Monday, October 05, 2015

Giving The People What They Want

We live in a golden age of near-exponential knowledge-growth and consolidation in general, and more particularly, as it relates to drug discovery. That said, while Moore's Law incessantly drives down the cost semiconductors and related electronic equipment, and algorithmic software innovations are on the cusp of driving down the cost of much previously-expensive financial intermediation, healthcare, medicine, and pharmaceuticals specifically appear to marching in the opposite direction. This is as true for the eye-popping costs of newly-discovered and recently-approved medicines that may be weakly palliative, new drugs novelly treating rare diseases, or improving upon existing treatments to, as carpet-bagging scums Martin Shkreli and Valeant have brought to the public's attention, gaming a system easily gamed in order to take the insured population by the ankles, hold them upside-down and vigorously shake them until each and every penny, nickel, dime and $100 notes is loosened and falls from their pockets. It stinks, and it is disappointing to have seen Wall Street's best and brightest enthusiastically jump on the bandwagon and bankroll (as they did with Bill Erbey), so odious an arbitrage.

As a result, gobs, and gobs, (and gobs!) of money have been thrown at nearly anyone mining the drug-discovery coalface. Many are ostensibly genius-caliber scientists with attendant leadership skills and huge personal ambition. Future generations may thank them. But any leisurely walk through the woods of (listed) industry cannot help but anecdotally marvel at the sheer number of endeavors funded and floated, most of which will, inevitably be worth nothing to their equity investors. VCs may have exited, managers will have collected meaningful salary and bonus (and sold shares), investment bankers will have extracted their dues, but the ordinary biotech miner-forty-niner, ever wishful of scoring a Celgene or Pharmacyclics, will, if history is the judge, be rather more disappointed.

Noticing that my skepticism is getting ahead of me, I will tell you that I believe there is much to admire here. It – the “can-do” attitude, the lack of fear of failure, the willingness to pursue dreams – is the stuff that got us to the moon, and will cure cancer. But it's also the stuff that gave us Ory Weihs (who's made a small fortune getting paid rounding up on-line punters and delivering them to on-line gambling sites), Bernie Ebbers, and Enron and a list of contrapreneurs too long for this post.

Back when I was a boy (camera pans and zooms on to grizzled redneck with long white whiskers in blue overalls, in a rocking chair on the porch of a rural cabin, dragonflies buzzin' and banjos pickin'), there were practical limitations on floating wild-eyed out-of-the-money longshots. Minimum revenue thresholds, an operating history, the presence of profits, were prerequisites on most of the main bourses. Some was regulatory, some was due to scars burnished on popular wisdom from the 20s and subsequent crash. This never stopped people losing money in stocks, but it seemed to help limit the most egregious opportunism outside the ever-present bucketshops. Importantly, this meant companies were funded and often stayed private for much longer, until they came good with some revenue, and some profitable trading history, or less fortunately, had their plugs pulled by their (former) sponsors. It also meant that "professionals" were in charge of the investment process (FWIW). Sure, there self-described polymaths who were out of their league and blinded by the science and a sweet tongue, but there were also many highly-informed specialists, separating wheat and chaff, who carefully chaperoned the growth and magnificent contributions of the flagships.

“Netscape” changed that forever. Netscape was the Klondike-find that transformed and fueled the lust for exponential growth stocks as lottery tickets in the national imagination. And what The People want, The People get (with a bit of help from investment bankers, stockbrokers, and all variety of charlatans). The wanted The Internet, they got the internet. They wanted fiberlightwaveoptics, they got it NT, AVNX, JDSU at 11-digit valuations. They wanted Merchant Energy, and so the trucks arrived. Solar? Errr ummm ignominiously, obtained. Black gold? Granted and presently vomitting all over the west, Bakken, and Marcellus. Nothing, it seems, cures high prices and the hunger that fuels it, like high prices.

And so, here we are, today, with Biotech, present for decades – both blue-chip investment grade and the speculative garden variety, but never in as full-bloom as witnessed in 2015. Every investor with a stock portfolio seemingly has some biotech spec in their portfolio. Some research rocket-fuel, some drug-discovery beta. How many times have you heard your friends' regret about dumping Incyte @$5 (now $125/shr) or "taking profits" in Regeneron in 2011 after it doubled to $40 (now $475). Even my brother-in-law, a conservative stock-broker with income-oriented clients has taken to sexing-up their dossiers portfolios with exotic galloping  biotech  I've never even heard of. This is a reliable tell-tale (his clients are still suffering indigestion on their  MLPs). Apparently, the only thing worse than buyer's regret, is seller's regret, or, as it happens, not buying at all.

Cynics may question my motives for writing this. They may accuse me of being sore “to have missed out”. But for the record, let me say that I've lost money with the best of them, falling prey to most behavioural flaws underpinning investors losses, and really I just wish I could contribute more to this great wave (and shorting stock hardly rates as a worthy societal contribution). So instead, I've decided to help future biotech scions (and their bankers) by helping them conjure names for their future empires. Some may scoff at this effort, but so numerous are the listed companies that finding a suitable name is always challenging and may soon become a major problem.

You see, Biotech naming is a Scrabble-players fantasy. There are Improbable combinations of X's, Y's, Z's, and V's creating a realm of high-scoring naming possibilities, only a portion of which will seduce investors, and demonstrate just how uncreative HF managers are in their own choice of names.

(1) To start, choose a place name, favorite latin description of a vital organ or disease, or just a mainstream biological or life-science chemical term you might remember from high-school. (Tip: If using a place name, try to coin one evocative of health (Portland?) and avoid the rust-belt (Buffalo BioScience or Detroit DermoGenetics just sounds wrong!). (Tip: If using initials, use no more than 3; avoid word-images,  use only consonants,and  try to evoke something vaguely familiar)

(Sample terms: ) Cell, Bio, Epi Pro
(Sample Places: Portland, Cascade, Ranier, Olympic, Redwood, Eureka)
(Sample initials: RTW; QBZ, STP)

(2) Insert dazzling cool-sounding but ultimately generic biological or laboratory term.
(Tip: Use at LEAST one, but stringing two or three together works well too. Parsimony is not your friend when trying to seduce the punters.
(Tip: Capitalize the second and third term as well for important and lasting effect)
(Tip: Keep your Latin  dictionary handy if you get stuck)

(Sample Dazzlers: Epi, Med, Bio, Cryo, Derma,Gen, Gene, Ogics, Pharma, Mune, Immune, Med, Sys, Exis,Oral, Tryx, Tech, Onco, Cardio, Viro, Fibro, Zyme

(3) Finish it off with an appropriate bookend to seal it. Pay close attention to the alliteration. It should roll off the tongue so when investors are bragging about their latest Biotech investment, they won't feel inferior to their friends.
(Common Closers: Labs, Therapeutics. Research, Pharmaceuticals, BioPharma, Science
(Tip: If economical in stage 1 and 2, do not hesitate to choose a double-barreled ending. Like the English upper-class, there is some benefit to conveying superiority in your name choice)

(4) Putting it all together: Just do it. It's fun! Try a few and see if you can create investors' next ten-bagger!  Here goes....

FibroZyme Therapies
CryoDerma Oncopharmaceutical
Epitryx BioLabs
Eureka ViroImmune Bioscience
Medexis OncoScience Labs
Dermologic Drug Discovery
Vespasian Gene Therapeutics
BioCryoSys Pharma
BioCardial Research

(enough for this this week....!)

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Finding Fault in Fault-Finding

My spouse is an expert fault-finder, never failing to expose, highlight, broadcast, lay bare, unshroud, feature, examine, emphasize, reiterate, assert, underscore and remind ME of MY faults, weaknesses, inadequacies, shortcomings, failings and defects.

And of course, my spouse is often "right" insofar as I am quite imperfect, and (one of) the first to admit this rather human condition. For I am, at times, inattentive, inconsiderate, insolent, indolent, unthankful, unhelpful, ungrateful, unwittingly stupid (ignorant and dumb), uncommunicative, uncompassionate, unsympathetic, unconcerned what other people think of me, selfish, self-centered in addition to the bevy of other failings I cannot immediately recall but almost certainly possess.

To my credit, I am predisposed towards open-mindedness, possess a reflective streak that, more often than not, allows me to recognize (and regret and remorse) when I do something jerky. I also have a strong desire to improve, and be better tomorrow than I was yesterday. I do not always succeed, but my intention is good, and I believe my life is one of making demonstrable efforts in this general direction - both big and small.

Nonetheless, incessant criticism can be wearying, even to a principled, thick-skinned critic such as myself. Often, what makes it particularly difficult for the partner on the receiving end, is when valid criticism leaps from 'the action' and becomes personal, i.e. a complaint or critique supersedes the transgression itself. This is highly-corrosive and ultimately self-defeating for the critic IF the purpose of the criticism were well and truly about solving the specific problem.

This latter facet of an erstwhile objective issue is revealing.  Psychological literature abounds with explanations and understanding, the majority which centers on projection and avoidance. These underlying motivations do not preclude the legitimacy of any offending faults or transgressions, nor grant blanket license to the offender to ignore what may very well be serious issues. Such behavior does, however, give cause to examine the situation, and one's parochial motives, more closely. In a perfect world, this would mean introspection and self-reflection to insure, as Elvis Costello aptly put it, "one's aim is true".

When I read the persistent outbound criticisms of "Europe" emanating (mainly) from the political and journalistic right in Britain, I cannot help but sympathize with the Continentals. In these circles, Europe stands accused of being the cause of so many of Britain's ills, and the focus of such vitriol, one would be forgiven for asking what precisely is at the root of their anger. Make no mistake: "Europe" is far from perfect. They rarely miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity;  possess diverse often-clashing national identities; frequently shoot themselves in the policy foot; suffer internal squabbles that are difficult to even caricature; err on the side of consumer protection and often over-burdensome regulation, and have shoe-horned themselves into a currency union before the requisite amount of fiscal union to insure long-term stability and confidence. Anthropomorphizing them, they are guilty of these and countless other faults.

But the British penchant for Continental fault-finding is, I believe, disproportionate to Europe's so-called transgressions, and the sport, as pursued by the most enthusiastic and prolific of British Eurobaitors is, I posit, driven by projection and avoidance, in addition to the more obviously-cynical domestic political expedience.

It is far-easier and more comfortable for one to highlight other's flaws and shortcomings than it is to confront one's own problems - particularly when these flaws are close to the core of one's being. Practical, perhaps, but far from enlightening. Rather, Britain's most vociferous and persistent EU critics might do well to focus upon Britain's poor and deteriorating public education, underinvestment in virtually every aspect of public infrastructure (pubic transport, healthcare, roads, housing, communications), galloping inequality, negligent regulation of privatized natural monopolies, pervasive racism and xenophobia, rampant NIMBYism, a crumbling increasingly fragmented internal union, erosion of and unwillingness to enshrine fundamental human rights, as well as a first-past-the-post political system increasingly incapable of aggregating and representative more fragmented interests. Europe, the EU, the Euro, have NOTHING to do with these problems. When Britain begins to truthfully and earnestly acknowledge and confront these profoundly important problems, she might find herself better-placed to offer practical substantive advice to others on their ills with an aim that is true.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Farewell then Daiichi Chuo Kisen

Farewell then
Daiichi Chuo

by "slumping rates";
by falling demand;
by the stormy seas of
market forces,
so you

Fact is:
you've been 'listing'
for decades,
and many times before
I thought you'd
abandon ship.
Your debt
could have filled
the holds of
several of your
bulk carriers.

You'd survived
and the second
world war,
but not
the weight of
with OPM
(and deflation).

Your wishful
catchphrase was:
"Heading to be
the World's'' leading Tramper",
but your epithet
will read:
"Davy Jones' Locker, 2015".

Friday, September 04, 2015

Limitations of Pillory

past tense: pilloried; past participle: pilloried

put (someone) in a pillory.
attack or ridicule publicly.
"he found himself pilloried by members of his own party"
synonyms: attack, criticize, censure, condemn, denigrate, find fault with, give a bad press to, lambaste, flay, savage, brand, stigmatize, cast a slur on, denounce; 

Bold political leadership has been in more or less persistent decline for some time now. Be this primarily a result of a seemingly more benign period in history (World War in general setting the bar extremely high for subsequent politicians), the advent of technology that enables the rapid measurement of public opinion, or the slavery of modern parties in democracies to use these technologies and associated methods to maintain power irrespective of whether prevailing opinion sits atop dubious (or erroneous) understanding, is unclear to me. Whatever the cause(s), it is increasingly rare for an elected leader to lead, undertaking unpopular policy, however "right", necessary or correct whether morally, economically, or both, such action might be, for fear of being pilloried, with attendant electoral consequence.

The lack of boldness can be viewed as a virtue, for it can cut both ways, leading to ignominious moments in history such as the cultural revolution, the second US invasion of Iraq, collectivization of Soviet agriculture, the Khmer Rouge genocide, and the privatization of Britain's Trains, (and other public utilities) without meaningful oversight.

Former President Carter, despite being pilloried, ceded the canal to Panama, undermined support for nasty, corrupt regimes around the world, danced on the Israeli's (and Egyptian's) head until they made peace (which uniquely has prevailed). It was hard, but he was inspired by personal belief and resolve. Pres. Obama, despite many disappointments, for all the hatred and invective, has succeeded in his fight for universal healthcare (still far from optimal), engaging Cuba (after fifty fricking years!!!!), amnesty for (mostly LatAm) immigrants - all deeply unpopular, but almost certainly on the right side of "right" in the time-line of history. Leaders are routinely shamed by bolts of Nordic or northern European humanitarianism, but it is increasingly rare for Leaders in the large nations or blocs to lead the world in doing the right thing when the occasion requires.

So, it was with great surprise and admiration that I listened to Angela Merkel's one-and-half hour speech, leading her peoples, (and hopefully her reluctant european neighbors) to do the right thing, while shaming critics, ostriches, opponents, and nationalists alike. It certainly is a shame people and nations feel little shame today (outside Japan), yet, at certain moments it remains an effective call to action, engulfing and then, like a contagion, able to overcome people's baser, visceral xenophobic fears and parochial self-interest. But it takes leadership. And an eloquence of common sense and humanity. Thank you Angela Merkel.

That Britain and both her people and government, have remained so stubbornly mean-spirited is shameful. That East-Europeans and the Irish - whose migrants and refugees have been accepted, and integrated in their times of need, have been obstinate is shameful. That America,  Australia, and Canada with their vast space and wealth have done next-to-nothing is shameful. That China and Russia have done nothing is, while shameful, sadly expected given their historical (and present) role as persecutors themselves.    
Few believe accepting and settling refugees is a solution to the root causes of the crisis. But that isn't an excuse to not act humanely and generously in the face of crisis. For it is worth remembering that events can turn things upside down quickly and you never know what side of the fence you may find yourself on. And should the North Atlantic conveyor shut down bringing a return of glaciers to Northern climes, Brits may, ironically, find themselves begging for resettlement in Libya or elsewhere in North Africa or the Middle East.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life Imitates Art

Marauders, pirates, outlaws, scallywags, and gangs of opportunistic thugs have, since time immemorial, been the scourge of civilized folk pursuing ordinary civilized life. Some have been officially-sanctioned (think Drake or Surcouf), others officially expelled to life on the periphery (think Ronin), though most, in my anecdotal observations, seem to do what they do as an alternative means to make a living, mimicing nature's bully: the frigate bird.

This threat, ignoring the very exercise of extreme and brutal power by states seen occasionaly in history, has largely been peripheral, though on occasion they've bizarrely intersected (e.g. Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, or the Chinese Taipings),this being sufficiently rare and weird as to capture the considerable attention of George Fraser MacDonald. So rare and so weird has it been, that the exploits of wanton criminal outlaws, and the good citizens' fight against them, have been a most fertile subject for writers and artists, particularly of the pulp variety.

Oscar Wilde opined that "life imitates art", an astute observation – even more apt in modernity given the multitude of alternatives for mass-distribution. And foremost at this nexus of the criminally weird and the crazy prophets - whether knowingly or unwittingly – is the self-proclaimed Islamic State, eerily resembling the violent and chaotic exploits of DC's villainous Rogues Gallery. Anarky, The Joker, Firebug, Dr. Death, Cypher, Brutale, Deacon Blackfire, The Mad Hatter, Ra's alk Ghul, The Riddler, Proteus, Puppet Master, Thanatos, The Scarecrow, Roman Sionis, all conjured from authors' fertile imaginations, can hardly hold a creative candle to their real-life mimics wreaking havoc across the no-less-fertile crescent. The result begs the simple question: How closely have the IS leaders studied, NOT the Koranic scriptures they purport to follow, but the collected exploits of Batman's colourfully-crazy nemesii???!? For if it was true that Bin-Laden was a big consumer of porn, is it any further fetched to wonder whether al-Bhagdadi, al-Anbari, or al-Turkmani and their henchmen have an accumulated and coveted stash of Caped Crusader pulp providing them with near-limitless inspiration?

As in the world of the self-proclaimed IS, logic flaws also abound in DC's dystopias (as well as most of pop-culture's gangs of psychopaths). Ignoring the most fantastical rogues whose powers defy the laws of the natural world, I've always found it difficult to suspend my disbelief when watching the armies of seemingly loyal thugs and henchmen support their evil mastermind leaders in pursuit of their [rather dubious] goals - be they revenge, sadistic lust, political domination, or financial control of planet earth. This is as true of 007's nemeses, as it is of Dr Evil's and the hordes of baddies perennially threatening Gotham City.

The un-Flashman zeal to sacrifice themselves so their leaders can escape, or in the case of al-qaeda or IS, strapping a bunch of semtex to themselves before walking into a mosque, a busy hotel or a parliament building and pressing the “detonate” button, belies normal comprehension. Some, one might presume, are undoubtedly as bat-shit crazy as their leaders. Others merely desperate, or perhaps motivated by sharing financial gain, or the benefits of power when their New Order prevails. I suppose one might ponder the similar question as to what motivates the disciples of Rupert Murdoch, but THAT question not on the menu today. 

Though these explanations might underpin some villainous actions, IS seems to more closely mimic many archetypical patterns in DC rogue gallery scripts. They employ mind control methods to recruit and maintain their [expendable] army of loyal followers. They were macabre masks and hoods to both terrify opponents and hide their true identities. They typically have family-related motivations, societal alienation or back-stories driving a strong desire for revenge. They pursue more or less psychotic, maniacal and meaningless acts of murder and destruction. They are often driven by a negative hatred of someone or something rather than a positive vision. Their leaders share decided prophetic or messianic-like complexes, and often had previous lives that one would consider “normal”. They share an absence of normal empathy for ordinary people and victims alike. Their leaders are often considered to be highly accomplished evil geniuses with a penchant for the macabre. And they all wear ridiculous costumes or uniforms that is obvious to all observers but themselves.

However much Gotham City resembles Sodom & Gomorrah, most of both's inhabitants were ordinary folk, living ordinary lives – effectively caught in the middle between lunatic wickedness and callous corruption and greed. However apt this might be of the masses' predicament today, the problem remains: how does the (mostly innocent??!?) populace protect themselves from the incursions of The Crazed, as well as from their own predatory elites. History and practical observation suggests random covert acts of terrorism are, by definition nearly impossible to thwart. This is true of an idiot wishing to take out a plane with his “shoe” (saved by only by luck) as it is of an idiot with a AK-47 whose (tragically consummates) a whim to take target practice on a beach of humans..

But make no mistake: life imitates art in the realm opposing The Rogues – both publicly and in the shadows. “We”, the good citizens, have a metaphorical NSA Bat Cave in Nevada (and undoubtedly many more). We have our “Alfreds”. We have special forces resembling vigilantes, whose kit & kaboodle - secret weapons, Bat Planes and Bat Drones - together whose power, resolve and destructive force both commands the respect of and infuriates the demented ones. And, like the Caped Crusader, we suffer the duality of an external existence governed by probity and by The Law with a
tacit feeling that something darker, more flexible is required to combat the rogues...something more Kurtzian...irrespective of their long-term soundness. This is, at once, both necessary and fraught with multiple dangers – both practical and existential – and is conflict seemingly resolvable only by/with oversight from the wisest (most uncorruptible) of women (and a few men).

The thing is, Batman never really was the Batman/Bruce Wayne of the 1960's. Truer to his origins, he is The Dark Knight. And he doesn't always get it right in his fight against the sick and twisted fucks. And sometimes his actions, resulting from his own back-story, make things worse, however good his intentions might appear. He is, after all, meant to be, just human...

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Have The Europeans Ever Done For Us

The interior of UKIPs headquarters. A darkened room with a very conspiratorial atmosphere. Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell are seated at a table at one end of the room. Steve Baker, dressed in Activist gear — black robes and a red sash around his head — is standing by a plan on the wall. He is addressing an audience of about eight MASKED Activists. Their faces are partially hidden...
Steve Baker:
We get in through the underground heating system here... up through to the main audience chamber here... and Junkcer's wife's bedroom is here. Having grabbed his wife, we inform Juncker that she is in our custody and forthwith issue our demands. Any questions?
Graham Stringer:
What exactly are the demands?
Nigel Farage:
We're giving Juncker two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the European Imperialist State and if he doesn't agree immediately, we execute her.
Kate Hoey:
Cut her head off?
Steve Baker:
Cut all her bits off, send 'em back every hour on the hour... show him we're not to be trifled with.
Nigel Farage:
Also, we're demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of Jacques Delors with his cock hanging out.
Douglas Carswell:
What? They'll never agree to that, Nige.
Nigel Farage:
That's just a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we chop her up, and... that we shall not submit to blackmail.
(Applause) No blackmail!
Nigel Farage:
They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, not just from us, from our fathers and from our fathers' fathers.
Douglas Carswell:
And from our fathers' fathers' fathers.
Nigel Farage:
Douglas Carswell:
And from our fathers' fathers' fathers' fathers.
Nigel Farage:
All right, Carswell. Don't labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?
Graham Stringer:
Freedom of movement, so we can live in Spain and France and...
Nigel Farage:
Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That's true.
Masked Activist:
And consumer and environmental protection!
Douglas Carswell:
Oh yes... protection!, Nige, you remember how polluted the UK used to be like.
Nigel Farage:
All right, I'll grant you that the freedom of movement and consumer and environmental protection are two things that the Europeans have done...
Bernard Jenkin:
And the Convention on Human Rights...pfewww...we have NO protection under British Common Law...
Nigel Farage:
(sharply) Well yes obviously the Convention on Human Rights... Human Rights go without saying. But apart from the freedom of movement, the consumer and environmental protection and the Convention on Human Rights...
Another Masked Activist:
Single Market...
Other Masked Voices:
Cross border regulation... Food Safety....Reciprocal Healthcare... Regional Development ...
Nigel Farage:
Yes... all right, fair enough...
Activist Near Front:
And the wine...
Oh yes! True!
Owen Paterson:
Yeah. That's something we'd really miss if we left Europe, Nige.
Masked Activist at Back:
Cheap immigrant labour who works hard and does the jobs no one else wants to do!
Douglas Carswell:
It IS safe to use a public toilet...
Steve Baker:
Yes, they certainly know how to keep places clean... (general nodding)... let's face it, they're the only ones who could in a place like this...
(more general murmurs of agreement)
Nigel Farage:
All right... all right... but apart from freedom of movement, environmental and consumer protection, The Convention on Human Rights, a single market, cross-border regulation, food safety standards, reciprocal healthcare across Europe, regional development, wine, speaking with a single voice whern negotiating with USA or China, and cheap labour to do the jobs British people do not want to do... what have the Europeans done for us?
Graham Stringer:
Brought peace and prosperity....! Just look at what things were like BEFORE the EU....
Nigel Farage:
(very angry, he's not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh... (scornfully) Peace and prosperity, yes... shut up!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Farewell Alan Bond

So Farewell

The most

You gave
Laurie Connell
a "run for
his money".
(no pun intended)

Few young specs
will recall
your name;
they should.

For you were
a case study on
the peril(s)
of paying
way too much.

you also
lots of things -

But at least
you stole THE Cup
from the Yanks
fair and

(With apologies to Private Eye and EJ Thribb)