30 October 2014

the point where two roads diverge

whilst web surfing the other day, i ran across the site of a vocational high school in ohio. i was sort of fascinated because i have been saying we need those around here. yesterday i was discussing this website with my father and sharing my thoughts on how we need this, too, and while i was talking it dawned on me why we don't have vocational high schools around here. it's because this area isn't historically industrial. it's agricultural. the vocational "school" was the farm and any kid who wasn't going on to college would work on the farm.

according to US News and World Report, in an article published in may of 2014, "There are roughly 90 career and technology schools and centers in Pennsylvania, at least 70 vocational high schools each in Ohio and Massachusetts, and similar numbers in other states."

i would bet you a socket wrench that none of those "other states" are below the mason-dixon line.

point 1: vocational training needs to be widespread, not only in northern states.

in the usa as a whole, vocational education is looked down upon - as if it's only fit for students who are financially or behaviourally challenged. that's markedly different from europe where vocational training is viewed as a valid and unremarkably acceptable route. a contributing factor there is that europeans have a history of inescapable class divisions, like -- middle class is middle class, we'll never be royals and whatnot. in the states, we are used to having every opportunity on the table. this makes us more judge-y about the opportunities.

in the usa, all doors are available, but as a general rule of the spacetime continuum, not all can be chosen. so, we look at who goes through which doors and how they flourish or not on the other side, and we compile this info into values we assign to the doors. these values put great weight into the very act of even choosing a door, and we use these values and the door-weight to judge the people who go through each different door. your choices in europe, a limited number of doors are available and they all go back to your family's meager thatched hut. seriously, though, taking germany as an example: kids in germany take a test in middle school and depending on how they score, they are sorted into their next level of education. i don't really know for sure, but i'd venture to guess that everyone's pretty much okay with this or in this day and age - if this system wasn't working for them in an overall life-is-good sort of way, they'd all up and leave germany.

although i am not advocating reducing opportunity, i do think we could stand to be a bit less judge-y. not everyone is cut out for college. it's not a better or lesser thing. it's just different.

point 2: vocational training is not only as beneficial as, it is in many cases more so than, college prep.

point 3: we DO test, after high school. ever heard of a little thing called the SAT? not all the kids who were forced through college prep make the cut. how do we presume they are better off for having found this out after high school rather than before?

point 4: i heard on npr yesterday on my way home that there's a manufacturing plant in south bend, indiana that has a dozen openings they can't fill because they can't find skilled machinists. their problem is only growing because the skilled labor workforce is aging and new skilled labor isn't coming along behind to fill the gap.

point 5: it's not just factories. the medical field needs skilled labor, and we could use more well-trained auto mechanics, carpenters, and audio-video techs.


so there you have it.

so i have made some points.

so what do you think?

20 October 2014

shameless coffee jackets

shameless nuns in long dark pews go shoeless.
through the night their meditations clueless.

wax in puddles on the floor.
candles burning for the poor.
no one claims them anymore.

restless men in coffee shops wear jackets.
through the day they ponder what the fact is.

milk in puddles on the floor.
pitchers leaking at the pour.
no one claims them anymore.

restless nuns in coffee pews wear jackets.
shameless men in long dark shops go factless.

waxy milk in puddles on the floor.
leaking candles burning for the poor.

i will claim them. mine. forevermore.

18 October 2014

sunny side up

apple and facebook started offering egg freezing to employees. that is to say, as part of the employee benefit package, female employees of apple and facebook can now choose one of the most radical forms of procrastination -- to have their eggs harvested, frozen, and stored for later use -- and the company will pay for it.

essentially, these tech giants have removed the need to muss up a perfectly good career with a child.

points to ponder...

does someone who can procrastinate in such an elemental way really make a good employee?

do these companies only offer egg freezing to female employees? what about employee spouses or partners?

egg growth, harvest, and freezing pushes $10,000 per session, and storage is in the $500 per year range. are these companies matching that dollar benefit to women who make other choices about family building, such as adoption or natural birth? what about the dreaded a-word...?

i learned about this new offering from apple and facebook (and how other companies offer the same) while listening to an interview on npr. the expert being interviewed seemed convinced young women won't want to take advantage of this benefit because the process of egg growth and harvesting itself is difficult and fraught with emotion.


i am sure the vast majority of current data on egg storage is based on women whose health differs significantly from these young, enthusiastic tech employees. why? because this process has not been opened to "normal" young women in quite this way. the process has been reserved for women who are facing loss of fertility through cancer treatment, or who are not tremendously fertile and therefore undergoing in vitro fertilization, or who are wealthy enough to make this choice.


opening up the possibility of affordable egg freezing is a bit of a sea-change in the world of fertility and family building choices. young, healthy women - who aren't under pressure from age, illness, or infertility - making a simple choice about delaying childbearing. what's emotionally fraught about that? seems this choice would actually relieve emotional pressure brought on by listening to one's biological clock tick-tick-tick.


during the npr story, they were debating whether apple and facebook were being more friendly towards female employees, or less. the "expert" seemed convinced that this benefit was 100% woman friendly. i 100% disagree. although the women in question may enjoy the benefit, the companies' motivation is decidedly not woman friendly. i mean, c'mon. this is a decision made by men who think women will be better employees if choices and complications are removed from their lives so that they can focus on work.


i find this to be a very big deal, wonder what you think, and look forward to seeing the long-range outcomes for society.

15 October 2014

maybe i just need to enroll in a physics class.

remember that research paper i was going to write? well, i found that there are several fine reference books on the very subject, which would be good if i wanted to summarize other people's research, but i sort of wanted to write something original... and since the original things have been written... well... i sort of lost my motivation.

not that i even know how to go about doing original research on the history of organized sports for elementary school girls. i read the ymca's "about us" web page, but they didn't exactly specify when they transitioned programs for girls from gray-y cheer squad to soccer. and... that was the extent of my research.

when i was in college, i did this stellar research paper on types of commercials shown during children's cartoons. i literally taped literally hours of cartoon shows, fast forwarded through the shows, and tabulated commercial subject matter. of course, i compiled some of the existing research and whatnot, but the core of the work were these tabulation charts and graphs -- all recorded and plotted and drawn by hand on quadrille paper, mind you. by hand because (in case you didn't pick up on this from the fact that i literally taped the television shows) this research took place back in the day, before literally everyone had a computer at their disposal.

measure. notate. compare. conclude. chart. report.

a reasonable person would sort of think i had enough work at work without making up work hobbies, but there's something rewarding about actual first-hand data collection.

09 October 2014


they used to call it vacation time and it worked like this:

salaried employees and hourly employees both get vacation time, and vacation time is used to take vacations.

if hourly employees need personal time to take care of personal business such as going to the doctor, or picking up their kids on an unexpected snowday, or whatnot, they either clock out and go without pay or they use vacation time. if salaried employees need personal time, they simply go - no clocking out, no need to use vacation time.

the tradeoff, of course, is that when hourly employees work overtime, they get paid for those hours, usually at a rate higher than their normal hourly rate (e.g.: "time and a half"). salaried employees don't get paid any extra for overtime, which means there essentially is no overtime when you are a salaried employee.

when you're hourly, the more you work, the more you get paid per hour. when you're salaried, the more you work, the less you get paid per hour.

i have never met a salaried employee who put in less than a 40-hour week, and i have also never met one who resented the arrangement. knowing that if they consistently put in 45, 50, 60 hours each week, they could occasionally leave early to see their kid's soccer game.

when i worked hourly, i put in all the hours i could, and i was fine with it. knowing that i could have that much effect on my paycheck was empowering.

so. that's how it used to operate.

now, where i work, we are all on PTO - paid time off. vacation? PTO. leaving early for a facial? PTO. doctor visit? PTO. mom sick? PTO. we are all in the same boat - hourly and salary alike. PTO for all!


hourly employees still get credit for overtime in the form of (generally higher than norm) payment for their time. salaried employees get no credit for overtime -- worked 60 hours last week and want to leave early this wednesday to go biking with friends? PTO.

ergo: the incentive for salaried employees to put in long hours is gone. don't even start with your "love the company" bullshit because no one (save entrepreneurs, who don't get paid at all) loves the company they work for that much. people want a little give & take - i do a little extra for you, you compensate me accordingly. people want to feel that their efforts are noticed and appreciated.

i'm on PTO tomorrow and monday. last tuesday when i went for a facial in mid-afternoon, i turned in a PTO card. but yesterday when i went for a longer-than-usual lunchtime run, i took my time with the run and the shower and the whatnot. they can have my obvious PTO. i will comply with the letter of the law. but if they won't give me what i think i deserve, i will take it.

here's a shamelessly ripped-off cartoon to illustrate my point.

07 October 2014

oy! gerroff me lawn!

sometime before the song was recorded in 1972, steven tyler wrote "dream on". mr tyler was born in 1948, so he would have been 24 years in '72, and younger than 24 when he wrote the song.

The past is gone... it went by like dusk to dawn.

paul mccartney's song "yesterday" was released in 1965. mr mcartney was born in 1942, so in 1965, he'd have been 23. the song bounced around a bit before its release, so one surmises he was younger than 23 when it was written.

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play. Now I need a place to hide away.

jackson browne, like mr tyler, was born in 1948, and he wrote the song "these days" in early 1965, when he'd have been 16.

These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do, and all the times I had the chance to. Don't confront me with my failures -- I had not forgotten them.

barry gibb, born in 1946, along with his younger twin brothers robin and maurice (born in 1949) had written "i started a joke" in time to have it on an album in 1968, when he was 22 and they were 19.

I finally died, which started the whole world living.

the incredible thing about all this isn't purely the writing of songs. i mean, hell, taylor swift can churn out the songs, and she's, what, 12? 13? children write poetry and songs all the time. it's not that unusual.

what's unusual here is the depth of feeling, the empathy, the foresight expressed by teen boys and young men. i mean, there's the decline of civilization right there, in a nutshell: kids nowadays are about as deep as a mudpuddle on a sunny day.

even ms swift, who is undeniably prolific, only goes so far as to bad mouth her exes and deny her critics. i'm not saying standing up for oneself isn't worthy. of course it is. the thing is, though, why stop there? why not dig a bit deeper than the shallow grave in which society is attempting to bury your standing-up-ness alive?

i'll tell you why not - because it's a waste of time. there's nothing there.

back in the day, kids read books, talked to intergenerational families and neighbors, went to church.

no, i am not going to get started on church because there's a box of pandora worms if ever there was one. it's just that church is exemplary of a shared experience that encourages people to think outside themselves. school, also, used to encourage kids to see themselves as part of a whole, not as the entire self-contained whole. and, nothing says, "whole" like multiple generations of the family all under the same roof.

the problem is, we've gotten busy catering to the self-esteem of each individual child, telling each child how important they are, that we forgot to tell them that the other children matter, too.

05 October 2014

stars are just like us!

so we're watching jimmy fallon the other night and jennifer garner is on. she's bubbly and sweet and cute and funny and just seems 100% normal. she is, of course, not "normal"... being a television and movie star and the wife of academy award winner ben affleck.

but still.

she does this hilarious impression of ol' ben -- just like any wife would. well, any wife who is capable of being hilarious. she completely mocks him in a totally loving way. i know you know what i mean. if he had been there, he would have been laughing too.

she goes on to tell the story of when she, ben, and their kids had lice. lice! the shampooing, the piles of laundry, the hassle, the annoyance, the itching. she tells it all in a hilarious and very relatable way.

the best part is when she and jimmy are just cracking up over the story, and she turns to jimmy and goes, "stars are just like us!" HA! and A-HA!

i mean, she is a star. jimmy is a star. of course stars are like just like us when we are stars -- and that's the point. she owns her stardom. it's immensely appealing when people own who they are. i mean, humility and whatnot, sure, that's all good, but false humility is gross.

it's gross because it's false, it's self-denial. you're a star, we know you're a star, we know you know you're a star. what's the point in denying it? that sort of self-denial is usually designed to elicit praise. don't make me praise or reassure you - you're a star for godsakes.

jennifer owns her stardom - doesn't deny it - but at the same time, she's not saying her stardom put her above anyone. she is simply taking ownership of who she is. her claiming her stardom defuses its power to make her different than us.

AND, she IS "just like us", sitting there telling a story about having lice, of all things. actually, by telling a lice story, she's more "us" that most of us will even admit to. there are normal, everyday, non-stars who would never admit to having had lice or their children having had lice.

there's no duplicity. her words align with her actions. she claims her stardom while simultaneously demonstrating normalcy.

stars are just like us? hell, in this case at least, the world would be a better place if we were more like the star.