Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Solving Unemployment, or, "The Value of Babysitting"

Here in Hawaii, where I'm basking in the delicious warmth of a winter working vacation, hundreds of nurses and others were confronted with the Yuletide news that they were losing their jobs. It may be paradise, but when you get your layoff notice on Christmas eve--part of the thousand-person cuts that two bankrupt hospital closures are forcing--it's tough to look forward to the New Year.

The nation still suffers from high unemployment (8.6% overall; California 11.3% according to latest DOL stats) and with weary job-seekers running out of government payments despite extensions, many settle for lesser positions or leave the job market entirely. Well, I've got a suggestion: babysitting.

Babysitting has skyrocketed in value over the years, more than any position I can think of.  Admitting my age, I'll tell you that I earned 50 cents per hour in high school babysitting, and it didn't matter how many kids there were in the family.

Now the going rate is $15 per hour, at least, and parents pay more per child.  In many areas, $20 an hour is de rigeur. In New York City, it's more like $25 per hour.  Since I was a kid, the amount of annual income considered a good living has escalated about five times over.  In that same time, the wage of babysitters has increased thirty-fold.

Many people who spent big bucks on a college education may think themselves above this plebeian occupation. You don't need academic skills to soothe a crying baby, and the status of babysitting isn't up there with professors or physicians.  Still, if you're looking for something to sustain you, would you turn down work that pays $15 an hour? You don't even need to go to barista school.

Babysitting does have its qualifications, and these would probably exclude a lot of people.  You need the patience of a saint, a tolerance for bodily excretions, incredible flexibility both in planning and posing, and clever, if not devious psychological skills. It helps if you can stand to read Goodnight Moon sixteen times over (Adam Mansback's Go the F--k to Sleep is generally not permissible).

On my first non-family babysitting job, the two-year-old, who was supposed to be sleeping so I could do my homework, got repetitive projectile stomach flu. This was before cell phones. I immediately decided to scuttle babysitting and get a job using the shorthand class I was taking (anyone remember when girls learned Gregg shorthand in school?).  My ability to take dictation at 120 words per minute earned me $1.65 an hour.

My point is that every mom I know grouses about the lack of babysitters, despite their willingness to pay so well.  So, if you're up for a little down time, as in crawling around on the floor, or enjoy listening to happy tunes on the road chauffeuring children to lessons and tutors, there's likely an opportunity for you.  And if my observations about salaries hold, and kids keep doing what they do, it's sure to be a growth industry.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Searching for Bright Light on Chanukah in Hawaii

In the Northwest, it's common to hear complaints at this time of year about SAD. That's not only the emotion spurred by the lack of winter sunlight, but an actual psychological malady, Seasonal Affective Disorder, where depression interferes with sleep, performance and energy.

Those who work indoors in Seattle drive to their 8 am jobs in the dark and emerge at 5 to the same nighttime.  No wonder sun-simulators are so popular. I've got a light-box on my desk.

My search for bright light was happily rewarded this year when my husband and I were able to take a working-vacation to Hawaii, where the winter sunrise is at 7 and night comes at 6:30. Those extra 2 1/2 hours of sun make a huge difference.  So does aqua surf and temperatures around the clock between 70 and 80 degrees.

But seeking light has a deeper meaning tonight as the 8-day Jewish holiday of Chanuka begins.  Just as the winter equinox closes in, we begin an expansive celebration of light, specifically the menorah, which was a 7-flame oil candelabra that illuminated the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

Yes, the "chanukiah," the candle holder for the holiday, has eight branches, one for each day of the holiday, plus a separate holder for the "helper" or shamus, that lights the others.  But the eight days of the holiday recall the miraculous amount of time that a small pot of undefiled oil kept the menorah going before new oil could arrive, once the Temple was re-dedicated, after banishing Greek gods and culture. The Temple having its special continuous light was so crucial that the menorah's ongoing glow is central to the holiday--and is the ultimate symbol of God's presence. It is because of this that the menorah is the emblem of the State of Israel.

But God's "enlightenment" is something we seek throughout the year.  Jews conclude our most central thrice-daily prayer by asking God to "bless us, our Father, all of us as one, with the light of your countenance, for with the light of your countenance you gave us, our God, the Torah of life, and a love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace."

That always strikes me--God gave us everything good that's non-material with the light of His countenance. Not with his words, though that's how He created the world. Not with his thinking, or waving some figurative arm, or sending some angel.  Not even by the look on His countenance--no, there's something special about light, in Hebrew, "ohr."

In the first Holy Temple, the seven-light, six-branched gold menorah was in a shape God dictated to Moses in Exodus 25: 31-40, with almond and knob decorations, and the branches turned toward the middle. The windows of the Temple, it's said, were backward, in that the spiritual light came from within and radiated outward, as opposed to normal windows, which let outdoor sunshine in.

So it is tonight, when we ignite the first of our Chanuka lights, allowing the brightness to emanate from within our homes to overcome the SAD of these darkest days. It's considered a gift that God tilted the earth to create seasons, to let us move from the dark months into the light, beginning with Chanuka, when, using "chinuch," education (the root of the word "Chanuka"), we improve ourselves as each subsequent day brings greater and greater daylight.

I'm searching for bright light here in Hawaii, and we'll attend a public menorah-lighting with others who understand that the holiday represents the triumph of insight over ignorance, and independent dedication to true principles over the ubiquitous and convenient messages of our feel-good culture.

Today the weather in paradise is blustery and rainy, so I'll appreciate all the more the clear sunshine when it reappears, and bask in the brilliance of this message of illumination--both the kind that can give me a tan and the kind that lights up a winter's night and a seeking soul.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

College Education...and Hula

Just returned from an hour-long free hula lesson at a Waikiki shopping center to hear my Fave Radio Host interviewing Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University on the worthlessness of going to college. Here's a professor--ie guy who makes his living from a college Economic department--questioning states' subsidies of anthropology, sociology and psychology and presumably, his own discipline, too.  Fave Host agreed, asking why high school kids prefer institutions of higher learning to just plunging into the workworld and making money, when in the end, they do the same thing 4 years later with a mountain of debt.

 Answer: with the sheepskin, they at least get an interview. Without it, they're unemployed.

I happen to be a fan of college education. But I'm also one of those blessed with the kind of skills that allow me to succeed there (57% of college students are women).The anti-college argument is that for the many--perhaps majority--of the populace not so blessed, college becomes simply a hurdle to be jumped, and neither prepares students for a career nor adds to their becoming more "well-rounded" and thus higher-quality citizens.

Sounds logical, but there's no getting around that we can't go back to the 1940s and 50s, when a college education was the exception rather than the rule.  Nowadays, the extension of adolescence has made a baccalaureate the equivalent of the high school diploma, a symbol that the graduate has tenacity and can take a test and write a paper.  It assures that the student has taken certain courses, and within those, completed required assignments.  People who earn a college degree are more likely punctual, literate and comprehending. Too bad a high school diploma no longer guarantees such basics.

Fave Radio Host thinks the educational establishment ought to turn that around, fueled by an end to government subsidies.  But even if all the fed and state money funding colleges were to dry up, the academic-industrial complex would raise the funds to continue (likely happier for any elimination of competition).  Which would be just fine.

College seems to be more necessary than ever, as all sorts of careers increasingly erect gate-keeping barriers, adding educational requirements.  It's tough to get a job as a community college instructor nowadays without a Ph.D.  Why? Because professors, to perpetuate and justify their existence, funnel their students into graduate programs, creating a glut of Ph.D.s with nothing else to do. Colleges now choose from plenty of Ph.Ds eager for work, so the MA has become meaningless in most social sciences.

Why couldn't there be more apprenticeships and skills-based certificate programs?  You don't need four years of liberal arts to run a small business or repair pipes or make excellent beer. You just need to know how to do it.  Years ago, when earning a high school counselor credential, I was impressed by a program in southern California that trained teens in specific careers, like chef, hotel manager, office worker, computer programmer, car repairperson.  The kids got on-the-job experience by opening to the public or internships in real-life situations.  They were prepared to earn money and be professional, but truthfully, they'll never have the prestige of advanced academic degrees, something our culture venerates.  Honest, competent, dedicated work should be just as honored. But it's not.

I have a friend who makes her living helping college applicants get accepted to their preferred schools.  It's big business to prepare students for the SAT, to help them choose institutions, and then to create applications that put the teen in the best light.  A lot rests on attending the right college, including the self-esteem of high school kids, their parents and their counselors.  High schools rate their own successes on the number of grads who go on to college, boasting when figures are high.

There's no denying that half of all students are below average (okay--below median).  But politicians, Pres. Obama included, keep insisting that every student should have the opportunity to attend college, even if taxpayers have to subsidize it.  There's a certain American spirit in offering even those with lower IQ the chance to succeed via extra-hard work. But does pushing non-collegiate students toward college just set them up for failure?

Many matriculate, and many drop out. You could argue that the failure is destructive; it doesn't feel good, and it doesn't encourage dropouts into trying other pursuits. But at least on their Facebook pages, they can forevermore write in the name of a school, ("attended So-and-So") which, in most circles, confers a modicum of status for recognizing the importance of post-high school study.  This universal esteem for college not only bumps its desirability but feeds the academic-industrial complex.  College is now another entitlement, and like the rest of them, legislators can't easily yank it away and stay in office.

Which brings us to hula.  My lesson, with a group of about fifty mostly-Japanese classmates, was for me an hour of body workout, enlightenment, intense embarrassment and fun.  We learned a dance called "On the slopes of Mauna Kea," with Hawaiian words and even a context of Island life.  Imagine living where land boundaries are so close and imminent. Where ranches and paniolos and a frontier of sorts is replacing a culture without written language, whose religion centers on four main nature gods.  In just an hour, I learned many movements and a unique way of relating to words and music.

I have to say, that free class was as useful as many of the courses I took in college, at great expense and with significantly more angst attached.  It wasn't rocket science, of course, and for the rocket scientists in our midst, college will always be a necessity.  But for the rest of us, perhaps we can adjust our attitudes about the need for taxpayers to fund non-technical learning, and grant a little more prestige to the wisdom that is freely and generously available all around us.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pearl Harbor Parade...Surprising

Our first day of our Hawaiian paradise working vacation happened to be Pearl Harbor Day, the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the Honolulu bay that housed the major military protection for the United States on the cusp of World War II.

So, true to custom, Honolulans threw a parade.

Several times a month, streets are cordoned off and marching bands, truck-floats and civic groups prance down Kalakaua Street.  It's a clever way to entertain tourists in Waikiki, as well as gain the business of the many high school and college bands happy to fly to paradise to participate.  Last night, the Pearl Harbor lineup included bands from Virginia, Maine, Washington state, Indiana and California--as well as a Canadian troupe of marching bagpipers.

An hour before the parade, spectators waited curbside, some with folding chairs.  A half-clothed, long-haired very tanned guy got applause blowing a conch shell, the traditional Hawaiian blast (that, for the Jews reading this, caused my husband to respond, "Ta-keee-AH!")  And finally, we could hear the first marching band, playing "God Bless America," closer and louder.

The surprise? That the parade, naturally headed by the Colors, aroused such palpable patriotism.  The crowd immediately jumped to its feet, applauding our flag, audible appreciation that increased as the Corvette Club slowly carried about 25 Pearl Harbor vets in their decorated convertibles.  Each elderly soldier, and you know they had to be at least 90 years old, was loudly and separately applauded.  When military units or Young Marines filed by, they received similar cheers.  The holiday-lit firetrucks and police also earned energetic clapping, with spectators standing to show their respect and enthusiasm.

It's true that Oahu hosts more than one military base, and that the presence of the armed services is deeply entrenched with the development of the island.  It's true that the attack on Pearl Harbor--an event one would think would be somberly remembered as a moment of weakness for our nation--has become a major tourist draw, with the memorial perhaps the most-visited site for groups (as well as a significant money-maker for the National Parks Service).  Still, I expected that the parade would be a few regiments, a couple marching bands, and lots of cars carrying local politicians.

Yet it was much different. The air was festive, and at least half of the parade participants were Polynesian or represented ethnic groups.  The bands and flag-twirlers from around the country, and many Samoan-tattooed, sarong'd marchers, made this a grander celebration.  The strange combo of military patriotism and local organizations conveyed a dual message: We were attacked but we survived, and retain our local dignity--combined with--We are the United States, and yet, we are something more, an amalgam of Island traditions that don't really melt into the pot.

And yet even the Polynesians and Samoans and Fiji Islanders who marched in this parade chose to salute our military and the elderly men riding in vintage Corvette convertibles.  As we awaited the parade, my history-loving husband regaled us with the circumstances that led to the surprise attack--including the pacts made after "The War to End all Wars" for nations never to lift swords again.  As a result of this, the major military powers at the time, Britain, France and the US, destroyed many of their warships. Japan, a country we in the US considered distant, was aggressive and seized Asian neighbors, including China. As war was assembling and commencing in Europe, the US had ceased selling oil to Japan that July, and considered the possibility of attack in the Pacific--but on forces in the Philippines, not Hawaii.  So, on a relaxed Sunday morning, the buzz of aircraft and submarine attacks caught our military by surprise, and resulted in the loss of 2,400.

The attack on Pearl Harbor and 9-11 have some eerie similarities.  Both were unexpected, and both used aircraft to cause the most devastation. The USS Arizona sank along with 1,177 aboard when bombed, finished by a single lucky strike down its smokestack.  In both cases, there were mounting signs of hostility--from Japan over the previous year, and from Muslim extremists via actual attacks on US targets, and a failed Trade Center attempt, over a period of years.

I can't fathom the mood on the cusp of World War II, but I clearly remember being shocked and puzzled about the 9-11 attacks--what had we done to deserve this? But the response of others was stronger: we must protect ourselves; we must react.

I think it's this show of strength that inspired a parade on the anniversary of so much loss. Spectators proudly sang along with marching bands' "God Bless America" and "This is My Country." They rose and applauded and hooted approval when uniformed warriors stepped by.  Seventy years may have passed, but we are not defeated, and in fact, still lead the world.  President Franklin Roosevelt dubbed Dec. 7, 1941 "a day which will live in infamy," but amid cheers of parade-goers, it was not infamy or loss that lived on, but the valor and perseverence of the national heroes that prevailed .

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arriving in Paradise on the Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

Some of us are searching for bright light in the midst of a frigid almost-winter.  I say 'almost' as the solstice that officially starts the dark months is yet two weeks away, though the La Nina conditions that enveloped Seattle haven't gotten the memo.  Yesterday morning was 31 degrees.  Today, however, Day 1 in Honolulu (aka paradise) it's about the same time of morning and about 80 balmy, luscious, sunny degrees.

We're on a nice, long working vacay, one where we're apparently being stalked by President Obama in a few days, though he has yet to call for a tete-a-tete.

There are many things to recommend the Aloha State, but sometimes you've got to wonder if the aloha attitude is one of them.  We flew in at midnight, eager to jump in our rental car and settle in.  Thrilled to see there was no line at the car counter, we presented our reservation...and the easy-going clerk began his fulminations that for some reason lasted a half-hour, while he laboriously completed forms by hand.  This after our arranging it all online.

That slow, methodical, take-it-easy happy lumbering shows up a lot, sometimes for the good.  We arrived famished and so went to the ubiquitous ABC Store near our accommodations in Waikiki.  In case you have yet to enjoy a Hawaiian vacation, anyone who's cruised Waikiki knows this chain is better called the "every 50 feet store" because that's how far between them.  They're pretty much identical, with the same excellent selection of tourist souvenirs, travel necessities, and foods.  Waikiki may be sunny but it's definitely not a "food desert," as every ABC store stocks fruits and veggies and peanut butter and bread along with fifty kinds of suntan lotion.

So we grabbed a few high-priced comestibles and milk, and as we're checking out, the clerk, dressed in a muu muu and looking the stereotype of the Hawaiian auntie, plumeria jauntily poked behind one ear, takes a look at my husband and then me: "She your girlfrien'?" Yeah..."Can I call you Mikey?"  Yeah...funny, friendly, silly...aloha.

Casual, informal, assuming, sometimes slightly nervy...can't wait to spend some time exploring the concept.  I have a friend here in Honolulu who says locals can get pretty uppity if you're not one of them. She grew up here and has to start talking pidgin to get respect sometimes.  It's not polite to discuss, but she reports a strange kind of suspicion for "haoles," Caucasians, even for the kanamina, the ones who grew up here.

A different culture, here in paradise, and yet, it's the good old USA, and today, the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is cause for reflection and remembrance, including a grand parade down the main drag of Waikiki, with marching bands from across the nation. Special celebrations at the memorial through tomorrow, and I hope we'll be able to go.  It's all part of this very separate feeling, thousands of miles isolated in the middle of the Pacific, vulnerable yet completely connected.  A separate culture, and yet, on the plane here I sat next to a young soldier, on his way to his newly assigned base on Oahu, all the way from the center of North America.  This juxtaposition between American identity and multi-national, Polynesian exotica makes this a fabulous place to watch and learn...and remember the sacrifices seventy years ago that were a result of its very location in the middle of the sea.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sex Addiction vs. the Virgin Mary's Belt: If you doubt that men and women are really different...

The other day my Fave Radio Host spent an hour talking about sex addiction, the cover story of Newsweek Magazine, and the subject of a movie he had to watch tonight called "Shame."  As callers spoke about the slippery slope from internet porn to action, I listened  at home while reading the newspaper--a story in the New York Times headlined "In Russian Chill, Waiting for Hours for a Touch of the Holy."  Horrible puns aside, I was struck by the accompanying photo, captioned "Day and night, tens of thousands of Russians have been lining up outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for a glimpse of a religious relic."  The picture showed a grand Russian cathedral, illuminated in the night, behind a crowd bundled up against the cold.  The crowd was comprised entirely of women.

All this reminded me that men's natural inclination is to the physical, while women's is to the spiritual.

On the radio show, Fave Host reported statistics that 90% of those treated for sex addiction are men.  In contrast, pilgrims viewing the Virgin Mary's belt on display in Moscow are overwhelmingly female, not only because the belt is said to help with fertility (along with all other ailments), but because women tend to have more of a spiritual affinity. A 2009 Pew poll found women in the US more religious than men on all of the six measures they queried, including certainty in belief about God, daily prayer, saying religion is important in their lives, and church attendance.  Of these, prayer is likely the best indicator, since it provides no public recognition; while 49% of men say they pray at least daily, 66% of women do.

I learned that the Cincture of the Virgin Mary is a camel's hair belt said to have been worn by Mary when she died. She soon disappeared but then re-appeared to Thomas, to whom she gave the belt.  It's been hiding out in a Greek monastery where women are forbidden, until its present tour of several Russian cities.  The Cincture attracted two million Russian faithful even before its current, last stop in Moscow--where 280,000 mostly-women per day wait an average of 24 hours outside in bitter cold to touch its glass encasement.

This, of course, is probably of far less interest--at least to men--than sex addiction, which is being considered for inclusion in the new revision of the psychological disorders bible, the DSM V.  Sex addiction is likely to be defined as a driving requirement for sex of any type that interferes with everyday activities like work.  A Time Magazine article on the topic earlier this year described programs to treat the problem, which, it noted, is poorly understood.  It suggested that physical urges like eating and sex are usually treated in a 12-Step, AA-like process, which is difficult since these natural functions, unlike drugs, cannot be completely eliminated.  I find this interesting, because it is possible to live without drugs and also without sex, but not without food...but in any case, the overwhelming majority of patients for such treatment are male.

The difference between men and women is recognized in Jewish law, where women are excused from time-bound commandments, not only because they're busy nursing or caring for children.  Tradition suggests that women, being more inherently spiritual (after all, women, like God, create life) have less need than men for connection to religion. Among "connectors" are prayer (where men are required for the prayer quorum of 10) and wearing phylacteries, physical reminders to dedicate mind and strength to godly purposes.  In traditional Judaism, synagogue service leadership goes to men not because they're superior, but actually the opposite--they are inferior in their natural religious inclination, and the camaraderie of "shul" encourages their participation.  In egalitarian synagogues, often women dominate the organization as well as its leadership.

Tonight my husband saw "Shame," the Michael Fassbender, Carrie Mulligan graphic movie about sex addiction, and I was careful to stay out of ear-shot of the room where he screened it.  I don't want those kinds of images in my mind, like many women I know.  I focused instead on the stage production we saw together tonight beforehand--Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella.  I much prefer a colorful musical with the ending--the same one religion offers, actually--of "happily ever after."