post on this subject, I have written about why the quest for respectability and acceptance by whites was based on a flawed idea, how the willingness of blacks of accept white narratives about them has been super problematic and why conversion to Christianity was the second worst thing that happened to black people in USA.

And this brings me the topic of this post, or more precisely, how I came up with idea of writing it. Over the past few years, I noticed something interesting about the response of almost all of the so-called ‘black leadership’ types to large protests about police brutality against black people. To make a long story short, even though they acknowledged the existence of this problem almost every single one of them did nothing beyond push for a few cosmetic measures and make long speeches. And this includes that black neoliberal president aka Obama. In other words, they took great care not to upset the status quo while using those events to cynically get more black people to vote for them in elections. When I looked at this issue in more detail, it became obvious that we have not gone past the level of change achieved by the civil rights moment of 1950s-60s.

Which is a nice way of saying that black ‘leadership’ since the 1970s has largely been about pretending to fight for equality for their constituency while simultaneously supporting the status quo and getting rich. As a recent example, Stacey Abrams (one of the alleged new non-white stars of democratic party) was supportive of republican gerrymandering to reduce the power of black voters in Georgia as long as it consolidated her own position. You might also remember that in 2015 it was revealed that Chicago police operated a “secret” site for disappearing mostly black people, and this occurred in a city that has been democratic control (and significant non-white presence in local government) for decades. The point I am trying to make is there is something peculiar about the black leadership class in USA which makes it unusually willing to screw over its own people while pretending to care about them.

Contrast that to what you see in politicians from other ethic groups, who either simply pretend to be “honorary” whites (Booby Jindal, Nikki Haley) or are actually involved in taking effective steps to benefit both their constituencies and ethnicities. Most black political leadership types, on the other hand, build their careers and rise to power via strong support of black voters but then conveniently go along with narratives and policies which perpetuate systemic racism and discrimination against their own people. You might remember how enthusiastically many members of the congressional black caucus (including frauds such as Maxine Waters and John Lewis) supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 democratic primary. Which is funny since legislation passed under her husband, Bill Clinton, to reform the criminal and welfare system screwed over the lives of millions of black people. Also, HRC tried to become popular with white voters in the 1990s by labeling young black men as super-predators.

Moving on.. why did people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have such long careers in the public spotlight? Can you think of two more ineffectual “leaders” for the “black community”? It is as if they were supported from outside to bamboozle their own community. More importantly, what did they achieve other than getting themselves in the news by making speeches? Can you think of one major problem (even at the local level) which these two conmen helped solve, over their multiple decades in the public spotlight? How can these people be even presented as semi-authentic leaders? There are, in anything, living examples of almost everything a leader should not be. To make matters worse, their younger replacements are at least as bad.

Take Kamala Harris, a woman who built her career by pandering to the fears and prejudices of white CONservative voters. A woman who gleefully described how she enjoyed jailing poor black women for the truancy of their children, but did not prosecute foreclosure fraud perpetrated by rich white guys, tried to help cover sexual abuse by clergy and laughed at prospect of marijuana legalization in 2014. Now she has suddenly remembered her Jamaican roots and pretends to give a shit about black people. Then there is the overwrought drama queen aka Cory Booker. We could write a paperback about his dishonest behavior, and here is a small taste. He is also a well-known confabulater, faithful servant to pharma and all-round embarrassment. And let us not forget Obama, the ultimate black neoliberal politician, who had no qualms about throwing millions of poor (and heavily non-white) people on the street in aftermath of housing bubble after 2009.

How do these self-hating scam artists end up becoming “leaders” of their communities?

What do you think? Comments?

American ‘HealthCare’ System Has Been a Scam for Over Two Decades

February 10, 2019 6 comments

What do you call a service which keeps on getting expensive much faster than general monetary inflation but which does not improve? How about calling it a scam. In the past, I have written a few posts about this general area such as the american ‘healthcare’ system is crap, a majority of people now see doctors as no better than credentialed scammers and how life expectancy in USA has always been about class, not race. Yesterday, I came across a tweet in my twitter feed containing a graph which tracked the amount of money spent on healthcare in USA since 1960. Intrigued, I looked up the source and used the more realistic inflation adjusted option. Having seen many other graphs and infographics about the ‘healthcare’ system, I noticed something right away. Here.. have a look at the attached figure to spot what I am talking about.

You might have noticed that the increase in calculated average life-expectancy at birth from world bank data has a peculiar relationship with cost in USA. For starters, the calculated average life-expectancy at birth has improved by just shy of 9 years since 1960. But isn’t that a good thing? Well.. sure, but have a look at how it correlated with cost. It had already reached the 74 year mark in 1981, when the total cost was about 440 billion USD (inflation adjusted)- which is about 1/4th of what it costs now. But it gets better.. or worse. In 1998, the average calculated life-expectancy at birth was 76.6 years and cost about 1,016 billion USD (inflation adjusted). Long story short, average life expectancy has increased by only 2 years over the previous 20 years- but the costs have more than doubled over the same time span.

Even worse, average life-expectancy has been slowly falling over the past two years– but costs keep on going up. While USA spends a bit over 18 % of its GDP on ‘healthcare’, other developed countries achieve significantly better results by spending less than half that amount and their average life expectancy is 3-4 years higher and still rising slowly. So what is happening in the american system? Well many things.. first, the income of doctors started rising a lot after 1980 due to the introduction of billing codes. Impressed by the ability of doctors to extort the system, hospitals joined in the act and used their leverage to out-exploit them starting in the mid-1990s, which is also when pharma got in on the act. So far, none of the three want to stop. And why should they? Too many boomer idiots still want to delude themselves into believing that the american ‘healthcare’ system is the “best in the world”. Keep believing..

What do you think? Comments?