Week of 4 April 2011
Update: Saturday, 9 April 2011 09:25 -0400
- Lab day today.
see the Republicans are talking about cutting $4 trillion over ten
years. Much too little, and much too late. What I want to know is
(a) what initial numbers are these so-called cuts based on, and
(b) when these supposed "cuts" will occur. It's easy to play with
numbers. As they say, figures lie and liars figure. I want to see some
concrete numbers, based on, say, actual FY2000 spending and federal
employment numbers. They can take this amount as the baseline budget
and number of federal employees and civilian contractors, cut
everything above that instantly, eliminate all new programs that have
been created since then, and then make further cuts from there.
also see the Republicans have floated a trial balloon about cutting the
Big Three: social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Fine, that needs to
be done, as anyone sane must realize. But the cuts they're talking
about are much too tiny to have any real effect on federal spending and
deficits. For one thing, they plan to exempt those currently 55 years
old or older. That's understandable, because those folks don't
have much time to make other arrangements. But it's entirely
unrealistic. Those of us in that age group did carry our elders, true.
But there were many more of us and many fewer of them at the time. The
proportions are quickly being reversed as the Baby Boomer pig moves
through the python. Our children's generation cannot afford to support
us, even if they are willing to impoverish themselves in the process.
And why should they be?
When Social Security started, there were
something like 36 workers supporting each retiree. The retirement age
was set at 65, and the average retiree collected benefits for perhaps
two or three years before dying. The worker/retiree ratio has plummeted
over the years, and continues to decrease as more Baby Boomers retire.
And, on average, retirees are living much, much longer and collecting
Social Security for sometimes decades.
In case it's not obvious
to everyone, this is simply unsustainable. Congress needs to boost the
SS retirement age significantly and soon. For example, they might
increase retirement age to 70 for anyone currently age 55 or older, 71
for age 54, 72 for age 53, and so on. In other words, your current age
plus your retirement age totals 125, with a maximum retirement age of
80 for anyone currently age 45 or younger. Same thing with Medicare.
That's obviously brutal for anyone who's currently older than 50 or so,
but the alternative is worse.
I suspect most people who know me
would call me a workaholic. Perhaps that's true, and I do plan to
continue working indefinitely. I have zero interest in retiring, and
that would be true even if I were independently wealthy. The work I do
is what I want to be doing, so in effect I'm on one long vacation.
Unfortunately, that's not true for most people, so it'll be much harder
for them to resign themselves to working until they drop. But I don't
see any alternative.
I had a scare this morning. Ordinarily, Barbara gets up and takes her
shower. While she does that, I take Malcolm out and get the newspaper.
This morning, when I got up and walked down the hall, Malcolm didn't
follow me. I went out and got the paper, expecting to look around and
see him standing at the door waiting to come out. He wasn't there. So I
walked back to the bedroom and found him still lying on the floor where
he'd been when I got up. His eyes were closed and he wasn't moving,
even when I reached down and touched him. His nose was warm and dry,
which is ordinarily a bad sign, but in this case I was happy it was
I helped him to his feet, but he wasn't able to stand on
his own. I finally got him out of the bedroom, down the hall, and to
the front door. I had to pretty much carry him out into the yard, where
he immediately lay down and wouldn't move. I went back to tell Barbara
what was going on.
As it turns out, we had a loud thunderstorm
last night, which I managed to sleep through. Malcolm was in a panic,
and Barbara finally gave him an acepromazine tablet, a heavy-duty
tranquilizer our former vet had prescribed for him when we took him on
car trips. They definitely worked for that, turning Malcolm from a
Tasmanian Devil into a sluggish pile of fur, with the effect lasting 8
to 12 hours. And that was when Malcolm was a younger dog. Barbara said
she gave him the pill around 1:00 a.m., so I expect he'll just sleep
until noon or later. Next time, she'll cut the dose to half a pill, if
not a quarter.
little while ago, Malcolm died in Barbara's arms. He held on until she
was able to get home, but lasted only a few minutes after that.
wasn't the acepromazine. Malcolm had liver problems, and possibly liver
cancer. The last time we talked to our vet, Sue Stephens, about it, she
agreed with our decision not to put him through surgery. Malcolm had
been acting subdued for the last several days, panting a lot and
drinking more water than usual. I'm convinced his ongoing problems were
the cause. The tranquilizer had nothing to do with it.
Malcolm had a good life, and enjoyed it right up through yesterday. No dog could have had a better mistress than Barbara.
- Thanks to everyone who posted or emailed condolences. Here's the image of Malcolm that Barbara chose for her journal page.
and I are both stunned by the suddenness of Malcolm's loss. With our
other dogs, there was a slow decline that gave us a chance to get used
to the idea of losing them. Malcolm had been a bit slower than usual
for the last several days, sleeping more and playing less, but even on
Monday he was barking at delivery trucks, going for walks, and playing
ball. Then yesterday he was gone.
Last night, we had no idea
what to do. We ended up making a couple of cans of chunky soup, because
we had to eat even though neither of us was really hungry. Then we sort
of watched a couple episodes of McLeod's Daughters, although I have no
memory of what they were about. Then we kind of read our books for a
while, went to bed, and were finally able to get to sleep. This
morning, I awoke to the reality of no Malcolm and went out by myself to
get the newspaper.
Barbara, wisely I think, decided to go to
work today and then to the gym after work. I'm not sure what I'll do
today. Yesterday, I was working in the lab for short periods between
checking on Malcolm every few minutes. I don't think I'll work in the
lab today. I can't trust myself, and a lab is nowhere to be when one is
distracted. On the other hand, I'm not sure I can write today. That
requires intense concentration, and I don't think I'm up to it. Also,
without Malcolm pestering me periodically, I'm not sure I'd be able to
get anything done anyway.
We'll carry on, because that's what people do. But we've lost our child.
Paul Jones called yesterday to say he was heading out to run some
errands and ask if I wanted to ride along. I grabbed the chance to get
out of the house, and rode with Paul to Wal-Mart, where he was looking
for a deep-cycle marine battery to power his telescope.
are too quiet around here without Malcolm. When we lost Kerry, at least
we still had Duncan and Malcolm. When we lost Duncan, at least we still
had Malcolm. With no dogs at all now, I miss the routine activity of
short walks, being pestered, hearing a bark when the mail or UPS truck
shows up, and so on.
Barbara is already looking around for a
suitable Border Collie. I suspect she'll look for a male. I'm not sure
if we'll get an older rescue dog or a puppy. Frankly, I'm in favor of a
puppy or at least a young dog, simply to delay the next time we have to
go through this. And then perhaps after a few years we'll get a second
dog. I never want to be without a dog.
- Although his subject is pharmaceutical companies, Anthony Nicholls', What Is Really Killing Pharma,
could equally be applied to almost any science-based industry. In
short, Nicholls' answer can be summarized as "lawyers, marketing
dweebs, and MBAs". In other words, people who have no clue about
science and are attempting to "manage" it. The contrast is stark
between the days when big pharma companies were run by scientists--most
of whom rose through the organizations from the lab bench to the
executive offices--and nowadays, when most are run by, to put it
politely, non-technical people. My rule has always been, "If you can't
do it yourself, you can't manage it", and that's been made blindingly
evident by the ongoing decline of big pharma companies.
speaking of big pharma, it's articles like this one that make me wonder
if we're destined to return to the pre-antibiotic era: Scientists Find Superbugs in Delhi Drinking Water
Most people don't appreciate just how close we are to returning to
the Bad Olde Days when people who got a serious infection simply died.
And we're actually worse off nowadays, because we no longer have the
robust immune systems that people had before antibiotics became common.
I wonder if the ultimate answer is bacteriophage viruses, which are basically a horde of tiny assassins that hunt down a particular pathogen while ignoring everything else. Or perhaps nanoparticles, which, if this pans out, will be about as difficult for pathogens to develop immunity to as, say, heat or alcohol.
thing is sure. We need a new generation of scientists to develop these
new miracles, and we're not producing enough new scientists and
engineers. Nor are pretend scientists and engineers good
enough, as India and China are finding out. Of course, it's also
critical that we produce enough jobs for all these new Ph.D.'s in
biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, and so on. That is, as I've
said, easy to accomplish. Simply make all R&D expenses not just a
tax deduction, but a tax credit at the federal, state, and local level.
If a corporation pays a biologist in its R&D department $100,000
per year, rather than just expense $100,000 against revenue, deduct
$100,000 from the taxes due.
But the real shortage isn't in
chiefs, those with terminal degrees in science and engineering.
It's in Indians, those with a hard science BS or even significant
exposure in college to the sciences, engineering, and math. These
people generally won't pursue careers in the sciences or engineering,
but they're important just the same. The level of scientific knowledge
among the general population is pathetically low, and falling fast.
These are our voters, and they're uneducated on nearly everything that
If I could wave a magic wand, I'd eliminate all college
majors and degrees other than the hard sciences, math, and engineering.
Those who intend to pursue a higher degree could come out of college
with a BS in one of those fields. Those who did not could come out of
college with a BA in one of those fields, with additional coursework in
some other area of interest. But basic competence in science at at
least the BA level should be a requirement for a college degree.
Period. Sure, that cuts the eligible student population to maybe 10% of
what it is now, but that's no bad thing. Only 10% of the people in
college actually belong there.
Sue Stephens, our vet, called last night to see how we were doing.
Barbara, of course, had been kicking herself for giving Malcolm the
acepromazine tablet, thinking she'd contributed to his death. I'd been
kicking myself for not taking Malcolm in to the vet first thing Tuesday
morning, or at least later during the day. Sue reassured us on both
counts. The masses in Malcolm's liver, probably cancerous, finally
caught up with him, and there was nothing we could have done
differently that would have helped.
If anything, Barbara
giving Malcolm the tranquilizer probably eased his passage, and, in
retrospect, I'm glad I didn't take him out to the vet and leave him.
That would simply have meant he'd have spent his last hours surrounded
by strangers. As it was, he spent his last hours with me on the floor
next to him, petting him and telling him what a good dog he was, and
Barbara was with him at the last. As Sue said, that was far harder for
us, but far easier for Malcolm.
Barbara and I are recovering,
slowly. She's already looking around for another Border Collie, and has
several prospects. I suspect it won't be long before we welcome a new
family member. The new ones never replace the old ones, of course, but
they do make it easier.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,