Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Future of Employment: Where Are We Going?

As a teacher one of the things you want to be able to help your students with, and one of the things they're hoping that adults can in fact help them with, has to do with what they should do for employment, and why it is that what they're doing in school is a step in the right direction for them to in fact become meaningfully employed. An article in Sunday's NY Times by Louis Uchitelle, Retraining Laid-Off Workers, but for What?, would surely give any reasonable person concerned with this issue some pause. The article tells a couple of stories, but the one that made the biggest impression on me focused on what our thinking in this country is regarding jobs. Our running philosophy essentially boils down to if you're well enough educated and you try hard you'll find a good paying job, and if you don't, well somehow that's your fault.

Uchitelle tells about United Airlines aircraft machinists who were laid off. Aircraft machinists are reasonably well-paid, and they represent a section of the job market where those who are in the profession often don't have college degrees. Many machinists go to a trade school, on their own or through their employer, to acquire their skills, or otherwise come into the profession via the military where they've had extensive training before they go to work for an airline. The United machinists were reasonably well-paid, having worked out a top-end $60/hour wage with their 2002 contract with the airline. This, of course, was before United declared bankruptcy.

United's machinists were considered, prior to 1999 anyway, to be very efficient when it came to overhauling and repairing aircraft. The industry norm for a plane overhaul was 22 days and United machinists were doing it in 11, using genuinely original methods and cross-workshop teamwork to significantly reduce turn-around time on aircraft. The United machinists were so good that American West airlines contracted with United to have American West aircraft worked on by the United machinists. All this came to serious crash in the summer of 1999 when the machinists engaged in a work slowdown which in the end prompted United to begin outsourcing its aircraft overhauls to companies that didn't use union labor. United soon discovered that outsourcing was less expensive than in-house maintenance, making it worthwhile to outsource planes even if it took longer to complete the overhauls. The trend towards outsourcing continued when the cost of United's mechanics increased, and an airline considering and finally entering into bankruptcy was looking for ways to save money.

Ok, so a convergence of unfortunate circumstances put the machinists in a bad situation with regard to their long-term employment, with many of them being laid off. But they were well-trained to begin with, and on top of this they were eligible for federally subsidized re-training and job placement.

'The presumption — promoted by economists, educators, business executives and nearly all of the nation's political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike — holds that in America's vibrant and flexible economy there is work, at good pay, for the educated and skilled. The unemployed need only to get themselves educated and skilled and the work will materialize. Education and training create the jobs, according to this way of thinking. Or, put another way, an appropriate job at decent pay materializes for every trained or educated worker.

"If the workers were already trained, as the mechanics certainly were, then what they needed was additional training and counseling as a transition into well-paying, unfilled jobs in other industries. If the transition failed to function as advertised, well, the accepted wisdom suggested that it was the fault of the workers themselves. Their failure to land good jobs was due to personality defects or a resistance to acquiring new skills or a reluctance to move where the good jobs were.

"That was the myth. It evaporated in practice for the aircraft mechanics, whose hourly pay ranged up to $31. Not enough job openings exist at $31 an hour
— or at $16 an hour, for that matter — to meet the demand for them. Jobs don't
just materialize at cost-conscious companies to absorb all the qualified people
who want them."

But surely with some additional training and education we can tweak that mechanic into something professionally useful and well-paid, right? Well, no, not really:

"Saying that the country should solve the skills shortage through education and training became part of nearly every politician's stump speech, an innocuous way to address the politics of unemployment without strengthening either the bargaining leverage of workers or the federal government's role in bolstering labor markets.

"But training for what? The reality, as the aircraft mechanics discovered, is painfully different from the reigning wisdom. Rather than having a shortage of
skills, millions of American workers have more skills than their jobs require. That is particularly true of college-educated people, who make up 30 percent of the population today, up from 10 percent in the 1960's. They often find themselves working in sales or as office administrators, or taking jobs in hotels and restaurants, or becoming carpenters, flight attendants and word processors."

I'd throw working at Wal-Mart or the local national supermarket chain of your choice (I suppose these are the "sales" jobs that Uchitelle's referring to, this makes it a bit more stark) as also topping the job opportunities list for those once in relatively high-paying jobs who now need jobs. And are there really jobs out there to be plucked from the tree of employment, ones that will make students, or anyone really desirous to work, adequately employed? Well that's not clear, and the evidence would suggest that the answer is no, there's not:

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a rough estimate of the imbalance in the demand for jobs as opposed to the supply. Each month since December 2000, it has surveyed the number of job vacancies across the country and compared it with the number of unemployed job seekers. On average, there were 2.6 job seekers for every job opening over the first 41 months of the survey. That ratio would have been even higher, according to the bureau, if the calculation had included the millions of people who stopped looking for work
because they did not believe that they could get decent jobs.

So the demand for jobs is considerably greater than the supply, and the supply is not what the reigning theory says it is. Most of the unfilled jobs pay low wages and require relatively little skill, often less than the jobholder has. From the spring of 2003 to the spring of 2004, for example, more than 55 percent of the hiring was at wages of $13.25 an hour or less: hotel and restaurant workers, health care employees, temporary replacements and the like.

That trend is likely to continue. Seven of the 10 occupations expected to grow the fastest from 2002 through 2012, according to the Labor Department, pay less than $13.25 an hour, on average: retail salesclerks, customer service representatives, food service workers, cashiers, janitors, nurse's aides and hospital orderlies.

So if you're able to find a job that pays decently and you're able to keep it, good on you. But if you lose it you may find yourself out there working in some flavor of the service industry. But that's not what we sell ourselves, and that's certainly not what we sell our students. In point of fact, as near as I can tell, the whole issue of what students should do with their education and where they should go for work is something of a black box - in high school we're focused on preparing our charges for college, which begs the question as to what the 50% or better who either don't go to college or otherwise don't finish college should be doing, and whether they might have been better served with some realistic job counseling/training while they were a junior or senior in high school. But heck, even if they walk out the door with a good job in hand, as many an airline mechanic surely thought they had, they could well enough still face the possibility of losing that job and then find themselves vying for what's left out with everyone else out there.

I'm told, and surely read enough about it, that we're not training our students sufficiently in the math and sciences. Being a chemistry teacher I can attest to that with the paucity of infrastructure and pedagogical investment being a real problem. But what, exactly, are we training these kids for? Some know they want to be doctors, engineers, physical therapists, or nurses, so they're not so hard to get on the right track. But what are the other kids, the vast majority as it stands, supposed to be looking forward to in the future? How are we supposed to prepare out students for jobs in a realistic fashion when life-long employment no longer is a reasonable expectation, outsourcing, overseas and here in the U.S., is taking jobs left and right, and the protection that our parents once may have enjoyed from unions has withered away to the point where non-union jobs are the ones most directly in competition to union ones, as the United aircraft mechanics discovered to their dismay? I think these are important questions, and in all honesty I don't see much being done to address them, but I know that politicians love NCLB and think we should be doing a better job at teaching math and science, for what specific purpose it seems we all just somehow know without really being sure.

The Future of Employment: Where Are We Going? - The Book


Monday's post, The Future of Employment: Where Are We Going?, was based on an article in the NY Times by Louis Uchitelle. His book, The Disposable American: Layoffs And Their Consequences (the hyperlink will take you to which seems to have the least expensive copy of the book that I could find here in the U.S.) has just been released and is reviewed in this morning's Times. Topics worth some attention, especially by educators.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I Was a Sailor Once
(Original author unknown, and this author extensively modified the original to his own experiences.)


I miss standing on the bridge wing at sunrise with salt spray in the air and clean, brisk ocean winds whipping in from the four quarters of the globe - - the ship beneath me feeling like a living thing as her engines drove her swiftly through the sea, the vibrations of her engines pulsing in my legs.

I miss the sounds of the Navy - the piercing trill of the boatswain’s pipe, the clangor of the ship's bell on the quarterdeck, the harsh squawk of the 1MC, and the strong language and laughter of sailors at work.

I miss Navy vessels -- nervous darting destroyers, plodding fleet auxiliaries and amphibs, sleek, silent submarines and steady, solid aircraft carriers.

I often think of the proud names of Navy ships: Midway, Lexington, Saratoga, Coral Sea, Antietam, Valley Forge, Yorktown - - memorials of great battles won and tribulations overcome, or the lean angular names of Navy "tin-cans" and escorts --Barney, Dahlgren, Mullinix, McCloy, Damato, Leftwich, Mills - - mementos of heroes who went before us, and a wide range of ships and submarines - - San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Chicago - - named for our cities.

I miss the underway replenishments which were, at the same time, thrilling and fearful events as officer-of-the-deck. You brought your ship alongside within 100 yards another, usually of much larger size, battling the hydrodynamics of attraction between two ships in such close proximity, and maintaining station as lines came across connecting you to another vessel, while maintaining 12 knots the entire time you were there, and you hoped that no sudden emergencies would call for a quick disconnect, and you practiced what to do if such happened the whole time you were at it. Helicopters would be flying back and forth delivering stores and mail, and excitement would be subdued yet palpable, as your ship was reinvigorated for her continuing time at sea. Then would come the final tempo of a break-away song as the ships disconnected and went their own way, distinctive to each ship, chosen to instill pride and aplomb, blaring through the topside speakers as we pulled away from the replenishment ship after refueling or receiving stores at sea.

I miss liberty call and the new scents of a foreign port, the adventures to be found, the excitement they held, and how much they made me miss home.

I even miss the never ending paperwork, PMS, PQS, fitreps, evals, messages, and on and on; sometimes the ship seemed to float more on paper than it did on water.

There were the “all hands” working parties as the ship prepared for underway, filling her with the multitude of supplies, both mundane and crucial, that made independent life at sea possible. I miss the surge of adventure in my heart when the word was passed: "Now set the special sea and anchor detail - all hands to quarters for leaving port," and I miss the infectious thrill of sighting home again, with the waving hands of welcome from family and friends waiting pier side.

I miss Sailors, officers and enlisted men from all parts of the land, farms of the Midwest, small towns of New England, from the cities, the mountains and the prairies, from all walks of life. I trusted and depended on them as they trusted and depended on me - for professional competence, for comradeship, for strength and courage. In a word, they were "shipmates"; then and forever.

The work was hard and sometimes dangerous; the going rough at times; the parting from loved ones painful, but the companionship of robust Navy laughter, the "all for one and one for all" philosophy of the sea was ever present.

I miss the serenity of the sea after a day of hard ship's work, as flying fish flitted across the wave tops and sunset gave way to night, and in warmer climes the bio-luminescent trail left behind as the ship made her way to wherever she was going, or departing port at high speed to find dolphins effortlessly riding the ship's bow wake as we headed out to sea.

I miss the feel of the Navy in darkness - the masthead and range lights, the red and green navigation lights and stern light, the pulsating phosphorescence of radar repeaters - they cut through the dusk and joined with the mirror of stars overhead. And I miss drifting off to sleep lulled by the myriad noises large and small that told me that the ship was alive and well, and that my shipmates on watch would keep me safe.

I miss quiet mid-watches with the aroma of strong coffee, the lifeblood of the Navy, permeating everywhere from coffee pots rarely scoured. Quiet, save for the thrumming and vibration of the equipment permeating the ship, red lights only to maintain night vision, and a night sky the likes of which is nary to be seen by anyone ashore.

And then I miss hectic watches when the exacting minuet of haze-gray shapes racing at flank speed kept all hands on a razor edge of alertness, reading signals sent aloft as signal flags to yardarms for orders and acknowledgements, signals read and understood, finding the course to station, “Make it so”, and executing smartly.

I miss the engineroom, the smell of oil and fuel, the heat, humidity, and noise; where the snipes worked as a special breed, sustaining the heart and nearly all the other essential organs of the ship, providing speed, power, air, and water to those who otherwise take these things for granter. Snipes, first to arrive, last to leave, and usually only appreciated and understood by fellow snipes.

I miss the sudden electricity of "General quarters, general quarters, all hands man your battle stations," followed by the hurried clamor of running feet on ladders and the resounding thump of watertight doors as the ship transformed herself in a few brief seconds from a peaceful workplace to a weapon of war -- ready for anything.

I miss the traditions of the Navy: 12 O' Clock reports; Crossing the Line; Colors; the respect conferred to the wardroom and chief's mess; the use of the ship's bell to announce arrivals and departures, and so much more.

I recall the proud names of Navy heroes: Halsey, Nimitz, Perry, Farragut, John Paul Jones, Burke, and Hopper. A Sailor could find much in the Navy: comrades-in-arms, pride in self and country, mastery of the seaman's trade; an adolescent could find adulthood.

In years to come, when sailors are home from the sea, they will still remember with fondness and respect the ocean in all its moods – the impossible shimmering mirror calm and the storm-tossed green water surging over the bow. And then there will come again a faint whiff of stack gas, a faint echo of engine and rudder orders, a vision of the bright bunting of signal flags snapping at the yardarm, a refrain of hearty laughter in the wardroom and chief's quarters and
mess decks.

Gone ashore for good they will grow wistful about their Navy days, when the seas belonged to them and a new port of call was ever over the horizon.

Remembering this, they will stand taller and say, "I WAS A SAILOR ONCE."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Regime Change: Here We Go Again

Mohammad Shah & Reza Shah - You can't trust either one them.

Three weeks ago in The New Yorker, Connie Brucks wrote "Exiles", about Iranian expatriates and, more importantly, what the U.S. government and those that try to influence it think about what the U.S. should do with regard to Iran. Given my own interest in Iran and my country's misadventures of late, I can't help but comment, even if belatedly.

According to Brucks there's a significant number of neoconservatives running around who'd love to see the U.S. overthrow the government of Iran - after the neo-con screw up in Iraq it's hard to believe that these people still show their faces and get attention, but then that's how you survive in DC - you're shameless and do what you can to get press. Apparently the neo-cons are looking for an Iranian version of the Iraqi Ahmad Chalabi, a chameleon who certainly couldn't have made his neo-con supporters very happy given his tap dancing in Iraq once he was on his own. What's really amazing, given it's fundamental idiocy, is that Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed Shah of Iran, is potentially in line to be the anointed recipient of American support to cause regime change in Iran, something only the geniuses that brought us the Iraq debacle could come up with.

There are many reasons to have a problem with Pahlavi, not the least being that he's every bit as insipid as his father, Mohammad Shah, was. Then there's the historical clumsiness that's attendant to this. Mohammad Shah was on the outs with the Iranian government in the early 1950's, and for all intents and purposes was out of a job as a monarch; the government of Mossadeq was in charge and a new dawn was coming to Iran, and Mohammad had fled the country. The British, who after WW II had the most to lose by an Iran-first government such as Mossadeq's, and it was not happy about Mossadeq and his clique. The British decided to do something about Mossadeq, but it needed the U.S. government to help it. So with funding from the CIA the British and CIA agents in Iran at the time were able to stage a coup against Mossdadeq and they brought the Shah back to the throne and control over the government. He immediately proceeded to work out oil terms that were highly favorable to the British and which essentially guaranteed his place on the throne until his abuses came home to roost in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini. So the neo-cons want to send Reza Shah back to Iran, repeating a historical incidence of meddling by the U.S. government which Iranians, who otherwise tend to like this country, still feel very strongly about. How clever is that?

Reza Pahlavi apparently has a strong following from monarchists in the DC and LA ( the LAranians) Iranian communities. How anyone but an Iranian monarchist, especially in the U.S. government, could take seriously putting a Pahlavi back on the throne simply stretches the imagination, regardless of the historical stupidity it calls up. But then we're talking about neo-cons, and, well, what's another silly contradiction, like a democracy supporting a monarchist, when we have such a wonderful track record of contradictions lately, largely attributable to neo-cons, to wit:

- Going after non-existent WMD in Iraq actually encourages nuclear weapon development in Iran.

- Fighting terrorists "over there instead of here" has increased the overall number of terrorists over there, and the enmity felt towards the U.S. by many living "over there" has increased as well.

- Exporting democracy puts theocratically-inclined organizations like Hamas, the Islamic Brotherhood, and the Iraqi Shia majority into power.

- And to facilitate regime change in Iran, the neo-cons support the Mujahideen-e Khaleq (the People's Mujahideen, or otherwise the MEK), a group our own government lists as a terrorist organization, with the ultimate hope that they'll be the spearhead to change in Iran - so in our war on terrorism we're apparently not above employing terrorists we happen to agree with, or who may otherwise serve our purposes.

There's a great deal of talk these days about how Iran is a major threat to this country. I question to what extent that this is true, but what I'm sure of is that if the people who got us into the mess in Iraq are the ones trying to plan how we handle Iran, then we're in for a world of hurt. I have a hard time believing that anyone in the government would seriously think of military action against Iran, but I suppose "all options are on the table", as the president and vice-president like to tell the world. I for the life of me can't understand why aggressive diplomatic moves, wherein the U.S. swallows its pride with regard to its embassy being taken over in '79 (I mean, really, we helped to overthrow one of their governments, stuck them with a Shah they didn't want for some 25 years, show down one of their airliners, isn't it about time we were a bit more conciliatory here?), and really pushes positive initiatives to come to terms with the Iranians that would make the peoples of both countries happy, vice feeling like the other country is a threat to happiness, prosperity, and, on the whole, existence.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

How Am I?

More than a few of you have asked me how I was now with a baby in my life, and the last one to ask was my cousin Jennifer. In the interest of efficiency, and let me tell you a baby either makes you VERY efficient or otherwise insane, I will share with the rest of you what I shared with Jenn:

How am I ... it's hard to say. On the whole happy and amazed, but there's so much that goes into this that I hadn't a clue about, was warned about but never to the degree that reality seems to bring it, and there's nearly never a twist or turn that occurs right now that was in the least bit anticipated. The idea that you're so totally at the beck and call of someone that's only two weeks old, there's just no way in the world to be totally prepared for it, aside quite possibly from having gone through it before but even then I doubt you're fully prepared the next time, you just have less of a reason to be surprised by it all when it happens again.

With Feri's mom here getting sleep during the week, i.e. for work, has been possible, leaving the baby care with Feri and her mom - part of me feels guilty, but a more common sensical part of me kicks in and appreciates that a sleepy daddy riding on I-95 at 6 in the morning likely doesn't have a very good long range survival prospect and if he doesn't survive there's one less bill payer and occasional caregiver around, so get the sleep when you can and feel blessed about it. I sleep on the couch-bed during the week and mom takes the bed with Feri, and on the weekend we swap places - I never had a reason to completely look forward to work days before ... I mean I enjoy work, I like going to work, but there's this part of me still that would just love to stay home, read, and do whatever. Now the work week comes with a pretty set guarantee of getting a full night's sleep, which isn't what comes with the weekend. My quality of life of life and ability to go to work with an unmuddled brain would be vastly different were it not for my wife and mother-in-law, especially this mother-in-law who's willing to take on all that she does.

The baby's in good shape overall, and apparently doing better than the pediatrician expects for a baby her age. I'll just nod my head with that, be
grateful for it now, and hope that it continues. Overall she's lovely, I'm totally smitten, and therefore don't mind nearly as much as I might otherwise that I'm a total slave to the mood, desires, and needs of this bundle of humanity who seems right now to live to sleep, defecate/pee, and occasionally give a look that seems like a smile, which in turns captures your heart, but really, with a realistic assessment, you have to admit is likely her passing some sort of gas. How sick is that, really - your life with this person hinges on the happiness you derive from a smile that's likely just a belch in disguise? Weird ...

So that, in a not so small nutshell, is how I'm doing. I guess it's normal, and on the whole I'm not complaining so there's something to be said for that, so therefore life is good, and thank God tomorrow's Monday and I can go to bed right after I send this - who'd have thought a baby would make me be happy for Monday's? Go figure ...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sure We Have a Vaccine, But We Want You Scared!

Taken from I am the Boss of You

The White House vs. the Laboratory is Michael Specter's piece in this week's The New Yorker
[Note: all quotes in this blog are taken from Specter's article ]. Anyone who has visited this blog with any degree of regularity knows I have no love for this Administration and so much of what it is responsible for, but Specter's article highlights another flavor of Administration Christian fundamentalist horse manure that constitutes a threat to public health and safety.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) comes in about 100 different strains, two of which are responsible for genital warts, and another two that have been tied to cancer. As one would rightly suspect, the two tied to cancer are of particular concern in the medical community. The carcinogenic versions are STDs, and while they may affect either sex they predominately are responsible for cervical cancer. The problem with HPV is that there are no tell-tale indicators that you've been infected with the cancerous version until the damage is done, and there's little to protect oneself from the virus with, though condoms are better than nothing - well, of course there's abstinence and that's pretty much 100% effective against all STDs . About 5,000 women die from cervical cancer every year in the U.S., and it's believed that a large majority of those cancers are attributable to the virus.

But there's good news, GlaxoSmithKline has come up with a vaccine for HPV and it appears that when given early enough, in childhood before sexual activity has begun, it effectively protects women from HPV infection. So what we have here is a bonafide cancer vaccine and we should all be very happy. Of course that's a bit too simplistic, i.e. we have a vaccine against a deadly disease and therefore should rejoice. No the Christian Right, with its odd logic and perspective, weighs in with Leslee J. Unruh, the founder and president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, telling us:

"I personally object to vaccinating children when they don't need vaccinations, particularly against a disease that is one hundred percent preventable with proper sexual behavior. Premarital sex is dangerous, even deadly. Let's not encourage it by vaccinating ten-year-olds so they think they're safe."

Wow ... don't need vaccinations ... what calculus of life does anyone use to determine if one needs a vaccination or not? Ok, I can appreciate not being vaccinated for smallpox, a disease which has effectively been eradicated from the planet (barring that stored in U.S. and Russian government freezers), but HPV is everywhere so how do you rationalize not vaccinating against a reasonable possibility of infection, which may result in a deadly medical condition? Should we also not provide liver transplants to alcoholics? I mean why should we give an alcoholic the hope that they may be able to live a normal life after they destroyed their liver, doesn't that just encourage their addictive behavior? Should we withhold insulin from type II diabetics who managed to incur their disease due to bad life habits - let them know that a miserable death is the penalty for eating too many Krispy Cremes? Or more directly in keeping with Ms. Unruh's philosophy, let's withhold antibiotics from anyone who gets a bacterial STD, surely anyone who indulged the folly of premarital sex deserves the dementia that comes with late stage syphilis.

And this isn't just about HPV, no indeed, as Reginald Finger, who sits on the Center for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which is responsible at the national level for recommending vaccinations and when they're provided, in discussing the possibility of an HIV vaccine, stated:

"We would have to look at that closely. With any vaccine for HIV, disinhibition [a medical term for the absence of fear] would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care."

Finger's point is that the "fear" aspect of HIV is a good thing, it supports a rationale for abstinence. So if an HIV vaccine is a dis-inhibitor then the disease itself must be considered to be an inhibitor; only some religious loop job would come through with a logic that involves a virus in some grand moral design in support of abstinence, and this particular loop job is part of the process that determines if, when, and to whom vaccinations are given.

The problem is that this application of morality to disease is rampant in government these days. Specter's article brings us Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok), a family physician no less, who argues that since condoms can fail, the nation should stop relying on them, and who from personal experience with treating HPV infected patients states that "Studies have indicated for years that promiscuity was associated with cervical cancer." Well, yes, fine, and what does that have to do with trying to prevent or cure the disease? What logic causes one to think that they're going to cause an entire nation, or world for that matter, to suddenly come on board to abstinence? And do these people have evidence to support that strictly abstinence-based programs are the cure-all to diseases like HPV? No, they don't, in fact what's out there supports quite the contrary. So fundamentally they must expect that at least good Christians will be abstinence adherents and the rest of the world can go waste away and die - a sort of indirect religious-based genocide.

Non-abstinence is not illegal in this country, or for that matter in most countries, and people like Unruh, Finger, and Coburn would relegate those they consider to be "promiscuous" to a death sentence, or with otherwise having to wrestle with a deadly disease for the rest of their lives all in the name of a faith-based moral agenda. That is morally wrong, in fact unconscionable in any rational perspective except, it appears, the Christian Right's. There are many good reasons to be working to cause a change in this government, and frankly Specter's article highlights an excellent one.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Taking Over the Blogosphere, Too?!?

Taken from The Black Commentator

Ok, the blogosphere is mostly free so there's really nothing for Wal-Mart to take over, but then like a lot else the company does it doesn't have a problem with abusing the blogosphere as we find in an interesting article in today's NY Times by Michael Barbaro, Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign. Apparently Wal-Mart's trying to buff up its image and is using blogs in its campaign. I guess desperate situations warrant desperate measures, but then you have to wonder about a company that has to spoon feed bloggers with lines for their blogs in order to help them put a shine on a company that deserves an awful lot of the bad press that it gets. What I find especially interesting is how the corrective effort is essentially focused on PR, vice actually trying to do something positive about the legitimate problems people have with the way it treats its employees, all in the name of reducing cost.

I appreciate how the lowest cost is important to a lot of people, but I also appreciate that when the lowest cost comes on the backs of people who work to help provide that low cost that there's something fundamentally wrong with that. I guess in a strictly libertarian or Adam Smith sort of way of looking at the world this is just the cost of capitalism, but in point of fact it's not just those working for Wal-Mart who get shafted, it's everyone who pays taxes. When a Wal-Mart employee has to go on public assistance, and many do, or are unable to afford healthcare and have to apply for healthcare financial assistance, it's the taxpayer who gets to pick up the bill. Yes, you paid less for that cheapo Wal-Mart product, but that's just less money out of your pocket at the checkout counter, not in lower taxes or being able to use your taxes for something other than subsidizing Wal-Mart's piss poor healthcare program. Now of course we can get into a very good discussion regarding whether an employer should be responsible for healthcare, and good arguments can be made for why they shouldn't, but the de facto system now is that the employer is the principal healthcare provider and Wal-Mart, in the interest of cost efficiency, shucks that responsibility everywhere it can, though with recent legislation apparently not in Maryland and a few other states with similar legislation designed to hold Wal-Mart accountable.

I don't shop at Wal-Mart primarily because I don't support how it treats its employees, especially in contrast to a company like Costco which has a business model that's similar to Wal-Mart's but pays its employees well and provides them with adequate healthcare. Yes, Wal-Mart is not the only company guilty of treating its employees poorly, and very likely it's not the most egregious company in this regard. But it's the largest, it's the one with the most press, and maybe by pushing it into correcting for treating its employees like anything else it can wring a cost reduction from, a standard for employment can be established in this country that's just, equitable, and respectful of the average American worker who, on the whole, just wants to do a good job, get paid a decent wage, and be treated with the same respect and consideration most of us take for granted, or at least should.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury for March 5, courtesy of

Friday, March 03, 2006

She Arrived This Morning


It all started around 4:30 in the afternoon yesterday, we wound up in the hospital around 6 that evening, and at 10:06 the following morning out she came, Sogand.

The nurses and doctors at Women and Infants' Hospital were flat outstanding. Helpful, caring, and professional to a person, doing everything they could to make this as easy and quick as possible, but making it clear that they were working with us, not just driving the show on their own, for their own reasons.

My wife is my hero. She never complained, never yelled, never screamed - I have no clue how she managed that, I have no idea where she got the strength, I have little doubt that I would have found it personally pretty damn near impossible to show the class and guts she did - I adore my wife.

And this one - here she is, maybe all of 10 mins old, and the second I saw her, this strangely formed human mass, first hung upside by her legs, covered in the mess of being born, whose umbilical cord I got to cut, separating her from her mother and suddently bringing her into my life, too. I fell totally, heads over heels in love with her in an instant. I never have experienced anything like this, I have no clue where this comes from, but I know she's now everything to me in a way that only my wife came close to filling before. I know that I have much to learn about her, but already I can catch a glimmer of personality and personhood, and my guess is that this is going to be a very interesting young lady indeed.

In the end this is what I know - I'm happy, a bit scared, and glad to have experienced this moment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Carnival of the Vanities

The latest edition of the Carnival of the Vanities is up and running, give it a looksee if you have some time.