Monday, May 28, 2007

Euro holidays and work

My current job allows six weeks of vacation time per year. This is literally triple my last jobs. Most American jobs allow 2 weeks of vacation time. Six weeks is long enough that the main limiting factor is no longer time but money. This encourages a mix of exploring new places and going to San Diego, Colorado, or other places where I have a free bed. I hope to get to at least one of them this summer. Within a week I should know if we will be going to NextFest in LA this September, and so I will probably piggyback a vacation on that. And we're definitely going to the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego in November, when it will be cold and rainy here and neither there.

May has featured three holidays so far. May 1 was a holiday, the equivalent of Labor Day, something I wish I knew before flying in that morning. Not that I minded working on a holiday, but it was bizarre arriving in such a dead city. Two Thursdays ago was a holiday, and today is Pentecost. These last two are Christian holidays, which of course everyone celebrates by getting drunk. I explained that the most solemn American holiday is probably Memorial Day, which everyone celebrates by getting drunk. There is no Memorial Day in Germany, understandably.

They also ring church bells, and many people walk around wearing crosses. Now, I am not Jesus. I recognize that a mere mortal might have a somewhat different personality, and a limited capacity to interpret His will. This point has been emphasized from the inception of Christianity through today; it is rampant from the Bible and Augustine's writings through Republican conventions and the 700 Club. But the cross is an implement of horrific torture. If you were tortured to death, by the nastiest means the Romans could develop, would you want to return to see that device around people's necks, atop their places of worshipping you, and throughout their art? If you had been whipped to death, burned alive, boiled alive, or stoned to death, would you want to see your followers wearing horsewhips, stakes, kettles, or bongs? How about a few more sympathetic images of Mom, or maybe a manger or haystack? It takes a group like Monty Python to look on the bright side of crucifiction:

Centurion: You know the penalty laid down by Roman law for harboring a known criminal?
Matthias: No.
Centurion: Crucifixion!
Matthias: Oh.
Centurion: Nasty, eh?
Matthias: Could be worse.
Centurion: What you mean "Could be worse"?
Matthias: Well, you could be stabbed.
Centurion: Stabbed? Takes a second. Crucifixion lasts hours. It's a slow, horrible death.
Matthias: Well, at least it gets you out in the open air.
Centurion: You're weird!

As a side note, the deeper you get into a blog, the less politically correct you have to be. Casual readers will have left a long time ago. And thus to follow up on my darttrooper post, we know you Germans are just waiting to try again. Deny away. It's OK. We understand. And we're watching you. Just learn from before: more subs, do a better job suppressing dissent, and fund your best scientists instead of gassing them. Fucking assholes.

Obviously, being unfunded is vastly different from forcible expulsion or worse. But purely from the perspective of rotting your nation's scientific infrastructure, the current situation in the US is not much different. The main academic funding sources in the US, such as NIH and NSF, have been drying up. This is not just cyclic. Every senior American scientist I know said that s/he has never seen it this bad. And hence here I am, Marty Sereno is in London, and countless other examples. Authoritarianism, jingoism, militarism, and fundamentalism are all quite antithetical to science. There are opportunities for commercial/industrial research funding, but that mechanism has its place and its limits, as does pure science. With commercial funding comes commercial interests, including secrecy, noncooperation, and neglect of critical underlying basic research needs. This is not simply a problem on ivory tower grounds. America is rapidly losing its edge in one of the greatest and still growing commercial opportunities: biotech. It is the beginning of reverse brain drain, the opposite of what helped give America that edge in the first place. It used to be that the best and brightest of other countries went to the US to get a good education and never left. The US still has a good academic infrastructure, but is losing that too, and amidst heavy competition from the EU, China, India, South Korea, et al. the future is not bright. Meanwhile, Angela Merkel, the head of Germany and the EU, is a physicist.

Anger and blogs mix like everclear and more everclear. Perhaps I should switch from Metallica to Beethoven. Done. Another facet of German holidays is that they are very outdoor events, dampened only literally by rain. I was just in Domsheide, the city center. You can tell because it has the highest density of brementown musican statues. Despite a light rain, there are old guys singing, outdoor restaurant seating under umbrellas, and merchants hawking a myriad of products in outdoor shops. There are mannequins wearing sweaters with the same pointedly odd feature as American mannequins: nipples. Now, I am not a woman. (Quite an introspective day for me, eh?) But if I were a woman, walking around during a cold day, would I want to buy a sweater that can't even keep a mannequin warm?

The Irish pubs are busy, even though it is early. Irish pubs have, so far, been a worldwide universal. No matter where you go, or how small the city is, you can find an Irish pub. This is reasonable. If there is only one Irishman in a town, he'll drink enough to support that pub.

No comments: