Monday, September 27, 2010

Whop! about to slip down

Oh, New York Times, why do you love people of a certain age so much? (Hint: not anyone under 40.) Let's talk about this article:

I know the reaction to this article is supposed to be, oh that's terrible! Oh, that's so sad! What a tragedy it is to be an older America! But let's look at the numbers. The Times very helpfully points out that, horrors! 2.2 million people over the age of 55 are unemployed. They also point out that there are a total of 14.9 million total unemployed, which suddenly makes that first number a bit less significant. Do a bit math. Of all the folks that are unemployed, only 13.6% are over the age of 55. Even if you chunk up the other groups into 10-year incriments: 16-25 years old, 26-35, 36-45, and 46-55, each of these groups would average a rate of 21.6%. Which is much higher than the group which includes a wider range of ages.

Maybe that math is a bit of speculation. Let's go to some straight-forward figures. The article points out that the unemployment rate for the over-55 group is at a record (for them) 7.3%, which would be sad if you didn't realize that the overall unemployment rate is over two percent higher at 9.6%. But, wait a minute, the poverty level for this group increased to 9.4%! Of course, the article doesn't mention that the overall poverty level is 14.3%, which means that this group: still better off than most.

I don't really want to pick on an individual, but I have to assume that the NYT picked the woman they focused on as "typical" of this group of unemployed individuals, so I will point out some specifics from the article. I just have a really hard time feeling sorry for her. Her house is paid off (her 3000 square feet of house. That overlooks "the sound."); there's no mention of kids or college tuition draining the pocketbook. When she was first laid off, instead of gathering together a nest egg, she went on two vacations that had to cost at least $10,000 -- a sum most of us would (or more likely need to) hold onto for those pesky bills. Sure, they have approximately $7000/year in property taxes -- less than $700 a month, which is a hell of a lot less than my mortgage. Her husband is still working. In other words, they're doing alright financially. This is not a story of a person who's going to be packing her stuff into a car and camping out there.

The article spends a certain amount of time regarding the "difficult" job search for this age group. But is it really ageism? Even by her own admission, she isn't exactly keeping up with technology. The good news is that she's only waited FOUR years to take a course to maybe help catch her up. Another woman laments that “I don’t feel like I can compete with kids who have been on computers all their lives." Really? Let's say you started working on computers in 1990, which isn't exactly an early adapter -- you should have about 20 years of experience on a computer, unless, of course, you chose to keep your skill set in the 1980's. I recently interviewed a person of a certain age who, when I asked him about the idea of electronic submission (a requirement by the FDA), he basically told me that he was pretty comfortable using Word. Should I be recommending a "hire" for someone who isn't even up to the industry standard just because he's over 60?

The article also compare the average time it takes to find a job for the 55-64 group versus 16-54. That's a pretty big range there. You've got your older group, who have certain salary expectations, experience levels, education, etc, compared to a group that includes high school students. I'd like to see how "easy" it is for that 45-54 group to roll into a new job. The other thing that isn't in that statistic is how quickly each group jumps into the job market or the expectations for a job. I'm guessing that most people in their 50's or higher aren't going after those entry-level jobs.

Unemployment sucks, as does job hunting. It is no fun to send out resumes and have month upon month of rejection or, even worse, no responses at all. But it sucks for all of us. And it sucks a lot more for the 30-something with kids and a mortgage and no vacations to Turkey -- not for the 50- or 60-something with the paid-off house and healthcare.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This is not Freedom of Speech

Let's get this straight: Terry Jones is a terrorist. Oh, you're not sure? Here is the United Nation's definition of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them." This completely fits this situation. I know people who are flying tomorrow and I have to say, I'm a bit worried. Because people are nuts and overreact, and that's exactly what this jerk Terry Jones is counting on.
So, we can all agree on that the guy is a terrorist. He is using threats to get his way. And now I wonder why hasn't he been arrested? Why do we (really: The Press) keep talking to this guy? Why do we give him the power? I know that The Press is being the weapon here. That if they could have managed to ignore this guy and this act, it would have all went away. It's a story because The Press made it a story. They're also responsible.

That aside, why isn't Terry Jones in jail? He's a terrorist. He's threatening to perform a hate crime. (Don't think so? Well, here's what wiki has to say about hate crimes: "Hate crimes [also known as bias-motivated crimes] occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation. 'Hate crime' generally refers to criminal acts which are seen to have been motivated by hatred of one or more of the listed conditions. Incidents may involve physical assault, damage to property, bullying, harassment, verbal abuse or insults, or offensive graffiti or letters [hate mail].") He is a criminal. Criminals belong in jail.

Personally, I'd like to just erase this whole thing. Ignore him. Pretend he's one of those crazy guys on the street, shouting at your car, don't make eye contact. Just drive and maybe he'll shut up. But it's too late. We've started trying to have a conversation with him. We're pretending that he might have a point. Now we have to do something. We have a choice. We can let this guy comtinue to commit crimes and let the Muslim world watch us let him commit crimes, or we can throw him in jail. If we saw a guy kicking a dog, we wouldn't say, "oh, that's just performance art. That's just how he expresses himself." No, he'd be in jail. Not saying that someone should be blowing up an airplane over this, but I can get someone being pissed off that nothing is being done about a guy openly committing a crime.
I just am very much looking forward to September 12. And ignoring this guy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tears are in your eyes

Today I am thinking about friends that come and go through our lives. Some of us have lives full of transitions and, try as we might, we lose contact. We want to remain close, but we have moved: to a new job, to a new location, to a new life. We want to keep the dialogue going, but there is so many other things that creep into our lives, as well as theirs, and suddenly it's been a year since you last talked to them.

Let me tell you about Vicki. Vicki and I were in the Binns lab when I was in grad school. She was a postdoc, and we just clicked. Do you have a friend who just gets you? That friend that when you're just starting the joke, she sees exactly where you're going and starts to laugh even before you're there? That was Vicki. Binns called us The Match Made in Hell. We would tell each other about our lives, our worries, everything. We both moved to Philadelphia the same summer, and, although it would be years until we actually met, we would act like we shared even that: that horrible hot summer when we weren't sure if we should move to this new place, the weather telling us that we made some sort of mistake.

We were both public university gals: I went to the University of Toledo, Vick went to Temple. I would tease her with the current ad campaign: "You could have gone anywhere, but you chose Temple!" We both hated graduate school, although she was actually finished while I was still struggling. She wouldn't wear a digital watch because there was an assay she had to run throughout grad school that required her to keep time on a digital watch. When she finally graduated, she threw the watch away and vowed to never wear another digital watch.

She had gotten married young and had two kids already. I was still single when I first met her, so her life seemed much more complex to me (and of course it was). She and Konrad were juggling the family as well as their postdocs. They worried about funding, they worried about their house, they wondered if their kids were in a good school system. She overindulged her kids but she knew it. She would laugh at herself and tell me that she'd hate her kids if they weren't hers but, God, she loved those kids. She'd do anything for them, although they'd make her nuts.

We both hated playing games: once at a lab party Binns forced us to play Pictionary. We rolled our eyes and said that we would but be prepared to go down. Hard. Because we just knew what the other person was thinking. I remember one clue. I drew a circle and a line and a half-circle over the circle. "Car," guessed Vick. I pointed to the circle. "Oh, tire!" They accused us of cheating and then let us not play anymore, which was fine by us.

We would bring in books and music for each other. We would recommend movies and tv shows. I don't remember what I gave her but she gave me Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris and "Buffy" and so many things I can't even keep track of them all. But there are times, I'm listen to a song or reflecting on a book, and I remember, oh, yes, this was one of Vicki's gifts to me.

I loved the way she'd present her data. She was a casual speaker; she presented complex data as if she were just having a conversation with you. She told you a story. When she would go to other talks, she could tell right away if the speaker knew what he was talking about. We had this sign language: we'd wave out hands slightly to indicate that the speaker was just "hand waving." The Story: that was the goal of research. Did you have a good story?

I don't remember exactly when she told me her mom had breast cancer, but she immediately got herself checked. They didn't find anything. Go deeper, check again, she insisted. And then they found the tiniest thing. It was so tiny. It was hardly anything. And this tiny, tiny thing led to years of treatment. But our lives were changing. I got married, I finished graduate school, she took the job up in Allentown. We were in touch, but it was different. But she beat it. She beat the cancer. That's what she was told.

She got me a part time job in Allentown, so we did see each other while I was teaching there. Everything was fine now. The labs looked great. She had gotten a double mastectomy. Women's clothes didn't fit her, so she was going to get implants. I offered to be a donor. We didn't talk about the cancer; she had other friends for that. She told me that she liked hanging out with me because I didn't ask "How are you?" with that tone: I just wanted to gossip.

Everything was fine. For years. At one point we both had jobs in a suburb of Philadelphia, so we'd go to lunch regularly, but that was only for a few months. I got a new job and we stopped seeing other regularly. It's a busy time, we'll be back in touch soon. The kids were in high school, I had a new job, I was moving, Konrad had exciting new research and they were thinking of moving to Boston.

I remember that phone call. We were supposed to get together for dinner -- it had been too long. But she had caught a pretty nasty cold and was calling to postpone. It was October, and I can close my eyes and can hear her, "I'm scared that it's more than a cold." I assured her it wasn't. I didn't want to believe it either. It had been way more than 5 years. Wasn't that the magic number? Dammit, that's the deal! More than 5 years and you get a pass!

But it wasn't just a cold.

The last time I saw Vicki was at a Binns lab reunion. We joked, just like old times. We talked about going to Rome. We talked about so much. We vowed that we'd stay in touch, but life kept us busy. But it was only an occasional email, and nothing much more than that. I kept promising myself that next time I'd drive up to Allentown, but I was dealing with a new job, moving, all those things.

One night I dreamt that Vicki was up for a major promotion and I needed to testify before Congress. She was in the front row, talking (joking and laughing actually) with the chairwoman as we all went on stage to talk about how awesome Vicki was, how she touched our lives. Vicki was smiling, so happy to hear all of this. It was such a sweet dream. When I woke up, I thought about it for a while, and I realized that this was a memorial. I googled and found she had died about a month ago.

I hate that my life has become one where I have these amazing, close friends for a period and then you lose touch. I hate that I didn't have one last visit.

Most of all, I hate that she's gone. Because I miss her all the time.